Chocolate

ganesh_enlargedChocolate Ganesh courtesy of chocolatedeities.com

Ginny here. Do you have an Easter basket hangover?

Spring enters with March winds, April showers, May flowers, baskets and bunnies and eggs. As the sap rises and the world turns green, our fancy turns to thoughts of….chocolate? Most definitely, and we’re not the first. The Easter basket is a tradition so familiar that it blurs the lines between popular culture and religious observance, between seasonal celebration and obsessive competition and it does it all in sculpted chocolate.

Chocolate was sacred to the Mayans who left us this prayer:

“Ixcacao, Goddess of Chocolate,
see my tears and come to my aid”

Because it always does make us feel better, doesn’t it? For good reasons both aesthetic and scientific. In the tradition of our neighbors to the south, do you prefer your chocolate sacred? If so, you can probably find it here.

Sometimes we resist and the power of chocolate is a discovery. Who can forget the brilliant Alfred Molina getting down in Chocolat? Great movie and I’ve always found this scene irresistible…chocolate AND French AND the mean guy getting his just desserts!

(and of course there’s Johnny Depp…I’m just sayin’).

I was reminded of a spoofy ritual from years ago and found a copy in my files—a hard copy, mind you, in print! But the internet did not fail me and here it is for your pleasure. What I remembered most was opening of each call to the four directions:

Mousse of the East, Fluffy One! Great prince of the Palace of Dessert! Fondue of the South,
Molten One! Great prince of the Palace of Decadence!
Cocoa of the West, Satisfying One! Great prince of the Palace of thirst!
Rocky Road of the North, Cold One! Great prince of the Palace of Crunchy!

Enjoy!

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.

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!