I See the Moon and the Moon Sees Me

Full Moon 2010 by Gregory H. ReveraPhoto courtesy of Gregory H. Revera

Ginny here. When Jess sent me this article, my inner prim little history head sniffed, “why do we insist on defacing history?”. Then I thought, “to be part of it, stupid”. It will be here long after we’re not. Once I got that out of the way, it was more fun.

The Great Wall is, I seem to remember, the only human made structure visible from the moon. So how big do the graffiti tags have to be to see them too? Can we send messages? How about art? We think about the stuff we’ve left on the moon—footprints, space vehicle trash—and that can’t be any better for the moon than our trash is all over the Earth. We just have to leave stuff everywhere and then comment on it. So what does the moon think about this new development? Does the moon even like graffiti art? And who sees it, which personifications of our big bright, eternally mysterious satellite? Is it Lady Moon—the profile image? Or is it the Man in the Moon who looks to be winking at us? Will the kind of graffiti we display effect the way the moon pulls on us, lunatics all? Remember this song?

So that was just for fun, dear reader. What kind of message will you send to the moon if you get to write in the Great Wall’s graffiti zone?

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras 2009 by InfrogmationMardi Gras 2009 courtesy of Infrogmation (talk)

Ginny here. I love Mardi Gras! The masks, the parades, the beads, the glitter! I have a serious weakness for the sparkly stuff! It more often falls in February, so I think of Mardi Gras as a winter festival. Fat Tuesday moves with the date of Easter each year, which moves with the full moon dates after the spring equinox but the festival season varies from city to city, so some traditions celebrate Carnival for the entire period between Twelfth Night (also called Epiphany or Three Kings Day) and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Mardi Gras is the last day to celebrate, eat and drink before the fasting of Lent begins.

King Cake -Wikepedia Public DomainEpiphany is also traditionally when celebrants serve King’s Cake, a custom that began in France in the 12th century. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake; the recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party.

So for some, Mardi Gras is the interlude, the between time when rules don’t apply, that links the Christmas season with the Easter season. It seems likely that an even older fasting tradition might come from a time when the winter stores were running low and there was still a month or more before new growth to gather, new game to hunt, began to appear. That early fast may not have been by choice.

Carnaval Venecia 14 feb 2009Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning “farewell to the flesh” and lots of historians see it as yet another late-winter celebration designed to welcome the coming spring. Others believe the festival represented the few days added to the lunar calendar to make it coincide with the solar calendar; since these days were “extra”, rules and customs were not obeyed. Could be! We’ve been making up ways to manipulate the calendar variations that have come down to us through history so they would all “talk to each other” as we move around the globe. Leap Day, that infamous 29th of February that only comes around every four years, is another attempt to make it all come out even.

It’s also another manifestation of time out of time, the in-between times and places that people have always found magical: marshes and beaches that are neither land nor water, dawn and dusk that are neither night nor day. These times and places have a potential to feel the imagination and Mardi Gras does that in spades! (There’s a whole card game, greater trumps kind of conversation that…..never mind, another time. Another time out of time, maybe.)

"She was stacked!" - KellyPortfolio.com“She was stacked!” courtesy of KellyPortfolio

What’s for sure is that the name Mardi Gras comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. This is also Shrove Tuesday (from “to shrive,” or hear confessions) and Pancake Tuesday and fetter Dienstag. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins –and before they spoil in the warmer weather to come.

The rich, French traditions of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras include lavish feasts and balls, King Cake, parades, beads, masks and costumes, all steeped in the steamy, smoky, music-filled ambiance of the southern coast.

MardicGrascDakar - Wikepedia Public DomainOther cities famous for Mardi Gras celebrations include Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Barranquilla, Colombia; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Quebec City, Canada; and Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico—and there are parades and celebrations in some places you wouldn’t expect, like Binche, Belgium and Dakar, Senegal!  

So—my traditions? My winter altar this year is, shall we say, robust! How could it not be after the fabulous Deep Winter workshop last month? New friends and old. Mardi Gras flavor, alongside the Year of the Horse, Brigid’s cross, Valentines and the silver cold reminder we had last weekend that it’s still winter—a little late this year, and sparkly like Mardi Gras. I love remembering the road trips to New Orleans from Houston—6 hours door to door, our house to Maison Dupuy in the Quarter. You enter another world as soon as you cross out of Texas into the Louisiana parishes. I wonder if there’s still a bird in the lobby who says, “Here, kitty, kitty!”. And the food…don’t get me started!

Mandy Anderson Mardi GrasPhoto courtesy of Mandy Anderson

Rex, one of the oldest New Orleans Mardi Gras krewes, has been participating in parades since 1872, and established purple, gold and green as the iconic Mardi Gras colors. I’ll be wearing them. Will you?

Deep Winter Reflections

Deep Winter Daylight AltarGinny here. We’ve been having our own version of Deep Winter this past weekend. A foot of snow had us buried and power outages had us isolated—makes the days that feel like they’re out of sync, slipped into another space and time.

We’re back in the sunshine now and it’s steaming off the melting snow crust. Time to tell you about the workshop earlier this month; it was a Winter winner.

Northwest Modern KitchenWe met up on a very chilly Saturday morning on the north shore of Lake Whatcom and sat in the cheerful kitchen, most of us with hot caffeine, getting to know one another better. The colors of Laurie Potter’s Cool Branch Road were just outside. It was already fun and got better, with a group of contemporary women who live in the now but were ready to travel freely to the past and the future.

Deep Winter SistersThe day was full of stories, laughter and revelations as we shared how we perceive the turning of the seasons and the celebrations that light up the winter dark: Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras. By evening we had created an altar we all loved and designed a ritual for Deep Winter that had meaning for all of us.

DDeep Winter Candlelight AltarMore photos from the workshop can be found here.

Here’s what our friend Sara Holodnick, co-founder of The Bureau of Historical Investigation, has to say about her experience:

Sara HolodnickSara here. When I decided to go to the first Sacred Return workshop I said something aloud like “Oh yeah, I’ve never been spiritual, but it’d be neat to learn about tradition and ritual with cool, accessible people.” But reflecting back on that explanation, I realize it wasn’t the full reason I wanted to be there. True: Ginny and Jess are incredibly cool, accessible people with big hearts and warm smiles. It’s hard not to feel at ease with the two of them in front of you, which makes learning new things from them seem like a great fit. They opened the workshop recognizing that this sort of thing can be pretty woo-woo (or “out there”), but that they wanted to give people like me—those without any real experience—a bridge to exploring rich history and tradition… With maybe only one woo to start with.

I doubt that I could’ve articulated the real reason I wanted to attend Sacred Return until after I had already gone. I don’t mean for that to sound sales pitch-y or hippy-dippy; neither of those things are my style. I do mean it in the sense that it feels so clear now why I needed to be there: My sometimes hectic lifestyle and big changes I’ve experienced over the past few years should’ve been really good indicators that I needed to reclaim my time and rebuild a connection to things outside of the very important work I love, and exert a little more control over my life.

So why did I really go to Sacred Return? What is the reason that seems so clear now, but that I couldn’t see before I walked through that door?

Well, let me put it this way: We live on a massive globe that is hurdling through space. This big rock spins and shifts, and the life on it shifts in time with it. We waltz: The Earth turns and tilts, and we often stumble along without realizing its lead. Box-stepping our way through life, we’re regularly pivoted into a new season. Much like taking a dance lesson, I went to Sacred Return to learn how to follow.

It’s said that the best dance leaders are those who can communicate their intentions, and the best followers those who can read those intentions and respond to them. Rather than being whipped from one season to another by exclaiming “How is already the end of February?!” I’d prefer to pick up on the signals I’m sent, to be more connected to the world around me.

Even amid the sleet and snow this past weekend, I saw our lilac bushes beginning to bud. Did you smell the change in the air last week? Could you swear the sun felt different than it did a few weeks before? Did you start craving that bottle of rosé as much as I did (that is, before the snow left you leaning more toward hot toddies)?

Once at the workshop we began by learning a bit about the wheel of the year: the equinoxes, the solstices, the physical changes in the world around us. After some general context for all the changing seasons, we focused on how the turning of the Earth was (and still is) celebrated in a variety of cultural traditions. The focus of the workshop I attended was Deep Winter, when the light is growing daily and little hints of Spring are starting to show, but things like snow still happen (sound familiar?). Brigid’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Lunar New Year are a few examples of the historical traditions we explored.

It’s easy to write holidays like Valentine’s Day off as an annual capitalist game we all play, but in the context of the changing seasons it feels much more valuable. Suddenly finding ways to cherish those around me are part of recognizing and honoring the passing of time. Tokens and chocolate and flowers seems sweeter, more pure. But embracing the turning of the wheel doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing exercise: Cards with cartoons or TV show characters have a place just as much as a Brigid’s cross. Maybe one tradition makes you feel better than another? That’s cool. Take what you need, leave what you don’t.

I’ve thought a lot about Sacred Return since I attended a few weeks ago, reflecting on what resonated with me. I have plans to continue to practice ritual as the wheel turns, and have started talking to friends about doing the same. I’m exploring some other ways of paying better attention to the world around me. Taking the time to think more concretely about the seasonal changes around us, the history of human celebration, and the practice of ritual has given me a sense of clarity and inspiration that I didn’t expect. In other words: It was just enough woo for me to take away and play around with.

Tea Party with Myself

Smallest Tea“If you live in a studio apartment, a room, or other small space, the smallest altar is your cup of tea.”

Ginny here. This sentence, by Luisah Teish in her wonderful 1985 book Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals inspired us at the Deep Winter workshop to talk about tea. That fragrant, steaming cup that warms your hands and calms your stress and feels like an honoring, even if it happens every day.

I’m a coffee drinker in the morning but that doesn’t stop me from loving to unplug, usually mid-afternoon, with a cup of tea. It also doesn’t stop me from going Wonderland Tea in downtown Bellingham, breathing and sniffing the wonderful scents, admiring the beautiful pots and cups and then spending way too much on enough tea to last me a loooong time.

WonderlandTea-TeasDid I mention that I love teapots? A hopeless Anglophile, every description of tea and cucumber sandwiches in the garden or high cream tea in the drawing room seems to have led to another fabulous find or gift over the last several decades.

Tea PotsOf course we’re far from the first generation to bask in the rituals of tea. Evocative, that’s what tea is—the smell, the taste, the history, the paraphernalia…the magic.

Tasseography, reading tea leaves, evokes the stereotypical Hollywood gypsy in 1930s black and white. (How I love Maria Ouspenskaya in The Wolf Man)!

In A Little Gypsy Tea Room, anyone?

But I digress. Tasseography is thousands of years old and is thought to have originated in China. No surprise there. Reading tea leaves was arguably THE most popular form of divination in Victorian England, Scotland, Ireland and America.

Then there’s Japan. In A Victorian Grimoire, Patricia Telesco writes, “To the Western mind, the Japanese tea ceremony takes great patience, self control, and discipline to master, yet it is one of great beauty. Underneath the drama, unfolded through the implements, the tea, the flowers and the paintings, is something of an ancient Buddhist ritual. Here the Tea Master becomes a king of priest conducting a sacrament, where each motion of the ceremony reflects a law of the universe…Japanese tea rooms during the Victorian era had no colors or sounds to distract the weary traveler from enjoying the “art” before them.”

Tea. It’s a fluid way to ignite your creative mind, an avenue for conversation and the beginning or rekindling of camaraderie and friendship, and a soothing escape from everyday stress. It’s a tool and an art. How do YOU love it?  Count the ways in the comments below.

What’s Your Precious?

Ginny here. At the Deep Winter workshop last weekend, we had some fascinating discussions about celebrations, holidays and honoring the Turn of the Seasons in real time, in the real world. Of course Valentine’s Day falls smack dab in the middle of winter, one of the lights in deep winter’s darkness. Most historians agree that the ancient origin of this holiday is the Roman Lupercalia. What they don’t always agree about is the biography of the man himself, St. Valentine.

Be that as it may, for some, Valentine’s Day is a festive romp and a delight but for others it’s a challenge because we’re coached to think of it in only one light. That light is pink and it has lace on it. But we can choose what and who we honor as our most precious—as our beloved—on this Cupid-y day of flowers and candy, and it doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship.

Some of us have ‘em and some don’t. Some of us used to and don’t anymore and some never did and never wanted to. Romantic relationships can be forever, they can sit in the background as a constant presence or they can come and go. Whatever our significant other status, that kind of relationship isn’t always the focus of our most tender devotion. Sometimes our attention really is elsewhere. Perhaps we’re focused on a creation—a piece of art you’re working on, a book, a play, a painting, a dance that’s taking up the most space in your life, attention and excitement. Sometimes it’s a project or an object you’ve longed for—a new business, a new job, a house, a boat, a car. Maybe it’s an experience, a trip or an event.  Maybe it’s a workshop series…hmmm.

I would submit to you that we get to decide what The Beloved is at any given time and celebrate it, them, her or him because the most important thing is that we accept and celebrate ourselves, our creativity, our interests and our obsessions. We have to give ourselves permission to be excited and thrilled about whatever we’re nurturing this Valentine’s Day, even if it’s not a romantic relationship. Take that, greeting card companies!

Whether it’s someone or something making you feel warm and fuzzy this Valentine’s Day, love it up, Precious! Make your celebrations personal. Embrace the traditional imagery or adapt it to make you smile. How will you turn the Valentine wheel of the Deep Winter season?

It’s the Year of the Horse!

Ginny here. In mid January, the U.S. Postal Service began celebrating the 2014 Lunar New Year by issuing this elegant Year of the Horse Forever stamp by illustrator Kam Mak of Brooklyn, NY. The Year of the Horse stamp is the seventh of 12 stamps in the current Celebrating Lunar New Year series.

USPS 2014 Celebrating Lunar New Year StampBeautiful postage is only the beginning of this longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. Also known as the Spring Festival, with life just beginning to stir in the grip of winter, legend has it that Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and he named a year after each one. People born in each animal’s year would have some of that animal’s personality. It’s Chinese year 4712, Year of the Horse, which begins this year on January 31.

Chinese months are lunar, beginning on the new moon and the New Year celebrations continue for two weeks until the 15th day of the month. That’s the night of the Lantern Festival, with a parade under the full moon and the famous dragon dance—a dragon made of paper, silk and bamboo that can wind for 100 feet.

Lots of the traditions that we associate with New Year’s celebrations in the west are similar for Chinese New Year. On New Year’s Day, I mentioned first footing on Hogmanay in Scotland to bring luck INTO the house. In China, we’re cautioned not to sweep the floor on New Year so we won’t sweep good luck OUT of the house. Fireworks and noise makers are meant to ward off bad energy and bad luck everywhere—they scare off the monsters and chase the winter away.

People born in Horse years are bright, cheerful, popular, and fun loving. They find people and crowds exciting, and love parties. Usually they don’t need to struggle in order to succeed and obtain the fine things life has to offer. Rembrandt, Harrison Ford, Aretha Franklin, Chopin, Sandra Day O’Connor, and President Theodore Roosevelt were born in the year of the horse.

Horses have a carefree nature and need ample room for self expression. Horses will tell you exactly what is on their mind; they are frank and dislike hidden agendas. So this is the time for issues to be out in the open, especially with family members. 2013 belonged to the Snake so the time for secrecy was then, not now—everybody knows they keep dark secrets at Slytherin!

http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/dd/02/50/dd0250e0392212f5909180dd9091f889.jpgRemember my Lammas altar with a horse for Epona, a Celtic goddess who brings abundance and inspiration? Speaking of inspiring horses (we were, weren’t we?) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steffvater is worth a read. Imagine trying to tame and ride a wildly magical sea horse with the instincts of a shark, for the most dangerous race in the world. Jessica recommended this fascinating, original retelling of the ancient legend of water horses and the images have stuck with me for weeks.

It’s easy to see why Horse year is considered fortunate, bringing luck and good things. Magical Horse has supernatural powers, is heroic, strong, and can even fly! The Chinese Goddess Kwan Yin’s white celestial cloud horse soars through the heavens bringing peace and blessings.

Happy New Year! Don’t let it pass without a nod. We’ll be wearing red and toasting new beginnings with rice wine. How will you celebrate? Wear red, of course, and you could send good luck to the horses at Whatcom Humane Society by making a donation.

When you’re done with your good deed, sit back, sip some rice wine in the Deep Winter and enjoy these wonderful images of Chinese New Year, celebrated around the world.

Altars

Ginny here. I love creating ritual. I always feel like I’m crossing a threshold into a different room, familiar and comfortable but different—a room that contains mysterious and exciting images, favorite quotes and poetry, evocative music, tastes and smells. One of my favorite parts of that creative process is collecting and assembling the visual cues—the stuff that populates my ritual, and usually it’s collected on an altar. Sometimes it’s a circle defined on the floor so we can sit around it. Sometimes it’s on a table, a mantle, shelf or windowsill. Sometimes it’s formal and sometimes it’s off the cuff.

Lammas AltarThis picture is my Lammas altar last year. This altar stays in the same location in my library and the objects change with the seasons. Lammas is in early August, and celebrates the first harvest, breaking bread, abundance. There are celebrations in many Native American traditions that coincide with this Celtic cross quarter day. You can see the images of the grain goddess, the green man, the loaf and harvest and the horse. Epona is a Celtic horse/woman who represents fertility, inspiration and abundance. She is a protector of horses, mules and dogs and in Gaul, her image was placed on buildings occupied by animals.

Not all altars are this self-conscious. They come in all shapes and sizes and we create them all the time, often without thinking about what we’re doing. The main thing that makes an altar an altar is the fact that we’re honoring something with intention or memory.

Do you display those stones and shells (beach glass?) from your vacation on a shelf with pictures (got selfies?) and postcards, perhaps a restaurant menu, concert tickets or the cork from a great bottle of wine? Do you have sports trophies? Maybe a signed baseball and a glove and a team photo from that season? Those are altars honoring moments of your life and the people in it.

For Midsummer last year, Jessica and I decided that we would invite the tropics to our altar. We spread out a beach towel with tropical fish on it, added bright flowers, a tinsel palm tree, images of the sun, plenty of candles, and glow-stick hoops of all sizes. That night we honored the longest day of the year with pina coladas (with umbrellas!), guacamole, and steel drum music, wearing flip flops and leis. We celebrated the sun and spoke of dragons, salamanders, turquoise water, shells and sand and heat. It was FUN! It was ritual. It was memorable and special. And we didn’t get any good pictures of it. Sigh.

Seahawks AltarHere’s a timely glass display that struck us recently as a 12th Man altar to Seattle’s beloved Seahawks. When we talked with Jenny Reich at Whimsy Art Glass Studio, she responded that as she set this up, the first thing she thought of was an altar. Go Hawks!

So there you have it. Altars are everywhere but sometimes they just don’t look like what we’re expecting. Some are permanent, some disappear after one use. Some are formal and designed over time, some are casual and pop up on a sudden impulse. What do you think of as an altar? Share your thoughts and images with us here.

Ritual

Ginny here. As we have been writing about the Sacred Return workshops, I’ve been aware that lots of people don’t know what we mean when we refer to ritual. It all sounds really woo-woo—maybe a little too out there for everyday conversation. Well, let’s rip off the New Age label and talk about what ritual is and how it appears in our lives. All the time. Every day.

We all have personal rituals that punctuate our days. Every morning do you make tea or hit the coffee pot and take your cup to the same chair to look outside or watch TV or check your emails? That’s a ritual. Personal rituals make us feel at home, give us a sense of belonging to a place and time, make us comfortable.

Now let’s make that a little bigger. Do you put up your holiday decorations at the same time each year—maybe Thanksgiving weekend? Do you carve pumpkins for Halloween and place them in position on the porch or walkway? Do you return to the same restaurant, maybe the same table with the same view, on your wedding anniversary? Those are all rituals too. They make certain times of year familiar, cozy even. Ask anyone. The answer almost always starts with the phrase, “Our family always…..goes, does, has…” and often those traditions, those rituals, are passed down through generations. They provide continuity.

Sacred Return is about an even bigger picture—intentional  ritual. We all experience the year as it turns—in both our popular culture and the natural world but often it slips by us and we go, “Wow, is it already Valentine’s Day, or Fourth of July, or time to go back to school?” But if we acknowledge and celebrate, if we participate in that turning rather than just letting our time slip by, we feel better—more peaceful, more connected, more festive, less harried and stressed. We can find meaning in each season, in each occasion if we create rituals, very simple or more ornate, that draw on our past and present experiences. The important thing is our attention. We can enjoy the passage of the year intentionally.

Next time we’ll talk about exactly what those rituals might look like and how they can occur in your own creation of sacred space, another impossibly woo-woo term that we’ll take back now for everyday use!

Happy New Year

Ginny here. As I write my first entry, it’s New Year’s Day 2014. It’s also the day of the new moon. How appropriate for beginnings! This newborn called Sacred Return is embarking on a life that’s all about celebration, ritual, tradition and there are so many traditions that go with this day. We pop the champagne and toast the new year, sending good will into the universe.

We make lots of noise to ring in the year and chase the old year away, along with any bad spirits that may be hanging around. The baby with the banner takes the place of the old man with the sickle. In Scotland, where New Years is Hogmanay, we first foot our family, friends and neighbors so that good wishes enter the house before anything else!

We also think of resolutions today—of the shoulda, coulda, woulda things that we’d like to accomplish or correct in the coming year. Well, I’ve shared with you about the Tarot retreat last summer where the seed of the Sacred Return workshops was planted. Now I want to share a book I read last year that changed the way I approach everything…literally…everything. Jessica read it first and it’s informed our planning of this labor of love called Sacred Return.

The book is called Three Simple Steps and the author is Trevor G. Blake. Resolutions are about intention—I intend to change something or do something. But think about this: resolutions tend to come from a place of lack, from our disappointments or complaints. Trevor talks brilliantly about always stating what you are for, rather than what you are against. Then you are working with positive rather than negative energy. There’s more to it, obviously, and I urge you to read this life changing book—there really are three simple steps and they can make all the difference for a happy and prosperous new year. Check out Trevor’s New Year’s blog about living fearlessly and setting intentions for the things you really want to do.

Sacred Return is an adventure that’s beginning now. We look forward to sharing it with you as we celebrate the seasons of 2014. Happy New Year!