Month: October 2010

Poems for the season

My apologies for silence, although this is the season of silence. It’s a busy season too, with the rustle of leaves — the grove’s Samhain last week, our secular Halloween party this week and some haunting computer issues in between (solved for now by the exorcists at Drivermax.)

I probably posted this in the past, but I thought I’d share two of the poems we used in our grove’s Samhain rite. Both are by me. One was the invocation to the Cailleach, goddess of the occasion (the other deity was Bile). The other called the ancestors.

invocation at the western gate

Remember. Sew together the edges of what was lost for a shroud, a bridal veil, a blanket for a newborn.

Old prayers blow in gray boughs by the well-edge, clooties, banners of causes unremembered. The Old Mother sews them together into a quilt of the unspoken. The figures of broken clay she knits together under the wave.

Remember. Sew together the edges of what was lost for a shroud, a bridal veil, a blanket for a newborn.

Bubbling forth, the spring from the deep, the tear from the eye, the blood from the wound. Salt on the tongue, it gathers to itself, flows forth, flows forth, rivulet and wave.

The voices of the dead are our voices. They echo from that sea isle, as the cattle of Tethra leap from the wave. They wait on that far isle, arms reaching and whole, in the sunset that is sunrise, the harvest that is a sowing.

Remember. Sew together the edges of what was lost for a shroud, a bridal veil, a blanket for a newborn.

a gray dusk and the wind stirs the dunes. gulls dance wave-side as a bobbing child collects shells. an old man writes with his feet on the shore as he remembers Niamh, the white horse, the breaking saddle.

unseen, the lights of Murias glitter through the gloom on the farthest shore. a coracle climbs the waves, in reaching toward and forward, betwixt and beyond. a song waits, a cauldron, a full belly, a cup of truth.

The voices of the dead are our voices.

Remember. Sew together the edges of what was lost for a shroud, a bridal veil, a blanket for a newborn.

waning moon, void of course


just some poetic musing on the fly….

bones crack as winter rides the body
she rides the weak steed
into the white road

sap cracks and sputters
in the white fire of the cold
without spark, without light

and in the east, a wan sun
gingerly steps over
the mountains’ sharp edges

the razor way, they call it
the warrior’s path with
the bright god vaulting the bridge

and landing in its center —
the balance that tips the knife
and wrests secrets from the dark

but you are no warrior
and you know it
and burrow deep in the white

waning moon, void of course
houseless in the Cailleach’s cold
as she carries mountains in her skirts


threads: a poem

A strand of hair, silvered, taut
A bow string, harp string, gut singing
A spider’s net, a worm’s cocoon
looping white over the branch

A branch catching the loose strands
from the braid with a wincing pull —
or the leggy seamstress’ work
ragged as a bird blunders through

and the fly escapes. The silk worm
robbed of its warm coat to make ours.
The bowstring wears, the harp string snaps
from the pressure of the song.

And us, then. Your hair gone gray
under my telling fingers —
slender, fragile, strong as iron —
but only if we are lucky

the neglected Kindred

The Ancestors are the Kindred most associated with the dark season: the season of death, cold, decay, the one we will consign the now-warm flesh of ourselves to during the moment of passage, whenever that may be. Of course, this only holds true in northern climes; for the Greeks, for example, the season of death was summer, when the sun burns the tender green into ash and cracked mud.

As a society, we fear death and isolate it, buying into myths of eternal life and youth. We try every potion, pill and machine to stave it off — or, more accurately, to stave off the deaths of loved ones who can no longer voice their desires. There are worse things than death, of course, although I hesitate to use that phrase, as it implies there’s something wrong with death in the first place.

I don’t think there is, quite frankly. And I’m not saying this as a way to chirp about a realm of neverending light and bliss, or any of the other fantasies we have about the Otherworld. Quite simply: we wear out, physically, mentally, emotionally. We are, in effect, mortal creatures. Death is a door to the great Elsewhere. Wherever it leads — even the black mirror of Void — it is beyond the failing limits of ourselves.

My grandmother, while she was dying of cancer, enthusiastically awaited this Great Elsewhere and its denizens. It was the next great adventure. Ancestors — the Beloved Dead as a Reclaiming priest once called them, a phrase I cherish — are simply those who have stepped through that door.

So, why can’t I connect?

I don’t mean connection in the sense of mediumship, visions, rituals. I mean a sense of beloved interrelationship — the same that I have with the Gods, and to a lesser extent the Nature Spirits. Perhaps it’s a matter of temperament; I’ve been called to the Gods’ service since I was a tyke and have been honoring them enthusiastically since early childhood. Perhaps that love and devotion eclipses other loves.

Or perhaps there’s another reason: I simply haven’t lost anyone close enough to me to crumble my world; I’ve had no reason to seek them out in the Isle of Apples. I joyfully cared for my dying grandmother, so I don’t think fear of death or dying necessarily factors into this; I am also painfully aware of the crazy tilt of time, and the endings all cycles require. Death is the leaves rustling under my feet, the small bodies of birds on the porch boards. Death is the 17-year-old cat that passed through that door little more than a week ago.

My omens recently have been idad/age and edad/amanita: seek visions of the Ancestors. I, too, will be among them someday, as will all those I love. Whether we stay in the Isle of Apples or head out onto our next lives quickly, I cannot say and honestly don’t believe that matters; time does not exist, and we are in multiple places — or even every place — at once. Our souls are not single, and they head to different places — all part of what we call I or self, but not the same I or self we know now.

I have a philosophical understanding of the Beloved Dead, but perhaps I need to make it more … conversational. Just as the Gods, they can communicate from Elsewhere.

and now a word from our sponsor

I’m a bit behind, owing to yesterday’s bathroom-cleaning frenzy and today’s headache. Headaches are a longstanding October tradition, for some reason. Perhaps it’s the weather change, or having to turn the heat back on. At any rate: blargh.

I’m feeling frenzy-free enough to restart the grove for Samhain. We’ll have a planning meeting today. And, of course, there’s the secular Halloween party here at Forest House on Oct. 30. Drop a line if you’d like to come and I’ll send you directions!

Now, back to more interesting blog entries.

the blood harvest

October’s light is pale, always half-sunset even with the clearest sky. Aine’s light dazzles but does not warm.

It is time for the culling.

Yes, I take the last harvest and compost most of the deck plants, and bring my potted herbs inside, protected by the predicted bite of frost. I offer prayers as I compost the rest, prayers as I turn the soil in my garden, prayers in the season of death.

Waning sun and waning moon.

Our eldest cat, Mr. Spock, waned with the season: the blood harvest, the harvesting of all those who cannot last the winter. He, at 17, had finally stopped eating anything except treats. He spent his last week choosing the company of 9-year-old Schnoogie, whom he raised from kittenhood, in her part of the house. I love you, but she needs me more, he blinked with his green-gold eyes. I accepted.

He knew his life’s thread had reached the final knot, and we knew too. The night before he died, he led Schnoogie from her lower-level apartment to the rest of the house. This is yours, too. Don’t forget it.

The next day, the vet gave the expected prognosis. As we held him, waiting, I saw Brighid step to the door with a gentle smile. Her head brushed the ceiling. She smiled gently, with folded hands — waiting, much as I had seen her when I brought my friend’s cat to the vet this summer to be euthanized.

All three of us — the vet included, since she loved Mr. Spock dearly herself — crowded around him as the anesthetic went in. He leaped into Brighid’s arms. With her free arm, she gently touched our heads as spirit-Spock rubbed against us and then returned with her to the Otherworld.

And here I am, culling the waning green in death’s season, dancing on the claw-edge of a cat’s grief and my own.

I don’t want rituals or music, right now. I don’t want distraction. This sad honoring feels right in its way.

Happy travels, Mr. Spock. We’ll see you again in the Otherworld.

Wisdom, weid and fios

Back to pondering virtue as it relates to my Druidic path.

In ADF, the first virtue listed in the dedicants’ program is wisdom. It’s in Aedh Rua’s list as well, although further down the list: fios, with emphasis on knowledge of the sacred.

What is wisdom? The better part of valor, traditionally — meaning that it’s better to know what you’re getting into than to act from sheer bravery or will. It’s intertwined with knowledge — not the mere recitation of facts, but the deep consideration of them, the truths therein, the patterns created.

It comes from the Indo-European root weid, “to see.” Wisdom, then, is about seeing what is — in all its complexity. Interestingly, one of the etymologies of druid — according to the handy-dandy Indo-European root guide at the end of my third edition American Heritage Dictionary (well-worn and well-loved) is dru-wid, “strong seer.” This makes sense for a spirituo-religious caste.

Wisdom is caught up with making the right choices, which comes from perceiving matters correctly and weighing multiple factors when making judgments. Thus, you need not only knowledge — the factual basis for said decisions — but an intellect that’s capable of seeing the relationship between different factual points. Simple black-and-white or either/or dichotomy thinking isn’t wise; it’s conceptual laziness, albeit a culturally approved form.

Sheer knowledge and thinking ability, however, don’t necessarily lead to wisdom. One can have an encyclopedic memory, but be unable to use it to any real effect. One can be capable of, say, theoretical physics but make foolish decisions regarding relationships, careers, personal safety, or interacting with the sacred. Someone can have a brilliant yet inflexible mind that refuses to see patterns that fall outside a particular template, whether religious, political, etc.

Wisdom requires a flexible mind willing to engage contradiction and difference. It requires a willingness to see and acknowledge mistakes and learn from them, rather than flee or deny. And it also requires sheer time — the wealth of experience that age brings (although someone who’s older isn’t necessarily wiser; she may have an inflexible mind, an intellect that cannot cope with complexity, or a lack of knowledge, for example).

Young people traditionally aren’t seen as wise because they don’t have the wealth of experiences — including mistakes and missteps — to learn from. The developmentally disabled — Forrest Gump aside — don’t often have the intellect required to make clear judgments. The mentally rigid are too invested in particular beliefs or world-constructions to truly see things as they are.

It’s understandable that a Druid should aim for wisdom, especially considering the Druid’s historic role as an adviser to chiefs and kings. You want your priestess to have deep knowledge of the sacred before she leads your rite, and your clergyperson to have the knowledge and experience of human relationship before he guides you through the troubled waters of a struggling marriage, or whatever problem you’re coming in with.

But can you be a virtuous person without wisdom? What if you’re six years old or developmentally disabled, or otherwise incapable of the mental flexibility that wisdom requires through temperament or circumstance?

I think so, but I’m not exactly sure how. In some senses, you may be in a protected class — a class of people who requires care (children, Alzheimer’s patients, etc.). Your dharma (borrowing a Hindu term here: duty/life path/what you’re mean to be) is different from the person who cares for you. Those who cannot choose their actions freely and clearly — an infant, the mentally disabled or mentally ill — seem to be exempt from the concept of virtue itself. It’s not that they lack virtue, but that they’re outside the system entirely.

I think, however, that those outside the system can still have virtue if they act in accordance with their best selves as far as they are capable. A woman with schizophrenia who is on her medication can quite possibly fulfill most or even all of virtue’s requirements. Another woman with the same illness may not because the same medications cannot treat her. I just have a problem of kicking folks outside of the circle of virtue for factors they cannot control.

What do you think?

the harp and patience

The 19-string medieval harp isn’t as well made as my 22-string model. It has only a single set of pins and the highest C doesn’t sound, since it rests on the rosewood frame. The frame itself is austere, more line than curve, and contributes to a sound that’s more primitive, less resonant.

Yet I love it. Not more than my 22-string, surely — that’s always my first love.

It’s tuned to F, which gives me the opportunity to explore modes with a different base key. I particularly enjoyed F Aeolian, with its beautiful melancholy. The simplicity of the instrument gives it somewhat of a queer quality, something fey. But my instruments tend to be of the simple, folk variety: dulcimers and kanteles handmade by my father, a kalimba made with bobby pins. There’s not a shred of mother of pearl ornamentation anywhere.

It’s a strange aesthetic, I know — once that I put to good use in my music. And it’s a strange contrast to my voice, which decidedly isn’t plain after a dozen years of classical training.

I’m no maestro; I have too many instruments to focus all my time on just one. Granted, I’ve been focused on harp lately due to the class and the new instrument, which I can’t actually play yet until the nylon strings stretch. Otherwise, it falls out of tune in five seconds flat. I’ve ordered a replacement set of strings for the 22-string harp, which means I’m going to be in that boat yet again shortly — or not so shortly, since Lark in the Morning didn’t ship my strings with the other harp. I’ll give them a week and call again Tuesday.

The harp teaches you patience, with its constant tuning, the burn of your arm as you turn the pegs — one pass, two, three. It teaches you that simple patterns can create beauty, that you needn’t fill every space with noise.

And I think: the traveling bards likely had more simple harps — lyre-like, even — rather than the deeply resonant monsters that require wheels to transport. Their frames were banged and worn from travel on foot, back, horseback, cart. They were worn by use and had no levers.

Abandon all your expectations, the whip you flog yourself with in your failure to reach commercialized perfection, all ye who enter here.

In one of my favorite pictures of Brighid, she’s playing a small harp — very similar to my 22-string model. The prince riding The Chariot in Robin Wood’s deck is, as well.

The harp teaches you authenticity, the limits of your skill and your passion. It weaves a simple net that supports the soaring wings of your voice, or a pattern drawing your mind to praise, meditation, trance. And so does the dulcimer, the kantele, the bulbul tarang.