Demarcations

Where is the line between prayer and poetry?  It’s blurred more often than not.  This is why I love Pinsky, Heaney, the Romantics. That very ambiguity is delicious.  I love how my pagan gods hide beneath the rhythms of secularism.

Today, I’d like to share one of my favorite poems by Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.  It’s a wheel poem, a harvest poem, and a musing on cycles, family, and ancestors.  Read it aloud, and taste the words, feast on sounds as they tumble and circle each other. Enjoy.

BIOGRAPHY
Robert Pinsky

Stone wheel that sharpens the blade that mows the grain,
Wheel of the sunflower turning, wheel that turns
The spiral press that squeezes the oil expressed
From shale or olives. Particles that turn to mud
On the potter’s wheel that spins to form the vessel
That holds the oil that drips to cool the blade.

My mother’s dreadful fall. Her mother’s dread
Of all things: death, life, birth. My brother’s birth
Just before the fall, his birth again in Jesus.
Wobble and blur of my soul, born only once,
That cleaves to circles. The moon, the eye, the year,
Circle of causes or chaos or turns of chance.

The line of a tune as it cycles back to the root,
Arc of the changes. The line from there to here
Of Ellen speaking, thread of my circle of friends,
The art of lines, chord of the circle of work.
Radius. Lives of children growing away,
The plant radiant in air, its root in dark.

New Incarnation of Altars

Thank you again for joining us for a brand new episode of “This Old Altar,” with your host, Bob Vila! Er wait, that’s not quite right…let’s try this again:

When I moved into my neighbor’s house last year, it was probably one of the best decisions I could have made during the divorce process. I loved living with B. and she gave me a safe place to begin healing. However, I was only renting a room, and that did not leave me much space for altars. I used an old nightstand as my spiritual focus area, and switched out statues depending on whom I was moved to honor in the moment.

Now that I’m in a place of my own, I have the luxury of being able to set up several smaller altar spaces. Each one serves a different function, and has different layers of public and private meaning. As I was writing this, it occurred to me that each alter combines a primary element with a secondary in order to give it a unified aesthetic.

The altar I use most frequently is the one next to my stove, what I call my hearth altar (auto-correct said “heart sculpture” and that’s an apt description, too). It’s predominantly rooted in the Earth element of the North, but with a strong overtone of Fire. The statues represent Gwydion and Aranrhod, though that is not what the artists originally intended. (Yes, these two are sharing space; no this has not caused issues.)  Gwydion is my wild magician, and often appears to me as having features of the boar, wolf and/or deer that he was changed into as punishment for Goewin’s rape. Aranrhod (“a fun ride”: WTF auto-correct?) is not only a celestial goddess, but the goddess of the waters. And since I’ve always had trouble giving Don a face (which according to Kristoffer Hughes is actually appropriate as this goddess was in fact faceless), I rededicated her statue in Aranrhod’s name.  The little fellow playing the flute is a wight from my father’s garden.  The sprig of lavender represents peace and beauty, and the turkey feather represents family; the spiral plate is carved Welsh slate that I brought back from the 2002 National Eisteddfod. This is where I perform morning prayers and my work with the Sun Mirror; it is also the altar that my son likes to help light to thank the Ancestors when we begin cooking a meal.

Right next to the back door in the South is my working altar, the one I use for daily divination or more involved magical workings. It serves to anchor my work in the cunning arts and with the Strategic Sorcery system, which is why Hekate presides over it. In addition there are representations for spirit allies that I work with on a regular basis. Both the sword and spear are ritual as well as martial tools, and at the moment I have wands of Poplar and Willow drying and waiting to be carved.  This altar is the polar opposite of the hearth altar, being a manifestation of the Fire of will, grounded in the Earth.

To the West I have an altar space dedicated to the Makers: Bridget, Cerridwen, and Wayland. This is an altar to creative inspiration, and where I give thanks for the gods’ aid in music, poetry, and assorted crafting endevors. Hufflespawn particularly likes the Wayland statue, and even made him a little helper at school which he insisted on placing right next to the Master Smith. Cerridwen is accompanied by tokens from pig and chicken, which refer back to her animal shapes in her pursuit of Gwion Bach. Bridget has bone weaving tools dedicated to her, and a harp tuner. In front of Wayland sits a chunk of iron slag that I found on the beach in Salem Massachusetts, a gift that seemed most appropriate.  Air is the ruling element here, with a secondary infusion of Water (and Fire, too, if I’m honest, even though it messes up my nice, neat classifications).

The next two altars are a bit more “work-in-progress.” First is a home for various local spirits and wights. Thus far Turkey, Crow, Datura, Boar and Snail are represented. I will also likely include guardians from my OBOD work here as well. On top of the shelf is a ceramic Dragon my soul’s sister made for me, which eerily matches a spirit guide of mine. Water rules here, not least because one of my allies from this land is a river wight, but also because this is an area which very much requires dreams and intuitions to access fully. Air is the breath which stirs the surface of the Water.

Finally we have this very much WIP altar, which seems to be shaping into a repository for images of Divine Queens. It may end up being more of a display for statuary that I like than an actual working altar, but I think there’s a place for both in one’s home. This sort of feminine strength and inspiration is something I’ve needed greatly over the past two years, and I’ll be interested to see whether this altar remains dedicated to that casue, or whether I will eventually repurpose it for something else.

So, after only having had a single altar space for year, I may have gone a little crazy with all these! Still, it feels good to be able to move from altar to altar, and to have specific foci for various parts of my life.  More likely than not things will get pared down after a little while, but for now, this suits my needs quite well.

Death and the Lady

14243610469_c27d51f9c3_zAs some of you may know, one of my day jobs is helping older folks manage their bills and balance their checkbooks. It’s extremely satisfying work, one of those rare instances where you can actually see your actions affecting someone’s life for the better.

But my clients are elderly. They’re entering the twilight of life. It means sometimes I lose them.

My favorite client, Mrs. Z., is currently in hospice care. She’s an opinionated, 97-year-old spitfire from West Virginia with a pretty rich fantasy life.  She’s at home, which is good, and her bed is now in the living room which is bright and lets her have visitors. If you can catch her eye, she gets an impish look and begins telling you about how she’s going to be going to Leningrad next week.  She still likes her brownies and her Vermont Country Store catalogs, though the New Yorker is a bit beyond her now.  The point is, she’s alive.

I once heard a hospice nurse say that people are never really “dying,” they’re either alive or they’re dead.  Don’t treat a live person as deceased until it actually happens. And yet the palliative care Mrs. Z is receiving falls so far short of that. Yes, she’s bed-ridden. Yes, she has a catheter. That doesn’t make her less of a person, less alive. She’s having pretty bad dizziness or vertigo, and claws at the air looking for something to steady her. All it takes is someone to hold her hands and she calms down. That’s it. Simple, human touch.  One of her aides was dismissive of Mrs. Z’s agitation, saying, “Oh, she’s just confused.”  While that may be true, it doesn’t make it any less terrifying for her. To her, it is real.  She’s dying, she’s scared, and if someone just sits and holds her hand, it’s all ok.

Mrs. Z isn’t my first dying client.  That would be K., whom I watched fade for over four months after she had fallen out of her bed in the nursing home and broke several bones.  She had memory problems, but always smiled when she had visitors.  Pretty new to the job, I didn’t really know how to interact with her, what to do. I’d run in, take care of her bills and filing, and run out again, counting myself lucky if she weren’t in her room. I found myself avoiding her, ashamed at my cowardice, but not certain how to push through it. I’d say, “Next week. Next week I’ll have some time. Next week I can be braver.”

And then she died.

I regret that I ran. I regret that I couldn’t have made that extra effort just to sit with her for a little bit as she watched the resident cockatiels from her wheelchair. And that’s the thing. It takes so little to do right by someone when they’re dying, so precious little. I didn’t need to wait for a divine thunderbolt or new research study to tell me what to do–I just needed to hold her hand.

I don’t know if I’ll get it right with Mrs. Z this time. But I do know that this time I’m not running, and I’ll be there when she needs me. I think that will be enough.

Songs for the Sun’s Day: Witch’s Reel

Witch’s Reel (Scottish Traditional)

Cummer go ye before, Cummer go ye
If ye willna go before, Cummer let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Linkin lithley widdershins,
Cummer Carlin Crone and Queyn
Roun gae we

Cummer go ye before, Cummer go ye
If ye willna go before, Cummer let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Loupin’ lightly widdershins
Kilted coats and fleein’ hair
Three times three

Cummer go ye before, cummer go ye
If ye willna go before, cummer let me
Ring-a-ring-a-widdershins
Whirlin’ skirlin’ widdershins
De’il tak the hindmost
Wha’er she be

Samhuinn 2014 Redux

Just when everyone is sick of Halloween posts in the blogosphere…here we go!

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Samhuinn and Alban Arthan are the two holy times that last more than a single day in my personal practice.  I’ve written about my extended Alban Arthan celebration before, but Samhuinn has been developing more slowly.  This year feels like it finally settled into a nice seven-day festival of ancestors and witchery.

October 30th: Pumpkin Night. Yeah, haven’t figured out a better name for this one yet. Basically it’s ritualized decorating and laying in supplies for Samhuinn itself. However, I’m much more likely to do it if there’s ritual involved! We have a small, tight knit neighborhood, so several household provide baked goods (even gluten free, dairy free versions!) for Halloweeners.  Definitely something I’d like to do for next year.  But this year was ritual prep, the brewing of Fire Cider against winter colds, dipping dried mullein in beeswax for tapers, and the annual Carving of the Pumpkin (which weighed more than my four-year-old).

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Big kitty, bigger pumpkin.

October 31st: Hunt’s Night. (And trick-or-treating if you have wee ones who engage in such shenanigans.)  After the kiddo is in bed, then the witchy fun begins!  The 31st begins a week of Wild Hunt work.  This has also been Cerridwen’s festival in my liturgical calendar for the past couple of years, but since Hekate has reasserted herself (as has the weird Rhiannon/Macha hybrid I’ve been wrestling with of late–more on that later), this may be the last time that I honor Taliesin’s mother at Samhuinn.  I’ve spent a year brewing the Awen under her guidance at the full moon, and I will likely continue with that devotional pattern.

November 1st: Ancestors of Blood. (Also, this year, group OBOD ritual.) Ruth Davis Bumgardner. George Hagen Bumgardner. George Ade Bumgardner. Vernida Bumgardner. Gerald Bumgardner. Ulysses S. G. Bumgardner. Robert McDonald. Catherine McDonald. Donald McDonald. Tom Hyde. Anne Corbet. This is when I try to do a dumb supper as well.

November 2nd: Ancestors of Spirit. Kent Redmond. Doris Redmond. Madeline Huber. Charles Huber. Les Eisner. Hildegarde von Bingen. Jeanne d’Arc. Bouadicca. Robert Graves. Bridgette of Kildare. Carl Jung. Karl Kerenyi. Seamus Heaney. J.R.R. Tolkein.

November 3rd: Ancestors of Place. Wachusett. The Nipmuc people. Brewer Brook. The Assabet River. Rice. Corn. Salmon. Pig. Lamb.  Also performed a release ceremony, shattering the tea pot that I gave my ex-husband at our wedding.

November 4th: Ancestors of Tribe. Ross Nichols (Nuinn). Iolo Morganwg. Margot Adler. William Stukeley. Gerald Gardner. William Butler Yeats. Bear. Stag. Hawk. Salmon. Taliesin.

November 5th: Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night. The last night of lighting the jack-o-lantern–he goes in the compost heap or chicken run on the 6th. It’s also the last night of “official” Wild Hunt work for this season.

I left Samhuinn feeling very anchored in myself and my practice.  Which is a damned good thing since the next night was the full moon and the last part of the Cauldron Born rite that I started back in November of 2013. That, dear reader, is a tale for another time.