Dark moon rituals or agloaming we will go

July 22, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Posted in spiritual rantings | Leave a comment
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From sunset to nightfall and from daybreak until dawn, the rhythm of the earth diminishes, yielding to the primordial cycles of darkness and light. This is the gloaming, when twilight hovers between the boundaries of day and night. It is an eerie, shadowy time of transformation and release. It is a quiet time to commune with natural forces in an atmosphere of mystery and enchantment. Some call it Witch light, because there is magic in the gloaming and otherworldly creatures are adrift.

The ancient Celts, like most early cultures, possessed a deep reverence for nature. They viewed the natural world as being alive with gods and goddesses, conscious spirits, ancestral ghosts, familiars, phantoms, fairies, and demons that haunted the twilight. They believed that the gloaming was a sacred time when the meeting of opposites (day and night) temporarily suspended the laws of nature, allowing the veil between the human world and the supernatural realms to dissolve into the mist, briefly mingling the boundaries of time and space for both humans and elementals.

In the half-light of the gloaming, supernatural beings had the ability to shapeshift and pass from their own consciousness and reality into that of the human realm. Often, they would appear as crepuscular creatures, who are active only at dusk and dawn–meaning bats, cats, owls, badgers, skunks, and coyotes to name but a few. In their animal forms, these spirits sometimes became familiars and guides for those who sought them out and knew how to open themselves to such encounters.

The Druids dedicated much of their training to this art. Those who were adept at uniting their spirits with the forces of nature and communing with the ghosts of their ancestors were said to have the ability to permeate any of the elemental realms (in the esoteric sense) to make allies of the spirits and deities who dwelt there. In so doing, they were able to learn secrets–such as he best time to plant crops, when to hunt, when to make war, how to make medicines, and how to heal. This type of magic was as important in the daily lives of their people as it was during times of festivals and celebrations, not merely for their spiritual well-being, but because their very existence depended upon it.

Perhaps no less vital was the fact that, for our ancestors, the atmosphere of gloaming fired the imagination. Traditionally, it became a time of storytelling and passing on the legends of gods and goddesses, great heroes, cultural history, and tall tales. Even yarns of swords and sorcerers, highwaymen, smugglers, poachers, pirates, ill-fated lovers, great warriors, and restless ghosts enriched daily life, helped folks to cope with societal constraints, and gave the ordinary individuals something to aspire to.

As twilight fell, the workday was done and clans gathered around the hearth or campfire. The stories they shared transported them outside the limits of their own fears and troubles to a higher plane–one wherein creative visualization, spiritual growth, and enlightenment were among the possibilities.

Fortunately, for most of us in the modern world, our physical survival is not so difficult. We still have problems to overcome and stresses to cope with, however, and, because of our everyday work lives, our spiritual needs are often overlooked. We feel there just isn’t enough time anymore. There is magic in the gloaming and we don’t even have to make a great effort to experience it.

Even the colors of twilight can influence mood–deep indigo, gold, purple, violet, gray, silver, and black all vibrate with energy and symbolism as the first and brightest stars appear in the darkening sky. The cycle of death and rebirth is played out daily as the energy of the Sun is relinquished to the serenity of the Moon in the in-between time of shadows.

In the gloaming, we fall under the spell of Mercury and Venus shining brilliantly above the horizon. Mercury is akin to quicksilver, magic, and illusion, while Venus, known both as the morning star and the evening star, and is associated with love and feminine mystery. To add to the enchantment, the air is rich with the sweet fragrance of noctiflora–the moonflower, four o’clock, Jasmine, and certain water lilies. Fireflies glimmer and night birds glide silently between the imposing silhouettes of trees. Gentle breezes caress the face, and crickets chirp.

Twice each day, the gloaming gifts us with a time of almost limitless possibility if only we have the will to open our hearts to them. It is a perfect time for lover’s trysts, storytelling, and other voyages of the imagination. It is a time for fairies and familiars, prayer, meditation, self-discovery, centering oneself or adding greater spiritual meaning to one’s life through bonding with nature. It is a time when even pausing briefly to gaze out a window can allow the magic to be felt.

Of course the best place to experience the magic of the gloaming is out of doors in a natural setting. Probably the most propitious locations for twilight magic are those that are places where opposites meet–such as a sandy beach, the mouth of a cave, the edge of a cliff, a clearing in a grove, and so on. The Druids believed that the best place to commune with one’s ancestors in the twilight was a cairn or other burial place, but you needn’t go to such places in the physical sense. Visualization is often enough.

If you aren’t one to venture into the great outdoors, perhaps you have space to create a small twilight garden in your yard, on a rooftop, or on a porch or patio. There are many plants that bloom at dusk, such as flowering tobacco, sweet rocket, evening primrose, dames violet, and scented geraniums. There are so many plants to choose from for your twilight garden that you can vary them by color, size, scent, their symbolic meanings, or whatever other trait you desire.

All these plants attract the creatures that dwell in the twilight as well. You may want to keep a notebook on the animals, insects, and birds that visit your garden in the gloaming. Try to find out their symbolic meanings as well, and see if their presence was a harbinger for something that has happened in your life. Make note of how the visitors change with the seasons. Try to perceive them as our ancestors did.

Perhaps you don’t have the space for a garden or, for some reason, you can’t be outdoors safely or don’t wish to be outdoors at all. In that case, moonflowers can be grown in a container and placed next to a window and even allowed to twine around the casement. Each captivating, silvery blossom that opens at dusk can grow up to eight inches in width and will perfume the air. From your window, you can still record all that you see and experience in the gloaming.

Remember that the gloaming can be a gateway to other realms. Since all magic depends on the spirits and deities of nature that dwell within those realms, it is wise to stay on friendly terms with them.

When you think you have been treading on supernatural turf, it is a good idea to leave an offering behind–a bit of bread or milk will do. When you are outdoors in the twilight hours, try to disturb as little as possible. Speak softly in the gloaming. Watch and listen. Slow down. Be still. Close your eyes and breathe.

There, now, was that an owl hooting a message from the Otherworld?
Nuala Drago

There are some who find comfort in the shadows,
Who strive to comprehend the mysteries,
Who find solace in the silence of a winter night,
Who sing softly to the crone.

We are the Dark Pagans, children of the Dark Mother.

So often darkness is associated with evil. Since the term evil has no place in a nature-based religion, we Pagans are forced to look beyond such stereotypes.

Evil is a human term. It begins and ends with us. A tornado is not evil, yet it is destructive. Fire can be used to benefit life or destroy it. Nature is neither good nor evil. It simply is. It follows no moral code. Only humans, with our complicated set of emotions and intellect, can justify such categorizations.

Death, destruction, chaos these are essential driving forces within nature. Life feeds on life; destruction precedes creation. These are the only true laws, and they are not open to interpretation.

When Pagans anthropomorphize nature into something good and loving, they deny its very all-encompassing nature. When the dark deities are shunned in fear of the unknown, we deny ourselves full understanding of all deities and what they have to offer.

It is our nature to fear the unknown. We cling to archetypal forms representing the aspects of some great unknowable, encompassing force, which we cannot comprehend. We call them our deities. This is not wrong; it is in fact, necessary since we cannot grasp the “divine” or cosmic source otherwise.

Some religions choose to see this source as one omnipotent being. However, accepting the existence of an all-good and just being dictates that there must then exist a counterpart that encompasses evil.

Since nature-based religions view the concept of deity in a more polytheistic and pantheistic way, the separations of creative/destructive forces are not as well defined. The deities take on aspects of nature or human ideals. Instead of one omnipotent being, we have deities of love, war, beauty, the sun, the moon, the sea Each deity inherently contains both the creative and destructive forces.

It is through the many aspects of the Goddess and God that we come to learn more about the universe and ourselves. To shun those aspects we fear inhibits our growth. It is the goal of Dark Pagans to encourage those who hide behind the positive aspects of our deities to embrace their fears and learn.

As a life-affirming spirituality, Paganism often focuses on the positive, creative and nurturing forces in nature. It is easy to loose touch with the darker aspects. Life begets death and death begets life. Chaos is the fuel of creation. Something must always be destroyed for something to be created.

Those who shun the darker aspects of nature and us tend to fall into what I have heard called “Lightside Paganism” – Pagans who think life is all happiness and joy and that once attuned to the rhythms of nature, life becomes such wonderful dreams. Many subscribers to the “New Age” movement have this shallow outlook. To them, nature is good and just and ordered.

This simply is not the case. Take these dull-eyed individuals and place them in the wilderness with nothing but their crystals and they will be some animal’s dinner before the end of the week. Nature is harsh. It is unforgiving. The weak die or are killed by the strong. Life feeds on life. Even the strictest vegan is a plant killer. Humans, with their technological and medical breakthroughs have “improved the quality life” by distancing themselves from the harshness of nature.

However, despite this harsh side of nature, it is not evil. It also has its share of beauty. The point is, nature encompasses both the creative and destructive forces. Ignoring the negative aspects results in an incomplete view of nature.

It is the goal of dark Paganism to remind us that there is a darker side to all things and that this darker side is not necessarily harmful and negative. There is beauty in darkness for those who dare enter the shadows to embrace it.

Many aspects of the darkness are not as harsh as death and chaos. There is reflection, reverence, change, divination, introspection, trance, autumn, winter, maturity, wisdom, the distant cry of a crow in a forest, a single candle glowing in the night, the cool embrace of the autumn wind. These are all aspects; these are its gifts. Perhaps it is through the beauty of a sunset and sunrise and the colors of fall and spring that we are reminded of the cycles of birth-death-rebirth and of the importance – the necessity – of each phase.

It is important to remember that focusing only on the darker side is just as dangerous as focusing on the lighter side. Balance is important, and even though some may relate to one aspect more than the other, we must always remain open to the other aspects. John Cunningham

Indeed the word “dark”, like “witch” has long been used in association with the concept of evil in modern Western Society. As Pagans we know that a witch is not necessarily evil. We have worked hard to reclaim the word “witch”, if only so that we can personally break free of our own social conditioning that a witch is synonymous with “evil”. In seeking to reclaim the word “witch” we have often distanced ourselves from other such loaded words that carry the public’s projection of evil. The easiest way to accomplish this distancing was to focus on imagery associated with goodness, such as “light”.

However, there is an inherent problem with this. How pagans see the duality of light/dark is not the same as is traditional in modern Western society, which has been heavily influenced by Christian thought over the last several centuries. The Western worldview is based on dualism where duality is broken down into two very separate and distinct irreducible parts. These parts are independent of each other and can be either complimentary or in conflict. In the case of traditional Western thought, the symbolism of light and dark is deeply rooted in the Christian ethical dualism symbolized as the battle of good (light) vs. evil (dark). Paganism on the other hand has adopted a worldview based on monism, where duality is more often perceived as aspects of an encompassing whole. Dualities such as light/dark thus exist as polarities – two opposite yet complementing aspects of a whole. The yin-yang, which shows each “side” as part of a greater whole, each containing an aspect of its opposite within it, is a familiar symbol of polarity.

This polarity of light/dark in Pagan thought is no longer the same as the dualism of good/evil, but rather associated with such complimenting principles as creative/destructive, external/internal, attracting/repelling, clarity/mystery, active/passive, solid/flowing, static/dynamic, masculine/feminine, and order/chaos, to name a few. The moralistic connotations that were opposed upon the light/dark dualism by traditional Western thought simply do not apply under the monistic approach. (Don’t confuse “monism” and “monistic” with “monotheism”, that is another issue completely.)

Being raised in a society based on dualism we have a natural habit to want to break things down into components, even when we have chosen to take on a spirituality based on monism. Thus, as we Pagans (often coming from a Judeo-Christian background) began to use the dualistic imagery of light (good) from Western thought in association with the word “witch” to reclaim it from the negative association of darkness (evil) we unconsciously altered the polarity of light/dark in Pagan thought to fit this imagery. Duality in a monism is not the same as duality in a dualism.

Additionally, as Paganism became more mainstream in the 1980’s and 90’s, less attention was a given to formal study and practice, and sadly many authors over emphasized the concept of “insta-witchcraft” as 101-style books flooded the market. Covens and even traditions were formed by novices and yet attempted to take on students. This had (and is still having) drastic results when mixed with New Age influences that strip away the cultural context of various beliefs and negative associations, to provide a more palatable, trendy form, which is geared for the masses. Paganism has become overrun with beginners lacking direction and clarity. Although I am a strong proponent for the validity of solitary practice, the sudden shift in majority from coven-centric to solitary practice has not come without a cost.

Normally, when one begins to study and practice a Pagan religion, there is a shift in his or her worldview of dualism in spirituality to monism. This shift is an internal process – an initiation – and happens to both the solitary and coven member alike. The external self-dedication or initiation ritual uses imagery to help catalyze this internal initiation; alone such rituals are but empty forms and useless. One of the reasons coven novitiates must wait a year and a day before a formal initiation is to allow the novitiate time to experience the mysteries of the Craft; a personal understanding of Pagan symbolism in the proper context. Of course this same process can happen to a dedicated solitary with discipline and motivation. A shift in worldview can only occur through practice and experience. One must work under the principles of the new worldview before it “clicks” and becomes a part of us, and this takes time and effort, two things many unguided novices (or unqualified teachers) fail to see.

This is much akin to culture shock. When we cannot relate to a foreign culture, its practices that do not compliment our own culture may seem strange or even barbaric. If, however, we were to live within the context of that culture we would eventually start to see those practices within the proper context and perhaps appreciate (or at least better understand) the local practices that we once scoffed at. What has been happening in the Pagan community more and more is an influx of people taking its symbolism and mysteries out of the context of monism and translating them to fit their own context based in dualism. Light and dark become opposed and polarities are thrown out of balance as anything associated with darkness is disowned. Popular Pagan religions such as Wicca become “fluffy” loosing their depth. Such Pagans are not receptive to challenges to their comfortable niche in their spirituality. Here they find release from the overburdening aspects of their former Judeo-Christian religions while finding the security and encouragement of the more flexible Pagan paths. The flexibility can be taken to the extreme of assuming that anything we no not like can simply be discarded without concern.

Unless this imbalance is corrected, the true mysteries that Paganism offers are lost. Pagan traditions are becoming empty shells of what they once were and the sense of community is becoming shattered by “witch wars” and silly politics. Before we can salvage our beliefs we must first reclaim “darkness” and encourage this reclamation from within. The road ahead will not be an easy one, but with effort those serious about the Craft can slowly pull itself out of the pit of ignorance and again embrace the true teachings and mysteries that Paganism offers.

To end on a positive note, I have noticed many new books beginning to emphasize practice and steer away from the cookie cutter books that follow the same template of generic information with filler spells, rituals, and catchy graphics. Many new books since the end of the 1990’s have begun to concentrate on the principles and meaning behind the practice and to rely on sound research and personal experience. Sadly there will always be unscrupulous authors and publishers who will continue be motivated by profit alone, but it is comforting to know that some established authors have begun to appreciate their responsibility and not underestimate their influence – for better or worse – on the Craft.
John Coughlin,

While society often associates dark with evil, dark is really only the shadow side of the light. Together, the two sides bring balance and are part of the cycle of life. While light favors order and dark favors chaos, this latter energy is vitally important to prevent stagnation and death in the former. Without it, life would cease. The dark is where innovative creativity thrives, and when you are in balance with light and shadow, you are in union with the divine and the universe as a whole. You must be prepared to work with these tremendous energies without fear.

Circle casting for dark power rituals, spells, and meditations requires focusing on the dark aspects of the divine. If you are afraid of the dark energies, you will have to first find the source of your fears and confront them before attempting to work with the shadow aspects of the divine: the Crone goddess of wisdom, death, passage, and transformation; and the Hunter god of death, passage, and resurrection who initiates these aspects through the Goddess. There are several meditations suggested for personal alignment with the dark power in the book Green Witchcraft 11: Balancing Light and Shadow.

In tapping into the tremendous energies of the dark powers, you need to keep in mind a shadow-oriented correspondence. Your altar should be placed so you face the north or the west depending upon the ritual. With the Crone, Dark Moon, or lunar eclipse rituals, the north is used, but with the Hunter, solar eclipse or Sidhe Moon (second Dark Moon in a solar month) the west is used. North is usually preferred in spellwork to signify the realm of the Crone, winter, and ancient wisdom. It is also the realm of earth and immortality, for we pass through the earth to live again. Many of the traditional Witches’ goddesses are representative of this realm: Hecate, Artemis, Minerva, Denedida, Annis, Cerridwen, Danu, and Kali are all dark goddesses, yet they symbolize knowledge and wisdom in the occult arts. The Hag of Winter is more than the one who calls for the dying. She is the one who offers passage to rest, spiritual renewal, and new life. The emblem of the Dark Lady as the tomb of rebirth is the Dark Moon, the fourth face of the goddess represented in the reverse of the Full Moon seen in the usual triple goddess symbol.

Set two candles on the altar to represent the Lady and the Lord (left and right) and one to represent both at the center. The center one is used to conduct the ritual candle lightings. Your candle colors will normally be in somber tones of black, dark gray, deep purple, or dark blue. Dark browns or burgundy reds may be used in earth-focused and Underworld rituals. White candles encourage balance, cleansing, or purification. The incense should be rich and earthy, not too floral or sweet. Mullein, myrrh, frankincense, lilac, and dragon’s blood are good choices. You should have a cup with a dark beverage such as blackberry wine or grape juice, and a dark bread, cake, or fruitcake for your simple feast after the ritual and before opening the circle. Light the altar candles and incense, and you are ready to begin the circle.

The starting point for the circle is at the north or the west, according to the work or ritual being conducted, and the casting comes in stages. First announce your intent to cast the circle and sweep the site deosil (clockwise). With the center altar candle, and using dark power imagery in your envisionings, you move widdershins (counterclockwise) to invoke the shadow light at each of the quarters–north, south, east, and west. You may light a candle at each realm, or use markers such as stones or crystals and simply raise up the altar candle at each point during your invocation. The light called on from within the realm of earth (north) may be phosphorus or magma (melted rock) from the molten center of the planet. The light within water (west) may be the evening glow of mineral hot springs or the bioluminescence found in creatures from the depth of the sea. The light within fire (south) may be the inner blue-white of flame sometimes spotted in the dark woods or marshes and called a fairy light, or you could use the fiery magma. The light within air (east) may be the shimmering aurora borealis or evening clouds lit with lightning.

The next stage is the drawing of the circle with your athame (ritual knife) or wand, although you can use your non-favored hand (enhancing chaos energy) and say:
“In the presence of the Dark Lady and the Dark Lord to be a place where they may manifest and bless their child, (craft or working name).”

Pace the perimeter of your sacred space widdershins again as you define the circle, envisioning the power as rising up from the earth, through you, and out of the tool or hand being used. Return to the altar and sanctify the ritual salt (sea salt is excellent and can be found in small canisters in the grocery store), envisioning it as a preservative. With the salt, consecrate the water (“natural” water rather than “treated” water is best). Your blessings will be in the names of the dark power deities you are addressing, or the archetypal terms of Crone and Hunter, Lady and Lord of Shadows, and so on.

The circle will be first sprinkled with the holy water, then censed, moving widdershins both times. The water that is sprinkled around the perimeter symbolizes cleansing and will consecrate the circle as your sacred space or temple. You may want to envision this as the ritual cleansing of the dead before burial or cremation. The incense smoke that is wafted around the circle symbolizes purification, and your envisionment may be of the liberating fire and smoke of ritual burials and cremations. Set the incense at the south of the circle, the realm of the god who rules the Underworld from Lughnassadh, in August, until Imbolc, in February, and heralds the end of the dark seasons of the wheel of the year. He could be such gods as Lugh, Cernunnos, Hades, or Oberon, and his emblem is the eclipsed Sun.

Consecrate yourself to the Dark Lord and Dark Lady by anointing your forehead with oil, making the design of the pentagram or solar cross overlaid with the lunar spiral. Now you are ready to call the quarters. Progress widdershins around the circle to invoke the Elementals at their quarters, beginning north or west depending on the ritual, and returning to the starting point. Using north as the example, take the center candle around the circle and greet the Elementals at each quarter, envisioning them by their shadow aspects in relation to the type of ritual being performed. For north-oriented rituals you might see a wolf for earth, a sea serpent for water, a phoenix for fire, and an owl for air. For west-oriented rituals, you might see a selkie (mermaid) for water, a will-o’-the-wisp for fire, a sylph for air, and a cobalt for earth. These are only suggestions, and you should use the images that come to you. When all are greeted, set the candle at the north to be the lamp that lights the path to wisdom, the light that shines in the land of shadows. If beginning at the west, the candle is a beacon to the land beyond–to Otherworld.

With your wand draw over the altar the symbol for infinity (a sideways 8 showing that you are working between the worlds. Then holding the athame in both hands over your head, greet the elementals, call on and welcome the Lady and the Lord. The libations of greeting follow by pouring a little of the dark beverage into your cauldron or libation bowl, and outlining your intentions. Use the shadow imagery throughout your ritual, so that even with cakes and wine you see the meal as the food of the dead–of the Underworld–and sustenance for the spirit. Here, the libation comes after you have eaten rather than before (so be sure to save some) to signify the final passage from life into death.

Hold up the cauldron and say:
“The remains of life are passed into the Cauldron of the Crone, for this is the promise: that into death all life must pass to move into life anew. Life comes out of death, and I honor the Lady and Lord who bring light and life through darkness and death. The dance is ever moving and never ending. So mote it be.”

Clear the circle, then traverse it widdershins, blessing and farewelling the Elementals at each quarter and snuff the candles. Open the circle deosil with your athame, returning the energy into yourself, and grounding through your palms on the floor. Ann Moura 2000

Lunar Crone
In ancient times, the moon was revered as a goddess, and each of her lunar phases – new moon, full moon, and dark moon – was said to correspond to the three phases of a woman’s life: maiden, mother, and crone. The moon has long been associated with our power within, and you do not have to be a woman to connect with the moon’s power. The dark moon, which is associated with the crone phase, appears in the sky during the last three days of every lunar cycle. It cannot be seen with the human eye, but it is the dark moon that presides over the sky until a new 28-day cycle begins and a new moon is ready to appear. Often referred to as the “dead moon,” the dark moon doesn’t necessarily represent death. It is, however, a time for life-enriching endings and a prelude to new beginnings.

When the dark moon appears, it becomes easier for us to shed unnecessary emotional baggage and free ourselves of people and ideas that no longer serve us or add value to our life. It is a time to cleanse ourselves and create space so that what is new can enter. For many people, the dark moon is a time to rest, be introspective, and replenish their energy. Powerful, healing dreams have been known to take place during the dark moon, and you may discover that it is during the dark moon that you are most driven to meditate, explore your intuitive abilities, retrieve past life memories, or delve more deeply into your psyche.

One way to harness the energy of the dark moon is to perform a ritual where you light a black candle. Call forth and visualize the different parts of your life that you are ready to let go of. Through visualization, bind these parts together with light and imagine this bundle moving toward the candle. Watch these old parts being devoured by the flames, and let the candle burn out. Trust that what you’ve released has left you. You are now ready to welcome the new into your life.

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