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Today is a day for dreams.  Today is the day a dream of mine became reality and it is the day that new dreams are to be born.  Today is the day that a circle of stones, dedicated to the religious gathering of Pagans, was created at Syracuse University.

Seven years ago I wasn’t the Pagan Chaplain at the University.  There was no Pagan Chaplain, but I was the religious advisor for the student Pagans on campus and at that time I had a vision where the students would have a place of their own.  It didn’t have to be exclusive, in fact I didn’t think it should be.  Rather it needed to be a stone circle where they could observe ritual, meet with friends or do whatever.  This needed to be a place where they could feel the energy of their gods and their beliefs – a place where they would be reminded that they did matter.

Seven years ago I requested a stone circle to be built on campus.  For seven years I would periodically bring the subject up to those that needed to be reminded that Pagans did not have a place of their own like other faiths.  For seven years energy was built to push a dream forward and for seven years the ancestors watched and waited.  After seven years the energy culminated and the ancestors were heard.  I was asked to resubmit the proposal and all agreed that a circle would be built.

What changed in that seven years?  My position changed from advisor to Chaplain and with that a voice formerly foreign at the religious table was now heard. A new Dean at the Chapel was introduced.  The previous Dean had welcomed Pagans to the Chapel but it was the current Dean that understood the need for place. What changed was Pagans became recognized as valuable members of the religious makeup of the University deserving the same respect as any other faith tradition.

Yes, today is a day of dreams.  The stone circle doesn’t look like the stone circles created so long ago.  There are no standing stones familiar to so many.  There are only four stones – a stone at each cardinal point creating a 20’ inner circle.  The stones are large and made of blue stone, imbedded in the ground laying flush with the earth.  They needed to be unobtrusive, reflective of landscape and useable.  They are altar stones and any tradition, Pagan or otherwise, will be able to use them.  The dream came to life today when four stones were laid.

However, the laying of these stones is not the end of the dreams.  It’s the beginning of dreams.  A place for the seeds of possibility to break through and find sunlight to help them grow.  For many the creation of this circle seemed like a natural process and in many ways it was. When the voice of the ancestors sang once again those ready to hear their story listened and all barriers became non-existent. This was the right thing to do, this was the right day to do it and on this Samhain the ancestors will be honored in their stone circle.

Today I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with both the awe that I feel when I realize what has happened but also at the thought of what will be the next dream to come to life.

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We fight many battles in our life; sometimes the price seems more than anyone could bear, but we do it anyway.  Today the U.S. flag was lowered in Iraq, the battle mission complete, and I personally say thank you to all of the troops that served, their families that served with them and most certainly to those that paid the ultimate price.

Today I received an email from the office of the President, a mass mailing type email to be sure that encouraged everyone reading it to take a look at the image and the timeline of the Iraq war since he took office.  It also encouraged everyone to take a moment to say thank you to the troops and their families.  And so I opened the link to the timeline and the images, but I didn’t really care about the timeline I just wanted to look at the images and remember.  I wanted to remember because something as horrific as war should never be forgotten so that it can be repeated again.  But I have to say that I found more in those images than I thought I would.  I found a very small symbol that change is happening albeit slower than what we sometimes want.

What did I see?  I saw the gravestone of a fallen soldier, a fallen Pagan soldier.  How do I know this?  Because on this stone was a pentacle to represent his faith.  Sometimes we forget what we have fought for and what we may have to fight for in the future.  This was a reminder of why it is I do what I do.  So may the gods bless this fallen soldier who reminded me and may the gods of those who fought with him bless them as well.  I encourage you to take a look at the images regardless of your belief and remember it is the freedoms to be who we are openly that so many have paid the ultimate price. 

You can find the images at the following link:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/iraq?utm_source=email137&utm_medium=image&utm_campaign=iraq

 

 

The Wheel of the Year has turned once again and we find ourselves facing the new year.  The harvests are in, more or less, the fires are lit, and it’s time to honor those that have gone through the veil before us and to reflect on what lies before us in the coming year. For many the road is clear and direct.  They know where they are going; the path in front of them was set long ago.  But for many there is uncertainty.  The loss of work, a place to live, health care has happened to someone you may know and/or love.  Heavens, it may have happened to you.  It is important to reflect on what the Wheel means now more than ever.

As we leave Samhain behind us we enter the darkest time of the year.  But we do so with the understanding that the Goddess is resting, her womb expanding, waiting to give birth to the God once again at Yule.  It is only out of the darkness, the chaos of the primordial sea, that order and light are born.

But for tonight, honor those that have passed this last year.  Light a candle, place and extra plate at the table, go outside and whisper their names – honor them through remembrance.  Do this and they may just help guide you through the dark.

I decorated our tree yesterday, something that I enjoy doing each year.  My husband had pulled all of the decorations out of the attic and brought them down a couple of days before.  When he did so he told me he was glad to have me decorate the tree as long as he got to put the topper on.  Our topper: Father Winter that we bought on a road trip to North Carolina a year or two ago.

So yesterday, in the quiet afternoon, I began to decorate.  Pulling out each ornament from the box, wrap, or bag that has kept it safe the past year I was transported backwards in time as memories of celebrations gone by came flooding back.  There was a white hat with pink feathers that was my daughter at about age 10 or 11; a penguin or ten that are my son.  Gingerbread girls, boys and bears made over the years documenting the growth of our family.  A wolf and her pups, an owl, and Curious George made their way to the branches.  Old fashioned glass candy canes and  Santa were next.  Memories of a time when life was lived in California and not on the east coast were joined by the more recent memories portrayed by bobble headed Yankees players that my husband owned.  Golf balls with faces and “Babies 1st Christmas” tell of life before we met also found their places on the tree. A bulb to find a cure for AIDS, one to end world hunger, sea shells glittered, and a tree skirt of red and green – all memories held close to my heart.

As I put the ornaments in their places I began to think of this ritual that I’ve done so many times.  With live trees, cut trees, fake trees, trees outside, and the most important one – the asparagus fern the year we had a “welfare Christmas”.  That’s what we called it because there was money only for one gift each; a small gift and nothing more. No tree at all. That year we decorated the house plants with the ornaments and it was enough.  Each year there seems to be something added, just like life itself each year brings new memories.  But the one year we had next to nothing I remember the best.  I remember it because it made me think about what it was that we were doing.  My entire family will tell you I’m not one for gift giving this time of year.  Christmas really isn’t my holiday and so I don’t give gifts then, at Yule I only give something small, usually an item that I found some time prior that jumped out and said “this person needs to have me.”  I’m sure my children would rather have had lots of things over the years, but I just don’t do it.  I show them in other ways I suppose, and they show me as well in return.

My son called and asked what our plans were for Christmas day.  I laughed when I answered that we had planned on a traditional Hudson Christmas: Chinese food and a movie.  He laughed as well; we had spent many a holiday together in that fashion, our own tradition.  My daughter and I discussed what we would both be doing and each of us has the same attitude; it doesn’t matter really if we get together or not.  We will be spending the solstice together and that is what counts to her and I.  We also agreed that my son should spend the day with his in-laws because it is a day of celebration for them; he needs to honor that.  And yet, none of the discussions took away the depth and meaning of my memories, our memories. 

Each ornament has found its place, each memory is cherished, all of it representing the many roads I and my family have travelled to get to this point in time.  I like my memories of Christmas’ past.  And a new one this year: my husband putting Father Winter one more time on the top of the tree in the evenings light.

So, regardless of what path you are on or what faith you follow, here’s to making many memories in the future of Yule fires with friends, egg nog with Cat Daddy, a gift or two for loved ones and all of us growing wiser together.

It is always an interesting ritual; one that each of us has to go through, one that can’t be avoided, and yet the emotions that go with it are mixed. Sometimes the individual is happy, sometimes sad. Sometimes it is a mixture of both, the realization that this portion of their life is complete and it is time to move forward. What is the ritual? It is the cutting of the cords.

Last night as the snow fell around us, we gathered as a group to cut the cords of the one Senior that is graduating at mid-year. It was a beautiful setting, powder like snow all around us, the chill of the air, the smell of sage and a gathering of friends in the night. I enjoyed letting this one go, this particular friend. It isn’t that I want to see her go, but she has to. There are times when we all have to move forward to discover who we really are.

Last year I had a group of students ask if they could observe the ritual. They didn’t really understand what the significance was, but they were interested in watching a “pagan ritual.” As they arrived we talked and I explained what would be happening – they still didn’t understand. I invited them to participate in the ritual if they chose; if not I asked that they show respect by observing silently during the rite. I was a little surprised and pleased when about half of them decided to join in.

They followed the queues that the pagan students gave, asking questions about what to do when they couldn’t figure it out. The callings occurred and they became part of what we were doing. Then it occurred, the students to be let go came to the center, and like last night, each had their cords cut. There were tears at that ritual, there were none last night – difference between individuals and their readiness to face the next stage. After the ritual was done, the guests had questions about what they had just experienced. The question that I remember the most came from one very emotional young man. He told me that he didn’t expect what happened, that he felt the ripping and tearing of the cords as each person had theirs cut. As he was relating his own experience he said he felt the pain of the cut that it seemed brutal and uncaring and did it have to happen. Why do we have to cut cords?

It’s a question that I get asked often, especially from those that are the reason we are having the ritual. It is simple; it has to be done in order for individuals to grow and for the group to remain thriving. As I explained to the young man, cutting of the cords isn’t a “gentle act” to wish someone well. It can be a violent act since what we are doing it cutting the ethereal ties the individual has to the group. I explained that for the growth and survival of each, the cutting must take place. I went on to describe it in the only terms that I could: this is the cutting of their spiritual umbilical cord. When a child is born into the world their physical umbilical cord connecting them to their mother is severed. If it isn’t both the child and the mother die. The cutting is bloody, messy, tough to do, violent, and yet absolutely necessary. The student group at the University in many cases is the spiritual womb for these students where they begin to learn who they are spiritually and what path they need to walk.

Once the cutting is done they are not left alone to face the world on their own. I always ask members of the larger community to be there. It may be only one or two, but they are there. The student stands alone for a moment. Some travel through it easily, others say it is a time when they feel absolutely isolated. But I don’t leave them there that would be irresponsible. They are reconnected to community, loved ones, beings outside the smaller University group, and given the knowledge that are part of the greater pagan world now where connections will be made when necessary. The ritual is complete.

Last night was an easy traverse of the void between womb and world. She was ready to separate awhile ago and she did so with joy. In fact, for me it was a joyous ritual, one where silliness and fun needed to be present. She will move forward, on her way home in less than a week she will find her community. That is my next obligation to her: a connection that I promised near her hometown.

So as you travel through life take a moment to think about your own cords. Have you cut the ones that need to be? If you haven’t, are they harmful to your growth? If so, what are you going to do about it? And yes, that moment of absolute alone after the cutting can be terrifying, but the discovery that it leads to can be amazing.

The Dean of Hendricks Chapel was installed to the position on October 25th, 2010.  This was a grand day, a significant day, in the history of the Chapel.  Tiffany Steinwert’s installation marked her inclusion to a very exclusive list.  In the 80 year history of the Chapel Rev. Steinwert is just the 6th Dean and the first female.  I note that she is female only for the record books; her gender has no bearing on her ability to lead, her ability to listen, her ability to understand, nor her ability to move the Chapel to what it will become in the future.  It is only a point of interest to some.

But there was more to the day than the formality of the installation.  Gathered for the event were members of a multitude of religious traditions.  Muslim, Jew, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh sat together to watch the proceedings. On the stage each faith was represented with their clergy robed and seated to exemplify the deep commitment to interfaith/interreligious recognition and dialogue that make up the Chapel.  I was proud to represent the Pagan community.  I was even more proud that in the clergy procession Druid and Wiccan representatives were among those present.  I was also proud that there were many other members of the Pagan community in the audience.  Asatru, Solitary, CUUPS, Wiccan, Eclectic and more – all present, all invited as equals on this day of celebration.  But I am beginning in the middle; I should go back to the beginning of the day’s events. So I’ll go back a bit…

As my friend and I arrived at the Chapel I had no idea where to go or what to do.  I was dressed in my finest pagan garb: a sky blue dress, athame on my hip, deep blue velvet cloak, and labradorite pendant.  When we finally figured out what to do I left Tim upstairs in the main chapel where the installation was going to occur so he could find a seat.  I headed downstairs to gather with others that were going to process at the beginning of the ceremony.  Now knowing where to go I felt the day was finally beginning.  As I entered the Nobel Room I spotted Skip Ellison, ADF Arch Druid Emeritus.  It was nice to see a familiar face.  Soon Gail Wood found us and we all waited for instructions on what to do.  At one point a gentleman from another faith commented on Gail’s cloak, a compliment.  Many of those in the room had most likely never knowingly interacted with Pagans.  To have Pagans in the room as recognized clergy was probably a new experience for them.  Our instructions came.  I was to line up with the Hendricks Chapel Chaplains, all other clergy were to line up in front of us and walk in pairs. I saw another Pagan had joined Skip and Gail but could not see who it was. I had to smile; three individuals representing our multiple traditions just as the triple god and goddess represent the depths of their being – how appropriate.

I was in the second row of Chaplains when I entered the room.  Such grand ceremony and ritual this was, and now to reenter the middle of the story… we entered the chapel, and as a collective representation of the multiplicity of faith that is Hendricks Chapel, we took our seats to witness and give approval to the installation of the Dean.  The ceremony was the usual line up of prayers, short speeches and music that you would find in a church service; one couched in an academic setting that is.  But today there was a small difference – the student speaker was Pagan.  She is a member of SPIRAL, the student Pagan group on campus.  She is also the official face of Hendricks Chapel.  Sierra is the President of the Hendricks Chapel Choir, Vice President of SPIRAL, and member/leader in many other groups.  I consider her a living, breathing, walking example of interfaith. Sierra was giving the student welcome to the new Dean and to the guests in the audience.  As she went through her speech I thought of the discussion we had earlier, she was scared and nervous.  What she portrayed was grace and beauty, gifts from the Goddess that Sierra carries through every part of her life.  Her welcome was inclusive, warm and ended with an unexpected note.  Sierra closed with “Peace be with you and Blessed Be.”  Nothing, in my opinion, was more moving or profound than those two statements being said together. 

As the ceremony ended we processed out, continuing on to the reception that followed.  There I was able to talk to friends old and new from the Pagan community.  Friends of mine who were present wanted to meet the Dean and so I made sure to bring her to them for the introduction.  She was pleasant as always and told us something that was a little surprising.  As far as religious groups were concerned, Pagans had one of the largest representations for the event.  We can be proud; we did not hide from being recognized.

I was also able to meet several others during the reception. People who were both Pagan and non-Pagan that wanted to introduce themselves and begin to invite our voice to other locations, other discussions. Transition is beginning, Pagans are beginning to be seen and heard.  We need to be ready to accept the responsibility of telling our stories and moving forward.  Most will never get the opportunities that have been placed in front of me but that doesn’t mean that my voice is any greater than another.  It just means that this part of my journey has put me in this position.  I will continue to work, talk, walk, yell, scream, discuss, get scared, and move forward.  I hope you do to. 

Yesterday was Mabon, a festival of harvest. It is the time of the Autumn Equinox when light and dark are equal and once again we can reflect on balance and the maturing of things within our life. But yesterday was different for me. It was formal ritual shared with students on campus as always, however, the events of the day (the year actually) created the true spirit that was carried into the circle. It was what came before that made a festival of harvest possible.

It is one thing to reflect on the “seeds” we have figuratively planted in our Spring, watching those things we have nurtured and waited to come to fruition. It is another thing all together to actually put things into the ground, tend to them, and begin to harvest crop. When you are able to combine the two you begin to appreciate even more the rituals and their deeper meanings. Last year I began the planting of a new life. Yesterday I began to harvest the physical fruit of that labor.

Living on a farm is new to me. Well, new as of last year. I have planted berries in the field; experimenting on which will be the best growing on my land in order to produce a viable selling crop. To help with the growing process I partnered with my son in raising bees. What better way to give back to the environment, to nature, than to help in the pollination process. It was also understood that there would then be a second crop: honey. I am new at this type of work and so in both endeavors I have made mistakes and learned a great deal. In both areas I have learned a lot and it hasn’t all been about how to grow plants. A great deal has been about my self, my family, and relationships of all kinds.

Yesterday was Wednesday and it was a grey day. One of those days when it is rainy but not, warm and oppressive, but you still feel a need to wear long sleeves because of the overcast skies. It was a grey day. It was also not my son’s normal day off. For the past several weeks he has been off on Thursday and I have gotten use to planning around that schedule to do work with him or just to visit in general. But he was off and there was work to be done. The work of the harvest does not wait for us to be ready, it makes us ready.

Dan and Jen showed up late in the afternoon and within a short time Dan and I were suited up and heading to the hives. We had decided to do only a small portion of the work. Take out a piece of equipment that had naturally removed the bees from the portion of the hive we were going to extract honey from. That was our plan, our only plan. It was to say the least incomplete and rather naive on our part. When I arrived at the first hive (the aggressive one) my son was already there. He had the top of the hive off and was beginning to work towards taking the first honey chamber off. Off it came and taken to the back of the jeep. At that point we knew we would be working longer than originally thought, we had to do something with the combs of honey. We then began to work at removing the excluder. It was full of bees working on storing food for the winter.

Now I have to explain, the excluder is what begins the process of removing the bees from the area where we want to harvest honey. It is only 1 ½” thick and consists of plywood and a triangular piece of mesh over a maze that the bees have to walk through. It works, it works well. But on the underside of the excluder, the part next to the second chamber, there are bees. Lots of bees. Dan told me he knew he was going to get stung. Not a big deal, we both have been stung. It happens when you work with bees. But there are times when you can minimize what will happen next. We didn’t minimize. I won’t explain what happened next that caused the issue, I’m not really sure, but the bees became “upset” and decided that Dan was going to be the target of their anger. The excluder was now on the ground, the honey chamber in the back of the jeep, me at the open hive, and Dan is running in the other direction with bees attacking. It was somewhat humorous from my vantage point – they weren’t mad at me. I put the top back on the hive, strapped it down and watched my son getting further and further away. I picked up the excluder. It didn’t have any bees left in it, they were chasing Dan. I took it to the Jeep and began to look at the comb, it looked good. Dan had stopped running and swatting. The bees that were inside his face veil were now gone and amazingly he hadn’t been stung. He joined me as I looked at the second hive and we both knew we had work there as well. Not part of our plan, but that is okay. These bees didn’t hate us.

It took us about 10 minutes more and our work was finished. Our work in the field that is. We decided to take the frames of comb and begin extracting the honey. We took all of the equipment to my son’s house and began to set up. It isn’t difficult, but it can be a little messy. Most importantly we had fun and in the process, beautiful golden honey began to flow in to a five gallon bucket. Our harvest was real, very real. Clear, golden, sweet, wild flower honey. We filtered and bottled it, but I had to leave before it was totally done, after all I had a harvest ritual to facilitate! I would be coming back later, my husband had by this time joined us, and we would leave the farm jeep at Dan’s and Bill would go to the ritual with me.

As we arrived at campus I set up sacred space: first the altar and then the perimeter; in the center a small table, a cauldron on the ground and candles to help light the area. Eight candles defined the circle and soon all was set, circle cast, and pre ritual briefing done. This ritual had an added bonus: Anthropology students observing a Pagan ritual. It is an occurrence that has been repeated for several years, agreed to by myself and the professor of the class. But last night was different, the professor joined the ritual. This is the first time I remember her doing that, and I was thrilled. The ritual was combined with the full moon honoring. All was beautiful and as we worked through the events of the rite I wanted people to find the harvests that they have worked so hard to create, joyful harvests within their lives. Find and share they did, but the sharing was with the gods, not with us. Each shared their joy with deity, sending their thanks through fire letting the gods know that they appreciate the happiness in their lives. And then I shared, first verbally then visually, the harvest that I had that day. One jar of golden honey, honey that had been in the hive only a few hours earlier. The first taste was given to the Dagda, protector of the harvest, the second to our guest the professor, and then to all of students in ritual. The ability to offer such a gift was amazing. The energy of giving, of physically enjoying, the harvest of life was powerful.

I realized standing there that this is what life is for: to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Whether it is in the relationships we build with our family or the food that we place on our table, we need to appreciate it all. I teach students to eat deliberately at least once a day. Understand where the food on your table comes from and what it took to bring it to you. Last night that act took on new meaning in my life. I was overwhelmed that I could offer to the gods the first taste of the first crop of my new life. It took a great deal to bring me to this point, to be able to understand these things. So eat deliberately, drink deliberately, love deliberately, and understand.

I hope you have had a blessed Mabon.

This has been a difficult week for me with the passing of my friend.  Teresa now walks on the other side of the veil, most likely busier than ever, watching over all of us.  But now I begin to find peace in her death.  I did not know how or when it would come, but I can sleep better now that we have honored her through her last rite of passage for this life. 

Last night we honored her, not for the final time, but for the last time while she was with us physically.  Now it is time to honor her as an ancestor.  She would smile at that, not snicker or scoff, but smile and possibly giggle.  She can no longer deny the titles or designations of wisdom that we will give her.  She truly is an ancestor, one we are very willing to receive advice, wisdom, and solace from.  She was and is my friend and it was my honor to take part in last night’s ritual.  It was the beginning of my healing and for that I thank her deeply.

I did not know how powerful the ritual would be, how deeply it would impact me.  But it did.  I know that I do not do the readers justice in giving only snippets of a ritual here, but that is all that I am willing to share, that I’m willing to give.  I will only say that when a flame is snuffed out it leaves a darkness that cannot be imagined until you feel it.  I felt that darkness last night and the rebirth of her soul in the flame of spirit.  Her release was sweet; my release has begun.

I thank you Teresa for all you have taught me, for all you have laughed and cried over, for all you have given, and for all that you will continue to do – in this life and in the next.

Blessings.

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