the sky spoke to me

Dec 27, 2007
...the sky looked at him. He felt the earth shrug because it felt him upon its back.
The sky spoke to him.
It was a language he had never heard before. He was not even certain there were words. Perhaps it only spoke to him in the black writing the birds made. He was small and unprotected and there was no escape. He was caught between earth and sky as if cupped between two hands. They could crush him if they chose.
The sky spoke to him again.
"I do not understand," he said.

I was driving home from family Christmas Wednesday(Pagan or no, you can't avoid family Christmas), enjoying the drive between my small hometown and I-80, where you have to take these winding country roads that all go in strange directions to avoid cutting farms in half. The roads were clear, just a little wet, so I had plenty of attention to spare for the fields, which were beautiful, the couple of inches of snow we'd gotten last weekend melting away enough to see the rich, dark Iowa soil. I was reminded suddenly that in ancient Ireland, the combination of red and black and white was a sign of the Otherworld (which might explain some of the unholy love I have for Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, really); once I remembered that, I couldn't stop seeing it. Red barns and black soil and white sky and red signs and black horses and white snow.

It stopped once I got to the Interstate; it's a much more impersonal landscape from there. Or conceivably it's just that I don't know it quite so well; it isn't part of my bones the way the other is.

I've been moving away from the nature-based traditions lately, more toward my Celtic roots and the cultural knots to get twisted up in on that side. It's been a long time since the purely astronomical Sabbats -- solstices and equinoxes -- really called out to me to be celebrated, although I always know when the winter solstice is because I can't wait for the light to come back. But driving through those Iowa fields reminded me that while it's true that I'm not a farmer, I'm not tied to the cycles of the land directly, I did grow up in a farming culture. I mean, I lived in town, and most everyone I knew did, too, and it isn't as though we started seeing people missing from school during the harvest or anything. But we were all very aware of the harvest cycle, if only because you can't avoid it -- drive ten minutes in just about any direction in Iowa and there's a cornfield to remind you. And after all those years, the sight of a field lying fallow in winter does mean something.

I've been reading books on urban Paganism for years, and more so since I actually moved to something I could call a city without laughing, but they've never really seemed to sink in. Then again, I spend almost all of my time within the city limits and I still don't feel like I'm in a city as much as I'm in a vast green space subdivided by buildings and streets. Granted, Madison is a very green city, but I feel like I'd have to be in New York City before I'd really get that glass and concrete feeling. (Even in London, for the whole day and a half I was there, what I mostly got was "river.")

I suppose this is what I mean when I say I feel like I always exist in a liminal space; I'm not a country person, but I'm not a city person either. In point of fact, I never feel very comfortable in one identity, because it always seems to leave something else out, or to require something I don't have. I'm working, though, on remembering that I can still keep the parts that are mine without having to take on the parts that are not. (Such a simple concept, so much grief to figure out...) And working on learning to listen to the sky.

quoted from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, p 503

A thing with feathers

Nov 21, 2007
Life changes so fast. (My life does, anyway, I don't know about yours.) One minute you're trying to crush a panic attack by telling yourself it'll be okay; it'll be okay, and the next minute, something in you says, Yeah, it will. Somewhere around 3:35 last Thursday, actually. I've been nervous and anxious and worried about this fucking graduate school application since then (which I have just mailed omygod), but I haven't been that strung out any more. I wish I could figure out what did that and do it on purpose; it would make my life so much easier.

My life does this all the time, actually. I am a naturally solitary person and I have a mindbogglingly mindless job, and I always have been inclined to living the majority of my life inside my own head. I'll be sitting there, doing my own thing, following a train of thought as far as I can without falling off, and all the sudden something goes click and it's like someone has...I don't know, changed the color filter or the resolution or something. Everything seems different. I seem different.

All of which means that while I feel right now like this particular instance of Getting My Shit Together is different, that might be an illusion. But it might not. I have a grad school application in, I have a therapy appointment for the end of the month, I have plans for the future that are not based entirely on a script of What I Ought To Do Next. And I feel rather competent about it all. (Competency is one of the values I most highly praise, and I think it's why I've always identified with Brighid so much. To be able to do a thing, and do it well, without throwing up a big fuss about it seems to me the height of talent.) This is slightly new, of late.

Perhaps it's just the season, and in February I'll be sitting around the house, incapable of imagining doing anything but going to work and playing video games and sleeping for the rest of my natural life. But this winter isn't getting me down like last winter did, and I've pulled through worse before. I may not have much consistency in my life, but I do have hope.
Nov 10, 2007
I wish I knew what to say about my life. This is, of course, a blog about paganism, and not my life, but the two can hardly be separated in my mind right now.

This time, the space between Samhain and Yule, has always been hard for me; the light is going away and there aren't any holidays to break up the monotony (Thanksgiving does not count) and all my motivation for the Work breaks up and floats away. I stripped down my altar to reflect this; it's beautiful in its simplicity, and looking at it makes me happy. I wish it did a bit more.

I have been distracting myself from existential angst with a much more immediate angst -- I'm applying to grad school. This is much more painful than it ought to be. I am, at this moment, avoiding working on my application letter by writing this post. My self-imposed deadline is a week from today. Oh dear.

I have rather given up the hope of finding a coven I fit, at this point I'll settle for a teacher, but I can't seem to find one of those either. I am not a very social person, you see. I don't network well. If people are not on the Internet, I am not going to find them. ...and around here, they're not. I feel very alone, despite the e-mails from two different people in my inbox that I have not gotten around to replying to yet. I simply don't know what to say.

Last week I had a dream that I have not had since the week before my last finals in college; I dreamed that I pulled my ribcage apart like a birdcage to give my heart more room. It felt much too crowded in there. In my Samhain ritual, I had a vision of Macha touching my heart to ease it and then licking the blood off her fingers. It's scary to feel this strongly and not know what I feel it about. Last month I felt like I would never feel this strongly about anything ever again, and that was scarier.

With any luck, I will have more time to think properly after my application is in and the holiday plans are all settled. Hopefully. We'll see.

Pimp My Altar

Oct 8, 2007

As usual, September has been a whirlwind of activity. My best friend and my parents visited, I redecorated my livingroom and bought myself a new bed for the bedroom and I dug more seriously into my Irish Gaelic studies again. And I finished my altar.

This is the first non-formal altar I've ever had; when I started practicing seriously I worked out of fairly traditional books, and that and my love for Victorianism in all its forms meant I had a really, really stiff altar that never did see a lot of use. It was very proper and thorough, though. It had a wand, and an athame, and a Goddess candle, and a God candle, and a pentacle, and a cauldron, and a bowl of salt and a bowl of water, and all those other things it's supposed to have. I'm pretty sure it looked exactly like the diagram in Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner, actually.

So I went a bit more freeform this time. I knew I had to keep the three-pronged candlabra; my grandmother bought it for me, probably without knowing really what it was for, but it was the first piece I acquired specifically for my altar and I love it. And since my patroness is Brighid, one of the Celtic triple goddesses, that suggested a layout. The altar is kind of roughly divided into three sections, for Brighid's three aspects as Poet, Smith and Healer, and everything else I felt needed to go on there got put wherever it seemed right. The candles are in the colors of fire -- red for the warmth of the hearth-fire, blue for the middle heat of a cooking fire, and white for the power of the forge. The gold chain is for Ogma, who according to legend invented the Ogham alphabet which continues to annoy archaeologists to this day.

And most of the rest of it just feels right. I no longer really remember where the shell came from, but it's always been on my altar and it wanted to stay there. I always buy new pencils in September, it's like a disease; I'm using them for wands. And...I'm wandering over and touching it every day, not necessarily working with it in the way I used to think of working with my altar, but just going over and saying hi. And that's great.

Autumn Turning

Sep 12, 2007
I woke up this morning with the most unbelievably genius idea for a post. It had nothing to do with either of the things I had been meaning to post about, but I didn't care, because it was genius. Now, of course, I can't remember what it was...

Not that it really matters, because it's Fall, guys. I had been thinking it was fall since the floods that swept through southern Wisconsin in August, lowering the temperatures and filling water-type people like me with a reckless glee, but that's just because I had forgotten what Fall feels like. On Monday it rained again, but it was cold and drizzly instead of cooling and heavy, and there was no lightning, just the steady sound of rain on the windows all day long. Fall, finally.

Every time a real seasonal change comes around, it feels like it's been centuries since it happened last and it feels like every other time it's ever happened. I had been looking forward to Fall, but I'd forgotten the change in the smell of the air, the way the trees shake in the wind like they're trying to make themselves change color faster, the way the lakes start spreading out their color palate, too. (Last night on the way home from work Mendota was black, really black, with little whitecaps. Against the bright green grass and the brilliant blue sky it was startling to look at.)

And Fall always makes me think of being a little kid going back to school again. The most vivid Fall memory I have is of walking home from school one day -- I must have been quite young, because I didn't walk that way past about the fourth grade -- and as I neared home, found my mother and my grandmother up on ladders, painting the side of the house. We had a big, beautiful Victorian home, up on a hill, that just had too much wood siding for my dad to justify paying anyone else to do it, so we did it, every year or two. I scraped old paint off everything I could reach and painted the porch and the lower windows, and the grownups got up on ladders and did the upper stories. I don't know why this stuck in my head; I think it might have been one of the first times I realized that grownups had lives of their own that did not involve catering to my needs all the time. I definitely remember they were having the time of their lives.

Last weekend I went out to the Madison Area Pagan Pride Day (hour and fifteen minutes by bus, someone has got to do something about that). I am glad I went -- which doesn't sound like a glowing recommendation, does it? Well, I am. I am, you see, not a social person. I've known this most of my life, but it's only throwing myself into social situations that shove it into the forefront of my brain. I don't crave the company of others (excepting my very few close friends). I don't enjoy crowds. It takes me much longer than a day-long festival to feel comfortable enough with a group of people to really be myself.

I've kept saying that I want to find a coven, but it occurred to me while I was sitting in the last workshop of the day that maybe I just want to see if I'm solitary by nature instead of just by necessity. I've never had a chance to have a coven, and I don't honestly know if it would be a good idea. I suppose the only way to find out is to try; I did meet one group I might contact and another person who's trying to start a group based on campus. I'm nervous, though, about introducing myself to a group with the knowledge that chances are good I'll be leaving it soon.

But aside from a slightly melancholy introspection that always seems to hit me in the late afternoon of a busy day, the festival itself was terrific. I made it in time for the opening ritual (I have never seen anyone with more ridiculous energy than Selena Fox, my gods) and sat through an elders panel that was interesting not so much for what was said as for what wasn't (or maybe I just enjoy watching other people watch someone talk -- after all, eight witches couldn't all be expected to agree, could they?). Lots of music, lots of talk, and the joy of being amongst like-minded people. I am glad I went. I'm also glad it happens once a year.


Sep 2, 2007
Cosette really needs to stop posting my posts before I get a chance to. Last week she posted on Beliefs and Practices, cutting off at the knees a half-formed post I'd been thinking about on Doing versus Being, and today it's the joy of Autumn, which I too have been feeling rather ridiculously due to the freezing-cold air conditioning at work.

Like she says, even though Autumn is the winding-down part of the year, there is something about September that I find hugely inspiring in a much more new-beginnings-type way. I've always blamed it on all those years of going back to school (yes, I am one of those freakish kids who loved going back to school at the end of the summer). The Autumn bug hit me last week, just as the sun broke out after our week of truly ridiculous flooding and all the sudden the weather was amazing. (Alas, the rest of the universe does not love Samhain as much as I do and my craving for candy corn has yet gone unsated.)

It's always vaguely irritated me that no matter how many urban or modern Pagan books I read, I've never found an actually thought-out reinterpretation of the Wheel of the Year that does not assume that you're pulling in three crops every fall. (I tend to forget about Mabon for precisely this reason...) Surely there's a way to work in that September schoolgoing thing as well; it's something nearly everyone has nowadays, after all, and I for one feel you can never have too many New Beginning-type markers in your life.

This is rapidly becoming unacceptable.

Aug 28, 2007
I have got to find a way to make work and the Craft compatible. At six o'clock in the morning, a formal full moon ritual sounds like the best idea in the world. At six o'clock in the evening, I can barely summon the energy to order pizza online. (I should have known that the day I have officially designated as "takeout day," due to it being the end of a work-week for me, is not really ideal for ritual...)

This morning, though, was astonishingly wonderful. As I walked from the kitchen into the dining room, packing my lunch for work, I smelled roses for no reason at all. I wasn't wearing any floral perfume, I hadn't bought flowers in weeks, and besides, we're well past rose season...until finally I spotted the bouquet of dried roses that has been sitting on the ledge there for, oh, nearly a year now.

I can't recall ever having smelled them before. They were my grandmother's funeral roses from last Samhain; yellow roses were her favorite flower, although I can't recall her ever having any (she didn't have the patience to grow roses, and she was far too practical to buy them for herself), and the casket and church were covered with them. My cousin had rose petal beads made of the casket flowers, and the rest of us all took a bouquet home.

It was a strange sort of reminder to have that early in the morning, on a beautiful morning like this, one of the first without rain in weeks, still cool from the evening but with the promise of heat to come. It is still painful to think of my grandmother. I can't help but feel that I neglected her in the last few years, so desperate was I to find a life for myself apart from my family. But it's hard to be depressed for long about yellow roses, and I found myself thinking of all the time I had spent with her -- plenty, really, she lived ten blocks from my house and I practically lived there when I was a kid. Our birthdays were around the same time, and we had huge family summer birthday parties for all of us. All the parade routes went right by her house, so we watched them from her bedroom balcony. And whenever there was family from out of town, it wasn't long before we were all there, causing no end of chaos to Grandma's usually tidy home (and her the happiest of anyone about it).

I felt like my eyes were open in a way they hadn't been in quite a long time, this morning; it lasted almost until lunch. On the way from the bus stop to the office, I saw two ravens picking through some litter in the parking lot. There used to be quite a flock of them around there, but I hadn't seen any all summer; I had been wondering where they'd got to.

Starting Over (part two)

Aug 25, 2007
Last month, in a fit of frustration, I tore down my old altar. (The fact that I haven't much missed it in a month is not a good sign, I think.) Today, I got me a new altar table.

It didn't cost me anything; I got it from Freecycle, an amazing email barter system. Have something you don't want, you send an email to the list. See something you want, you email someone about their post. Need something in particular, send an email, go out two days later to pick up your brand-new altar table. My old altar table is getting scrubbed down and moved to the living room, and the table it's replacing will go back on Freecycle. It's the new urban ecosystem -- take something out, put something back in.

It's round! I've never had a round altar before; I'll have to rearrange some things. I've always had quite a formal-looking altar, actually, and I think it's time to mix it up a bit. And what shall I do with the top? Shall I paint it? Finish it? Engrave it? Cover it with an altar cloth? Oh, I have so many options, for my current plan is to have it ready for its first dedication on Samhain. It will (hopefully) see use before then; I see no point in making a commitment to something you haven't tried out first.

I'm looking forward to remaking it immensely, actually. I remember the first time I put an altar up properly, and how wonderful it was, and how it felt like an entirely different world from the rest of my bedroom in my parents' house in the middle of nowhere. But I'd been basically moving that altar around ever since; I'm far from the same person I was when I was sixteen. It's definitely time for a change.

If you can see the fire, the meal was already cooked a long time ago

Aug 11, 2007
Some days I think I should go into the business of koans. I mean, the little bits and pieces I scribble all over my work papers and write "Essaie!" next to don't quite qualify as bumper-sticker wisdom, and they certainly aren't blog posts on their own. Then again, they're probably not confusing enough for koans either.

I have, for instance, the sentence fragment "As an anthropologist, I know that meaning is acquired, not inherent" written on one page of my little notebook that I carry with me everywhere. (Yes, I do sometimes think in words like that, to my own unending astonishment.) These notebooks remind me a little bit of the diaries of my grandmothers that my mom kept lying about, tiny leather-bound records of weather, births and deaths, and occasionally something a particularly notable calf born. My grandmother was a farmwife; she didn't have the time nor the inclination to write pages about her thoughts every day. She kept track of what was important. Okay, so my books are more self-indulgent and certainly less orderly than her diaries, but I like to think of my relations in future years looking back on them and thinking..."Why would you write all this down? And then why would you keep it?"

I know that meaning is acquired, not inherent. I remember surprising myself when I thought that, which must be why I wrote it down. I must have been reading Crowley at the time, then, because I wouldn't be surprised by that thought if I was reading something anthropological. It's a controversial statement in the magickal world, though. Why else all those charts of correspondences? Why lists of the properties of herbs and stones? It's become more popular of late to say that correspondences are what is meaningful to you -- Crowley says the same, actually -- but there's still a niggling sense in the back of my brain that surely some things really do mean something, on their own.

Meaning is acquired, not inherent. Anthropology says yes. Hard science says no, but only for concepts like "one" and "zero," which are not particularly useful in day to day life. Religion says a loud no -- but everyone disagrees on what that meaning is, and which parts of it are important, so that's not extremely helpful either.

Acquired, not inherent. I do believe that, I guess (and I must have believed it when I wrote it down, or there'd be huge question marks all over the page next to the sentence). And not just in a scientific sense, but in a theological sense, too. Life is a journey, not a destination. Stop and smell the roses. A soul is made, over lifetimes, not born and then done. And yet somehow, it still seems contradictory to me. Contradictory to what, I'm not sure. To something.

Obviously I shall have to think on this more. Also, I need a new little notebook.

The Internet Is Smarter Than All Of Us Put Together

Jul 27, 2007
(The aforementioned idea might be the subject for dystopic science fiction, but it's also part of the basis for the collective model of the universe -- like the one central to many forms of pagansim, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I love both of these ideas deeply, and the inherent self-contradiction never ceases to amuse me. That said --)

I started this blog, like the subtitle says, to fill the gap of what I wanted to read in the Pagan community. Unfortunately, that's not always enough. The motivating factor was a book I read for my religious studies class -- Crabcakes, by James Alan McPherson. I didn't actually like it all that much, although I liked the concept: a long, rambling memoir about life and what it looks like looking backwards, and how the way your perceptions change and how that changes the meaning of the story of your life. It was only nominally religious, I don't think I would have thought it was if not for the context, but it awakened in me a profound yearning for Pagan-type books like that. (Other books we read that I'd kill for Pagan-type versions of: Meeting Faith, The Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God, The Jew in the Lotus. All highly reccomended on their own merits, of course.)

I own and have read Phyllis Curott's Book of Shadows approximately one billion times, and I think The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog was what I was looking for, too. Does anybody out there know of something else like what I'm talking about? Memoir-ish, thinky, personal -- I don't care if it's a focus on a tradition I don't do, so long as it has something to say. So many Pagan books are how-to manuals, it's hard to find something different.

starting over

Jul 26, 2007
I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I'm not really a religion-in-a-time-of-crisis person. I think it's partly because I resent the idea that any religion works as a self-help program. Surely there's something more to it than that. Then again, a relationship with the gods is, like any relationship, made up of give and take. Then again, I'm horrible at human relationships, why should I be any better at divine ones?

I took apart my altar today, and it didn't even feel like disassembling something. It needed to be cleaned anyway -- dusted, tidied up, wicks trimmed and wax chipped away, things like that. I'd let the water bowl dry up and it was coated inside with the crap that the city just can't get out of our well. I took the altar cloth outside to shake it out, wondering what it meant that this didn't seem to mean anything to me, and when I came inside I liked the look of the empty space so much I left it that way.

To tell the truth, I can't be positive I ever properly consecrated half the stuff on my altar. It migrated there, for one reason or another, some for good reasons and some for bad, but right now it looks like a pile of stuff. Five minutes after I left the altar table empty, it felt like a hole in the world, but I knew I couldn't fill it up by piling that stuff back on it. Five minutes after that I was all wrapped up in the Plan, thinking, I'll clean what I have, and decide if I still want it or need it, and then I'll reconsecrate it and build a better altar, and it will be Great, and I knew I had cut off whatever emotional reaction I had been having to it, but hell, you can't feel that much all the time or you'd go insane. Right?

I have epiphanies like this at least twice a year, and they never seem to stick, so I hardly think this is going to be earth-shatteringly revolutionary or anything. But I guess you never know.

Thanking Eve

Jul 25, 2007
I really did mean to post about how the Jehovah's Witnesses went. They showed up a couple of weeks ago -- just when I'd decided I didn't want to deal with them and was running off to buy groceries. But no, they were early. And once faced with a bald-faced assertion of God's Plan, I just can't walk away. No, I have to argue.

Truth told, it was quite civil (I never did mention which other religion I was...) even if most of the debate was not only pretty standard but downright cliche. I did manage to shovel in my college lit professor's argument about the Garden of Eden story, though, which I've always liked. I doubt it'll ever convince a Christian, but it makes the story a hell of a lot more compelling for someone with no investment in the idea of Original Sin, so I thought I'd share.

We were in a Gothics class, discussing the concept of veiling. The Veil is a big thing in Gothic novels; in the earliest ones, it's the point of the whole book. When you draw the veil aside and see what it is you've been scared of this whole time, the story's over. Or, a personal illustration my professor told: She was a kid, maybe five or six. Mom always let her play in Mom's room when Mom was getting ready for work -- which is a special treat when you're five or six, all those shiny pretty things you aren't allowed to touch when Mom isn't keeping an eye on you while she's putting on her mascara. Just, Mom said, don't open that box on Mom's nightstand. It's private.

What's that going to do to a six-year-old? Of course. One day Mom leaves the room for a minute, and the temptation is just too much. What might be inside? Candy? More pretty jewelry, or perfume, or makeup? Something good, obviously, or you wouldn't be told not to open it. My prof was always very good at describing her disappointment upon finding a box full of individually-wrapped balloons. And not very good balloons, either. All the same color! (Yes, this is indeed the Bluebeard story but with condoms. I loved my lit prof.)

Mom, of course, was mortified, and six-year-old lit prof still couldn't figure out why she'd gotten in trouble. All that fuss over a box of balloons. The moral of the story, of course, being that the only interesting thing about the box was the fact that she wasn't allowed to open it. If Mom had shown her what was inside when she asked, she's have been bored and gone away.

The parallel to Genesis is obvious, although unfortunately we have to lose the condoms. "Here," says God, "Have anything you want. Except this, a huge and impressive tree smack in the middle of everything else, which you can't touch because I said so." Well, what's that going to do to a newly-created sentient race? Note here that when you argue about this point with JWs, they remind you that God also said "lest ye die," and invoke him as a watchful-parent figure. This is, of course, a perfect opening for the condom story. I have never been brave enough to tell a condom story to visiting JWs; maybe someone else will be.

So of course Eve does what any kid does when faced with an overprotective parent, and God shrugs his shoulders in a remarkably calm way for the Old Testament version of that particular deity, and Adam and Eve go out into the wide world and start making curious kids of their own. All of which just doesn't sound like the story of The Entering of Evil Into The Heart of Man, not really. It's more like a coming-of-age story. One day God looks down and notices his kids are kind of outgrowing the Garden, it's not got much interesting in it after all, and darn it, they no longer accept Because I Said So as a reason. Time to buy them a microwave and some milk-crate furniture and let them out on their own.

Like I said, you'll probably never win over a JW with this argument -- it's just looking at the same story from a vastly different point of view, and it's point of view they're trying to convince you on. But then again, if you're arguing with JWs with the intent to win, you're doing it wrong.

my name is hope, luck just ran out

Jul 16, 2007
this is my day, this is my song
i am alive... what can go wrong?

Some days I think the problem isn't that working forty hours a week is tiring, it's just that sitting for eight hours in a grey cubicle -- even if I'm lucky and get a seat where I can see a window if I crane my neck when I'm not busy -- gives me this slow creeping tension that, by the time I'm done, makes me just want to bash my head into a wall until I can relax. It's not the best frame of mind for magick or religion, and it means that it's hard to even remember that I had something wonderful in the morning to post about.

If only I could blog from the bus goes right by the lake in the mornings, twice on Sundays, and the colors it can turn never cease to amaze me. I've never lived by a large body of water before, and I knew that theoretically it changes colors, but every day! Yesterday it was bright cerulean blue with darker patches scattered through; a couple of days ago it was flat grey even when the sky was bright and cheerful; a few days before that it was so dark it was almost black, with little whitecaps thrown up all across the surface. The bus does not go past the lake on the way home, more's the pity.

It's like some kind of superpower.

Jul 2, 2007
Well, I've done it again. Yep, I've gone nearly a month between posts, not because I don't have anything to post, but because I'm too lazy (and/or busy, take your pick) to type up the post I already have written. And since I already have a post written, this somehow prevents me from writing anything else. No, it doesn't make sense to me either.

But now I'm faced with a conundrum. Fellow Pagans, Witches, blasphemers and other Internet lurkers, I think I'm being stalked by Jehovah's Witnesses. She was at my door when I came home from work today! I find that a little excessive.

Unfortunately I am entirely too nice. I mean, I don't actually want to be horrible to her, she seems like a perfectly nice woman, I suppose it's not entirely her fault her faith requires proselytization. That and I really genuinely believe that the only good thing that can come of proselytization is some kind of interfaith dialogue, even if one side doesn't think their job requires any listening at all.

So what do I say to her (when she shows up again on Saturday like I told her, like a fool, would be okay for her to do) without being really horrible yet still getting across the impression that I'm not going to just sit there and listen to her talk about Jesus? I have a niggling desire to tell her that I feel a kinship with her as a member of another marginalized religion, but I'm not sure that's a good opening gambit...
Jun 9, 2007
So the second part of my paganism and feminism post is taking a little longer than I thought it would (that's always the way, isn't it; the rant comes easy, but the thinky bit is hard) and then I also realized that I had read Patricia Monaghan's The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog ages ago and never properly wrote a review of it like I intended to.

It's a hard book to classify; part travelogue, part memoir, part mythology and folklore. It's very much a book about Ireland, but at the same time, she covers a lot about how we relate to our world and how people live their lives and their religion in general. It was also hugely moving; I only have notes on the first half of it, because by the second half I was so wrapped up in the stories she was telling and the images she was invoking that I just completely forgot. (I had to stop reading it at work because I hate crying in front of people.)

Monaghan divides the book into five sections, one for each of Ireland's provinces, and digs into the local mythology, history, politics, and people in each one. A couple of months later, many of the details of the stories are escaping me, but I remember two very vividly -- her chapter on Brigid and the Brigidine Sisters of Kildare, with the story of how Brigid's Flame was accidentally relighted at a Candlemas ceremony, and the mention of this stone in Loughcrew Cemetary.

That stone right there -- the pointy one in the middle foreground. The memory of the afternoon we spent at Loughcrew came back with a really shocking vividness at her one-sentence description. I could pick out the stone she mentioned immediately; I remember sitting next to it to take pictures of the cairn. (I also have a picture of a Goth girl standing in that stone circle that's one of my favorites from that trip, just for what it represents.) I remembered hiking up the long hill path, observed by uninterested sheep. I remember looking out over the countryside, modern farms on one side and old stone fences on the other, trying to spot the Hill of Tara. I more than remembered it, it was like a gut-punch, a flood of emotions and a sense of connection -- we had touched that same stone, she and I, and wondered about the people who put it there. This must be what the big deal is all about, I thought.

The main focus of The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog is locality -- what it means to be from a particular place, to know it intimately enough to recognize that particular stone from one sentence on a page and a year's distance in time, and not just that stone, but every stone and tree and hill. In Ireland, Monoghan describes, everything has a name. That bend in the road, that tree on the hill, that stone circle, that well, that grassy spot that doesn't look like much of anything to outsiders. It makes the landscape...not bigger, but more. It gives it depth and shape in directions that storyless landscape doesn't have.

I've never really felt that way about a place. Oh, I get a little thrill of recognition when people mention my hometown, and for a week I told everybody about the Harlan Ellison story where he mentions the town I went to college in, but it never really meant anything to me. I think that's why I've always been a little blah about this talk of connection to the land that crops up so often in Paganism. I understand it intellectually, but it doesn't have a lot of emotional resonance for me.

Except, apparently, for Loughcrew Cemetary.

Monoghan actually confronts that issue reasonably well; she talks about how Americans -- or rather, all non-Native-Americans -- have a tough time relating to land in that way because we don't always feel like we really belong here. We don't know the stories about every nook and cranny of land, because they've never been told to us, and even if they were, they would be slightly alien, because stories that old come from a culture that is not ours. She skips a point that makes me feel uncomfortable about both her book and my reaction to that Loughcrew stone, though. Modern Irish culture is, quite possibly, just as alien to me as pre-colonial Native-American culture. To say that I "naturally" have a stronger connection to the Irish landscape because my great-great-grandfather emigrated from there is nonsense. I know more about it, and I know it in a way that makes sense to me, but that's all.

Besides, I'm not so sure a lack of that kind of deep connection to the land is an inherently bad thing anyway, or a thing that is lacking in spirituality. There is something to be said for abstraction, too. No, not abstraction -- I'm looking for a word that isn't liminality, but it's such a good word, you'll have to keep it. :) A state of not-belonging, of not-knowing, of being questionable and questioning and having one's relationship with the Universe being constantly negotiable. When Victor Turner first coined the term he didn't think it was possible to exist in a liminal state for long periods of time, but he's been shown to be wrong. (Maybe the time frame is off and we're looking at a society in a liminal period?) But I have that kind of emotional connection to liminality that so many people seem to have to land and place and locality. I can't articulate it, but it makes me happy, and it makes the world seem like a bigger place, in much the same way Monoghan describes that kind of locality doing for land-based people.

Religion In the Media

Jun 4, 2007
Yesterday morning, as usual, I listened to On the Media while getting ready for work, and there was a segment introduced as "religion in the media." And I, foolish Pagan, had a brief thought that maybe, just maybe, someone was going to talk about something other than Christianity.

I was, of course, wrong; it was a segment on whether the Religious Right deserves all the media attention it gets. It's a fair point -- the vast majority of American Christians are not right-wing nutbars, but the media makes it sound like they are, which causes both people who already dislike right-wing Christians to dislike all Christians and causes moderate Christians to become more right-wing because of the impression they get that only right-wingers are real Christians. It's a problem, and more media coverage of non-lunatic-fringe people would help solve it. But.

But. I just wish that for once, for the love of the gods, someone in the media would remember that religious and Christian are not interchangable words.

Paganism and Feminism: long time coming

Jun 2, 2007
One of the many things that continue to saw away at the back of my mind as I attempt to work modern Paganism as I understand it into a religion for me is this niggling conflict I've always felt between Wiccan and ceremonial symbolism and feminism. I used to be able to ignore it, but as feminism has become more important to me, the issue has been increasingly shoved forward.

It's this gender association thing, you see. Look up any table of magickal correspondences, page through any Wiccan ritual, and nearly everything there will be assigned to either male or female. Fire and Air are masculine; Earth and Water are feminine. Swords and Staves are masculine; Cups and Coins are feminine. The Sun, nine times out of ten, is masculine and the Moon feminine. And why?

The feminist part of my brain recoils at all this gender-labeling, saying, so why are femininte things always passive/reflective/yielding/receptive and masculine things are always dominant/assertive/aggresive/powerful? Is that really such a good idea that things always get divided up that way? (Not to mention -- isn't it redundant? If what you want to say is that a thing is aggressive, say it's aggressive. It reminds me of an archaeological survey of a graveyard once. This is a female's grave, it was labeled; we know this because it has female things in it, like pots and spinning tools. We know these are female things because they are always found in female graves. Well, lovely. Did you look at the bones? No, they didn't.)

Now to be fair, Wicca and modern Paganism do avoid associating women exclusively with feminine things and men exclusively with masculine things, both with the gods and with practitioners. But, well, it's still an association, and it's still there. Maybe if that same set of associations weren't so destructively pervasive in the wider society it wouldn't bother me so much, but they are, and for all practical purposes they always have been, and I'm wary of letting yet another religion perpetuate them unquestioning.

(Well if you don't like Wicca, don't practice Wicca, you might say. All right. How? Short of going the strict reconstructionist route -- and that won't get rid of the gender roles problem, just move it around a bit -- you won't find a modern incarnation of Paganism that isn't influenced by Wicca at least a little bit. Gender roles are pretty basic, and thus pretty widespread.)

Truth told, I feel very freed by my realization, upon reading Hutton, that there's nothing fundamentally feminist about Wicca at all. (And like Deborah Lipp posted ages ago, worshipping a Goddess doesn't necessarily make you feminist. It doesn't even necessarily make you not misogynistic.) I feel like I can stop trying to justify things I don't like about it so much because no, there was no chain of logic I would have agreed with behind it, so I can stop trying to look for what isn't there and just work on what works for me. One of the benefits of a young religion, I suppose; it's possible to do enough research to know when to stop.

None of this is news to people interested in feminism, I know. There's a second half to this post that I'm working on; it's a little more productive, I think, in looking at alternatives but as such it's taking me more time to work out...

Magickal Thinking, Magickal Community, Magickal Games

May 27, 2007
You would not believe the number of awesome posts y'all are missing out on. I continue to be inspired at work, and I manage to scribble two or three pages worth of fascinating stuff before I things get too busy in the middle of the day, and then I get home and I'm entirely too tired to type them out. But I've written stuff about gender roles, about personal practice, about the ritual calendar and pagan stereotypes...and maybe one day I'll even get them posted. *sigh*

On a purely personal note, the latest incarnation of my magickal practice appears to be coming up with increasingly twisty and complicated sets of symbols. See, it all started when I got to rereading Crowley's Magick Without Tears again (for about the fifth time; we'll see if I finish it this time), hit the bit where he recommended learning the entire Qabbalistic system of correspondences by heart, and bought a copy of 777 and of Not Your Mama's Tree Ogam. Then I bought Christopher Penczak's City Magick and was inspired with the genius idea to create sigils out of the sudoku puzzles I do on the bus, via a complicated numerology system involving ogam and fractions. (I thought I forgot how to do fraction math years ago.)

You see, I used to hate things like that. Or rather, I used to think I hated things like that. After all the Wicca 101 books I consumed for several years straight, I developed the idea that magick ought to be simple, straightforward, and indeed somewhat childishly obvious; complicated magickal systems were either a relic of a time when such things needed to be concealed or were a takeoff from a patriarchal system where knowledge needed to be hidden from the masses. All these books recommended making your own symbols, but the examples they tended to use were things like dollar signs and little drawings of a house or a car. Which, I guess, works, but probably not if you're rolling your eyes somewhere inside at the simplistic nature of it all.

I've always loved overly complicated things. Rube Goldberg machines, clock innards, circuitboards, invented languages, and, apparently, numerologically inspired sigils. It gives me a feeling of immense glee to look at the sigil I designed for keeping my energy up for after-work concertgoing; remembering all the clever meanings I came up to the elements of its design makes me feel sneaky and subversive and accomplished all at the same time. It's fun, mainly, as all good magick should be.

ps: Pandora's Bazaar tagged me for the Thinking Bloggers' Award! I blush with pleasure, because I'd tag back if it weren't slightly unkosher. Anyway, the rules are:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote. (I'll get it up here soon, I promise; must finish blogging before dinner.)

I'll tag -- Songs of Unforgetting, Turtleheart Cove, Letters from Hardscrabble Creek, Never Say Never..., and Slacktivist. Great bloggers the lot of them.

No way has it been over a month.

Apr 20, 2007
Sometimes when you're learning, you get stuck in this rut of self-doubt, sure that if you don't understand this simple thing there are millions of other things you don't understand either; in fact you don't understand anything at all, and there's nothing you can do about it. And sometimes when you've grasped something completely, you become so certain of your own intelligence that you don't feel as if you'll ever need to learn anything ever again, and you miss the obvious (and necessary) lessons that come in the meantime.

And sometimes you strike just the right balance between the two, where you can feel yourself growing every day, building on what you already have with things that are new and exciting and wonderful. I've been hitting that stride for a couple of weeks now, working on a couple of projects I've been thinking about for a long time and generally figuring out a lot of things about myself. It's an introspective kind of place, and one that's hard to articulate, which is one of the reasons I haven't been posting. (The other one being sheer lack of time to type up posts...) This is what spring is all about, what it does for me. I was afraid it wouldn't do it anymore now that I'm out of school, but I'm thrilled to see I'm wrong.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Mar 10, 2007
I honestly never expected that sentiment to be a relevant part of my life. Sure, it's great for plots for fantasty stories, but I never thought I'd be playing with magick tetchy enough to make it relevant to me, at least not in the forseeable future. But.

February was awful for me, as it frequently is. I had no planned days off -- just one for the blizzard that snowed me in -- and nothing exciting going on. Just the daily routine of work, television, books and sleep. I was going nuts and had no motivation to work on any of my multitudes of creative projects. Then one morning I very nearly missed the bus, and found that the adrenaline surge that gave me kept me going through the rest of the day, and I got some writing done at work and some sewing done when I got home. I jokingly remarked to my roommate that I thought these little crises were good for me, really.

Then I found out from Blogickal that not only was there a full moon on, it was the Hare Moon, an excellent portent of fertility and productivity. Aha! I thought to myself, a wonderful excuse to do some magick. I stitched together a little spellbag with rosemary and sage and a piece of jasper and some sigils for Mercury, left it out under the light of the full moon (metaphysically speaking; we had full cloud cover and didn't get so much as a glimpse of the eclipse), and stuck it in my purse the next day, pleased at my own initiative.

And in the week since then, I've nearly missed the bus (again), got my car stuck in the snow in my own driveway (embarassing), lost and rediscovered some insignificant amounts of cash, and forgotten my keys. And written something on the order of 3,000 words, not counting blog posts; designed a pattern for my new purse; finished a skirt I've been working on for over a month; and cooked several new and intriguing recipes. The February blahs are completely gone as we head into spring thaw (or what looks like it -- it might be faking us out again) and I feel a million times better.

Even if I do have to be extra-careful about remembering my keys from now on.

Bridget Cleary part two: The Insult of Belief

Feb 26, 2007
Part one is here.

In writing about Bridget Cleary's death, Angela Bourke is obviously working at least partially within an anthropological tradition which tries to establish the validity of all the beliefs involved in a situation, while explaining why they were incompatible, which makes each side seem irrational to the other. To Michael Cleary, who had gone to the physician and the priest to look for help for his sick wife, and been basically turned away by each of them, an older tradition of healing would have been the only sensible option left; to the police and the magistrate, holding a sick woman over the fire and forcing her to drink medicines of herbs boiled in milk would have only looked like torture. Unfortunately, Bourke doesn't quite manage to be as even-handed as she might have liked: while she is generous towards the fairy beliefs of the townspeople, she doesn't seem to be sympathetic to it, and in fact gives the impression that she doesn't think they really believed in fairies at all.

It's a problem I had with plenty of my anthro classes (though not, to her credit, with the professor teaching them), that while we were expected to treat all beliefs fairly and with as much objectivity as possible, there was always this undercurrent of "but we know their magic doesn't really work; we know they're just justifying it to themselves when it doesn't; we know better, because we are the scientists." Bourke's book is particularly blatant about this, especially when discussing why people might participate in fairy exorcisms even if they don't believe in fairies (she actually states early on that she isn't sure that anyone ever truly believed in fairies or the supernatural, which is pretty drastic even for a skeptic to claim). She talks about how such rituals are acts of social condemnation, reinforcing ideas of conformity and "keeping in one's place;" and while it's true that lots of communal rituals and beliefs, particularly those dealing with creatures or people who live on the boundaries of things, do serve a social function like that, it's stretching it quite a bit to say that anyone was acting out these rituals with only that in mind -- putting an uppity woman in her place -- while not really believing in any of the supernatural elements.

There's a passage toward the end of the book where Bourke talks about how the case was discussed in official police documents, and how the word "superstition" was thrown around. When used between equals, she says, "superstition" can explain away personal quirks and beliefs we don't necessarily share with one another, but when used from a person with power against someone without, it's an insult, and frequently dehumanizing -- "they're so stupid they don't even know that fairies don't exist; obviously we shouldn't let them govern themselves." In her eagerness to disassociate herself from this position, though, Bourke seems to go too far in the other direction, as though she thinks that saying they believed in fairies would be an insult, when of course it's the attitude one takes towards their belief in fairies that makes it insulting or not.

As to Bridget Cleary's death, Bourke eventually says that she doesn't believe that it was malicious, that Michael Cleary merely snapped under the strain of his wife's illness and the attitude of the villagers toward them (they were not well integrated into the local society, for a number of reasons I've glossed over in order to not make this any insanely longer than it already is) and fell back on an older pattern of belief. Even with just the evidence prevented in this book, and apparently this is a case that has been written on extensively, I can't agree. Firstly, I find it interesting that Bridget's death actually occurred after the ritual of the exorcism was over, when Bridget's health was improving and everyone else who had been participating was getting back to normal. Also, as Bourke points out through the book, of all the people involved Michael Cleary was the most modern, the most literate, the least likely to retain what was considered an old-fashioned and dangerous form of belief. It looks to me much more like a man taking the opportunity presented to him by others, particularly the fairy doctor who seems to have been the first to suggest a changeling, to find an excuse to murder his wife.

Reading this book gave me one of what I call my "worldview instances:" moments in time when I realize just how differently I look at the world than whoever I'm talking with or reading from. Not so much involving the murder case itself -- although I did disagree with Bourke's reading of the evidence -- but in her general assumptions about mystical belief. Bourke really does seem to feel that saying that these people took action on a real person because they believed in fairies, an Otherworld, and in changelings would be insulting and demeaning to them. She comes, really, from the same basic assumptions as the colonial administrators who thought that belief in fairies showed signs of a childish mind: belief in magic is childish, but these people were rational adults, therefore they could not have believed in magic, her train of thought seems to go. I'd like to say this train of thought is unusual in anthropology, but I think it's just more blatant here than elsewhere. It's one of the reasons I find myself reluctant to look at graduate schools in anthropology. I'm pretty sure searching for a department based on "is not atheist to the point of religious intolerance" would be more than a little difficult.

Book Review: The Burning of Bridget Cleary

Feb 25, 2007
I've finally started to get to work on my amazingly long to-read list, and yesterday morning I finished up The Burning of Bridget Cleary, an immensely complicated book by Angela Bourke about an immensely complicated situation in an immensely complicated time. (Please, don't let that sound as if it's hard to read: it's delightful, particularly if you like social history. But there are a lot of threads going through this narrative, and it hasn't got easy answers.)

Even the original story itself isn't all that straightforward, partially because of the layers of interpretation that get built into it. At the turn of the twentieth century, in Co. Tipperary in Ireland, a young woman named Bridget Cleary fell ill, possibly with pneumonia, and suffered for about a week and a half before her husband, who had become convinced that the dying woman in his house was not his wife but a fairy changeling left in her place, organized a ritual to drive the changeling out. Almost a dozen people were involved, including a fairy doctor from the region and friends and relations of the couple, and most of those people seem to have participated in questioning the woman (she was asked to swear her identity three times, on two separate occasions) and in holding her over the grate of the fire to drive out the fairy. The next day she seemed to be improving, got out of bed and dressed herself for the first time in over a week, but after an argument with her husband, with most of the previous days' participants still in the house, he became enraged, threw her down on the floor and threatened her with a burning stick from the fireplace, and finally threw paraffin oil on her and burned her alive. He buried the body in a bog nearby and told his friends that he would be waiting at the fairy hill with a black-handled knife to cut his wife's bonds and bring her back from the fairies. He served fifteen years with hard labor for murder, and most of the others served somewhat shorter sentences as accessories to.

Bourke takes this incident and ties it into the changing cultural landscape that was Ireland at the time -- one of a long series of Home Rule bills moving through Parliament; tensions between laborers, tenant farmers and landlords still high after the recent Land War; colonial and Victorian rationalist rhetoric in opposition to the local and Catholic ideals of much of the population; and, of course, the long, slow death of the pre-literate Irish oral culture that the fairy belief seems to have come from. (One problem, of course, with discussing the origin of these beliefs is the simultaneous Irish Renaissance, in which Yeats and Lady Gregory were making fairies popular again. The oral culture which does still exist has assimilated a lot of the later material, too, and it's almost impossible to tell what is genuinely ancient or pre-literate and what comes from a later, more romanticized origin.)

The first thing that struck me about this was its similarity to an exorcism case in Wisconsin we discussed in one of my anthro classes when it happened -- an 8-year-old autistic boy named Terrence Cottrell died during an attempt led by a local minister and some of the parishioners and his family to drive the demons out of him. And I have to admit, I found it easier to consider Bridget Cleary's death in a more sympathetic way, a function of my own biases. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that deaths caused by religious practices shouldn't be prosecuted as murder -- only that the fundamental difference in worldview between the religious practitioners and the law is important, and ought to be looked at.

The second thing this reminded me of was the fate of the attempted regicide Damiens in 1757. (No, wait, there's a connection, I swear.) Foucault gives a rather grotesque description of the punishment for regicide in the decades just before the French Revolution; I'll spare you the gory details (though they're in Discipline and Punish if you really want them), but basically, he was drawn and quartered, badly; pulled with pincers; hacked to pieces; and finally burned. It was an insane amount of overkill, even for people who wanted to make an example. And that was what they were doing, of course: no one had been drawn and quartered in decades, possibly centuries, because a more modern form of law-enforcement made it easier to punish more criminals more leniently than a few criminals more strictly, as used to be done. But the possibility that someone might try to kill the king was so frightening that the establishment reacted by reaching into their past for the most socially condemning punishment they could find, even if they didn't quite know how to go about it. Even in the days when people were drawn and quartered, Damiens' death would have been considered grotesque.

Bourke tells us that, although changeling belief has been recorded in Ireland since such records were kept, very few deaths were ever recorded as consequences of trying to get rid of changelings, and Bridget Cleary is the only adult ever recorded to have died from a fairy exorcism. Bourke doesn't make much of this point, but I think it's key to her entire argument. When the old order runs up against the new, something has to happen, and it's usually when worldviews are dying out that they become their most damaging. When a belief is common, it doesn't need to be reinforced in order to be effective: it stands on its own. When a belief is dying out (like a belief in changelings, or a belief in the moral necessity and superiority of a king) it needs that extra power of blood and death in order to really stick. To say that Bridget Cleary's death is a result of fairy belief isn't an insult to people who believe in fairies, it just shows how beliefs were changing at the time and to what degree they were coming under stress from Victorian rationalism.

For all her attempts to treat the fairy beliefs with respect, Bourke ultimately comes down against them, more often implying that no one actually believed that they were driving a changeling out of Bridget Cleary's place. But this stance seems to me to be even more disrespectful: while I can understand (if not condone) torturing a changeling to force it to reveal itself, I have a harder time with the idea that nearly a dozen people tortured a woman in order to impress social conformity upon her.

And now this post is getting ridiculously long, so it will conclude (with more of the meat of the point I wanted to make) tomorrow.

Religious Insomnia

Feb 24, 2007
At nearly two in the morning, in the middle of a blizzard, after reading some very challenging things entirely too late in the evening, I think I've managed my very first round of religious-anxiety-induced-insomnia.

Questions keep chasing themselves around in my brain. Am I for real? Do I really believe all this? Am I the only one; is my religion really horribly passe and everyone else has moved past it into something more "mature"? Am I really just a fluffy bunny at heart (and is that just a word we use when we're too attatched to our scientific viewpoint to give it up) (and who am I to be dismissing a scientific viewpoint, anyway)? Am I turning into some kind of mad Pagan fundamentalist who other people look at with a combination of awe and surprise and oh-my-god-sane-people-aren't-like-that-are-they?

Does it really matter what anybody else thinks? (Of course it does. And of course it doesn't.) Am I really just doing this to watch what other people do? Do I really believe any of it myself even, or is this all some kind of grand wish-fulfillment that comes of reading too many fantasy novels as a preteen? And what's so wrong with that, anyway? Why do we all have to take ourselves so seriously all the time?

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

I read somewhere once that skepticism and self-doubt are a sign you're doing magic right, that it's just your empirical training kicking in in self-defense, which seems a little pat to me. And I read somewhere else once -- it was Harlan Ellison, I'm sure -- that you never like the people who make you ask real questions. Which is true. I don't like anything about this right now.

To Flourish

Feb 14, 2007
I normally don't put much stock in astrology -- not that I'm skeptical about it, at least not more than most things, it's just not really my thing -- but I am a firm believer in Mercury retrogrades. Most people seem to hate them, turning inward-looking and trying to avoid starting projects, especially communication-based projects, because Mercury retrograde is supposed to make communication go haywire.

But me? I always feel full of motivation in a Mercury retrograde period. I start things, I finish things (an astonishing task for me) and I feel my writing become much more eloquent and easier to construct. Maybe it's because I usually feel no fear about communicating: not only do I love to write, I also love public speaking, a real rarity. Maybe it's because I tend to have a very good relationship with the gods of communication (Mercury himself's a little haughty for me, but Ogma seems to enjoy my current job enough to stop by from time to time). Maybe it's because I was born in a Mercury retrograde, so this is just my natural state of being. I don't care why; I'm just happy that time of year has come round again.

Of course, other people feel differently -- you have my sincere sympathy if this period is going to be hard for you. But forewarned is forearmed, and all that.

Happy Global Warming Season

Feb 5, 2007
The Witchvox description of Imbolg seems pretty typical, so I'll use it as our example for the day --

The earliest whisperings of Springtide are heard now as the Goddess nurtures Her Young Son. As a time of the year associated with beginning growth, Imbolc is an initiatory period for many. Here we plant the "seeds" of our hopes and dreams for the coming summer months.

And I and our current twelve below windchill have this to say about that -- "earliest whisperings of Springtide" my arse.

Normally I would take this opportunity to yammer on delightedly about the origins of these festival dates and associations, and how insane it is to take what are obviously, ancient or modern in origin, seasonal festivals and celebrate them on fixed dates when what is first spring in the UK is most definitely not first spring in southern Wisconsin; about how when I was in Ireland I finally realized that the date of Imbolg is appropriate after all when I went to the edge of the city and saw the new lambs playing in fields that were green and not covered in snow; about what this means about modern Paganism and if we really qualify as nature-based at all if we're going to do things like this and if the community-building you get from having formalized dates is a decent tradeoff for having holidays that make no sense.

But this unbelievably frigid Imbolg came after an equally unbelievably warm Yule, and a January with the second-latest freeze dates in recorded history for Madison's two lakes, and the implication of global warming continues to gnaw at my brain. (Not that I'm alone. After all, Al Gore got nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for giving us all this entirely justifiable paranoia.) I found I couldn't enjoy the unseasonably warm weather earlier, and I hate the arctic blast even more, knowing that they are both probably symptoms of something much, much more wrong.

I have a hard time getting activist about global warming, not because I don't think it's important, but because it freaks me out so much. If I think about it for too long I fall into a strange spiralling paranoia about the state of the planet and the nature of humanity, and frankly it's much easier for me just to take the bus to work and call that enough. Some days I tell myself every little bit helps and it seems like it's true, and some days I tell myself every little bit helps and it seems like an excuse.

Even so...even so, Imbolg is that time of year when leaving work no longer means walking into the pitch darkness of midwinter, and that isn't spring, but it's something. Happy Imbolg, everyone. Spring won't make everything better, but it might make it easier to bear, and maybe then we can figure out what to do about it all.

I Have No Totem

Jan 19, 2007
I am a white man.
If I say I have a totem I steal
someone else's myth. But, in a hard
time, when I walked among spruce
and hemlock down to the alders
on the bank of the Indian River to pray,
a kingfisher chattered at me
from a dead branch above
a clear, green pool.

by Peter Munro, from "A Fisheries Scientist Sights a Large School of Myth Swimming in Shallow Water in Southeast Alaska" from the archives of the Beloit Poetry Journal

Mark this down as a good day.

Jan 15, 2007
The Trance may be continued for weeks or months, and the most ardent devotee of Tahuti, searching his Magical Record with the most conscientious acuteness, finds it impossible to indicate the onset of the Vision. In fact, it may be surmised that the Vision arises not from any given action but rather from a subtle suspension of action. The conflict of events has ended happily in a state of serenely perfect balance, in which, though energy continues to manifest, its issues have become without significance....[I]n this vision all conscious magical effort ceases, although the practices are continued with all customary diligence, and the whole of the Adepts's impressions, internal as external, are suffused with the glow of beauty and delight. The state is in many respects closely akin to that sought by the smoker of opium; but it is natural and requires no artificial regulation.

It will appear from the foregoing that nothing could be more absurd than to attempt to give instructions for the attainment of this state.

To aspire to it (still worse, to seek to regain it after it has passed) must appear the climax of bad logic. Nor, delectable and blessed as it is, can one call it actually desirable.

We need not assume that it is in any way deleterious, that it exhausts good Karma, or that it wastes time and damps aspiration. It should be accepted, when it occurs, with calm indifference, enjoyed to the full, and quitted without regret.

from Crowley's Little Essays Toward Truth, "Beatitude"

Today felt like Sunday morning. Not like Sunday mornings now, when I have to get up and drive to work because the busses aren't running that early and then I sit there and drink coffee and distract myself with entertaining novels and the impossibility of the New York Times Sunday crossword; no, today felt like this particular Sunday morning I remember from when I was a child. I couldn't have been more than eight or nine, and all I remember is sitting in my room after church one day (it must have been Easter, I had a nice dress on) with some sort of Sunday School something-or-other and a box of crayons, and it was perfect.

It's something about the light I remember most; the light came through the window in a particular way that I couldn't describe if I tried, but it happens still sometimes when I'm not looking for it. That particular late-morning light, the light of the sun bright behind a bank of very dark clouds, and today, the glow of mid-afternoon snow showers, all seem to hit me in exactly the same way.

When I first came across this passage from Crowley, I thought, Yes, I know that state exactly. When the universe seems to be all okay for a while. Sometimes it lasts for just a couple of minutes, sometimes it lasts all day. (Today it got me through an eight-hour shift when I had to use voice-recognition software with a head cold, for which I am immensely grateful.) Sometimes I wish I could induce it, by seeking out or recreating the right kind of light, but would it be quite so wonderful if you could do it on purpose, instead of it just coming on all unexpected like this?