Journey to the Ancestors

This last blogging hiatus was a bit longer than I anticipated, but with good reason: I drove my father out to the family cemetery in Ohio so that he could visit his brother’s grave.  My uncle died last year, but the ashes were shipped out to Ohio in 2014 and as such my father had not been able to pay his respects. In spite of two minor car accidents in one day (neither of which were our fault, and one of which was a hit-and-run), it was a deeply satisfying trip.  I was able to take many picture of the family plots, which will help flesh out the genealogical profiles for each of these people.  I also now have graveyard dirt from the triple crossroad in the center of the cemetery.  Likely there will be an paternal ancestor bottle coming soon.

But for now, some pics from the trip:

The Grass is Always Greener

IMG_0558Last week coming home from work, I stopped at the farmers market hosted by one of the rest stops on the Mass Pike.  A woman, a bit older than I, was selling a variety of hand-milled goat milk soap. Local hand-made soap in and of itself is nice, but what really attracted my attention was the variety of herbs she incorporated into her bars and lotions, and the fact that she made very good use of their natural medicinal properties. They smelled absolutely wonderful, and as I browsed we began chatting.

“Are you heading home?” she asked.

“Yes, I work down in Greenwich, Connecticut on weekends.”

“Oh? What do you do down there?”

“Believe it or not, I’m an archaeologist.” This is the point in the conversation when most folks get this rather starry eyed look, and the soap lady was no exception.

“I was so interested in that sort of thing back in high school!” she gushed. “But then I got to college and had no idea how I would make a living at it. What’s the job market like?”

“Truthfully, I’ve been very lucky. I only have a AB, but through my advisor was able to get my current position after I didn’t get into grad school. But most people aren’t so lucky. That being said,” I added, “I’m only a research archaeologist. I don’t do any fieldwork, or go on digs, or discover new artifacts. I just sit at a desk and help edit papers.”

“But still, that’s amazing! I wish I had been able to do something like that.” She swiped my debit card and finished wrapping up my soap selection, a lovely calendula-lemongrass  blend. “You’re really an inspiration.”

I blushed, embarrassed. “Um, thanks.” This is the point in the conversation where I always feel like a fraud, because no matter how many disclaimers I make, that Indiana Jones archetype seems to override all of my caveats. I forced myself to meet her eyes. Blue and clear, the first signs of crows feet perched in the corners.

In a rush I said, “You know, this is what I really want to be doing.” I gestured at the soaps and herbs displayed on her table. “I’m an amateur gardener and herbalist, and I’d love to make a full-time go of it. So really, to me, you’re an inspiration, too.”

“Me? I’m just a farm girl.”

“Yeah,” I sighed. “The grass is always greener.”

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.

Best News I’ve Had All Week

Brewer Brook conservation area.

Brewer Brook conservation area.

That would be this article in the Worcester Telegram.

As I mentioned back in October of last year, the original plan would have put a 12″ gas pipeline through some of the conservation land in our town.  The gas would not have been available to residents, and there was a significant risk to the land and wildlife (especially considering much of our town conservation land consists of swamps–because it’s always smart to build delicate infrastructure on soggy ground, right?).  My drinking water comes from an artesian aquifer, and it’s something that could potentially be contaminated by undetected leaks in such a pipeline.  And of course there’s the immediate impact of the construction on countless birds, fish, amphibians and mammals.

Thankfully, the local uproar was so big, that it even reached the ears of Massachusetts State Senator Elizabeth Warren (who I desperately wish were running for President, but that’s another post entirely).  Our state representative, Harold Naughton, really put his shoulder to the wheel for his constituents on this one.  It’s been an amazing example of democracy at work, and is an undeniable victory for the communities of Berlin, Boylston, and Bolton.

Unfortunately, the fight isn’t truly over.  Only this one section of the pipeline was scrapped. I’m under no illusion that the larger project will go likely forward, further fueling our insatiable appetites for petrochemicals.  At least my one little corner is safe for now.  I can only hope others in the state are as successful as we have been in their fights to prioritize the environment over more mindless consumption of an ever-dwindling resource.

Magic in the Mundane

15519344247_f2f1652951_zAfter yesterday’s post about repairing hoses, it occurred to me that much of my spiritual/magical practice is based upon finding the sacred in the mundane, in giving that little extra magical push so that the simplest tasks carry renewed meaning.

John Michael Greer has a wonderful description of re-enchantment, where is the act of literally singing the sacredness back into the world. There is something so simple and so beautiful about this approach. Though Greer is not necessarily talking about actual songs or singing, that’s the direction I’d like to explore today.

For hundreds of years songs have accompanied daily chores, from the butter churn chant to the rhythmic stroking of orders across the ocean surface. Songs not only serves to pass the time and to speed the work, but also allow a deep connection with the act that we simply do not have in our ages of ergonomic office chairs and glowing screens. The music comes from the individual, we breathe out sound into the world and breathe back in the gifts of our land and community. That connection of breath, of spirit is what can re-enchant the world.

Housework is one of the easiest places to start singing sacredness back into your home and land. I would venture to say that most housework falls under either the category of cleansing/purification magic (sweeping, washing dishes, brushing your hair) or prosperity magic (cooking, gardening, paying bills). If you make home remedies of any sort, that can also be considered healing magic. And of course there are also various sorts of protection/warding rituals for the home and its inhabitants (lullabies being one of my favorites). Finding songs or chants for each task can not only be a way for the work to pass more quickly, but it also allows you to really sink into the rhythm of the chore and in many instances to achieve  a light trance state.

To be clear I’m not necessarily talking about the stereotypical Neopagan dirge here. Use whatever gets you singing, whatever gets your Nwyfre flowing, whether it be Dvorák or Beyoncé. If it feels right, for more physical activities like sweeping or washing the windows, let your whole body move with your song. Push that broom with your whole being, not just your arms and hands. Push it with your core, push it with your heart. The important thing is that it is YOU singing, YOU engaging with the task at hand.

Remembering the layers of meaning behind a chore makes an act sacred instead of superstitious. Songs keep our focus on otherwise mind-numbing activities, and allow us to glean benefits that have largely been forgotten. One of the things I love best about being a Druid is being given the chance, every day, to fall in love with the whole world. Every little piece of it, no matter now mundane. How wonderful is that?

January Hearthside: The Faerie Realms

Untitled by James Dempsey c 2014.

Untitled by James Dempsey c 2014.

This past Monday, those of us who were fortunate enough to have Martin Luther King Day off gathered at Sarah Fuhro’s house to have a discussion about and meditation on the faerie realm (or realms, depending on your perceptions of such things).

Sadly I arrived late, and so missed the beginning of the hearthside, but it was great to spend time in these folks’ company nonetheless. Walking into Sarah’s east-facing dining room, I was greeted by the sight of my grovies meditating in the sun, like a troop of ring-tailed lemurs. Even just catching the tail (ha!) end of the journey was nice, and I used the time to confer with my own guides as the others in the room made their way back.

Lemurs meditate, just like Druids!

Discussion focused largely on those beings classified as devas or plant spirits for the most part, with Jdth recounting quite a bit of her Findhorn experiences.  After settling down to a fantastic lunch of lentil soup, root soup, and assorted sweets, James had a lovely treat for us all: painting he’d made since his muse returned that reminded him of the fae.  I absolutely love the one I chose. It reminds me of the ferns that grace my grove in the deepest heat of summer.  Inspired work, indeed!

As each of us talked about our own encounters, the only fair thing to say is that there seem to be as many discarnate critters as there are incarnate plants and animals living on this world. Seeing where they intersect our lives never ceases to fascinate, not to mention all the various cultural filters placed upon our interactions with these beings, whether we call them fairies, elves, devas, wights, or ancestors.

And of course there is infinite overlapping, mixing, and outright trampling of any and all of these classifications.  One of the more interesting part of our discussion revolved around a transcript of R.J. Stewart’s experience in a mound tomb.  Essentially Stewart believed that when the time came, a tribal leader would go into the tomb to become part of the earth itself, the Stone King, and continue advise his people from the mound long after his body died.  That leader in essence became a local god.  This is where the lines get delightfully blurry–what is a fairy vs, a land spirit vs. an ancestor vs. a god?  It’s similar to the discovery that humans and neanderthals were closely related enough to interbreed, and that some modern humans do in fact carry neanderthal DNA.  The takeaway: the lines between various sorts of fae are not as cut and dried as the magickal encyclopedias would have you believe.

Dark Moon: Ur

c. Aqwis 2006 on Wikimedia Common

c. Aqwis 2006 on Wikimedia Common

Sadly, my real-life success with growing Ur, or Heather as we usually now call it, has been zilch.  I just can’t seem to get the damned stuff to winterover.  Apparently it thrives in acid soil, so perhaps a nice mulching of pine needles will help it along the next time I get up the gumption to try growing it.

Ur is the warmth and joy of community, and there’s certainly been a lot of that in my life this month.  As some of you know, I’ve been tangled up in the process of purchasing one of the units in our co-housing community.  My neighbors have been beyond helpful and supportive, and it’s been such a relaxing experience knowing the I’m working with the buyer instead of engaging in the adversarial relationship so common in real estate transactions.  Bees, the epitome of community, are also closely associated with heather, and their busy hum has reverberated throughout my inner worlds as I navigate a new place in the neighborhood.

In any case, this month has been full of community work, from putting the common garden to bed, to finishing up the siding on the chicken coop, to spending more time with my groovie Grovies outside of ritual. Heather is the healing power of community, and all the sweetness that comes with being fully engaged in one’s tribe. When Damh the Bard sang “Wild Mountain Thyme” around the campfire at ECG 2013, I was choked with tears–my ex-husband had asked for a divorce months before, yet here was a group of people who still found me worthy of love and companionship. We would indeed “all go together,” and the image of my tribe singing amongst the purple heather would carry me through one of the darkest winters of my life.

Will you go, lassie, will you go?
And we’ll all go together
To pull wild mountain thyme
All around the blooming heather,
Will you go, lassie, go?
–Francis McPeak, “Wild Mountain Thyme”