Wheel of the Year

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

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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Lammas Came and Went

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!

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

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!

Books, Oracles and Spring is Here!

Today, a behind the scenes peek from the pen (ok, the laptop) of Two Sides Tarot. What's been shakin' round these parts? 

Books, as ever - I've just started Mark Nepo's extraordinary Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, and it's knocking my socks off! I go through phases with spiritual literature; sometimes I can't get enough and I love filling myself up with it, and other times I feel bloated on well-meaning advice from all those gurus and I need to take a step back and read something else for a while. After having stuck mostly to novels and memoirs for the past couple of months, I picked up Nepo's book and found myself ripe for his way of thinking. If you're looking for some inspiration or a reminder to engage with the numinous, I recommend it (and as ever, if you can, consider purchasing it from your local independent bookseller)! Other excellent recent reads include Michelle Tea's How to Grow Up and Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped. I do love a good (if harrowing) memoir! Any recommendations welcome!

I've never been much of an oracle card reader - for some reason (Capricorn, hello), I prefer to have the structure of the tarot as a foundation for my readings. I am beginning to open up my cold, hard little heart to one oracle deck in particular though. The Journey of Love oracle deck is a really warm and thoughtful piece of work, with rich and mostly abstract illustrations. I'm not sure yet if this will ever make its way into my client offerings, but I am enjoying incorporating it into my personal practice. It's a good one!

Since returning from my American holiday a couple of weeks ago, I've been having a total incense moment. I've always been a fan of some casual Nag Champa, and after weeks of being afraid of setting off hotel fire alarms, I must've really been craving it because when I unpacked, I realised I bought a WHOLE lot of incense on my travels! My haul included a variety of aromatic magics from House of Intuition in LA, two truly special blends from The Sword and Rose (thank you to everyone who encouraged me to go there, it really is a special corner of the world!), a variety of stick incenses, and that pinon pine brick incense pictured above. Needless to say, I've been burning up a storm since I returned! Life smells good! 

Finally, I'm just enjoying the shifting of the seasons. I missed most of the first month of Spring, since I was away in the US, but now that I'm back I can definitely feel that change in the air. We've had some very warm days, the light is shifting, daylight savings has begun, and the pollen count is off the charts (achooo). Meanwhile, most of my tarot community, online as you are, are getting ready for Halloween, mainlining the pumpkin spice, and embracing the shorter, cooler days. I've been thinking a lot about this lately, about how I would like to incorporate more observance of the Wheel of the Year into my personal practice. It does feel challenging, as a citizen of the Southern Hemisphere, when most of the information and observance on offer on the internet comes from the opposite season to what one is actually experiencing. Even before I was actively witchy, I'd always experience a sort of cognitive dissonance, as the bloggers I read and the tumblrs I followed got me all in the mood for hot chocolates when I was moving into summer, and for lazy summer afternoons by the pool when I should've been drinking hot chocolate under the doona!

So, to that end, I'm considering doing a series of posts for the Southern Hemisphere practitioner, to get those of us down here who are sneezing and shedding our cardigans in the mood, considering that we've just had our Vernal Equinox and we're heading towards Beltane. Can you dance around the maypole in November? I guess you can in Australia! With all of that said, I'm not an expert on the Wheel of the Year, and I don't identify as a Pagan or Wiccan or really with any other earth-based religion. In some ways, I think it's sort of odd to want to adopt these festivals in the Southern Hemisphere, since they grew from the spiritual traditions of Europe. I do think, though, that we owe it to whatever land we live on to pay attention, and observing the turning of the year is the best way I can think of to do that. So, more to come on this! And a shoutout to any other fellow Southern Hemispherans - is this something you also feel a lack of? Is someone already doing this (no doubt better than me!) and I just haven't found their website yet? Is this something you're interested in? Let's talk about it!

That's what's been stewing in my mind. What have you been up to? Got a great book recommendation or favourite incense blend to share? Let me know in the comments! Oh and remember, you can subscribe by email so you never miss a post!