Saturday, September 22, 2018

Natural Autumn Equinox Altar 2018


As the sweat drips from my temple, it's hard to imagine that this is the first day of fall.  After all, the leaves on the trees are still fresh and green, the grass is lush and monarchs flit through the air.  With the 90F temperatures, bright sun and recent rain that has allowed the summer flowers to finally blossom, Missouri seems like a pleasant oasis right now.  Soon, though, they'll be migrating south to avoid our frigid winters.  You can see it in the light yellow leaves that confetti the ground of a nearby tree, the fall blossoms nearing the fence line and the slight chill in the otherwise humid air.  Autumn is near.

Yes, near, but not quite here.  While today is the first day of fall, the equinox doesn't officially occur until 8:54 pm tonight.  The equinoxes are two scientifically-observable times of near-equal night and day that occur in the spring and fall, marking the beginning of each season.  They're holidays of balance, asking us to look inwards towards what we are grateful for and what we need to let go.  In the spring, we celebrate growth and new goals.  In the fall, we celebrate closure and gratitude.  A harvest festival, we often show our gratitude by large feasts with friends and family, earning this holiday the nickname of the "pagan Thanksgiving."



During my end-of-the-year survey, readers asked for simple, more affordable and natural altars.  In response to that, I began a natural altar series on February Eve.  I continue that series today.  The rules are simple:

I cannot go out and purchase anything for these altars.
The altars must be made of natural items found around my house, in local parks and walking trails or items that I already own.
The value of already-owned items cannot exceed $5 and should be easily accessible.
The emphasis should be on natural items.
The altar can take no more than 10 minutes to put together and photograph.


For this altar, no non-natural items were used but I did purchase this beautiful red apple at our local farmer's market.  Apples are a common sign of the autumn equinox as they're the main harvest of the holiday.  They're also commonly associated with knowledge and wisdom, between folklore and their timely gifts to teachers as children begin school.  By placing this apple at the center of my altar, I wanted to surround it in a way that emphasized this theme of wisdom and knowledge.


Around the apple, spiraling outward, are the yellowing leaves of a spindle tree.  Spindles are decorative European trees often used here in US landscaping for their beauty, making them adaptable.  They're particularly relevant to autumn because, once the air grows cooler, they produce gorgeous red-orange berries, setting the landscape ablaze.  These berries aren't edible - in fact, they're quite toxic - but its beauty is what makes this tree so desirable in suburban lawns.  Spindle trees are thus adaptable and beautiful, but the yellowing of their leaves is of particular interest.  Yellow is the color of learning and communication, again going back to the theme of wisdom and intelligence on this altar.


Also spiraling out from the apple are these small pink flowers called smartweed.  Everything you need to know about smartweed's associations are right in the name: The sprawling vine represents intelligence and adaptability, playing right into the theme of the altar.


On the altar is a theme of seven: Seven arms of spindle leaves and seven smartweed flowers.  In numerology, seven is the sign of widsom and introspection.  I spun the pinwheel spiral counter-clockwise to represent our fall back into the darker months, linking the altar back to the holiday at hand.


Finally, at the bottom of the altar, I placed an array of spindle leaves mixed with the few maple that I could find in my yard.  Maple trees are a common sign of autumn because their leaves turn all shades of yellow, orange and red, a magnificent display for the time of year.  Maples are also a sign of strength.  Any kind of intellectual pursuit takes determination and mental strength, and these leaves dropped in here and there represent just that.


Overall, this altar is an ode to introspection and wisdom.  As we turn to the darker half of the Wheel yet again, we turn inward, examining our goals and preparing for the cold months ahead.  At such times, wisdom is key.  The intelligence to prepare, the knowledge of exactly what to do and the wisdom to look ahead are important factors.  Our children are in school, adult classes begin and the season of learning returns.



I'll leave you with a visual dissection of the altar.  Enjoy!


Have a blessed equinox!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

[Guest Article: Katy-Rose] The Autumn Equinox as a British Druid


A note from Witchy Words:  This article was offered to me by my good friend Katy in order to give my readers a broader perspective on the various practices of paganism during this time of the year.  Enjoy!

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I began my journey in June 2004 as a solitary witch of no specific tradition. As I grew, my path changed. I have been solitary, partaken in Alexandrian Wiccan rituals, led esbat rites with friends, and found Druidry in 2009. For the scholar in me, having the Welsh mythos to underlie my practise (and living in the British Isles), this practise resonates for me like no other.

In 2012, I realised that I was a Druid, no matter what label I gave myself. Druids still use the four elements and directions but, in our day-to-day practise, we focus on three aspects: Land, sea and sky. For me, the fact we are on an island really shapes the experiences of the natural world.

So now you know who I am, let’s jump in. 


The Autumnal Equinox is, hands down, my favourite festival.

In fact, Autumn as a season, is my favourite time of the year. Here in England, we actually get less rainfall, more clear, blue skies and sunshine but without ridiculous heat-waves. I love the colours but, mostly, I love the way every breath feels fresh and new and cool.

Traditionally, in the Northern Hemisphere, this occurs around 20-23 September. This is the day when night and day are equal, hence the term “equinox” which literally means “equal night.”

For many pagans and witches, this is a time of balance, of harvest, and represents the coming of winter as summer fades. In Wicca, this is often known as Mabon, which means ‘Son’ or Modron, which means ‘Mother.’  From the colours of red and orange to apples and leaves adorning altars, these are fairly universal concepts.

Although not specific to Druidry, the main story of the Mabon is a Welsh tale. Long story short, a Mother’s son is kidnapped and she journeys to find him, speaking with the wise owl, the salmon and the stag (some versions have an eagle and blackbird too.) One theory for this particular story connecting to this time of year in particular is due to the parallels with a Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, which explains the fading flora and fauna of autumn into winter.

In Druidry, the four cardinal sabbats have Welsh names. This equinox is named ‘Alban Elfed’, which means 'The Light of the Water', in stark contrast to the Spring Equinox, which translates to ‘Light of the Earth.’ The interplay between land, sea and sky moves throughout the year throughout the festival names, which I find is especially appropriate as the British Isles are... *drumroll* islands.

As is common in paganism, there are many overlaps with the festivals. Druids focus on gratitude in this festival: Thanking the earth as Mother or Giver for the harvest at summer’s end and, as the earth begins to sleep, withdrawal, sacrifice and death are big themes. In one open ritual, we carried scythes and sickles to represent the cutting of the corn, the sacrifice of plants to give us an abundance of food.

I think this aspect of thanksgiving is really specific for me because we don’t have any normal thanks-giving space or festival in British culture, except when studying our ancestors. We understand that our ancestors would see the sun’s power fading around this time, and thus it’s a time to bid farewell to the sun and rest, waiting for its return.  This is the time the land has given up harvest in reward of the hard work put into the agriculture over spring and summer, so harvesting, gratitude and hoarding for the winter were traditional.

Following the energy and life bursting forth in summer, the autumn is a space to pause. It represents the west as this is where the sun sets, and thus the energy tends to foster a sense of reflection and recollection as the year begins to close.



My Personal Practise

Preparing the Pantry. As a solitary pagan, I focus on almost a “spring cleaning” type of weekend, which allows me to preserve dying foods (cook/bake/freeze) and practically get rid of things I’ve not used ready to make room for new things next ‘cycle’ or year.

Focusing on Balance. As the year moves from light to dark, I consider how the summer went, what I enjoyed or didn’t, but also things I may have neglected (often more indoor activities) such as art, journaling and visualisation. I like to review the past few months, but also make plans that might need a bit of preparation over the next few months in order to be ready for Spring.

Meditation. I also tend to meditate more in the Autumn: awake from the freshness, but not too cold to get up makes this a LOT easier for me, personally. Again, it’s a form of reflection, harvesting my mental space and also harnessing my inner strength which might dwindle a little as the days get shorter.

Simple Cleansing. Baths, cleaning and de-cluttering, removing old to make space for the new. Anything which closes one aspect of life to let another door open. You get the gist.

Preparation. I also ‘prepare for winter.’ Usually this involves getting in the habit or putting my SAD lamp on, gathering some books to read, washing all my favourite blankets to snuggle up in and bring my hot water bottles down to the kitchen, ready for use.

Decide what to leave behind. It is a time of completion. And as the light half closes, step forward and leave behind those things that no longer serve you.


How do you celebrate the turning of the year?
Have more specific questions about British paganism or Druidry specifically? Ask them below!

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Katy-Rose lives in South England, supporting young offenders in her community by day and coaching practical creatives to follow their inner fire by night.  She was loosely raised as Protestant Christian [Church of England] and began practising witchcraft in 2004. These days, she holds a somewhat-scientific view of the gods as being part of the field of energy yet refers to them by the elements. She most-closely connects to Druidry as her main path. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Autumn Equinox / Mabon: Ten ideas for solitary witches!


Below are ten crafts, altars, spells and ritual ideas for solitaries that either I personally, my coven or other covens have done throughout the past five years.  Enjoy!


ONE
Have a Mabon Feast
Known as the witch's Thanksgiving, the autumn equinox is a great time to have friends and family over for a seasonal potluck dinner, much the way Circle of Fountains did in 2015.


TWO
Create a Seasonal Altar
Use items you find in the park, your backyard or your local farmer's market to make a seasonal altar like I did in 2015.


THREE
Enjoy the Harvest Fire
Celebrate the start of autumn with a small fire like Circle of Fountains did in 2015.  Bonus if you add some fall treats like S'mores to the mix!


FOUR
Celebrate Balance
The equinox celebrates equal day and night.  What better way to emphasize this than to light a black candle to release something and a white candle to draw something in as my coven did in 2013.


FIVE
Apple Magic
Apples are the harvest of the season!  Research the may ways you could incorporate them into your ritual or altar!


SIX
Express Gratitude
Find a way to show your gratitude during this season of thankfulness.  One such way is to state what you're thankful for after each bite you take of an apple as I did in 2015!


SEVEN
Fall Cleaning
Cleaning out your home isn't just for the spring!  Do some physical and spiritual fall cleaning like I did in 2016!


EIGHT
A Transitional Sigil
Create a bind rune or sigil to help you with the transition from the lighter half of the year to the darker half as my previous coven did in 2014!


NINE
Seasonal Stone Chest
Paint a small box with the colors or themes of the season and fill it with a stone for something you'd like to invoke in the darker half of the year similar to what my coven did in 2016


TEN
Create a Cornucopia
Fill a cornucopia or basket you find at a thrift store with fruits, vegetables and leaves either as an altar decoration or as the centerpiece to your fall feast like I did in 2013!

I hope you have a blessed equinox!