Tuesday, February 28, 2012


 New Fasting Moon

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Have you seen the moon these last few nights? We're a week into the new moon and it has been a lovely little crescent hanging in the western sky in the early evenings. I had a rough day at school early this week but when  I walked out of the building at 5pm, I saw the fingernail moon peeking out from between some fluffy clouds. I watched it all evening as I drove home and took the dog for a walk and it was like a beacon to remind me of the beauty of the day even in the midst of all the hard. Last night I was treated to an even better show; the crescent moon and two bright planets! Venus and Jupiter were shining out the haze of an
by Pierre J.
approaching storm. Apparently, Venus and Jupiter will be getting closer and closer together as the month goes by and Mercury can be seen right behind the setting sun, and soon Mars will be visible rising in the East in the early evenings. What a great way to start a month!

As I was preparing to write the blog post I went back to review my posts from the winter and read the chapter in Annette Hinshaw's Earth Time Moon Time for the upcoming month. I couldn't figure out why the months in the book weren't lining up with the months in my blog and then I realized - I messed up my calendar! Sometime during the Sorting Moon I skipped a month and have been off all winter. When I thought it was the Birth Moon it was really the Death Moon. Eep!

To fix the mess I reviewed all my posts and decided which I could just put new tags on, and which I needed to just call a mess and leave it at that. All the posts that are tagged incorrectly or talk about a month that is not the actual month it was written in are now labeled with the tag "wrong moon." 

by meglet247
Besides being embarrassing that I messed up, this situation brings to the forefront the question of how real are the moon energies anyway? I just saw a video of Bill Nye discrediting astrology by invoking the fact that the axis of the earth has wobbled in the last 3,000 years. This means that the sun rise on your birthday is in a different constellation than your astrological sign. That is true, but it discounts the non-material truth of the astrological archetypes. Being a Virgo is a way of thinking about the complexity that is my personality and life, not some material truth like the fact that every gold molecule has 79 protons or water freezes at 0 degrees centigrade. The moon energies of Annette Hinshaw's calendar are archetypes too, not astronomical truths.

This winter I had a really rough time with school and student teaching. I had to do a lot of searching in the deep truths of my moral and theological universe to find ways to cope with the challenges I was facing. The archetype of the Birth Moon, a time when the new year is very young and faces all the challenges of a new born baby, helped me find some meaning in my own challenges. Does it matter that the time I was going through these challenges was actually the Death Moon? My answer is no, it does not. 

Archetypes, myths, stories and images are tools for thinking that are not strictly aligned with the physical, material world. Would it have mattered if I looked to tarot or Sabian symbols instead of moon energies? What if I'd been looking at the Parables of Jesus or Koranic suras for my inspiration? Can you only look at the story of the passover during the spring and it holds no meaning at other times of the year? In my way of thinking, the moon energies are well aligned with the 
Earthrise, a NASA photo
seasons they occur in, like the passover story, but they are not rigidly linked. The story of Yaweh choosing his people and letting his plague pass them over is a powerful one, even when you tell it in the deep winter.

So, yes, it's disconcerting to think that I was getting ready to celebrate the spring joy of the Seed Moon when in fact I have a whole Fasting Moon to get through. I have never been fond of the Fasting Moon, but I guess that means I have some more work to do with these archetypical energies. It's leap day this week, a time for readjusting our thinking about time. I'll be readjusting to thinking about the Fasting Moon for another few weeks and letting spring creep slowly on instead of rushing full force into it. 

When have you made a mistake that made you think more deeply about what you were doing? When have you had to readjust your thinking about something? How have you been enjoying the astronomical show in the sky, or the botanical show starting to make itself known in the garden?

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New Fasting Moon 2010: Spring is Springing

New Fasting Moon 2011: The Nian

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Bone Moon

Full Milk Moon

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It is the full moon (er.. a little past) of the month that Annette Hinshaw calls the Milk Moon and Jessica Prentice calls the Hunger Moon. It is late in the winter and in milder climates spring may be hinting at it's arrival, but it is not yet here. There is an old saying in New England, though, "half the wood and half the hay you should have left on Candlemas day." In those northern places winter is only half over. Both Annette Hinshaw and Jessica Prentice write about how we can manage our resources during these hard times through our choices and our connections in order to nourishing what is growing in our lives.

In our post industrial, urban world many of us don't even notice that there is a seasonality to the abundance or lack of food. The farmers markets may not be open this time of year, and we may be missing tasty peaches and strawberries, but everything else is still available in our local mega mart. I visited a small produce market near my new school last week that focuses on local foods and found a vast abundance of good looking produce. As expected they had lovely apples from this autumn's harvest stacked in crates out front and piles of local hardy greens but they also had bell peppers, celery, fresh herbs and even a few hot house tomatoes. We never have to fast to conserve resources and when people in our country are hungry it is from lack of money, not the unavailability of food.

Menudo by scaredy_kat
Traditional cultures knew the value of foods that stretch resources and can provide nourishing food even when the stores are low.  Dried grains, root crops, fermented vegetables, hard cheeses and soups are the staple foods of most European cultures and the winter foods of Asia and North America are similar. The hearty soups that people across the globe eat during hard times to keep nourished and elevate into high cuisine in the good times are all based on one important food source - animal bones. Chinese egg drop soup, Korean gomguk, Thai tom yum, Norweigian cabbage soup, Russian shchi, Irish mutton stew, French onion soup, Mexican menudo and Cherokee pepper pot stew are all traditional soups that start with animal bones and end with a warm, nutritious meal perfect for late winter. In the Cherokee calendar, this month of the year is called the Bone Moon. I think that is fitting.

I make stock out of chicken, beef and whatever other bones make their way through my kitchen on a regular basis. I collect bones, both raw and cooked, along with vegetable scraps in a plastic zip bag in the freezer and make stock when I have about a gallon of scraps. The stock can simmer for a few hours, or a few days before you have to deal with it again, and the finished stock can stay in your fridge for a few days or your freezer for a few months. We use it to make soup, stew, polenta, rice and many other dishes that are infinetly more delicious and nutritious when made with home made stock. In fact, last weekend, my sister made a most delicious white bean and kale soup with homemade stock. 

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Home Made Bone Stock
1/2 -1 gallon of assorted chicken, pork, beef or other bones (use mostly chicken, with some others... for beef stock see these instructions)
4-6 cups of assorted vegetable scraps from carrots, onions, garlic, celery, mushrooms or other non-cruciferous (cabbage family) vegetables
1 onion, cut in half with skin (if not enough onion in the veggie scraps)
2-4 cloves of garlic, smashed with skins (if not enough garlic in the veggie scraps)
2 tbs cider vinegar or 1/4 cup white wine1 tsp whole pepper corns
1-2 tsp salt
fresh or dried herbs including thyme, rosemary, sage or bay (optional)

Put the bones and veggies in a large stock pot (spaghetti pot or larger) and cover with cold water. Add the vinegar or wine and slowly bring the pot to a boil. If your bones are frozen, you can turn the heat to medium until everything is defrosted and warm, then up to high to boil. As it comes to a boil, skim any foam that rises to the top off and discard (don't skim too much fat off if you have it on top of the pot, that's good stuff!). Add the salt, peppercorns and optional herbs. Put a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to low or medium low to maintain a slow simmer.

Kale and White Bean Soup by little blue hen
Chicken stock is ready to strain and use after 4-6 hours, but can also be cooked considerably longer. I often simmer for a few hours, put the lid on and turn the heat off, then bring back to a boil and simmer again the next day. I've never gotten sick, yet, but if you are worried, just strain and refridgerate your stock whenever you are done letting it simmer. I strain my stock through a colander with or without a wire sieve in it (depending on how lazy I am feeling - I don't mind a cloudy stock) and pour it into various sized plastic containers to go into the freezer. 

White Bean and Kale Soup
2 quarts home made chicken stock, or a mix of stock and water
2 tbs olive oil, chicken fat or bacon fat
1 linguica sausage, chopped
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic, sliced, chopped or pressed
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed or 2 cups homemade white beans
1 quart of kale, trimmed and chopped 
1-3 tsp lemon juice or cider vinegar

In 4 quart soup pot, heat the oil and fry the linguica until it has rendered it's fat and is starting to brown. Add the onion, pepper flakes and Italian seasoning along with some salt and pepper. Fry until the onion is soft and golden and add the garlic, frying another minute or so until fragrant.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the white beans and kale. Cook for at least 10 minutes or until the beans are hot and the kale is wilted and soft. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve with cheese toasts, croutons, sauer kraut or whatever garnishes you like on soup. 

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Every Jewish grandmother knows that chicken soup will cure what ails you, from colds and flu to a broken heart or wrinkley face. Modern science is piling up more and more evidence that she is right. The connective tissue in bones and carcasses is full of gelatin and other nutrients that support healthy bones, joints, skin and hair. Gelatin is also a very nutritious and soothing protein that people of all ages and health levels can digest. Bone marrow, the fatty middle part of long bones, is an especially nutritious food that might support immune function but definitely supports a delicious meal. You can ask your butcher to cut long bones into
Silky Healthful Fat by Sifu Renka
2-3 inch slices, roast the bones and then pull the marrow out and spread it on toast. The marrow course was the highlight of my sister and I's recent trip to a fancy restaurant in downtown Portland. 

In addition to being good for the body, making stock is good for the soul and spirit, too. It is recycling at it's best and a truly respectful way to treat the animals we use for food. Bart Everson speaks eloquently of this transformation and what it means to him on the blog Humanistic Paganism. I know, too, that there is magic in taking the leftovers, the scraps and the ends and turning them, through long simmering, into a wonderful elixer of health and flavor. This can be a hard, hard time of the year especially if we are disconnected from our community and support. Using ancient and wise techniques like fasting, sharing or making bone soup reminds us that we do have the resources to nourish ourselves and each other, even when it looks like all we have is a picked over plate. 

How do you nourish yourself and your community during this dark time of late winter? Do you make stock at your house or have any memories of a lovingly made soup? What other recipes do you like for turning leftovers and left-behinds into loving nourishment? Do you prefer tom yum or french onion soup?

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Full Milk Moon 2009: Nourishing Self As Well As Others

Full Milk Moon 2010: The Full Wolf Moon

Full Milk Moon 2011: The Positive Feedback Loop of Love

Check the recipes and soup tags for more posts with yummy food. 

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Fasting Moon but it was really the Milk Moon. Since the post itself is more about the the Bone Moon, I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

Saturday, February 11, 2012


February First

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If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

It is that time of year again, the subtley sparkley days in late winter when the first hints of spring start showing themselves. The days are getting longer a couple minutes at a time and some very adventurous plants are even starting to sprout or bud. There's a bit of a pinkish and greenish tinge to the world, rather than just January grey.

Aurora Borealis in Alaska by well_lucio
The holy day marking this point in the wheel of the year is is February First, also known as Brigid, or Candlemas, Imbolc or Groundhog Day. Brigid was a goddess in Ireland before she became the Christian saint and in both (or all?) of her aspects she is the patron of blacksmithing, weaving, healing, poetry and prophecy. At first, these seem like a strange jumble of things and activities to preside over, but a second look shows something in common - these are all elements of magic. Prophecy and poetry are the magic of turning words from nonsense into meaning, healing is the magic of turning illness into health and weaving and blacksmithing are the magic of turning raw materials into useful objects. In a pre industrial world, blacksmithing was just as much magic as healing and both were at least as important as prophecy.

But I don't live in a pre industrial world. In fact, I live in a post industrial, post modernist, 21st century world where even the word magic is a bit dirty, provincial or naive. Materialists insist that everything that happens has a material cause. Perhaps things look magical, but we just havent' seen the cause. Christians know that something non-material can be a cause of material things, but they dismiss magic as either occult or prideful. Dabbling in magic either puts you in league with the devil or full of pride, thinking that you can do something beyond or outside of god's will. I am not a materialist, or a Christian, though, and so I wonder... what do I think about magic?

As you know, I'm a fan of young adult fantasy and other science fiction. Last week I read the first four books in the The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, one of those "regular kids get sucked into a world where everything they believed to be true is wrong... and have adventures!" kind of books. In these stories, gods and 
Aurora Borealis in Norway by Tor Even Mathiesen
mythological characters are real, some people can become immortal and even more people can awaken to their true abilities and powers, becoming magical. Characters learn magic in all kinds of ways, but the end results are usually of the spectacular, laws-of-physics-do-not-apply-here kind. At one point, the children call the water out of the earth, causing a muddy pool to swallow a particularly scary monster, and in another scene someone tracks people across Paris by the trail their aura leaves behind. At other times, characters cast spells by putting certain runes or symbols in certain patterns, or by combining special potions or words.

I don't really use magic like that. I don't say I don't ever, because, well, sometimes I say a special ritual phrase or choose symbols, images or colors for specific meanings both in my daily life and in my "religious" life of my nature table, bedroom altar or other special events or objects. I certainly played around with these kinds of magical correspondences, rituals and spells as I explored earth based religion in my 20s but have really never gotten deep into working magic. As I developed a much more panentheistic sense of the divine (that god is both omnipresent in the physical universe and also exists beyond it, as opposed to the theism of Christianity of the polytheism of many Pagan theologies) I have really moved away from these kinds of symbolic gestures. A few remain - I have a charm in my car and say a special verse while rubbing it for luck and safety - but the Quaker sensibilities of both being wary 
Aurora Australis from the International Space Station
of outward symbols and of trusting god in all things, have really taken over my spiritual life. 

But I do know that I have power in this world. I do know that I can make things happen the way I want them to happen and that words and symbols have great, great power. Am I rejecting this knowledge by rejecting magik the way it is practiced by wiccans and some other Pagans? Is it the power of prayer and god's omnipotent will that makes these unexplained, magical seeming things happen? I do not believe in a purely material universe, so why not work with the web of energy that I know connects us? Sometimes I think that the answer to that question is a humble one of not being willing to take on that kind of power, and sometimes I think I am ducking a potential responsibility.

Ultimately, the query I am sitting with in regards to magic is this, an adaptation of a query my pastor asked recently; to what extent do we create magic and to what extent do we merely uncover the magic that already exists? But then again, this is the query I sit with about god in general. What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?  :)

What does magic mean to you? Have you ever worked magic with spells or magical objects? Do you believe that we have a supernatural influence on the workings of the world through our own work or through petition to a diety? Or do you think this is all a bunch of codwollop? Have you ever experienced anything magical?

Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.

If you didn't know... both poems are from Shel Silverstein in Where the Sidewalk Ends. The photos are of aurora, one of the more blatently magical things I can think of. Click the links below the pictures to be taken to the photographers' Flickr pages and see more of their phenomenal work.

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February First 2009: February the First

February First 2010: Lovely Luz and Sweet Bridgit
This happens to be my all time favorite post from all two plus years of blogging. Please go check it out. 

Feburary First 2011: Brigid - The Goddess of Poetry

February First 2012: Brigid's Red Soup

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brigid's Red Soup

February First

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Hello everyone, 

I know I owe you two posts, a February First post and a full Fasting Moon post. I have great posts ready to go. I just have to write them. Unfortunately, writing blog posts has fallen to the bottom of my very long to-do list just below taking a shower, cleaning the kitchen or getting an oil change but well below writing lesson plans, showing up for middle school every day and designing an action research project. Oy vey! 

But today I can give you a little tidbit, the recipe for this year's Brigid's Red Soup. I have made a red lentil soup with red, orange and yellow ingredients in the first week of February for about five years now. Red is a sacred color to Brigid, the color of transforming birth and the color of transforming fire. This year's soup was super
Michael W. May's Red Lentil Soup
easy and particularly delicious, if I do say so myself. Feel free to change it anyway you would like by adding more vegetables, changing the seasoning or switching things up as your tastes desire. This soup is between you and the Goddess, after all.

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Crock Pot Brigid's Red Soup

1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 golden beets, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, washed and chopped
1 parsnip, washed and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 14.5 oz can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes, diced or crushed (or other tomatoes)
2 cups chicken broth (or more)
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp chile flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 bay leaf
Water to cover

Put the vegetables, lentils, spices, tomatoes and chicken broth in a crock pot and add enough water to cover the ingredients by at least an inch. Cook on low for 9 hours or more, until the lentils are completely soft and the vegetables are cooked through. Serve with sour cream or yogurt, sauerkraut or the garnish(es) of your choice. Praise the Goddess, and bless the spring!

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February First 2009: February the First

February First 2010: Lovely Luz and Sweet Bridgit
This happens to be my all time favorite post from all two plus years of blogging. Please go check it out. 

Feburary First 2011: Brigid - The Goddess of Poetry