Monday, December 19, 2011

The Year in Review

As the year winds down, many of us take time to evaluate our wins & losses in the previous twelve months.  Planning and goal setting are two ongoing challenges we all struggle with.

Try a little exercise with me to reveal how effective your planning and execution was this year, in preparation for the year to come.  Hopefully, this will help us all make the best possible choices for 2012.

Answer the following questions for yourself:

1.  What are the successes I are most proud of?
2.  What have I done to celebrate these successes?
3.  Who were the people I surrounded myself with & how have they added value to my life?
4.  Who did I meet this year that has positively impacted me in some way?
5.  What goals that are important to me did I not reach & why?
6.  Using the development opportunities available to me, how have I applied what I learned?
7.  What books & articles did I read and what did I do with that information?
8.  Who did I take the time to develop/coach and how have they benefitted from my help?
9.  What actions have I taken to better my life in some way?
10.  What strengths do I possess that I can use at a higher level next year?
11.  What do I hope to accomplish in the next twelve months?
12.  What obstacles must I work through so that I can reach my goals in 2012?

Once you have your answers down on paper, you can set yourself up for a more productive, healthy & happy new year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December Birthstone: Turquoise

Turquoise is the one of the official birth stones for the month of December.  The colour is, of course, turquoise, but its range of colour varies from green and greenish blue to sky blue shades.  The name 'turquoise' comes from a French word which means 'stone of Turkey' and is apparently related to the fact that is was brought to Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean by Levantine traders, more commonly known as Turks.

For centuries, the highest quality turquoise came from Iran (Persia) but today some specimens mined in the southwestern United States compete with it.  The Aztecs mined turquoise in an area now known as New Mexico and a significant amount of turquoise comes from Arizona, California and Nevada also.  Turquoise is one of the first gems that man began to mine.

Turquoise is one of the most valuable non-transparent minerals used in the jewelry trade.  Poorer quality turquoise is often dyed or colour stabilized with coatings of various resins.  The colour can change with exposure to skin oils if the stone has not been stabilized and therefore, jewelry should be wiped clean to deter this.

It is a sacred stone to the North American Indians, as well as, the Tibetans.  It is often used by shamans in rituals & ceremonies and said to promote mental & spiritual clarity & expansion, and to enhance wisdom, trust , kindness and understanding.  Turquoise amulets have been worn for protection on quests & journeys through the unknown and for strength.  This stone is a very personal and meaningful stone to one who wears it. Turquoise takes on the characteristics of the owner.  It is the symbol of friendship and also brings peace to the home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yule Traditions

The Sabbat of Yule is the festival that celebrates the rebirth of the sun.  Having been in decline since the summer solstice on June 21st, the sun now begins to increase in power again.  Slowly the days will get longer and banish the night's long grip on the earth.  It reminds us all that life will begin again, that everything is cyclical.

Christmas is an adaptation of the pagan festival.  The early Church Fathers found it difficult to stamp out long-held pagan beliefs so they appropriated the holidays along with their customs and gave them a new twist.  Many of the pagan traditions still survive as elements of the Christian holiday.

Decorating the home with evergreen, is used as a reminder of the return of the growing season.   Holly with berries had a dual significance, the red symbolising the resting Mother, while the dark green of the holly symbolising the Holly King who has ruled since the summer solstice.  Mistletoe is another plant used in decoration with strong pagan origins. The plant was seen as magical because it is said to grow beneath the earth and the sky and is not rooted in the ground.  Place a robin in your Yuletide decorations. The robin is one of the many birds with very strong pagan associations.

Just as Yule marks the death of the Holly King, it also marks the birth of the Oak King.  They perpetually strive for superiority, with the Holly King being victorious over the Oak King at midwinter and the Oak King winning in midsummer.  They are seen as personifications of Light and Dark, as both are needed for the growth of plants.

Many people go out to watch the sun rise on the winter solstice on December 21st. This is to welcome the Oak King.  Stand facing East and call upon the Goddess and the God to be with you.  As the sun rises, give thanks for the return of the light and warmth. Then, you could make a wish and dedicate it to the returning sun. Ask it to empower you so that you can achieve what you have asked for. If you can, look for a stone or a twig, something that catches your attention that you can keep with you as a symbol of the promise you have decided to make.

The Yule Log is not the chocolate covered Swiss roll of modern times but a real log. Onto this log, candles are placed to represent each member of your family or coven.  The candles (red, green or white) symbolise the return of the days with increasing light.  Of course, traditionally the Yule Log was kept and would be burned on the following year.  Once the ashes were cold they were gathered into powerful amulets, or scattered throughout the garden & fields to ensure fertility & bounty in the coming year.  But because so few of us live in environments that allow for open fires, the chocolate Yule Log may be more practical.  After the candles are lit and the wishes made, the log can be cut and eaten.

Light a Yule candle, preferably gold or golden orange in colour. Prepare it by dedicating it to the rising sun and the days of increasing light. This can be done by stroking the candle from the centre to the end while visualising the sun.  Ideally, the candle should be lit before sunrise on the first day of increasing light and allowed to burn out on it's own.  However, for practical reasons, a candle should never be left unattended, so you can light the candle for a few minutes and then put it out.  Do not blow out the candle; use a candle snuff for this purpose. Re-light the candle every day after the Solstice, remembering why we celebrate this festival until it is gone.

It probably is from the Roman Saturnalia, a celebration for the god of agriculture, held around the time of the winter solstice that the ancient yule traditions of the free exchange of gifts, the making and giving of small presents, and the spirit of revelry have been derived.  People feasted, drank, and danced in honor of the return of the sun, the god of light and new life.

Whether celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule, we can all delight in the season as a time to renew family ties, take joy in our natural environment, reflect on the events of the old year, and look forward in anticipation to the new. As the winter solstice demonstrates to us, every ending is a new beginning.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Personal Prayer Beads: The Journey to Completion

What process does one go through when creating personal prayer beads?  Well, I know but I don't know....not exactly.  Part of it is pre-planning, for sure.  There's a lot of thinking about the elements, dieties, ideals, colours, etc. that are important to you and that you want to incorporate.  A lot of the process, however, just 'happens' once you've done the intellectual work.  Through meditation & 'not' thinking about it, a design will emerge and you will 'know' that it is right for you.

Searching for the beads & charms you envision in your head can be both fun & frustrating.  There may be times that you have to compromise a bit.  You will not always find exactly what you are looking for but don't loose sight of your create a set of prayer beads that have special meaning to you.  Take the time you need to find the elements you desire.  It's not a race, it's a journey.

Here are some of my rambling thoughts & impressions that resulted in the prayer bead set pictured here....

I chose amethyst beads, beautiful dark purple ones, as the predominent beads for my strand.  Amethyst has long been used to open the spiritual and psychic centres, making it one of the power stones.   It symbolizes piety, humility, sincerity and spiritual wisdom.  And besides, purple is my favourite colour.  Yes, sometimes it's that simple.

I feel a great affinity & connection to the cycle of the seasons, so I included single beads to represent them.  The green aventurine for spring & new growth, yellow jade for summer & sunny flowers, peach aventurine for autumn & the changing leaves, and white jade for winter & the blanket of snow that covers the fields.  These four beads also symbolize the four directions (north, east, south & west) and the four elements (earth, air, fire & water).

There are five amethyst beads between each of the seasons beads for a total of twenty-five.  Why?  I'm not really sure...I just know that ever since I was a child the numbers 5 and 25 have been two of my favourites.  It just seemed 'right' to include them somehow in my bead set.  My other favourite number, twelve, is represented in the green, yellow, orange & white beads....4 seasons + 4 directions + 4 elements = 12.

The 'drop' portion of the set starts with a round, open-work, sterling silver bead to represent the Divine Universal Power which I have no specific name for at this time but absolutely know exists.  The faceted rose quartz heart represents love in all it's of self, love of family, love of friends, love of strangers, love of of all things. 

The triskele charm symbolizes all aspects of theTriple Goddess; the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone...the sacred feminine.  This ancient Celtic symbol also represents the three Celtic Worlds....the Otherworld, where spirits, gods and goddesses live; the Mortal World, where you and I live along with plants and animals; and the Celestial World, where unseen energies live and move the forces of the sun, the moon, the wind and water.

This set of prayer beads will be my 'everyday' beads...the ones that I will carry with me at all times...the ones that I will pray and meditate with daily...the ones that will provide comfort & strength to ground me when the world around me is going haywire (as it often does).  Each time I hold them a sense of calm envelopes me and the spiritual energies flow through me.  It's an incredible physical sensation that fills my whole being.  I can't really find the words to describe it.

So, this has been my journey in creating my own personal prayer beads.  I hope that your journey is as rewarding as mine has been.