Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Summer's Arrival

This past Saturday we celebrated Summer's Arrival at my church. Usually in Paganism, summer's decline is actually celebrated at the Solstice (around June 21st), but the Summer Solstice -- also called Litha -- is a huge time for Pagan festivals around the States, so our church instead does a simple celebration in early June. This year was one of the funnest summer celebrations I've ever attended!

First, we dedicated two new altar spaces. Most of our camping and worship area are large fields with full sun, but in one spot, there is a great little island of flowers and trees that provide shade. In this space, we planted two new willow trees, and set up rough drafts for a healing altar and a Buddhist/Pagan peace altar.
Our church has a really long tradition of incorporating healing work into everything that we do. Having an outdoor altar that will be set up every time the land is used is a natural extension. And it's in such a great, shady place. I'm excited to see how it grows. 
Petitions for healing are written on popsicle sticks that are then thrown into a sacred fire.
One of our members has also been working on a Buddhist/Pagan peace altar that honors the goddess Kuan-Yin (she's one of the many Buddhas of the world and is known for her healing powers and compassion). He described "peace" in this instance as a sky that is totally clear, without clouds. It's a deep kind of peace that goes beyond just relaxation or feelings of tranquility. He will be gathering up the contents of the altar as it grows and carrying them to different Pagan events, where it will grow even more. I think it's wonderful that we will have that altar space to connect to the Pagan community and the world in general through the peace of Kuan-Yin.
After dedicating these two new altar spaces, we planted some very young, tiny willow trees as the head of the "island." Willows are a tree that have long been associated with healing, and they're special trees to the church. All of us brought dirt from our yards at home to the church's land and filled in the holes around the saplings with that dirt, symbolizing how we all come together as a community, despite our different backgrounds, locations, origins. Our priestess read a really beautiful poem to the willow tree. I'm excited to watch them grow!

We also had a great ritual to welcome Summer. Though I'm not very into the heat and getting tan, I always love the spring and summer time of year. The rituals are fun and light-hearted, but also very powerful. It's a time to celebrate strength and growth and the gathering of momentum toward change (or solidification). We created the sacred space by singing "You Are My Sunshine," and also sang chants celebrating the trees and the earth. We used colored balls to represent the Elements and had fun throwing them at each other to raise energy -- it did start getting a little similar to dodge ball. We also had pieces of colored paper cut in the shape of leaves on which we wrote blessings for our community. These were all put into a cardboard boat that will be sent down the creek near the land to carry our blessings out.

One of the things I love about our Summer's Arrival celebrations is that we also take time to identify those negative things in our lives that we want to remove. We do this using water balloons. We concentrate on what that negative thing is, whether it's a bad habit, an ailment, destructive relationship, etc., and push that energy into the balloon. Then, when ready, the balloon is smashed into the ground or crushed in our hands. It's a great way to feel some resolve and encouragement to change our lives and selves for the better.
My balloon represented procrastination and apathy. I allow too much of both to interfere with what I want to be doing.
After ritual was over, we all ate our potluck feast, and then started playing with fire! One of the ministers at the church does poi and other fire-spinning techniques, and always is willing to teach us and let us practice. Our priestess's son is also really good at the fire staff and he helps out a lot too. I've always been really shy to try them because I don't want people to see me mess up, but I decided that enough is enough last night and gave it a shot. I have a cousin who also spins poi, and my minister gave me a practice set to use at home, but I've never felt totally drawn to it. It takes a rhythm that feels really foreign to me. Instead, the more I watched, the more I wanted to try the staff, and when I finally did, it felt so right! 
A friend got this photo of me with the staff. I just couldn't stop laughing. 
I did feel awkward moving it around, but the more I got used to the weight, the better it felt and the more fun I had. I am definitely hooked now! I can't stop thinking about it. Over the coming weeks of the summer, I'm going to see what I can do about making a staff of my own so I can keep practicing. I'm keeping in mind that I made the promise to myself to not let procrastination continue to interfere with my life, so I want the fire staff to become a new project that I really dedicate myself to. It's also a good upper arm work-out, so there are more benefits than just being able to spin a burning stick!

I might not be the most summery of people, but I don't think any person can ignore that summer is a magical time of year. It's really come to represent friendship and community to me, and I'm so grateful to know all the people with whom I can celebrate the Sun and nature and Earth. And since the rest of the summer is going to be a lot of hard work for me (securing and internship, preparing for my last semester of college, etc.), it was great to have this day to spend with my church before joining in with the "real world." So, Happy Summer, Happy Festival Season -- I am looking forward to the Sun's blessings in the coming months!

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