Thursday, December 15, 2016

Yule, Christmas, Whatever...



I am not usually an overly Christmas/Yule-y type of gal. Like many people who call themselves Pagan/Witch I am usually far more into Halloween! I’m the one trying to smuggle the Halloween decorations upstairs sometime in August while my poor husband runs interference in an attempt to maintain what little sanity I have left him with.  Usually we compromise and I can have them up after his birthday in the middle of September. As soon as stores have the Halloween decorations up I am on the prowl looking for the next piece to add to the d├ęcor. After this year I finally have perfected what I want to have inside the house, next year onto the outside of the house!

Even as far as rituals go (when the bad witch that I am remembers to write the damn thing) I usually have my Samhain one ready to go a few weeks in advance or at least have the rough idea of what I want to do in my little brain box ready. I spend weeks gathering the supplies I want, reading different ideas and wandering taking photographs of the cemeteries and fallen leaves. I usually take the day off, carve the pumpkins, place the lantern by the window, hand out the candy to the trick or treaters and then in the darkness of the late night I perform my ritual. I also spend a lot of time reflecting about the season, about the need for death, the sacredness of the end and of those I have loved.

Christmas/Yule is different. No I am not stuck on the big Yule vs. Christmas debate. I don’t spend hours agonizing over how Christians stole the ancient Pagan traditions or getting fed up with the “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaigns (to be brutally honest, I don’t give a flying fuck).  I don’t spend the time finding Pagan adaptations of Christmas Carols or try and cook up new ideas for having the most Pagan of Pagany Yules. I just don’t. And I don’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, I don’t care if you call my tree a “Christmas Tree” or a “Yule tree”. I don’t care if you celebrate the season on the solstice or the 25th.
Usually in the middle of December we will pick up a tree (ok, total confession, that I get excited about). We will decorate it and the house while listening to old Christmas Carols (Typically John Denver and the Muppets Christmas Together… don’t judge, you like weird shit too lol!) or watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. 

I will plug the tree in every night and it will stay up until new years. I like to give friends and family a nice gift for putting up with my shit year round and naturally spoil my little sister rotten. Our pets even have their own stockings and I always grab some new toys and a box of treats for them. If you’re lucky on the eve of the solstice I will remember light a candle (or it may be a day or two later when I look at the calendar and go “oh fuck, solstice passed”). I also usually keep a piece of last year’s tree and burn it in the fireplace after lighting the candle.

As far as pausing and reflection on the season, yeah, that doesn’t happen. Usually I spend a lot of time cussing out the cold, trying to keep the damn walkway clear and avoiding shopping centers like the plague. If I do end up having to go to one (usually because I’m a dumbass and forgot to grab a gift for someone) I end up muttering under my breath like a crazy old lady as a barrage of fake festiveness hits me like a tsunami. I get overwhelmed in crowds easily and the bustle of shoppers trying to get the best deals for the gifts they want to buy and the tidal wave of panic of not finding that perfect gift  assaults my senses so badly that I usually end up sitting in my car holding my head in my hands while hyperventilating after these trips.

But this year is different. I took down the Halloween decorations early this year and put up a few garlands before November was over. I’ve been listening to Christmas Carols and fighting off the temptation to watch my favorite Christmas Movies. I find myself pausing in the stillness of the cold winter nights in my little hamlet and just letting the feelings around me wash over me. I sit by the fireplace and as I put another log on the fire I think of the sun, of the way it must have been for my ancestors on those long cold nights. When I wake up and go to work I pause at the darkness around me and feel a pull at my soul, the longing of rebirth.

I find myself at work contemplating rituals for the night of the solstice, researching and writing ideas, I actually have a ritual half formed in my mind. I find myself turning to the east, awaiting the sunrise that will come earlier and earlier after the 21st. I even find myself reading blogs from Progressive Christian Bloggers about Christmas, about faith and hope, about renewal and the deeper significance of advent. 2016 has not been an easy year for me, challenges at work, issues in my youth group, the death of some people I really looked up to (RIP David Bowie), financial challenges here and there as Alberta has suffered an economic down turn, my husband being in a bad car accident (and yet blessedly walking away with some minor whiplash and a dislocated finger), the US presidential election, mortgage renewal circus and a huge shake up with my faith have left me staggering and exhausted.

I need this time now, this time of people coming together to celebrate the lights in the world, the sparkly lights outside the houses and the warm hearths within. The outpouring of generosity that showcases the best of humanity this time of year, the gathering of family and friends, the happy songs and fun traditions that I don’t care who started them, I am blessed to be part of them. I need the stillness and quiet that these nights bring me and the promise of rebirth, of the light at the end of the tunnel that will come. The chance to lay the old year to rest and celebrate the coming of a new year, of new possibilities. 

Most of all I need the sacredness of a pause and then a turning to the sun, the promise of hope and the chance to build myself anew. I have been a Pagan for a decade now. When I was young I crusaded against Christian Holidays, seeking to be more Pagan than thou. I was loud and proud shouting against Christmas, and banging the Yule drum. In the middle of the decade I found myself cruising by the holidays, just trying to survive being a grown up, parroting words such as “happy holidays” and looking forward to stuffing my face with Turkey and getting presents. The last few years I have struggled with Pagan lore and legend, with the wheel of the year not making a hell of a lot of sense to me and struggling with what I believe in and what is just a nice story to listen to.

Now as I start down the road to my second decade of Paganism I find I finally am just starting to begin to understand at least this holiday. Regardless of what religion we call it there is a universal yearning within the human spirit for a light to shine in the darkness, a desire for the warmth and comfort of each others company on a dark night, and the chance to be reborn and begin anew. How blessed we are that this opportunity is available this time of year.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Dear USA - On Trump as President



Dear USA

It has been a little over two weeks since the election that saw Donald Trump elected as your next president. On your election night a group of us were sitting in a restaurant watching the results roll in. I will be honest, we were flabbergasted. We did not anticipate this would occur. While we are Canadians, not Americans, the results of your election was of great interest to us. Being one of your closest neighbours we have been flooded with images, debates, opinions and sound bites of this election. It was impossible not to notice it.

So having said that… America, can I hug you? From the outsider perspective of this election it looks like it has been a long hard road for you, and it also looks like it’s going to be difficult for a while. This election has really seemed to have divided people and created a lot of hard feelings and animosity that is only getting deeper and deeper by the day. There seems to be a lot of anger, confusion, hurt and pain associated with this election and its outcome.

In this election I became aware of deep seated anger and resentment of the candidates from when the preliminaries started right up to the election night. I read a lot of people arguing there was no good choice for this election as the two individuals who were running for the main parties of the nation seemed to generate a lot of overwhelming negative discussion. I understand there were some independent candidates but from here we didn’t hear much about them.

I saw angry memes flood social media, allegations of corruption and crooked financial dealings. Then there were allegations of sexual assaults, federal investigations and upcoming trials. There were threats of violence and displays of hatred, racism, misogyny and homophobia. Blog posts have been exploding with the hopes and fears of what each candidate's presidency will mean and attacking the other side.

And then finally, on November 8th we waited as America voted.... and the explosion happened all over again. Trump supporters triumphant as he was elected in and Clinton supporters crushed as a Republican Majority was elected to power. This was followed by increased reports of racist outbursts across the country and fear sweeping families. Protests in several major cities broke out, some violent. I open my news feed and daily feel bewildered as I sit at this cross road of history.

I don't have any answers for you, I don't even pretend to have the answers. My knowledge of the US electoral system is shaky at best and while there are many similarities between Canadians and Americans we are still two different nations with different cultures and values. So I won't tell you what to do. Instead I offer up some suggestions.

I suggest that all people in all nations educate themselves on their political system. Go online, read library books, look into a course at a community college. Call your political members and ask them to explain how it works. Do everything you can to fully understand the system and how it works. And if in your research you find there are areas that need to be fixed, begin the work to help fix it. Be a beacon of knowledge in your community and share that light with everyone, even those you do not agree with.

I suggest that you get some rest! As a Canadian who is watching from the sidelines I am exhausted! I cannot even begin to imagine how hard this cycle has been on you. So get some rest, sleep in a bit over the weekend and let your strength recoup. I think many of you feel like you have a lot of work ahead of you so make sure you care for yourself. Then please look next door.

I suggest you look in on your neighbours, see how they are doing, or get to know them. Try doing some random acts of kindness for a neighbour to help you open a conversation and maybe learn about each other a little. Help heal the rifts in society by being a beacon of peace in your community. Show each other love and compassion, you don't have to agree with them, just show some compassion and care about each other based on your shared humanity. 

I suggest that you continue to stand up for what you believe in, with the reports of racism and misogyny on the rise I know this will be hard to do, but almost a century ago good people decided what was happening to their neighbours wasn't their concern and let it happen. They let ghetto's and deportations happen. They let killing squads and concentration camps happen. They let gas chambers and slaughter happen. Your grandparents and great uncles/aunts sacrificed a great deal (some of them with their lives) to stop that travesty, please remember the lesson they learned and do not let it happen again in our time. 

And finally please don't come to Canada yet. Your nation needs you, your home and it's people need you. They need voices to stand up for compassion and dignity, they need people to learn and preserve peace and liberty in the Land of the Free. Do not abandon America now. However if things get to a point where you need to be safe to continue your work then I will shelter you and provide what I can so that you may survive and reclaim your freedom.

As for your President Elect, I am in no position to judge his political plans, however there are many area's I believe he and I will disagree, very strongly. I'm worried about the things I have heard him say about women and minorities, I am worried about the people he has chosen to advise him thus far. Having said that please be kind but continue to make your voices heard and remember he works for you. Avoid violence and name calling if at all possible but be assertive and defend yourselves, your families and your neighbours. 

Praying for you often.