Tuesday, June 01, 2010
SMUDGING: HOW TO DO IT--HOW NOT TO DO IT
I came across a very interesting article from "Shaman's Drum" which was reprinted for Vision Quest Bookstore. I will attempt to convey the gist of it, along with my views, as a student of the Ways of the Teneh, about it. Smudging is a way of using the smoke from burning herbs as a way to cleanse the body, an object, or a given area of negative influences. I myself use smudging to "cleanse" crystals before using them in jewelry projects I may do, and for protecting my home from some recent "bad vibe"-producing events. (Landlord troubles!) I imagine that the skillful use of the proper herbs could help in warding and banishing ceremonies as well, if used properly and with reverence. The three most used plant material for smudging are sage of all types, cedar, and sweetgrass.
There are two major genii and several varieties of each genus of Sage that are used for smudging. Salvia, or the herb sage used for cooking, comes in two major varieties: S. Officinalis, commonly known as Garden Sage, and S. Apiana, commonly known as White Sage. Salvia varieties have long been acknowledged as healing herbs, reflected in the fact that its genus name comes from the Latin root word *salvare*, which is the verb "to heal" or "to save." Artemisia is the genus commonly considered "Sagebrush", and is more common in the wilds out here in California. There are two major varieties to the Artemisia genus: A. Californica, or Common Sagebrush, and A. Vulgaris, or Mugwort. There are many other varieties of both Salvia and Artemisia, and all are effective in smudging. Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out evil spirits, negative thoughts and feelings, and to keep Gan’n (negative entities) away from areas where ceremonials take place. In the Plains Sweatlodge, the floor of the structure is strewn with sage leaves for the participants to rub on their bodies during the sweat. Sage is also used in keeping sacred objects like pipes or Peyote wands safe from negative influence. In the Sioux nation, the Sacred Pipe is kept in a bundle with sage boughs. I would think special crystals could be so protected this way as well.
True cedar is of the Thuja and Libocedrus genii. Some Junipers (Juniperus genus) are also called "cedar", thus complicating things some. Some Juniper varieties ARE cleansing herbs, especially J. Monosperma, or Desert White Cedar. But for smudging, the best is Western Red Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and California Incense Cedar (Libocedrus descurrens). Cedar is burnt while praying to the Great Spirit (Usen', the Source--also known to Plains nations as Wakan Tanka) in meditation, and also to bless a house before moving in as is the tradition in the Northwest and Western Canada. It works both as a purifier and as a way to attract GOOD energy in your direction. It is usually available in herb stores in chipped form, which must be sprinkled over a charcoal in a brazier. I like a piece of charcoaled mesquite for this purpose, rather than the commercial charcoal cake.
Very important to the Sioux and Cherokee nations, its botanical name is Hierochloe Oderata. In these tribes, the sweetgrass is braided like hair braids. It could be burnt by lighting the end of it, or (more economically) by shaving little bits of it onto charcoal in a brazier. Again, use charcoaled Mesquite (I believe it comes packaged for barbecue use under the brand name "Red Arrow") to burn it, not pressed charcoal tablets. Sweetgrass is burnt after smudging with sage, to welcome in good influences after the bad had been driven out. Sweetgrass is very rare today, and traditional Plains people have been attempting to protect the last of it. Myself, I believe that Cedar, which is not endangered, can safely be used this way. Also Pinon pine needles (used more frequently by the Southwest Teneh, like the Navajo and Apache as well as the Pueblo people and the Zuni) and Copal (used by the Yaqui and in ancient times by the Azteca and the Maya) have similar effect. The three mentioned here are readily available either through gathering yourself or, in the case of copal resin, from any good herb shop.
Burn clippings of the herb in a brazier...not a shell as some "new age" shamanic circles do...it is an insult to White Painted Woman (The Goddess) to do this, especially with the abalone shell which is especially sacred to Her. If the herb is bundled in a "wand", you can also light the end of the wand that isn't woody and use that. I like the latter way. Direct the smoke with your hands or with a Peyote (feather) wand over the person or thing you wish to smudge. If you can see auras, look for discolored places in the aura and direct the healing smoke towards those places on the patient's body. For cleansing a house, first offer cedar smoke to the four directions outside the house. Then, take a sage bough and go throughout the inside of the house, making sure the smoke penetrates every nook and cranny of the house. It might help also, if you have a power animal, to visualize your animal doing these things, to also dance your animal, and if you have a power song, to sing that too. Then finally, run through the house with a white candle that is well protected, to "light up" the house. Careful not to burn it down when you do it!!!
Smudging should be done with care, with reverence, and in an attitude of LOVE. Show your respect and honor to the plants that Usen' has given us for our healing, and they will return the favor by keeping us well and free from disease and negative energy. Aloe Vera plants, though not to be burnt, are good for the cleansing angle as well. Keep one or more potted Aloe Veras in the house (modern varieties are too tender to plant in anything but full shade outside) in organic (wood or ceramic, never plastic or metal) pots. To honor the plant when you transplant it, sprinkle the roots with corn meal and smudge it with cedar once it is transplanted. The spirit of Aloe Vera is a good protective spirit, and if you burn yourself, can also be used to heal your skin. BE SURE TO ASK THE PLANT'S PERMISSION before cutting part of the leaf off for the healing juice. If you don't, the protective power of the plant will cease, and you will be left with but an inert houseplant...and perhaps some bad karma to boot. Hi-dicho, it is finished....ENJU! Michelle Chihacou White Puma Klein-Hass
AT: 06/01/2010 05:17:29 PM
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010
The Death of LLEW: A Seasonal Interpretation
by Mike Nichols
"Not of father, or of mother was my blood, was my body. I was spellbound by Gwydion, Prime enchanter of the Britons, when he formed me from nine blossoms."—‘Hanes Blodeuwedd’ R. Graves, Trans.
In Most Pagan cultures, the sun god is seen as split between two rival personalities the god of light and his twin, his 'weird', his 'other self', the god of darkness. They are Gawain and the Green Knight, Gwyn and Gwythyr, Llew and Goronwy, Lugh and Balor, Balan and Balin, the Holly King and the Oak King, etc. Often they are depicted as fighting seasonal battles for the favor of their goddess/lover, such as Creiddylad or Blodeuwedd, who represents Nature. The god of light is always born at the winter solstice, and his strength waxes with the lengthening days, until the moment of his greatest power, the summer solstice, the longest day. And, like a look in a mirror, his 'shadow self', the lord of darkness, is born at the summer solstice, and his strength waxes with the lengthening nights until the moment of his greatest power, the winter solstice, the longest night.
Indirect evidence supporting this mirror-birth pattern is strongest in the Christianized form of the Pagan myth. Many writers, from Robert Graves to Stewart Farrar, have repeatedly pointed out that Jesus was identified with the Holly King, while John the Baptist was the Oak King. That is why, ‘of all the trees that are in the wood, the Holly tree bears the crown.' If the birth of Jesus, the 'light of the world', is celebrated at mid-winter, Christian folk tradition insists that John the Oak King (the 'dark of the world'?) was born (rather than died) at mid-summer.
It is at this point that I must diverge from the opinion of Robert Graves and other writers who have followed him. Graves believes that at midsummer, the Sun King is slain by his rival, the God of Darkness; just as the God of Darkness is, in turn, slain by the God of Light at midwinter. And yet, in Christian folk tradition (derived from the older Pagan strain), it is births, not deaths, that are associated with the solstices. For the feast of John the Baptist, this is all the more conspicuous, as it breaks the rules regarding all other saints. John is the ONLY saint in the entire Catholic hagiography whose feast day is a commemoration of his birth, rather than his death. A generation ago, Catholic nuns were fond of explaining that a saint is commemorated on the anniversary of his or her death because it was really a 'birth' into the Kingdom of Heaven. But John the Baptist, the sole exception, is emphatically commemorated on the anniversary of his birth into THIS world. Although this makes no sense viewed from a Christian perspective, it makes perfect poetic sense from the viewpoint of Pagan symbolism. (John’s earlier Pagan associations are treated in my essay on Midsummer.)
So if births are associated with the solstices, when do the symbolic deaths occur? When does Goronwy slay Llew and when does Llew, in his turn, slay Goronwy? When does darkness conquer light or light conquer darkness? Obviously (to me, at least), it must be at the two equinoxes. At the autumnal equinox, the hours of light in the day are eclipsed by the hours of darkness. At the vernal equinox, the process is reversed. Also, the autumnal equinox, called 'Harvest Home', is already associated with sacrifice, principally that of the spirit of grain or vegetation. In this case, the god of light would be identical.
In Welsh mythology in particular, there is a startling vindication of the seasonal placement of the sun god's death, the significance of which occurred to me in a recent dream, and which I haven't seen elsewhere. Llew is the Welsh god of light, and his name means 'lion'. (The lion is often the symbol of a sun god.) He is betrayed by his 'virgin' wife Blodeuwedd, into standing with one foot on the rim of a cauldron and the other on the back of a goat. It is only in this way that Llew can be killed, and Blodeuwedd’s lover, Goronwy, Llew's dark self, is hiding nearby with a spear at the ready. But as Llew is struck with it, he is not killed. He is instead transformed into an eagle.
Putting this in the form of a Bardic riddle, it would go something like this: Who can tell in what season the Lion (Llew), betrayed by the Virgin (Blodeuwedd), poised on the Balance, and is transformed into an Eagle? My readers who are astrologers are probably already gasping in recognition. The sequence is astrological and in proper order: Leo (lion), Virgo (virgin), Libra (balance), and Scorpio (for which the eagle is a well-known alternative symbol).
Also, the remaining icons, cauldron and goat, could arguably symbolize Cancer and Capricorn (representing summer and winter), the signs beginning with the two solstice points. So Llew is balanced between cauldron and goat, between summer and winter, on the balance (Libra) point of the autumnal equinox, with one foot on the summer solstice and one foot on the winter solstice. This, of course, is the answer to a related Bardic riddle. Repeatedly, the 'Mabinogion' tell us that Llew must be standing with one foot on the cauldron and one foot on the goat's back in order to be killed. But nowhere does it tell us why. Why is this particular situation the ONLY one in which Llew can be overcome? Because it represents the equinox point. And the autumnal equinox is the only time of the entire year when light (Llew) can be overcome by darkness (Goronwy). It should now come as no surprise that, when it is time for Llew to kill Goronwy in his turn, Llew insists that Goronwy stands where he once stood while he (Llew) casts the spear.
This is no mere vindictiveness on Llew’s part. For, although the 'Mabinogion' does not say so, it should by now be obvious that this is the only time when Goronwy can be overcome. Light can overcome darkness only at the equinox -- this time the vernal equinox. (Curiously, even the Christian tradition retains this association, albeit in a distorted form, by celebrating Jesus' death near the time of the vernal equinox.) The Welsh myth concludes with Gwydion pursuing the faithless Blod- euwedd through the night sky and a path of white flowers springs up in the wake of her passing, which we today know as the Milky Way. When Gwydion catches her, he transforms her into an owl, a fitting symbol of autumn, just as her earlier association with flowers (she was made from them) equates her with spring. Thus, while Llew and Goronwy represent summer and winter, Blodeuwedd herself represents both spring and fall, as patron goddess of flowers and owls, respectively.
Although it is far more speculative than the preceding material; a final consideration would pursue this mirror-like life pattern of Llew and Goronwy to its ultimate conclusion. Although Llew is struck with the sunlight spear at the autumnal equinox and so dies' as a human, it takes a while before Gwydion discovers him in his eagle form. How long? We may speculate 13 weeks, when the sun reaches the midpoint of the sign (or form) of the eagle, Scorpio -- on Halloween. And if this is true, it may be that Llew, the sun god, finally 'dies' to the upper world on Halloween, and now passes through the gates of death, where he is immediately crowned king of the underworld, the Lord of Misrule! (In medieval tradition, the person proclaimed as 'Lord of Misrule' reigned from Halloween to Old Christmas -- or, before the calender changes, until the winter solstice.)
Meanwhile, Goronwy (with Blodeuwedd at his side) is crowned king in the upper world, and occupies Llew's old throne, beginning on Halloween. Thus, by winter solstice, Goronwy has reached his position of greatest strength in OUR world, at the same moment that Llew, now sitting on Goronwy's old throne, reaches his position of greatest strength in the underworld. However, at the moment of the winter solstice, Llew is born again, as a babe, (and as his own son!) into our world. And as Llew later reaches manhood and dispatches Goronwy at the vernal equinox, Goronwy will then ascend the underworld throne at Beltane, but will be reborn into our world at midsummer, as a babe, later to defeat Llew all over again. And so the cycle closes at last, resembling nothing so much as an intricately woven, never-ending bit of Celtic knotwork.
So Midsummer (to me, at least) is a celebration of the sun god at his zenith, a crowned king on his throne. He is at the height of his power and still 1/4 of a year away from his ritual death at the hands of his rival. However, at the very moment of his greatest strength, his dark twin, the seed of his destruction, is born -- just as the days begin to shorten. The spear and the cauldron have often been used as symbols for this holiday and it should now be easy to see why. Sun gods are virtually always associated with spears (even Jesus is pierced by one), and the midsummer cauldron of Cancer is a symbol of the Goddess in her fullness.
If we have learned anything from this story from the fourth branch of the 'Mabinogion', it is about the power of myth -- how it may still instruct and guide us, many centuries after it has passed from oral to written tradition. And in studying it, we have barely scratched the surface.
AT: 06/01/2010 05:14:07 PM
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RELATED TOPICS: Cleansings