A wobbly bard at Imbolc

I wrote this Imbolc / Groundhog’s Day / Candlemas / St Brigid’s Day story in the early aughts, maybe 2001-ish? It still gives me a chuckle:

                                              A Wobbly Bard at Imbolc
I am a bard. I remind myself of this as I sit and wish for words to come. The topic is Imbolc, and the deadline is soon. I have been feeding the fires of my inspiration with symbolism and correspondences, lore and legends… waiting for the birth of my own synthesis. I have been waiting for quite awhile.
I have named my challenge in this writing assignment; I know where the block is coming from. I am writing about Imbolc, but I am living in a personal Samhain. There is much ending and dying in my life right now: behaviors that no longer serve me, my home, some friendships and some faith… there is much room for darkness and fear. Yet Imbolc is a time of new beginnings and of faith restored.
A seeming polarity attends this block, how to write of faith when feeling fear. Yet I know both the Universe and myself rarely offer only two options. It has been my experience that when feeling trapped in polarity, it is helpful to combine the two poles into a third. Combine the endings and the beginnings into a place of both – which is where I sit today at my computer.
On the wheel of the year Imbolc is a place to be visited not only on February 2nd, but anytime the vibration of hope is needed. Can I take my Samhain self to my Sacred Grove and there bathe in the waters of Imbolc?
I break from the computer and enter my small temple… light some incense and make peace with my grove. Settled into my usual nook, I am overcome with both the deep comfort of the woods, and the deep sorrow of my soul. The woods minister to my wounds. My back up against the huge Oak of the North, I pour out my story… loyalties lost, fear, excitement, insecurities, writers block and embarrassment that my faith is not stronger. I ask for the Grove to lend me its knowing of Imbolc, that I may not only connect with renewal but may write of it as well.
The Grove is still. I am lulled by the wind in the trees, the sun on my face, the grounding of the Oak behind me. A rustle in the Western quarter calls my attention to the small pond there. A beautiful woman steps through the trees. She is sky-clad, the breeze blowing her long hair around her. She holds in her arms a swaddled babe and in her hand she carries a water pitcher. She moves towards the pond and settles herself on a large sun bathed rock. She offers a full ripe breast to the infant, who nurses with sounds of satisfaction. The woman closes her eyes and lifts her face to the sun, a half smile on her lips. She sings in a voice both gentle and strong:
“Come unto me my little Yule child, suckle my breasts full of love… come unto me in springtime so mild, suckle my breasts full of love”
She sings this way until the babe has finished eating, and then she rocks back and forth until the child is asleep. She finds a sun-warmed spot among the roots of a tree, and nestles the sleeping infant there, returning to the pond. Stepping one foot into the pond, she bends to fill her pitcher. Turning back she offers some of the water to the earth. Then bending, she pours the rest over her own hair. Her hair is so long… it floats on the ripples she makes… she gathers the length of it and dunks completely under, swirling her head back and forth and emerging laughing. Stepping from the water she wrings her hair out and faces East. With a whispered word the winds pick up, and she combs her long tresses with her fingers as the wind lifts and dries them. She checks for a moment on the sleeping child, then lays on the rock, clean beautiful tresses behind her, milk filled breasts skyward.
She hums the song to herself again, and I am suddenly very very tired. I find myself wishing to be young again, wishing to be nursed by my all loving Mother, wishing to be warm and fed and sleeping in the sun. I feel my back slip down the trunk of the Oak, am vaguely aware of laying down in the soft dirt. I hum the song of the Mother and rock back and forth. I remind myself that this Grove is now my Mother, and that I am free to nurse here anytime. I remind myself that I am warm and fed and almost asleep in the sun… and that all I have to do is remember to show up. Just remember. Sleep overtakes me, and I wake to find myself in my Temple, curled up in the smallest ball, a half smile on my face.
Back down to the computer. It frequently seems sacrilege to confine the experiences of the Inner Planes to the page, so much is lost… and yet I suspect I have brought back some kind of useful information to share with my companions on the path. Something about milk… sheep maybe….
First off I notice that I am no longer afraid, or sad. How did that happen? I sat next to my favorite tree, which is always good. Is the message simply to remember nature? What about the milk memory? Were there some sheep there… is the message that milk will be provided when necessary? Why does it seem that one little lamb was taking first wobbly steps… was there a wobbly lamb in the grove? Is the message that one must wobble before walking? I am visited with advertising campaigns of past and present… “We Bards wobble but we don’t fall down” and “Got milk?” I groan and keep typing.
Washing some thing… did I wash my feet maybe… is the message to remember that cleansing is a necessary step towards renewal? I seem to remember feeling beautiful, did I do a naked dance perhaps, with my Grove Guides? I do so love to dance naked, it would explain why I am no longer sad or afraid.
Hmmm. So tie it all together now. The living in Samhain and writing about Imbolc. The loyalties betrayed, the endings, the beginnings, the milk and the wobbling and the dance.
I am reminded of a birthday party that I attended last week, at a restaurant. There was a small boy, just toddling, who had wandered a few feet away from his Mother. He was thrilled with his freedom, but frequently looked back to make sure she was there. I was sitting with a group of psychologists, and we commented on how perfectly he was expressing both the need to separate and the anxiety of separating. His mother must have read a few books herself, for she allowed him his adventure, and smiled at him whenever he looked back for reassurance.
So it is for me at Imbolc… and I have often said that what is true for me it is likely true for others, for I am not so different from my companions… We are once again toddling and wobbling in the New Year, all within us is yet potential to be actualized. We are scared and excited. We know we must proceed, around the wheel of the year, yet we wouldn’t mind just one more breast full of milk before we get on with it. If we remember to look back we will see our Mother smiling her encouragement. If we forget, we will feel lonely and scared, but nonetheless we will be fine, for She has fortified us for our journey. We need only remember. Just remember.
 

Betz King is The Seasonal Psychologist – a bard, psychologist, Priestess of the Western Mysteries and humanistic journalist. She wobbles but doesn’t fall down in Metropolitan Detroit.

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The Seasonal Psychologist: On Winter Solstice

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants,  veggies, fruits and flowers. wheelThe Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simply glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.  The Oak trees that were at the height of their strength in midsummer have been usurped by the Holly, whose strength peaks at Midwinter, and we are reminded that one season’s strength is another’s weakness.

Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, celebrates the return of the Sun.  It occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest. Lasting only a moment in time, it marks the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.  Of all the year, it is the day with the greatest number of hours of darkness, often called “the longest night of the year.”  Holidays at the end of our calendar year and the beginning of the next often thematically involve light, both real and metaphoric. Legends and lore share thematic expressions of miracles, hope, luminosity and triumph. Whether the birth of Jesus on Christmas, the enlightenment of Buddha on Bodhi’s day, the festival of lights during Hanukah or the lighting of Kinara candles at Kwanza, these holidays and many more invite people to gather during the darkest time of the year, to celebrate and give thanks for having conquered both internal and external darkness.

Imagine that your entire existence depended on the favor of the Sun.  With it, your crops would grow strong, and after the harvest, you could store food for the winter.  With it, the days would be warm enough for your livestock to naturally mate and reproduce, thus providing you with meat, milk and skins.  With it, there would be enough warmth and daylight to travel safely to distant lands for supplies and celebrations.  Prior to our “civilized ways” we depended on the Sun, its light and warmth, for all aspects of our survival.  Hence, the day that brought us the return of the sunshine was truly a day of celebration, as it brought hope to a time of darkness, and assured continued life

Psychologically, this is a time to celebrate that we have lived through the darkness, and are guaranteed an emergence into light. It is the dawn that comes after the dark night of the soul. Consequently, we give thanks for all that has sustained us. In Michigan, even though the days grow longer, we have at least two more months of cold snowy weather, and it’s easy to forget that each day brings another minute of light.

holiday altarAs both a professor and a clinical psychologist, December finds me surrounded by anxious students who fret over final papers and exams, with grades needing to be entered, and a new semester to prepare for.  Clients, cast back into family roles they’ve worked hard to transcend, often regress and need help re-stabilizing. The peaceful vacation I imagine rarely comes to fruition, while the ‘reason for the season’ is buried under social obligations and caloric intake.

This month, my clients and I will plot our way through these paradoxically stressful celebrations, while honoring the triumph of personal light over personal darkness. Like McCartney and Lennon, we acknowledge that “it’s been a long cold lonely winter”.  We trust that the lengthening days will show us how “that ice is slowly melting”, as we joyfully declare “here comes the sun”!  Another cycle of growth and harvest lays before us and the goals for spiritual growth and actualization that we named at Samhain are now articulated in greater detail.  Therapy becomes a time for thumbing through the seed-catalogs and plotting out the actual garden of our next growth cycle.

As your travels carry you past the seasonal displays of lights, I invite you to name the darkness you have traversed through and triumphed over. Name also the strengths that have served you, for they are tools that you can use again and again. As you negotiate parties, trips, family and gift giving, can you focus on the real reason for the season?  Can you feel, in your bones, heart, spirit or soul, the celebration that comes from overcoming adversity?

By reminding ourselves of what our ancestors knew – that it is always darkest before the dawn – we are able to wait with faith for the returning Light, and to give gratitude for what is illuminated.  Bright Solstice blessings to all!

Betz King, PsyDBetz King, PsyD, LP  is a fully licensed psychologist in Farmington Hills MI.  About her blog series, she writes, “The Seasonal Psychologist explores my intersectionality as a Solitary Pagan and psychologist, through an integration of teachings and tools from both psychological and spiritual traditions.”  Read more about Dr. King, including her American Priestess / Priest Training Program, here.

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The Seasonal Psychologist: On MidSummer

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark, and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simple glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.  The Oak Holly, whose strength peaks at Midwinter, begins to retreat with the warming temperatures and we are reminded that one season’s strength is another’s weakness.


Oh do not tell the priest our plight,

Or he would call it a sin;

But we have out in the woods all night,

A-conjuring summer in!

~Rudyard Kipling

Photo of Pagan Wheel of the Year with Flowers

Wheel of the Year

Midsummer, or the Summer Solstice, marks the time of year when the sun reaches its maximum elevation.  It is the day with the greatest number of daylight hours, often called “the longest day of the year”.

Imagine that your entire existence depended on the favor of the Sun.  With it, your crops would grow strong, and after the harvest, you could store food for the winter.  With it, the days would be warm enough for your livestock to naturally mate and reproduce, thus providing you with meat, milk and skins.  With it, there would be enough warmth and daylight to travel safely to distant lands for supplies and celebrations.  Prior to our “civilized ways” we depended on the Sun, its light and warmth, for all aspects of our survival.  Hence, the day that brought us the most sunshine was truly a day of celebration, as it brought powerful opportunities for expansion and growth.

Pagan Traditions frequently consider the Mother Earth to be fully at the zenith of Her strength, sexuality and fertility during this celebration.  Crops are growing so quickly it is almost possible to seethe growth from day to day.  Buds, flowers and fruits are now visible; grain is forming on stalk and ear.  While the harvest is clearly promised, it will not take place for some time yet.  This is the midpoint of the growth cycle, and a time of both merry making and of hard work.  Summer gives Mother Earth a chance to show off a bit, and she is up for the challenge.  So many gorgeous plants, trees and shrubs show off their flowers, so many fruits and vegetables grow from seed to food in just a few short months, the life force than imbues all things is palpable and passionate. And the songs!  The glorious songs of birds and frogs and bugs, seeking mates, celebrating sunrise, singing just to sing, as if a soundtrack for all that is growing and green!

Photo of summer plants and flowers.

Plants in abundance!

Psychologically, the Summer Solstice is a time to revisit the “seeds” you may have planted last fall, or earlier this spring, and to contemplate what is now growing and expanding within yourself and your life.  It is also a time to take stock of the ‘weeds’ and ‘invasives’ that have crept into your careful plans. Just as we prune back our trees and shrubs to encourage their growth, sometimes we must make sacrifices to achieve our goals and visions. What do the expanding hours of daylight show you?

Summer is also the best time to go outside and play, to reenact perennial rituals of food, family, friends and vacations.  The extra hours of light that carry us into the evening illuminate not only lush vegetation and magical fireflies, but also the sights, smells and sounds of one’s village in full swing – cooking over fires, tending to gardens, playing games with neighboring villages, taking long walks and cool swims, hosting fairs and festivals and competitions – summertime is the easiest time to see the hidden Pagan rituals still present among us.

And even though energetically everything and everyone is going, and growing, Summer also teaches us patience as we wait for our crops to ripen, our vines to climb and our flowers to bloom.

This week, I will ask my clients what the bright light of Midsummer shows them.  We will consider their overall health, the health of their crops (physical and psychological), and the tasks to be completed before the precious daylight hours begin to shorten again. When they are pleased with what they are manifesting, we will capture the exact recipes of self-care and hard work used.  Where goals have grown wonky, or haven’t grown at all, we will problem-solve.  We still have 3 months of good growing weather, there is room for corrections and do-overs, and there is always next year.

Photo of summer plants and flowers.

Growth is everywhere.

As you enjoy the many gifts of summer, the beautiful early mornings, the bright hot sun, the enlightened evenings, I invite you to stop and pause here and there throughout your day.  Just stand still.  Look, listen, smell… this is your manifestation, planned and unplanned.  This is the zenith of your year, the brightest, the best!  Find a way to get your bare feet into some sand, water or soft green grass, and let yourself feel the fertile power of the Earth.  This is your home, and you are every bit as glorious as all that surrounds you.  Slow down and take it all in.  You are a powerful gardener, and your works of creation deserve appreciation and gratitude.

Happy Summer Solstice!

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The Seasonal Psychologist: On Beltane

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants, crops, and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark, and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simple glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.


Beltane

Wheel of the Year

The word Pagan comes from the Latin paganus, meaning ‘villager’ or ‘rustic’, and from pagus ‘country district’.  It was originally used to describe those whose livelihood was tied to the earth, crops, and livestock – farmers. The Pagan celebration cycle is intimately tied to the well-being of crops, animals and villagers.  Although there is a Pagan Sabbat every six weeks, this particular six weeks is the most spectacular as far as growth is concerned, beautiful captured by R.W. Emerson’s observation, What potent blood hath modest May.

The May 1st Sabbat of Beltane falls exactly between the Spring Equinox (where day and night are of equal length), and the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice.  Named for the Celtic God of light and Fire, Bel, Beltane is a fertility festival intended to bless the coming year’s crops and livestock.

Some of these crops were planted last fall, and will be the first to sprout.  Others will be sown as seeds.  Animals instinctually know that those born in the early spring have the best chance of surviving the coming winter, so new life abounds and must be fertilized and protected.  On a similar note, couples hoping to conceive a child hold this Sabbat to be especially auspicious.

Growing corn, conceiving a child and protecting a baby lamb all require the same things – warmth, light, good health and enough to eat.  Hence, Beltane celebrations were intended to purify, fertilize and bless the people, animals and land.  Common rituals of this time often included fire and smoke. Couples would jump over a small fire to purify themselves in preparation to conceive a child.  Livestock were driven through the smoke from the fire to assure a substantial yield of meat and milk.  Where climates were warm enough, men and women would often have sex out of door, in the fields, with a dual intention to bless the crops, and conceive a child.  Children conceived at Beltane and born at Imbolc were called “Beltane babies” and were considered especially blessed.

The May Pole was another common ritual designed to symbolize the union of the masculine (the tall erect pole) and the feminine (the ribbons & foliage woven around the pole through dance).

May Day Pole

May Day Celebration

As villagers gathered to dance and decorate the May Pole, their dance was a prayer of sorts, a beseeching of blessings for all that would come in the following season of growth.

Psychologically, Beltane is a time to contemplate the sacred union of polarities.  Internally, we each have an inner masculine and feminine essence – Jung’s animus and anima – and will be our best selves when both of these energies are equally active and acknowledged.  Externally, flora, fauna and humans combine and create new life every day, and while sex might seem like the obvious way to combine these polarities, there are very fruitful non-sexual unions as well, such as art, music, alchemy, idea, friendship, transformation, gardening and love.

In Michigan, April is home to the seasonal playoff between winter and spring. Consequently, May often shows us only sprouts, but promises more to come.

Psychologically, this is a time to protect and nurture all that is new.  Some new growth come from seeds and intentions planted last year, while others will grow from seeds we plant in the here and now.  All must be given warmth and sustenance, while shielded from danger.  Beltane signal a period of limbo.  We’ve prepared, we’ve planted, and for a time, we wait without any encouragement or proof.  We doubt and we wait and we breath.  Eventually, every single year without fail, growth wins, and we move swiftly into the work of supporting and tending.

This week, my clients and I will talk about what each day’s extra minutes of daylight are showing them, and how they are experiencing their ‘enlightenment’. We will consider goals set last fall and new goals born of the winter’ contemplative insights.  We will assess our own internal relationship to our masculine and feminine selves, and we will do our best to surrender to the alchemy required when birthing anything new and important.

The weeks between Beltane and the Summer Solstice are the brightest of the year!  They bring us the most hours of daylight, and consequently the most growth, whether to the plants in the ground, or the ideas we have planted in our intentionality.

As our days grow longer, I invite you walk both inner and outer landscapes at the same time. Assess how your past decisions have created this reality (whether garden or life circumstance) and decide what you’re going to do about it in the here and now (sow new seeds in your garden’s empty spot, or use the fertile energy of Beltane create a new crop, situation or opportunity for the coming season.

How can you use this highly illuminative time to learn more about the relationship between your masculine and feminine energies, in service of alchemically creating the new life that can only be born through you?

Betz King, PsyDBetz King, PsyD, LP  is an associated faculty member in MiSPP’s Master’s program.  About her new blog series, she writes, “The Seasonal Psychologist explores my intersectionality as a Solitary Pagan and psychologist, through an integration of teachings and tools from both psychological and spiritual traditions.”  Read more about Dr. King, including her American Priestess / Priest Training Program, here.

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The Seasonal Psychologist – On Ostara

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants, crops, and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark, and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simple glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.  The Oak Holly, whose strength peaks at Midwinter, begins to retreat with the warming temperatures and we are reminded that one season’s strength is another’s weakness.

On Ostara

Ostara image

Wheel of the Year

Remember the commercial for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” “No, you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” Spring Equinox, or Ostara, could easily have a similar ad – “You got your Paganism in my Christianity!” “No, you got your Christianity in my Paganism!”

Usually falling on March 20 or 21, the Spring, or Vernal Equinox is close enough to Easter for all kinds of decorations to get mixed up.  Eggs hang from trees.  Let that sink in.  Eggs (fertility symbols) hang from trees (sacred to Pagans).  Chocolate bunnies abound (nothing fertile about that)!

As Christianity became the dominate religion of the land, it is thought that Easter was strategically placed atop of Spring Equinox so as not to upset the village folk who likely worshipped a feminine life-giving Goddess.  For some, this might have been the Germanic Goddess Eostre, or Ostara.

Traditionally honored in the spring, her festivals celebrated fertility and rebirth. She was often portrayed with a wild hare and a basket of eggs, strolling across the land, awakening flora and fauna alike. This is the root of our Christian word Easter, and also the word estrogen (a key component in fertility).

Whether celebrating the resurrection of Christ from the grave, or the earth from deep slumber, Spring brings us a lovely mish mash of symbols to celebrate our victory over real, or metaphoric death. For just a brief moment in time, day and night are of equal length, and then, joyfully, it’s all downhill to Summer as the day grow longer minute by minute.

Last fall, many seeds were planted in your garden of life.  Some you planted with great intention, some fell accidentally onto your tilled ground. Psychologically, this is a time to watch with great curiosity while those seeds begin to peek through the earth.  What are you hoping to see come spring, and what would it surprise you to see?

Ostara

This month, my clients and I happily negotiate the sun shining in the window and comment on the lengthening hours of daylight. There is a collective sense of “whew, we made it.”  We will talk about the psychological perennials that come up every year – hope, rebirth, growth – and we’ll discuss the annual seeds we’ve been thinking about planting – new goals and new paths to express all that has been growing inside across the dark cold months, now ready to take wobbly baby steps forward into the light.

Perhaps most importantly for therapy, we will discuss the parts of the self that – like Dumbledore’s Phoenix Fawkes – have embraced the fires of transformation and have emerged reborn. This is the process of psychotherapy; we grow, we transform, that which no longer serves us falls away, and that which is left is stronger and wiser.

This spring, when you see bunnies, painted eggs, daffodils and tulips, I invite you to take a moment to contemplate your own resurrection. You’ve successfully negotiated the dark night of the soul that Winter brings,  and are born again.  What transformed in those cold months of darkness? What now emerges better than ever?

Whether celebrating Ostara, Easter or the Spring Equinox, fertility abounds and you are a powerful gardener.  What innocent newness will you protect and promote until the Summer Sun arrives? Happy resurrection of choice!

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The Seasonal Psychologist – On Imbolc

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants, crops, and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark, and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simple glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.  The Oak Holly, whose strength peaks at Midwinter, begins to retreat with the warming temperatures and we are reminded that one season’s strength is another’s weakness.


On Imbolc

Wheel of the Year Imbolc

Wheel of the Year

If we imagine the year as a pie, sliced into 8 equal pieces, then each slice represents about 6 weeks.  6 weeks doesn’t sound like a long time, but where Mother Earth is concerned a lot can happen in 6 weeks, especially in Michigan!  At Winter Solstice, the earth was frozen solid, and we remained that way well past our next Pagan holiday, called Imbolc, or Candlemas. It falls smack dab in the middle of Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox on February 2nd (also known as St. Brigid’s Day and Groundhog’s Day).

Depending on where you seek definition, Imbolc is thought to mean ‘in the belly,’ ‘first milk,’ and ‘cleansing’.  All are references to the first signs of life after a long, long winter.  Animals do not give birth in conditions unsuitable for newborns, therefore nursing lambs give us our first sight of the coming spring. Far underground, the snowdrops and crocus are stretching towards the light.  They are so eager for the sun that they – unlike the wise little lambs – frequently birth themselves too early and are covered with snow.  Yet they survive.

Imbolc

Crocus in the snow.

Groundhog Day is a secular offshoot of Imbolc, when Pagan representative “Punxsutawney Phil” comes out of hibernation to predict the coming spring. Regardless of whether he sees his shadow or not, Spring will come soon. Traditionally, this Sabbat is celebrated with the color white, symbolizing purity and innocence. If Yule is the re-birth of the Sun, then the Sun at Imbolc still an infant, but well on the way to being a playful toddler.  Imbolc brings a sense of impending adventure, much like the toddler feels when beginning to stand upright and, well… tottle!  The year is new, the body young; there’s much exploring to be done!  Imbolc is a betwixt and between Sabbat, neither Winter nor Spring. As such, it offers us much to contemplate:

  • These first lambs of Imbolc must rely of the milk of their mother, for all other food lies still under frozen ground. This milk sustains them, meeting all of their needs and allowing them to grow.  Where / what is your milk supply?
  • In some traditions, Candlemas / Imbolc is considered auspicious for undergoing a ceremonial initiation, or dedicating oneself to a new path or course of study.  As you consider the months ahead, what are you called to swear allegiance to?  What would you like to study more deeply? 
  • Once the tender plants of spring break the surface of the earth, there can be no turning back the hands of time. Therefore, these last weeks before the spring can be viewed as the final resting days, and the final preparing days.  How are you resting, and in preparation for what?

In Michigan, the period between Imbolc and the Spring Equinox is always a time of wild weather, and this year has not disappointed.  Temperatures swung between frigid wind chills and warm breezes, with flood causing rains and tree bending snow often in the same week!

We also “spring forward” into daylight savings time, a change that both exhausts and exhilarates us at the same time. This turmoil inside of our Mother Earth makes perfect sense. The last weeks of any pregnancy are uncomfortable and unpredictable on all counts save one – new life will be born.  And so it is here, whether we are patient or not.  Spring will come, and once it does, the flurry of new growth will be disorientingly spectacular.

Those seed catalogs you’ve been thumbing through all winter?  It’s time to place your order.

 

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The Seasonal Psychologist: On Winter Solstice

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants, crops and flowers. wheelThe Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simply glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.  The Oak trees that were at the height of their strength in midsummer have been usurped by the Holly, whose strength peaks at Midwinter, and we are reminded that one season’s strength is another’s weakness.

Winter Solstice, also known as Yule, celebrates the return of the Sun.  It occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest. Lasting only a moment in time, it marks the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.  Of all the year, it is the day with the greatest number of hours of darkness, often called “the longest night of the year”.Holidays at the end of our calendar year and the beginning of the next often thematically involve light, both real and metaphoric. Legends and lore share thematic expressions of miracles, hope, luminosity and triumph. Whether the birth of Jesus on Christmas, the enlightment of Buddha on Bodhi’s day, the festival of lights during Hanukah or the lighting of Kinara candles at Kwanza, these holidays and many more invite people to gather during the darkest time of the year, to celebrate and give thanks for having conquered both internal and external darkness.

Imagine that your entire existence depended on the favor of the Sun.  With it, your crops would grow strong, and after the harvest, you could store food for the winter.  With it, the days would be warm enough for your livestock to naturally mate and reproduce, thus providing you with meat, milk and skins.  With it, there would be enough warmth and daylight to travel safely to distant lands for supplies and celebrations.  Prior to our “civilized ways” we depended on the Sun, its light and warmth, for all aspects of our survival.  Hence, the day that brought us the return of the sunshine was truly a day of celebration, as it brought hope to a time of darkness, and assured continued life

Psychologically, this is a time to celebrate that we have lived through the darkness, and are guaranteed an emergence into light. It is the dawn that comes after the dark night of the soul. Consequently, we give thanks for all that has sustained us. In Michigan, even though the days grow longer, we have at least two more months of cold snowy weather, and it’s easy to forget that each day brings another minute of light.Winter Holiday Altar

holiday altarAs both a professor and a clinical psychologist, December finds me surrounded by anxious students who fret over final papers and exams, with grades needing to be entered, and a new semester to prepare for.  Clients, cast back into family roles they’ve worked hard to transcend, often regress and need help re-stabilizing. The peaceful vacation I imagine rarely comes to fruition, while the ‘reason for the season’ is buried under social obligations and caloric intake.

This month, my clients and I will plot our way through these paradoxically stressful celebrations, while honoring the triumph of personal light over personal darkness. Like McCartney and Lennon, we acknowledge that “it’s been a long cold lonely winter”.  We trust that the lengthening days will show us how “that ice is slowly melting”, as we joyfully declare “here comes the sun”!  Another cycle of growth and harvest lays before us and the goals for spiritual growth and actualization that we named at Samhain are now articulated in greater detail.  Therapy becomes a time for thumbing through the seed-catalogs and plotting out the actual garden of our next growth cycle.

As your travels carry you past the seasonal displays of lights, I invite you to name the darkness you have traversed through and triumphed over. Name also the strengths that have served you, for they are tools that you can use again and again. As you negotiate parties, trips, family and gift giving, can you focus on the real reason for the season?  Can you feel, in your bones, heart, spirit or soul, the celebration that comes from overcoming adversity?

By reminding ourselves of what our ancestors knew – that it is always darkest before the dawn – we are able to wait with faith for the returning Light, and to give gratitude for what is illuminated.  Bright Solstice blessings to all!

Betz King, PsyDBetz King, PsyD, LP  is an associated faculty member in MiSPP’s master’s program.  About her new blog series, she writes, “The Seasonal Psychologist explores my intersectionality as a Solitary Pagan and psychologist, through an integration of teachings and tools from both psychological and spiritual traditions.”  Read more about Dr. King, including her American Priestess / Priest Training Program, here.

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The Seasonal Psychologist: On Samhain

The Seasonal Psychologist is a year-long series by Pagan Psychologist Betz King.  Each piece corresponds to one of the 8 Pagan Sabbats, or holidays, while exploring ways to use the symbolism of the season for personal growth and in clinical practice.

I conceptualize both my personal development, and that of my clients, within the framework of our local 4-season landscape. Mostly this means a framework of trees, crops native to Michigan, and lots of plants, crops and flowers. The Pagan path is a seasonal one, hosting 8 holidays called Sabbats. They parallel the movement of the sun across a year. Each holiday expresses a facet of the relationship between Light, Dark and life. I use them as lenses of reflection, opportunities to contemplate the cycle of birth, growth, harvest and death that impacts all living beings.

As a Pagan psychologist, many of my clients have some form of an earth based belief system. This allows us to revisit treatment goals seasonally. The view from my office window is lush with trees. A simply glance outside provides the framework for our review; whatever the trees are doing becomes an invitation to consider the same within ourselves.


Pagan wheel resting against a tree.

Holidays at the end of October and the beginning of November often thematically involve death, darkness, atonement, endings and reflection. All Saint’s Day, All Soul’s Day, All Hallow’s Eve and Dios de los Muertos have all lent influence to the most secular and widely celebrated Halloween.

My holiday, Samhain (pronounced  SOW-in) honors the end of the harvest season, the darkest, coldest time of the year and the influences and gifts of our ancestors. It is believed that the ‘veil between the worlds’ is thinnest at this time, which allows communication with ancestors who have crossed into the Summerland (a sort of Pagan heaven). Our Halloween ghosts and goblins are very watered down expressions of this ancestor homage. Given that the next Pagan Sabbat, the Winter Solstice, is when the days grow longer and the light returns, some Pagans (including myself) consider Samhain to be the Spiritual New Year.

Psychologically, this is a time to contemplate one’s accomplishments from a big picture, year long perspective, as one might contemplate the health and bounty of the crops after the harvest has come in. It is a time to set new goals for the coming year, and to give thanks to the ancestors for their many gifts and blessings. As a chill comes to the air and the days grow shorter, this is also a time of surrender and endings, as we in Michigan pull out our winter clothes and begin to spend more time indoors. Some years the trees are completely naked, having dropped all of their leaves with grace and ease. Other years they are full still. I remind myself and my clients that we get to choose how we let go of things that no longer serve us. We can surrender and accept, or we can gnash our teeth and fret. Leaves falling outside the therapy room window are lovely teachers. They remind us that even in seeming death, there are the seeds of new life.

Pumpkin carved with Samhain star lit within by a candle.

This week, my clients and I will talk about their entire past year of treatment goals. We will celebrate goals met, assess those still pending, and if appropriate, explore and honor the influence and gifts of the ancestral family tree. I will remind them that the next 6 weeks are the darkest of the year, and we will discuss strategies to cope. We will also contemplate the darkness of our unexpressed shadow parts, our own inner demons and gremlins that have so much to teach us. Lastly, as part of the Spiritual New Year, we will make amends to those we have harmed, and set goals for spiritual growth and actualization for the year ahead.

As the daylight grows shorter and Halloween offers it’s pageantry of costumes, I invite you consider the costumes that you wear. Do they still fit or have you outgrown them? Would you like to try another? Is there a Halloween costume that you are drawn to, and if so, what might that mean? Could it be a message from your hidden and powerful shadow side?

Carl Jung (1945) devoted much of his work to the exploration and excavation of the shadow, and his words are particularly potent at this time of the year:

“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”

How can you use this reflective time to learn more about the relationship between your ideal and shadow parts, in service of illuminating the sweet spot where polarities are integrated into wholeness?

Altar with photographs and candles.

When the ghosts and goblins come to your door, take a moment to consider the ways that you are like those people and animals who are no longer part of your daily life, but remain in your heart. How are you keeping their energy alive in the world? Light a candle next to their pictures and be grateful to stand on their shoulders.

By becoming more familiar with both internal and external darkness, and by considering ourselves as an extension of all who have come before and left pieces within us, we meet the year’s end with enough grace and courage to begin another trip around the Sun and the seasons.

To all celebrating, Blessed Samhain and Happy Halloween!

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The Seasonal Psychologist: On Mabon

mybackyardfallThis is a new series I’m writing for the Michigan School of Professional Psychology – a blog for each of the Pagan Sabbats: http://mispp.edu/the-seasonal-psychologist-on-mabon/

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Rainstorm Ritual

I took 2 weeks off from everything at the end of August and broke my foot 2 days into my vacation. My long imagined adventures and accomplishments came to a grinding halt as I came to a hobbling halt. In what seemed like no time at all, and yet took forever, my vacation came to an end with the Labor Day weekend.  It held no fun, just chores, food and naps, over and over.  My return to the classroom loomed just ahead.  Hours before bedtime, I tackled long postponed work items; billing, bills, banking, a to-do list for the week ahead.  The sky darkened and it began to rain.  Then it rained harder, and harder, until I could not stop myself from taking a seat on the deck, overlooking the forest and river.  The wind through the trees was audible, a loud white noise.  Thunder growled from the West.  The rain beat its rhythm on the earth, slow at first, then faster and faster, harder and harder, until the world was wet.  Wet air, wet ground, wet trees, wet beings…. And the wet was good, it was warm, it did not sting, it was benevolent and kind.  “Wait a minute,” I thought to myself… “when water is benevolent and kind, it is not a rainstorm, it is a ritual,  a consecration, come to make holy all that has forgotten holiness,  and just in time for the beginning of the academic year, and the end of the Pagan year!”

rainI smiled to myself, and gave words to all that I wished to surrender: cynicism, doubt,  judgement, generalized fear, procrastination, broken bones, dog drama and head-spaces that are not mindful… Then I sent the cleansing waters to others in my life, like if a shower and a telegram had a baby.  I had no doubt that it worked.

When my cast became soggy, it was time to say goodbye to the magnificent rain forest in my own backyard.  It smelled of clean wet air with a base note of mud.  Hands to heart, I thanked the Elemental ruler of Water, Nixa, and her subjects the Undines.  I thanked them like sisters thank each other after tackling a difficult task.  We sort of high-fived. I returned to my dwelling, grateful and thrilled for the sudden ‘drive-by’ consecration, compliments of a rain storm and a bit of intentionality.  A clean slate to begin the school year, and a clean slate to enter the season of darkness in the Pagan year, as the days grow ever shorter, and the Light more precious.  Alpha and Omega, cleansed and returned to center, to balance, to receptive presence.

I could not have created this intentionally, for obvious weather-related reasons.  This ritual required me to realize it in the moment that it showed up, not as a rainstorm, but as a consecration. Thankfully, I recognized the difference, because I’ve been working hard to remember the language of the land.  The elements don’t just talk to people who have special abilities to hear them, they talk just the same as birds or bugs or people.  With time, their expressions are as easy to guesstimate as any other foreign language.  We can practice anytime we experience earth, water, fire or air in a glorious setting; just by sitting still, breathing deep and listening.  We can simply use our intentionality to allow the fire  to burn away, the wind to blow away, the water to wash away and the sweet earth to ground all that no longer serves us.    We can trust ourselves and our imaginations. We can release forgetfulness and remember our holiness.  It’s all available in our own backyards.

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