Turning Inward - Approaching the Winter Solstice (and a Tarot Spread!)

by Marianne in


It's almost that time again, the mid-point of the Wheel, that long, dark night of Winter Solstice. I've written a bit over the past six months about my flailing relationship with the Wheel of the Year (including my last post, where I basically threw my hands up and decided to forget cross-quarter days altogether, and probably equinoxes, too, in favour of other, more personal, celebrations), so if you've been following along, you'll know that this hasn't always been a joyful or meaningful process for me.

Solstices, though, I get. I feel them in my waters and bones and brain. Perhaps I'm just a creature of extremes, struggling with the subtleties of the cross-quarters but able to jump right in to the big, blunt fact of the longest day or night of the year. Whatever the reason, I'm ready to throw myself into this Solstice season - and a season is what I'm making of it.

For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, the dark is tugging at our edges, and what passes for cold in Australia is driving us indoors, under blankets real and imagined. 

Not everyone is a fan of the lack of light, the chill, the pull towards solitude and quiet, but whatever your feelings about such things, if you decide to engage with them, they can be useful. This is the perfect time to explore shadows, to dive into deep and strange dreams, to spend uninterrupted hours in reflection, to examine the rich varieties of darknesses within and without, and what they might mean. In addition, astrologically, with both Neptune and Saturn currently retrograde, we're in a good place to examine our dreams and beliefs and the structures we rely on, the truths that sit on the surface of our lives. 

For my own part, I'm ready to turn my attention inward. After a few weeks of abandoning any structured spiritual practice in favour of less intentional (but often equally fun) pursuits, I'm feeling the need to rebalance my scales with some inner work. In a stroke of good timing, the schedules of some my loved ones have necessitated an open stretch of solitary time for me in the coming weeks, which I intend to use for secret and interior activities. 

After the Solstice passes, we'll be turning back toward the sun, and summer will be here before we know it. Until then, though, let's use this dark, quiet time to dive deep, to get weird, to explore and heal and question and excavate! If you need a little support with getting started, here is a short tarot spread to help you figure out how to productively work with this Solstice's inwardly-directed energy. 

My Winter Solstice reading, using the Tarot del Fuego by Ricardo Cavolo. Seems apropos to use a fiery tarot at this dark time, since we're at the pivot point before we turn back towards the sun!

Turning Within: A Winter Solstice Tarot Spread

Card 1: CONTEXT: What part of my life or self would benefit from receiving the inwardly directed energy of this season?

Card 2: ACTION: What steps can I take to put this inwardly directed energy to use in this part of my life or my self?

CARD 3: REFLECTION: During this time of introspection, where are my opportunities for learning and integration?

CARD 4: SELF CARE: How can I nourish and care for myself as I undertake the inwardly-focused work of this season?

You may have noticed that this spread is sort of a dark-night analogue of the spread I shared for Summer Solstice - and you would be right! Fundamentally, what we're asking stays the same, but the focus shifts to reflect the inner, instead of the outer, and rest and integration instead of growth and expansion.

If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, partying in the sunshine, you might enjoy taking a moment to try out my Summer Solstice spread.

How are you celebrating your season, whatever it might be? If you try out one of these Solstice readings, I'd love to know about it! Drop me a line in the comments, or pop over to Twitter and let me know how you got on!

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Personalising the Wheel of the Year

by Marianne in


The title of this post should probably have been, "Whoops, what happened to Samhain?", as weeks have gone by and I've failed to write about it. I know what happened to Samhain - it fell on the 30th of April for us in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite knowing it was coming, I couldn't really get in the mood. On the day, I lit a black candle for my dead, said their names, read some poems aloud and meditated, and that was that. It didn't feel like a dark and intuitive time, the veil didn't appear to lift, and most people I mentioned "Australian Halloween" to looked at me with great bewilderment.

Sydney_Tarot

My lunchtime view on day of writing, under an unseasonably warm Autumn sun.

Last year, just before the Summer Solstice, I set about a blog project in which I intended to catalogue my experiences of working with the Sabbats of the Wheel of the Year. We're not quite halfway through, but I think the results have been a little lacklustre. To put it bluntly, I am struggling to make any meaningful connections, particularly to the cross-quarter days. I've griped about all of this before, so I won't bore you today, but I will say that I've discovered that imposing a European, nature-based system of Sabbats upon my life - even when corrected for Hemisphere - is just not working. I'm uninspired by this project!

So, what to do? In short, I'm going rogue.

I'm devising my own calendar of celebrations and sabbats, subject to constant change, evolution, and experimentation. I'll keep the Solstices, and maybe the Equinoxes, and to that, I propose adding a few days of my own, days on which I can celebrate the luminaries who inspire me, or remind myself of energies that I seek to cultivate. I'm beginning to suspect that I'm a chaote at heart!

Pamela Colman-Smith's Birthday, 16th February.

A day to celebrate the craft and community that Pixie was so instrumental in creating.

David Hockney's Birthday, July 9th.

A celebration of colour and creativity, a reminder that art transforms the way we see.

Mary Oliver's Birthday, September 10th.

A reminder to be in awe of the natural world and the written word.

The World Series, Late October.

Because baseball is holy. May the goddess have mercy upon the Giants this year!

Our Lady of Guadalupe's Feast Day, December 12th.

A celebration of the goddess, with a tip of the hat to my Catholic roots, and both of my wicked Catholic grandmothers.

No doubt, as I play with this, there will be days added and removed, and rituals invented, cemented, and discarded. I suspect the main problem I will encounter with this system will be lack of community, but let's face it, I couldn't get anyone to celebrate Australian Halloween with me so this won't be much different! At heart, anyway, I am a solitary practitioner. 

Want to play?

If you, too, have been struggling to connect with traditional pagan celebrations, I encourage you to join me! Perhaps you'd like to add Talk Like a Pirate Day to your spiritual calendar, or to bake a cake for Martha Stewart's birthday? Consider who or what makes the turning of your world a little more joyful, and celebrate it with a ritual, a festival, a feast of your own devising.

A final note, before I go off to make my new calendar. It is not my intention to trivialise the traditional Wheel of the Year or disrespect those who follow it. Just as those who observe the Sabbats find deep meaning in doing so, I seek to find my own, personal meaning in the passing of the year. Let's respectfully do our own thing, side by side!

On that note, do let me know - what do you celebrate throughout the year? Are there any unorthodox or invented festivals or observances in your calendar? Any suggestions for dynamite spiritual holidays or rituals?

Leave me a comment below or come say hi on Twitter!

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Balance and Harmony: Reflections on the Autumn Equinox

by Marianne in


Here we are, practically at the end of March. Is it just me, or is time moving at a more rapid clip than usual? I'm definitely experiencing that long days, short years feeling! Last time I checked in with our position on the Wheel of the Year, we were at Lammas down here in Sydney, and I must admit it was a challenging one for me to grapple with. Those cross-quarter days can be subtle, and I had difficulty connecting with Lammas this time around.

Not so for the Equinox! Just look at that gorgeous Autumnal light! This quarter day - the Autumn Equinox for us down here in the South, and the Spring, or Vernal Equinox for those folks up North - falls on Sunday, 20th of March, and I can definitely feel it. The days are growing shorter. It's darker when I wake up, and there's barely any twilight left when I return home from the bookshop during the week. After weeks and weeks of stifling humidity, the week leading up to the Equinox has been cooler - not cold, we're still in Sydney, after all! - and overcast with rain.

There is the sense of something being introduced back into the palette of the days. The mono-tonal heat and brightness of the warmer months has started to be tempered with cooler air and darker nights. The scales are tipping back into balance, as we're beginning to access a broader spectrum of shades, temperatures, ambience, and emotion. 

Perhaps I'll have to make it a full turn through the year before making any such pronouncements, but I'm discovering that my experiences often feel in opposition to where we are on the Wheel. As we're turning back towards the darkness, there's meant to be a feeling of drawing in, closing down, wrapping up, as the joys and labours of the hotter months and harvest season come to a close. It might be the extreme lethargy brought on by the heat of Summer in this part of the world, but rather than packing up as we move into the cooler, darker months, I feel like I'm gearing up! My year has finally started, energy once sapped by the long, steamy days of Summer is returning and bringing with it focus and productivity. 

The Equinox marks the day of the year when day and night are of approximately equal length. We find ourselves at these points of the year moving away from extremes and coming back into the middle path. Balance is often the theme, as these two opposites, darkness and light and their attendant correspondences, fall into alignment with each other. In the past when using this day for reflection, I've focused on the idea of balance and let that guide me. 

This year, I feel a subtle distinction is in order. The word "approximate" seems pertinent. On the equinox, day and night are the closest they come to being of equal length, but they're not precisely equal. Balance seems like a soothing and stable concept, where two parts - of life, of the psyche or self - receive equal energy, resources, air time. In reality and in nature, though, precise, 50-50 balance is not what we find. What feels balanced and stable for each of us in our individual circumstances is often a little more fluid.

I thought about choosing the Justice card to represent the Equinox. With its equally weighted scales and attitude of fairness and balance, it does seem on-theme. Something didn't feel quite right about that, though. Instead, enter my friend, Temperance. It's no secret, I love this card. Temperance is the alchemist of the tarot deck, the one who combines two opposites and blends them into something new. To me, this card symbolises not moderation, but creativity. This is not about restraining our extremes, but using them to fuel a new path. Rather than demanding that day and night sit in precise, minute-to-minute parallel (which they don't!), we have an invitation to throw them both into the pot, stir them around, feel those opposing essences combining, and see what comes out. 

So, instead of balance, let's talk harmony.

As we reintroduce shades of the new season - whether Spring or Autumn - into our days, let's consider how we might shift and embrace the palette of our lives as it deepens in complexity. How can we be alchemists, like Temperance, and blend these opposites into a new colour, a new creation? 

We have many opposites at our disposal - rest and work, intuition and action, receptivity and manifestation, solitude and companionship, spirituality and mundanity, Temperance's water and fire - and all the shades in between. The Equinox offers us an opportunity to work with these polarities, but not just to hold them apart. Let's not expect that all these facets of our experiences are binaries forever set apart. At this time on the Wheel, we have the chance to draw them closer together, to dwell in the twilight where they meet. 

That's what I'll be ruminating on in the coming days. How about you? How do you work with the energy of this time of year?

P. S. As ever, if you're looking for some support as you explore balance and harmony in your life, you can book a reading with me here.


Lammas Came and Went

by Marianne in


So much for my diligent observance of the Wheel of the Year! We're now five days into February, and I haven't done a damn thing to mark the cross-quarter day that comes at the beginning of the month. I have to admit that I've struggled to connect with this festival, the festival of harvest and sacrifice. The weather here has been erratic - alternately cool and windy, cool and raining, steaming hot and rain, burning hot and sunny. Each day - each hour - is a surprise, seemingly unrelated the last.

The Blasted Oak, from The Wildwood Tarot, represents the sacrifice and cleansing fire of Lammas.

My days are largely spent indoors, staying out of the heat or the wet or doing tasks that can't be done anywhere else, and there's no obvious thread of season to grasp on my walks to and from home. There are no changes that I can discern in the mostly-evergreen trees in my neighbourhood, and my indoor tropical and desert plants seem to operate independently of the external weather. I'm still enjoying the tail end of summer fruits from the supermarket, but apart from that, there's little sense that anything is cycling through.

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places, but I think what I've been wanting is some kind of sign that the Wheel is turning! Reading Beth's beautiful tales of Imbolc on the Isle of Skye makes me crave meteorological drama, and makes me wish I was more obviously in sync with things, perhaps in a garden, harvesting root vegetables. Instead, when I thought about sitting down to write this blog post, I was stumped. Shouldn't things feel more like they're wrapping up, as we get ready to go into the dark? Instead, life seems busier than ever. 2016 finally seems to be underway, with all kinds of projects gearing up around me. The sleepiness of the Christmas break is well and truly behind us. Everyone around me is throwing themselves into creative work, travel, new jobs. No way do I feel like thinking about storing my grain for winter! 

It occurs to me, though, that part of the reason I haven't felt like stopping to engage with this harvest festival is that I've been busy harvesting! Creative ideas are coming to fruition, hard work that I put in over the past couple of months is beginning to pay off, and I'm busy, busy, busy keeping all these plates spinning! As well as being a time of harvest, Lammas is also a time of sacrifice, and I've been happily sacrificing time and energy for my grand plans and projects. I'm a huge fan of Rob Brezsny's weekly horoscopes, and trusty ol' Capricorn keeps being told that sacrifices are in order, negative habits must be released, if targets are to be met. I hear you Rob, I hear you!

Living in a city with often undifferentiated seasons doesn't mean the Wheel's energies aren't visible. I'm learning to see the changes in my internal weather, and in the social weather around me. The connections aren't always obvious, but I'll keep trying, keep observing as the year goes on, and see what I can learn. 

Even though I'm a little bit late, I couldn't wrap this up without a Lammas-inspired tarot spread. If you're feeling like doing a little late harvesting, too, feel free to give it a try! 

1. FRUITS OF THE FIELDS: What blessing from the recent season is coming to fruition in my life at this time?

2. FUEL FOR THE FIRE: What habit, experience, or mindset needs to be released from my life before I move into dark, quiet period of the year?

3. PICKLES FOR THE WINTER: What lesson do I need to preserve from the recent season for the darker days ahead?

These are my findings, using the Earthbound Oracle -

Funnily enough, these cards do put me in mind of that turn towards the slower season. Turtles and birds nests are my images to take away here! I'll have to spend a little time with these cards and see what other insights they have to share. 

What are your thoughts on the harvest festival? How do you make it feel relevant and meaningful? I'd love to know in the comments! Oh, and don't forget, you can subscribe to Two Sides Tarot and get posts directly into your inbox!


An Almost-Summer Solstice Tarot Reading

by Marianne in ,


Last week I wrote about observing and trying to understand the changing season, the arrival of Summer that we're currently experiencing where I live. It's been an interesting process, because the weather doesn't always do what one expects, and whatever it does do is almost certainly different to what is described in traditional pagan texts that come out of traditions in Western Europe. 

There's no doubt, however, that Summer is here today. Let me ham up my Australianness for you and say it is bloody hot in Sydney right now! I actually wore loose pyjama pants to yoga this morning because the thought of leggings was unbearable! I also just ate my first apricot of the season - yay, stone fruits! So many things are available year round, but apricots, peaches, plums, cherries, and nectarines have somehow avoided having their growing season flattened out by the demands of supermarket chains. It always feels like an extra special Summer treat when they do appear in the shops. 

Since it feels suitably summer-y, and I do have a few moments before needing to dash out for my next appointment of the silly season, it's time for me to post my own reading with the spread I shared last week. Let's get to it, shall we?

Card 1: Context. What part of my life would most benefit from receiving the outwardly directed energy of this season? XX Judgement

Big card, straight out of the gate! It seems that right now, I really ought to be directing this energy into my calling - both my spiritual path, and my vocation as a reader and, in my other working life, as a bookseller. Judgement is always a summons, and this card is asking me to listen, and find out what it is I am being called to do. My divine purpose, if you wish to call it that, is asking for some attention!

Card 2: Action. What steps can I take in order to best put this energy to use in that part of my life? Eight of Pentacles

All this talk of divine purpose is a little abstract, but the Eight of Pentacles brings it right back down to the micro. Put it simply, I need to do the work. I need to keep growing my skills, expanding my tarot work, keeping busy and putting the time in to create something equal to Judgement's grand calling. Interestingly, this is the first of two Eights in this spread, which suggests that this period of the year has the potential to bring some quite transformative energy into my life. Eights are all about getting ready to change and mature into a new phase, so I think what I'm working on could undergo quite a shift!

Card 3: Reflection (remember, this one is optional, so if you're not feeling it, skip over it!). During this time of high energy, what are my opportunities for growth? Four of Swords

The Four of Swords, I think, is a lesson about learning when to work and when to take it easy. Given that it follows right of the back of the busy Eight of Pentacles, I don't think this card is straight up telling me to have a lie down. There's shit to do! However, I could learn a little more about how much rest I really need, and how much work I am capable of. Certainly, taking time out will be part of this season, but I suspect the Four of Swords is not about doing it more so much as doing it more effectively. 

Card 4: Self-Care. How can I regulate and replenish my energy stores during this intense period, so that I can stay happily in the flow of this season? Eight of Swords

I like to think of the Eight of Swords as a bit of a bitchslap from the universe. This card says, "Oh come on! You're not really stuck! Stop sticking your head in the sand, you dingbat, and start seeing yourself for the majestic, liberated creature you are!" I will definitely keep that cosmic smack at the forefront of my mind as Summer wears on - a reminder that I can be resourceful if I choose to be, and I'm not really stuck at all! 

Well, that was interesting indeed! I didn't consciously plan this, but I can't help but notice that I wound up doing this spread under the Sagittarius New Moon. With Saturn's strict and structured energy floating around, it seems no surprise that this spread would be all about work, divine summons, and efficiency!  If you suspected from this reading that there is something bubbling away behind the scenes at Two Sides Tarot, you would be correct. I'm busy, busy, busy, cooking up something interesting for the new year, and I'm really happy to see how aligned this reading is with what I've been working on. Of course, it's all a secret right now, so you'll just have to wait and see! 

How are you channeling this upcoming Solstice energy? I'd love to know! Feel free to try this spread out for yourself, and let me know what you find in the comments!


The 1st of November - A Southern Hemisphere Beltane (or something)

by Marianne in ,


I wrote a little while ago about an idea that had been percolating in my mind, born of a weird dissonant feeling of being psychologically and spiritually out of alignment with the flow of the seasons. In my own spiritual practice, I'm really craving more mindfulness and connection to the natural world, and so I'm learning more about the Wheel of the Year and its attendant festivals and observances. 

 If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you're probably aware that I reside in the Southern Hemisphere - in temperate Sydney, Australia, to be more specific, and that's where I often run into trouble! I get the majority of my media, information, and spiritual community time from the internet, and I shouldn't be surprised to discover that the majority of the citizens of the internet reside in the Northern Hemisphere. When it comes to celebrating the seasons, if you're an Australian on Instagram or Pinterest, things are bound to feel a little upside down! Right now, all my social media feeds are saturated with Samhain altars and ghoulishly awesome Halloween decorations (which, by the way, I am totally in favour of - Australia doesn't really have a tradition of Halloween, and whether we do it at the right time of the year or not, I really wish we could get our creepiness on more often!). If I look up from my computer and out the window, I'd notice that the sun is shining, the days are getting longer, the cicadas are hatching and singing and Summer is definitely in the post. Bit of a disconnect!

So, what to do about this? I don't identify with any particular earth-based tradition (or indeed, any particular tradition - I'd say I'm an eclectic, whim-based spiritual practitioner!), so the more pagan aspects of this are foreign to me. Add that to everything feeling a bit upside down and back to front, and you have me feeling really stumped! I certainly don't feel like I have the knowledge or authority to write a blog series about seasonal observances when I'm hardly familiar with them myself. Thank goodness, then, for the helpful comment of SJ from Witchling in Flight on my previous post, with the suggestion to turn to intuition. Feel your way through it, and see what comes up. Thus, this series is not intended to be instructional or authoritative, so much as a document of my personal experimenting. If you happen to reside on the bottom half of the earth, I hope some of this resonates with you! 

So, I'm beginning where I am, and fumbling my way through. I thought about waiting until the new year, or at least until the Solstice, but why put it off? The 1st of November is practically now! In the Northern parts of the world, this is Samhain, the season of Halloween and All Soul's Day, the thinning of the veil and the coming of the darkness. We knew that already! Down here in the South, though, the 1st of November is Beltane, the festival of fire, fertility, abundance, the midpoint between the Spring Equinox and Midsummer. I had to ask myself, "Ok, what does that actually feel like?" To be perfectly honest, I don't feel any particular, personal resonance with what I've learned about Beltane in my brief research - maybe that's because it is a traditionally Gaelic festival? Although there is Irish and Scottish in my ancestry, it's not something I feel particularly connected to.

But, what is the purpose of this if not nurturing personal connections with the world around me? I don't have to call it Beltane to feel it. So, in the spirit of investigation, I'm writing this post from my front step, feeling the cool breeze meet the warm air, listening to my neighbourhood birds sing and squawk and argue with each other. A small ginger cat just strolled across the gateway, which reminds me - it's kitten season! If that's not the perfect Beltane signifier, I don't know what is! (Fellow Southern Hemispherans, consider donating to your local animal rescue, because they'll be swamped! Here's one I like). I can see blooming bougainvilleas, and the jasmine plant I did my best to kill with winter neglect showing its resilience again. Abundance is definitely in the air!

The most obvious way to mark any seasonal festival is to make an altar which captures symbolic objects, images, ideas, and energies relevant to the time of year (or indeed, to anything you want to focus on). A cursory glance at google images will give you plenty of ideas for a green, leafy Beltane altar. I must admit, I'm not sure if I'm at the altar-making stage with this yet! I do maintain a couple of altar spaces, but in the spirit of being an eclectic-whimsical-spiritual practitioner, they're deliciously ad hoc, and I don't know if I want to mess with them. One way I will mark November 1st, though, is by spending some time in the garden, giving my plants (especially that resilient jasmine!) some love. That seems appropriately symbolic and Southern Hemisphere to me! 

All that said, I am still going to a late night screening of Evil Dead II on October 30th, because it's Halloween somewhere! And YAY, the Jezebel annual scary story thread rides again! Wherever you are in the world, I hope you're enjoying the season! 

How do you feel about all this seasonal observance? Do you mark any seasonal festivals? Are you in the Northern Hemisphere, or the Southern? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!