Tag Archives: pagan

Hot Summer Rituals to Celebrate the Solstice

242/365  SummerCan you feel the excitement in the air? The days are hot and sunny, and summer officially begins this week on June 21st. It’s the longest day and the shortest night in the Northern hemisphere. I love this day. In the South of France it’s celebrated by jumping over bonfires as a way to gain courage and embrace the power of light and fire. That tradition dates back to pagan times, long before the Catholic church arrived to taint it with negative views about the appreciation of nature and the power of the five elements.

There’s a whole history of rituals related to this day and ways to honor and capture some of the magic of this mystical portal into summer. For centuries people have gathered at Stonehenge to welcome the season. Author Deborah Blake who writes on magic and rituals says, “The earth is at its most fertile and life is bursting out all over.” She advises that this is the best time for magical work “for abundance, fertility, and any kind of growth.”

I love it both as a time that presents an opportunity to burn away the old habits and baggage that no longer serve. And at the same time it’s a moment where the whole world feels alive with the vibrant, radiant energy of sunlight. It feels like a time of great possibility and a moment to enjoy life to its fullest. In France the day often coincides with the “Fete de la Musique”, a country-wide music day where  you’ll find people playing harps on street corners, rock bands pound out a rhythm from pubs, and orchestras spontaneously set up in open squares to play under the rising moon.

How will you spend the solstice? Make a plan to turn it into a special day. Go to the beach for a picnic with your beau. Maybe create your own mini-bonfire in a jar and burn away obstacles or jump over it. Dance with girlfriends under the moon in a grove of trees. Paint or write on a project that your heart yearns for you to create. Kiss a loved one. Plant a tree. Join me at Esalen Institute June 21st-23rd for a magical writing retreat. Play! Happy summer.

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Debra Moffitt is the award winning author of Awake in the World: 108 Practices to Live a Divinely Inspired Life and “Garden of Bliss: Cultivating the Inner Landscape for Self-Discovery” (Llewellyn Worldwide, May 2013). A visionary, dreamer and teacher, she’s devoted to nurturing the spiritual in everyday life. She leads workshops on spiritual practices, writing and creativity in the U.S. and Europe. More at http://www.awakeintheworld.com.


photo by: martinak15

Happy May Day! 10 Funny Ways to Celebrate the First of May

Elmenhorster MaibaumAh, the first of May. Late spring, maypoles, dancing, and merriment. A remnant, perhaps, of ancient pagan summer festivities, still observed by many around the world as the holiday Beltane, May Day gives us a chance to rekindle that childhood fervor for sunshine and play.

As was immortalized in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Maypole of Merry Mount,” many communities around the globe will be celebrating May Day as they have for decade – by dancing with ribbons around the maypole, crowing a May queen, and decorating their homes with leaves and flowers. For others, this day commemorates the efforts of a century-and-a-half long international labor movement that has fought tirelessly to reduce workers’ hours and increase wages. The combination of bloody labor protests and whimsical summer dances makes May Day at once a complex, significant, and still very relevant holiday.

To connect with that long and fascinating history, here are 10 unique ways you can observe May Day this year:

  1. Beltane, the original holiday May Day derives from, translates as “Day of Fire.” So light some candles, build a bonfire, dance around a flaming cauldron, or something along those lines to tap into the fiery roots of this holiday. (Just be sure to have plenty of water and a fire resistant blanket handy.)
  2. It’s a summer holiday, after all, so why not pretend the season’s truly here already and have a barbeque or a beach day this weekend? So what if it’s still snowing where you live? (Sorry Minneapolis…)
  3. If you’re more intrigued by the labor side of May Day’s history, then take the opportunity today to stand up to your boss. Never get that full hour of lunch? Dying to practice casual Fridays?
  4. May Day is actually called “Garland Day” in some parts of Britain…Connect with your inner child and pick some flowers and grasses for a homemade garland! Make a daisy chain! For the lazy ones out there, tuck a flower behind your ear and call it a day.
  5. If you don’t have a maypole at the ready to dance around, pick the first street sign or telephone pole you see and have a Singing in the Rain moment.
  6. In Central Europe and Scandinavia May Day is called “Walpurgis Night” in honor of an English-born nun who was said to have a knack for curing illnesses. So go hang with some nuns today, perhaps?
  7. For a tamer celebration, enjoy the bounty of spring and summer with a big feast of delicious, local foods.
  8. Some report a common May Day superstition that washing your face in May dew makes your skin beautiful and youthful. As city dwellers we’re not even sure what “May dew” looks like, but if you try it let us know how it goes.
  9. The day’s significance to the labor movement makes this holiday particularly revered in socialist and communist circles. So when you get home from work today, enjoy a cup of tea over your copy of Marx’s Communist Manifesto.
  10. As a holiday that, originally, was probably intended to celebrate the lengthening days, warming weather, and increasing fertility of the fields, there is perhaps no better way to enjoy the first of May than to spend some quality time with your loved ones. Go for a walk, cook a meal, have a cuddle, and enjoy the summer ahead!


Photo credit: Flickr

Wicca 101: Witches, Magic, and the Art of Intention

What is it with witches and wizards? We love them, hate them, persecute them for hundreds of years, and glorify them in wondrous stories of magical worlds and flying broomsticks. In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores the wizarding world of Wicca in the hopes of dispelling some common misconceptions about this rapidly growing religion.

We’ve come a long way since the witch trials of Renaissance Europe and the American colonies,  but prejudice lingers. In some parts of the world witch hunts are a daily reality, with individuals harassed, beaten, shunned and occasionally even murdered for bearing “witch-like” traits. Harry Potter is a fine and beloved fantasy around the world, but how would we treat him if he were real? Witchcraft is acceptable in the realm of fantasy, but could we make room for it in the muggle world, too?

The world has had centuries to work on religious tolerance for pagans and Wiccans, but we continue to fail in making an accommodation to their traditions. Ancient European paganism, Hebrew mysticism and Greek mythology are just some of the forebears cited by Wiccan texts and oral histories. The inclusion of a feminine divine also leads historians and archaeologists to draw a line of ancestry from ancient fertility cults to contemporary Neo-pagan traditions, of which Wicca is probably the most organized and certainly most widely recognized.

Historians in the 19th century began writing about the connection between earlier traditions and groups purportedly practicing underground magic at the time. In 1951 the United Kingdom joined the rest of Europe in repealing remaining anti-witchcraft laws, just in time for the publishing of civil servant and amateur anthropologist Gerald Gardner’s book Witchcraft Today. In his book, Gardner declared himself a practitioner of a heretofore unknown religion “Wicca,” which he dated back to the Stone Age. The religion swiftly gained momentum, with many neo-pagan traditions branching off from it in the decades that followed.

John William Waterhouse: Magic CircleThere is no single sacred text, governing body, or outlined doctrine in Wicca today, and beliefs and practices vary widely from practitioner to practitioner. But certain themes crop up repeatedly in rhetoric and at modern gatherings. Connection to the earth and nature’s rhythms is key, as is reverence for both the divine masculine and feminine, sometimes as the Goddess and God but often as a merging of creative forces in the Universe. Wiccans and pagans also tend to revere the directions (East, South, West, North and Center) and elements (Wind, Fire, Water, Earth, and Spirit), perform rituals that coincide with seasonal cycles (equinoxes, solstices, and moon phases), and believe in reincarnation.

Even more fundamental is adherence to a fundamental ethic called the Wiccan Rede: “An it harm none, do what ye will.” Essentially, the community trusts its members to make their own decisions, hold their own beliefs, and act in such a way as to harm none – self and environment included. Similar to The Golden Rule known to just about every religious tradition throughout history, The Threefold Law is prominent in Wicca, as well, and teaches that energy released into the world will return to the individual three times as powerful, for better or for worse.

Wiccan magic, often referred to as “the Craft,” is largely grounded in intention and ritual. The word “magic” stems from both the Old Persian term for “sorcerer” but also the ancient Greek word for “art.” Consider, then, that the artist, actor, or carpenter utilizes magic as much as the magician does in transforming natural resources into entirely new expressions of creativity. Just so, Wiccans harness energetic influences and elements in order to manifest certain intentions. Easier said than done, right? But at the end of the day isn’t it a lot like praying or repeating positive affirmations? More mainstream, but equally magical in essence.

What are your thoughts on Wicca and magic? Let us know in the comments section below!

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photo by: deflam

In the Name of Love: A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

HF - Valentine'sLove is in the air. If you’re in a part of the world that celebrates Valentine’s Day then you most likely can feel it. Whether you anticipate the day with joy or dread, this yearly celebration marks the time for chocolate and roses and heart-shaped cards, all in the name of love. But where did the tradition come from?

In this week’s episode of “Holy Facts” on The Chopra Well, Gotham Chopra explores some unusual expressions of love across cultures, including the murky origins of the biggest contemporary love celebration in the west: Valentine’s Day. Named after at least one of three early Christian martyrs by the same name, this day has come to signify something very different than what it originally may have been.

The Saint Valentine most likely connected with the holiday was a priest in the 3rd century Roman Empire. Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage for young men, believing that unmarried men made better soldiers than those with wives and children. Valentine – still in the minority at this point as a Christian priest – felt the injustice of the decree and continued performing marriages for young lovers in secret. He was soon discovered, though, and executed for his disobedience. To add insult to injury, it was also rumored that he tried to convert Claudius to Christianity during his interrogation.

The placement of Valentine’s Day in the middle of February may be associated to the anniversary of Saint Valentine’s execution. But many believe the Christian church established Valentine’s Day in order to “Christianize” an early Roman pagan festival, Lupercalia, which was celebrated at the Ides of February. In this bloody fertility festival, men would sacrifice a dog and a goat, then strip the goats’ hides and use them to gently slap the women. Women apparently lined up for this yearly hide whipping, believing it would increase their fertility in the upcoming year. The day ended with a random pairing of couples to…well, test the magical strength of the goat hides.

Once “Christianized”, and with the help of authors like Chaucer and Shakespeare, Valentine’s Day became more of a celebration of romance, exchanging animal sacrifice for letter writing, whips for poetry and chocolate. Sounds like a healthy evolution. Today, Valentine’s Day sales approach close $20 billion, what with the candy, roses and a bit of expensive jewelry thrown in the mix.

Love itself, however, is free. And nothing says “I love you” better than a homemade card and a big hug.

How are you planning on celebrating Valentine’s Day? Let us know in the comments section below!

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The Mysterious World of Secret Societies

Contemporary Neo-Pagans use an expression to encourage greater transparency and less mystique surrounding their practice. They call it “coming out of the broom closet,” and it is largely an effort to dispel hysteria and suspicion. Being “mysterious,” after all, comes with the price of marginality and sometimes discrimination. At the very least, the imagination is often far stranger than reality.

This week’s episode of Holy Facts Facts on The Chopra Well YouTube channel addresses the topic of secret societies and the very mystique that leads to marginality. Neo-Pagans aren’t alone in their struggle for acceptance in the mainstream. Scientologists, Mormons, and even Catholics at certain points in history have resisted the “cult” classification. Other groups seem to embrace singularity and strive for as much mystery, secrecy, and separation as possible. Enter: Opus Dei, Freemasonry, and the Illuminati.

Opus Dei is an organization that strives to sanctify ordinary life by initiating lay people into the priestly life. The institution is actually recognized by the Catholic Church, so it’s not as marginal as one might expect for a secret society. Secrecy plays a part, however, in some of Opus Dei’s practices, including their recruitment methods, elitism, and mortification of the flesh. If you’re a fan of The Da Vinci Code, then you are likely well-versed already in the many accusations and theories surrounding Opus Dei. Our two cents, don’t believe everything you read.

Freemasonry beats Opus Dei in regards to mystery. The true origins of the organization are unknown, as are its specific rituals, initiation rites, and symbolism….to those on the outside, at least. Freemasons don’t exactly reject the classification of “secret society,” but rather opt for their own term, “esoteric society.” Take your pick. Either way, you’re not getting in the door. What we do know: Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that was founded in the present-day United Kingdom, possibly as early as the Medieval era. It has its origins in the craft of masonry and emphasizes strict morality among its members. The rest is secret to all but the brotherhood.

Finally, and most mysterious of all….The Illuminati. Part reality, part fiction, the Illuminati have been the subject of many a conspiracy theory dating back to the Enlightenment era. Members of the organization supposedly include philosophers, artists, authors, politicians, businessmen, and royalty – powerful, educated men dispersed around the globe who covertly control world affairs. Some events attributed to the Illuminati include the Battle of Waterloo, the French Revolution, and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Who knows if it is fear, imagination, or fact influencing such allegations. But, then again, we’ll probably never know.

What do you think? Is the Illuminati responsible for all catastrophic world events? Are you part of a secret society? Want to “come out of the broom closet”?

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