Saturday, July 31, 2010

So Many Books, So Little Time

But I'll find time to read this one.

"The Visions of Isobel Gowdie" by historian Emma Wilby of the University of Exeter, is the first-ever full-length study of the Nairnshire witch, Isobel Gowdie, [and] has just been published this month, by Sussex Academic Press.

Gowdie was tried for witchcraft in her home village of Auldearn in 1662, and her story has featured in books, songs and composer James MacMillan's acclaimed orchestral piece "The Confession of Isobel Gowdie", but until now, little has been known about her life, or the conditions in which the confessions were generated.

Over a six-week period the ministers of Auldearn and Nairn, along with various local dignitaries, elicited four detailed confessions that have since been celebrated by historians for providing an exceptionally vivid insight into 17th century Scottish folk belief.

. . .

Wilby concludes that Gowdie's confessions provide us with a unique insight into the complexities of popular spirituality in 17th century Scotland and point to the importance of dream and vision experience in the lives of the poor - a spirituality that is generally hidden from view because, as most peasants were illiterate, it was seldom recorded.

"Isobel and her contemporaries were heavily influenced by Christian teachings, and indeed saw themselves as Christians, but combined the beliefs they inherited from the pulpit with more ambiguous folkloric beliefs inherited from the fireside.

"Through this 'popular mysticism', they sought to survive in a harsh pre-industrial world - healing their sick and protecting their animals and crops from both harmful spirits and disease." Wilby suggests that this "hybrid Christianity" generally served the population well unless it conflicted with Church authorities - when it was frequently demonised and condemned as witchcraft.

And I just love it that there are historical finds, still out there, just waiting to be made:

During her research, Wilby discovered Isobel Gowdie's original trial records in an uncatalogued box of papers held at the National Archives of Scotland, thus clearing up the question of authenticity once and for all.

Wikipedia says:

A young housewife living at Auldearn, Highland, Scotland, her confession painted a wild word-picture about the deeds of her coven. They were claimed to have the ability to transform themselves into animals; to turn into a hare, she would say:

I shall go into a hare,
With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil's name,
Ay while I come home again.
(sych: such; meickle: great) [duh!]

To change back, she would say:
Hare, hare, God send thee care.
I am in a hare's likeness now,
But I shall be in a woman's likeness even now.

She allegedly was entertained by the Queen of the Fairies [well, and, to paraphrase J. Kerry, who among us has not had, at least, an invitation?] , also known as the [Q]ueen of Elphame, in her home "under the hills."

It is unclear whether Gowdie's confession is the result of psychosis, whether she had fallen under suspicion of witchcraft and sought leniency by confessing, or was she simply much smarter than her inquisitors. It is also unclear whether there was some truth to her remarkable confessions. Her confession was not consistent with the folklore and records of the trials of witches, and it was more detailed than most. There is no record of her being executed.

In 1955, retired English soldier Robin Green [now there's a Witch name if there ever was one!] believed that he saw the ghost of Isobel Gowdie while camping alone in Auldearn.

Isobel Gowdie and her magic have been remembered in a number of later works of culture. She has appeared as a character in several novels, such as the biographical novels The Devil's Mistress by novelist and occultist J. W. Brodie-Innes, Isobel by Jane Parkhurst, the fantasy novel Night Plague by Graham Masterton, and Noches Paganas: Cuentos Narrados junto al Fuego del Sabbath by Luis G. Abbadie; Isobel Gowdie is also the subject of songs by Creeping Myrtle and Alex Harvey. Maddy Prior's song The Fabled Hare is based upon the spell quoted above. The Inkubus Sukkubus song Woman to Hare, from the album Vampyre Erotica is based on Isobel's statement, and quotes her words at the end of the lyrics. The Confession of Isobel Gowdie is a work for symphony orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan.

Can I just say that this:

It is unclear whether Gowdie's confession is the result of psychosis, whether she had fallen under suspicion of witchcraft and sought leniency by confessing, or was she simply much smarter than her inquisitors. It is also unclear whether there was some truth to her remarkable confessions.

is so much better than most Wiki posts, and so much more open, that it completely rocks.

More on the Emma Wilby.

Still Enough To Get You Killed

Hacked to death, this time.

CALASIAO, Pangasinan – A 69-year old woman, who was being suspected as a witch, died after she was stabbed and hacked to death by a 36-year old man, whose relative was one of the alleged victims of the former at Lumban here Thursday afternoon. . . . Initial [reports] showed that the victim has been suspected of being a witch who reportedly toyed with the suspect's female relative, who eventully suffered from mental disorders.

Witnesses informed police investigators that the suspect had been seen around Albania's residence over the past several days, obviously conducting a surveillance of the woman’s daily routine so that he could work out his plan against her.

Albania reported the matter to barangay officials but nothing was done about the said report.
. . .

Relatives of the victim vehemently denied the allegation that their dead kin was a witch, saying that such suspicion has never been proven.

It's easy to dismiss cases such as this one as something that only happens "over there" or, when they move to England, as things that only happen to "other people." As we move into increasingly bad economic times, declining oil, and ever-worse environmental disasters and stresses (cough*waterwars*cough), those dismissals sound increasingly like people whistling in the dark. But we're Witches. We willingly explore the dark. And we'd better begin to do more than whistle about this problem.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lammas Hireling.

Fruits Of The First Harvest


~Mary Oliver

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

Picture found here.

May your happy tongue enjoy all the fruits of Lughnasadah.

I Felt The Earth Move

How It's Done.

Dear Messers Reid and Obama,

Please make a note.

Nature Deficit Disorder

This is, I think, such a hopeful and optimistic speech. A wonderful antidote. It's worth listening all the way through.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Thursday Celt Blogging


An Unusual Way To Spend The Summer

Nice to see Minerva get some TLC.

Perched at Brooklyn's highest natural point (200 ft. above sea level) in Green-Wood cemetery, the Roman Goddess Minerva received a fresh waxing Tuesday morning, courtesy of a few French volunteers (and one American).

"I know that when I'm back in France I'll tell everybody that I know that there's this great cemetery and this great statue," said Ines Reulet, 21 from France, one of six volunteers in New York for the next two weeks with the Preservation Volunteers of America program.

. . .

She and the other volunteers spent the morning applying fresh coats of wax to Minerva and will be tidying up some granite tombstones for the rest of the afternoon.

Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood Cemetery, says the statue was placed there by the local businessman Charles Higgins in 1920 to commemorate the Battle of Brooklyn. "She is saluting the Statue of Liberty. And that's especially important with our French volunteers, since the statue was a gift from France and France helped us with the Revolutionary War," Moylan says. "And Liberty is actually, we think, looking right at us, so Minerva is saluting her."

Gotta say that doing restoration work in a cemetery does sound cool. And who knew there were two Goddesses in NYC (Liberty and Minerva) facing each other?

Picture found here.


People keep doing it. I'm going to keep complaining about it.

If you capitalize the names of other religions, you should capitalize "Pagan."

Not. complicated.

Picture found here.

Daily Recommended Requirement

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Suburban Safari

The other week, when we were at his favorite nature center, G/Son & I saw a display about this book.

Who knew that an investigation into that patch of grass in the backyard could be so fruitful - and so funny?

More than 550 square miles of new lawns unfold each year in the U.S. alone. Although new research shows that these lawns aren't nearly as "unnatural" as ecologists once thought, no one has offered an accessible exploration of this novel habitat - until now.

Equipped with a lawn chair and her infectious curiosity, Hannah Holmes spends a year in her yard, hoping to discover exactly what's going on out there.

Bill McKibben said:

It's . . . a very important book--a graceful and forceful reminder that the natural world is everywhere all around us, to be savored and to be protected."
Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature

Don't let the word "suburban" (which has become quite the red-headed-step-child of modern thinking) turn you off. The process of observation that Ms. Holmes describes is as valid for a bit of urban park, a stretch of weeds alongside the interstate, a container garden on an urban apartment balcony, as it is for a suburban lawn or a patch of rural meadowland. This would be a great book to read with bright middle school-age children. And it's a great book for parents and grandparents to read as they attempt to help their beloved children come into relationship with nature.

It really doesn't matter how incredibly urban your environment (your beloved child's environment) may be. NRDC recently sent out an email describing a wildlife refuge accessible by public transportation from New York City, a refuge from which the Empire State Building is clearly visible.

At the heart of this special place is a wildlife refuge, the only one of its kind in the national park system. But the true wonder of it is that it is in New York City, my hometown.

I am speaking of Jamaica Bay, which sits at the southern intersection of Brooklyn and Queens—so close to me I can get to it by public transit. My web design firm works with an NPS partner organization, the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, so that is another point of connection for me.

Within Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, you can hike wooded trails, kayak through wetlands and do world-class bird-watching. Some 330 bird species have been observed there—20% of North America's total. And you don't need to know a sandpiper from a tern to enjoy the spectacle.

Birds are not all. Jamaica Bay is home to 60 species of butterfly and 80 species of fish, as well as reptiles, amphibians and small mammals. Every spring diamondback terrapins crawl up on the beach to lay their eggs. The horseshoe crabs also come ashore to mate and dig nests, as I have witnessed myself on a guided walk with park rangers.

This sanctuary for humans and wildlife is like another world. And yet, from certain spots, the Empire State Building is clearly visible in the distance. The "A" train periodically rattles across a bridge (yes, that storied train of song) and planes from nearby JFK Airport rise overhead.

A half-an-hour on Google should yield several places you can access with your beloved child.

It is still unclear what the future holds for Jamaica Bay, but the prospects have begun to look brighter. From your vantage, wherever you reside, it may not seem to matter much. Jamaica Bay will never match the majesty of the great wild places that you dream of visiting one day. But Jamaica Bay is in a city where millions of people live—and can be visited any day. That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of it.

The term "Pagan" comes from the Latin word "paganus" which means "country dweller", or "rustic." But, today, most Pagans live in urban environments. We've got, I'm begging you, on my knees, we've got to get our kids in touch with nature, wherever they live. Especially, I think, when they live in the suburbs and the cities.

What will you do? When will you do it? Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good. What can you do this weekend? Will you do it? What else will you be doing that's more important?

Spiral Scouts can often help.

Picture found here.

No Child Left Inside

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Can You Feel It?

For about 30 seconds tonight, I could feel the change. Almost everything except for the black-eyed-susans, the toad lilies, and the pineapple sage is through blooming. A few birch leaves have begun to fall. I'll hear acorns hitting the roof within weeks. We're into tomatoes, corn, patty pan squash. Here we go, the wheel is turning round.

How lucky I am to watch it. Again. It never gets old.

I've Said It Before: I Would Chew Off My Right Arm To Write Like Athenae

Athenae is talking about journalism, but what she says goes beyond that.

Just be who you wanted to be when you grew up. It isn't that hard. Okay, it's horrendously hard, but on balance it is not harder than making your whole life about why you aren't the person you wanted to be and why you don't have the life you wanted to have. That, and believe me I speak from experience, is exhausting. Everyone I know who has had their soul sucked out had it happen as a result of a moment when they knew the right thing to do, and did the opposite. This is the same thing. They'll make a pile of excuses and every last one of them will be some desperate attempt not to do what they know in their bones needs to be done.

Anias Nin said that, in the end, the risk to remain tight in a bud is worse than the risk involved in just going ahead, opening up, and blooming. I see it every day in my garden. Yet, unlike us, the plants almost always, always, always choose to open the bud, to turn the blossom to seed, to be cracked open by cold, water, warmth.

Athenae's post reminds me a bit of this and this.

Everyone I know who has had their soul sucked out had it happen as a result of a moment when they knew the right thing to do, and did the opposite.
Jung famously said that:

existential suffering is the result of our trying to avoid pain, by denial and repression. None of us wants pain. We naturally shun it. But doing so is like the spleen refusing to do its job. It leads to big trouble, dis-ease, and real problems. In the realm of the psyche, these are called “neuroses.” Jung identified the long-term habit of repression (our “stuffing” unpleasant feelings, facts, etc. within) as the cause of neuroses.

Because we all do this, we are all “neurotic” to one degree or another. This is “meaningless” suffering because it makes no sense, has no significance, and gives us no benefit. This form of suffering, in other words, is not a gift.

The form of suffering that is meaningful comes when we stop repressing and take up our moral task as humans to deal consciously with our pain. In this process, we take up the pain that is endemic to living and work with it, in the knowledge that pain has a purpose. It is a warning, with an intrinsic message. We need to listen to our inner voices to learn this message.

Meaningless pain is knowing what to do and doing the opposite; refusing to take up our moral task as humans to deal consciously with our pain. Being human is taking up the moral task (and, let's be honest, sometimes, it was a good thing for us, as children, to "stuff" it to be dealt with later, but, well, later is now) of dealing with "the pain," of dealing with what we know in our bones needs to be done.

I think what's stopping me is simple sloth. Habit. The ability to be always "too busy" at "just this moment." What's stopping you?

What's pushing me is my desire to be fully alive, my awareness of my Better Self, the notion that this was really all supposed to be fulfilling, and glorious, and fun. What's pushing you?

I'm An Amazingly Patient Woman.

People keep doing it. I'm going to keep complaining about it.

In spite of what is, generally, a nice, neutral article, Maggie Fitzroy refuses to use a capital letter when writing about Pagans. Does she do the same when writing about xians, or Jews, or Buddhists, or Muslims?

And, note the quotation marks around the words high priestess:

"On the full moon, we use the energy from that to bring good things into our lives," said Holly Charland, the temple's 'high priestess.'"

Does Ms Fitzroy use quotation marks when discussing a Catholic "priest," a Jewish "rabbi," or a Muslim "iman"?

People, it's really, really simple. If you capitalize the names of some religions and/or religious groups, you should capitalize Pagans. If you don't put quotation marks around the religious titles of other celebrants, don't put quotation marks around Pagan priestesses.

Simple. Uncomplicated. Really.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I May Have A Friend Or Two Who Loves Beautiful Shoes

Regular readers are well-aware of my periodic "Declutter!" declarations. (Speaking of which, here are some amazing and counter-intuitive suggestions. Hat tip: Christine Kane.) And since the beginning of 2010, I've been on an even more major "I'm not spending any money" campaign. The economy's crap and, sadly, the current administration shows zero understanding that it needs to actually stimulate the economy (hint: It's spelled W-P-A, not B-A-I-L-O-U-T-W-A-L-L-S-T-R-E-E-T). My current investment strategy is: horde cash and pay off the mortgage (which, at a bit above 4%, is way more than I can make anywhere else) in about triple time. And, a few years ago, I took a look at my shoe collection and realized that, other than a yearly new pair of walking shoes, and the occasional new flip flop (which is what I really live in, anyway, everywhere outside of work), I can probably live the rest of my life w/o buying any new shoes.

But I would pay good cash, tomorrow, on the barrel head, for these Tara hightops by Amanda Yoakum. Check out the soles!!!

Dear Ms. Yoakum, hie thee to Cafe Press or Zazzle or etsy.

Picture found here.

Bad Druids! Bad!

"They ran riot down Front Street," said local resident Len Thenbredth, 64, "we we'e feared for our lives last year. They knocked down Mrs Thristlwatts rhododendron and threw a garden gnome through the butcher's window last year."

OK, it's not funny. I wouldn't like someone knocking down Mrs. Thristlwatt's rhododendron, not one bit. I say that as a woman who's never had good luck w/ rhododendrons. And as for disrespecting garden gnomes, well!

Somehow, I suspect these half-solstice Druids must be an offshoot branch.

Picture found here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Full Moon Farmers' Market

Photos by the author. If you copy, please link back.

Sunday Dance Blogging

The Stupid. It Burns.

People keep doing it. I'm going to keep complaining about it.

If you capitalize the names of some religions (e.g., Jewish, Muslim, Christian), then capitalize "Pagan," as well.

How complicated is this?

Child "Witches" In the UK

There never was any chance that this problem was going to "stay" in Africa.

Children are being branded as witches in churches in the UK, with many suffering abuse from supposed exorcisms in which they are physically restrained and screamed at. But those are the lucky ones.

The very accusation of being a witch can result in children being starved, tortured, beaten, stabbed or even, as in the case of Victoria Climbié, murdered. It is an increasing problem around the country, campaigners say.

Police admit the cases they deal with are the tip of the iceberg, with people reluctant to speak out for fear of being stigmatised.

"It is a hidden crime that is very difficult to measure," said Jason Morgan, a detective based at the Metropolitan Police's Project Violet – a specialist child protection unit. "There may well be a large number of cases that never come to light ... it is a national problem," he added.

Children are weak and unable to defend themselves or walk away. So they're the first victims. Older people and women are next.

This is a global problem and one that will impact Pagans.