Friday, April 30, 2010

Bealtaine, Yesterday & Today

The ancients celebrated the start of summer today, on Bealtaine.

First, I want to acknowledge a comment left by John D., a very sweet guy. He commented that his Dad is alive and well after surviving several health crisis's. Enjoy your father, John! It's refreshing to hear of men who are living well into their golden years! God Bless & keep you both.

Today marks one of the two most revered ancient Sabbats, Bealtaine. I prescribe to the Celtic tradition, in which the spelling and pronunciation of this Sabbat differ from the commonly used versions. The common, anglicized spelling Beltane, is pronounced Bell (short e) tane (long a).
The Irish Gaelic pronunciation, which I employ, is closer to ba (short a) yol (long O) tinnuh, which approximately rhymes with "dinner."It is the name for the month of May.
The Scottish Gaelic word is Bealtuinn, approximately ba-yal-ten, which means "May Day."
"Bel-fire," is the original meaning. This refers to the fire of the god known as Bel, Beli, Balor or Balar, etc. These names can be traced back to the Middle Eastern Baal, meaning "Lord."
There's that crazy thread again, running through all time and myriad cultures and belief systems!
This Sabbat focuses on the beginning of summer.
In ancient times, the Celtic tradition recognized only two seasons - summer, beginning at Bealtaine on April 30, and winter, beginning with Samhain on October 31.
The themes that dominate this May Eve/May Day Sabbat (in Celtic and British folklore) are fertility and fire. It's a time when the Great Father impregnates the Great Mother, leading to a bountiful harvest and prosperous lives.
Those who read the Spring Equinox entry may be thinking that Bealtaine is simply a repeat of the Equinox celebration. As observations, the Equinoxes are relative newcomers to Celtic tradition. The Equinoxes have grown to become vital parts of pagan tradition as it exists in modern times. The observance of the Equinoxes originated in the Mediterranean, and gradually traveled north. In the Celtic tradition, Bealtaine and Samhain both predate and are of greater importance than the Equinoxes.
Bel-fires were/are lit on hilltops, heralding the return of life and fertility.
In pagan Ireland, the first Bel-fire had to be lit by the Ard Ri - the High King - on Tara Hill.
It's interesting that these common themes of fire and fertility are evidenced in so many cultures, both ancient and modern. Vestal Virgins, Rome's guardians of the sacred fire, threw dolls (biddies) made of rushes into the Tiber River at May's full moon as symbolic human sacrifices.
Both St. Patrick and St. David ( a century after Patrick in Wales) made a point of lighting Bel-fires before the High King lit his, likely in an effort to usurp spiritual leadership.
Bealtaine boasts as many traditions and rituals (too many to detail here) as there are cultures and belief systems that observe the Sabbat, knowingly or unknowingly.
Among the more obvious are the Maypole, sunrise observations, and crowning May Queens.
The Maypole is a phallic symbol of Bealtaine. The English Parliament, driven by Puritans, outlawed the merry poles in 1644. The poles were targeted as symbols of and catalysts for unashamed human sexuality, which was freely practiced on Bealtaine.
The tradition of staying up to watch the first May sunrise, is, as any former hardy partier can surmise, a direct result of May Eve's over-indulgence, merriment and open sexuality.
More recently, and more purely and innocently, Catholic Churches often celebrate May with the crowning of the May Queen, the symbolic embodiment of Mary, the Virgin Mother of God.
I fondly recall a lovely picture of an aunt of mine; a young girl in a white dress, red hair flowing, with a wreath of flowers on her beautiful head. She had been "crowned" in a Catholic ceremony celebrating the Virgin Mary during the month of May.
Decorating and adorning homes and people with garlands and wreathes, hunting the hare, skimming the May-morning dew from the top of a well for luck, prosperity or washing in it for a fair face, dancing in the woods and fields, staying up to greet the sun, are just some of the traditions that have grown and blossomed from Bealtaine.
Today, as a monster of an oil slick laps at the beautiful, white sand shores of Mexico's Gulf (I've been to the shores of Alabama and Mississippi, the sand is like fine sugar, the water is a strikingly clear green-blue, the wildlife is abundant) perhaps it's time to become more outspoken in matters of government, the environment and of the welfare of all people.
It's definitely time to count your blessings, and to recognize them, to really appreciate them - the roof over your head, the food on your table, your healthy, bright children, your health and the health of those you love, surviving a health crisis to live to admire another sunrise, a good job, good friends, the beauty of the world and the fact that you are alive and well enough to revel in that beauty.
Put aside pettiness, hatred & self-importance. I personally knew a man who died because of pettiness, hatred, and self-importance.
Don't impose your views and beliefs on others, simply enjoy others for who they are. You may just learn something new and enlightening.
There are too many problems in this world, it's time for solutions.
For centuries, humankind has pretty much been employing the same tired, greedy, us against them practices over and over - that my friends, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, is the definition of insanity.
Blessed Bealtaine. Be well. Be happy. Be grateful. Be outspoken!
What do you think?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day & a Birthday

Welcome to new follower Jacki. It's been a while since some one new has signed on, and I'm thrilled that Jacki has taken the time from her busy life - (among other things, she's raising two of her 12 grandchildren!) - to "join the conversation." Thanks, Jacki!
Earth Day & a Birthday
I'm a day late for Earth Day, but shouldn't every day be Earth Day?
I want to stay positive . . . I do, I do, I do! But I have to say that it's fairly obvious that if one likens the Earth to a big dog, the dog is flea-infested and beginning to "scratch," in the form of resource shortages, climate change, etc.
If you're a "the world is ending in 2012" sort of person, then the dog may also be seen as scratching in the form of Earth quakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, etc.
Frankly, I believe these natural occurrences are simply a reflection of the time that has passed since the last time -eons ago- that the Earth redefined it's shape, terrain, position, climate, etc. ; a natural progression of natural events.
However, I do believe that we as humans have become quite flea-like, sucking out our nourishment from the planet's life blood. Instead of ranting and raving or jumping up onto my soap box, I'll direct readers - whether republican, conservative, democrat, liberal, independent, green, socialist, communist, etc. - to the Clinton Global Initiative.
Love the ex-president with the roaming libido or hate him, this fellow is doing something about the myriad difficulties facing civilization.
During an interview, Mr. Clinton mentioned that after he faced death and underwent heart surgery - a bypass, as I did - he decided he needed to put his good intentions to work and to practice all that he preaches. I can relate to that yearning, as I felt the same urgent need to matter post-bypass.
The result of Mr. Clinton's personal epiphany is the Clinton Global Initiative. Check it out, I can safely surmise that all will be inspired to step up and help in some way, shape or form!
Mr. Clinton has a refreshing and great deal of hope in the college-aged youth of this nation, and that's reassuring.
Forty years after the first Earth Day, let's all vow to make an improvement.
I also suggest that readers google "vanishing places to visit." There are hundreds of glorious, significant places that are due to vanish relatively soon (as in in our lifetimes, or our children's/grand children's) because of natural changes or pollution. It's astonishing, check it out.
On to the birthday.
If I'm not mistaken, today would have been my father's 80th birthday.
I know that sounds strange, the "if I'm not mistaken," part, but my father died more than 30 years ago.
He was 49. I was days away from 17, a senior in high school.
My father always told us he was born at midnight, so it was more than a bit confusing for a young kid. Did Daddy have two birthdays? Was his birthday the 23rd or the 24th? He didn't mind teasing us or enjoying the "mystery."
I'm reasonably sure he was born in 1930. But again, time does take its toll on facts.
I used to interact with my Dad, fairly often, in dreams. He was always a bit grayer and a bit older than he was at 49. To see him aging was a comfort, even a joy. I looked forward to those dreams, and once inside them, longed to remain.
But he always was aware that he couldn't stay for long. He was always calm, if melancholy, about knowing he'd have to depart. I was always panicked, once he told me he'd have to leave. A reflection of his actual departure. He was asleep, the victim of a heart attack.
I was a just-woken -out-of - a-drunken -stupor teenager, wrapped in a sheet in the wee hours of the morning, faced with the horrible reality of my father's death.
I had last seen my father alive mere hours before. He was working on a carpentry project when I came galloping home from the beginning of a week-end long birthday celebration.
We laughed, hugged, said something to each other (to this day I can't recall what we said), and went our separate ways to our bedrooms.
I never saw him alive again, except in dreams. He never woke up.
Today, gazing out my kitchen window on the new bright green grass and the brilliant sunshine and the budding, flowering, new-leaf covered trees, I imagined celebrating his 80th birthday.
I imagined he'd have soft white hair, as his father did in photos I saw during childhood.
I imagined he'd still have his sharp and numerous wits about him.
I imagined he'd be relaxed and laughing and teasing pretty granddaughters and "horsing around," a favorite term of his - with handsome grandsons.
He'd be teaching the younger boys to count in various languages - French, Italian, German.
He'd be helping my youngest son sketch a rendering of his boy scout project - sketch it, then measure twice, cut once.
He'd be discussing politics and theology and bright futures and a long life with the older grandchildren.
He'd be celebrating with the very occasional martini. Stirred in the large, blown glass pitcher designed and acquired for just that purpose. Every thing had a place and a purpose and beauty.
He loved organization. He loved precision and knowledge. He loved beautiful things; Lennox China, Waterford crystal, a finely crafted piece of furniture, a beautifully bound and written book, well-manicured nails,healthy hair, a stunning sunrise, a stately old tree, a smooth piece of beach glass. He brimmed with and reveled in knowledge - from carpentry to music to literature,languages, mathematics and science, the man was a fountain of knowledge.
In fact, my first lucid thought following his being pronounced dead was "someone has to save his brain, all that knowledge can't be lost."
Any how, I imagine a sunny, breezy day, just as today is here in NEPA.
I see a man in a buttercup yellow cardigan. I can't make out the shirt, and dark greenish cords. His feet are casually adorned with well-worn leather loafers- black, and each with a penny in the slot, and of course, shined to perfection, however worn.
He's sitting in a comfortable lawn chair. The chair is under a shade tree. The sun filters, sparkling, dancing, through its young, spring green leaves.
A procession of children present a glowing birthday cake.
He conducts the chorus of "Happy Birthday" with sweeping, yet precise, gestures. His eyes turn skyward as he ponders a wish to make.
He breathes deeply, with great exaggeration, and whooshes out a sweeping breathe with all his animated mite. The younger boys lend their breath to the effort. He extinguishes all the candles in one attempt!
The gifts come, and he comments gleefully as he opens each one, "Just what I wanted, a box of tissue paper!"
He then curiously, with mock astonishment, discovers the gift beneath the paper. He's delighted, and so are we all, we who have been blessed to witness this merry spectacle for all of our lives.
Oh, if words could make wishes come true, today would be a glorious day!
Happy Birthday, Dad.
P.S. For those who enjoy family history (Happy Belated Birthday, John D.!):
My Dad was named Patrick George. George, I was told was in honor of St.George, who slayed dragons and is said to appear to encourage those in battle. Apparently, my Grandfather, a veteran of World War I, was inspired to rally during a fierce battle by the appearance of St. George, whose feast day is today.
Be well. Be happy. Plant something - a tree, a bush, some flowers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Young Families Can Be Strong Families

Will the young, unhappy family survive to break bread with their children & grandchildren?
While catching up on a favorite TV program this morning, I was reminded again of a subject I often ponder, and that's putting it lightly.
Is individuality, one's own life path, often neglected because of a feeling of obligation to one's family unit?
For instance, during the course of this program, a young couple, one of whom is from a large, sometimes overbearing, but always loving family, and the other, who is intricately connected to the other's family through personal and business relationships, decide to throw caution and the family's obsession with their upcoming, and even once or twice (because of the extended family drama) postponed nuptials to the wind and concentrate on each other.
To my silent cheers and delight, the fictional couple decides to -just the two of them, and on the spur of the moment- elope. They elope because it's what they want, because they decide that their lives are about them, they decide that they are each other's family.
Hurray for them! And hurray for the writers of that program. I only hope that people were paying attention and that the message reached someone and did some good toward young people realizing that once they are married, or devoted to each other in an exclusive relationship, that it's all about them- that their mothers, fathers, sisters, brother, grandparents and their relationships, mistakes, opinions & needs are secondary to the relationship and the well-being of the two people.
I'm sensitive to this issue because as a young wife and mother, I allowed my family's negative aspects to interfere with, move in with, overtake and smother, my relationship and obligations to the young family I began with my husband. My husband is long dead. The damage is done. My extended family survived the trials and tribulations, likely just as well with me as they would have without my constant concern and attention.
My young family went down in flames, largely because of the attention paid to and the negative impact of the larger family.
I can't change the past, but I do, often, remind my wounded children, three of whom are now adults, that their first obligation as adults is to be healthy, strong individuals who stand on their own. Then, when they are strong and complete, they can add a partner, but a partner they have come to know very, very well, and one who enhances them and brings them joy. And, preferably, one that is not still connected to his or he family by a cord of any type.
I have, by no standards, been a perfect parent. But I can say that I have allowed my children, with a few exceptions, to live their lives as they see fit. I believe that I have taught them that "selfish" is not a dirty word, but a tool to use to develop one's own character and mores, and then to strengthen that character and those mores.
Don't misunderstand, I want them to be kind and generous and loving. When they were little, I told them often that all I wanted was for them to be their best and to be kind. But I want them to stand on their own, first and foremost.
I want them to know and fulfill themselves, then add a partner, and fulfill their family, put their family first, even before me.
After all, the most lauded text of this Christian Era teaches that maturity is desirable and necessary, and that once one person decides that another person will be his or her life partner, that each should make the other his or her priority, before parents, before siblings, before friends.
I don't believe the reference is to toys and lollipops versus cars & bank accounts,but to immaturity and frivolity versus maturity and self-awareness
in the Biblical passage, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, , I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man (woman) I put away childish things."
I believe this passage also points to the importance of maturity and effective communication between partners -to putting one's partner first.
The passage that really nails the sentiment I'm trying to convey is:"A man leaves his mother and his father and clings to his wife and they become one flesh."
I don't believe that passage is simply referring to sexual intercourse. I believe it's referring to the two becoming a family - an important, worthy of respect, worthy of privacy and happiness family.
I look at the above paintings by Norman Rockwell, and I wonder, why did he depict the young couple, crying toddler at their feet, as fighting, arguing?
I look at the other, and I wonder, why is the extended family pictured as the source of plenty and happiness, versus the depiction of the young family in turmoil? We shouldn't accept that it's business as usual for young couples
to live in turmoil and uncertainty, to feel more of an alliance with or
obligation to the extended family members than to each other.
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, and it's likely Mr.Rockwell
never intended to minimize one type of family versus the other. But in this case, these paintings speak louder,or just as loud,as words.
We need to nurture our children. We need to teach them to become whole, to stand on their own two feet. And we also must give our children the freedom and privacy to become their own families - to nurture those families and allow those young families to grow strong.Will the arguing young couple ever reach their golden years together?It's up to us to teach them how to get there!
What do you think?
Until next Monday, be well!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Everything Old is New Again!

I hope everyone had a beautiful Spring holiday, which ever one you celebrate!
We had a lovely, peaceful day at my sister Claire's house with her husband, Tom, and his Mom, Phyllis, a very cool lady!
Along with being great company, Phyllis made a delicious veggie casserole with mushrooms and zucchini -yum! I have to get the recipe. It seemed simple but tasty, my kind of dish!
We feasted on spiral ham with quince (soooooo good!), homemade potato salad and my sister's own marinated and grilled asparagus, always a treat!
I was pleasantly surprised by wheat pie for dessert ( and cannolis ! score!).
I imagined wheat pie would be a dense wheat-germy type concoction. Was I happily mistaken! It's a yummy custard (I love custards!) with tiny wheat berries and lemon rind. Pleasingly citrus-ie, and the tiny berries have a very appealing flavor. An old Italian tradition for many, a new favorite for me!
My son, at 11, wanted to color eggs ( I let him choose). He prepared the eggs and it went very quickly. He also wanted to hunt candy-filled plastic eggs, and was helpfully mature in offering to fill the eggs if I would hide them!
Babies and little ones are wonderful, but it's nice when the kids become old enough to lend a hand and take the pressure off all the holiday secrecy and preparation!
Last year, I was delighted to discover little exploding, sparkling hens in a variety store here in NEPA, along with exploding eggs. I couldn't resist putting the little explosives in my son's Easter basket last year.
It was fun to add a little colorful excitement to the day. I have referred to the Easter fireworks as a new tradition, and delved in a bit more deeply this year, with the purchase of a few larger sparkling explosives.
My son and his Uncle Tom had a ball creating an Easter night display of fireworks, and it was really very enjoyable!
It occurred to me this morning that fire and Easter,or the Spring Equinox, have long gone hand in hand, as light overcomes darkness at the Equinox - a solar festival.
Primarily in Germany, but also in other areas of Europe, Easter bonfires are lit on traditional hilltops often referred to as Easter Mountains. The flame used to lite the bonfire originates with the local priest.
The extent of the fire's light, how far it casts a glow upon the land, determines the range of safety for homes and fertility of land. The people jump over the dying embers to obtain protection and abundance and the cattle are driven over the embers to ensure agricultural fertility.
So I suppose my attraction to fireworks on Easter isn't coincidental, but a deeply rooted and ancient tendency! I find that comforting, yet another indication that all times and all lives are connected and important to each other - that the modern needs to look to the ancient for knowledge and support!
What do you think? Be well & happy!
I'll be writing once a week on Mondays. I hope you'll all stop by to read and leave your comments!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy Easter! Of Jesus, Eostre & Persephone

Happy April! Today, of course, is April Fool's Day. My most fertile prank-days occurred when my older three were elementary-school students. I used to pack dog or cat food in their lunch boxes on this day. They always seemed fooled and delighted. Little kids are great!
Happy Easter to all! Another day rooted in pre-Christian traditions.
Don't misunderstand, I believe that Jesus Christ existed. He was a wonderful man who I always felt close to, especially when I was younger. From early on, I had a deep sense that Mary Magdalene got a bad rap and wasn't a harlot, but a close and important person in Jesus' life.
I always imagined that Jesus would scoff at the finery of Easter Sunday, and of church-going in general; the gloves, the hats, the shiny shoes, preferring instead simple, flowing robes and a good meal - picnic-style under a shade tree.
I used to ask my Great Uncle, actually my Grandmother's first cousin, a Catholic Monsignor, why women couldn't be priests, as they were the ones who bore children and nurtured the family. He usually just smiled, patted my head, and sprinkled me with holy water.
I was all of 4 or 5 years old when I tried to coax the sweet old fellow into debate, as he died when I was at most 6-years-old, and on my birthday to add insult to injury.
I'm sure dear "Father John, " as we called him, suspected that I was trouble in the making, and if he assumed that, he was correct. But I also know he loved all of us little cherubs - the grandchildren of his cousin.
He was a shining example of who a priest should be (if not a woman!), a gentle, devout, kind person who would never hurt or betray the trust of a child.
Even our dog loved him. The scene was always the same between the Monsignor and the collie.
Our big Irish collie - all unbridled enthusiasm, fur and muscle - would bound toward Father John upon his arrival at our home. Tim, the dog, would rise to full height, placing his paws on Father John's shoulders (he was a short man, of French and German decent) and proceed to gently lick Father's face.
Father John, always with good humor and I think even delight, would reach into the pocket of his robes to retrieve his holy water sprinkler (if you're Catholic, you know what I'm referring to, a gold large pen-like device with which priests shower the masses, or in this case, the collie, with holy water). The dog would retreat to all-fours and bow his huge head as Father John blessed him with holy water and words. The dog would trot contently away after the blessing, satisfied with the ritual, to his favorite spot under a dogwood tree.
I can still feel the sun's warmth, smell the spring air and see the bright yellow forsythia bushes that lined and graced our long driveway. I can still see the clear, clean air and feel the joy that came when Father John visited.
As I grew, I learned the stories of the pre-Christian rites of Spring, but I always felt, very deeply, that there was a connection, an affinity, between the ancients and the new savior, Jesus Christ, and his dear companion, Mary Magdalene.
I continued to worship in the Catholic Church through my teen years, leaving Saturday picnics and/or Sunday softball games to walk to Church - Catholics often offer a Saturday evening mass in addition to Sunday masses. The flowered hats and lacy dresses gave way to Levi jeans, t-shirts and flannel shirts (we were Neil-Young worshipping grunge before grunge knew what it was).
While discreetly recognizing ancient traditions, I raised my three older ones in the Catholic tradition, informing them of where the "modern" traditions originated.
My favorite stories of Spring involve Eostre or Ostara, the Teutonic goddess after whom Easter is named, and the Greek maiden Persephone.
Eostre roamed the Earth in Spring in the form of the fertile, precocious, moon-animal, the rabbit. When I spot a rabbit in Spring, I fancy that I am witnessing the continuing rebirth and reign of Eostre.
The Greek story of Persephone is a beautiful testament to the love a mother should have for her daughter. Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of the Harvest. Her beauty attracted the attention and adoration of Hades, the god of the underworld. Hades captured Persephone.
In her daughter's absence, Demeter became deeply distraught, and because of her sorrow, the world became barren and lifeless.
Zeus, by way of Helios, the sun god, found out that Hades had captured his daughter. He strong-armed Hades into freeing Persephone, allowing the Earth's rebirth in fruitful abundance and fertility.
As Persephone was leaving the underworld, a still-smitten Hades tricked her into eating pomegranate seeds, binding her to the underworld for all time.
Zeus struck a deal with Hades that allowed Persephone to return to the Earth, and to her loving mother, every spring, with Persephone returning to Hades and the underworld in the waning seasons of the year.
Spring, its fertility and beauty and life-sustaining bounty, is the manifestation of Demeter's limitless and eternal love for her daughter.
Thus, the seasons were born and winter was explained with the comforting knowledge that Spring would eternally return throughout time, as the great mother's love for humanity endures through the ages . Persephone, in some versions, is said to emerge from the underworld each Spring in the form of a rabbit.
So Happy Easter to all! Wishing you love and contentment, prosperity and abundance, as the Earth renews herself and bears fruit and promise for all!