Celebrating the New Moon – Nov 2014

Ancient people’s considered the Moon to be a deity. For the Romans, she was the goddess Luna, while for the Norse and Anglo Saxons, he was the god Mani or Mona. Today is the New Moon. There are eight phases in the lunar cycle – from the new moon to the full moon and back again. The moon is very important for life on earth – especially for controlling the tides (natures recycling plan).

In ancient times, many cultures planned their calendars by the moon and there are still farming communities today who plant according to it. The metonic cycle of 19 years is the time it takes for the lunar and solar calendars to come together in sync and that might be why 19 years is mentioned in Druidry.

I think the best times to celebrate the lunar cycle are at the full moon and the new moon. The new moon is a great time for going stargazing and focusing on our relationship with the universe. It’s also a time for meditation and inner reflection. It is a time to look back over the past month to evaluate it and to make plans and goals for the next. Its also a time for cleaning your house or altar. Pouring a libation to the Moon at this time can also be a good practice.

In Hellenic Reconstructionism, the new moon is a very important time and three days of celebration are often held. The first day (the day before) is Hekates Deipnon, when one honours Hekate as bringer of life. Homes are prepared for the transition and it is a time of purification of self, home and one’s affairs. A meal offering is given to Hekate either on an altar or at a crossroads. Something is also given to those less fortunate. Meanwhile, the fridge and altar are also cleaned. Day two is Noumenia, the first day of the visible new moon, when Selene and Hestia are honoured. It is the start of the month so they ask for blessings on the household. The home is decorated with seasonal flowers and there is a big feast. It is also the time to create a list of goals for the month. Finally, the third day is Agathos Daimon when there is a libation to the personal household or family spirit (often personified as a snake) and prayers for continued blessings on the family. As it is also associated with Dionysus, the celebrations are finished with a small glass of wine.

There are many ways to celebrate the New Moon as Naturalistic Pantheists. Do you celebrate it in your practice? What do you do?

Can ancient Greek philosophy improve your life?

Last year I wrote about the research project by Exeter University on applying the Ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism to our modern lives. Over 2400 people took part in their #StoicWeek and the feedback was that it did help people. I found it a great benefit to myself too. Next week the 2014 StoicWeek begins and you can all take part. There is no cost and it’s not a great commitment but by the end of the week you’ll be able to see if Stoicism has anything to offer your life.

You can find all the information you need here - http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/2014/10/20/stoic-week-2014-everything-you-need-to-know/

I encourage every reader of this blog to sign up and see how it will benefit you.

For more information about my experience last year, see here.

Matt.

stoic1

Remembrance Sunday 2014

Today in the UK it is Remembrance Sunday, a time to remember those who have died in war for us.It is also 100 years since the first world war began. My great great grandfather Edward was killed in the Battle of the Somme so this is the day I remember him. One day I hope to visit his grave in France. I took part in the remembrance march and service and then lit a candle on my ancestor altar, along with putting a poppy on there. I think it is an important thing for pagans to do.

Remembrance-Day

Atheism 2.0

So Philip Carr Gomm, the head of OBOD, posted a video of a TED talk by Alain De Botton entitled “Atheism 2.0″ setting out what atheism can learn from religion and the way forward. It is absolutely fascinating and I encourage you to give it a watch too…

Celebrating the Full Moon – Frost Moon – Nov 2014

Ancient people’s considered the Moon to be a deity. For the Romans, she was the goddess Luna, while for the Norse and Anglo Saxons, he was the god Mani or Mona. Today is the Full Moon. I call it Frost Moon because there are usually a lot of frosts now killing off the plants. There are eight phases in the lunar cycle – from the new moon to the full moon and back again. The moon is very important for life on earth – especially for controlling the tides (natures recycling plan).

In ancient times, many cultures planned their calendars by the moon and there are still farming communities today who plant according to it. The metonic cycle of 19 years is the time it takes for the lunar and solar calendars to come together in sync and that might be why 19 years is mentioned in Druidry.

I think the best times to celebrate the lunar cycle are at the full moon and the new moon. The full moon is a time of thanksgiving. It is a good time to get together with family or friends, have a big feast with lots of moon shaped foods e.g. fajitas or pizza, create a full moon altar or go to a local water source to watch the tides. It is also considered a time for peace, so it is a good day to spend focusing on helping the community and working for peace locally or globally. Other possibilities include researching and learning more about the moon or indulging your creative side (often the moon is seen as feminine and creativity is often seen as a feminine attribute) e.g. by writing poetry.

There are many ways to celebrate the Full Moon as Naturalistic Pantheists. Do you celebrate it in your practice? What do you do?

Celebrating Samhain 2014

Also known as Halloween or All Hallows Eve, Samhain is the festival on which the ancient Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter.

At this time the earth appears to die, laying dormant through the dark cold times ahead. The leaves are changing colour and falling from the trees. The harvest has been collected from the fields and they lie empty. The livestock have been brought down from the pastures, the weakest animals are being culled for food and people return to their homes for feasting. Summer is over and winter is here. The days are getting much shorter and colder, the frosts are about to begin and animals are busy making final preparations for winter. Traditionally it was believed to be bad luck to harvest anything after this date and therefore any remaining harvest is left as an offering to deities or nature spirits. It was a time to give offerings to the gods in thanksgiving for the good harvest the people had.

Historian Ronald Hutton says “A feast with ritual practices…was…well known in both ancient Ireland and ancient Scandinavia, and represented by folk practices in the uplands of Wales and Scotland. There was, however, no common rite as there had been at Beltane.” He further states that “there seems to be no doubt that the opening of November was the time a major pagan festival was celebrated” but that there is no evidence that it was connected with the dead or that it was the new year. Rather, the association with the dead came through Christianity and the development of All Souls Day. However, it was a time to guard against and propitiate supernatural forces.

Samhain is the most widely mentioned festival in Irish mythology and the Gaulish Colignay calendar also mentions it as the end of the pastoral year. It is mentioned as the first festival in the Irish tale of Tochmarc Emire as “Samhain, when summer goes to rest.” It is the time when the Morrighan and An Dagda mate in a river for victory at the second battle of Magh Tuiredh, and it is a time to honour Donn, the father of the Irish race and chief of the sons of Mil. He is the Celtic lord of the dead, the dark one who was drowned in the battle to invade Ireland. He now dwells on a small island named Tech Duinn, the waiting place of the dead before they journey to the Otherworld. In contrast, Historian Peter Berresford-Ellis says that the god Bile is also a god of the dead who transports souls to the Otherworld. Another story related to this time of harvest is the story of why offerings are given to the Tuathe De Danaan. After the Milesians (ancient Irish) conquered Ireland from the Tuatha De Danaan, the land was divided up with the Milesians on the land and the Tuathe De Danaan under the ground. But the Tuathe continued to destroy the crops and stop cows producing milk so an agreement was reached with An Dagda so that the Irish offered a portion of their harvest to the Tuathe De Danaan in exchange for their friendship and blessing on the land. The Cailleach Bheur, the old hag of winter can also be honoured at this time.

Bede said october was named “Vuinter-fylleth” as it signified the beginning of winter, while November was named “blod-monath”because this was when the annual slaughter of livestock occurred to reduce the number of animals kept through the lean months. Hutton says that pagan Scandinavia held its own major festival at the opening of winter, called winter nights, on the saturday between 11th and 17th of October, but that there is no evidence this ever came to Britain.

For the ancient Celts who split the year into two halves, Samhain marks the transition from the summer half of the year to the winter half, from life to death. They believed that any time or place of transition was sacred. Just like Beltane, at this time the veil between this world and the Otherworld was at its thinnest and therefore the spirit world and human world could interact. As a night of liminality, transition, uncertainty, chaos and danger, it was believed that many otherworldly beings would be roaming on this night.

While there were fires lit in some areas on Samhain eve e.g. Scotland and Wales, this was not the case in Ireland, where Parshell Crosses were placed in the entrance to the house instead. Other practices at this time have included communal meals, candles being lit and prayers said for the dead, drinking and games, putting pieces of bread on windowsills for one’s ancestors, taking precautions against witches, divination by casting nuts into the bonfire to learn about death and marriage, carrying lights around in turnips and dressing up as monsters while causing mischief. It is also a time to sain and ward one’s property by walking the boundaries with fire and making rowan charms.

Gaelic reconstructionists avoid going out on this evening as the spirits as most active, or if they do, its in disguise. They light bonfires and carry flames around their property to protect and sain it. They carve turnip lanterns, hold big feasts, do divinations, give offerings to the gods and ancestors, leave food out for the dead and light candles for them. Its also a time to play games, sing songs and make a parshell cross.

Neo-pagans often celebrate this time with a dumb supper to honour the dead. For Norse reconstructionists, its a good time to honour Odin as the Norse god of the dead, frey as God of the harvest as well as the ancestors and elves (the disir and alfar).

With the revival of Paganism, the practice of ancestor veneration, a practice of the ancient Celts once dead in the western world, has begun to grow in popularity again. As Naturalistic Pantheists, this practice should also be a part of our lives. Samhain is a time of remembrance. It is a time to honour those who have died, whether friends, family or ancestors. It is a time to remember them and to be thankful for the role they have played in influencing our lives. They are not gone, they live on within us through our memories and genes, and within the earth as their atoms are reincarnated into a thousand different creations. Samhain reminds us that one day, we too must die. It is a time take stock of our lives and to meditate on the cycle of life and death, confronting a topic we too often do our best to avoid.

It is traditional to celebrate this festival by eating a large feast of late harvest foods e.g. pumpkins, apples, nuts, root vegetables and barmbrack bread. It’s also the traditional time for remembering our ancestors and those we have loved and lost e.g. by visiting their graves and putting fresh flowers there. Personally, I build an altar and put photos and mementos of those I have lost recently on it. I also put up my family tree. On Samhain eve I perform a ritual of remembrance, lighting a candle for each person I am remembering and holding a minutes silence in respect. I am also having a party with friends, decorating the house and eating traditional foods like Pumpkin soup, Colcannon (mashed potato with kale or cabbage), baked apples and gingerbread. I will do also carve a pumpkin, leave out a meal for the ancestors and drink lots of the sloe gin I made at the end of August, as well as mulled cider. The nearest Celtic area to me is Cornwall and this time is celebrated there as Allantide, where it is customary to give an Allan apple to each family member as a symbol of good luck and children would often put it under their pillows. I will probably do that too if I can find some.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

Davidson, H. R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin Books, 1964.

http://www.tairis.co.uk/
http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/
http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm