Remembering the Sun

I look up from the keyboard as the shaft of late afternoon sunlight slants through the window and hits the screen of my computer, blinding it. Irritated, with a teaching session to plan, an article to write and one of my mothers threatening to go into labour, I sigh and move across the sofa as far as the lead on my laptop will let me. It allows me about 10 minutes work before the ray of sunlight again moves across my vision. Annoyed now; “I don’t have time for this!”, I jump up to move chairs, pulling the lead out accidentally as I go. My laptop flicks off and I lose the last half hour’s worth of work. I slide onto the floor wondering whether to laugh or cry in frustration. “Slow down, Priestess”, She smiles, languid from the corner of the room, all amber gold hair and a dress as grey as the stormy sea, She smells of the world outside, that I have so far cocooned myself away from for the day; “there’s time… look”. She indicates out of the window and across the field where the lazy afternoon breeze rustles the grasses in the meadow, “no rush”. I frown, I am about to retort that I don’t have time for this either, but she jokingly blows the paper I was working on across the floor. ‘Ok, enough!’ I laugh, forgetting my need to be hassled and serious. I pick up my phone, pull on my boots and head out to the pond in the meadow below. By the time I reach the gate, the sun is warm on my skin and the breeze ruffles my hair, I wonder at how I could have found it an intrusion not five minutes before. 

Reading back over my last post on sacrifice, I realise just how limited a blog post is, and just how it is almost impossible to do a subject justice in what really just amounts to a short article, usually of around 1500 words or less. It is inevitable that at some point, the writer will have to identify what their readers will understand and what deserves more full an explanation, making the decision about what to leave out more than what to leave in. Sometimes we make the right assumptions and sometimes we make the wrong ones. Either way, we have to chose what is the most pertinent and relevant otherwise we end up writing a book.

Having read today’s latest posts on the Sacrifice discussion, I realised that for those who don’t know me or my craft well, discussing the idea that something can be ‘made sacred’ might seem like I have disappeared off on an unfortunate dualistic tangent. The idea that a being (I prefer the word ‘being’ to ‘thing’) can be designated sacred or even mundane in its nature is about as at odds with animist thinking as it’s possible to be unless of course we understand that this is entirely about our perspective rather than the actuality.

At the heart of Animism, lies the experience that the world, every tiny speck of it is animate, alive, to some extent conscious of itself. This is not the simplistic perspective that is often trotted out as animism, that ‘everything has spirit’ for this is dualistic in itself, it is a language which belies a belief in spirit on one hand and matter on the other as if the two can be separated. No, this is the understanding that matter cannot exist without the humming spirit of intention, that it is this intention in itself, which forms the skeleton upon which all matter is built. To the animist, everything is sacred because everything has purpose, a sense of self, an individual ‘ishness’, a wish to be, a value and a place in the world.

So working from this principle that all is sacred, how do I then come to the understanding that to sacrifice is the art, for I do believe it is that, of making sacred? Simply, that as humans, it is impossible to live in a state where we are experiencing all to be sacred all of the time. We bumble through life, consuming without thought, swearing at the idiot who cut us up on the motorway, stressed, irritated, hurt, afraid wounded. It is hard to acknowledge any of these things as sacred, let alone understand their purpose or hear their intention, their own stories, or why something behaves as it does. It is just too difficult unless we take the time to stop and listen, paying just one or two things our full attention for a while, meditate if you like, on the relationship. For me it is my relationship with something that allows me to understand it as sacred in a very real and tangible sense and not just a theoretical one. The more difficult a situation or thing, the more important that quiet and considered meditative attention becomes.

Take the sun, that’s an easy one. As I found today, it was easy to forget its sanctity, swept up in the moment of ‘too much to do and too little time’ it became an irritation preventing my work. I forgot how often I had danced in it, lay out and sunbathed in it, thanked it for growing the beans, waking the hedgerows and evaporating water off the sea to make rain. My Goddess, of course, reminds me to slow down and take a moment to remember, pushing me off and outside to find it and rekindle my relationship, to once again find its sanctity.

Sacrifice is the same, it is finding or remembering something’s value and worth to us. Or taking something that already means so very much and recognising it, and it’s intention, purpose, individuality as sacred. To the point where we understand we cannot own it. Yet the act of sacrifice is about more than that, intrinsic within it’s meaning is the act of giving up or letting it go. It is about saying to our gods, ‘this is so big and so important, I don’t want to ever forget how sacred it is, please help me remember’. Or ‘I love you so much, this is the biggest thing I have, please take it as a symbol of my devotion’. Devotion is not about imagining that the gods care for us, it’s about not minding and loving them anyway. If we let something go, return it to the keeping of the gods, we allow it to be itself, in its own intention and ‘ishness’ no longer hampered by our need or perceptions, but shared with the world to become what it will. This allows us to consciously and permanently make it sacred so that we don’t forget. We make a sacred vow which means that it cannot be taken back without consequence, there is no slipping out of sacred relationship.

Of course I cant sacrifice the Sun, but I could sacrifice suncream (not only made by big pharma, sold by large corporations, with the products of the oil industry – already a good reason) but in not protecting my skin from the sun, I am forced to remember its power. I cant ever take it for granted lest it burn me to a frazzle and with my red hair and fair skin, that’s fairly likely. 17 years ago, my vows not to eat meat began as a sacrifice, an offering to the power that is life. It was really hard and although I knew I needed to, I didn’t want to. Sacrificing meat was about remembering that all life is sacred and capable of suffering and choosing not to be a part of that wherever possible. I didn’t need it to live, so why take a life? It seemed pure selfishness. Now it is second nature, the sense of the cow or the sheep as a being, filled with life and purpose and sentience is utterly sacred to me. If I had simply made the decision to be vegetarian, I could take that back anytime I wanted, but the fact that it is a sacrifice to the gods, sacred, reminds me every day not only of why I choose not to eat meat but also of my devotion to my gods. Apologies to those uncomfortable by the vegetarian polemic, but it’s a good example of sacred vows and the sacrifices that often accompany them. For me it was about saying ‘no matter how busy or forgetful I am, I will always remember and have time for this.”

Ultimately, sacrifice, is about learning to live in a sacred way. Understanding that we cannot perceive the world as all sacred all of the time. But it is about placing the markers and sign posts along the way to help us remember, as often as possible, that it is.


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Mother Night

Blessings of Mothernight, Modranicht, the longest darkest night of the year, and the deepest heart of the winter…

This is the time when many pagans honour our ancient mothers; those ancestors who birthed us through their own longest night of labour. Summoning all of their strength and courage they brought us slippery, wet and new into the world, just as many of us hold fast through the darkness of this night. We journey to find the tiny spark of the new cycle, the moment of inception, deep within ourselves at the moment of the solstice. This is a time of nothingness, stillness and peace. If we are able to stop and take the time to listen we find that the land has slowed to a stop, a moment of pause before the tide turns. Often at the solstice the earth is buried under a cloak of hoar frost, everything that can, sleeps. Underneath the bustle and hurry of the human world there is a deep stillness which permeates the very mud. This is what winter teaches us: Peace.

Yet for many, pagan and non, there is a deep uncertainty too. Will the winter ever end? Will the days begin to grow longer again, will the new sun be born? Here in Britain, the winter is hard and cold, the days short, the nights long. For our ancestors the daily chores of staying fed and warm enough would have been all consuming. We carry that memory of discomfort to varying degrees of consciousness, deep within our genetic memory. We remember what it is is like to fight for survival, to be cold, hungry. We fill this time of year with light and food, warmth and abundance, part in celebration for all that we have, that we are still alive. In part we do it to stave off the darkness and discomfort, our society’s fear of the dark, the unwillingness to release into it and all of it’s uncertainties. The idea that dark is bad and difficult and light is easy and good are limiting and unhelpful dualistic concepts that infuse much of the western consciousness, indeed much of paganism. So we turn on the fairy lights at the beginning of December as winter finds it’s depths, turn up the carols and the music as silence grows and eat too much as if to ensure we wont starve, cushioning ourselves from the world. We shout in the return of the new sun with bells and whistles, not realising in our rush to welcome it back, how tender, tiny and new that flickering spark is. How the tiniest breath could extinguish it, how much we need the stillness and nurture that the dark provides to become strong and viable in the new cycle. The world stays dark and quiet for a while yet, the coldest part is yet to come and it will be a long time before the lengthening days call the world to wake.

To live this time of year in relationship with the natural world, listening to what the gods of nature can teach us of the winter, rather than being swept up in the human current of excess, takes courage. To let go of the consumerism leaves many of us bereft, somehow not satisfied, unloved, hungry like something is missing…No piles of presents? At Christmas?! But there is much about winter that takes courage. Our labouring mothers gathered every scrap of resource that they had to walk the line between life and death to bring us into the world not knowing if they would survive the birth. By acknowledging and allowing ourselves to feel the deep uncertainties of winter, She brings us Her greatest gifts. Winter shows us where and what our own deepest resources are, strips away our dross and the unnecessary, strips us bare, as the frost strips the soil ready for the new seasons growth. That stripping back shows us what and who is really important. I shudder to think of the money (and environmental waste) I spent for many years on gifts that were unwrapped in a shower of pretty paper, only to be forgotten on the pile of rapidly accumulating junk, probably used once and then abandoned. Now, I buy or make useful and small tokens of affection for those I love the most, there are no huge piles of food. I cant bear the lights, the noise, the shopping. Even other pagans seem to think that’s a bit odd, cant understand that there could be celebration that is austere, beautiful in it’s simplicity.

This evening as I sit beside the fire, all of the electric lights in the house are off as I welcome the darkness. I find empathy with my ancestors who had no electricity and relied on the fire for warmth. I feel myself in awe of their courage and tenacity. It is inconvenient, awkward, I can’t see the keys to type well and cooking supper was interesting. But none of that is life threatening. I wonder, where do I fight for survival in my life, just as my ancestors did every day? Not many places if I’m honest. I fight to keep going in a challenging job, we struggle to pay the bills, but I have enough food and wood to be warm and fed. The winter makes me wonder where in my life I could cut back, releasing just a little more of the excess and the unnecessary to the frost, bringing me that one step closer to the survival line. Not through some sense of matyrdom or some strange need to make life as uncomfortable as possible just because it was for my ancestors. But because it is a useful exercise in distinguishing between need and greed, in finding balance in a world where we simply don’t have the resources to fulfil our every wish, where quite frankly, the less we use the better, for our own survival. For me there is deep satisfaction in having very little and celebrating anyway.

So it feels fitting in this time of darkness and uncertainty to gather my words and hurl them out into the public space of the internet for the first time. I wonder who will read them, who will be provoked, angered, bored, indifferent or inspired. Do I mind? Yes and no, I’m a sensitive soul really. What is the point? I’m not sure of that yet either other than to serve the gods who asked. The tiny spark of my new cycle is not yet kindled, not yet strong or sure, but I hope that at least some of what I write will be of use to someone.

Blessings of the Firelight.