Sacred Spiritual Growth

The Goddessing Cycle: Releasing

Cross-posted on my SageWoman blog.

This post is the first in a five-part series for #SacredSpiritualGrowth that I will be writing related to my personal conception of energy flow and focus, both internally and throughout the year, which I’ve titled the “Goddessing Cycle.” The cycle is based on the pattern of growth found in nature, for instance, in trees.

I intend to share about each season first, and to then provide a comprehensive post addressing all the components. I’ve taken this approach as I want to consciously live through and conduct ritual in each season before synthesizing the components. The themes are generally inspired by Pagan and Goddess Spirituality practices. However, I’ve found the number of Pagan “Wheel of the Year” ceremonies to be both overwhelming and impersonal and have been frustrated by the emphasis on childbearing capacities within Goddess Spirituality. One of my intentions is to create a way of holding space for the sacred that is not gender-specific. I would also like to avoid practices that favor the privileged or which borrow inappropriately from cultures other than my own. To this end, I welcome feedback on the accessibility, sensitivity and practicality of what I’m proposing.

Here I will be focusing on the months of September through November. I’ve found my own rhythm is a month off from the official calendar for the four seasons in North America and have adjusted accordingly. I want to mention, though, that this cycle is far more intimate than times of the year. I may cycle through multiple parts of it within a single day. I had at least three instances of release this past year that didn’t fit time-wise, and the “not the right time for this to happen” was felt deep within me.

What is it then, this releasing? Releasing, to me, involves acknowledging the areas of my life where things may be withering away and may need pruned. It includes setting firmer boundaries and refining my focus. My energy during this time flows inward; there can be a sense of scarcity which contradicts the typical “harvest” focus. In many ways, it is the harshest season, but is so very necessary for the abundance that precedes and follows it. It is noticing where I lack and owning it as well as noticing where I need to let go and doing so.

Releasing Ritual

Releasing can be painful, so proceed with caution. Consider your intentions and your self-care practices before diving in. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you and what you need to modify to make it your own.

Supplies

Leaves (try to find ones that are large and flat)

Yarn or string

A permanent marker

A journal

An unlit candle

Practices

The purpose of this ritual is to acknowledge and mourn relationships, experiences, goals, dreams and other aspects of our lives that have been recent failures, losses or in reaction to which we may need to establish stronger boundaries.

  • Cast a circle and welcome in any Deities that you wish using your own method. Decide upon 5-10 focal points and write each one on its own leaf. For instance, ask yourself what significant losses you’ve experienced this past year, what goals have gone unfulfilled, what dreams have been unaccomplished, or the specific needs you’ve been unable to have met by the relationships in your life. The main thrust of what you’ll want to include is things you’ve desired but have not been able to achieve, and which you perceive to be less important to you than you may have originally thought. Think especially of goals that were set by someone else, or standards that are society’s and not your own. Also consider desires that you realize are completely unachievable (always pleasing everyone) or which hold you back from self-acceptance (such as perfectionism).
  • Please note that this ritual is not a ritual of mourning. If you’ve lost someone close to you, consider adding a leaf reflecting what it is they represented that you no longer have in your life right now, rather than their name. Likewise, this is not a ritual of breaking bad habits—start on a mental scale and ask yourself from what the bad habit is protecting you. Work on releasing that.
  • Loosely tie the leaves onto the strand of yarn, leaving some room between each one so that they can hang down from it.
  • Reflect upon your losses. Use whichever methods appeal to you, such as Tarot or oracle cards, sitting in meditation, listening to sacred music, to commune with Deity and to learn what you need to realize, experience or do in order to release the disappointments and struggles you’ve been carrying. At the heart of release lies acceptance. What would need to go in your life to accept things as they actually are, not as you wish they would be? Record three specific insights into your journal. If less than three come to you, hold space for future revelations.
  • Holding the string of leaves in one hand, light the candle and speak the following chant, amending as it fits for you:

Goddess, I ask for your guidance and blessing in releasing that which is not life-giving.

I accept that not all branches bear fruit.

I am clearing the way for new growth in my life.

Hasten the earth to decompose, the wind to shift away, the water to erode and the fire to blaze the dead weeds to which I cling.

I open my hands to release (raise your hands palms up).

I hold space in my heart for transformation (place hands on heart).

  • Tie the string with the leaves in an area inside or outside of your house. If possible, put it into an area that will receive some wind.
  • Close the circle.
  • Over the next few days and weeks, return to your leaf-string. Notice which leaves are missing and which remain and reflect in your journal as to the extent to which you are still holding onto or are letting go of the focal-points you included.

The point of this ritual is to help you dig down to what it really is that you want, what it is that you have, and what it is that you cannot (yet) have. We can spend a ton of energy avoiding directly acknowledging our desires, so if that is as far as you make it, you’ve made progress. Notice that you aren’t being asked to ignore or shut off your desires. Desire is healthy and normal. What I am encouraging here is to find those desires that hold you back and which stifle your growth because they are not coming from your deepest heart and/or because they are not in alignment with reality or your purpose in life and then to open to allowing Goddess to transform and heal them.

Reflection

Please feel free to share your responses to this ritual and/or to the following questions in the comments.

  • Was there any sort of pattern to your focal-points for release?
  • What were the actions you derived in order to help you loosen your attachment to your desires?
  • To what extent did you experience a sense of release? How often may you need to revisit this practice to continue to transform your desires?

© 2018. All Rights Reserved, Suzanne Tidewater, Goddessing From the Heart

Pagan Practice

Samhain Reflection: Leaves Changing, Falling, Decomposing

Cross-posted at my SageWoman blog.

For this season’s #PaganPractice blog, I decided to share a reflection on leaves and how, in the ending of their life cycle, they can embody aspects of Samhain.

The Colors of Autumn

The orange hue of leaves is there throughout the summer! It is only revealed when the energy-generating process in the leaves stops. Something thrills in me to know that some leaves hold what we perceive as their aged color their whole existence, but it is masked for a bit by the green of the chlorophyll. What if each of us has who we will become already with us, but youth and immaturity keeps us from seeing certain truths until we are ready to do so? Other colors like purples are created once the leaf begins to decay, reminding us that some things take time to come into being.

Releasing and Remembrance

Once the temperature has cooled, trees begin to release their leaves. The leaves have exhausted their purpose and are not longer nourishing the tree through the action of chlorophyll. They fall, one by one or in a heap on a windy day. Unless tidied up by human hands, they surround the tree at its base in a vestige of past glory.

Samhain is a time to honor one’s ancestors, holding vigil for those who have passed before us. As a person who’s cut off from her family of origin, making meaning during this time has been difficult for me. Certainly I plan honor those who have served as spiritual ancestors to me, but they are either still with me or so removed in terms of time and place I don’t feel that the spiritual connection is strong enough for this practice. I love the idea of creating a shrine to acknowledge each of those who have brought meaning into our life, and spending time with it communing with them and sharing offerings of their favorite items. I did this for my cat (who I had cremated after he passed several years ago).

The image of a tree surrounded by its leaves left me with another impression. Perhaps we can also spend time during Samhain recognizing everything we have released over the course of the past year. All that has served its purpose and then fallen away. I’ve met people who are still in mourning, not for a loved one who’s died, but for a dream that was unrealized or a love that went unrequited. Decades have passed and they still cling to a paper-thin husk, devoid of energy. If I was a tree, I’d shed my leaves randomly, sometimes in the full bloom of summer, so determined am I to rid myself of anyone and anything which threatens my sense of integrity. Maybe as humans, whether we reject things quickly or hold on too long, we need at least one rite a year in which we sit and grieve for the people and situations that weren’t ever quite ours, but for which we still yearn.

I created a ritual related to the remembrance of empty shells, the haunting of losses I want to just brush past but which keep staring up at me in their fading colors and shapes. I need my practice to be tangible, so I gathered several leaves and then wrote on each of them. I then burned them one by one, letting the smoky haze muddle my eyes and my thoughts, sinking into what it felt like to remember each situation and then let it go. I spread the ashes under the oldest trees on my property, honoring their wisdom and taking comfort in the fact that they are more rooted than I.

Disintegration and Decay

It can be beneficial to allow leaves to remain where they drop; the nutrients they release as they break down provide sustenance for the tree. Eventually the leaf becomes a part of the soil, indistinguishable from its former neighbors and mingled into other materials. The leaf spends its time above ground in a symbiotic relationship with the trunk and branches of the tree, but the rest of the tree gets to keep on unfurling its existence while the leaf is consumed.

How I resist the decaying process! It is inevitable. The horizon of my life draws ever so slightly closer, even as a part of me searches for a road that will lead over the looming mountain. Our culture doesn’t even dignify our decaying by allowing us to remain where we are rooted, instead, the circumstances of our life are akin to a leaf who happens to take the plunge during a strong gale. We fling about, buffeted not only by the decisions of our past but also by the whims of whomever finds us in their charge.

We face disintegration as well as decay; the careful gathering and piles we’ve made of our life are only under our control for so long. We may not get to nurture the limbs and bark and being to which we’ve dedicated our life with our passing. Instead, we can find ourselves facing the process alone in unfamiliar terrain. But we are still who we are, and Goddess goes with us no matter where we go.

I am not afraid especially afraid of dying or of shaking out the last drops of youth that remain in the cup. But I am terrified of becoming old-old, of aging to the point where I lose my independence and self-determination. I know myself enough to know I will fight the wind, fight the cold, fight to end up under the same damn tree on which I’ve settled as my spiritual and literal home. If and when the forces of nature demand more of me, I pray to Goddess She grants me grace and patience to view the last journey as an adventure, as a final trek up that mountain. Perhaps the leaf of my existence can find a quiet place to break apart and fertile soil to join. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where we end up after all; it’s all the same forest, with each tree a world unto itself.

So for Samhain, I reflect on death and decay. Dying and decomposition. Instead of dreaming of a world beyond death, I sit in a world where death is a near-constant presence, often through violent and abrupt means. I take a bit of ash from the leaves I burned, and rub it on my feet. This way, each step I take holds that connection to dreams that end, relationships that end, life that ends. There will be time for contemplating renewal and reincarnation; the cycle of death that inevitability leads to new life. But for today, I hold space for loss and pain and sorrow and finality, knowing that in doing so, I’m letting myself look wide-eyed at what I often try to ignore, welcoming it as a part of who I am and what we all face. Blessings on Samhain as you remember and reflect.

Inner Work

Mindfully Leafy

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I wanted to share a short practice I developed for mindfully observing a leaf as it relates to inner work. Fall is my favorite time of year, and leaves work even better than pumpkin spice to connect me to the season. To complete this practice, you’ll need a leaf that has recently fallen from a tree.

Sensory Exploration

Begin by using four of your senses to observe the leaf.

Sight

What colors are captured in the leaf? What patterns and shapes does it contain? Where is it ordered, and where do you see disorder? What happens where the stem and leaf meet? How do the edges differ from the center?

Sound and Texture

Hold the leaf in the palm of your hand. Can you feel its weight? What does its energy feel like to you? Move the leaf through the air. What sounds does it make? Crinkle a bit of it between your fingers. What does it feel like? What noises does it produce?

Smell

Sniff the leaf and notice any hints of smell that emerge from it. What scents do the decay it is undergoing release?

Mindful Transformation

If the energy feels right, break the leaf into five pieces. You’ll be connecting each piece to a different element and experience. Alternatively, use five leaves total if you don’t want to break one apart.

Earth

Bury a piece of the leaf in the earth. What is the experience of digging in the dirt and covering up the leaf like for you? What do you notice about your surroundings as you bury it?

Air

Wait until there is a breeze, and release a piece of the leaf into the air. What trajectory does it take? What are the characteristics of its flight? Where and how does it land?

Fire

It would be most interesting to light the leaf on fire and watch how it transforms while burning. Given the rampant wildfires in many places, a safer practice may be to expose the leaf to sunlight, noticing how its characteristics change in the light, and, slowly, how it decomposes.

Water

Place the leaf in a puddle or another natural body of water. Observe its movement. How does the water change the way the leaf holds its shape? How much of it is above water, floating? How does it interact with obstacles such as the edge of the puddle, or other objects in the water?

Spirit

Place the remaining piece of the leaf on your personal altar or in another sacred space. Notice any thoughts and emotions that arise from doing so. Continue to use your senses as you incorporate it into your altar space and ritual practice. Samhain may be a good time to return it to one of the elements from your altar. Or, you can let it dry out and keep it as a permanent piece of your altar decorations.