Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Imbolc and Candlemas

Along with seven created beings
I was placed
In a fire of purification.
I was myself gleaming fire,
When I was first given life...
-- The Black Book of Caemarthen, Taliesin

My Imbolc candle, 2009

Imbolc, the first Wiccan Sabbat in the Gregorian calendar, is one of four Sabbats that are adapted from the ancient Celtic fire festivals [1] which are mainly based on agrarian and pastoral cycles. It is usually celebrated on or around February 2, or at the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. 'Imbolc' (pronounced 'imolk') is an Irish Gaelic word meaning 'in the belly'. The festival is also sometimes called 'Oimelc' ('imelk') meaning 'ewe's milk'. Both refer to the time of the year when mother sheep begin to lactate and are ready to give birth again. This period occurs on the early days of February in the British Isles and some traditionalist Pagan groups still determine the time of Imbolc thereon. Around this time, badgers, groundhogs [2] as well as serpents begin to emerge from their burrows, and Galanthus flowers begin to grow through the snow [3] . Other Pagans, especially those who do not experience winter, determine the time of Imbolc astrologically by finding the point in time when the Sun is in 15 degrees the sign of Aquarius. Events in the Wheel of the Year of the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand) are at the exact opposite of their northern counterparts, so Imbolc is celebrated in the lands down under around August 2, the time of the sabbat Lughnasadh in the north.

Imbolc signifies the end of winter and the beginning of warmth and is thus called the "Festival of the Waxing Light". In the Wiccan narrative, it is the time when the goddess has recovered from childbirth, and the Sun god whom she gave birth to in Yule is beginning to grow in strength and power.

Brighid, Celtic triple-goddess [4]

Being a fire festival it is sacred to the Celtic triple-goddess Brighid ('breed'), keeper of the three-fold flames of smithcraft, poetry and healing. In fact, Imbolc is also called La Fheile Brighid, or the day of Brighid. In honor of Brighid as a muse of poetic inspiration, bards and poets usually hold Eisteddfods ('aistedvod') at this time, which is a celebration of song and poetry. Many Pagans also choose this time to cleanse and consecrate their ritual tools and ask blessings from Brighid as the lady of smithing. Brighid is also the patroness of childbirth and the guardian of sacred wells, so Imbolc is also considered as a period of rebirth, transformation and of purification, and an ideal time for initiation and dedication to deity.

Drying some fragrant Pandan leaves for the leaba brid for this coming Imbolc.

It is a custom to clean the house before Imbolc in preparation for the coming of Brighid, who is also goddess of hearth and home. Bridget's crosses and 'brideogs' ('brijog)', a corn dolly to represent Brighid, are traditional Imbolc crafts. The brideog is usually placed on a 'leaba brid' ('lawa bree'), or the bed of Brighid, and placed in the bed with the brideog is a phallic wand called the 'slatag brid' ('slatag bree'). Butter, milk and a lit candle is placed on the window sill on the eve of Imbolc to welcome Brighid as she walks the earth during the night. A piece of cloth is placed upon a shrub for Brighid to bless as she passes by. The cloth, called 'brat brid' ('brat bree') is imbued with powers of protection and healing thereafter, and is sometimes cut to smaller pieces and sewn to garments, blankets or pillows.

'Presentation of Jesus at the Temple', Giovanni Bellini


Candlemas is a related yet different festival although some Wiccans  today use the term interchangeably with Imbolc. It is a Christian feast to honor the presentation of Jesus at the temple. This occasion actually consists of three important events for the Christian belief:
  1. An ancient Judaic ritual for the child Jesus called "Pidyon Ha-ben", whereby the first born male is redeemed from the Priest by the father of the child, in exchange for a small amount of coins. This is still being practiced today by the Jewish religion.
  2. A ceremonial purification of Mary, mother of Jesus. In ancient Judea, a woman is considered impure after giving birth and must undergo a ritual of purification 40 days after giving birth to a male child, and 60 days to a female child.
  3. The declaration of Jesus as the light and redeemer of the world by the prophet Simeon.
The rituals of redemption and purification are in accordance to the laws given by Moses in the book of Leviticus. Like Imbolc, Candlemas is also a festival of fire, celebrating Jesus as the light of the world, and of purification. Traditionally it is a time when the priest blesses candles to be used in the church or at home throughout the entire year. Ancient Christian leaders declared the celebration of this feast at February 2, the time of Imbolc, in keeping up with the Pagans of the lands they were ruling.

Philippine Wiccan Society, Imbolc 2009

Candelaria, as it is called in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, is also celebrated in the Philippines, most notably in the towns of Jaro, Ilo-ilo and Silang, Cavite. Pope John Paul II declared Nuestra Señora de Candelaria as the patroness of Western Visayas during his visit to the country in 1981 [5]. Her feast day is celebrated with mardi-gras-like candle-lit parades and is one of the biggest annual festivals in the Visayas region. For followers of Santeria, a syncretic religion mainly practiced in Latin America, this is a sacred day to the Yoruban goddess Oya, who is syncretized with Our Lady of Candelaria.[6]

The ancient Roman festival of Februatio is also a ritual of purification that happens around this time. 'Februa' is an instrument or offering for atonement or purification, and it is in fact where the month of February gets its name from. It is also more commonly known as Lupercalia, and is also a fertility festival from which the modern Valentine's Day is said to be derived. Followers of Stregheria, or Italian witchcraft, still celebrate the feast of Lupercalia.

There are many other celebrations around the world that parallel the Wiccan festival of Imbolc, like the Aztec and the Chinese New Year,  but the ones mentioned here are what I consider to be its closest relatives.

Basbasan Nawa!

[1] The other three being Samhain, Beltaine, and Lughnasadh.
[2] Hence its association with Groundhog Day, celebrated in North America on February 2.
[3] Also called Snowdrop, a pretty little white flower
[4] "Brighid", by Miranda Gray
[5] Pope John Paul II himself also crowned the image of Our Lady of Candelaria in the Cathedral of Jaro.
[6] Thanks to my Lucumi friends I'm finally getting the grasp of New World religions and their relation to Old World Paganism.

More Reading:
[a] Imbolc and the Goddess, by Tira Brandon-Evans
[b] ADF Imbolc Traditions

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Eye for an Eye

Eric gave me a pair of feathers which he nabbed during a Santeria ritual and I, still in Martha Stewart mode after making a batch of orange pomanders, have been thinking of what to do with them. Being that the feathers were taken from sacrificial fowls to Orunmila, god of wisdom and seer of the future among the Lucumi, I thought that they would make a very nice addition to a god's eye.

The god's eye is a traditional craft and spiritual object among the Huichol Indians of Mexico. In their native language it is called "tsikuri" which means "the power to see and understand things unknown".  It is sometimes used as a protective symbol, and it is said that the four points of the tsikuri correspond to the elements of earth, air, fire and water.

I chose to use the four Western elemental colors for the yarn: red, blue, yellow and green, and they indeed make a wonderful combination. The pattern I wove was in correspondence with the four worlds of the Kabbalah: red representing the divine world at the outermost, and green representing the material world in the center [1]. Although it was fairly easy to make, I found myself in a very meditative state during the act of weaving, especially when reflecting upon the symbolism of the color of the yarn that I was using. Basically this god's eye is a mandala, a talisman and a Western cosmological model all at the same time.

Thankfully our office is located in the middle of a park, so it was easy to find straight branches like these.

From green to yellow. From the world of man to the world of angels... the world of archangels and then to divinity. To blue and to red.

Tie the feathers with a string, and hide the knots with some clay beads.

I made a tassel from the remaining piece of string and
added a bloodstone and a jasper bead, stones of life and nurturing.

Basbasan Nawa!

[1] The four worlds of Kabbalah, from the highest to lowest, and their elemental correspondences:
Red - Atziluth - Divine World - Fire
Blue - Briah - Creative World - Water
Yellow - Yetzirah - Formative World - Air
Green - Assiah - Material World - Earth

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Sun-Kissed Charm

I made these fragrant, fruity, fortune-bringers during the first new moon of the year which was luckily also the time of a partial Solar eclipse. Orange pomanders, as these are called, have been around since medieval times and was primarily used in Europe to freshen the air and to ward off disease. These days they are mainly used as holiday ornaments [1].

The basic herbs used in making orange pomander - orange, cloves, cinnamon - are associated with the Sun and the element of fire, and for that it can be also be used as a charm to bring about general good fortune. The new moon was in Capricorn, which was perfect for spell work involving career, business affairs, or anything that has to do with "getting to the top".

I'm taking advantage of the dry season since herb crafts are a bitch to do during the rainy days because of molds caused by the moisture in the air. By Imbolc, these little luck charms should be perfectly brown and firm.

The basic stuff that you need: oranges, packs of clove, and a jar of cinnamon powder.

More stuff to bring more oomph to the orange.

A mug of brewed coffee not only perks me up, but also helps to neutralize the strong smell given off by the oranges and herbs. Playing some music not only helps me get into the mood, but keeps me entertained as well while I am making these [2].

A mixture of powdered herbs: cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and bay leaf.
I poured in some Castor oil as well as a fixative.

I added a few drops of Sandalwood oil to lemon juice, which I soak the oranges into for a few seconds before rolling them into the herb mixture. Lemon juice is traditionally used to wash amulets due to its purifying nature. Sandalwood is for purification as well, and is also a fixative. Both are associated with the Moon. By soaking the orange in lemon juice I'm kind of recreating the conjunction of the sun and moon during an eclipse.

This is the hardest (and most painful) part: poking the cloves into the orange. I could have used a thimble so my fingers won't hurt much but I was lazy to find one.

Just like any talisman, these pomanders should be charged in ritual otherwise they're just fancy ornaments. But I'll be waiting for them to dry first before the actual charging, which usually takes about two weeks.

I place the finished products by the window to dry so the rays of the sun can reach them, and placed some packs of Silica gel to help absorb the moisture during these cold January nights. I'm only keeping one of these, and give the rest to some lucky folks.

Basbasan Nawa!

[1] A very useful info about pomanders:
[2] I was actually listening to the podcast "Chasing Hermes".

Friday, January 15, 2010

Message from Cyber God

The personal computer has become our temple. The binary digits 0 and 1 are the god and goddess of the new aeon - the Yin and the Yang of the digital Tao, the Yoni and Lingam of the present age. Man created Computer as God created Man in his own image. Whether we humans admit it or not, we have in fact created new gods and have become subjects to their benefic and destructive powers. Bitstream is the new mana. -- Frater Murmur, Oct 2009

As a meta-magician I see nothing wrong with the PC as an instrument of augury just as the ancient people would use yarrow sticks, chicken guts, incese smoke, or oracle cards. There is of course much benefit from using tangible materials, like making it easier to enter into altered states of consciousness, but for a busy office worker like me I find the ease of using software programs indispensable. What the papyrus was to the priests of old is the pixel to the cyber mage. Both are just mediums through which to course information from the non-material world. [1]

That being said, I'm bemused by this fairly popular Facebook application called "God Wants You to Know", which posts a daily dose of random, overused spiritual cliché onto your Facebook wall (and for 18 dollars, you will receive messages from God through SMS. How cool is that?)

Aww...Thank you, God.

Thousands of years ago, God was a burning bush and a pillar of storm cloud, now God is an algorithm.

I do not discount the fact however that this thing does work for many people. Not only do the quotes make them warm and fuzzy all-over, which I think is half of what spirituality is all about, it also gives them the opportunity to ponder on certain areas of their lives and reevaluate themselves - even if the advice given seems irrelevant or disagreeable. I see this as being not much different from the practice of  consulting the I Ching or the tarot.

Why do I get so annoyed when this shows up on my Facebook wall? Any stuff involving God tends to sell easily; just look at the Bible. This app currently has 170 thousand fans from all over the world[2], and the guy who made this is probably reaping thousands of dollars from "God Wants You to Know" premium accounts. I just wish I were the fucking genius who have thought of this.

Basbasan Nawa!

[1] CyberWaite by Murmurwoods ©2006, a tarot software
[2] At the time of writing, 41 of my 202 Facebook friends are fans.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Kabbalah for the Wicca

To kick off its series of workshops for the year, I am holding a lecture for the Philippine Wiccan Society[1] on occult symbols of the Western mystery tradition, which will hopefully be followed by a workshop on talismanic magic.

I'm having a blast making the PowerPoint slides. It takes me a while to finish one slide because I am so amused by the animations that I play them over and over again.

I'm being careful that the slides illustrate my ideas clearly since I am hardly eloquent at explaining stuff. The lecture will be geared towards beginners and casual magicians so I'll try not to use any Hebrew or Gnostic terms - without resorting to bullshit.

Part of the lecture is a discussion on cosmology since I feel that this must come hand-in-hand with the study of occult symbols. While symbols help put abstract metaphysical ideas into context, cosmology binds them together into a coherent whole.

Western mysticism is usually associated with Hermetic practice, but a basic study of it is also important for Wiccans. I think the Western mystery trad, which is mostly rooted from Greek philosophy and Jewish mysticism, had more influence on Wiccan ritual practice than European folklore.

I usually hate public speaking but thankfully the thing about giving a lecture for the Philippine Wiccan Society is that I am not speaking to an audience, but to friends.

Basbasan Nawa!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Yipee Yule

Dec 26, 2009 - I woke up at dawn to meet up with Pol and Ariel to celebrate the Yule Sabbat during the sunrise. It was quite a feat to do after staying up late on a busy Christmas day. We met at McDonald's, then took the cab to Quezon City Memorial Circle.

It was still dark when we arrived, and we were surprised to see the place in utter disaster. A lot of people have spent their Christmas day in the park and now there were junk everywhere. The park janitors have not even begun to do their cleaning since it was still too early. After about half an hour of walking around we finally found a relatively clutter-free area for the Sabbat ritual. Pol and Ariel have their complete Wiccan implements but I only had my camera. I found a fairly thick, fallen branch and made it into a Yule log for the altar so I could contribute something.

Some tools of the craft. I wonder where they got the acorns and pines from.

The ritual was short and simplistic but it was all the time that I needed amidst a busy holiday season to be introspective. 2009 was a tough year for me, possibly one of the toughest ever. I reflected upon my belief that these difficulties are just part of the natural cycle and accepted them as something that I can learn from and help me grow. I prayed for wisdom and hoped that the wheel will turn so that the coming year will be easier.

Pol used my camera for the first time and made a wonderful picture of me in prayer.

Gathering some willow leaves.

After the ritual we walked for what seemed to be a thousand miles to the UP sunken gardens to gather some willow. I rarely go to UP and when I do, I always arrive on a vehicle. Walking helped me really appreciate how vast and beautiful this place is. We try to name the trees and plants that we pass by and talk about our different practices, so even if our feet hurt, we were not only entertained but learned new stuff as well.

The new born sun rising behind an Acacia tree.



Basbasan Nawa!

Friday, January 1, 2010

In the Beginning.

God. The beginning is always the hardest part.

It's 5:12 AM as I am typing these words. I started writing at about 1:30 AM as the sounds of the firecrackers were beginning to wane. After two mugs of coffee I finished a lengthy introduction about myself but immediately scrapped it away after realizing how self-absorbed and annoyingly highbrow I sounded.

I guess for now those three words below the blog title would suffice as a description for myself: Pagan, Pinoy (Filipino) and postmodernist. I reckon that the last word needs some explaining:

Many people are confused by the term postmodern. It has become a term that is bandied about in intelligent conversation...[1]

How true. Any paragraph with the word "postmodern" in it looks so intellectual. :)

I've been Googling for definitions of the word "postmodern" but what I've been getting were just as obscure. Eventually I found a nice answer:

Postmodernism puts everything into question and radically interrogates philosophies, strategies and world views. There is no such thing as a definition of the postmodern. It is a mood rather than a strict discipline. [1]

I decided to use the word because that is how some people describe my practice. A postmodernist Pagan may seem like a paradox, but I think that makes it more "postmodernisty", don't you think?

While this blog would be about my not taking everything at face-value, I'd like to write about conventional ideas as well, especially on magic and metaphysics. Some may not agree with what I write, but this is the Internet: there is always somebody out there who's bound to disagree with you. I'm not gonna be trying to proclaim the Truth anyway, just my own smelly personal brain-farts. I just hope I'd be able to pull this blog thing nicely.

It's the first day of the year and it's a blue moon. 2010 to me resembles the ineffable name of God in Jewish mysticism: YHVH [2] . That should mean something.

Basbasan Nawa!

[2] 2010 = Two Zero and One Zero = Even Null and Odd Null = Y H and V H. Masculine and Feminine. Or something like that.

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