Sometimes in the morning, the mist curled into the corners Of the house like a cat, and Grimalkin, she would cry, come to me, my Grimalkin. She would gather the mist to her, and stroke it, and it would settle in her lap, and lick itself.
Sometimes, she wove cobwebs and out of the cloth, thin, gray, luminescent, she would cut the pattern for a dress. But for what purpose? Where could she wear it? Where could she go, except to the pond, where she would kneel and dip her fingers into the water, and stir, and out would jump a trout, thick, silver, luminescent, and splashing water onto her dress, whose hem was already soaked and covered with mud.
She would make it speak, recite Shakespearean sonnets, sing old songs, before she put it into the pot. Witches are lonely, but also hungry, and practical in their impracticality. She had learned how from her mother, the old witch, now dead if witches are ever entirely dead, which is doubtful.
She never wondered who her father had been, a peasant gathering wood, perhaps a hunter, perhaps even a prince, on his way to the country where a princess had been promised for dispatching a dragon or something similar, and had seen a light through the trees, and found her mother waiting, and perhaps gone on the next morning, and perhaps not.
Her mother had built the house by the edge of the pond, out of gray stone and branches of white birch, birds’ nests and moss, and spit to hold it together. That is how witches build what they call houses. What they are not: sturdy, comfortable. What they are: cold.
There was still a row of bottles in the cupboard, holding martens’ eyes, dried frogs, robins' eggs, random feathers, balls of string, oak galls. She had forgotten what they were for. From the rafters hung a fox's skeleton.
Once, village girls had come to visit her mother for charms to attract the schoolmaster's attention, make their rivals' hair fall out, abortions.
Afterward, they would say, Did you see her? Standing by the door? In her ragged dress, with her tangled hair, I tell you, she creeps me out. But they stopped coming after the old witch disappeared and her daughter was left alone. Sometimes she would remember the smell of the bread in their pockets, the clink of coins, their dresses covered with embroidery, their whispering, and look at her reflection in the pond, floating on the water like a ghost.
Sometimes she made the frogs at the edge of the pond, calling to one another, speak to her. "Pretty one," they would say, "in your spider silk, in your birchbark shoes, like a princess lost in the woods, kiss us." But she knew that was not her story.
Sometimes she would make the birds perch on her fingers and sing to her: warblers, thrushes, chickadees, and sing to them out of tune, then break their necks and roast them.
Sometimes she would gather the stones that had fallen from her house, and think of making a dog, a stone dog. Then, she would forget. It was the forgetting that made her what she was, her mother's daughter. Witches never remember important things: that fire burns, and that bottles labeled poison are not to be drunk. Witches are always doing what they should not, dancing at midnight with the Gentleman, kicking their skirts over the tops of their stockings, kissing frogs they know perfectly well won't turn into princes.
She makes no magic. Although the stories won't tell you, witches are magic. They do not need the props of a magician, the costumes or the cards, the scarves, the rabbits. They came down from the moon originally, and it still calls to them, so they go out at night, when the moon is shining, and make no magic, but magic happens around them.
Sometimes at night she would look up at the moon and call Mother? Mother? but never got an answer.
I want you to imagine: her ragged dress, her hair like cobwebs, her luminescent eyes, mad as all witches are, stirring the pond like a cauldron (witches need no cauldrons, whatever the stories tell you) while above her the clouds are roiling and a storm is about to gather.
Our world needs more room for the Rimas of the world:
Their wagon is home and warm and they love best of all to wake parked in a forested byway with their mistbreaths curling out into the bright crisp morning air, and a cup of tea in hand, and the little woodfire crackling and a new town to visit that day full of new as yet un-met people to buy their pictures.
One of the minor ironies of the Bush interregnum is that Graydon Carter -- editor of a glossy magazine devoted to movie stars, ads for expensive watches and clothes, and the occasional gossipy story about some media mogul -- has for some time written some of the best and most accurately scathing attacks on the reigning junta. His Editor's Letter in this month's Vanity Fair -- spliced between ads for Land Rovers, articles about stage moms, and a photo spread featuring Julia Roberts -- is one of his best and one that gives me a great deal of hope.
Discussing a fictional account of a Tony-Blair-like former British Prime Minister who gets called to account for his role in approving torture, Carter notes:
All things being equal, such a legal fate may well await not only Tony Blair but our own President Bush, once his clenched-white fingers have been pried from the nuclear “football” for the last time, in January 2009. It is now evident that the United States, beginning at the very top levels of the administration, has been engaged in a coordinated and widespread campaign of extraordinary rendition and real torture—offenses that would have appalled most thinking Americans an administration ago. Thanks to a major report in The New York Times in October, we furthermore know that the Bush White House was enabled at every stage by a compliant Justice Department that clandestinely re-wrote U.S. laws so that the president wouldn’t technically be in violation of them when he broke them.
A year before his Iraq invasion, Bush sent a memo to his Cabinet declaring that the administration would hereafter not be constrained by the principles of the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The White House document argued that, because a war on “terrorism” was not a conflict with a particular state or “High Contracting Parties,” the rules of war as stipulated by the Convention—especially those involving torture and due process—did not apply. Detainees suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda would thus not be covered by the historic conventions of war, because al-Qaeda is not a conventional nation-state. The administration then sought to legally and narrowly define what torture was. (Remember those balmy days of our youth when we got in a snit over a president who was parsing what was or was not sex?) Almost every manner of humiliation and punishment short of major-organ failure or death was declared permissible under the administration’s definition of torture. Note: the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines torture as the infliction of severe bodily pain—as punishment or means of persuasion. It is worth remembering that America and her allies emerged victorious from both World War II and the Cold War without resorting to any form of organized or authorized torture.
Water-boarding, as we all know, gets two thumbs up from this administration. I’ve read many descriptions of it, but Robert Harris has one in The Ghost that is to the point. The prisoner is tightly bound to an inclined board with his feet higher than his head. His face is covered with cloth or cellophane, and when water is poured over it—some of which might leak into his lungs—the prisoner experiences an immediate drowning sensation. Harris says C.I.A. officers who have been subjected to water-boarding during their training have lasted an average of 14 seconds before giving up. Water-boarding can result in damage to the lungs and the brain, as well as long-term psychological trauma. In 1947, Harris says, a Japanese officer was convicted of a war crime for water-boarding an American prisoner and was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration’s program for trials of accused terrorists by military commissions violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Article 3 is very clear on two points this White House has chosen to ignore. Subsection (c) forbids “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment” (my italics), and Subsection (d) forbids “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples” (my italics again).
Should this all follow the president out of office, . . . the lieutenants and functionaries who provided enabling documentation should recall that, when it comes to war crimes, following orders is no defense. No less an authority than Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s chief propagandist, had this to say on the subject in an article he published in May 1944: “No international law of warfare is in existence which provides that a soldier who has committed a mean crime can escape punishment by pleading as his defense that he followed the commands of his superiors. This holds particularly true if those commands are contrary to all human ethics and opposed to the well-established international usage of warfare.” Goebbels was talking not about the Nazi atrocities—war criminals rarely discuss their own atrocities—but about Allied aerial-bombing attacks on Germany. And just as his words came back to haunt him, the White House’s re-writing of our own codes of conduct will most surely come back to haunt them and us.
About the only thing stopping the International Criminal Court from going after the president, the vice president, and the former secretary of defense and attorneys general is that the U.S. is not a signatory to its conventions of warfare. Most nations (and all other Western nations) are, but not us. China’s not a signatory; neither is Iraq. Such is the company we keep these days. You don’t even have to care about the safety of detainees in our custody to care about this issue, because it also governs how other nations treat our sons and daughters (or, in the case of the Iraq war, fathers and mothers of people in their 20s) when they are captured.
At the end of the day, the torture conversation is a reflection of how much America’s moral compass has shifted since 9/11. The administration’s colossally wrongheaded reaction to the attacks has caused the U.S. to retreat to the dark, Cheney-esque shadows. The issue of torture goes to the heart of any discussion of who we are as a world citizen. It is not just the top levels of the administration that bear the guilt of war crimes committed in our name. Every government lawyer who helped construct the legal paper trail for the White House is guilty. So are the administration underlings who turned blind eyes to things they knew were wrong. Every legislator and journalist who chose silence over the withering furies of right-wing demagogues and talk-radio hosts is guilty, too. We are all guilty, and we should be ashamed. A nation that used to be better than its enemies has, under the Bush administration, become its own worst enemy.
Carter has been doing this sort of thing since the beginning, back when it was as good as your job (Phil Donahue) or your entire career (the Dixie Chicks) to dare to even suggest that the emperor might be a bit shy of leggings, shirts, and various other accoutrements. I especially appreciate his acknowledgement that, "We are all guilty and we should be ashamed." I'm guilty of letting this go on. You're guilty. It's done in our name with out tax dollars and it's done because there aren't enough of us willing to throw ourselves against the barricades until it fucking stops. I hope that I live to see the war criminals tried and punished. Many of them are likely to live a long time and Karma, that brilliant bitch Goddess, is reputed to have a v. long memory. Now it would be nice of the folks in the middle, you know, the "serious" journalists somewhere above dirty bloggers and the silly editors of high-end gossip mags, would start to do some of the heavy lifting. Carter's been almost on his own for quite some time.
You know Orion always comes up sideways. Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains, And rising on his hands, he looks in on me Busy outdoors by lantern-light with something I should have done by daylight, and indeed, After the ground is frozen, I should have done Before it froze, and a gust flings a handful Of waste leaves at my smoky lantern chimney To make fun of my way of doing things, Or else fun of Orion's having caught me. Has a man, I should like to ask, no rights These forces are obliged to pay respect to?" So Brad McLaughlin mingled reckless talk Of heavenly stars with hugger-mugger farming, Till having failed at hugger-mugger farming, He burned his house down for the fire insurance And spent the proceeds on a telescope To satisfy a life-long curiosity About our place among the infinities.
"What do you want with one of those blame things?" I asked him well beforehand. "Don't you get one!" "Don't call it blamed; there isn't anything More blameless in the sense of being less A weapon in our human fight," he said. "I'll have one if I sell my farm to buy it." There where he moved the rocks to plow the ground And plowed between the rocks he couldn't move, Few farms changed hands; so rather than spend years Trying to sell his farm and then not selling, He burned his house down for the fire insurance And bought the telescope with what it came to. He had been heard to say by several: "The best thing that we're put here for's to see; The strongest thing that's given us to see with's A telescope. Someone in every town Seems to me owes it to the town to keep one. In Littleton it may as well be me." After such loose talk it was no surprise When he did what he did and burned his house down. Mean laughter went about the town that day To let him know we weren't the least imposed on, And he could wait--we'd see to him to-morrow. But the first thing next morning we reflected If one by one we counted people out For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long To get so we had no one left to live with. For to be social is to be forgiving. Our thief, the one who does our stealing from us, We don't cut off from coming to church suppers, But what we miss we go to him and ask for. He promptly gives it back, that is if still Uneaten, unworn out, or undisposed of. It wouldn't do to be too hard on Brad About his telescope. Beyond the age Of being given one's gift for Christmas,* He had to take the best way he knew how To find himself in one. Well, all we said was He took a strange thing to be roguish over. Some sympathy was wasted on the house, A good old-timer dating back along; But a house isn't sentient; the house Didn't feel anything. And if it did, Why not regard it as a sacrifice, And an old-fashioned sacrifice by fire, Instead of a new-fashioned one at auction?
Out of a house and so out of a farm At one stroke (of a match), Brad had to turn To earn a living on the Concord railroad, As under-ticket-agent at a station Where his job, when he wasn't selling tickets, Was setting out up track and down, not plants As on a farm, but planets, evening stars That varied in their hue from red to green.
He got a good glass for six hundred dollars. His new job gave him leisure for star-gazing. Often he bid me come and have a look Up the brass barrel, velvet black inside, At a star quaking in the other end. I recollect a night of broken clouds And underfoot snow melted down to ice, And melting further in the wind to mud. Bradford and I had out the telescope. We spread our two legs as it spread its three, Pointed our thoughts the way we pointed it, And standing at our leisure till the day broke, Said some of the best things we ever said. That telescope was christened the Star-splitter, Because it didn't do a thing but split A star in two or three the way you split A globule of quicksilver in your hand With one stroke of your finger in the middle. It's a star-splitter if there ever was one And ought to do some good if splitting stars 'Sa thing to be compared with splitting wood.
We've looked and looked, but after all where are we? Do we know any better where we are, And how it stands between the night to-night And a man with a smoky lantern chimney? How different from the way it ever stood?
So maybe this only happens to me once every ten years or so, and maybe it's never happened to you and you'll have no idea what that crazy old witch is on about today, but the wind and the rain began this morning around three o'clock. They woke me up because I'd left my bedroom window open and the wild wind was blowing the shade about and making lots of noise. Rain is such a welcome gift these days; I got up, stuck my nose against the screen and stood there in the cold, breathing in the rain and the cold air before shutting the window and going back to bed for something almost as good as v. good sex : the sound of wind and rain on the roof while Miss Thing and I curl under the warm comforter, 75% asleep and only barely awake enough to enjoy the entire process.
But I had to get up and go out for an appointment and, crocs and raincoat and umbrella be damned, it was one of those mornings when it's raining so hard that you just know that you're going to get wet. From my house to the car -- maybe 15 steps -- the legs of my pants got soaking wet. It rained and the leaves blew and the wind tossed the branches and it was, well, it was wonderful weather for a witch. It's the kind of wind and rain that comes when the weather's changing, when the cold front of winter is rushing in to push the warm front of Samhein off to sea, the liminal space at Hecate's crossroads, the point when things bubble and change and are transmorphed in Cerridwen's cauldron.
Driving back from my appointment in Bethesda to DC, I took the George Washington Parkway, driving alongside the river of my dreams, the water of my magic, the beautiful Potomac River. The forest was so full of such amazing, incandescent, burning, living color, and the air and the sky were so grey and the river was so covered in that mist that happens when the water from the sky is making love to the water in the river but the river is topping the sky, and the woods were so full of patchy fog, obscuring and then suddenly exposing a tree the precise tangerine color of the deep middle of an ember, directly next to a twitsted and now, from the rain, richly brown bare branch, which stuck out from a tree with leaves the color of perfect gold, each and every one of the thousand of them outlined in carmine, that gently, but, also, just-like-that, you realize: "One extra step, and I'm over the hill into Faerie.
Those aren't only myths; I'm "that close" to taking a turn that I never noticed before and finding myself peering into the barn where Herne is readying his horses for the ride tonight when the winds really do blow these clouds off to sea and the sliver of the new moon is just enough for the hunters. I'm one too-quick curve away from the moment when a knight on a silver palfrey comes riding out of the woods and across the road, unaware that he's ridden out of his time, unable to see or sense me staring in amazement with the hair on my arms standing as straight as his horse's mane, that mane braided earlier this morning by some lady in a dress of grey and green and great bell sleeves. If I glance quickly enough to the right, away from the river, I'll see a drawf with a meade cup of horn on his belt, see Baba Yaga's house gliding by on chicken feet, see a griffin, a tarot card, a fox. If I look slowly enough to the left, towards the place where you can't tell where the river ends and the sky begins, I'll see the talking snake that I've been dreaming of all my life, I'll see the silent parade of sorrowful ladies accompanying the bier to the river, I'll see the Lady of Shallot gliding on down towards the City, where she imagines that Lancelot waits at the obelisk, I'll see the ghost paddlewheel boat, steaming quickly towards that City of monuments and statues and hidden clues."
I wanted to slow down, to take it all in, to give myself time to consider the risks and the, here's a surprise (not), incredibly inviting possibilities, I knew at least three turn-offs where I could park for a minute, look at the trees, listen to the rain, maybe get out in my already-pretty-wet pants and sweater to dance, flip a coin, consider what's to be learned in Faerie's realms. If not for the cars behind me, I likely would have, surely would have, of course I would have at least slowed way down to take it all in.
I've dreamed of the Goddess, directly and without ambiguity, only three times in my life. Each of those times, I dreamed of a Goddess a bit foreign to me, not one of the Goddesses I'd expect to meet in dreams. One of those times, I stood, as I never have in the "mundane" (what a v. bad expression) world, in Ireland, in the kitchen of a snug warm hearth home, with the warm, solid arm of an Irish housewife around my shoulder, looking out the kitchen window at just such a rain and getting care and inspiration from her. I woke up after that dream and thought, "How odd. Brigid. That's N.'s Goddess, not mine." But it was so warm, so homey and safe, that I couldn't be anything but glad to have met the Patroness of the forge, of childbirth, and of (duh!) poetry.
And it was Brigid pulled me back this morning, reminded me of all the work waiting for me at the office, made the car feel safe and warm, got me to the Roosevelt Bridge where the City began to take over and Fairie began to fade, and pushed me along with a gentle, "There you go now; have tea at the office."
I followed her, it's true, driving over the bridge and back into "the world." I own it. I did satisfying work and spent time in the bosom of my loving family and came home to my snug little cottage and my good grey cat. And, yet, like everyone who's ever heard that siren call, all day, all day, all day, like someone worrying the spot where a tooth used to be, I keep thinking, well, maybe, what if, no, too late, no use going back and looking, the door's not there anymore, likely . . . .
Do the rain and wind and shining leaves ever do this to you? Or am I truly a batshit insane old woman? Not that they are mutually exclusive categories, I know.
So it turns out -- who knew? -- that mats made out of hair clippings make one of the most efficient materials available for cleaning up oil spills such as the recent oil spill in San Francisco. Matter of Trust has been collecting hair sweepings from salons all over the country and getting them to volunteers working to clean up the oil spill in San Francisco. Even better:
The great news is that this waste doesn't have to stay toxic. Since it's just hair and oil, there is an oyster mushroom that will cling to the hair and eat the hair and oil while detoxifying it in less than 4 months. A donation of $10,000 worth of oyster mushroom spawn from Paul Stamets of Fungi.com has been made to Matter of Trust and thanks to helpful information from contractors like Universal Environmental we've managed to contact The O'Briens Group , contracted for shore activity, toxic waste collection and disposal, and we hope to donate the spawn and set up to them.
Check it out. Print it out and take the information to your salon.
One of my dream ideas of late has been a WPA-style program designed to develop green technologies in every community in America. It's bold, and would take a lot of work and resources, but it looks like Al Gore is developing contacts which might make such a thing possible. Imagine the number of jobs which could be created when we begin assessing the most appropriate means of clean energy generation for each county or municipality and calculating and then producing the tools needed to achieve that goal. Manufacturing would be reborn in America, and new jobs would be created: wind-farm and micro-hydro maintenance positions, electrical retrofitters, geothermal engineers, and plumbers installing heat pumps to lower the amount of energy required to heat or cool buildings.
This is exactly right. We need a Manhattan Project for scientists to develop solutions to our global warming problems and we need a WPA program to create green solutions all over America. Shit, turning all the rooves in America into green rooves would be a huge first step. My v. creative friend K., who is working on reality tv shows concerning green construction, could, I'm sure, reel off a dozen more important steps within minutes.
Here's another example of what I'm talking about. Great story about a Pagan who likely saved the life of an injured woman and the press appears generally positive. Yet, the Pagan, himself, feels it necessary to announce, "We're not dancing naked in the woods." Now, I've never known the Asatru to dance naked in the woods, but then, I'm not Asatru. However, a number of Pagans do dance naked in the woods as part of their religious worship. The Charge of the Goddess, for example, instructs witches:
Whenever you have need of anything, once a month, and better it be when the moon is full, you shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me Who is Queen of all the Wise.
You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you be free you shall be naked in your rites.
Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My Presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth.
Dancing naked in the woods doesn't hurt anybody or anything. What's the point of bringing it up to deny it?
I haven't noticed that every time a xian gets interviewed she needs to assure people that her sect of xianity doesn't "handle snakes." I see lots of rabbis get interviewed and they don't feel any need to continually assert that they don't actually make matzo balls with xian baby blood. Those xians and Jews have figured out that to continually be defensive would really only reinforce old evil myths (matzo balls) or denigrate other sects within their own religion (handle snakes) to their own detriment.
So I'd really appreciate it if Pagans would learn to stop asserting that they don't [insert here: worship Satan, eat babies, dance naked, etc.] If they're being interviewed and they get asked, they should clearly answer, but lately it's not even the journalists who seem to be doing this as much as we're doing it to ourselves. It's time to stop.
He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together He said that everything would be better than before He said we were on the edge of a new relation He said he would never again cringe before his father He said that he was going to invent full-time He said he loved me that going into me He said was going into the world and the sky He said all the buckles were very firm He said the wax was the best wax He said Wait for me here on the beach He said Just don't cry
I remember the gulls and the waves I remember the islands going dark on the sea I remember the girls laughing I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me I remember mother saying: Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse I remember she added: Women who love such are the worst of all I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer. I would have liked to try those wings myself. It would have been better than this.
Fascinating study by Paige Harden, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Virginia that's going to really piss some people off:
Perhaps most surprising, the Virginia study found that adolescents who had sex at younger ages were less likely to end up delinquent than those who lost their virginity later. Many factors play into a person's readiness for sex, but in at least some cases sexual relationships may offer an alternative to trouble, the researchers say.
Even then, there are emotional and physical risks. Young adolescents, in particular, are less likely to use condoms and so are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. But those are risks that other nations have mitigated with education, Harden and Turkheimer said, while U.S. educators wanting a piece of the nation's $200 million "abstinence only" budget must adhere to a curriculum that links sex to delinquency and explicitly precludes discussion of contraception.
The new study "really calls into question the usefulness of abstinence education for preventing behavior problems," Harden said, "and questions the bigger underlying assumption that all adolescent sex is always bad."
One wonders how adolescent sex could be bad -- throughout history, until v. recently, people began having sex, children, "adult" lives in their teens. It's long seemed obvious to me that teens have problems around early sex because our entire society has problems around sex. If you take something natural and make it "bad" kids will have problems with it (see, e.g., teenage girls and, say, eating). Once you intelligently deal, as other nations do, with issues such as preventing pregnancy and transmitting disease, it's not at all clear to me why teen sex is "bad" or "harmful." Nor why it should be related to delinquent behaviors.
But you know this study is going to drive the fundies batshit insane.
I'm a woman, a Witch, a mother, a grandmother, an eco-feminist, a gardener, a reader, a writer, and a priestess of the Great Mother Earth. Hecate appears in the
Homeric Ode to Demeter, which tells of Hades who caught Persophone
"up reluctant on his golden car and bare her away lamenting. . . . But no one, either of the deathless gods or of mortal men, heard her voice, nor yet the olive-trees bearing rich fruit: only tenderhearted Hecate, bright-coiffed, the daughter of Persaeus, heard the girl from her cave . . . ."