Month: September 2010

the spiritual and the domestic

Stillness amid motion: the squirrels and chipmunks rustling the leaves as they bury nuts. The sun glancing off leaves that are as yet green, but tinged with brown weariness. My hands take on the sharp scent of the rosemary as I clip the green stems, tying them up and hanging them in the garage. The soft scent of laundry wafts from the line.

So much of autumn is motion — domestic, preparatory, dealing with the realities of food, shelter, necessities through the winter. It is earthiness, the last thrust of blooming goldenrod beneath a perfect blue sky touched just slightly by the oncoming hardness.

I was scratching my head today about how the domestic round has kept me from the spiritual things, but I don’t think that’s accurate. It’s kept me from the set-apart spiritual, the sacred and the taboo, the realm of clanging bell branches, ritual implements and painted faces, of time apart with my temple door shut.

But the spiritual that encompasses the domestic remains. Brighid’s kitchen candle burns merrily as she accepts the offerings of my labor — my offerings to house and husband and home. A work-offering to the house is also an offering to the house-spirit and the house-gods. Helping or feeding loved ones also honors love’s gods. As I toss rejected tomatoes to the squirrels from my deck garden, I am also making the offering to the land spirits of which they and their kind are part.

Whether housework is drudgery or divine is determined by your perspective.

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the Morrigan’s mode

A snapshot into aspects of my spiritual practice….

I use music in ritual as a praise offering and trance-induction, as well as a means to work what people these days often call magick. (I’ve never been keen on the term myself, but I’m not sure what else to call it.)¬† Since I play a variety of folk instruments — some of which you can see here — I have many to choose from. My favorites, drum aside, are the kantele and the harp.

Often, with the harp, I will choose a mode that fits the ritual purpose. For the Morrigan, I always choose the Locrian mode; in a C-tuned harp, the scale runs B C D E F G A. Despite the name, it’s not from ancient Greece; they had another term for it that I’m not entirely clear on.

The church once called it the devil’s mode because it has a diminished fifth in its main chord, resulting in a certain kind of dissonance. It’s a bit carnivalesque in its way.

So here’s to the Morrigan’s mode, and its trance-inducing properties!

death’s gatekeeper

The day edges toward its balance with the night. September is golden light through fading green, a nip in a clear sky, days of tumbling gray.

Today, I will celebrate Mean Fomhair, the time of the encroaching dark. Traditionally, I led the grove in a Warrior Woman rite dedicated to the Morrigan — painting our faces, dancing fiercely with swords, dancing the darkness.

This year, I am alone by choice, a wolf curling into the cave. And I am reluctant to face Her — she who is death and decay, the raven pecking at the entrails, the harbinger of eventual defeat. Strap yourself to the rock like CuChulainn, waving your blade against insurmountable odds. But She will alight on your shoulder nonetheless, Death Mother who waits for us all.

Interestingly, I see Morrigan as the death process itself, and not the ruler of the land of the ancestors: that would be Donn, first to die. The Morrigan keeps the gate. I see echoes of Hades’ witch-wife Hecate, who has similar powers — leading the spirits with her twin torches through the three realms of the world. In my experience, the Lord of the Dead — whether you call him Hades, Donn or Yama — is a decently kind god, but not much involved in the realm of the living, except to offer some well-meaning advice on occasion.

Perhaps Persephone herself originally had the Morrigan’s role; her name means “destroyer.” She’s not just the eternal victim, the gentle spring maiden swept into the deeps.

No, the Death-Bringer is the fierce red woman and the heckling black crow. She sweeps you up in her feathered cloak, her strange chariot distorted by motion. She is the inevitability of time and its decay, the great recycler. You can fear her, but your fear changes nothing — not the endings and the deaths that parade toward you with their heavy tread, not the slide of sand in the hourglass.

I am reluctant to face Her, to paint my face alone, to dance with Her alone in the darkness. But perhaps this reluctance means that I need to do these things — to let go of my iron grip on summer, its light and its green, on my youth slipping away, on choices that once seemed sure and now crumble at the path’s end.

Oh yes. I should dance.

Nine noble virtues

As a fodder for contemplation, I was considering a series on the Nine Noble Virtues.

The question is … which nine?

ADF has its list of virtues, which I had explored in the dedicants program: wisdom, piety, vision, courage, integrity, perseverance, hospitality, moderation, fertility. In Asatru — likely the source for the ADF version — the virtues are courage, truth, honor, fidelity, hospitality, discipline, industriousness, self-reliance and perseverance. On the Celtic side, Aedh Rua compiled a list of 12 coir (virtues) that include dilseacht (loyalty), tairise (reliability, steadfastness), flaithiulacht (generosity), aiocht (generosity.hospitality toward strangers and those in need), ionraicas (integrity), cneastacht (sincerity), macanta (gentleness), misneach (keeping things in perspective/courage), calmacht (endurance), crogacht (ferocity), fios (wisdom) and dualgas (duty). (My apologies for omitting the crucial accent marks. I’d have to open a new program to write the words correctly….)

Virtue is important in that it identifies what you value. It’s linked to the old-fashioned concept of character. It’s a guideline for right action — action in accordance with the universal order, whether you call that rta or dharma, wyrd or firinne.

So, what do I value?

I admit I’ve always had difficulty with the ADF list. Piety snags in the throat, although I agree with the concept of faith. Vision isn’t so much a virtue as an ability; some good people in the world have little of it. Fertility makes me flee for the hills without leaving a contact phone number.

The ADF and Asatru lists always made me wonder: Where is kindness? Generosity? Mindfulness? Even unvarnished honesty? In my mind, they are too focused on hardness — and on warriors and the engines of war.

Virtue and honor have often been associated with warriors — mostly because the “bushido” mindset, so to speak, keeps them from strong-arming, subjugating and ultimately destroying their own peoples. It’s one of the reasons that there’s necessary tension between the warrior and priestly castes in¬†Dumezil’s tripartite system.

What is virtue, then, outside of that caste — and indeed, in a world without caste? To create a world we wish to dwell in, we must provide a metaphysical blueprint for the kind of people we want to be. At least that’s my thinking.

How about you?

Viva la revolucion!

Today, I’m pondering the decline of blogs.

Once upon a time, blogs had that new car smell and the crinkle of wrapping paper. Fingers eagerly pecked out book reviews, diatribes, analysis of tortuous social relationships, rants and thoughts, their vision of the scene outside their window.

And then Facebook sauntered in, shadowed shortly thereafter by the dreaded Twitter.

Long-winded, pent-up rants were replaced by pithy statements 140 characters long. While people still posted about the bologna sandwich they had for lunch, they no longer gave an in-depth analysis of the quality of multigrain versus rye bread, the composition of bologna itself, and indeed whether it had been left too long in the fridge.

Blogs began smelling like your dad’s Chevy Nova, which has been rusting in the sideyard for the past 10 years. Tumbleweeds began rolling through. Mice took up residence in the chewed-out seats.

I, however, am a nostalgic bastard and prefer long-form writing. And because I am a busybody, you should too.

Be a rebel! Post long-winded rants about political goings-on, the new dress you bought, the way that weird guy looked at you in the Safeway parking lot! Show the depth of your humanity, the keen edge of your observation! Escape the 140-character prison!

Viva la revolucion!

a bit of doggerel: summer’s end

The cold wind comes, embracing.
The lover of frost
the harbinger of fall.
It hides beneath the old green leaves
waiting.
Skin prickles at its embrace
as the poplars shed their rags.
Herald of the yellow light,
the sun waning — like the moon
with the creak of wagon wheels
headed down the rutted road
westering as it melds
with the blue horizon