Ostara greetings!

Yesterday was the Spring Equinox when day and night are the same length, so it’s a time of balance but also (at least where I live) the time when you can really see Spring happening – trees are putting out leaves and some buds, and the daffodils and similar flowers are blooming. And because it was also a Sunday and a weekend where I wasn’t doing anything it meant I could spend a lot more time enjoying the Eqinox than I would were it a weekday.

My celebrations started in the afternoon, after I’d seen the friend that’s been staying over onto the bus and headed over to the parents’ to pick up a spare cake Mum had after a church event. When I got there she was out in the garden pruning the apple tree, the same one that supplied the apples for my rumtopf, so I took the opportunity to cut several lengths of wood for myself and my Pagan friends – the chance to get a lot of apple wood, a tree I associate for most of the year with Spring, harvested on the Equinox wasn’t one I was going to pass up. I was, however, very disappointed that the holly bush/tree was gone. I knew Mum had the tree surgeons coming round to give the sycamore a serious prune, but I didn’t realise they were going to take out the holly tree at the same time. I knew the holly was coming out, but I thought it was going to happen later, as I wanted a piece of the trunk or one of the thick branches to make a set of runes from, as I consider holly to be my tree and I grew up with this particular one at the bottom of my garden. I know I’ve got a lovely amethyst set to use, but I was really looking forward to having a holly set as well. *Sad sigh*

 

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My bundle of apple branches/twigs sitting on the hall windowsill to season.

I then walked to the local Catholic church as I wanted to light a couple of candles, but despite it being Sunday and this particular church being open during daylight hours, it was locked. So I extended my planned walk round the park to include a detour past the C of E church in the middle on the offchance it was open, which it wasn’t. But I had a lovely walk round both halves of the park seeing the changing season in the trees, enjoying the sun and the warmth, and moving my Yggdrasil beads through my fingers. I stopped on the footbridge over the river and attempted to play poohsticks with one fo the apple branches I’d cut, but I never saw it emerge from the other side of the bridge. So either I missed it because I’ve forgotten how the river flows there, or it sank due to being very green.

 

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Trees in blossom
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An oak tree with its autumn leaves surviving

Boringly, I then did the washing up and read more of my book for the rest of the afternoon, followed by chatting to my flatmate when he came home, but after he’d headed off for a shower I went into my room for ritual. Usually for the Sabbats I follow the ones given in the Pagan Dreams Sabbat kits, similar to the Sabbat Boxes reviewed by Marietta only with static contents and no subscription waiting list. However, the Ostara ritual from Pagan Dreams involved planting sweet pea seeds, and while I fully intended to harvest seedpods from my plant from last year to replant this year, it died. So this time round I dispensed with the altar and circle herbs (partly because I couldn’t find my Air tin earlier and partly because I forgot) and made up my ritual on the fly. Before I cast my circle I put all the spent matches and ends of burnt incense sticks that had been gathering since I moved in into my offering bowl and set them on fire as a way of welcoming back the longer days and shorter nights.

 

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Since the stick lighter we use for the hob has run out of fuel we’ve ended up with a lot of spent matches over the last few days.

After that I cast a circle by symbolically sweeping the area with my altar broom (made from holly wood), marking the circle with the quartz point I use as a wand and finally using my athame to seperate the inside from the outside. I then mixed salt and water in my chalice, placed my Ostara incense on hot charcoal, and sipped the water and censed myself with the smoke before lighting my altar and Deity candles and asking Christos, Sophia, and Freyja to watch over me. I censed the bundle of apple branches which I’d tied with twine and wrapped around with the ribbons I’d knotted together on Ostara last year, when we had a new moon and solar eclipse on the same day as the Equinox. I then dedicated one of Beth’s amazing runic stretch chokers (mine’s not featured) to Freyja as part of my growing devotional relationship to Her, and promised to wear it during the week both as an offering and as a reminder that even when I’m in my work gear I can be considered beautiful – something I really struggle with and which osn’t helping my self-esteem issues any. The rest of the time I spent in circle was taken up with censing and poking a load of Earth energy into a spare quartz point I had, which is to be a gift for a friend who’s recently embarked on a new phase of her spiritual journey by being asked to create a new devotional relationsip with a second Deity. I’m hoping that having done this on the Equinox it will help her to remain balanced and grounded during what has the potential to be a time of upheaval. As ever, I have no idea if it actually worked but ye gods did I feel drained afterwards! So I nommed on some of the cake I’d brought in with me, drank off the rest of the salt water (my usual nod to cakes and ale), and tipped the plate of things I’d offered to Freyja over the past few weeks out of my bathroom window for the local wildlife to dispose of.

 

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My Ostara altar, with my dedicated necklace bottom right, the charged quartz point on my pentacle, and a shotglass of apple rumtopf as an offering for Freyja.
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If you haven’t been here and get the chance to go, you should go.

Yesterday I did something that I’ve been meaning to do for nearly twenty years, and revisited the Neasden Temple (the full name of which, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir, I keep forgetting).

I first went there on a school RS trip when I was in year 8 and it made a huge impression on me, although I defy anyone who visits to walk out without lifelong memories of that place. The mandir is stunning, the architecture gorgeous, the construction awe-inspiring, and the feeling of peace and beauty and the Divine in the maha-mandap where the murti shrines are covers you as soon as you walk in. The memories that stand out for me from my first visit (aside from my periods deciding to start that day) were my first sight of this huge white building rising out from suburban houses, parts of the film in the permanent exhibition where they showed craftsmen carving the intricate pillars, the fact that (at the time) it was the biggest Hindu temple outside of India, of sitting in the sanctuary as flames were offered to us to receive blessings, and this impression of beautiful statues covered in gold and jewel-coloured fabric surrounded by pure white carved marble. Ever since that day I’ve always wanted to go back, but never got round to it. It didn’t help that I live less than an hour away and the mandir is always open – the same problem my friend Ian has, only in the other direction from me. It’s close enough that we don’t need to make a special trip, so we never planned one. But as I’m staying over at theirs this weekend and we had nothing planned, we made the trip.

It was everything I remembered and more.

I’d forgotten how impressive the haveli building was, and had indeed forgotten about its existence. It’s a cultural centre attached to the mandir, and is the entranceway to the temple complex and as intricately carved in wood as the mandir is in stone, both inside and out. There’s such a feeling of light and space inside, and warmth. Walking through to the mandir the light and space feelings continue with warmth replaced by coolness, almost like cold water on a hot day. But walking up to the sanctuary for the first time was almost magical for me. It’s hard to describe, the feeling of standing there amid the intricate columns carved with figures and words inlaid with gold, looking at the murti statues again after so many years. Back when I first visited I was still soundly Methodist, but the impact on me then, though profound and long-lasting, was nothing compared to the impact on me now – since my first visit I’ve started practicing yoga, become more polytheistic in my personal devotions, learned more about different religions and people’s attitudes towards Deity, and I’m also no longer a thirteen-year-old on a school trip, so I’m not being taught and having to learn at the same time as experiencing the mandir trip, I could just experience, and it was wonderful. I walked round looking at each of the shrines, reading the information on each of the murtis housed inside and the aspects of Deity they embodied, and taking in the visual richness of it all. I also performed reverence at each of the shrines, bowing my head over hands held at the prayer position although I didn’t say any prayers.

We then went round the permanent exhibition on Hinduism, which is very informative, well-presented, and only costs £2, before heading back upstairs for the midday arti ceremony. Now if walking into the maha-mandap the first time that day was a powerful experience, it was nothing to how the arti ceremony made me feel. It’s one of five ceremonies performed every day where prayers are offered and lighted wicks are waved in front of the statues before being offered to the congregation as a blessing. We went up maybe five minutes before it was due to start, so the doors to the shrines were still closed. As a result, when the doors were opened there was an immense visual impact from the plain wood to the bright fabric and jewels and gold of the statues, and almost as soon as the music and singing started I felt my eyes welling up. It was a very powerful and moving experience, and something I intend to do again, preferably without waiting another seventeen years.

Afterwards we headed out to the restaurant over the road (the building used as the mandir before the current one was built) for a meal of vegetarian Indian cuisine as it was lunchtime and we were hungry. We didn’t realize how big the portions were going to be when ordering, and all ended up very full. The food was lovely, but there was just. So. Much. Food. We then popped back to the mandir as I wanted to go back to the shrines for devotional purposes, and we both wanted to go round the shop in the haveli. Alas, I had to make do with photographs of the shrine’s interiors as the doors were shut until late afternoon – in Hindu theology Deity is present within the statues, so that when someone is looking at the Divine in the image the Divine is also looking back at the person, so the statues and the Deities within are given a rest (which I had forgotten about).

I had an amazing time there, and I strongly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance – it really is worth it.