Gestation

8310812Tales are funny things, single moments drawn out into paragraphs and nine months glossed over in a handful of words.

They tell of my rage at the child-thief, the one who–however unwittingly–stole the Awen for his own. They tell of my fury as I hunted him through land, sea, and sky. Of my crow of triumph as I swallowed him whole.

“And, as the story says, she bore him nine months…”

Nine months. So much can happen in nine months. A child can be born. Or, a woman can be turned out of her home to wander the forest in madness as her body swells.

The wheat kernel was poison. As surely as I had once devoured the thief, I retched in vain to purge him from my womb as insanity crept through my mind. No herb or decoction would dislodge him. Better I had left him to sprout in the broad earth and reap my vengeance at harvest, than to let him take root in my own body.

Three, four, five times the moon passed from light to dark. My husband had indulged my assignations with the Pheryllt, with the promise the resulting brew would heal our son.  My burgeoning belly belied a different sort of rendezvous.  Tegid would brook no cuckoldry, real or imagined.

So I wandered. I wandered without the comfort of my children. I wandered past the stink of my broken cauldron and rotting horse flesh. I wandered from the first blasts of Gwynn’s horn through the first snows and darkest night. And as I wandered, so too did my soul become lost.

The cursed fires of Awen, locked away within my own body, those flames would not let me die, no matter how many times cold and hunger overwhelmed me. Against nature, the babe within ensured his vessel’s survival.  Repeatedly I sought death to escape the unceasing burning in my head and the torturous visions–ghosts of the future, shades of the past, far-off phantoms of the present.

Again and again I begged Gwynn for the mercy of the teeth of his red-eared pack. Each time he shook his head, turning the host to ride down other, sanctioned prey.

As the ground thawed and the winds warmed, my feet brought me to the edge of the ocean. The first labor pangs cut through the stupor of visions as I stumbled to the water. No warm chambers or soft beds for Cerridwen. No midwife to help me in my pacing, or hand to hold as I moaned though washes of agony. Just the pounding of the surf as it brought me slowly back to myself, and eased the weight of the trespasser in my body.

And so, as the first of the bonfires were lit on the hills, I birthed the wretched creature.

They say I could not murder the babe so wondrous was his beauty. In truth I could not bear to even look at him. I did not take time or care to sew a leather bag. The baby was born with the caul intact and no sooner had it left my body then I flung it away from me into the devouring ocean. Elffin has ever been a fool.

Nine waves passed over me and I felt the madness recede. I let the chill spring tide carry me higher and higher onto the shore, the polished rocks soothing my body. I dragged myself over to the dark mirror of a tidal pool. The moon rose, and she revealed a woman, once beloved and fair, now bent and white.

Now they say the thief reborn has become a bard, the greatest bard the land has ever known. They say he has sung at the courts of at least three kings, and has performed magic and miracles beyond those of the wisest druids. And they say I am the mother of inspiration.

I can no longer bring myself to care.

I returned home. Winter had cleansed the land of much of the poison from the brew. Bones were all that remained of Gwyddno’s horses, picked clean by crow and wolf and frost. My husband’s ire had likewise cooled, between the storm-whipped winds and lack of someone to run the household.

My own vengeance had been purged at the side of the ocean. My children still need me, and my son is still cursed. Perhaps my mistake was to trust another with work that should have been his. It matters not. It will take time, and it will take care, but my son will have at least one blessing in his life.

What? Did you think I would give up so easily?

Dangerous Diaries

Druids training within OBOD are encouraged to document their experiences by creating some sort of physical journal. In fact many mystery schools coming out of either the Golden Dawn or grimoire traditions encourage the keeping of written notes about one’s spiritual and magical practice. (And actually, if one wants to note small irony, the inquisitors and witchhunters also were encouraged to keep diaries of their observations.) Even as far back as the PGM we find spell formulae being written down to preserve them and pass them along to other seekers.  In the West, at least, the written word is a cornerstone of preserving our esoteric and occult heritage.

However, on more than one occasion it has occurred to me that keeping a dairy can be a dangerous thing.  What were once meant to be private experiences, or only meant for the eyes of other like-minded people, can fall into the wrong hands.  Or, if not the wrong hands, hands that don’t know what to do with them.  Paper trails and documentation form the basis for our society, from legislative to judicial activities.  If it was written down or otherwise recorded, it can potentially be used against you.

Now in the age of the Internet, the diary has taken on a new, more public form: the blog.  This brings with it a whole new set of hazards. Not only are one’s thoughts potentially out in the open for everyone to see, but there is an undeniable risk of ego inflation and celebrity-seeking that one to simply not have to worry about with a private, physical journal.

In addition, there is the phenomenon of various subcultural blogospheres: the pagan blogosphere, the polytheistic blogosphere, the peak oil blogosphere, etc. Probably one of the most critical threats blogging poses to original thinking is constantly exposing the writer to confirmation bias. People tend to seek out like-minded folks – in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing – but time and again small, cliquish echo chambers are created around two or three forceful personalities who inadvertently begin to dictate the tenor and subject matter of what is or is not spiritually and socially significant.  I begin to think that I should be writing about whatever XYZ Topic the big-name-pagan-of-the-week is ranting about, when really, most of the time, I couldn’t give two figs about the latest online pagan community kerfuffle.

Media fasting is a concept I was first exposed to when I did an Ayeurvedic cleanse back in 2007. While I’m not sure I want to experience the “nothing but juiced greens for 21 days” again, the notion of separating myself from the constant drone of popular and news media has proved quite a useful tool.  I don’t read blogs except for Friday nights when I’m at the pub, and whatever I’m able to read in that time I get to, and anything else I pass to the trash bin.

Three iterations of field notes.

Three iterations of field notes.

There’s also something to be said for eschewing the entirety of the blogosphere and plumbing one’s own depths for inspiration. Over the past several months, instead of trawling the Internet for ideas I return to my little book of Ovate field notes. Once a week or so I go through and highlight potential blogging topics in yellow, spiritual observations in pink, and observations about the natural world in green. Then I make a series of seed drafts within WordPress that I can come back to and play with at a later time. I love how this has helped keep my writing on track and true to me. (I also love how it lets me indulge in the luxury of my own handmade journals and a fountain pen.)

Only being able to speak for myself, as a blogger I do find myself craving “likes.” This ain’t healthy, folks.  It becomes an obsession rather than a metric. With that in mind I’m actually going to remove the “like” button from my blog posts.* I find myself increasingly irritated that a post which took hours of research or creative struggle gets only a little notice, while a flippant statement with the intellectual and emotional rigor of “I like cheese!” garners an avalanche of little WP stars. It’s very easy for me to fall into the trap of people pleasing, and an abundance of likes definitely feeds into that character trait – whether or not what I’m writing is what I want to be writing or should be writing for my own path and truth.

You don’t need to depend upon Internet echo chambers for inspiration. Just go out and sit in the sun, listen to the gulls, and taste the salt of the sea. Awen flows in the quiet spaces between, if we let it – not in the incessant static buzz of the blogosphere.

*Comments are always welcome, and I love engaging people in discussions, so please do continue to drop notes about posts that move you for whatever reason. 

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.

Scrolls

I.
Trailing stiff fingers across seeping sandstone,
deeper and deeper into the thrumming earth.
Beneath the sacred hill, down, down, down, plunging
in spiral darkness.

Empty corridors shining with fae fire,
Slipping faster, flowing emptiness surrounds
times before, drifting ghosts across root and rock
show clear memory.

II.
Learning more, travel’s harder, words choking.
Reading, absorbing, mind getting cotton-stuffed,
mental obesity, over-indulgence
in academic bloat.

Right action traded for righteous sloth slowly
blocks the tor-tunnels. Bookcases line Gwynn’s halls,
scroll after scroll, book after tome, dust choking
between deadened leaves.

Shove, shred effortlessly-accumulated
avalanches, begging for clarity.
Trade gifts of intuition for book-knowledge,
Pay a heavy price.

III.
Ash-bright fingers brush mine, pull me free with a
rustling pop. Why do you children rive and slay
experience for stacks of plied symbols? Blackened
eyes crease, not unkind.

Seek the heart-songs, sing them strong.
Dance the dreaming, trailing magic in your wake.
Hold close the fire until it burns your mind
to ash and dust motes,

purging hollow wisdom for brighter knowledge.
Forsake the deadly seduction of cyphers.
Sever, sunder, wrack, rend, tear without mercy
lies clutched too long.

Wild Truth-shaper, rise! Brand the blood of your tribe
in memory’s dance, knotting wyrd as you will.
Flight born of anguish, but so sweet is its draught.
Hunt with me and soar.

Ovate Field Notes: Vol. 3

 One of the most useful skills I’ve acquired in the Ovate grade, is that of making my own journals. I never considered myself a particularly consistent journaler, but now looking over my work not only during this grade, but in the Bardic grade, and even back to college and high school, I’ve written a fair amount.

Like most teenagers I started writing/journaling about every day occurrences. My English teacher senior year made journaling part of his curriculum. We had to do one entry a week, and if there was anything that we wanted to write about that was too private, he told us to tape the pages together. It was not only an excellent exercisein consistancy, but in trust as well. I’m happy to say he never broke it.

I found though, that I’m not a particularly consistent journaler when examined over the course of years. However, I am very consistent for very intense periods of time, such as when I was on a dig in Wales, or interning at a museum in Greece.

Like most spiritual practices today, OBOD greatly encourages keeping a record of your  journey. In an early lesson, there was a gentle suggestion that if you have trouble finding the perfect journal for your Ovate work, you might consider making your own. And of course, the opportunity to derail my studies by learning a new craft was irresistible!

This brings us to yesterday. I had finally filled my second little book of ovate fieldnotes, so it was time to make another. My technique is a mishmash of various instructions gleaned from the Internet (I actually did a practical class in this sort of bookbinding for ECG one year). It works pretty well for me, however, and is exponentially less expensive than mass-produced journals.

Three iterations of field notes.

Three iterations of field notes.

Conversations with a Water Wight

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What?

This pond…

What about it?

There’s no fish.

Well, that’s because it’s not actually supposed to be full of water.  It’s supposed to drain, but there’s too much silt in the soil to let the water escape.

… I can’t fish here.

Fine. We’ll head down to the brook next time.

Good.


I’m sorry your statue got broken.  I shouldn’t have left you with my ex.

You thought I needed to be near the stream where you first met me. Wrong thinking, but kindhearted.

Still, I’m sorry.  I liked that statue.

Me too. Make another.

Really? Are you sure?

Yes. Take two pebbles this time, one for my head, and one for my heart.

Not three?

No. Did I say three?

Fine.


Is this part of the brook better than the pond? It’s much like where we first met, where the water rushes out from under the dam.

Yes, much. [pulls out fishing pole]

I’ve missed you.

Yes. Your heart needs water. It’s dried out, beginning to crack.

I know. It hurt too much.

Just give it little sips for now.  That will help.

I didn’t think you’d be able to find me here.

I am present wherever a stream breaks free of man’s fetters.

That…explains a lot.

It’s good to be back here. I like the fish.

You know there aren’t any fish on this side of the dam?

Close enough.