Guide of the West   Leave a comment

Julie Babin

Coastal Louisiana. Photo courtesy Julie Babin

 

Who knows when odd reading can lead to insight — and material for a blogpost?

Take, for instance, this delicious (to me, anyway) fragment:

“Emotions alert us to specific issues, and they do so without any subterfuge. If we are aware enough … our emotions will be able to contribute the energy we need to move into and out of any situation imaginable, because they contribute the specific energy and information we need to heal ourselves” (Karla McLaren. Emotional Genius: Discovering he Deepest Language of Soul. Laughing Tree Press, 2001).

This kind of statement makes me sit up and pay attention. Partly because any large claim switches on my crap detector, but also because I immediately want to try it out. You know, set up an experiment to test the claim.

In this case, like most of us, I’ve got a running start on just such a test. We can all name stories, movies, songs that grab us and move us. Even — if they reach deep enough, if we’re open and vulnerable to their magic — on the fifth, tenth or thirtieth read, viewing, hearing. Among your top contenders you may count a childhood favorite. The quality of these repeated experiences, at least for me, leaves no doubt: gods are alive, magic is afoot. Magic is alive, gods are afoot. (Leonard Cohen nails it again.)

In fact, so completely may the magic live for you that you guard it zealously and jealously. You watch who you choose to tell about it, because you’ve learned the hard way how another’s misunderstanding or mockery can sting, and even, if it’s carefully targeted, ruin a beloved experience for you.

The number and quality of claims McLaren makes are quite remarkable. Here they are again in list form. Emotions:

— alert us to specific issues.

— don’t lie or mislead — they offer no subterfuge.

— contribute the energy we need to move into and out of any situation imaginable.

— contribute the specific energy and information we need to heal ourselves.

Or, to put it elementally and alchemically, emotions identify what we need to know (Air), clear the way for the will to act (Fire), empower the imagination (Water), and help us heal (Earth).

McLaren also wisely includes a kicker, escape clause, out, safety switch: If we are aware enough … Of course. Isn’t that always the issue at the heart of things?

Stay with me here. (As the Rocky Horror narrator exclaims, “It’s just a jump to the left!”) Working with adolescents in a boarding school for sixteen years let me reflect on my own emotional growth or lack of it, even as I served as an adviser to hundred of students over the years. Because I advised freshman and senior girls, I frequently saw emotion more openly expressed than I might have with boys. How often I’d witness some variation of “I’m so upset/amazed/impressed/in love! Oh my god, I can’t believe X. I was A and now I’m B. I’m so upset/amazed/impressed/in love!”

The lesson here is emotion can be so strong that at first we have no distance from it, no perspective or comparison. We recycle it, loop with it, rehearse it. “All or nothing” is the adolescent’s stereotypical default setting, partly because so many experiences are firsts and really don’t offer any basis for comparison: first love, first significant failure, first challenging success, first death of a close friend or family member, first major social embarrassment, first large moral choice, and so on. Emotions don’t lie, but when the tide sweeps in and then out again, how do you make your way through the wreckage to picking yourself up and drying out and moving forward?

With some progress towards maturity comes that invaluable ability to detach, step back, gain perspective on one’s own situation and experience. (We might say that IS maturity.) Only then can emotion alert us to specific issues. (If you look at the media and the world right now, we see repeated spikes of emotion with far too little detachment, reflection, proportion, perspective. Keep a person, a community or a nation in the first stage of emotion and they’ll never reach the second stage, let alone any of others. That way mature judgment dies.)

While cooler heads may lament the manipulation of whole groups by the technique of constantly lighting new fires, all while stoking the flames of old ones, there’s a useful lesson in the power of emotion. To lift a line from “Storybook Love”, the theme song to The Princess Bride, “it’s as real as the feelings I feel”.*

And it is. Emotion is real. The gifts of emotion, however, come in what we find after strong feeling. Feel the feeling, yes, I’ve learned. (Can’t do much if I’m repressing it. Genii still in a bottle, that trick.) Then work with it — from outside. Return whenever I need to fine-tune my understanding by checking in with the authenticity of the feeling. Just don’t invite it to take up residence and watch as it tracks in dirt and hangs its laundry over my windows.

Anger. Fear. Lust. Self-pity. Doubt. Feel any of these lately? These are among my top five most potent negative emotions. They’re also five of my teachers. I’ve learned more from anger and fear than I could tell you in any reasonable-sized book.

Awe. Curiosity. Amazement. Gratitude. Love. Another five, among the most potent positive emotions. Also fabulous teachers. Alchemized versions of the preceding negatives, shaped by the spiritual work we’re each called to do in our lives.

Emotion, our elemental Guide of the West, serves us best when we respect its proper domain. Its role is not to usurp our sovereignty by taking the throne.

In the next post I’ll take up ritual and its close alliance with emotion. Through rite and ritual, powered by where emotion can guide me, I can begin to (1) find out what I need to know (Air), (2) clear the way for the will to act (Fire), (3) empower my imagination (Water), and (4) help myself heal (Earth).

That is, I can begin to take McLaren at her word, and try out the claims she makes.

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*”it’s as real as the feelings I feel”

New Gods for Old?   1 comment

[Part 1 | 2 | 3]

IMG_1703Listening for names. I spend a significant amount of time doing that, between my spiritual practice and my fiction. It’s a curious endeavor, hard to explain, but one a surprising number of people have experience with. What is it we’re hearing?!

Some two years ago in meditation I heard the name of a Storm Goddess, two syllables, beginning with the letter T. I don’t know about you, but the first time I encounter a deity, especially unsought, a being I don’t know, I can feel like I’ve just landed on an island no one’s visited before. No maps, no tourist description, no information to help the next person, because I’m the first one to arrive there. No other footprints on the beach. No electricity. When the sun goes down, I’m left only with this fire I choose to build, a new climate, night noises I don’t recognize, a night sky whose constellations have shifted, or wheel above me wholly new.

Subsequent listening brought me a little more information, a complete name I’m keeping back for now while I pursue additional ritual work and meditation. I do have a general location in eastern Europe where her worship originated. But not a lot more. I’m returning after this interval to pick up the thread, to think out loud here, to see if there’s more to discover. For me, writing about something often activates it in ways nothing else does, blowing hidden embers to flame. (A strong reason for keeping a journal, as I’ve learned. I confess I needed to track down the entry to recover her name. I only have it because I wrote it down.)

BlackSea

Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean

My title for this post isn’t meant to be serious — I have no sense of T “replacing” any other deity. She’s simply new to me, and as far as I can tell, her presence has left no written record. Barring a trip — beyond my resources at this point — to plant my feet on the ground and walk the region west of Black Sea where my meditation showed me her worship once flourished, I’m left with what I can discover from here.  No report of divine possession resulting from touching a barrow rising through the mist and contacting ancestors or land spirits. No blaze of insight, no recognizable historical scene unfolding in inner vision. No Hollywood or Bollywood or CGI to dramatize a blogpost. No Industrial Light and Magic courtesy of the Otherworld.

That doesn’t hamstring my search, but it does direct it inward, fitting for a deity whose worship has apparently withdrawn to inner realms.

Why did she make herself known two years ago? That itself forms part of my search. It’s the nature of UPG, unverified personal gnosis, that I can’t yet rule out being played by a spirit. That’s no different than how a phishing advertisement or a fake news article snags a portion of its readers who part with money, belief, a sliver of common sense and integrity. What distinguishes my experience is the approach, if you want to call it that, of T. Reserved, as if testing me. No requests. A trickle of information, a flash image of green and rocky landscape. Enough to hang a meditation session on, enough to ask for a return on the investment of energy involved in making contact with an incarnate being, me, with lots of other demands on his attention and time. Enough to provoke this post.

Now part of the experience is that the writer in me immediately, inevitably jumps aboard and starts playing. Imagine! he says. You were her devotee in a past life and she’s contacting you to revive her worship!  Decent premise for a story, right?! Or, or … it’s an inner warning of outer storms to come. Or this isn’t the goddess but a priestess of the goddess reaching out to you for a Dion-Fortuneque revivification of a spiritual energy whose time has now come again to wash over the earth. See what I mean? What to do with such a companion?!

Yes, my writer self is more than a bit of a quicksilver imp, a drama queen, a runaway dreamer who’d sooner spend an hour in reverie than getting words on paper or screen.

But for all that, he’s opened doors and given me words I don’t get any other way. He’s part of the package. I’m talking about all these things to give you a sense of my process. Yours, of course, is your own.

So, T, this post is for you. Your serve.

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Image: Black Sea.

Avalon of the Heart   Leave a comment

“Go ahead”, writes travel writer Rosie Schaap in an article in today’s (27 June 2017) New York Times, “say their names:”

Avalon and Tintagel. Believe deeply enough, and they might emerge from the mouth as through an enchantment-induced vapor, as though borne on the breath of a dragon. (Especially after at least four people have corrected your pronunciation of Tintagel: Be gentle with that “g,” it’s tin-TAJ-l.) And, indeed, these two sites in the southwest of England are epic and romantic, the stuff of myth and mystery.

Strip this opening paragraph of its hemming and hedging, its “mights” and “as thoughs”, and you have a compact magical working, a true spell, ready made. You know what setting you need, that will invite and launch you, right? Light incense or a candle, invoke with the two names, visualize being borne on the breath of a dragon, and you arrive in the southwest of England without the need for British Airways, Heathrow or Gatwick, customs or currency exchange.

Feel the mist cool on your skin, see the green and pleasant land, hear the clash of swords as you pass the guard, hear seagulls and curlews crying, as you walk out onto the spit of land where the gray stones of Tintagel Castle tower again. Yes, you’ve been here before. What’s the message for you this time? What do you need to know that has brought you here? What offering will you make in return for the gift you receive? Offer it with your thanks. Then return, return, return.

If even a feather of the wing of magic brushed your cheeks, you felt it. What is “real” on the other planes, after all, but what we pay attention to, what we animate with our love and creativity, our desire and energy? We practice the real to make it real, or else we let it go for something else that draws us more strongly. Our call.

“Myth and mystery” are “stuff” indeed — the potent formative ingredients for an “enchantment-induced” reality. (Aren’t ALL realities induced by something? Why not choose and shape for ourselves what that something is, rather than accepting a mass-produced substitute? We’ve given too much away, and now feel the lack yawning and gnawing inside. Reclaim!)

Leap with me here, to that old Foreigner song from the 70s — “I want to know what love is”. It always struck me with its odd assumption that anybody else must know better than I do what love is. Why?

I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me.

I’ve got just one question: Who’s this “you”?! With my experience of love as with my reality: why let anyone else ever determine it, at the very least until I know theirs is superior to mine?! Take a look around: just how worthy are many of these other claims to a superior reality? Do we like what we’re seeing?!

Indeed, as Lou Gramm goes on to sing, “I gotta take a little time, a little time to think things over. I gotta read between the lines …”

I swear this on the midsummer Sword of Light: I will not abdicate my spiritual sovereignty to anyone for anything less. I will practice love, as I practice reality, accepting the best I can achieve. Because as Lou also sings for us all, “I’ve traveled so far to change this lonely life …”

I have this sneaking suspicion that they’re versions of the same thing, love and reality, siblings of the same mother. Funny how love and reality so often harmonize. What we love is what is real for us. If one’s going well, usually the other is, too. They’re what I do to myself, for myself, as I do to and for others. And as they do to and for me. You who teach me, I keep learning from You what love is.)

Yearning is the first step that lets us know we need more — you hear something of that yearning as Lou sings — that we’re dying a little each day without it, that what yearn for is something we’ll recognize when we experience it. But we have a say in how we get there, and that effort will shape what we experience when we arrive. As we do, every day.

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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.

drinking horn

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.

bluevervain-700x525

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!

solstice-dp

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.

sword.JPG

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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