Archive for the ‘Rituals & Spirituality’ Category

Someone’s tied ribbons to a tree at the entrance to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground, and I’d love to know the purpose.

Usually ribbons like these symbolise a wish or a prayer, and such trees are a place of pilgrimage in the Celtic tradition.  The last time I saw a tree bedecked with ribbons like this was at Madran’s Well in Cornwall in 2013.

Madran Charm Tree

It’s a week since I’ve walked through the playground so the ribbons may have been there for some days.  Does anybody know?

I wonder who’s bedecked this tree
and what their fervent wish may be.


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Long ago when my father died my mother went to a medium seeking a message from him.  She was told that he considered the whole idea of messages from beyond the grave to be a load of tommyrot.  Mother said that was exactly the phrase he would have used.

My mother was always keen to experience different forms of religion, and when I was in my early teens she took me to a meeting at the Spiritualist Church where a medium gave messages from people who had ‘passed over’.  The medium, who was a middle-aged woman with a soft Scottish burr, told me I would be going on a long journey – surely a reasonable guess for any young teenager, and I did travel to Australia the following year.  The woman from whom the message was purported to come said: “You won’t know me, but ask them about Elizabeth.”  I’d never heard of any Elizabeth, but when I asked my mother she said that had been her pet name for her mother, the grandmother who died before I was born.

My Grandmother Ethel, aka Elizabeth. Portrait taken 1910

I found the whole experience disturbing, and have never since wanted to consult a fortune teller of any ilk.  When my eldest daughter was born Mother wanted to pay to have her horoscope professionally cast, but I declined.  Like many people I used to idly read my horoscope in the newspaper, but stopped doing so after a trip to Stonehenge Aotearoa, where I was told that because the stars have changed position since mediaeval days I’m a Sagittarius, not a Capricorn as I had always understood.

Have you ever had a prediction that came true?

Can anyone tell what will be?
The future is a mystery.



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A pamphlet from the Asatru Folk Assembly appeared in my letterbox and alerted my interest.  I wondered whether it had been delivered by someone aware of my involvement in paganism or whether there’s been a wide-ranging pamphlet drop.  Printed in black and white it advertised four meetings to be held in Fitzgerald Avenue during January.

It says: Asatru is the reconstructed spirituality of pre-Christian  European peoples.  It was the faith for most of northern Europe prior to the spread of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) around 1,500 years ago.

Apparently Asatru started in 1972 and is now the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland and the fastest growing.  It’s a modern version of pre-Christian pagan worship.  The name means faith in the AEsir who are the Germanic gods.  A person who practises Asatru is called an Asatruar, sometimes referred to as a Heathen.  Some on the extreme right fringe are white supremacists, but this is being countered by such groups as Vikings Against Racism and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry.

I don’t intend to go to any of the advertised meetings, but would be interested to hear from someone who does.  The pamphlet gives no contact details, no phone number, email, or website, and that makes me suspicious.  Over many years I’ve organised meetings and courses on feminist spirituality and ritual, and I’ve always been open about this and given my contact details, even when there was a possibility of misunderstanding.  In these internet days when anyone can use an anonymous gmail address, the lack of contact details seems odd.  Personally I will stick with my inclusive feminist spirituality.

“I’d be intrigued to find out who
is leading local Asatru.”

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I wanted to celebrate my 70th birthday, but took time to decide just how.  For my 50th I’d had a big party, someone to speak about each decade, an Irish band, and dancing.  My 60th was smaller, a garden party with 20 people who each brought something to add to a garden collage.  When I was a child, birthday parties were often small because so many families were away on holiday, but I’ve always wanted to celebrate on The Day, even though the fact it’s a public holiday can bring challenges.  The only time I’ve celebrated on a different day was for my 21st, and that was because we were travelling to another city for a wedding on New Year’s Day.  Prior to The Earthquake my birthday was often marked with dinner at the Octagon, an inner city restaurant that was open when many others were closed, and had live music.  Although that historic building is being repaired it has no tenant yet.  I hope it may be the venue for a future birthday dinner.

For this year’s significant birthday I invited a selection of women friends, and fourteen of us gathered on the back patio on a very warm summer’s day.  Although the walnut tree provided shade to most, a few on the western side needed the protection of umbrellas.

Some needed sunshades

With the temperature over 30 degrees we started with cold drinks and were glad of the breeze, although the fact the wind was nor-west meant planes occasionally flew noisily overhead.  I’d asked people not to bring gifts, but there were some, as well as a number of beautiful cards with wonderfully thoughtful messages written on them.  Several women brought me bunches of flowers from their gardens.

Cards and Flowers

I welcomed everyone, acknowledging three good friends who’d been present at my 60th and had since died, and mentioned my daughters fast asleep in England.  To cast the circle I asked everyone to share when and where they’d met me, which produced warm memories.  There were three things I’d asked everyone to think about beforehand:

  • Something you’ve done that you’re proud of
  • One thing you do to stay well, physically or mentally
  • A hope for 2019

In sharing these we learned about each other’s life journey, and we finished by singing ‘Never Turning Back‘ which we’d also sung at my 50th.  It was time for afternoon tea.  Stephen managed to light the birthday cake candles, but some had succumbed to the wind before I could blow them out.

Cutting the cake

I was pleased that people stayed and socialised, moving chairs further back into the garden where by now there was more shade.  This was an immensely satisfying way to mark my 70th birthday.  I wonder what I’ll do for my 80th?

That evening I received an email from Charities Services reminding me that the financial year for an organisation I’m the Treasurer of ended two days ago and I need to start preparing the financial accounts.  They might have waited until after my birthday!

‘A decade calls for celebration
and this was an ideal creation.’

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I was honoured to be presented with a Civic Award last evening.

My Civic Award

The event was held in the great Hall of the Arts Centre.  Awards were presented by the Mayor Lianne Dalziel, there was music from a string quartet of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and refreshments afterwards.

Receiving the Award from the Mayor.

Each Awardee was invited to come up and stand with the Mayor while their citation was read.  Mine was ‘For Community Service’ and I had been nominated by members of the Volunteering Canterbury Board, particularly for what I’d done during the earthquakes and re-organising VolCan afterwards.  These Awards are usually for voluntary service, and I was surprised to receive one for fulfilling my paid role.  However, it’s true that when you’re in a paid role in the voluntary sector, the boundaries are often blurred and you end up doing voluntary hours as well (especially when there have been earthquakes).  I also saw the Award as being recognition of the value of managing and supporting volunteers.  I was able to refer to these aspects in the very short speech I gave afterwards.  We had not been warned that there would be an opportunity for the Awardees to speak, and it’s a few years since I’ve done impromptu public speaking.  It would have been good to have had a chance to prepare for this!

Over the years I’ve organised about thirty Volunteer Awards events, and it was interesting to be on the other side of such an occasion.  I was pleased to have Stephen and two close friends share the evening with me.  Afterwards there were group photos, including one of all the Awardees with the City Councillors.

I’m seated, second from left

You can see my citation and official photograph here.

‘This unexpected recognition
acknowledged my earthquake position.’



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Spiritual Sisters

Forty women met yesterday to share the legacy of the past thirty years, look at the place of spirituality in 2018, and consider the future of spirituality in Aotearoa.  Many of us had attended an Ecumenical Women’s Spirituality Conference held at Rangi Ruru in 1988.  As at that previous conference, pagan women were in the minority.  Most who came were or had been connected with Christian churches.

Some of the women who gathered – photo by Ro Soryl

Sande Ramage, who has been an Anglican priest, spoke about ‘Re-imagining Women’s Soul beyond institutional religious control’.  She ended with this wonderful video by Nina Paley.

In the afternoon we had the opportunity to each attend two workshops.  I enjoyed ‘Poetry -writing our story’ with Kathleen Gallagher.  I also enjoyed planning and facilitating a session on ‘Life ceremonies in our modern world’ where we looked at alternative ways of marking life transitions.

It was excellent to reconnect with old friends, and meet new ones.  This gathering was a time of sisterhood, nostalgia, and hope.

‘We sang and danced within a spiral
and hope our ideas may go viral.’



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Beltane at the start of November is a time of renewal,  the maiden entering menarche and becoming a woman.  Warm weather makes us want to throw off the outer layers and dance around the maypole.

We can celebrate the profusion of flowers as the earth bursts with new growth.  I’ve felt a renewed surge of creativity as I plan for a Women’s Spirituality Gathering next week.   What new ideas are developing within you?

‘Beltane’s the time for something new
that has not happened hitherto.’


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