Saturday, April 30, 2011

May the Goddess Guard Her; May She Find Her Way to the Summerlands; May Her Friends and Family Know Peace

Hail and Farewell, Joanna Russ. I learned a long time ago not to start one of her books in bed, as that meant that I'd always greet the dawn bleary-eyed and tired. She was an amazing writer. I hope the pens are sharp and well-dipped in the Summerlands. Slip gently away, Lady, just now when the veils are thin.

Picture found here.

Walpurgis Night Ballet Blogging

Friday, April 29, 2011

More on Beltane's Promise

Here's Joanna Macy saying better than I did what I was trying to say yesterday about Beltane's promise.

"That's where we come alive."

May it be so for you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Beltane's Promise

One of my favorite poems for high summer is Mary Oliver's Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith, where she says:
Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun's brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can't hear

anything, I can't see anything --
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green
stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker --
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing --
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet --
all of it
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn's beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Oliver's "what should I fear . . . let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine" is all about the Eleusian Mysteries to me.

Yet I was thinking of her poem today, mere hours before Beltane, when I went outside to pick oregano from the still-not-all-planted herb bed (covering my ears not to hear the whining of the eager-to-be-transplanted rosemary) and to water the new gardenia bushes that Landscape Guy just put in. I was thinking of the line "every summer/ I fail as a witness" as I contemplated how much I'm going to have to work at my job to complete a project by Monday (and thus not be in the garden) and how I plan every February that, by Beltane, I'll have every seedling planted, every weed pulled, every bit of the garden absolutely perfect. And how, every Spring, I fail as a priestess and fall short of that worthy goal.

I was also thinking of Oliver's assurance that her failure as a witness (and, I hope, mine as a priestess!) doesn't matter because, one morning, the corn's beautiful body is sure to be there. That's Beltane's promise to us, isn't it? That if we do the best we can, and work as hard as we can, and prioritize well, one morning, come high summer, the herb bed will be full of herbs, and the cottage gardens will have been weeded, and the corn's beautiful body is sure to be there. And so, on Beltane morning, we stop working, and weeding, and worrying. We wake up, wash our faces in the dew, and spend a day with our loves, dancing, feasting, and showing the seedlings just what we want them to do.

The promise can fail, of course. One thing agriculture did for our race, one thing that gardening does for me, is to embed and embody our success or failure into the (seemingly, to us,) random whims of this complicated personality we are pleased to call Gaia or "the Earth." We are co-creating, not acting as prime movers. Hail can destroy fruit. Drought can kill gentle plants. Clouds of voracious grasshoppers can show up and consume everything in a night. And so there is a huge part of gardening that is wrapped up in a willingness to take things on faith, to be willing to fail, to, in Teasdale's words, "buy it and never count the cost," or in Kipling's, to:
make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss.

That doesn't mean that Beltane's promise is false. It means that it's more complicated than we often imagine. Beltane is, of course, directly across the Wheel of the Year from Samhein, when everything is all about death, and loss, and descent. And so the promise of Beltane contains all of Samhein, just as Samhein contains all of the lust and joy and growth of Beltane.

I was thinking especially last night about Beltane's promise that, if we prioritize well, things will work out when I left my urgent project, ignored my needy garden, didn't launder the tablecloth or polish the silver, and spent the evening with G/Son. I read him a story about the powers of Earth, Air, Fire, & Water and then we went outside to spend a bit of time before the sun set. I was showing him how the maple seeds come down spinning away from their parent trees and how that's different from the way that the dandelion seeds (that we blew and made wishes on; Sorry, Son) spread by floating on the wind. And then he said, "Watch, Nonna. I'm a maple seed," and he spun around his twilit yard. And then he said, "Watch, Nonna. I'm a dandelion seed," and then he danced the float of a dandelion seed.

I am a woman who actually loves to weed, but, you know, the weeds will still be there in a few days when things settle down. And I am planting many sorts of seeds, and some of them will be growing long after my rosemary, basil, and parsley are lost to the Halls of Memory. And I will count on Beltane's promise.

Will you?

Picture found here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Itch for the Absolute

Maybe, when I die, someone could read the last minute or so of this.

We have to close the distance between pushing buttons and affecting Gaia. We have to touch people.

/kisses Bronowski's forelock



Arbor Day: A Uniquely Pagan Holiday

This Friday is Arbor Day, a day set aside in the U.S. and many other places to plant, care for, and honor trees. It comes just after Earth Day and just before Beltane. Must be something in the "air."

If you're Pagan, this is the holiday for you! My little county is asking people to discuss their "favorite" trees. What's yours? Have you ever planted a tree? Hugged one? Worked with one to help you ground?

There was a pine tree deep in the forests of the Rocky Mountains. I sat at its base when I was, I think, four years old and realized that my life was going to be mostly about connecting to nature. My memory's hazy. I was "alone" (mom was inside the nearby rented cabin, dad was off fishing, and, well, there were the trees and, I've always believed, a brownish bear nearby) for maybe one of the first times in my life, and I adored it, I was alone and I expanded out into the Earth and ran what I did not know then to call my roots down into the rocky soil to twine around the pine tree's roots.

In A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book, Ceisiwr Serith writes:
You share the joy of your marriage bed unashamed,
Eternal Lovers, with the whole world.
Each opening flower, each leaf unfolding, is your cry of ecstasy.
Each bird or animal mating, each man and woman making love,
Is not a reflection, pale or otherwise, of your lovemaking,
but your lovemaking itself.
Each hug, each handshake, each smile,
between lovers, or family, or friends, or strangers:
children conceived today on this Beltane,
on this happy Beltane.

This time of year, almost all of my sex magic goes to the herb bed and the seven magical trees that I've planted since I moved here. Shortly before they moved, the people who sold this cottage to me planted two fig trees. Every summer when I harvest their fruit, I see sex magic manifest in trees. Where does your magic go this time of year? Is there even a single tree that manifests it?

Last Mabon, my wonderful job took me out to San Francisco and I spent (not enough!) time with some of Mamma Gaia's oldest trees, the Redwoods in Muir Woods. Those trees make my lovely oaks, which have only been around since, oh, say, 1711 when Handel was composing, seem juvenile by comparison. In Muir Woods Meditations, Dag Hammerskjold is quoted as saying that:
Here man [sic] is no longer the center of the world, only a witness but a witness who is also a partner in the silent life of nature, bound by secret affinities to the trees.

I think that's about right. Almost not a week goes by that I don't dream of taking G/Son out there some day so that his little Pisces soul can experience those ancient land wights as I did. One of my most mundane goals this year is to bring my physical health to a level where that will be possible. I'll sit down at the end of this month -- one third of the way through this calendar year -- and evaluate my progress on that goal.

In Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, Michael Pollan quotes Russel Page as saying that, "To plant trees is to give body and life to one's dreams of a better world." As Pollan notes:
It's a sobering responsibility, picking the site for a big tree; get it wrong, plant it too close to the house or an electrical line, and you will someday force a terrible decision on someone. [People who lived here before I did, please take heed!] To plant a big tree is to throw a long shadow across the future of a place, and we're obliged to consider its impact carefully.

This shouldn't make you reluctant to plant trees, it should just make you look up and also consider the Element of Air. Where will this tree be in 20, 30, 40 years? Where will it be when you are gone? Surely, it will be making oxygen, giving wildlife a place to thrive, and, maybe, making fruit. But will it also have room to grow?
Pollan goes on to note that:
[T]he etymology of the word true takes us back to the old English word for "tree": a truth, to the Anglo-Saxons, was nothing more than a deeply rooted idea. Just so, my version of a planted tree -- envoy to the future, repository of history, index of our respect for the land, spring of aesthetic pleasures, etc. -- is "true"; it has deep roots in the culture and serves us well.

Pollan notes how important trees have been within the American, and other, landscapes:
The American Indians were not the first or the only people ever to consider trees divine; many, if not most, pre-Christian peoples practices some form of tree worship. Frazer's Golden Bough catalogs dozens of instances, from every corner of Northern Europe as well as from Ancient Greece, Rome, and the East. For most of history, in fact, the woods have been thickly populated by spirits and sprites, demons, elves and fairies, and the trees themselves have been regarded as the habitations of the gods.

Well, yes. I go to work every day through the Spout Run Woods and, I can assure you, the woods still are.

There are, to my mind, two trees famous and important to American history. First, there is a story, and Goddess, does it ever capture American history, of George Washington admitting that he chopped down a cherry tree. I imagine that Pappa Jung would have had a lot to say about this. And, then, there are all those apple trees that John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) planted all over America, providing cider for generations of Americans,. Are there others that I'm forgetting?

One of my most favorite groups is the American Chestnut Foundation, a group working to re-establish chestnut trees, which once covered most of the MidAtlantic, to their landbase. If you ever want to donate to a great cause, I think that theirs is one.

I'm not suggesting that you add an extra holiday to your calendar between Ostara and Beltane. We're all too busy to ground and pay attention as it is. I am suggesting that you talk to your Circle, Coven, Grove, etc. about how you can, next year, incorporate Arbor Day into your rites.

May there be acorns, pine cones, large trees, weeping willows, dogwoods, redwoods, cherries, and figs in your future. May you and the trees spend this incarnation learning how to breathe each other into your cells and how to encode messages to your grandchildren, etc. into each other.

Blessed Arbor Day.

(Yes, that's John Denver. I'm old. It's gotten a whole lot better since then?)

Come Dance Between the Trees on Beltane

Monday, April 25, 2011

Blessed Beltane

May it be so for you.

My New Name for a Blog

What Phaedra Said.

Just gotta understand your shake.

Picture found here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Oaks and Beltane

My little cottage is surrounded by some (three-to-four-hundred-year) old oaks. They help me to ground; every day I run my roots down into the red Virginia clay where these lovely beings have been thriving since before America was America. They also center me; I know that I am home when I can feel myself surrounded by oaks. They support the squirrel clans who are my closest neighbors and they provide housing for over a half-a-dozen different kinds of birds. They shade my house in the summer, give me more than enough firewood, and provide me with provenance. I'm not embarrassed to announce myself to the Elements or to the Potomac River when I can state that I come from that bit of Earth bounded by all of those old oaks. There are callouses on my hands from raking up oak leaves and acorns; those are my bona fides to the doors between the worlds.

"My" oaks are slowly dying; although oaks can live 400 or 500 years, global climate change is drying out our summers and stressing our oaks, making them subject to oak borers, which kill them within a few years, at the most. Since I moved here almost a decade ago, my neighbor and I have had to take down three of them, and the final few are only going to last another couple of years.

When they go, we will probably replace them with pine trees. No leaves and acorns to rake every Fall. But I am not sure how I will know, without them, that it is Beltane.

Yesterday, I came home from work and sat outside for a long time in the woodland garden. There was not an oak catkin to be seen. Not one. I wandered the whole yard; no oak catkins. Today, I came home from work and there were oak catkins all over my front steps, all over my back deck, all over everywhere. It's as if, at some point in the last 12 hours, the bell sounded and every oak tree in the neighborhood said, "Oh, OK, time for the Great Rite. Here you go!"

There's never been a Beltane here at my little cottage when I haven't gone out, an hour or two before the Witches showed up, and swept mounds of oak catkins off the steps and deck. There's never been a Beltane when I went out at dawn to wash my face in dew and didn't find the dew full of yellow-green oak pollen. How will I know that it's Beltane when all of my old companions are gone?

What tells you, sans doubte, that it's only days until Beltane?

Picture found here.

Sunday Ballet Blogging