New Year’s 2017 Ogham Divinations

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Following the deer trail deep into the woods.

New Year’s ended up being a fabulous women’s retreat at a dear friend’s home in Maine.  There was as much laughter, tears, and divine ridiculousness as five women could possibly summon!

We kept with our Grove’s New Year’s tradition of a divination extravaganza after the stroke of midnight, January 1st.  W. did wonderful tarot spreads for all us ladies, but I also kept with my yearly drawing of the ogham for a month-by-month forecast of 2017.  Being a Druid, I use a tree ogham, but of course there are color, bird, and even word oghams that could be substituted.

Since there weren’t any ogham sets handy, I instead cut 25 slips of paper and used those for the fews. (This is one of the nice things about both runes and ogham as divinatory systems: they can be constructed on the fly with whatever materials are at hand.)

January-ioho/yew
February-beith/birch
March-oir/spindle
April-saille/willow
May-ruis/elder
June-uilleand/gooseberry or honeysuckle
July-ur/heather
August-luis/rowan
September-fearn/alder
October-tinne/holly
November-quert/apple
December-ohn/furze or gorse

The lessons of Ioho are already apparent only a few days into the month of January.  One political regime is giving away to another in the U.S. and people are looking to their ancestors for wisdom and guidance in surviving whatever lies ahead.  This is the shaman’s tree, the axis mundi, evergreen and sometimes bleeding.  Sharing in its strength can only bolster us for what lies ahead.

Dark Moon Tests

7294830668_6ac2134bab_kSeek me in the pine grove, if you would know who I am.

Almost a fortnight ago, I took her at her word. Hufflespawn was with his father and the night was clear, if a bit cool. I grab my druid bug-out bag and head down the back steps into the orchard. With every step her presence grows heavier, and her wishes swirl thickly in my mind.

Pick a sprig of mugwort.

No hands in pockets. You need to feel the night on your skin.

Cover your head.

No light until you cross the hedge.

I scramble my way up the hill to the gap in the stone wall which marks the beginning of the trail. I pause for a moment, feeling fear scamper up-and-down my vertebrae as acorns crash to the ground. Though I had walked these woods many times during the day, I have never ventured into them at night. Reciting the Druid Prayer for Peace, a penlight in my hand, I make my way down to the brook.

My footsteps are too loud. Stealth was one of the many gifts that I set aside in order to make others more comfortable. The relearning is slow and far from perfect.

I miss the first switchback. I nearly end up in a blueberry farmer’s barn. The LED casts a grayish light and my mind wants to make every stump into a crouching figure. The crown of a newly fallen tree blocks the path and requires quite a bit of ducking and wiggling to navigate. I scoot over the first two log bridges easily enough.

9041878957_2b958d0ecd_kBut some jackass has pried half the boards off the third bridge.

I could try to balance on the slick rounded log that remained. I could continue on the path up to the wider, well-maintained bridge. I could use a tool to steady myself.

Choose.

I’m a thinker. I don’t have a lot of physical guts, especially when it comes to stunts involving heights and falls and being soaked to the waist in mid-October on a moonless night.

“If you want me, Lady, you’re getting a tool-using human, not an unthinking berserker.”

I cast around until I find a fallen white pine limb.

Yes.

The branch sinks a good foot into the mud each time it steadies my way across the “bridge.” I thanked my makeshift staff and lay it at the roots of Gog and Nagog as I greet them and make my way into the Grove.

At the triple crossroads I stop and let my light blink out. Lighting the small beeswax tea light from my ritual kit is a struggle in the cool breeze. Dogs howl in the dark beyond the ridges of the valley, and night birds warn each other of my presence. After long moments and not a few curses as wax drips on my hands, the flame catches. And holds.

I call to the spirits of the land. I call to the guardians of the Order. And I call to the Lady who had guided me here. I take stock of my crane bag, fat and distended as an infected gallbladder after 5 years of serving an Ovate who might well be part magpie. What I could no longer use I portioned out as a sacrifice.

Good. Take up your staff.

Surprised, I make my way back to the twin giants and pick up the white pine limb that helped cross the bridge. My hands are already fragrant and sticky with sap. I return to my circle, and thank the Lady for her gift.

“But before we go any further,” I say, “there are some things I want to make clear. I will not do anything that takes me from this land, my home. And I will not do anything that takes me from my son, or harms him or my relationship with him.”

Apparently, that wasn’t what she wanted to hear. She said nothing for the remainder of the ritual, nor did I feel her at the edges of my senses any longer.

However, I did feel the warmth of the forest surround me, and an ease in its presence that I had not experienced before. With her silence, it was almost as if a crowd had gathered, watching to see what would happen. I took my knife and trimmed up the staff in order to get it home, thinking hard on what had just happened and easing into the nighttime forest rhythms.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sorely disappointed.  I had been hoping to finally find out who this Lady was, to finally have some answers to my questions about her and what she wanted from me.  It wasn’t the ritual experience I was looking for, but it was certainly the one I needed.

The fact is, you stick me in the middle of the woods, and I will start making things. It’s what I am. I’m not a warrior, though I once tried very hard to be. I’m not an activist, and I’d rather be in my garden then tilting at windmills on the Internet. I am a decent crafter, a sporadic writer, and a determined mother. If that’s not what you’re looking for, then you’d best find someone else.

Still, as I crested the ridge on the way home, I heard

Turn out your light.

And so I did.

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.

Of Orchards and Hoses

7294832570_648f26271eAs some of you doubtless already know, I live in a co-housing community, which is a slightly more capitalistic version of the stereotypical hippie commune.  We all own our own properties, pay our own taxes, and participate on a voluntary basis. We do have smaller units in exchange for a large common house and associated facilities, and we have co-housing due in addition to condo fees, which allow people to fund all sort of different projects, from a hot tub, to a community garden, to a fitness  room.  We use a consensus-based model for decisions, with a vote-based system if consensus fails.

One of the many neat projects we have going at the moment is a newly planted apple orchard.  There’s a mix of traditional and heirlooms, along with a nut tree or two–8 saplings in total.  I admit to having little interest in what particular trees were chosen, but now that they’re planted, I’m having a great time learning about tree care and orchard principles.  We’ve given ourselves the extra challenge of doing things organically, so there’s going to be quite a bit of experimentation (and I’m sure, failure) ahead.

I need a new male end! This one will never screw again!

The biggest challenge right now is water. We haven’t had rain in a good three weeks, which with new plantings is a major problem. The orchard is several hundred yards away from the nearest spigot, so we needed quite the length of hose–which was promptly hacked up in several places by a well-meaning member of the Mowing Team. Ooops. It was rather fitting then, as I’m attempting to reengage with Water, that I ended up working on repairing the hoses this week.

Hose repair is one of those things that is so simple, you wonder why people throw out their old hoses instead of fixing them. I learned by following around a grizzled Costa Rican man named Bert as he did repairs on fountains and irrigation hoses in the garden center where I used to work.  I’d be a second set of (much smaller) hands for threading things up into various fountain bases, and thus I learned the basics of keeping hoses in good repair. (Also, get a good heavy rubber hose to begin with.  Yes, they’re most expensive up front, but you will thank me, I promise.)

First, figure out the hose diameter, usually either 1/2″ or 5/8″, pack yourself off the the local hardware store, and pick up splicers and/or male or female ends as needed. Also, get yourself a good sharp utility knife if you don’t already have one.  (It’s my favorite Scared Druid Tool, with my pruning shears running a close second.)  The only other thing you should need is a Phillips screwdriver.

Alchemical union of male and female achieved!

First, cut out the damaged part of the hose. Keep the cut vertical, since if it’s angled it’s difficult to get a snug fit when you put in the replacement part.  Then insert one end of the connector into the hose–you will likely have to be very firm to get things nice and tight.  If the hose aperture is really too small, sometimes making a few tiny cuts in the edge of the opening will allow you to get the connector started in the hole.  Once it’s in place, and the hose is snug against the connector lip, open up the collar and then screw it down around the hose/collar edge to make the join water tight.  Repeat with the other side and ta-da! Non-leaky hose!

Preventative measures are always superior: don’t let the hose get kinks, don’t leave it outside for the winter…and for gods sakes, check the grass before you mow! But in case of accidents, now you know how to spend $3 and a bit of elbow grease rather than buying a whole new hose. It’s that whole “reuse” part of the 3 R’s that so often gets forgotten. Happy watering!

Tree Twin Lament

Needles cramp my hand, writing your sap out of my blood.
Me, born in screaming winter depths; you, planted come spring.
Roots garroting themselves in a too-small plot of soil,
Until trunk wounds seep amber with cankerous infection.
Arbor(su)icide or accident of circumstance?
Frenetic meat-monkey, my escape proved too easy.
Love, did you choke on my pain until I could fly free?

 

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Dark Moon: Mor

14166017143_8e09c51eca_zThe Sea. Scots pine. Beech. Witch hazel. Twin of hazel. All of these have been proposed as interpretations for Mor. Personally, beech and the sea are the two which resonate most, so it is with them that my interpretations for this dark moon begins.

This has been a time of betweens, no doubt. Between two homes, between two jobs, between two paths, between two states. It’s the solve before the coagula.  Things are pulling apart before they can come back together.

The sea, Manawydan’s realm, holds the essence of the soul, of the other worlds.  Water shows up in my dreams when there is emotion to acknowledge. The last time I dreamt of water, it was clear and pure, with shells and polished glass on the sandy bottom. Water has always been the most difficult element, but slowly, I feel it pulling into balance again.

The Beech is my World Tree. It connects everything. So as things have pulled apart, I’ve still be able to keep the connection between. Essential for any transition, not only looking forward and back, but up and down, left and right, to see where all threads lead.

Release and connection. Hold on tightly, let go lightly. Breathe.

NYC Pilgrimage: Central Park

New York City has always been something of a touchstone for me, so I decided to make a pilgrimage to three spiritually significant spots: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Central Park. This is the final post in the series.

I had actually intended to avoid the park. Stories of muggers and rapists crowded my brain as I left the museum, enough so that I crossed the street to walk in the perceived safety of 5th Avenue doormen.

Then I heard music. (Fairy music, perhaps?) Thrumming base notes and a pop/rock wail spilled through the trees and over the low stone wall. As I crossed East 66th St., my curiosity finally got the better of me and I followed the road towards the melody.

There is something romantic about the park at night. No longer gas lights, but the glow of the street lamps and strains of music gave the towering trees an otherworldly glow.  These trees, for the most part, like people, or are at least very tolerant of us. They’ve grown up with humans, and their branches bend protectively over the paths.

But there are human ghosts in the park, too, not all of them so happy.

An irregular terrain of swamps and bluffs, punctuated by rocky outcroppings, made the land between Fifth and Eighth avenues and 59th and 106th streets undesirable for private development. Creating the park, however, required displacing roughly 1,600 poor residents, including Irish pig farmers and German gardeners, who lived in shanties on the site. At Eighth Avenue and 82nd Street, Seneca Village had been one of the city’s most stable African-American settlements, with three churches and a school. —Blackmar and Rosenzweig

I stopped and spoke a while with a sycamore, a leopard tree with peeling bark.  Sycamores are the guardians of this place, more so than any other species.  She was gentle, somewhat amused and muzzy as she prepared for the winter. A piece of her bark cracked off and fell at my feet as we spoke, her gift to a traveler far from home.

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One melody gave way to another as I continued south, from Indie Pop to protesters’ drums. Along Central Park South, I noted a small fountain. City planners it seemed still had some classical education, public water being essential to the designs of so many ancient and medieval cities. The water for NYC, in fact, comes from miles away, through aqueducts in the Catskill Mountains.  Like Rome, 95% of NYC’s water gets there by gravity, rather than having to be pumped into the city.  The fountain was in the shape of a stone trough–perhaps it had watered horses in days gone by.

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I dipped my fingers into the stream, offering a final prayer of thanks as I laved my forehead, lips, and heart. Blessed by tree and water, and by the fire of music, I made my way down through the protesters, and home in the false dawn of a NYC night.