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Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain 2013 was held November 6th through  November 10th at its beautiful new home at Camp La Llanada in Lake Wales, Florida. The organizers of FPG, Temple of Earth Gathering Inc.,  had chosen this location to host Beltaine 2014 but quickly pushed forward with the move due to the government shutdown’s effect on the former location within the Ocala National Forest. Guests and staff of the event were so pleased and grateful for the hard work of the board of directors of Temple of Earth Gathering for making the transition so swift and smooth. One long time guest of The Gathering, the venerable Lady Solar Bear, remarked on how good it felt to be in a place where children came to learn about their heritage.

Not only was the location new to the event, ,so were musical guests Tuatha De. Based out of Tennessee, this amazing family of musicians has been hot on the pagan festival circuit this year. Their music was energetic and moving and we wish them all continued success in the coming years. Also on hand was Mama Gina, whose lovely tunes seemed be heard almost everywhere in the camp, drifting down the vendor’s row and through the tents in the forested area.

Many informative and riveting workshops were scheduled, including headliners Amber K, Azrael Arynn K, Ivo Dominguez, Jr., Stephanie Woodfield, Rev. Kirk S. Thomas, Grey Ghosthawk and Gypsey Teague. I would like to thank the headliners on behalf of all of the guests and staff for taking the time to travel and share with us. It was great to hear their high praise of FPG in return.

Outside of the headliner’s workshops were so many activities it was hard to choose what to do next!  Daily activities were available for little ones at The Kid’s Realm, in a welcoming and spacious playground area. Celtic style games were held during the day and entertainment was available every evening with activities that included a laser sound and light costume ball, a bardic circle and a welcoming meet and greet. Drumming and dancing was hosted every night around a beautiful sacred fire, thanks to the Shiny Happy People Drum Tribe. The mild weather may have also led to nightly ‘shenanigans’ among the many themed camps at the event. The morning included coffee and laughter over the waking up and discovering another camp’s ‘totem’ in a compromising position within your own camp. It was all in good fun and culminated in the ‘arrest’ of the offending pirates and the eventual exchange of goods.

The gathering was host to several beautiful and moving events including a ten year handfasting, a Dia De Los Muertos parade and a main ritual hosted by Hearthfire Coven & Friends, La Danse Macabre. It’s such an amazing feeling to be part of something everyone was participating in and not just simply spectating. The community of Florida Pagan Gathering, whether staff, guest, vendor, musician or headliner should be so proud to have been a part of such a moving and successful event. Thanks to everyone involved.

Florida Pagan Gathering 2014 Beltaine – Back to Our Roots will be held April 30th through May 4th, 2014 at Camp La Llanada in Lake Wales, Florida. For more information, please visit http://www.flapagan.org/.

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On October 7, I attended the 1st Annual Child Hunger Summit in Melbourne, Florida. This interfaith meeting was to benefit a local program called The Children’s Hunger Project. The organization provides backpacks full of ready to eat food that are distributed to needy children at the end of the school day on Fridays, to ensure they don’t go hungry on the weekends. The idea to hold an interfaith summit of local religious congregations was the idea of Bob Barnes, the executive director of The Hunger Project. The mission was to bring an awareness to Brevard County’s faith-based communities of the significant hunger and malnutrition issues local children are facing and to demonstrate how each congregation could help generate the change necessary to help local hungry kids.

I received an open invitation for Pagan clergy to be involved from Kasha, outgoing First Officer of Everglades Moon Local Council and incoming National Board member for Covenant of the Goddess. Kasha felt it was important for a good Pagan clergy turnout for an interfaith summit of such an important issue. I attended as a representative of Church of Iron Oak, ATC and also in attendance was Jacquelyne En Aset, with Everglades Local Moon Council and Amber Moon, President of Central Florida Pagan Association and co-founder of Moon Path Pagans.

The summit brought together an impressive group of speakers to address the devastating effects that hunger has on the development of children. Undernourished children have problems such as fatigue, disinterest in learning and increased illness that sometimes keeps them out of school. School attendance is often the only chance many children have of getting a balanced, nourishing meal. It is often evident, as noted by the elementary school principals who spoke at the summit, that the Monday morning line for free breakfast was the longest and busiest of the week.

1,000 students are now being helped through the weekends thanks to the school backpack program but the waiting lists are long and not every school in the county is being served. The faith-based organizations will now have the opportunity to adopt a school financially, or pool resources for activities such as separating, packing and delivering the donated foods to area schools. Rob Rains, President of United Way of Brevard commented in his speech that often the difference between community based and faith-based relief projects is that faith-based initiatives are often started by a few volunteers and not always taken up when those individuals quit or move on. “It was good to discuss how local Pagan organizations can collaborate,” said Kasha.

The success of this program was evident from the passionate speeches given by the volunteers of this project. An example given is how excited the children are to be in what they call ‘The Backpack Club’ and is not seen by any as a stigma.  “I liked the motto…see a hungry child, buy food, feed the kid!” said Amber Moon.  “They said they were not there to fix the problem of why they are hungry…they just focus on feeding. Too many groups are trying to fix the why and kids stay hungry.”

For more information on how you can help The Children’s Hunger project, please visit http://www.thechildrenshungerproject.org/. Please also visit http://www.treasurecoastfoodbank.org/programs.html. For more information on pagan congregations on the East Coast of Florida please email scribe@ironoak.org

– See more at: http://florida.pagannewswirecollective.com/2013/11/11/2363/#sthash.WEr3jahQ.dpuf

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Donations packed for delivery. Photo: The Children’s Hunger Project.

Welcome to November! November’s full moon is known as the Snow Moon and will occur on the 17th. November’s full moon is also sometimes called the Quickening Moon, which feels a little appropriate here in Florida, where some of us are now planting vegetable gardens to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. We will be entering November with a Mercury retrograde that lasts until the 11th, so take advantage of the classic themes of a Mercury retrograde and ‘re’ do things. Renew friendships and family ties with holiday activities. Plant and replant a garden. Trees do go into dormancy at this time, so it’s a great time to root prune and prepare to move them in the spring. Don’t forget to take some time to reflect and decide what you could prune now in your own life and move to a new place in the future.

While traditionally we are getting ready to wind down the calendar year, November also sees new beginnings for many. On November 3rd, people of the Hindu faith will be celebrating Diwali and welcoming the new year with a festival of lights, fireworks and family feasting. For many Neo-Pagans, the new year was observed on October 31, when the Wheel of the Year has turned to the observance of Samhain. On this full moon, you will be able to view the Pleiades star cluster at it’s best. In ancient times, the observance of the Pleiades marked the beginnings and ends of agricultural cycles all over the world. Again, while our harvest may be long from over here in Florida, look to nature for it’s gifts. The oak trees will now be dropping acorns. Acorns can be a food source if properly processed. The oak also provides many other things, shade for us and homes for wildlife. Oak’s bark and twigs are medicinal and anti-microbial.

Enjoy November’s gift’s and Blessed Be!

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Thanks to Andrea de Michaelis for publishing this in the November 2013 edition of Horizons Magazine.

Solstice 2013

When I was a child, Summer Solstice was just a date on the calendar. As I grew older, I’d stare wistfully at the calendar, imagining on that day somewhere, maybe in Europe, people were gathering to celebrate the way they did hundreds of years ago. How they were celebrating, I couldn’t imagine then. Perhaps just joyfully greeting the Sun as it arose to own the sky as long as it could on what was called the longest day of the year.

Now I am privileged to know more about how Solstice was and is still celebrated around the world, as well as writing and hosting my own ritual to honor the Sun. In Wiccan and Neopagan traditions, this time of year is called Litha. Litha is the time of year when the sun is its brightest and fullest. This years Summer Solstice occurs on June 21, 2013 at 1:04 AM  in our part of Florida. Although it won’t feel that way here, the Sun’s light will begin to wane slowly, day by day. We will be coming together not just to celebrate the brightness of the Sun, but all of the bright things in our life. We’re grateful that the Sun continues to protect and warm us no matter the time of year. James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” offers a 16th century reference that tells us fires were lit on ‘Midsummer’s Day’ in all parts of Europe. A quick internet search on ‘European Midsummer Travel’ will offer you destinations and descriptions on traditional Midsummer celebrations being held this year.

A great way to celebrate the Summer Solstice in Florida is to venture out and discover the landscape around you. Wild grapes will be ready by summer’s end. I’m sure you’ve seen the vines growing regardless if you live in a country or urban setting. Nothing smells like sunshine more than simmering a pot of these grapes in your kitchen and making a quick and easy jelly from them. Most commercial pectin packages available at the grocery store contain easy to follow instructions. I encourage you to give it a try. A jar of homemade jelly from wild grapes is always an eagerly accepted gift.

I wish every one a happy, healthy and safe Summer 2013. Brightest Blessings!

 

Wicca 101 Outer Court classes are held 2 Thursday evenings a month at Church of Iron Oak, located in Brevard county Florida. For more information on classes and other events please call 321-722-0291 or email hps@ironoak.org. Your confidentiality is assured.

I again had the privilege of attending the Florida Pagan Gathering in the Ocala National forest this year, May 1st to May 5th,  to celebrate Beltaine. Before I tell you about the wonderful headliners, workshop presenters and other awesome events, I’d like to tell you a little bit about FPG from two angles. I have attended in the past both as a guest and a staff member.  As a guest for the first time, it’s impressive to visit around the camp grounds and see the many divisions of the event running so smoothly. Everyone of these divisions has helpful knowledgeable staff members that greet you and ask you if there is anything you need. I’m proud to now be part of this staff. FPG staff averages about 125, with guest attendance ranging from 500 to 800 since making it’s home at 4H Camp Ocala in 2006. Most impressive on  my first visit was the presentation of the Guardians at the opening ritual. FPG Guardians are truly unique among the  major Pagan gatherings in America. This volunteer team is made up of paramedics, firefighters and educators who are dedicated to the Warrior Path. Your health, safety and peace of mind are in safe hands while you enjoy your time at FPG.

Now on to that enjoyment! Event headliners included Ellen Dugan, Tess Whitehurst, Dr. Todd Berntson, Gavin and Yvonne Frost, Grey Ghosthawk and Raven Kaldera. Belladonna Leveau, Archpriestess of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, also visited this year.  Three musical events were on hand for enjoyment including Spiral Rhythm, Treblehawk and Murphey’s Midnight Rounders. Vendor’s Row, nestled under the lovely oaks, stocked with amazing crafts and wares kept everyone coming back day after day. 36 workshop presenters kept everyone busy from Wednesday afternoon to Saturday afternoon ending, with the placing of the Maypole and a demonstration of Haka, a powerful and traditional Maori dance with chant by Father Sky Lodge and Sisterhood of the Shield. The beautiful main Beltaine ritual, “Divine Attraction”, was presented Saturday evening by Coven Lia Fail. Everyone is grateful and appreciative for their hard work.

Despite the rain and wind, the fire and the drumming were up and going every night. Headliner Dr. Todd Berntson told me we had “the best drummers he’s heard at any event yet.” But yeah, we already knew that. Our thanks to the Shiny Happy People Drum Tribe and the fire tenders for making this essential part of the festival so memorable.

Florida Pagan Gathering was organized in 1995 by Church of the Iron Oak, ATC. In 2000 Temple of the Earth Gathering, ATC was formed to manage FPG. We are very grateful to the board of directors for their continuous hard work. FPG Samhain will be held on November 6-10. For more information, please visit http://www.flapagan.org. I can’t wait to see you there!

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My thanks to Pagan Newswire Collective Florida for publishing the article.

http://florida.pagannewswirecollective.com/2013/05/09/reflections-on-florida-pagan-gathering-beltaine-2013/

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On today’s episode of BackYard Witch we have pluchea Foetida – Stinking Camphor Weed! Yes folks, it stinks.

Bees and butterflies love it. Herbal lore says cramps and stomach issues could be cures with a tea of camphor weed. ew.

It can also be used on a wound to reduce swelling. After it blossoms, it seed similar to a thistle, and the fluff is milder smelling. I thought I’d burn it on some charcoal to see how the aroma changed. It didn’t. The End.

The Florida Herbal Conference 2013 was held at YMCA Camp Winona in DeLeon Springs. The beautiful lakeside camp was the perfect setting, under majestic oaks along Lake Winona.  I was so excited to be invited to attend as part of a work exchange program. The conference website advertised workshops about one of my favorite things, Florida native medicinal and edible plants. More than 40 classes and workshops were offered this year and  were divided into themes that included Growing and Creating, Meet the Plants, Clinical Practice and Herbal Traditions. Keynote speakers Matthew Wood and Phyllis Light offered intensive classes entitled The Enduring Value of Traditional Herbal Medicine in America Today and Where Tradition and Science Meet. Additional activities included the inspiring vocal resonance of The Beautiful Chorus and sacred drumming at the camp fire circle.  Vendors were on hand to offer not only their quality wares, but to share even more knowledge. Many attendees took advantage of the spacious camp to pitch a tent a enjoy the experience of camping, cooking dinner outside or joining up for nourishing meals served by 3 Suns Bistro.  I was privileged to make new friends and connections and was pleased to see that many people traveled from out of state to attend.  Event organizer Emily Ruff, director of the Florida School of Holistic Living, along with her knowledgeable staff organized an unforgettable event and I’m looking forward to next year. As Emily likes to say, if anything can go right, it will! For more information visit http://www.holisticlivingschool.org. The 2014 conference will be held  February 28 – March 2, 2014. Hope to see you there.

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Photo credit: Caitlin Battersby.

Yule

Oh my, I found this unpublished post, just as The Wheel turns again!

 2012 Winter Solstice will occur on Friday, December 12 at 6:12am EST, just one hour before sunrise. What a great time for us to welcome the return of longer daylight, just as the sun rises. It actually took me more time than usual to find this information, as I had to comb through links about the Mayan calendar coming to an end. I think they just ran out of stone. Much like the Millenium terror, we will all wake up the next and look at each other and chuckle, or maybe roll our eyes. The coming of lighter days after the winter solstice will bring on a more festive mood.

My favorite solstice tradition is to gather evergreen on this day and craft a wreath. I hang it on the door to welcome friends and family as they stop by to share food and good cheer.

The Evergreen does not die or turn brown in the winter, so it symbolizes everlasting life, like the return of the sun. A great way to represent this is to craft a wreath, it’s wheel shape represents the wheel turning once again. I have two very old evergreens growing in my yard that were purchased as live Christmas trees and planted afterwards. I trim off small pieces from the bottom and craft a wreath. Anyone selling Christmas trees also will sell or give away the fallen or trimmed branches. A wire clothes hanger makes a great frame, bent into a hoop. It comes with the bonus of the hook. Attach the greenery in a continuing circular pattern with green florist wire. This is a great active meditation, with the smell of the pine and the act of starting a circle and ending it. Welcome loved ones to add a decorative touch of their own and you will have symbol of love, friendship and community. At the end the of the season of festivity, I return it to the woods, to continue the circle of dying and rebirth.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and safe holiday season. Blessed Be!

Thanks to Andrea de Michaelis for publishing this in the December 2012 issue of Horizons magazine.

Water

The ocean, in a lonely place you meet the sky, infinite blue, with no end or beginning. Water seeps to the deepest places in the Earth, meeting the fire of the core. Water meets the air, rising in steam to greet the Sun. You rise to the shores to praise the Moon. Freezing, boiling, thundering across the land, your forms are endless. A single drop of water can be teaming with life. You are a world so close yet set so far apart from the realms of man. Your creatures are as fantastic and amazing as our imagination can hold, many live and become extinct, unseen by human eyes. Don’t they then join with the undines?

Feelings come in waves, like water. Water is patient, you can polish a stone in time. You yield and bend but never break. Water is deeper than the sky is high, as deep as the emotion we carry for our loved ones.  I can not breathe in your realm, but I can nourish my body with you, glide in your caress, or be carried by you, in that liminal place where our worlds meet. I love and wonder at your mysteries.

Blessed Be.

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