Archive for the ‘solstice’ Category

Toasts, Boasts and Oaths   Leave a comment

On Friday, Mystic River Grove, an OBOD group based in Massachusetts, celebrated a Summer Solstice ritual inspired by the Anglo-Saxon symbel or feast, and built around toasts, boasts and oaths. I couldn’t attend, but I want to reflect on these three components of celebration, apart from however Mystic River chose to celebrate beyond those three elements.

ASfeastWith a toast, boast and oath, you could certainly hold a fine solo rite. Toast your gods, land spirits, ancestors, teachers, living kin — whoever you’re called to honor. Then on to a boast, a celebration of excellence, a claim to honor for ourselves, for something we have achieved. Like gratitude, boasting’s a skill we neither teach or practice enough. My default boast is survival. I’m still here. But I can definitely claim more; this blog, my other writings, a good marriage, years of teaching young people, a circle of friends I admire and enjoy.

A solo rite still has witnesses: our own selves, hearing the words. Powers and beings of the world who attend because they were “in the neighborhood” so to speak, unless we explicitly ban them. And anyone we did invite to join us. But what’s the value of our community witnessing when we do these things? Why do these things publicly?

Toasts others make can remind us who we honor and who we might include next time. We learn of others’ gratitude. What I’m grateful for carries a story with it. It’s a window into a life, and speaking gratitude in a circle opens us to each other and our stories.

Boasts tell us something of the commitments and dedications of time and energy in others’ lives. If I’m proud of it, I’ve spent myself on it in some way, poured myself into it, and probably sacrificed in some way to accomplish it. Boasts also let us laugh — we can boast about silly things, or make fun of ourselves for how much even a small achievement may have cost us.

Oaths tell us what will matter in the coming days and months. What are others binding themselves to do? How does publicly announcing an intention, having others witness it, help energize us to accomplish it? An oath may include a spell of finding or binding, of opening the way, or shutting down obstacles, resistances, barriers, and so on. When I took part in Nanowrimo in past years, for instance, and wrote my 1600 words a day, announcing my progress online helped me keep going. You helped me persevere because you knew I’d set out to do it.

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Depending on the size of the horn passed round the circle for each of the toasts, boasts and oaths, and the kind of drink you quaff each time, you may find your tongue loosened and the three acts easier to pull off!

Here the rhymer in me wants to add a fourth word, wrecking the lovely triad of toast, boast and oath, but creating in its place a new and balanced pair of rhymes: toast, boast, oath and growth. After all, a rite moves us to a new place and space, never the same as where we were before. As with yesterday and tomorrow, the difference from today may or may not seem like much, but just as the daylight lengthens and shortens each year, depending on which side of the solstice I’m on, so do the energies at play in my life. I can do things today not possible yesterday or tomorrow. And that’s worth a toast, a boast, an oath and the growth that comes with them.

Finally, if we’re going to be Anglo-Saxon about things, the Old English Maxims 1, lines 138-140, offer relevant insight here:

Ræd sceal mon secgan, rune writan, leoþ gesingan, lofes gearnian, dom areccan, dæges onettan.

Keeping to the spirit I feel lies behind these proverbial expressions, and unpacking their compactness and concision*, I take this to mean, roughly, “Let your speech be words of good counsel to others, write runes of wisdom, sing as epically as you can, deserve praise, test and expand your judgment, while holding nothing back each day”.

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*With even a little Old English, you can explore meanings and fashion your own translation with the help of the online Bosworth-Tollers Anglo-Saxon Dictionary here.

rǣd: advice, counsel, prudence, deliberation
sceal, 3rd singular of sculan: shall, ought, be obliged, must
mon, Wessex dialect form of man: person, human, mortal, man
secgan: say, speak, express
rune, plural of rūn: whisper (speech not intended to be overheard, confidence, counsel, consultation), mystery, secret, rune
wrītan: write, cut, draw, form letters (on wood, stone, parchment, etc.)
lēoþ: song, poem, ode, lay, verses
gesingan: sing
lofes, genitive of lof: praise, glory, hymn
gearnian: earn, merit
dōm: doom, judgment, judicial sentence, decree, ordinance, law
areccan: to put forth, relate, recount, speak out, express, explain, interpret, translate
dæges, genitive of dæg: day, daytime
onettan: hasten, anticipate, be active or diligent

Midsummer and Vervain   Leave a comment

I’m going all lore-y in this post, so if plants and herbal history aren’t really your thing, move along.

Vervain (Verbena spp) — “leafy branch” — known among herbalists since at least the time of dynastic Egypt, has associations with midsummer, most obviously because in the British climate where we get much of herbal lore in the English-speaking West, that’s approximately when it flowers. The 11th-century Old English Herbarium (Ann Van Arsdall, Routledge, 2010) describes gathering vervain, using the Latin name uermenaca, at Midsummer. (Any left over from the previous year was to be tossed into the Midsummer bonfire.) Fans of The Vampire Diaries know it for its colorful flowers and anti-vampiric powers. The TV series showed the variety Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), an American species, and dramatized the herb’s toxicity to vamps and its ability to protect a mortal from compulsion by vampires. Who says pop television has no wisdom to offer?!

The range of vervain’s nicknames also indicates something of how firmly fixed it is in herbal history: enchanter’s plant, holy herb, herb of the cross, herb of Saint Anne (yerba del Santa Ana), Juno’s tears, pigeon’s grass, pigeonweed, turkeygrass, herb of grace, etc.

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Blue (or Swamp) Vervain (Verbena hastata)

I’ve been on an intermittent local quest to spot some growing wild. Many North American varieties of the plant are originally native to Europe and were brought by early colonists. In the sometimes quaint and often rewarding language of herbals and herbalists, vervain “has enough garden presence of a rustic kind to justify its inclusion, being in no way boorish or uncivil, and it is easy to start from seed and easy to grow” (Henry Beston*, Herbs and the Earth, David Godine, 2014).

Vervain varieties (over 250!) have been prized for numerous benefits, depending on dose and preparation, along with a few qualifications of sensitivity and toxicity at higher levels. It has tonic, diuretic, and anti-parasitic properties, and can stimulate both dopamine and serotonin, meaning it lifts you up and also slows you down. Leaves, roots and flowers, again depending on variety (harvest early in the season to avoid strong, even rank flavor!), make a soothing tea.

In herblore, vervain sprang, according to one story, from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept at the death of Osiris. Greeks and Romans both used it as a sacred herb, sweeping it across their altars.  In Christian Europe the story runs that vervain was used to slow the flow of blood from Christ’s wounds (though logically this would merely have prolonged his agony), and so thereby the plant gained another of its nicknames — herb-on-the-cross.

Western medicine officially disdains to acknowledge much value to the plant. One site (drugs.com, sourced from Harvard Health Topics), notes “There is no clinical evidence to support specific dose recommendations for vervain. Traditional use for its astringent properties required 2 to 4 g daily in an infusion … Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of this product” but adds that for pregnant and nursing women, “Documented adverse reactions. Avoid use”.

Nonetheless, many sites include recipes for nursing mothers, such as this one:

Combine 1 quart of water with 1 teaspoon of vitex berries, 1 teaspoon blessed thistle leaves, 1/2 teaspoon vervain leaves, 1/2 teaspoon nettle leaves, 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, and 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds; steep for 20 minutes; drink 1 to 3 cups a day.

I’m leaving out the source, perhaps to protect the guilty. But anyone who’s benefitted from herbal remedies, as I have, especially if nothing else has worked, can readily attest to their value from personal experience, in the face of official disdain and ignorance.

With all this history and attention, it’s little surprise that among the plants set forth for study in OBOD’s Ovate grade work, vervain occupies pride of place.

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Sources (besides personal experience): OrganicfactsDrugs.com; Mother Earth Living.

*Henry Beston (1888-1968) wrote, “Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness of that divine mystery man ceases to be man”.

Keys to the Temple   Leave a comment

Solstice blessings to everyone! What are they? Read on!

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devil’s paintbrush, 21 June 2017

Solstice time is sacred time. That picnic or party you’re holding on the Solstice, alone or with friends, is just as sacred as my Druid ritual, or the monk or nun at prayer, if you’re comparing (un)conventional symbols and images.

As much as anything, I’m found, the sacred is a habit. It’s not only a habit, of course. But a desire to experience the sacred, and the placing of yourself in spaces where experience of the sacred can happen, help it along.

The front lawn I’ve resisted mowing for two weeks now flares with devil’s paintbrush (Pilosella aurantiaca), a weed here in the U.S., though protected in parts of Europe. Also called fox-and-cubs, orange hawkweed, and other names, for me it’s been a harbinger of high summer since I was in my mid single digits, just old enough to ask and remember its name.

I sit on the lawn and begin to count other plant species nearby. Quickly the number extends beyond my skill to name. The first wild strawberries of a few posts ago yield their lovely tartness when I reach for a few to taste. Clover is spreading over the north lawn, and I welcome it, since both bumble- and honey-bees love it, and it crowds out weeds and nitrogenizes the soil. When I was a boy we re-seeded our pastures every few years with clover because it’s such good food for cows and other grazing animals.

The sacred is a kind of love. It feels always new. Sitting on the lawn I forget everything else as I look around, breathe, listen, and feel the warm earth beneath me. Six months from now the ground here may be frozen, perhaps covered in snow, but that will not negate the marvel of earth underfoot, air in the lungs, the sky always changing overhead. Who has not longed for and known the kiss of the beloved? With these bodies and senses we greet the world each day.

The sacred is a celebration. Cultures throughout human history set aside days and places to witness and commemorate seedtime and harvest, greatest light and deepest dark. The solstices and equinoxes are human events as much as astronomical ones, and predate any written scripture by thousands of years. We likewise mark births and deaths, and we make vows and promises to uphold our marriages, friendships, communities and nations.

Moses (ever tried a desert solstice celebration?!) gets to say it in Deuteronomy 30, that what we seek

isn’t too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It’s not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who’ll cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may do it?” No, the word is very near you; it’s in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Oh, hear talk of “obeying” and perhaps you resist. I know I often do. Too many times we’ve been ruinously misled by over-trust and heedless obedience. (Republican or Democrat, or whatever the party platform, it hasn’t let up yet.)

As author Peter Beagle describes it, “We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers—thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams” (“Introduction”, The Tolkien Reader). What we can rightly obey shares an affinity with dream. It’s what resounds in us most deeply, if we turn off the jangle of the other voices. Rightly, if not always safely. The sacred is no more “safe” than love is. Both can lead very far from where we thought our lives would go. But the “wrong” voices? What is mass culture but a form of consciously-accepted schizophrenia, if we end up listening to every voice except the first one, the original?

For any authority the sacred wields is not a “command” so much as the first law of our being. To “disobey” it, or attempt to deny or ignore the sacred, is like trying to live outside our own skins. A human without the sacred is exactly that — something eviscerated, no longer alive. We use the sacred itself when we deny it — we employ energies on loan to us even as we refuse them or cast them aside. What else will we do with them?

A habit, a love, a celebration. These are among the keys to the temple. “In every generation” (can’t you hear the movie trailer voiceover for that summer blockbuster, as it proclaims the words?!) whether we throw the keys in the grass, or take them up, use them to open marvels, and pass them along to those who come after us, the temple — oh blessedly and forever! — the temple always awaits.

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Triple Solstice, 2017   Leave a comment

Yesterday our local group celebrated an early Solstice. The forecast rain held off — Blessing of the Sun! — and at the very end of the rite as we uncast the circle, a couple of birds landed in the branches of the tree above the altar, just a few feet overhead. As many of you have also witnessed, the natural world acknowledges the energies of ritual respectfully performed.

solsticealtar

Several members of our group are Wiccans — note the brooms to sweep away negative energy as needed. They’re not only working tools but useful working symbols as well. By that I mean a symbol to carry into meditation and deploy in visualization, as well as a physical object. Catch myself in less-than-desirable states of consciousness? Out comes the “inner broom”. My particularly stubborn inner trash gets swept into heaps, dumped in a bucket and cast into an inner river which dissolves it and washes it away, reintegrating it into the cosmos. (Repeat as needed.)

So often we look half-aware for something to replace negativity, and lacking a viable replacement we can get sucked back into it, because its tug draws the emotions. Symbols stand ready to our need, charged with their own emotional electricity. When I find it may not be enough merely to purify, whether with prayer, salt, incense, ritual or some combo of them, a symbol can help rally inner resources. Some unwanted stuff has a way of creeping back in, and the situation may call for an ongoing cleanse. Broom, en garde!

If it makes you feel better, because you “grasp” or “understand” such things, to call them “psychological”, by all means do so. What matters more to me, though, at least in the moment, is whether they work. One member couldn’t join us yesterday who played a specific role in the rite-as-written, so after a quick exchange of PMs with the ritual writer, I stepped in, among other things to cast the circle. This gave me a splendid excuse to de-rust a sword for the purpose and, not-so-incidentally, help me confront why I love and seek out ritual, but shy from consecrating objects I already possess as ritual aids. I’ve touched on this in previous posts [among others, here].

solsticefire

Fire comes to our ritual and bodily need (why separate them, after all?), its heat, light and hue all central to the season and a ritual working: nearby fire-pit shedding warmth on our skin, or candles flickering on the altar. But the sword is a fine tool of power, a weapon, a strong and ancient symbol, forged in flame and often enough incorporating a cross where hilt meets blade. So it gathers up a whole complex of symbolic vectors of energy.

The replica sword I cleaned up yesterday morning before the ritual is an older design than the more familiar Medieval ones with the exaggerated hilt. Its edges are very dull — no risk to anyone of injury — so it’s also ideal to transport. If by chance the police should stop me for any reason, it’s much easier to explain a stage sword than one like my other sword, much rustier, but with a wicked edge still. Seeing how well the white vinegar cleaned off the rust from the smaller sword, though, I’ll be tackling that more extensive cleaning job tomorrow.

I mention all this at some length because the curious resistance I felt at bringing a ritual tool along to the ritual told me something curious is afoot. Two swords (a promising name for a novel, or magical order!) put me in mind of the two ancient Indo-European words for elemental fire, *ogni the active, and *pur the static. Is there something at play in my conception of ritual, or my ritual purposes, that I’m missing or blocking? The smaller, less impressive (and very dull-edged) blade has the fancy scabbard. The other, larger and deadly weapon has a simple leather sheath, all practicality, but no tooled design. Surface and deeper meaning, keenness and showiness, purpose and pretension? I’m still listening.

After uncasting the circle yesterday, I drove the point of the blade into the soft earth by the altar, saying, “The circle open, but unbroken”, or some variation on those words.

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And the ritual circle in my mind, open and unbroken, interrogates me still. If I gain any insight, I’ll pick this up again in a subsequent post.

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“Where can I celebrate the Solstice?” You can find some version of this question online. Best, I’d answer, is your own celebration. Yes, there are plenty of group events around the world, but the shortest night of the year offers you your pick of how to observe the festival. An all-night party (a lively Scandinavian tradition) or a vigil (some Druid traditions) are two popular options. Or some unique combination of the two.

I plan to stay up Tuesday evening for a “second Solstice” and greet the Sun Wednesday morning, June 21st, on what will be the longest day in the eastern U.S. Where I live, daylight on the 21st is 15 hours and 21 minutes long, making the night just a little over 8 and a half hours.

The “third Solstice” is Friday 23 June, whether I attend a group celebration just outside of Boston (a drive of 3 hours in Friday evening traffic) or do a ritual solo at home.

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Virtual Solstices — June 2017   Leave a comment

midnightsunfairbanks

midnight sun — Fairbanks, Alaska

Ah, Summer Solstice, almost upon us. Time of greatest light, and — with the kind of paradox implicated in so many human experiences — the start of a slow turn toward longer nights and shorter days.

So many solstices in our lives. Make a list for yourself. How many times has a peak — longed for, striven for, suffered and sacrificed for — also signaled its own diminishment? How often does crest drag trough along with it? And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

If I search even briefly on Youtube, log in to my handful of friendly Pagan Facebook groups, read a blog, or play some of the latest computer games with their massive, nimble and interactive CGI engines and palettes, I can savor a virtual festival or gathering or historical re-creation: case in point, here’s a Stonehenge app.

I love the definition of “virtual” at dictionary.com: “being such in power, force, or effect, though not actually or expressly such”. It’s only the third definition that’s explicitly cybernetic: “temporarily simulated or extended by computer software”.

“A reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated” by humans is a fair definition of ritual, including the last major dinner you had with family. Unplug, and your reality gets only more virtual — closer to “real” reality.

Isn’t every reality “virtual”?! (“My reality’s more virtual than yours!” “New and improved reality: 37% more virtual than the leading competition!”)

So what are my responses to the questions I posed back in that second paragraph? I’m putting myself on the spot here, because I asked you to do the same. If you haven’t, do you know what you’re missing?

How many times has a peak also signaled its diminishment?

Well, every time I can think of. From what I’ve seen, that’s how we define a peak, how we recognize it at all. I wake on the morning of either solstice, summer or winter, and know that though I can’t see it yet, the shift’s begun. Pay careful attention and you can feel it, something about the light, something you can almost hold in your hands, or feel along your spine, a kind of undertone to each day, a melody just below the threshold of hearing. (Ritual works, among other things, to amplify the melody just a little, so we can hear, honor, learn from, cooperate with it. Music of the spheres, voice of a god, thrum of blood in our veins, all, none, the same.)

But with the drag and inertia of this dense, physical world, there’s often a delay in change manifesting. The greatest heat’s yet to come after the longest day. July and August will bring it in swaths. The sharpest cold arrives a couple months following the shortest day, late January and February breathing down our necks, here in Vermont.

How often does crest drag trough along with it?

Pretty much always. Optimist or pessimist, conspiracy theorist or activist, conservative or liberal, I pick my favorite “partialist” partisan, or out myself as one. I choose which part of the cycle I want to focus on and ignore the rest of it. Trough, crest, average of the two, nudging the shape of the curve to resemble the wing of a bird or a turtle’s shell — I take my pick of virtual realities, and make it my reason for living. I establish “a reality in power, force or effect that is temporarily simulated”! (Or fail to do so, doubtless because of the machinations of some evil Other.)

Ritual says Look. Listen. Look again, wider. And again.

And how many times has this seemed like a sad, bad or terrible thing?

Solstice says Here are light and warmth and life. Like that old but choice piece of wisdom also says, To everything there is a season. And a Pagan adds And a ritual to go along with it.

Marcus Aurelius observed, “…the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them”.

[But it’s this one I love! I cry. This one I’ve lost, the one I will lose, one like no other. The sun of my life will go down, and nothing to be done about it.]

So I make it one of my spiritual practices to try out the wisdom of that crazy old Bard, Ezra Pound, in his 81st Canto: “What thou lovest well remains,/the rest is dross/What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee/What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”.

Oh Ezra, you say it with such conviction! But I’m (mostly) no fool. How — in what ways — is this true, for me anyway? (You must answer for you.) Are some ways truer than others? How can even one of them shape a sorrow, deepen a joy? Are there exceptions? And what do they teach? The Bardic gift may often be the gift of song first, but I need not drop good sense. Let melody carry me to a fuller measure of wisdom.

(Dross, how much of my life have I poured out in loving and losing you? A ritual to leave dross behind, recycle it, hand it over for composting.)

That’s one of my Solstice meditations, as virtual — full of virtue and power — as I can make it.

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Depending on your geography, you may witness six seasons, or two, or nearly none at all, if you’re living in the equatorial tropics.

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winter 2014 “lake effect” snowstorm

Growing up west of the Finger Lakes in New York, I knew Summer Solstice meant school was out for the summer — hail, Alice Cooper! (With all the snow days likely in lake-effect country, with the heavy wet snows typical around Erie and Ontario, easternmost of the Great Lakes, some years it was mid-June before we’d made up all the missed classes. The year I graduated high school was one of the latest because of the Blizzard of ’77.)

balingIt meant the first cutting of hay went to silage, or — if the weather was unusually dry for green, wet western New York, we cut, raked, and baled it, and ferried wagon after wagon of it to the dark, looming haymow. Under the gray asphalt shingles that covered the immense gambrel roof, you’d sweat just standing still in the dim half-light, waiting for the elevator to drop seemingly endless bales as you scurried to stack and balance on the slowly rising tiers.

Solstice meant calves born in our summer pastures, either one of two 25-acre spreads of grazing, hills and thickets and streams, with a newborn easily hidden by its mother in grass already waist-high by late June. Solstice marked whether we’d likely prevail once again with our corn-crop and the annual proverbial goal:  “knee-high by the Fourth of July”.

Solstice meant wrapping up a freshman biology project at year’s end: I recorded how on average I consumed 5000 calories a day once summer farm work began, and as a rangy and growing 15-year-old I still lost weight.

Solstice meant lilacs, rhubarb, strawberries, new-mown grass, the sustained spike in the cream content of our cows’ milk, once they could graze the pastures — a luscious languor that matched the blissful coolness of summer evenings moderated by the massive heat-sinks of nearby lakes the size of small oceans.

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Letchworth State Park, middle & upper falls

Solstice always arrived a scant few days before my parents’ anniversary, always the occasion for a family picnic in nearby Letchworth State Park, 14,000 acres of Genesee river-gorge and hiking trails and secluded picnic spots.

Solstice set the rhythm of my late boyhood.

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Cathasach: The rhythm of eternity in a world of change can only manifest as cyclic change.

Mathghamhain: You say that. But what does it signify? Even granting such a thing as eternity —

Cathasach: Eternity’s not a thing. Language misleads us. We think there are individual things we can choose to believe in or not, rather than how stuff is. The stuff we use to believe or disbelieve in something is part of what we believe or doubt. Can’t get outside it and be “objective” about it. Among all the other things eternity does is time.

Mathghamhain: Ah, you quibble now.

Cathasach: Not at all. I challenge. What is a cycle but a pattern of regular change, a wheel that rolls, that spirals rather than digging a rut?

Mathghamhain: It’s not stationary, but it returns, yes. On that we can agree.

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Stonehenge Solstice Sunset

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Images: midnight sun, Fairbanks, Alaskalake effect snow; baling hay; Letchworth State Park; 2005 Solstice at Stonehenge.

Alice Cooper, Ezra Pound, the Solstice, western NY, and Druidry: not where I’d intended to go at first!

Flame at the Solstice   Leave a comment

Solstice light, blessings and inspiration to you all! And to everyone Down Under at the official start of winter, may the Light grow within and without!

Yin_yang.svgWith this post I finally complete the “Thirty Days of Druidry” series I began back in April. And ever as one cycle ends, another begins. We enter the dark half of the year with the greatest light and energy, a lesson in itself that things are never wholly as they appear, that each thing bears its apparent opposite in its bosom, as the Dao De Jing gently urges us to realize.

Beyond the binary surface of the polarities all around us lie multitudes of other relationships to explore. Water offers itself as a teacher: we’re either above or below the surface. But what about right at the face of the water? There we encounter surface tension, the point of contact, where air and water meet and the silver mirror may open in either direction to allow us entry. Or dancing. Water striders live at the boundary and let it support and sustain them. Air and water together allow for dancing as well as power. What other such natural meetings may we attend?

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Texas Falls, Hancock, Addison County, Vermont

VTmapHere in Vermont in the NE part of the U.S., summer moved in weeks ago, with days in the high 80s and low 90s (27-31 C), and blessed nights in the 50s and 60s (13-17 C), perfect for sleeping. With open windows, birds wake us between 4:30 and 5:00 am, sometimes, it seems, just because they can. They’re out and about, so why shouldn’t the rest of the world be? Or in the middle of the night, the pair of owls that nest nearby rouse us with hunting calls under a moon full last night.

Sometimes life consists of what you can sleep through, and what grabs you drowsing and drags you back to consciousness. War, pestilence, earthquake, songbirds, rain on a standing-seam roof, gentle breathing of your bed-mate. De-crescendo. Wake, or sleep on?

The chimney sweep came this last Friday to brush and vacuum. Even with filters and professional care, for an hour after he left, a trace of ash and soot perfumed the air indoors. And we await delivery next week of the three cords of wood that will see us through to next summer. Bars of gold, sunlight stacked in tree-form. Solstice days.

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I ask for divination. Over the last weeks the nudge has come to build a small Druid circle in our back yard. It’s another liminal place. Leave it unmowed, and blackthorn and milkweed eagerly launch a takeover. Not sunny enough for a garden, though it gets about two hours of light mid-morning. But here, by 11:50 am at midsummer, it’s already mostly in shade. Here’s the space, looking north, our small pond to the left beyond the uncut grass.

The first divination came a few days past, as I was finishing mowing. A box turtle animated by the day’s heat, crawling north across our yard. As quick as I was to grab my camera, here it is at the treeline. Unhappy with  my attempts to stage it in order to get a better picture, it’s nosed its way under leaves. A foot-long paint-stick lies next to it, to give a sense of scale.

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What does it “mean”? Divination benefits from context, and I’m going for three readings, a small but proven sampling of the currents of awen afoot.

Stay tuned.

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Images: Texas Falls; Vermont;

Solstice 2014   Leave a comment

Anciently, Ireland was known as Inis Fail, the Isle of the Lia Fail, the Stone of Fal from the magical city of Falias and the Goddess Danu, one of the Four Hallows of Ireland, also called the Stone of Destiny, which roared when a true king sat or stood upon it. The Isle of Britain was called Clas Myrddin, Merlin’s Enclosure, and continuing the island theme, its holy and magical city Glastonbury was Ynys Witrin, the Isle of Glass. Such lore can indeed take you some way along a path, the names themselves an invocation as magical as any.

Merrivale Stone Rows, Devon

Merrivale Stone Rows, Devon

Outside of Britain we may well long for our own mythological names, gestures of respect and power toward the spirits of the land, honoring them with noble names, and opening doorways.  Yes, by borrowing for an interval a tongue from across the Water and bowing to our ancestors of spirit from there, we could do worse than call North America by one of its native names, Turtle Island, rendering it in Welsh: Ynys Crwban. Old tongue, New World. But the spirits here aren’t Welsh, and they’re wilder, and steeped in their own ways and works.

Still, Earth and Stone are North, and Winter, and Night. I sit and calm myself, finding the Pole Star in inner sight. The sky’s too cloudy for it outwardly, with a light snow falling most of the day and into the evening. I do a private ritual, and then in vision I’m drawn toward a stone circle. But instead of the broad windswept Salisbury Plain, and the great Henge there that all know, I’m given to see a different circle. Here the stones set their feet deeper, cradled in earth. The place feels both older and more intimate. The lintels stand just chest-high, low enough I can see over their tops and into the circle, which is some twenty feet across.

Vision wavers for a moment. Briefly I’m back and conscious of the room. Yes, I sit here in Vermont, just feet from snowdrifts outside the window, but in vision rough gray stones rise from a green cloak of moss that more than half-covers them. I’m there again. To enter the circle I have to go down on all fours and crawl through the space between two uprights and a heavy lintel. My palms and legs rub against the cool dampness. The rich chocolate scent of earth fills my nose — leaf-rot, moss, lichen, chlorophyll — the planet’s kitchen working, working endlessly. Each pace forward and I move over lives too small to see unaided. But they’re still here. Then I’m inside. I begin to sense an invisible dome overhead, a kind of presence shaping the space. The stones hum just below hearing, holy engines, the sound stillness makes, not empty at all.

Suddenly needing their strength I rise to my knees and hug an upright stone, its cool solidity reassuring against my arms and cheek and chest. With that, the welcome surges through me. You’re here, you’re here, we say to each other. In that instant I don’t worry who or what I’m talking to, only that we’re glad to be together — together again. This is not the first time for any of us. I spin in a half-dance, half-frenzy, soon enough falling dizzily to the ground. Wetness on my face — rain, tears, I’m not sure which. Both. I am earthed, spent, embraced, recharged, home.

A log shifts in the stove in the next room and brings me back. Now is the hour of recall, goes the line from OBOD ritual. The Circle in the vision is real enough it’s got me wondering if it exists on this plane.  The thought comes Build it so it does. I sit with that impression a while longer, trying to absorb the implications for this vision and others.  Build it so it exists on this plane.

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The Piccolo San Bernardo Circle in Val d’Aosta, Italy, straddles the French-Italian border in a mountain pass at about 2000 meters. The circle appears for only a few weeks each year, when the snows recede enough to reveal the stones.  The ancient Roman satirist Petronius appears to refer to it and remarks, “Winter covers it with a persistent snow and it raises its white head to the stars.” This seemed a fitting image to close with for the solstice in the North. What will manifest in our circles, when the circles themselves lie half-hidden to our sight?

psbernhi

Piccolo San Bernardo, Val d’Aosta, Italy

Images: Stone Pages — Merrivale Stone Row; Stone Pages Piccolo San Bernardo. The Stone Pages site is well worth visiting and dreaming with.

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