I've posted this poem before, but I love it so much, and it's been on my mind today. So here it is again:
The Bear's Daughter by Theodora Goss
She dreams of the south. Wandering through the silent castle, Where snow has covered the parapets, and the windows Are covered with frost, like panes of isinglass, She dreams of pomegranates and olive trees.
But to be the bear's daughter is to be a daughter, as well, Of the north. To have forgotten a time before The tips of her fingers were blue, before her veins Were blue like rivers flowing through fields of ice.
To have forgotten a time before her boots Were elk-leather lined with ermine.
Somewhere in the silent castle, her mother is sleeping In the bear's embrace, and breathing pomegranates Into his fur. She is a daughter of the south, With hair like honey and skin like orange-flowers.
She is a nightingale's song in the olive groves.
And her daughter, wandering through the empty garden, Where the branches of yew trees rubbing against each other Sound like broken violins,
Dreams of the south while a cold wind sways the privet, Takes off her gloves, which are lined with ermine, and places Her hands on the rim of the fountain, in which the sun Has scattered its colors, like roses trapped in ice.
Light posting for the next couple of days, as I prepare for and celebrate the Winter Solstice with my wonderful circle of completely kick-ass witches and then gather with Son, DiL, G/Son, and a slew of others to eat, drink, open presents, lounge.
This time of year was once quite rough for me. Child of a dysfunctional family, I was often stung most bitterly at this season by the difference between the Happy Families (all the same, as Tolstoy famously noted) and my family, torn, in its own individual way, by pain and strife. No matter how I tried, even out on my own, a young wife and mother, I was never able to quite achieve that Martha-Stewart-Wonderland that America convinced me it was my job to achieve. And, I lost a sister on December 28 one year and a brother on December 24 some years later. It wasn't until I finally began to realize that this time of year is about the Dark, about going into the cold cave without enough food, about surviving -- by hook or crook or sheer, cussed refusal to die -- long enough for the sun to begin to linger longer in the Spring, that I became a fan of the last weeks of December. And, as Sia so beautifully puts it, I've also worked to take back this holiday, back from the xians who want so terribly to completely OWN this time of year and back from the corporatists who want so terribly to make me need to BUY THINGS in the vain hope that they will fill the dark hole of Winter.
Sia: I began to take back the things of the past many seasons ago. That tree for one thing, that World Tree, that's mine. And those bright, hopeful candles are mine again, as well. This is a festival of light, after all. That circle called a wreath is mine, so too, the holly bush. Before I became Pagan, I was always drawn to pictures of a stag standing alone in snow. I'd see this design in different forms over the years and it always spoke to me. Now I know why. And look at that old Shaman dressed in furs. He's mine now, too. He was lost for a time, selling sodas if you can believe it, but he's back again where he belongs. He still brings gifts, but the gifts he offers are very different than the ones I'd known before.
One of the things that age has taught me is: things change. The Wheel of the Year turns. What seems terrible beyond belief and insurmountable now will seem ok and manageable later. The frozen lake will thaw. The leafless forsythia bush will bud. The evil ruler will die and the good leader will emerge. A clueless people will wake up and live up to their potential. Peace will break out and nameless forces for the good will appear at the needed moment. Women will be happy and busy and children and gardens will flourish.
Whatever this time of year is like for you, right now, I wish for you: time for reflection, a willingness to dance in the dark and drink from glasses chipped from ice, a face-to-face sudden encounter with your Fear, time to hibernate, dream, and plan, and great, bracing draughts of crystal cold fresh air to breathe. And I hope that you can see the Sun rise on Sunday morning. I'll be out in the freezing cold with the witches, beating on pots and pans, blowing whistles, yelling, whooping, and shaking tambourines to wake her up from her sleep, to make sure that, one more time, as she has for all of my great, great, many-times-great grandmothers, she decides to linger longer and turn the Winter into Spring. A witch's job, after all, is to turn the Wheel, and round and round the Wheel does turn. If you yell loud enough, I just might hear you. If you listen carefully, you just may hear me beating on my soup pot with my wooden spoon.
Fifty years ago, I was two years old. The Soviet Union launched the "Space Age" by launching Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite. A month later Sputnik II carried a dog into orbit, making that dog the first living being to enter space. President Eisenhower announced the "Eisenhower Doctrine," pledging defense of Middle Eastern nations against communism. Federal troops were ordered to enforce integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Despite a record-setting filibuster by Sen. Strom Thurmond, Congress approved the first significant civil rights legislation since the Civil War. Nice Grand Marnier was bottled specifically with me and NTodd in mind.
A hundred years ago, Maria Montessori opened her first school in Rome. Finland, on my birthday, became the first European country to give women the right to vote. Hundreds were killed in mine explosions. Lots of lovely bungalows were built and filled with Stickley furniture. Nice Grand Marnier was bottled specifically with me and NTodd in mind.
A hundred and fifty years ago, in the Dred Scott Decision, the Supreme Court ruled that slaves cannot be citizens. (Better if they had ruled that citizens cannot be slaves.) Madame Bovary was published. Nice Grand Marnier was bottled specifically with me and NTodd in mind.
We drank to American Democracy. May we have it, one day.
A foundation that has sued the military alleging widespread violations of religious freedom said Tuesday that it has evidence showing that soldiers are pressured to adopt fundamentalist Christian beliefs.
. . .
The material was gathered from Fort Riley in Kansas, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fort Jackson, S.C.
Examples at Fort Riley, where Hall is stationed, included a display outside his military police battalion's office with a quote from conservative writer Ann Coulter saying, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book "A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" for sale at the post exchange.
. . .
Weinstein said materials for a Bible studies course from Military Ministry, part of Campus Crusade for Christ International, teach soldiers that the U.S. military and government are instruments to spread the word of God. The material was found at Fort Jackson, S.C., he said.
. . .
The lawsuit also alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and allows a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations.
It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.
It's not surprising; xianity has almost always associated itself with armies of the patriarchy and the list of wars fought "in Jesus' name" is a long one. The xian church and the armed forces are simply two branches of the patriarchy and it's not surprising to see them working together.
But it is illegal. It violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is wrong. It's wrong to use the government and the coercive power of the military to privilege one religious group over all others. It is immoral. It's immoral to force people to abandon their religious beliefs in order to serve their country in the military. And, you know, it just stinks to high heaven. Is this really the face that xians want to show to the world?
Those other churches might argue that such a focus on witchcraft is a relic of Africans’ old beliefs, a dangerously pagan preoccupation. But scholars say this is Christianity made profoundly African. Spiritual Warfare considers itself Pentecostal, and like many other Pentecostals, worshipers see the battle between God and Satan, or what they also call the Bible against witchcraft, shaping the world.
“Religion for them is not like in the West,” said Jacob K. Olupona, professor of African religious traditions at the Harvard Divinity School. “It’s not simply seen as meaning and reference to a transcendental order. Religion is seen as something that works. It has a utilitarian view, and people are looking for solutions in different angles and different ways.”
The Spiritual Warfare congregants here said that because their ancestors were not Christians, they were cursed, Africa is cursed and the sins of their fathers are now visited upon all the children.
Angela's trying to do something about an aspect of this problem.
Even in modern cultures these gatherings are still valued for emotional comfort, having something to look forward to at the darkest time of the year. This is especially the case for populations in the near polar regions of the hemisphere. The depressive psychological effects of winter on individuals and societies for that matter, are for the most part tied to coldness, tiredness, malaise, and inactivity. Winter weather, plus being indoors causes negative ion deficiency which decreases serotonin levels resulting in depression and tiredness. Also, getting insufficient light in the short winter days increases the secretion of melatonin in the body, off balancing the circadian rhythm with longer sleep. Studies have proven that exercise, light therapy, increased negative ion exposure (which can be attained from plants and well ventilated flames burning wood or beeswax) can reinvigorate the body from its seasonal lull and relieve winter blues by shortening the melatonin secretions, increasing serotonin and temporarily creating a more even sleeping pattern. Midwinter festivals and celebrations occurring on the longest night of the year, often calling for evergreens, bright illumination, large ongoing fires, feasting, communion with close ones, and evening physical exertion by dancing and singing are examples of cultural winter therapies that have evolved as traditions since the beginnings of civilization. Such traditions can stir the wit, stave off malaise, reset the internal clock and rekindle the human spirit.
We sat together at one summer's end, That beautiful mild woman, your close friend, And you and I, and talked of poetry. I said, "A line will take us hours maybe; Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, Our stitching and unstitching has been naught. Better go down upon your marrow-bones And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather; For to articulate sweet sounds together Is to work harder than all these, and yet Be thought an idler by the noisy set Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen The martyrs call the world.' And thereupon That beautiful mild woman for whose sake There's many a one shall find out all heartache On finding that her voice is sweet and low Replied, "To be born woman is to know -- Although they do not talk of it at school -- That we must labour to be beautiful.' I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring. There have been lovers who thought love should be So much compounded of high courtesy That they would sigh and quote with learned looks precedents out of beautiful old books; Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.' We sat grown quiet at the name of love; We saw the last embers of daylight die, And in the trembling blue-green of the sky A moon, worn as if it had been a shell Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell About the stars and broke in days and years. I had a thought for no one's but your ears: That you were beautiful, and that I strove To love you in the old high way of love; That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
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 . . . ."