Monday, January 28

Brigid & Sacred Swans

A painted drum head owned by Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, a Pagan organization based in Wisconsin. 

Brigid is a goddess whose reach seems endless at times.  She governs over warriors, mothers, and crones.  She inspires blacksmiths and crafters and weavers and stoneworkers.  She is a goddess of wishes, a goddess of fire, and a goddess of inner wisdom.  Wolves, ravens, and snakes are precious animals to this ancient matron, as are swans.


Swan Stories


[img souce: Amazon]
There is a story, retold in many forms, of a maiden and her brothers who cast out into the harsh world.  The men are cursed to roam this world as swans until the girl can accomplish a task given to her from various sources.  This story has been retold, altered, and shifted from Celtic lands to Shamanic tribes to Russian fairytales to African mythology to the story books of the Grimm Brothers (who on occasion changed the birds to ravens) and Hans Christian Anderson.  There often features an evil step-mother or queen who banishes the children from their home and curses the brothers to take the form of swans.  The girl must either sew shirts or create flax mail or uphold some form of vow (6 years of silence or to eat only what a pigeon eats) before her brothers would be released from their curse and the world returned to normal for the young girl. 

[img source: photobucket]
In Norse mythology, the Valkyries were said to be able to turn themselves into swans with the help of a feathered cloak or coat.  This falls right in line with the idea of swans as bridges to the Otherworld.

In Greek mythology swans are sacred to the god Apollo and associated with the bringing of light to the world.

Swans are almost universally a symbol for grace, beauty, and inner light.  This can be seen even in children's tales like "The Ugly Duckling".

In Celtic mythology, swans are harbingers of spring and icons of the Goddess Brigid as both represent light returning to the world.






Cygnus


[img source: Philologos]
The constellation Cygnus is better known as the swan constellation.  It is mainly comprised of the stars found within the Northern Cross pattern (Deneb, Gienah, Sadr, Delta Cygni, Alberio) but gets its swan shape from dozens of other stars and clusters in that region.

The constellation is named for the significance of the swan in Greek mythology, although which story it is specifically linked to is vague.  In order to seduce Leda, a beautiful Spartan queen, Zues transformed himself into a swan.  Leda gave birth to four children after this, including Helen of Troy and Gemini.  Orpheus, after his death, was said to be transformed into a swan and placed in the sky beside his golden lyre (a harp).

Celebrating the Swan


This Imbolc, you can honor Brigid with your children by honoring her sacred animals.  To honor the swan, you could choose to read aloud one of the above swan myths or opt for the more child-friendly "Ugly Duckling".

I personally prefer Anderson's Ugly Duckling story for children as the tale of inner beauty triumphing over outwards appearances is a clear and meaningful lesson for children these days.  Also, as of this week, there is a free version downloadable for the Kindle from Ripple Digital Publishing.  This should be useable for the Kindle App available for computers as well.  Or, make use of your local library to find dozens of versions of this story available for free.



[img source: Swan Party]
A swan shaped cake would be loads of fun and simple to make by trimming a few inches off the top and assembling them into the neck and head of a swan.  Touch it up with icing for the eyes and beak.  Finish by dusting with flaked coconut or edible shimmer/glitter.

Similarly, you could ice cupcakes with blue frosting for "water" and cut out a swan shape from an index card.  Use this as a stencil for  dusting the tops of your cupcakes with powdered sugar or coconut, leaving a white swan shape.

[img source: Barbara Bakes]
 If you're feeling up to some high-skilled baking, these swan-shaped cream puffs may interest you.  Check out a beautifully detailed blog post about these on Barbara Bakes.

[img source: Spoonful]

Pine cones, pipe cleaners, feathers, and a hot glue gun are all it really takes to make these adorable little swan altar decorations.   Find instructions at Spoonful!


[img source: Swan Party]
If you live in an area where it's warm outside in early February, you could try to have a swan/goose shaped pinata filled with caramels and other creamy treats (dairy is a traditional Imbolc indulgence).

[img source: Education.com]
If you're in an area where gardening is already an option, give this swan milk jug planter a try!  Instructions can be found at Education.com.

Friday, January 11

When It's Hard to See Goddess

A lot of us are "first generation" Pagans.  We weren't raised in this faith, we found it.  And it was a breath of fresh air.  It felt like "coming home".  It made a lot more sense than what we'd been raised in.  It illuminated a miraculous chasm of the answers we'd been seeking our whole lives.  It granted us a new point of view regarding the big questions in life.  "Why are we here?"  "What happens when we die?"

For me, the introduction of the divine feminine into my life filled a lot of spiritual and psychological holes and allowed me to identify with my own womanhood.  Motherhood was a beautiful journey with the Goddess by my side.  Her presence has been such a gift to me, that she is the portion of Paganism that has been the easiest to pass along to my son.  She is my go-to answer when he is flustered.  He believes in the Goddess and has no hesitation about mentioning her in public conversation or bringing her up to grandparents and teachers.  This warms my heart.

And yet, there are times when Goddess is a complicated answer to a question and circumstances prompt I or my son to question her existence.


When It's Hard to See Goddess


Yesterday, Doodle Bug and I were discussing Goddess during our morning car ride to school.  I was explaining to him again about Her ability to help us if we remember to call her.  He asked if she helped kids too.  Earlier that same morning he'd been talking about a boy on his bus that bullies the younger kids and we'd talked about reasons why the boy might be doing this.  I assured him that Goddess does help children, especially children.  I thought he was going to bring the discussion back around to the bully, but instead he crossed his arms over his chest and pouted.  "What about the bad man?  She didn't help those kids."

And I was stumped for a moment.  I honestly felt like pulling the car over.  The Bad Man.  This is the term he uses for the shooter who took 27 lives in Newtown, CT this past December.  I'm not sure where your children are in the grieving process of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, but Doodle Bug still mentions the incident once or twice each week.  Just this past weekend he prompted me to light a candle for the children again. 

As first generation Pagans and as parents, it is our job to create the basic boundaries of this world for our children.  They are born into this faith and presume us to have all the answers, to already know the limits and the reasons.  I hate when I can't fulfill this role for Doodle Bug, and yet I recognize that as a second generation Pagan, it is his job to push those boundaries and to find the answers I can not. 

"I'm not sure," I finally responded to my son.  I then asked him what he thought and I was dismayed that he had come to the conclusion that Goddess can't always help.  So, as we rounded the final stretch to the school, I brainstormed.

"I think she was there.  And I think she was there with the police men that got to the school so fast.  I think that if she hadn't been at the school that day that a lot more people would have died."  Doodle Bug processed that for a moment and I knew he understood when he asked if Goddess had told the teachers to hide their kids.  I told him that I believed she had.  He was happy with this answer and as we pulled up to the drop-off lane he unbuckled, kissed my cheek, and told me he loved me.

This, and other discussions we've had remind me that while Paganism has provided me with more than Catholicism ever had, the hard questions are still hard.  We will still struggle to explain tragedy and illness and pain to our children... the same as parents in any faith do. 

Thursday, January 10

A Mealtime Prayer

We don't say grace here in the House of Mama Stacey.  I grew up in a Catholic household and yet we rarely said mealtime prayers even there.  Having not grown up with this tradition, it's just not something that I've implemented in adulthood.

The first time Doodle Bug had been exposed to the idea of "saying grace" was during his time attending Head Start (for those unfamiliar, HS is a federally funded preschool program designed to monitor childhood development).  I volunteered there a lot and ate lunch with the little ones.  Before each meal the teacher and her aides led the children in a mealtime prayer that they simply called "Peaceful".

I didn't know what to expect, and was delighted with the short, sweet, non faith-based  prayer that followed.  There were also hand/arm motions.

Hands clasped before you.
"Before me , peaceful."

Hands touching behind the back.
"Behind me, peaceful."

Hands making small circles at your sides.
"All around me, peaceful."

Hands clasped over chest/heart.
"Within me, peaceful."


I have not been able to find evidence that this is a prayer officially used/endorsed by the Head Start system, and so tip my hat to the organizers of Doodle Bug's school for finding and using such a simple and pleasing way of saying grace in a public setting.

After doing a bit of research to find out more about "Peaceful", I've come to find that the words are taken from a Navajo proverb that goes: "Before me peaceful, behind me peaceful, under me peaceful, over me peaceful, all around me peaceful."

When we do find ourselves in a place where we are prompted to say grace, "Peaceful" comes to mind and should any of you suddenly be called upon to say grace in mixed religious company, I invite you give "Peaceful" a try.


Wednesday, January 9

What is February 2nd to You?

In the House of Mama Stacey we celebrate the wheel of the year as our holy days.  I wouldn't call us Wiccans as we're far too eclectic for that label, but the 8 sabbats celebrated by Wiccans have stuck with us.  I think this is true for many Pagan households.  Out of all these holidays, Imbolc or Candlemas, is the one which I identify the least with. 

Personally, I feel that it's at an odd time of year when I'm already dealing with birthdays, anniversaries, rebounding from the Solstice/Christmas splurg, horrid Pennsylvania weather (I swear it snows until June here!), a rush of school programs starting (fundraising or basketball anyone?), and the inevitable Valentines Day.  In the midst of all of that, there is this mysterious little Sabbat on February 2nd, the shadow of Lammas.

Because it's still too cold and dark to play around with seeds, and because the snow will continue in our area for at least two more months, it's hard to celebrate the day as an end to winter.  Near our home, local groups tend to emphasis this day as a mid-winter marker of sorts... the turning point for darkness, snow, and ugh.  I guess I can understand that viewpoint, but it still makes for a pretty lack-luster holiday.  As I've been working on creating a Sabbat book for Pagan children, I've been doing research into different possible paths for celebration of this holiday and thought I'd share them with you.  If you don't see your view point reflected here, go ahead and share your thoughts in the comment section!


Up Helly Aa!


A member of Jarl Squad at UpHellyAa.org
[img source: D. Donaldson]
There is a celebration from Norse history that remains vivid in places like the Shetland Islands.  The "Up Helly Aa" festival is a viking fire festival whose highlights include a fiery processional, dancing, elaborate costumes, and the burning of a Nordic longboat. 

The day marks the end of the Yule season in areas of Europe and celebrations are held anywhere from the last week of January through to mid-February.

If your family would like to endorse the sabbat Nordic-style, having a torch-lit (or cleverly disguised flashlight) processional could be fun.  If you'd like to ignite a "longboat", try this link from PaperCrane.org for making paper boats which you can then burn in the cauldron outside, or on a small pyre of kindling if you so desire.

Blotkake
[img source: Matstedet blog]
A Viking feast would probably be in order as well.  I will be the first to admit the foreign sounding foods often scare me off.  I would have a hard time heading out to a Scandinavian restaurant without first looking into what I'd be expected to eat.  I've watched way too many documentaries about fermented shark meat, I suppose.  But, to my joy, I've found that Norse foods are actually pretty darn cool.

Blotkake (aka Norse Cream Cake), is a fruit and cream cake that Americans would be happy to find at any summer potluck.  There are a lot of versions of this, from actual cream-filled cakes to towers of moist cake covered in fruit.  Google to your heart's content, or just try this version from Nom! blog

Beet Burger Sliders
[img source: TheSweetLife]
Beets are popular in Norwegian cuisine.  Beetroot stew is everywhere on Norwegian food blogs, but I think children might find something like Beet Burgers more fun.  Also, beet burgers are a vegan option for families that would like to avoid Scandinavian foods like fish or beef.

For a recipe for the Beet Burger Sliders pictured here, hop over to The Sweet Life's blog and check it out. 

Fish and potatoes blend well in Swedish dishes like Sillgratin.  Baked cod is pretty traditional, but whole-fillet fishsticks may thrill your kids more. And the list goes on and on once you get to looking for Norwegian/Scandinavian foods: Swedish meatballs, cardamom & almond cookies, blueberry soup, sauerkraut, stroganoff, etc.

The Modern Viking Family
[img source: Eclectic Chica's blog]
To create child-friendly Viking gear, follow either of these links to PDF instructions for making cardstock helmets and swords (be aware that as these are from UK sources, the measurements are in centimeters): Hands On History viking helmet & Robinson Historical Society helmet and sword.

Or you can choose to go all out, as this family did!  This is from Eclectic Chica's blog and she has tons of pictures outlining the creation of these masterpieces. 











Imbolc/Imbolg


In my area, this is the most common way to honor the sabbat that is February 2nd.   The Imbolc holiday has Irish roots.  The name refers to pregnancy and lactation (sometimes translated as "in the milk" or "in the belly").  The sabbat honors the growing energy that will soon burst into the world by way of newborn farm animals and unfurling flower bulbs.

UK Pagans spinning fire for Imbolc.
[img source: Getty Images/DailyMail]
This is also a fire festival, a time of man-made blazing light and warmth to honor the slowly returning sun which was reborn to the world at Yule.

At festivals it is common to see fire-spinners displaying their talents.  In Ireland, hilltop balefires are lit to honor the day.  American pagans join in the tradition by blessing and lighting candles or hosting large backyard fires on this day.


Rolled beeswax candles.
[img source: Savvy Homemade]
A popular activity on this day is candle making.  In the House of Mama Stacey, we have done this for several years, hand dipping tapers or pouring baby jar candles.  We've added herbs and made molds and shaved crayons for coloring them... but I've never considered this a child-friendly activity.  Teens and well supervised tweens may be alright, but hot wax and young kids don't mix for me. 

Luckily there are alternative methods which are child-friendly, such as rolling tapers from sheets of beeswax or layering wax beads in a glass jar.  Check out this quick tutorial from Savvy Homemade.

Historically, this time of year the reemergence of fresh animal milks, spring potatoes, and newly sprouted greens were a welcome addition to the limited winter diet of stale bread and salted meats.  These foods continue to be traditional for this holiday.

Making cheese with your children is a great experience for them that honors the dairy element of this holiday.  There are super-simple recipes out there for homemade mozzarella or different soft cheeses made from goat's milk... however you will need rennet and patience for even the most basic of cheeses.  A more child-friendly alternative would have to be the making of either butter or ice cream.  Here's some instructions for making butter from PBS Kids, and homemade ice cream from Ziggity Zoom .

Colcannon & sausage from Painless Cooking
This would be a great holiday to offer a celebratory feast of Irish cuisine.  Colcannon is a mash made from potatoes and kale greens.  On occasion it is topped with sausage, like this version found at Painless Cooking.

Scotch Eggs are hard boiled eggs wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried.  Irish stew is made from lamb, as is Shepard's Pie.  Potato or soda breads are traditionally Irish and would go great with a watercress or leek soup.  And, although the kids may not go for it, alcohol is used in quite a few traditional Irish dishes.  From Beef & Guinness Stew to a decadent dish called a Dublin Lawyer which contains butter soaked lobster served with a heavy Irish whiskey cream sauce.

When it comes to child-friendly, your best bet for an Imbolc-inspired meal is probably something like the Shepard's Pie (a casserole made from ground meat, gravy, and mashed potatoes) or a cheddar and potato soup with a side of spring-green salad.  Sweets are easy to come up with as dairy is king: cheesecake, puddings, ice creams, cookies & milk, etc.

Brigid, The Goddess Oracle
[img source: H Janto]
The Goddess of the day is Brigid, an Irish deity who is a  patron of all sorts of things from well-wishing (literally wishing into a well) to blacksmithing.  She is a goddess of the grain, poetry, healing, motherhood, and women warriors.  In some traditions she is a triple goddess, in others she is simply one with many talents like that of Athena. 

You'll find a lot of pagans honor the day as a day dedicated to womanhood, offering up ceremonies to honor those young ladies for whom menstruation has begun that year or honoring other transitions, such as the birth of a first child and the transition into motherhood.  This is a great time for the matron of any family to ask for help or to do a ritual for fertility whether it be of the womb, the wallet, or the mind. 







Candlemas


This tradition is almost interchangeable with Imbolc for most pagans.  The title is Christian in nature and the patron deity is Saint Brigid, a canonized version of the goddess Brighid.  The day is celebrated largely the same as Imbolc, except that there is an added tradition of burning greens.

Burning of the evergreen.
[img source: E Engstrom]
At the Solstice, many pagans put up an evergreen tree.  Even if they put up an artificial tree, many will still bring in evergreen/pine clippings, hang real wreaths, decorate with mistletoe, etc.  These greens are a reminder of the life force that will soon return on the Solstice and are then kept to keep living, green energies in the home.  At Candlemas and Imbolc, it is traditional to burn these greens as a sign of faith that the sun and green life will soon return. 

These items can be burned in a bonfire, a small cauldron balefire, or in your fireplace.  If burning is not an option where you live, there are other ways to return the greens to the earth such as mulching and composting.

As another branch of fire festivals, traditional foods for this holiday are similar to Imbolc, but also include warmly spiced sweets like cinnamon candies, chai tea, or gingerbread.  Heat also comes in the form of spicy foods like chili, fajitas, etc.  As a matter of fact, in most southern countries like Mexico, the word "jalapeno" only refers to the pepper once it has been pickled.  As the fresh pepper, straight from the plant, it is called cauresmeno, which means Candlemas chili.

[img source: Liscannorman]
An activity common to the celebrations of both Imbolc and Candlemas is the weaving of a Brigid's Cross.  These are traditionally made from grains, but can be made from pipe-cleaners or other similar craft items.  

For instructions on how to make this with your children, check out Earth Witchery's website






Groundhog Day


While you may not consider this a Pagan thing, I feel that using an animal for predicting the future to be mildly pagan-esque.  As a matter of fact, Phil (the name of America's most famous groundhog) is not the first to practice weather divination this time of year.

There are historical references to the date and methods of predicting the weather.  Websites like Groundhog.org outline the deep European history of these practices:



According to an old English song:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

The Germans recited:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.
From what I've read, the tradition of weather prediction was blended with the idea of an animal casting a shadow by the Romans who then passed this tradition to the Teutons (early Germans).  While there are other famous groundhogs who soak up the lime light on February 2nd, Pennsylvania seems to be widely regarded as the home for this tradition.  This is probably due to the large population of German decedents present here.

Punxsutawney, the home of Phil, is not far from the House of Mama Stacey.  It's about a two hour drive, yet our little family has yet to visit.   The day is set up like a small town festival with marching bands, parades, magicians, wine tours, and so on.

If you don't live near Phil, (or Gus in Georgia, or Freddie in West Virginia... there are many famous groundhogs across America and Canada), you can still celebrate Groundhog's Day with your children.

Groundhog fingerpuppet.
[img source: SkipToMyLou]
You can make groundhog puppets from lunch sacks like those found at this link.  You can also make the cute felt groundhog pictured here by following this link.   There are also photos of an adorable meatloaf shaped like a groundhog on the same page. 

Traditional foods would simply be winter delights like hot cocoa, smores, and just about any dinner that you find warm and filling.

You can find a recipe for cookies inspired by Punxsutawney Phil at the Groundhog.org website. 

Friday, January 4

Eating Star Stuff

"Be humble, for you are made of earth.  Be noble, for you are made of stars." ~ Serbian proverb
 
[img source: JKerns]

This simple quote is something that inspires me.  It's hard to care that the cashier jipped me 25¢ when you envision being made of sparkly "star stuff".  It makes me feel like I'm bigger than nonsense like that.


Stars are poetic, they're fascinating, and yet they sort of fall into the background forgotten to most people.  If you live in the country, you're probably blessed with glittering skies... but if you live in the city, light pollution probably makes seeing them at night a rare thing.  If you're having a "Mom, I'm bored." day with the kids, pick up some pizza and head to the nearest county park for some star-lit dinner on the lawn and encourage your children to appreciate the stars.  Depending on their age, you may be able to talk about what stars are made of... or you could just lay on a blanket and star gaze, pointing out shapes or, if you know any, constellations.  Have a smartphone handy?  There's an app for that.

At that point, I'd like you to share a message with them which was put out there by Mr. Carl Sagan years ago:  "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.  We are made of starstuff."

That's right.  What's more fantastically Pagan than sharing this secret with your little ones???


Caring for Stars


Hopefully, a reminder that we are made of the same magic as the stars will prompt not only children, but the grown-ups in their lives, to be kinder to their bodies.   January is a popular month for people across the globe to take a serious look at their health.  Exercise is key, of course, but so are our eating habits.  Lately, food is taking a turn towards 'fresh', 'light', and 'healthy' in the House of Mama Stacey.  Just yesterday I made a grocery run to stock the fridge with things like kiwi fruit, cheddar cheese cubes, iced green tea, fresh peanut butter, greek yogurt, spinach, couscous, and so forth.  Our Keurig is going light on the Starbucks and heavy on the Celestial Seasonings these days.

BUT, sometimes your child is a picky eater, or your husband is more partial to gummy Lifesavers than fresh peaches.  It's often a mother's job (although I know there are more and more fathers tackling this role too) to make healthy food appealing and convenient to her family.  My suggestion today is cookie cutters.


Star Food


With Christmas clearance dominating most department stores right now (that is, if you can find it buried behind shelves already bursting with Easter stuff!), you may be able to snag a great deal on star shaped cookie cutters.  If not, cruise the local thrift stores before you head over to the mall's kitchen store. 

[img source: CopperGifts]

It sounds like a cheap gimmick, and honestly it is, but it works: cut food into funny shapes and children will eat it.  Your partner probably will too.  Here are a few images I pulled off the web to demonstrate how cute, cool, and utterly edible this makes things.

Chicken Salad on dark bread.
[img source: AStoriedStyle blog]

Cheese, apples, pineapple, and peanut butter sandwiches.
[img source: Sarah Lidbom]


Homemade Star-shaped Pasta for chicken noodle soup.
[img source: Cheeky Kitchen blog]


Star-topped mince pies.
[img source: GoodToKnow]

Melon star skewers.
[img source: SheKnows]

Baked star-shaped falafel.
[img source: Simone Smith]

And, of course, there are many other possibilities!  Happy star hunting!