Saturday, September 11, 2010

Days Before Mabon, Waxing Moon

No doubt about it today; Summer's coming to a graceful end and Autumn is peaking through the veils, ready to usher in glorious death.

What do we know?

I wonder. To wonder takes time. I walk in the hills behind our home. The leaves have fallen, leaf litter, perfect for the shuffling of towhees. The supple grasses of summer have become knee-high rattles. Ridge winds shake the tiny seedheads like gourds. I hear my grandfather's voice.

All sound requires patience; not just the ability to hear, but the capacity to listen, the awareness of mind to discern a story. A magpie flies toward me and disappears in the oak thicket. He is relentless in his cries. What does he know that I do not? What story is he telling? I love these birds, their long iridescent tail feathers, their undulations in flight. Two more magpies join him. I sit on a flat boulder to rest, pick up two stones and begin striking edges.

What I know in my bones is that I forget to take time to remember what I know. The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves. We are animals, living, breathing organisms engaged not only in our own evolution but the evolution of a species that has been gifted with nascence. Nascence--to come into existence; to be born; to bring forth; the process of emerging.

Even in death we are being born. And it takes time.

I think about my grandfather, his desire for voices, to be held as he dies in the comfort of conversation. Even if he rarely contributes to what is being said, his mind finds its own calm. To him this is a form of music that allows him to remember he is not alone in the world. Our evolution is the story of listening.

In the evening by firelight in their caves and rock shelters, the Neanderthals sometimes relaxed to the sound of music after a hard day at the hunt. They took material at hand, a cave bear's thigh bone, and created a flute. With such a simple instrument, these stocky, heavy browed Neanderthals, extinct close relatives of humans, may have given expression to the fears, longings, and joys of their prehistoric lives. (John Noble Wilford, "Playing of Flute May Have Graced Neanderthal Fire," The New York Times)

A bone flutelike object was found at Divje Babe in northwestern Slovenia recently, dated somewhere between forty-three thousand to eighty-two thousand years old. Dr. Ivan Turk, a paleontologist at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences in Ljubjana, believes this is the first musical instrument ever to be associated with Neanderthals. It is a piece of bear femur with four holes in a straight alignment. Researchers say the bone flute may be the oldest known musical instrument.

I wonder about that cave, the fire that flickered and faded on damp walls as someone in the clan played a flute. Were they a family? Neighbors? What were their dreams and inventions? Did they know the long line of human beings that would follow their impulses to survive, even flourish in moments of reverie?

Returning to my grandparents' home, I notice the fifty-foot antenna that rises over the roof. I recall Jack telling us as children how important it was for the antenna to be grounded in the earth, that as long as it was securely placed it could radiate signals into the air all over the world. Transmit and receive. I walk into his dim room and place my hand on my grandfather's leg. Bone. Nothing lost. Overcome by something else. Ways of knowing. My fingers wrap around bone and I feel his life blowing through him.

John H. Tempest, Jr., passed away on December 15, 1996, peacefully at home in the company of family.

~from Listening Days by Terry Tempest Williams

What music is Autumn going to play upon your bones? Are you grounded enough for signals to radiate all over the world?

Picture found here.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our days will become.

~John O'Donohue

Picture found here.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Secret Garden

Genius Loci

Place is what takes me out of myself, out of the limited scope of human activity, but this is not misanthropic. A sense of place is a way of embracing humanity among all of its neighbors. It is an entry into the larger world.

~Robert M. Pyle

Picture found here.

Loss of the Desire to Have Such Experiences

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Witch of "This" Place

Suddenly, the nights are noticeably longer and there are, in fact, leaves falling on the lawn. The CSA is delivering acorn squash, and apples, and mushrooms and I'm thinking of soups. I've been able to turn off the air conditioning and open up the windows. In a few days, the Wheel of the Year will have turned all the way around to Mabon, the second of the three Harvest Feasts. (For the first time in years, I'll be out of town, away from my amazing circle of women, celebrating on my own, due to a court schedule beyond my control. I'm working on a plan to commune with some new nature so that I don't wind up making a sad little altar in my hotel room and feeling (too!) sorry for myself.)

Having three harvests is a pretty neat thing. It goes back, I think, to a time when monoculture was unheard of. If you grow different fruits and vegetables and raise different animals (as any sane people would do unless they lived in an incredibly hostile environment), they mature at different times. And you have different harvests, which come in an almost rolling cascade: radishes and asparagus giving way to too many tomatoes, the tomatoes giving way to too many zucchini, the zucchini giving way to the first autumn squashes and winter greens. In my herb garden, the tarragon is finished and the basil is warning me that if I don't "get around" this weekend to making it into pesto to be frozen in ice cube trays for the winter, I'll be out of luck. One thing about harvests is, when the food is ready to be picked, it's ready to be picked. We have to stop, pay attention, do what the plant requires of us when the plant requires it. That's part of what it means to be "in relationship" with the land.

It's traditional among many Wiccans to view this time of year as a time when we "harvest" other things, as well. If you set goals for yourself last Samhein, and if you've worked on those goals and been blessed with good health and good luck, you may be close to reaping the rewards of your work, whether spiritual, magical, financial, emotional, physical, or educational. And, if you're not, now's a good time to figure out what you can salvage and what happened to get in your way, all in preparation for the final harvest feast of Samhein.

I find it a good time of year, as well, to take stock. What have you got to carry you into the cold and difficult part of the year? What might you need to focus on now, that may have gotten lost in the heat of summer, the long days laboring in the threshing field?

If you consider yourself to be a member of a Nature Religion, I'd like to suggest that one of the areas you consider is your relationship with Nature. Do you have a relationship with -- not just a vaguely benign feeling for -- your landbase, your local watershed, some particular plants, or animals, or places near to where you live? If so, what can you do to improve that relationship? We Witches say that power follows attention. If not, what can you do to begin to actually live your Nature Religion? We Witches say that power follows attention.

By now, you know that I don't believe that, "Well, but I live in the city," is a good excuse. Most Pagans in America today live in cities. And the landbase of every city in America is crying out for relationship with its humans. You don't have to have a yard. As I've noted before, cities are full of deserted spaces, almost custom made for a Witch's attention and connection. (And devotee of Hers that I am, I can't help but mention that it is in just such deserted, liminal spaces that Hecate often resides.) In Last Child in the Forest: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv writes about the work of Robert Michael Pyle, who described his relationship as a child with "a century-old irrigation channel near his home. The ditch . . . was his 'sanctuary, playground, and sulking walk,' his 'imaginary wilderness, escape hatch, and birthplace as a naturalist.'"


"These are the places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of play gets under our skin," Pyle writes. These are the "secondhand lands, the hand-me-down-habitats where you have to look hard to find something to love." Richard Mabey, a British writer and naturalist calls such environments, undeveloped and unprotected, the "unofficial countryside." Such habitats are often rich with life and opportunities to learn; in a single decade, Pyle recorded some seventy kinds of butterflies along his ditch.

What "unofficial countryside" is your countryside? The crisp Fall days are perfect for walking around, looking, and listening. Tell me what you find.

Picture found here.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

People Keep Doing It. I'm Going to Keep Complaining About It.

Although it starts off a bit oddly, here's a generally well-written article about the continuing struggle of a Pagan group known as the Maetreum of Cyble, Magan Mater to achieve tax-free status. Sadly, the author of the article, Colin DeVries (phone: 518-943-2100 ext. 3325, e-mail:, can't quite make himself capitalize the word "Pagan." One doubts that he'd write about a Catholic convent and refuse to capitalize "Catholic" or about a Christian camp and refuse to capitalize "Christian." So why the refusal to capitalize "Pagan"?

The feminine faction of resolute pagans in Palenville have hit back with yet another lawsuit requesting religious exemption status for the 2010 tax year.

On Aug. 4, the Maetreum of Cyblele, Magna Mater filed for 2010 tax exempt status in Greene County Court, according to a court clerk, after an unsuccessful bid with the town’s board of assessment review in May.

. . .

The Maetreum, a matriarchal pagan spiritual group based at the 19th century Central House at 3312 Route 23A, has been fighting for their religious freedom from taxation since they were denied their exemption in 2007.

Initially, the group was awarded their exemption in 2006 as an IRS-recognized 501(c)(3) religious organization, but denied it the following year without reason, according to Cathryn Platine, the group’s spiritual leader and its Reverend Mother.

. . .

Now, already in the midst of an Article 78 court battle on the denied exemptions dating back to the 2007 tax year, the Maetreum has taken the town to task once more — though not without some backlash.

. . .

Platine said she feels that town officials and their attorneys are discriminating against their group, which has been known to take in impoverished and transgendered women looking for support or belonging.

Though those acts are part of a charitable service the Maetreum provides to the community, they are often misunderstood, according to Platine.

In expanding its services to the community, the group plans to open a food pantry to provide non-perishable goods to Palenville and other Catskill communities.

Last week, on Sunday, Aug. 28, the Maetreum hosted their second annual Pagan Pride Day, featuring unique crafts and workshops to help educate visitors on the various pagan religious movements. The event served as a food drive for non-perishable food items.

More information on the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater is available at

To reach reporter Colin DeVries please call 518-943-2100 ext. 3325, or e-mail

I don't think that any religious group should get tax-exempt status, but, if Greene County is going to award such status to Christian groups, Pagan groups are entitled to the same treatment. The fact that the county also may be discriminating against poor and transgendered women only makes this case more egregious.

Capital letters found here.

Aphrodite's Bitch

Monday, September 06, 2010

Labor Day Poetry Slam

~R. Frost

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily "Hit them hard!"
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut's now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don't forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You'd think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
The judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay
And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man's work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right--agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future's sakes.

Picture found here.

Labor Day Poetry Slam



The machines were gone, and so were those who worked them.
A single high-backed chair stood like a throne
In all that empty space.
I was on the floor making myself comfortable
For a long night of little sleep and much thinking.

An empty birdcage hung from a steam pipe.
In it I kept an apple and a small paring knife.
I placed newspapers all around me on the floor
So I could jump at the slightest rustle.
It was like the scratching of a pen,
The silence of the night writing in its diary.

Of rats who came to pay me a visit
I had the highest opinion.
They’d stand on two feet
As if about to make a polite request
On a matter of great importance.

Many other strange things came to pass.
Once a naked woman climbed on the chair
To reach the apple in the cage.
I was on the floor watching her go on tiptoe,
Her hand fluttering in the cage like a bird.

On other days, the sun peeked through dusty windowpanes
To see what time it was. But there was no clock,
Only the knife in the cage, glinting like a mirror,
And the chair in the far corner
Where someone once sat facing the brick wall.

Picture found here.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Labor Day Poetry Slam

A Way to Make a Living


From an epigram by Plato
When I was a boy, a relative
Asked for me a job
At the Weeks Cemetery.
Think of all I could
Have raised that summer,
That money, and me
Living at home,
Fattening and getting
Ready to live my life
Out on my knees, humming,
Kneading up docks
And sumac from
Those flawless clerks-at-court, those beautiful
Grocers and judges, the polished
Dead of whom we make
So much.

I could have stayed there with them.
Cheap, too.
Imagine, never
To have turned
Wholly away from the classic
Cold, the hill, so laid
Out, measure by seemly measure clipped
And mown by old man Albright
The sexton. That would have been a hell of
A way to make a living.

Thank you, no.
I am going to take my last nourishment
Of measure from a dark blue
Ripple on swell on ripple that makes
Its own garlands.
My dead are the secret wine jars
Of Tyrian commercial travelers.
Their happiness is a lost beginning, their graves
Drift in and out of the Mediterranean.

One of these days
The immortals, clinging to a beam of sunlight
Under water, delighted by delicate crustaceans,
Will dance up thirty-foot walls of radiance,
And waken,
The sea shining on their shoulders, the fresh
Wine in their arms. Their ships have drifted away.
They are stars and snowflakes floating down
Into your hands, love.

Picture found here.

A Witch's Prayer, MidJourney, for the President

It may be a little late for this, but I'm willing to try anything.

On Inauguration Day, 2009, G/Son and Nonna watched Preznident Obama make his "very serious promise" to the country: "I, Barack Obama, I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Nonna cried like a baby. G/Son asked, "Nonna, is Preznit Obama making the very serious promise to me?" and Nonna cried a lot more and said, "Yes." We went outside an banged on pots and pans and yelled, "Yea! President Obama! A new day! Hurrah!" We ate special Obama cookies and Obama cupcakes and we ran around the back yard in the weak January sunlight and I thanked Columbia, the Goddess of this place, over and over.

And, then.

Mr. President. You're fucking up. A lot. I'm starting to worry that you may, indeed, have been taking your promise to my G/Son rather lightly.

Today, G/Son borrowed my iPhone to play the YouTube he likes that shows President Obama saving the day.

I think you'd better listen twice to this blessing, Mr. President. Snap out of it. Start living up to your potential.


Lot of blogging going on about rivers and woods.

I love this piece by Derrick Jensen; I've used it before in ritual to call Water and to ground the circle before a ritual to heal local rivers.