It's grey today and there's a chilling cold. My neighbor's black cat is meowing outside my back door and, in the naked, twisty branches of the oak tree, three (of course it's three) of THE largest and blackest crows I have ever seen are making mournful crow song, trying to scare off the cat.
Darkness reigns; I can't imagine anything moodier and more evocative.
The chief problem with Nature Religions is: Nature. I can't remember even once, since I began practicing magic with my wonderful circle of witchy women, when Nature has stopped us from being outside -- either at a wooded lakefront, or in my oak grove backyard, or on Capitol Hill, in the v shadow of power -- and banging drums, blowing whistles, beating pots, and shaking tambourines to wake up the sleepy Sun after the longest night of the year. But this year, when we've some, er, special magic planned for the, er, v powerful, the weather is threatening to keep old witches w broken ankles confined. I'll be spending some time this evening trying to push back the sleet.
Someone, and I apologize for forgetting who, once said that people are fearful of witches because witches aren't afraid of the Dark. I'm not sure if that's true; there are times in my life when the Dark has terrified me, but that's also true for me vis a vis the Light. What I do know about the Dark is that it's mostly comforting to me, these days. A lovely witch once asked me which room in my home was the darkest. Unless I go down into the basement, my guest room, tucked into the oak grove in my back yard and away from the street lights, is the darkest room in my home. If it weren't so much smaller than the master bedroom, I'd have picked that room for my bedroom, for that reason alone. As it is, I walk into the room two or three times an evening and just stand there, absorbing the comforting Dark. Scientists think that sleeping in deep Dark may help to prevent breast cancer; our attempts to light up the Dark have had so many pernicious effects, in addition to making it impossible to see the Milky Way, which, honestly, we were meant to see almost every night. I love the fogs we've been having for the same reason that I love the Dark: comfort. With only a small bit of practice, you can wrap the Dark around you the way that you can wrap fog around you, like a comforting cloak with a magical buckle on the front.
I wrapped up in my blue wool cloak yesterday morning and walked out barefoot in the fog and there were daffodil sprouts coming up out of the deep brown Earth, saying, "We love the Dark, the Dark underneath the ground, the deep Dark of winter. We'll see you soon when the days get long enough to warm the ground." And my hellebore, known as the Advent Rose, would be about to bloom, had Landscape Guy and I not transplanted it this year. It may bloom, yet.
My wonderful circle of magical women -- old, young, sexual, pregnant, menopausal, living with husbands, leaving husbands, leaving jobs, nurturing children, nurturing grandchildren, nurturing news agencies, nurturing federal agencies, nurturing film companies, nurturing non-profits, nurturing aged mothers-in-law, competing internationally in bridge, blogging, learning witchcraft, becoming political, rejuvinating after an annus horribilis, becoming devotees of specific Goddesses, learning to lead ritual -- will gather to celebrate the longest night, to appreciate how long the Dark can last when the Dark sets its mind to lasting. We'll eat, do magic, dance, read tarot, exchange small gifts, dance, tell secrets, dance, tell the truth, dance, sleep, and wake up to drink magically-prepared liqueur from shot glasses made of ice (I know some one's going to ask: Here), do magic to protect women's rights, and go eat brunch. (What? You didn't think witches eat brunch? We invented second breakfast.) And I will know, once again, that I am blessed beyond anything that I ever deserved, blessed to live within this college of priestesses.
And so, on into the growing Light. I think that we can do this. Bhride, wait for me on the other side. Witches are also not too terribly afraid of the Light.
May the Darkness bless you, bless yours, and bring you Her Dark Gifts.
Traditional by Doreen Valiente, as adapted by Starhawk:
Listen to the words of the Great Mother, Who of old was called Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Diana, Arionrhod, Brigid, and by many other names:
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.
For My law is love is unto all beings. Mine is the secret that opens the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life that is the cauldron of Cerridwen, that is the holy grail of immortality.
I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal, and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those that have gone before.
Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for behold, I am the Mother of all things and My love is poured out upon the earth.
Hear the words of the Star Goddess, the dust of Whose feet are the hosts of Heaven, whose body encircles the universe:
I Who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars and the mysteries of the waters,
I call upon your soul to arise and come unto me.
For I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe.
From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.
Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are My rituals.
Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire.
Hecate says "Jump!" and Obama says "How high?" Not really. In all honesty, I had almost nothing to do with this, but I am delighted to learn that Obama will, as Democratic presidents have before him, have a poet at his inauguration.
Poetry is important. One of my favorite t-shirts bears a quote from Victor Anderson: "White magic is poetry. Black magic is anything that actually works." To which I always amend: "Poetry does work. Poetry induces ecstacy, which is what poetry is supposed to do and ecstacy IS magic." Great nations need poetry and in extremis -- which, let's face it, pretty well describes our current situation -- they need it most of all.
Obama's chosen Elizabeth Alexander, a professor of African American studies, . . . a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005, and winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize last year.
She is the daughter of former secretary of the Army Clifford Alexander, who made appearances on Obama's behalf during the campaign. She grew up on Capitol Hill and attended Sidwell Friends School, which Obama's children will attend. She is also a former neighbor of Obama's in Chicago.
She said she was overjoyed at the inaugural honor.
"I am obviously profoundly honored and thrilled," she said today. "Not only to have a chance to have some small part of this extraordinary moment in American history. . . . This incoming president of ours has shown in every act that words matter, that words carry meaning, that words carry power that words are the medium with which we communicate across difference, and that words have tremendous possibilities and those possibilities are not empty."
Alexander, a v good choice, IMHO, is, perhaps, best known for her poem, Venus Hottentot:
The Venus Hottentot (1825)
Science, science, science! Everything is beautiful
blown up beneath my glass. Colors dazzle insect wings.
A drop of water swirls like marble. Ordinary
crumbs become stalactites set in perfect angles
of geometry I’d thought impossible. Few will
ever see what I see through this microscope..
Cranial measurements crowd my notebook pages,
and I am moving close, close to how these numbers
signify aspects of national character.
Her genitalia will float inside a labeled
pickling jar in the Musee de l’Homme on a shelf
above Broca’s brain: “The Venus Hottentot.”
Elegant facts await me. Small things in this world are mine.
There is unexpected sun today in London, and the clouds that most days sift into this cage where I am working have dispersed. I am a black cutout against a captive blue sky, pivoting nude so the paying audience can view my naked buttocks.
I am called “Venus Hottentot.” I left Capetown with a promise of revenue: half the profits and my passage home: a boon! Master’s brother proposed the trip; the magistrate granted me leave. I would return to my family a duchess, with watered-silk
dresses and money to grow food, rouge and powder in glass pots, silver scissors, a lorgnette, voile and tulle instead of flax, cerulean blue instead of indigo. My bother would devour sugar-studded non- pareils, pale taffy, damask plums.
That was years ago. London’s circuses are florid and filthy, swarming with cabbage-smelling citizens who stare and query, “Is it muscle? Bone? Or fat?” My neighbor to the left is The Sapient Pig, “The Only Scholar of His Race.” He plays
at cards, tells time and fortunes by scraping his hooves. Behind me is Prince Kar-mi, who arches like a rubber tree and stares back at the crowd from under the crook of his knee. A professional animal trainer shouts my cues. There are singing mice here.
“The Ball of Duchess DuBarry”: In the engraving I lurch towards the belles dames, mad-eyed, and they swoon. Men in capes and pince-nez shield them. Tassels dance at my hips. In this newspaper lithograph my buttocks are shown swollen and luminous as a planet.
Monsieur Cuvier investigates between my legs, poking, prodding, sure of his hypothesis. I half expect him to pull silk scarves from inside me, paper poppies, then a rabbit! He complains at my scent and does not think I comprehend, but I speak
English. I speak Dutch. I speak a little French as well, and languages Monsieur Cuvier will never know have names. Now I am bitter and now I am sick. I eat brown bread, drink rancid brother. I miss good sun, miss Mother’s sadza. My stomach
is frequently queasy from mutton chops, pale potatoes, blood sausage. I was certain that this would be better than farm life. I am the family entrepreneur! But there are hours in every day to conjure my imaginary daughters, in banana skirts
and ostrich-feather fans. Since my own genitals are public I have made other parts private. In my silence, I possess mouth, larynx, brain, in a single gesture. I rub my hair with lanolin, and pose in profile like a painted Nubian
archer, imagining gold leaf woven through my hair, and diamonds. Observe the wordless Odalisque. I have not forgotten my Xhosa clicks. My flexible tongue and healthy mouth bewilder this man with his rotting teeth. If he were to let me rise up
from this table, I’d spirit his knives and cut out his black heart, seal it with science fluid inside a bell jar, place it on a low shelf in a white man’s museum so the whole world could see it was shriveled and hard, geometric, deformed, unnatural.
Alexander has explained her theory of poetry:
Ars Poetica #100: I Believe
Poetry, I tell my students, is idiosyncratic. Poetry
is where we are ourselves, (though Sterling Brown said
“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”) digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps, emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way
to get from here to there. Poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love, and I’m sorry the dog died.
Poetry (here I hear myself loudest) is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
Ars Poetica #28: African Leave-Taking Disorder
The talk is good. The two friends linger at the door. Urban crickets sing with them.
There is no after the supper and talk. The talk is good. These two friends linger
at the door, half in, half out, ‘til one decides to walk the other home. And so
they walk, more talk, the new doorstep, the nightgowned wife who shakes her head and smiles
from the bedroom window as the men talk in love and the crickets sing along.
The joke would be if the one now home walked the other one home, where they started,
to keep talking, and so on: “African Leave-Taking Disorder,” which names her children
I think that people underestimate the power of somebody willing to tell the truth, because in fact very few people are. How will I pay the rent? How will I eat? Where will I publish it? But the universe is more magical than that. People think they have to identify a market, what people want -- even radicals do this -- but that's exactly wrong. What is true? What really inspires me, excites me? What will really help people, really take away their confusion and suffering? Write about those things and to hell with what people are supposed to want. It's sort of a funny, crazy, bloody-minded way, but I think it's the only way to bring water to the Wasteland . . . . When I read something truthful, something real, I breathe a deep sigh and say, "Thank you so much -- I wasn't mad or alone in thinking that after all!" So often we are left to our own devices, struggling in the dark with this whole external framing system and internalized propaganda system, and then for someone to tell us the truth is such a gift. In a world where people are bull-shitting all around us, confusing us -- and confusion is a cause of huge suffering -- it's a great kindness to be honest.
If you're going to practice grounding, it helps to be familiar with the ground. Garden, even if you've only got a tiny spot or a few window pots. Pull weeds for a friend or volunteer to do it anyplace with a garden: a hospice, a library, a park, a nursing home. I do a lot of weeding, it's one of THE most oddly calming meditative devices that I know. And when I weed, I spend some time examining the roots of the plants that I'm pulling out of the ground. Different plants have different kinds of roots and I find it helpful to have a visual library of lots of different roots inside my head when it's time for me to sink my roots down into the ground. Over time, I've learned that I usually have two sets of roots. A very energetic set of roots, clear and glassy and filled with blue and gold swirls. (Didn't say it made sense. That's just how they appear to me when I begin sinking them into the ground.) And, a second set that's like some young trees that I've pulled out of the ground. Woody and tough as hell, even if a bit thin, with lots of small "hairy" rootlets shooting off the larger "branches".
Go outside and sit on the ground. At a park, near a river, in the mountains, beside a tree. How does it feel to your ass, to your legs, to your back, to your hands? Stretch out on the ground. How does it feel to your belly? Is it sun-warmed, or still damp and chilly from the last rain? What is it saying to you? What do you want to say to it? If you're going to have a relationship with it, you might want to introduce yourself and become familiar with it. Before you go, you know, invading it with your roots.
When you ground and drop your roots into the Earth, I find that it helps to be aware of how the ground is really feeling these days. It's hard and cold in winter, here where I live. Lately, the top layer is squishy from the wealth of recent rain that we've had. Some mornings, the first few inches are frosty. Come Spring, it will likely be wet, as well, but it will warm gradually. In Summer, the ground here can get parched and, especially in the afternoon, the first half an inch or so can be warm from the sun.
When I ground sitting at my altar, as I sink my roots into the ground, I note the top layer of rich soil, the lower layers of red Virginia clay. I note worms and bugs and moles and the roots of the deep old oaks that surround my home, whose roots form a network of protection around this cottage and its grounds. I sink my roots deeper, noting the bones of my ancestors, becoming one again with the Earth, welcoming my roots, grounding me. I sink my roots lower, past the aquifer, through layers of solid rock that nourish me, down deep enough that the ground begins to warm, lower and deeper -- and spreading out wider and wider all the time -- to the very molten core of Mother Earth, the part of my Mother most full of energy. And then, I begin to draw that warmth and energy up.
With practice, you'll likely find that the ground "feels" different when you ground in different places. My circle of wonderful women often does magic on Capitol Hill and, there, the ground feels more marshy to me, a bit less solid, easier to penetrate and more apt to move around a bit. The ground beneath my office feels even marshyer, and more oppressed, burdened by too many buildings and too much concrete. I have to work harder to get grounded there. When I was in the mountains of Vermont recently, the ground was cold, full of tiny rocks, and it "tasted" mineral-ly, like mineral water with a strong taste.
You can approach grounding as an abstract task, a magical practice that doesn't require you to get your hands, well, dirty. And that may work for some people. But, for me, grounding is about developing a real relationship with the ground, with Mother Earth, the kind of familiarity that allows sudden access when necessary: Let me in old friend, I need this and I need it now.
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 . . . ."