Ogham Poem: Muin, the Vine

It tangles the feet – the wine, the vine
the sourness of the ferment, the word
we heard on the wind: Love me! Love!

Pay no mind to the ox from the plow,
the neck bent over the twining trunks.
As well as any, these trunks can hold

the rope as the blade sickles down, blood
pouring wine, the prayer of sacrifice.
And if the ox can work no more? Words

made it special, made a slaughter a prayer.
Such power in the hint of the wind!
Such power a weed to a running foot

or Spanish moss, using its beauty
to leech the green. The path of the voice
thrown like a spear, changing everything

as it enters the ear and the blade
peels back the raw layers, pressing the wine.
Hush now, say only: Love! Love me! Love!

Respect is the vine on the trellis
and a lie can support it as well
as the slow-growing withes of the truth

and with more speed. Drink down and don’t mind
the bruises, the ox’s empty eye,
the neck of the tree. Just: Love! Love me!

Grapevine_(1)

Grapevine, via Wikimedia Commons

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Poem: The first time I flew

My feet often lift from the ground, so light
am I in my dreams. For years I have ranged
over ceilings and roofs, treetops and clouds.

Once, when I woke up I was sure I could
still do it – just stand on the pavement and
let the wind take me, my will steer me true.

Waking, I don’t remember the first time
but a dream showed me. That first time, I jumped
over the rail, the floor yawning stories

below and gasps all around as the crowd
watched me die. Plummeting, I clutched my shawl –
green and black, a design of knotted birds –

and the air held me and lifted me up.
Or maybe I died, only to do it
again and again each night in the name

of soaring. Perhaps I just learned there is
no difference between the two, death and flight,
as I lift to my peregrinations.

flying-woman

Public Domain Pictures

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Poem: Deadline

All those weighted words and pressed suits
“Amazing Grace” droning through the chanter
will not turn back time to the deep night

after a naïve young reporter
showed up on an East Brunswick stoop
to return a blurred photo showing

an ink-haired woman beside a Coke
machine. The children rush the doorway
in matching striped shirts and matching smiles

their inky pigtails clinched by baubles
that caught the too-bright light of the room.
They asked the reporter, “Where’s mommy?

When’s Mommy coming home?” In response
she lifts her eyes, seeing the father
twelve steps beyond, an apology

of a smile on a face now written with
lines of an elegy that time will not
ease. She hands over the Polaroid.

In her car, she presses her forehead
to the wheel, hearing their question, knowing
that she will hear it forever

and see the jig of those pigtails
those expectant smiles. There is no way
to end this well: this story, this

deadline, this memory. A deal was
offered to the indifferent night: Break me
instead, let that woman come home

and be more than a blurred shitty photo.
Then slapping away tears she shifts the gear,
pulls out. There is a deadline to be met.

September_11_Photo_Montage

By UpstateNYer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Meán Fómhair: The ritual I plan to do

For all those who struggle to assemble their own rites, I will attach mine for Meán Fómhair, the autumn equinox. I use a variety of sources to assemble my rites, from the chants I know (and some I occasionally write, although not in this one) to ancient lore and modern texts.

For this holiday, I will honor Eriu, Banba and Fotla, the Many-Named Land. Now, while I include the Song of Amergin, I must say that I view these three Goddesses as faces of the Earth Mother herself and not just of one particular island in the Atlantic. Personally, I consider this triplicate Earth Mother to be the same as the Matronae/Matres of Gaul and I have an altar image of the Matres that I use to honor Them. Often, however, I refer to the Earth Mother by what appears to be the most important name of the three: Eriu, which appears to come from a root meaning “fat” or “abundant,” if memory serves.

The sources I use for the ritual below come from Celtic rituals shared via ADF’s website (that’s where a lot of the Gaelic-style invocations come from, aside from the Amergin piece), Ceiswr Serith’s The Book of Pagan Prayer (a seriously good compendium of prayers for all occasions) and Erynn Rowan Laurie’s A Circle of Stones, which I use regularly as part of my daily morning rituals. The pronunciation comes by way of Caera, who recorded all of the Circle of Stones prayers; you can access them (and order her CD!) here.

My apologies for the crappy formatting. I just cut and pasted from Open Office.

So, if you’re looking for ideas for the equinox, please feel free to use and adapt!

Meán Fómhair 2017 – ADF format

Need: Bell, smudge, burner and incense, corn meal for offering, container for well, water for well and offering, oil for the offering, candle or bonfire, herb offering for nature spirits, mead, poetry and/or musical instruments, ritual drum, chalice, ogham, harvest offering, bread offering, materials to make the harvest queen, old harvest queens to offer to fire

  1. Ring bell: Támuid anseo chun onóir a thabhairt do na déithe. We are here to honor the Gods.

  2. Statement of purpose: I come here to celebrate Meán Fómhair, the second harvest, when the Earth Mother gives forth her final abundance in the cold North and the nights grow cool and dark. Today, I honor Eriu, Banba and Fotla, the three Mothers who are the land, prosperity and abundance.

  3. Honoring the Earth Mother, Eriu. Chant and make offering of oats, corn meal or other grain. Earth Mother, accept my offering. Kiss the Earth.

  4. Brighid invocation, offering as Muse

  5. Two Powers meditation

  6. Recreating the Cosmos:

    Acknowledging and making offerings to the Well (pour water in the bowl). Invocation, then: Tobair naomh, ruith a steach mise! Sacred Well, flow within us.

    The Fire: Light bonfire or candle. Invocation, then: Teinne naomh, is a steach mise! Sacred fire, burn within us.

    The Tree: Cense and sprinkle with water. Invocation, then: Crann naomh, fas a steach mise! Sacred tree, grow within us.

  7. Opening the Gates with Manannan. Make offering to Manannan. Let the gates be open.

  8. Offering to the Outsiders to the south of ritual space

  9. Ancestors invocation and offering

  10. Nature Spirits and Spirits of Place invocation and offering

  11. Gods and Goddesses invocation and offering

  12. Invocation to the deities of the occasion, Eriu, Banba and Fotla:

Ailiu iath nErend ALL-yoo EE-ath NAYR-enth I invoke the land of Ireland,
Ermach muir mothuch AIR-mahkh mweer MOTH-ukh Much-coursed be the fertile sea,
Mothach sliagh sreathach MOTH-ukh SHLEE-ugh SHREH-thahkh Fertile be the fruit-strewn mountains,
Srethach coill ciothach SHREH-thahkh kill KEE-ah-thahkh Fruit-strewn be the showery wood,
Ciothach ab essach KEE-ah-thahkh ab ESS-ahkh Showery be the river of waterfalls,
Eassach loch lionmar ESS-ahkh lokh LEE-on-var Of waterfalls be the lake of the deep pools,
Liondmar tor tiopra LEE-on-var tor TEE-a-pra Deep-pooled be the hill-top well
Tiopra tuath aenaigh TEE-a-pra TOO-ath EH-nahkh A well of tribes be the assembly,
Aenach righ Temra EH-nahkh reegh TEV-ra An assembly of kings be Tara,
Teamair tor tuatha TEV-er tor TOO-a-tha Tara be a hill of the tribes
Tuatha mac Míled TOO-a-tha mac MEE-leth The tribes of the sons of Míl,
Míledh long, libern MEE-leth long, LIV-ern Of Míl of the ships, the barks,
Libern ard, Ere LIV-ern ard, AYR-a Let the lofty bark be Ireland,
Ere ard, diclass AYR-a ard, DI-glass Lofty Ireland, darkly sung,
Dichteal rogaeth DIKH-tal ro-GI’TH An incantation of great cunning,
Ro gaes ban Breisi ro gi’s, ban BRAY-shee The great cunning of the wives of Bres,
Breisi, ban Buaigni BRAY-shee, ban BOO-ugh-nyee The wives of Bres, of Buaigne;
Be abdal Ere bay AV-thal AYR-a The great lady Ireland,
Eremhon ortus AYR-e-von OR-tus Eremon hath conquered her,
Ír, Eber ailsius eer, EH-ver AHL-shiu Ír, Eber have invoked for her
Ailiu iath nErenn ALL-yoo EE-ath NAYR-en I invoke the land of Ireland.

  1. Offerings and devotionals

  2. Offering of old harvest idols to the fire, in thanks for harvest completed.

  3. Making of the new harvest queen. The last sheaf of grain was formed into the image of the Land Goddess, the Harvest Queen. Let us know adorn the image of the Harvest Queen in thanks for this year’s bounty.

  4. Sing to bless the Harvest Queen image (Chant by Lori Richards):

    Celebrate her ripening spirit

    Celebrate her blossoming truth

    Celebrate the fruits of our labors

    Mother Goddess, we celebrate you!

  1. The bread offering and prayer of sacrifice. Prayer from Cei Serith’s The Pagan Book of Prayer:

    The sacrificial fires of maple trees burn the summer offering,

    The gray sky accepting the smoke offering it in honor.

    We place this sacrifice before you, gods of the year.

    May each death on the point of the cold’s sharp sword

    Be considered an offering on the altar of Earth.

    May each plant harvested be granted the status of sacrifice.

    May each loss to the end of the year be an addition to your power,

    A thread in the pattern woven by you in the secret places.

  1. Omen

  2. Calling for the Blessing/The Waters of Life: Kindred, I have given to you freely from my hands, my heart and my spirit. In return, I ask that you send forth your blessings into my cup that I may receive them. Eriu, Banba and Fotla, pour forth your blessings! Shining Ones, Nature Spirits, Ancestors, pour forth your blessings! Allow me to drink from the Cup of Inspiration, Kindred. Pour forth your blessings!

    Slowly lift cup above you, feel energy fill it. Then say: This cup now holds the waters of life. I drink this in the names of Eriu, Banba and Fotla, and all the Kindred.

    Drink.

    May these waters I have received flow through my body and my spirit, and may they pour out into the rest of my life.

  3. Thank Eriu, Banba and Fotla, Gods and Goddess, Nature Spirits, Ancestors, Brighid

  4. Closing the gates, thank Manannan

  5. Thank the Earth Mother

  6. Closing the rite: As those before me have done, I have honored the Gods. As I close this rite, I remind myself that the gods go with me in my heart that I may walk with wisdom, power, peace and inspiration. This rite is ended. So be it.

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Peace, retreat and the master’s tools

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Ursula LeGuin’s The Eye of the Heron, which I read years ago. While I don’t have a copy handy — I plucked it from a library shelf at the time — it’s one of the many novels I used for my doctoral dissertation. It’s considered one of LeGuin’s “minor novels” — a polite way of saying that a lot of folks don’t particularly enjoy it.

That being said, the novel has always haunted me — and it particularly comes to mind now. It tells the story of a planet home to two human populations: a macho and violent prison colony and the Shantih, a community of agricultural pacifists were are persecuted by the descendants of the prisoners, who view them merely as agricultural labor — feminized, weak, passive. The people of Shantih decide to move further away from the prison settlement so as to continue their peaceful way of life without intrusion — eliciting a rather predictable and violent reaction from the surrounding oppressor culture.

There are two main protagonists: Luz, the daughter of one of the prison bosses who escapes her misogynist and violent culture to join the people of peace, and Lev, a Shantih-towner who promotes the fight against oppression. Lev is the prototypical “angry young man,” on fire with idealism and willing to abandon some of the constraints of pacifism to do battle against the bosses. The violent can only understand violence and only respect those who deal it in turn. Freedom goes only to those who fight for it.

Does this scenario — and this rhetoric — seem a tad bit familiar?

As readers, we all want the charismatic hero to win and the fascists crushed. This isn’t what happens — which is one of the reasons most people hate the book, I wager, and why I find it so interesting. Perhaps realistically, Lev fails. The pacifists who fight with fists and sticks are annihilated by those who have made violence the core of their identity.

Luz, however, sees the futility of Lev’s revisionist philosophy and leads her people far into the wilderness — a retreat, to be sure, but also a space where life can continue. Threaded through the narrative are the unique, alien creatures of the planet Victoria, all of which die in human captivity. This is, of course, a metaphor for pacifism itself: Enclosed by walls or weapons, it perishes.

The Eye of the Heron echoes another book that haunts me: Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers, which tells of the fall of Masada. Battling the Romans, a group of Jewish rebels ultimately chose to commit mass suicide rather than submit; only two women and five children were found alive afterward, the ancient account goes.

In the novel, one of the protagonist’s sisters joins the community of Essenes outside the walls of the fortress. This quote strikes me deeply:

“You don’t fight for peace sister,’ Nahara told me, ‘You embrace it.”

Nahara and the Essenes are ultimately slain by the Romans, offering no resistance — living their peace until the end. Her sister’s people do battle, and end up killing themselves. In the face of violence, you can choose to be true to your principles and die — or violate them and die just the same.

I know this is taking a rather dark direction, but hear me out.

Martin Luther King Jr. expected that he would die young, according to those who knew him. Probably a good number of his followers had those thoughts, too — and more than a few of them did: Beaten, burned, shot, attacked by dogs, sprayed with fire hoses.

Non-violence as a strategy, involves great risk — and likely death. Ultimately, it’s what makes it such a profound strategy: It’s easy to kill for a cause, but less easy to offer the pure sacrifice of one’s own life. I say “pure sacrifice” in this context to differentiate from, say, suicide bombing, in which a warrior tries to take as many of the enemies’ lives with him when he falls. Maybe I should phrase this differently: It’s easy to kill for a cause, but less easy to knowingly suffer for it — and non-violence does, in many contexts, necessitate the embrace of personal suffering for the greater good.

Granted, non-violence has always been controversial. It only works on people with a conscience, the argument usually goes, and these enemies, in this time, don’t have a conscience. (It doesn’t matter what the particular time or enemies are; the argument is usually the same.) Non-violence only benefits the oppressors, who by their very definition respect only force.

In terms of science fiction, Starhawk’s The Fifth Sacred Thing shows the extreme culmination of a philosophy of non-violence. In her consensus-based utopia, the pacifist denizens resist a military force in an unusual manner. When a member of the community dies, other members stand up and tearfully recount who the slain individual was, how that individual was deeply loved and cherished — and how the killers themselves would be welcomed in love and honor if they chose differently.

Of course, this is fantasy — and not very subtle fantasy at that. But it demonstrates a principle: To quote Audre Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The master has perfected the art of violence; to create a less violent world, you need to change the rules of the game, to move differently.

Hence non-violence.

This is one of the reasons I can’t support the whole “punch a Nazi” street-fighting version of activism that’s in vogue these days. Just as in The Eye of the Heron, the folks with the propensity for violence are the ones with the better weapons — and a violent altercation is going to proceed with this reality in mind. Deliberately engaging in violence that goes beyond strict self-defense also cedes the moral high ground — which, in truth, is the only defensible ground, ideologically speaking.

 

Being willing to suffer for truth is an idea with ancient pedigree. It’s not fun and it just might kill you, but it’s really the only thing that leads to lasting, beneficial change. The rest? Just swamp creatures tearing each other apart as they sink into the muck.

You don’t fight for peace, sister. You embrace it.

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Poem: Mosquitoes

Boiling, that still water.
The nymphs have turned maenad,
thirsting for wine, for rending,
for life and its component parts.

So easy to slap it away,
this truth: that there is beauty
that we are not prepared
to see, to give our life for.

The mosquito’s slender legs —
how delicately she lands
on each new earth, nary
displacing a single hair.

Her wings: spun of light, or glass,
as she delicately sips
the wine of life, red and sweet.
All angles and elegance —

Beauty is not only
in us. Beauty feasts on us,
sometimes with a tiger’s
grandeur, sometimes like a tick.

We are not the yardstick
to measure, not the judge
in dark robes. We are simply
gardener and garden

butcher and feast. We are
brothers to the mosquitoes,
humming high as they halo
our heads. Oh, there is beauty

that we cannot see
lost in that stagnant pond
that reflects only ourselves —
boiling, that still water.

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Poem — Coll/The Hazel

Author’s note: Another one of my ogham poems.

What is wisdom? Hold it in your palm:
Smooth as a river stone, but not a stone.
Brown as a furrow fresh-turned, but not
the earth. The plow’s sharp tooth has touched it not

but you touch it, yes. Whisper it: “Yes, yes.”
Wisdom is that lockless box containing
a treasure so sweet that the squirrels gird
themselves for battle over it. You, too,

with childish hands picking over the bowl
that was always brought out for the holidays —
blood red chased with patterns of deepest green
that stern silver device at its center.

You don’t remember the precise moment,
that in-drawn breath of recognition
when you knew what that device was for,
or the treasures that lay locked away

until a moment of boldness clinched them.
Wisdom knew which gems to pluck from the hoard.
Not the sharp-edged flint of the rainforest
that guarded its secrets like a dragon.

No, you knew precisely the one — smooth
and slightly cool in your grasping hands
friendly brown save where a white eye
watched you always in silent assessment.

An application of will. A snap —
wisdom whispers the precise amount
of force to apply, how to extract
that meat — sweet with a hint of chalkiness.

This is what the salmon sacrificed
their lives for, and what the druid gave
to catch that holy fish. Open it:
You don’t have to wait. This isn’t fishing;

this is what feeds the deep — looking back,
that white eye seeing you as you devour
its heart, the embryo of a tree.
All the streams flowed here: to you and the nut

and that red and green bowl, no matter
how time creases you — still the child with
a nutcracker, a red and green bowl
sacrificing the tree for a treat.

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