Happy 2011 to everyone! I wish all of you a healthy, happy, prosperous, and smooth year.
The winter holidays here went well and were full of celebrations. Shortly after Thanksgiving we put up our Yule tree and broke out the winter holiday décor. This is a celebratory ritual process in itself. When the trees are bare and the skies are gray more than they are not, the evergreen that we deck our homes with truly does add that reminder that life is still upon the land, enjoy the dark times, as spring will come soon enough. Not to mention the wonderful vibe of warm holiday cheer the sight of lighted trees and front doors adorned with beautiful wreaths provides.
My mother came from Florida via train to visit my husband and I for the Yule holiday. This created a bit of amusement on my part at the design and planning of the train station. As I arrived to pick her up at the station, I had the realization that the tracks block the train station. If a train is currently at the station, the track it sits on runs across the road the leads to the station itself. Everyone remains in their vehicles, turns them off, sits in the street, waits for the train to reload, and then depart. Only then can people actually cross the tracks and reach the actual station to pick up their loved ones. I had no end of amusement with this!
While my Mother was visiting we had the honor of attending a memorial puja in honor of the passing of a friends grandmother. Her and her family were unable to fly back to India to attend funeral rites in person so they instead held a beautiful puja and dinner. Friends, family, and community were invited to join in the chanting and recitation of Hindu mantras, prayers, and songs in honor of Grandma. We all gathered around an altar with flowers and her photos that was set up in the main room under a mantle that displayed images of the household deities. The room was filled with the wonderful crackling energy of the celebration of life. You could in a sense tangibly feel Grandma’s gratitude for everyone gathering in recognition of her. A grand (completely vegetarian) feast of traditional Gujrati food was served after the puja. It was truly an honor to be able to attend such a rite.
Yule 2010 was a special rarity this year as many of you may know. Not only was it Winter Solstice but also a full moon and lunar eclipse. On the eve of Solstice we attended the Solstice Sound Ceremony at the Watersong Peace Chamber in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. This was an intensely powerful ceremony with a focus of honoring and promoting healing and love for Mother Earth and all her inhabitants through the modality of sound. Chanting, drums, rattles, signing bowls, and more were used to create the vibration of sound. As Watersong care takers say, “Sound is vibration and vibration creates change.” Peace Chambers worldwide signed up for one hour over a continuous twenty four hour period to hold Solstice Sound Ceremonies. The celebration at Watersong continued beyond the allotted one hour through the night. We stayed a few hours after the ceremony and then headed home to get sleep before the full day of festivities the next day on Yule proper.
Yule morning saw the traditional gift exchange around the Yule tree upon waking. I received many wonderful gifts, among them a book entitled Reiki Shamanism by Roberts and Levy, which explores the integration of various shamanic techniques with Reiki treatments, a beautiful parrot feather smudge fan, a statue of Hecate, and a copy of the wonderful anthology Hekate: Her Sacred Fires by Sorita d’Este. My mother gave both my husband and I wonderful goodies from the Indian Grocery in our stockings. Sandalwood soap, dhoop, and key chains with Hindu Deities on them. My car key now sports a stylish key chain with Laxmi and Ganesh on one side and the Om on the other — a perfect travel talisman! My good friends Jimi and Lynn also gave me a beautiful puja thali that they picked up for me at the Shri Swaminarayanan Mandir in Chicago. However, it is true to say that the gifts, although thoughtful, are not the most important part of the holiday. Gathering to celebrate in the presence of loved ones, celebrating family (both of blood and of choice), of life, and the wheel of the year should be the genuine focus of the holiday season. The true value of the physical exchange of gifts is not in the quantity or monetary value of them but in the thoughtfulness and caring that they symbolize. Just a few thoughtful gifts, whatever their value, hold a loving energy beyond compare. Gift giving is an art. It is a skill to be able to choose gifts that will be desired by, appropriate for, and useful to the recipient. Something of lasting value. Knowing the person cares enough for you to make, find, or acquire the item especially for you, is a gift in and of itself. The item carries the loving energy that person has for you and that they put into the creation of acquisition of the gift. That is the spirit of which we strive to embody in our gift giving rituals on such occasions. Striving for that goal also aids to remove the element of voracious consumerism that is also so often at play in Western culture during the holidays. A good friend of ours and fellow Reiki Master knit us a rainbow chakra afghan. One can undoubtedly feel the caring and thoughtfulness radiating from it that was put into its creation. A gift to be treasured for years to come!
Following the exchange of gifts, we had our Yule sabbat ritual. It has become our tradition that the ritual for this sabbat always takes the form of our modern rendition of burning the Yule Log. We use an eco-friendly fireplace log made of recycled wax cardboard pressed together for our Yule Log. During the ritual we write petition slips of those things we’d like to attract into our lives during the coming year and affix them to the log using wax, ribbon, etc. We bless the log and then burn the log completely in the fireplace beginning the manifestation process. This ritual provides a wonderful balance and complement to the ritual banishing done at Samhain. Together they form a nice system for “out with the old and in with the new!”
In the early afternoon we had a wonderful Yule dinner centering around a main dish of a roasted Tofurky, with roasted oven potatoes, steamed veggies, and homemade apple pie for dessert! After dinner we headed to Raleigh to participate in a Munay-Ki shamanic fire ceremony and Solstice celebration. That concluded our run of Solstice celebrations. A busy but fun run it was!
One of the things I enjoy so much about the holiday season is its diversity. I have friends who are Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, Hindu and all manner of religions. All of the different faiths and belief systems bring wonderful celebrations to the milieu of the season. Many with similar goals and each with their unique offerings to add to the mix. A fellow Reiki-Master (who knitted the aforementioned afghan) invited us to her house for their Italian Christmas dinner. Many people may not think of baked ziti as a main course for Christmas dinner, but it is an idea that I could get used to! We also brought a batch of my husbands homemade fruitcake to share. Hold your groans, this isn’t the scary nuclear colored candied fruit cake you see in department and discount stores. He makes it from scratch using real dried fruits such as apricots, blueberries, cherries, raisins, and even a dash of pecans — all soaked in rum of course. Then every other day for two weeks it is spritzed with brandy. Yes ladies and gents, it is good fruitcake! Even our friends who dislike fruitcake loved it and we had a wonderful time taking part in celebration of our friends sacred day.
The days just prior to New Years found me giving a few tarot readings to clients to provide some outlook on current situations and the outlooks for new possible ventures. I love giving tarot readings at any point in time, but New Years readings are especially fun. Both the energetic drive and threshold that time of year provides always makes for wonderfully interesting readings! I was pleased to be able to greatly help these clients so that they are able to move forward and make decisions that allow them to guide, direct, and foster a new year full of great new opportunities for themselves! It is truly a wonderful feeling to have a line of work that I both enjoy and helps people when they are in need! Truly a win/win situation!
New Years also found the cleaning bug working its way through our apartment. We managed a full cleaning spree of the fridge, kitchen, linen closet, walk-in closet, vacuuming, and procuring an entire bag of old clothes to donate to the thrift store. It all started with cleaning our walk-in closet. Cleaning your closet is supposed to be a simple but effective piece of New Years Feng Shui. It is said that symbolically, that the organization of your closet energetically mirrors the organization of the rest of your life. Well, after the closet we were on a roll and couldn’t stop there! I’m glad we didn’t! Cleaning may not be the chore one most looks forward to, but the energetic results are oh so nice!
In other news, I am again learning how to knit. I have tried several times in the past using books, online videos, and a few people attempting to show me. For some reason it simply never ‘took.’ Well, a friend recently sat down to give an attempt at teaching me. Well, it seems she has been met with success because I now have a scarf well underway! Perhaps my sporadic attempts to learn this skill are over and know I can actually claim the title of knitter!
I think that sums up my update for now. I will be posting another blog very soon with some fun writing news…so stay tuned! In the meantime, enjoy a new year full of opportunities!
Blake Octavian Blair