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A Pagan Gathering for Australia and the world

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Autumn in Malmsbury

Another Central Victorian town not far from Mount Franklin is Malmsbury, a popular destination for travelers along the Calder to and from Melbourne. Since the town was bypassed in 2008 it has reclaimed something of its rural feeling, but it can still be very busy, especially on weekends and holidays.

One of its finest features is its botanical garden, which sits right on the Coliban river and visitors can enjoy walks around the small lake, through stands of some exceptional European and native trees and plants. You can also make your way up to the Malmsbury Viaduct, Victoria's largest masonry bridge which is over 150 years old and a stunning example of stonework, using beautifully dressed local bluestone blocks.

Like the Harcourt oak forest, the gardens in Malmsbury are very lovely in the autumn, so you are encouraged to come and take a look!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Of Summer's End........

(Jack'O'Lantern courtesy of Ariana & Robin)
Halloween, Samhain, Samuin, Calends of Winter, the Heroic Journey, the Feast of the Dead, Hollantide, Allantide, the third Harvest. Here in the time of the death, when the Lady and Dread Lord are seated in the Great Halls of the Dead as equals. Where matter and spirit are intertwined and the veil is thin. Where ancestors call upon the living and the living reach out to the ancestors. Life and Death make visible the fine blade upon which we all dance. Yet we fear not knowing that the seed of promise lays within the Lady's womb....silent and alive. One of the Great Sabbats, one of the Fire Festivals.

To understand Samhain is to journey back into a time removed from our own. Where our lives depended upon the hunt, fairweather, good crops and bountiful harvest and animal husbandry. It is easy now to remove ourselves from the inevitability of death and distance ourselves from the awareness that somehow death is beyond us. Death remains an unknown companion silently keeping step, casting shadows every minute, every moment. Major fairs, festivals and preparations were made for the winter stores and the division of the pastoral importance in this time was notable as meat was referred to as 'winter food' and dairy produce 'summer food'. Grain surplus was rapidly turned to mead, ale, beer and brose. Important events were thought to have been held at an auspicious time such as Samhain. Bettina Arnold notes that “According to the Irish sources, the Assembly of Tara, the seat of the High King of Ireland, the most important of the oneachs, or fairs, was held on Samhain” (Halloween Customs of the Celtic World)

Although it is seen and observed in the Wheel of the Year with regards to Wiccan practices it is not specific to Wicca and has its roots in Celtic and Germanic spiritual practices. Although the current threads remain, no doubt it bears little resemblance to its native origins. Indeed there evidence that indicates Druid involvement and direction over Beltane and Samhain festivals in some locales. Ronald Hutton ascribes this to the advance of romanticism and neopagan eclectic practices ( Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles). Equally, it could be said and successfully argued that our lives are vastly divergent from those ancestors of old and we have become distanced from ourselves as humans and from the spiritual world. Instead our beliefs rest heavily in the modernisation and technological 'switched on' era and generation. A light is but a switch away, food is but a short trip to the supermarket and so forth.

In Samhain however, we journey with our Gods to consciousness. We find within and without the Anima and Animus. The One Light. The Spark which lights the Path. We learn this in watching the God struggle in his exploration of his own unconsciousness. In realising our mortality we understand the joyfulness of life. In embracing the dark we reach out for the light and in doing so evolve towards the divine. Crowley describes the process thus “ he can (the God) move to a wider stage and begin to embrace the and participate in the wider collective unconscious” That is, we have and are, moving throughout the process from a part towards the greater whole and therefore Divinity. Whilst we mention the God, the journey for the Goddess is much as the God. She too must seek out her Animus, her male self in the path to oneness and supreme Divinity (The Old religion in the New Millenium-Wicca)

Samhain in varying forms is seen widely across many European countries with some similarities observed throughout them. An example of this is the “dumb supper” (ed note: for the purposes of political correctness this will not be altered as it is not the intention of this article to enter a debate regarding the appropriateness of the term-call it the silent feast if it please you). A feature of setting out an extra place for the departed or spirit guest and a meal eaten in silence. In Italy a chair is often set out by a bonfire for a spirit to sit and enjoy the fire in their honour. Water is considered the conduit of the unconscious and to the ancient Greeks was considered the epitomal symbol for metamorphosis and philosophical recycling. The ancient eygptians considered the Nile the canal for birth and existence. Water, shares some of the same attributes of fire and can be considered the symbol of transformation, subconsciousness, fertilisation, reflection, introspection, intuition and renewal. Sustenance, motion and life. So too did the ancient Celts look to the water as a sacred vessel to carry spirit and gifts back and forth from the underworld to the living. Hence scrying using water and early records of the veneration of pools, lakes and wells. Anthropology is now starting to discover some compelling evidence which links certain festivals such as Samhain with lakeside activities believed to link the two worlds together (Anne Ross-Pagan Celtic Britain) The bonfire, the symbolism of sacrifice, transformation, heat, life, renewal and regeneration of course features heavily with some scholars suggesting herds were driven between these fires as perhaps sacrificial offerings.
(Bonfire picture courtesy of  www.squidoo.com/wicked-bites-at-halloween)
Common activities occur with the observance of Turnip Lanterns (Neep Lanterns-Scotland) used throughout the British Isles and also known to have been utilised in countries throughout the continent. Turnips and swedes (rutabagas ) are carved into faces which allow for a ember or tealight to sit within them, these essentially are designed to ward off any unwelcome 'guests'/and or according to Christina Hole Instead of the simple holes for eyes and nose of the usual Hallowtide ‘face,’ quite intricate flower-, ship-, or animal-patterns are cut on the outer skin of the mangold.”. ( A Dictionary of British Folk Customs ) In later times post immigration the United States, pumpkins became more widely used. Turnip Lanterns are thought to have been derived from an old tale of a miser drunk “Stingy Jack” who attempted to bargain with the Devil and ultimately lost, doomed to roam the earth with only a lantern. Scarecrows disguises and masks were worn as decoys to the spirits. Yet the fire, water, lantern and'tattie-bogle' (scarecrow-Scotland) are relics of a time which acknowledged the existence of the otherworld. The Scarecrow is described as he who cannot walk yet knows everything of the worlds.
(Scarecrows courtesy of lunasisters.com)
Our Samhain ineviatably features grain and root vegetables as part of the post ritual feast. Here to follow is my pumpkin, neep and tattie soup:
One kilo of chopped pumpkin (I prefer Kent or Jap but go for butternut or Qld Blue if you fancy)
I diced onion
I chopped clove of garlic
2 stalks of celery chopped
I Neep peeled and chopped
2 good sized spuds peeled and chopped
Vegetable stock to cover
Fresh grated nutmeg
Small amount of cream/sour cream or milk

Place all veg in a large pot and just cover with enough stock and allow to cook through. When cooked blend ingredients with a hand blender or food processor or simply mash if you like. Season to taste and add grated nutmeg and a small amount of cream sour cream milk to the soup. Serve with crusty grain bread I prefer home made bread but thats me.
Elsewhere on the blog is a recipe for Brose, that most unctuous fermented oat brew delicious cold or warm.
If you begin by thinking seasonally, that is what is naturally available now your Samhain menu is endless. Divinitory games can be played such as bobbing for apples but remember use commonsense if children are about and dont forget the towels! And lastly but not least leave some food for the Fey lest you be tricked and fooled.
So from sunset to sunrise, whatever you do on Samhain and however you chose to celebrate, remember your journey to consciousness is shared by many and your walk along the path shadowed by the ones gone before. “We shall meet, and remember and love them again”
Mary L.

Bettina Arnold (Halloween Customs of the Celtic World)
Vivianne Crowley (The Old religion in the New Millenium-Wicca)
Anne Ross (Pagan Celtic Britain)
Christina Hole (A Dictionary of British Folk Customs )
Ronald Hutton ( Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles)

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Oak Forest

Not far from Mount Franklin is her sister, Mount Alexander. At the base of Mount Alexander, near the township of Harcourt is an oak plantation. It was created in 1900 for the purposes of tannin production and to increase local employment, and today there is a wide variety of well established oaks forming a forest the likes of which is rare outside of Europe.

Of course, a fantastic resource such as this has been enjoyed for more than just picnics for many years now, and you are all encouraged to come and visit Harcourt and see this wonderful place for yourselves. Autumn is an excellent time to make the trek, here are some pictures I took today:

Autumn Equinox

So Autumn Equinox has come and gone. Many people ask what is the significance and inclusion of the Solstices and Equinox's within Witchcraft. Simply speaking,  they are sympathetic magical observances and acknowledgement of the the passage of our Gods, the acknowledging of the astrological phenomena and the passing of the seasons. 
The Autumn Equinox (derived from the latin word aequinoctium which means 'equal night') marks one of the two occasions in the year where the sun crosses the celestial equator or the imaginary line which crosses the sky dividing the northern and southern hemispheres) the other of course being the Spring Equinox. In the wheel of the Year it is considered a lesser Sabbat.

(Altar set up courtesy M. Lancashire)

To Pagans and Witches it is also know as Mabon. The second Harvest  (post Lammas) and the preparatory phase for the coming of Winter and the end of Summer. 
To some, this is a Sabbat of balance and harmony. To others,  of deep preparation both physically and psychically. There are those Traditions which hold that this is a time where Our Lord lays 'in state' and our Lady makes ready for his ascent as the 'conquering hero' to claim her.  Together they will descend to the underworld and we mortals wait in silence, reflection, introspection and readiness, yet travel with our Gods within the inner landscapes. Some Traditions do not observe this Sabbat. Some non Traditions and Traditions only observe the harmony and balance and reflective qualities the Sabbat elicits. We reflect upon what has come to pass, and what is yet to come. 
More practically it turns our attention to the work of our ancestors and farmers who at this time look toward the harvest of apples, pears and the last of the vine harvests in readiness for pressing for cider and wines. This was also common to the ancient Greeks with their harvest Oschophoria and across other cultures similar observances are noted.
The name Mabon is also known as the welsh "Mabon ap Modron" or Mabon vab Modron, Son, son of Mother, a male personified as youth. He is know via his mothers line. Ross (1996) states that he does not appear to have a father  in the traditions which appear in the mabinogi but another Mabon-Mabon vab Mellt is referred to 'in medieval contexts and may have originally been the same deity'. She relates that this may refer to Maponus however son of Matrona. Although no seemingly evidence proves the existence of worship there is suggestion that Maponus was worshipped within the Southern parts of Scotland into Cumbria, known as both the Hunter, concerned with poetry and music,  the wooded lands and Exalted Prisoner snatched and incarcerated as a newborn as featured in the Mabinogion. Although resting in folklore,  Ross suggests certain evidence certainly points toward earlier mythology.
For us Autumn represents the time of the Heroic Quest of the God and his journey toward the Dark Lord resplendent in his authority and assumption of Godhead at Samhain. His Queen sitting beside him within his realm. Our rituals reflect this inner reality which according to Vivianne Crowley was also practised by our ancestors. To use a quote from Vivianne 'the method of portrayal was to use allegories found in Nature; for t was in part through observation of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth in Nature that human beings understood that this too was their fate".
However you celebrated Mabon, we hope you celebrated in keeping in honour of our ancestors, in truth and happiness for yourselves and the future of our children.
Blessed Be
(Courtesy M. Lancashire)
References: Mary Jones "Celtic History"
                   Anne Ross "Pagan Celtic Britain"                   
                  Vivianne Crowley 'Wicca: The Old Religion in a New Millennia'