Category Archives: Uncategorized

On this, our desexualized fertility festival

Religious holidays can be difficult things to explain to those who fall outside of one’s faith tradition.

Just pretend for a moment that you know nothing about Christianity and imagine someone trying to describe Easter to you…,

…think about it…

…a god briefly sacrifices himself to redeem humanity for the sins of two people who hadn’t been given a moral compass to know they were sinning in the first place…

…and Christians the world over commemorate these events by dressing up in their finery, spending an hour in church, watching their children gather colored eggs, and then filling up on a big ham dinner (just like the apostles would have done).

And yes, I’m glossing over all of the finer points, and it’s all in the presentation, but still…,

…it’s a lot to take in.

Now imagine the difficulty of describing a holy day for which there is no one accepted or even remotely authoritative description.

Welcome to Beltane!

So let us begin from an traditionalist perspective.

A well reasoned polytheist, using a reconstructionist approach, based solely on what we know of the folk practices of the pre-christian Irish, would tell us that Beltane, marked by the first blooming of hawthorn trees, was a time of purification and blessing.  It was a day when maidens collected the first dew of the season.  It witnessed the release of livestock into the summer grazing lands, but was certainly best known for the lighting of great fires, the light and heat of which was believed to provide magical blessings and protection to man and beast alike in the coming season.

Who?  What?  Why?!

That whole Easter thing doesn’t sound so crazy now, does it?

Again, I’m glossing over some of the finer points, but not by much, because the stone cold truth of it is, we really don’t know much about why any of those things were done.  And frankly, I’ve begun to wonder if we haven’t been a little too willing to take things that just happen to have occurred on or near Beltane, as being part and parcel of the holy day itself.

Was it really so much about the movements of cattle into the seasonal grazing areas?  Or is that just something that happened around the same time, and over the centuries we’ve colluded the two things.

It’d be a bit like assuming that watching American Football was part of the celebration of the Christian Sabbath in North America.  A scholar, in some post-apocalyptic future might conclude that feasts of pizza and libations of cheap beer were likewise, part of the weekly observance, based purely upon the evidence at hand.

Now there are a couple things going on here.

Firstly, there is the importance of honoring our ancestors and finding our own way to the traditions and beliefs that they held sacred.  We do this through careful examination of the evidence at hand, with an eye toward preserving and reviving that which they left for us through the ages.  In this way we do service to them and to the gods which called us to this path.

That’s part of it.

The other thing that is going on is a negative reaction toward anything which smells even vaguely of NeoPaganism.

Where the festival of Beltane is concerned, the general opinion seems to be that the old Victorian occultists who started the revival in Beltane observances, were really just looking for an excuse to shuck their knickers, alone or in groups, and that adding a ritual component to the lusty month of May was all the provocation they needed.  As their spiritual descendants, the NeoPagans may have picked up a reputation for treating Beltane as an orgy at fireside: all drum circles and gypsy dancing, while ignoring history and tradition.

And maybe that’s fair.  It might be a good idea to pop over to the Wiccasphere and see if there’s anything unseemly going on.  You know…, for science.

10 Ways to Celebrate Beltane

(oooh, this ought to be good)

Light a bonfire (a little on-the-nose, but okay)

Pick flowers (ooookay)

Wear a Flower Crown (at least those flowers from #2 aren’t going to waste)

Do some Divination (actually, that’s entirely historical, something’s wrong)

Dance (also appropriate to the holiday)

Leave out offerings to the Fae (am I reading from the wrong lists)

Decorate a tree or bush with ribbons (…)

Take a Ritual Bath (NOW things are finally getting saucy)

Volunteer at an animal shelter (what just happened?)

Roast Marshmallows

Marshmallows!  My hand to the gods, I saw this listed on two of the dozen or so lists I rooted through in the course of my “research”.  Sure, there were indeed a few references to fertility magic and love spells, but a good naked frolic in the wild seems to be largely off the menu.

That, or I’m just not being invited to the good parties anymore.

Either way, we’ve got a majority of folks advertising Beltane like it was your local craft fair, while a small but vocal minority would like to point out that Maypoles are an imported tradition from English and German speaking folks, and if you could all please just be careful with your frolicking, as you are likely to frighten the cows.

The truth if it, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle.

FeelTheFire

There are plenty of things to suggest that Beltane IS, among other things, a fertility festival.

Those maidens I mentioned earlier, collecting the first dew of the season?  They bathed in it.  A ritual intended to increase and preserve their natural beauty.

The light and heat from those Beltane fires, was believed to not only protect the herds from harm, but to bless them – to increase their bounty – make them more fertile.  I wonder what we are supposed to think that same light and heat would do to the men and women who danced around those fires?

I wonder how anyone could believe, after standing near a great fire, feeling the energy of it moving through them, that joining in dance around those flames and sharing in that energy, passing it each to the other, could be anything other than a sexual act.

Standing at to opposite end of the year from Samhain, during which we honor the dead, Beltane comes to us at that moment when the generative power of life is at its strongest.  The veil between this world lifts but twice a year, once to allow the spirits of the dead to transcend this mortal plane, and once again at May Eve, to allow them back in where they might find new life and new lives to inhabit.

Fire Festival – Fertility Festival – Craft Fair

Celebrate it however you like, but don’t deny the energies at the root of it.

Sex is in the air folks, otherwise my eyes wouldn’t be itching from all this pollen.

2 Comments

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Holidays, Religion, Traditions, Uncategorized

The Land of the Dead: Regarding Your Recent Visit…,

I stopped writing.

There were reasons for the pause.

I needed to get my bearings, figure out where I was, and chart a course forward.

There were other reasons that cropped up along the way.

“Life stuff” – we categorize it, like it were something we could put in a box and slide under the bed, as if we weren’t swimming in it constantly.  Drowning even, when the waves catch us by surprise, and we find ourselves gulping for air.

So I stopped writing.

And I stopped reading.

And then there was a combining of households, and boxes to be filled, and what gets sold and what moves to storage, and…, life stuff.  Like I said.

But space, like time, was suddenly at a premium.

And the altar had to be put away.  All the bits and pieces carefully cleaned and wrapped and boxed.  Temporarily.  Until I can find the space for them.  Make space for them.

I stopped writing, and reading…, and talking.

To the gods.

To the spirits.

To the ancestors.

It’s the easiest thing in the world.

To let it all go, to be what this empty world we’ve created wants us to be.

I used to wonder, from time to time, about the Land of the Dead.

It is a place of dread that figures into so many of our mythologies: a grey void of a place where the dead wander, without purpose or meaning, hungry for the attention of the living.  I was never sure I believed such a place could exist.  It seemed so far removed from my personal experience of the universe we share.

The Otherworld, I had always been taught, always believed, is reflected in our own mortal realm, just as our world is reflected there.  Neither realm is wholly separate from the other, each profoundly present within and throughout the other, and still, for some of their inhabitants, frustratingly out of reach.

But where then, could we see any reflection of those ghostly fields where the dead are said to wander aimlessly?

Where, if not all around us.

Listless – Hungry – Craving.

I have found myself wandering among them in the grey realm from which they’d seek escape, if they only knew that they were trapped.  The Land of the Dead is not a mythological construct,  not even close.

We’ve built it, floor roof and walls, and we’re constantly furnishing it with all the ‘life stuff’ that we collect along the way.

And it’s not a terrible place to visit, from time to time.  We all end up spending time there eventually.  The important thing is not to get trapped there.  Never forget where you are.

Always be “Just Visiting” – because the alternative…,

JustVisiting

So here I am.

Writing again (and it’s harder to get started again, than I would have believed).

And reading.

And talking (to them, and you).

Still not sure of exactly how to get to where I want to be.

But at least I know where I was, and that’s as good a starting point as any.

Any day now I expect to receive my survey in the mail…,

“Regarding your recent visit to the Land of the Dead.”

I should probably give them a nice review.

2 Comments

Filed under About this Blog, Culture, Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Spiritual Journey, Uncategorized

Time in a Bottle

I was sitting outside the other day, nursing the last few moments of a fifteen-minute break from work, just watching the traffic flow by, when my phone vibrated in my hand.

I looked down to see a text message from my wife, letting me know that she had two hours to kill between appointments and wondering if I needed anything.

In the second it took to ponder my response, I felt the huge weight of all the things that I need to get done over the next few weeks suddenly looming over me.

“I need those two hours!  Just pack ‘em up and we’ll use them later.”

I waited a few seconds to see if she’d respond to my little joke, and then I went back to work.

I’d run out of free time.

endlesstime

We have some funny notions about time.

We do our best to borrow and save and steal it, as if it were some tangible resource that we could collect and hold on to.  It is not.

Our scientists and statisticians study and measure it, seeking to quantify it and gain some measure of control.  We have none.

And with increasing frequency, we personify it, assigning to it both motive and malice.

This last year of the Common Era, 2016, seemed for many, to have provided both terrible events and heartbreaking loss in a greater than normal abundance.  The response to this, among the mostly Christian population of North America, has been to dance right past the standard platitudes regarding their own supposedly omnipresent and omnipotent deity and his grand plan for everything, and instead to spew their frustrations upon the year itself.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I pointed out how woefully out of practice this society is when it comes to idolatry.  There could be no better example than that of these last few months, wherein we’ve once again ignored a whole army of perfectly serviceable gods and goddesses, preferring instead to invent a new one upon which to vent our collective spleen.

The road back to Polytheism will surely be filled with unexpected twists and turns, but this…,

People got mad at a unit of time, and a few nights ago they celebrated its death – with the same fervor I’d expect in a blood sacrifice.

Folks, please.

Those who Spin and Measure and Cut must be rocking with laughter.

thefates

To the vast disappointment of all the numerologists in the crowd, the numbers are completely arbitrary and don’t mean anything.

Which year was it, that was our dread enemy?

AD 2016 is the popular choice – but that’s what exactly, two thousand and sixteen years after the birth of a fellow who may have been the hebrew messiah, or entirely fictional, or possibly both.  And what scant evidence we have suggests that we missed the mark by no less than a half a dozen years.  So that number is pretty meaningless.

There are other suspects, but they’re not much better…,

It has been 2769 years since the Founding or Rome in the old calendar.  But that date was also selected several hundred years after the fact and is an extremely rough approximation, so…,

Maybe we should blame 4714 of the Chinese Calendar.  The Year of the Monkey sounds like something given to causing a lot of trouble.  But if that’s the case we’d better hold onto our hats, because we are still under the gun until January 28th when the Rooster takes over.

And I suppose old 5776 on the Hebrew Calendar could be a likely enough suspect.  But this one is supposed to be counting up from the year the following the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth as depicted in the Book of Genesis, which I find pretty weird, seeing as I’ve personally visited ruins that are at least that old and geologic sites that are tens of millions of years older.

The year is a figment of our imagination.  It is a crude attempt to force time into a bottle.

But the truth is that Two-Thousand and Sixteen didn’t kill anyone, didn’t elect anyone, didn’t bomb anyone, or starve them, or spray them with rubber bullets…,

We did those things.

And we will keep doing them until we learn not to.

And if our past is any guide to the future, the numbers on the calendar won’t make a damn bit of difference along the way.

We lost some amazing people recently, Carrie and David and Prince and what seems like a thousand others, bright and powerful souls who touched our lives.  Our hearts ache with their passing, but there is no need to cast blame.  The pain we suffer is the sacrifice we offer up for the privilege of knowing them.  And my gods, the price is worth it, because I can’t imagine what our lives might have been like without them!

Nothing ended at midnight on December 31st.  Nothing began at 12:01am.

The Earth continues upon its path around the Sun.

The Fates work diligently upon the threads of our lives.

And time keeps moving.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Modern Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized

A Comprehensive List of All the Things Entirely Yours

Today is April the 15th, and for those of us in the United States, it is the last day to file our taxes (barring all the usual extensions and other means of putting the thing off, that is).

It’s a bit of a relief really.

Mine were dealt with weeks ago, but I’ll be glad to get a bit of a break from the complaints of my friends and neighbors.  Every year we seem to greet the spring with a rising chorus of, “They’re taking my money, they’re taking my money, they’re taking MY money….,” the inference being that your property is being stolen by people who don’t deserve it.

But does money equal property?

It’s not tangible.

The paper and the coins that fewer and fewer of us carry are nothing more than placeholders, effigies of a number which itself is a representation of a highly generalized valuation of the total output of goods, services, natural resources, expectations for future development, and compounded debt (yeah, let’s not forget about the debt), that is the product of our nation.

Which is to say that a dollar is worth nothing more than what we all agree it’s worth.

Money is not property.

Money is a social contract.

It’s the stuff that we’ve agreed to use instead of trading a clutch of chickens for a bolt of cloth.

You don’t own it.  It belongs to all of us.

And part of the price we all pay for using it, is that we agree to cycle a certain percentage of that which we have accumulated back to that body which does all the printing and tabulating for us.

If you’ve every tried to drive any distance with more than a few chickens in your car, you’d be glad to pay your share.

So, having come this far, I thought that, as a bit of a public service, I should just go ahead and list those things that, unlike the mighty dollar, really do belong to you.

Perhaps you will think of other things as well.  Feel free to suggest any additions in the comments below.

Land

Yeah, no.

Land does not belong to you.  I know, I know, you payed a bundle for it, and you slapped a fence around it and posted it with all kinds of big angry ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ signs, but really, no.  Your little patch of earth was here for hundreds of millions of years before you came along, and will be here again when the oldest of your decedents are nothing but dust.  At most, you are a temporary caretaker of those lands to which you hold the deed.

Looked at from this perspective, it becomes clear that instead of the land servicing OUR needs, we are responsible for its care and upkeep.

If anything, we belong to the land.  And we pay for the privilege!

Property

Okay, we’ve all got our stuff.  And it’s very nice stuff.  And we’re all very proud of it.  And eventually, with the exception of a few very nice or sentimental items, every bit of it ends up in the dump.

Do you still own a thing after you’ve thrown it away?

But sure, I guess we can put property on the list, even if fleetingly.

Children

Mmmm…, maybe while they’re still in the womb.

Honestly, the whole point of children is that they’re growing away from you bit by bit from the moment you have them.

Also, like it or not, the perspective with which society views us shifts dramatically when children come onto the scene.  Because “the children are the future” and with every day that passes they become a little less ours and we become a little more theirs.

What will they do with us in our dotage?  Which of our precious things will they allow us to retain?  Where shall they choose for us to live?

Our children, indeed.

We’ll hold the little ones tight and give them all the love we can, but let us not delude ourselves into thinking of them as truly ours.

Art

Ah the power of creation which we share with the gods themselves.  To take crude matter and shape it into the stuff of dreams and nightmares.  To write and rhyme and sing our ideas into being, bringing life and light into the hearts of our fellows.

To create art is to render a piece of yourself for all to share, and what could be more your own than something that is, by definition, an expression of your inner being and talent.

But does an idea, no matter how personal, belong to the artist who renders it for all to see?

Or does it become a shared commodity, with every viewer putting a little of themselves into it, seeing reflected there their own thoughts, their beliefs and biases.

Is art property?  Or is it the most deeply personal contribution one could make to the public good?

Our Thoughts

Yes!

We all have them.

Our thoughts and dreams, our fears and ambitions…,

They are ours, they exist only within us, and if we cling to them and keep them for ourselves, we can take them with us to the grave unsullied.

Congratulations!

I wonder though, what exactly is the value of a thought unexpressed?

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Thunder and Lightning — a Poem for Yule

I was working on a new holiday poem, but the painkillers I am taking have muddled my thoughts. And so, in the spirit of the season I beg your indulgence and offer instead this Holiday Rerun.

Stone of Destiny

I am the wind that rattles the door in its frame.
A white beard lay upon my green cloak like frost on mistletoe.
A bell tolls when I pass and ravens follow in my wake.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

The grey horse below me flies like a comet through the night.
His many hooves dash and dance like a herd of winter deer.
In twelve days time the whole of the world will pass beneath him.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

Safe in their homes the feasting folk cheer us by firelight.
Wee children leave treats on the stoop for our long journey.
A handful of hay and a little bread will warm our chilled bones.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

We roll like storm clouds across the snow whitened fields.
And upon our return what gifts we shall bring!
A season of dark and cold…

View original post 12 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Beg Not the Gods!

“Oh Jesus, give me strength to clean this floor,” she muttered, for what may well have been the millionth time in her seemingly miserable life.

The first job I ever held, when I was in my teens, was feeding cattle at the neighbors ranch.  The place was owned by two spinsters, a mother and daughter, and though the ranch had once thrived, by the time I was hired, the twenty odd head of cattle that lingered there had become more pets than livestock.

So, for a few dollars a day, I was more then happy to make the daily quarter-mile trek from our property to their feed barn.  There, I would climb up into the dark loft, break up bales of hay, and kick them down into the feed-trough below.  When the noise of impatient bellows was replaced by the steady crunch of contented chewing, I would slip down the ladder and past the distracted bovine throng.

For several years the routine was the same.  Come rain, snow, or blazing summer heat, I’d make my way across acres of tall grass, steer clear of the rocks where snakes sometimes liked to hide, up the steep hill, past the mob of oversized quadrupeds who would start to bellow and crowd the moment I came into sight, and then after maybe fifteen minutes in the barn, it was “home again home again jiggety-jig.”

Once every couple weeks I’d have to make the trip earlier in the day, while the herd was out roaming, away from the barn.  My task, on these occasions, was to scrape as much cow-shit out of the barn as possible.  Those were the days when I really earned my money.

Later, as the health of the elder of my two employers declined, they moved out of the old ranch house that sat next to the barn, and into a little apartment in town.  With a dollar bump to my weekly wage, I agreed to make a daily stop in their house, to feed and water the cats which had stayed there in their absence, and to make sure everything inside was in good order.

Thinking back on it now, I think maybe they just didn’t trust the house keeper they’d hired to keep the place tidy in their absence.

And I really couldn’t blame them.  She seemed a grousing old woman, always complaining and doing as little actual work as she could manage.

Actually, I don’t think she was really that old, not in actual years, but she seemed positively geriatric in spirit.  A dark cloud seemed to follow her, wherever she went, and on those days when our visits coincided, I sometimes thought I’d rather be outside shoveling crap, than inside listening to it.

She’d mutter, “Sweet Jesus, give me strength to dust these shelves!”

And on another day, “Help me wash these dishes, Jesus Lord.”

I wondered, sometimes, why she needed aid from Jesus for every little thing she did.

And on one occasion, I did my ‘wondering’ out loud.

“ ‘Cause mister, we ain’t nothing without Jesus.  Nothing!”

Her angry reply sounded so very wrong to my young ears, though I could not have told you exactly why.

Van Gogh Woman Sweeping

I knew little about this woman, aside from the few minutes a week during which our paths crossed.  I can’t know what hardships she may have suffered.  And I don’t know if she experienced any victories in her life, but if she did, I think they were precious few.

Yet even if she had accomplished something, what of it?  She was, by her own testimony, “nothing without Jesus”.  Anything good that came out of her life, anything at all, was only (in her eyes) due to the intervention of her God.

No wonder she seemed so broken to me, so very unhappy.  I don’t understand how people can live their lives believing that they will never accomplish anything except through the grace of some outside force.

What an unhappy, self-defeating philosophy – and I see it daily.

I come across so many people, who attribute every good thing that happens to them, every trivial task accomplished, and every moment that passes without personal calamity, to the intercession of their supreme being.  It has been my understanding that the term “personal savior” had less to do with helping the Christian faithful to avoid falling into open manholes while walking down the street, and more to do with redemption from the taint of ‘original sin’.  In retrospect, it would seem that I have been misinformed.

It is sometimes hard for me to believe that we have advanced so far, with such a large segment of our population embracing this idea, even in its less extreme manifestations.  And then, I look around at the chaos brewing just under the surface, and the underlying despair of an entire culture seems painfully clear.

“We ain’t nothing without Jesus.”

No ma’am, someone told you a lie.

We are great.

We are creatures of power and strength.

We do not achieve by the grace of God, but rather we strengthen our bonds with them through our own accomplishments, however small.

If, by way of example, the words I write and speak should move you to joy or anger or even curiosity, than I have borne my own small share of a gods great duty.  Oghma, who my ancestors called the Eloquent, the Honey-Mouthed, and the Shaper of Letters, will share his burden, his gift, with any who find pleasure in a carefully crafted turn of phrase.  I do not beg for his aid.  I need not cry out for his attention.  He will not come to me, yet I need only form my words with care and I will be in his presence, I will have entered into his house.

Our lives are filled with the presence of the gods.

When we work, when we join each other in games, when we open our doors to a neighbor, when we care for the sick, when we plant and harvest and teach and learn, when we love and make love, when we share news and tell stories, when we age, and finally, when we die – in everything that we do, the gods are there with us.  We wander among them constantly, and whether we carry a sword, pencil, hammer or broom, even without knowing their names, we are doing their work.

We are FAR from powerless.  We are not puppets through which another agency acts.

Those lies have been a burden and hinderance on our culture for far too long.

I see the shadow of this belief even among my fellow Pagans.  How often I have read in some online forum, words of despair and frustration because the gods have not shown themselves to some seeker.  “Other people say that they hear the gods or see them, but no matter how much I pray, or how many rituals I attend, nothing ever happens for me!”

And maybe that’s because you’re doing it wrong.

Do you make friends in the mortal world by sitting in a darkened room and muttering over a candle that you picked up in the clearance bin at Pier 1?  No, you do it by meeting people with common interests while taking part in activities related to those interests.  Why then, should it be any different with the divine?

Our gods, the real gods, exist, I think, as much in action as they do intent.

If we stop looking so hard for the gods and start doing their work, the great deeds and the small, we may just discover that they’ve been with us all along.

The effort, along with its success or failure, is ours to make.

Don’t squander it, and never beg.

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Prayer, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods, Uncategorized

Thunder and Lightning — a Poem for Yule

I am the wind that rattles the door in its frame.
A white beard lay upon my green cloak like frost on mistletoe.
A bell tolls when I pass and ravens follow in my wake.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

The grey horse below me flies like a comet through the night.
His many hooves dash and dance like a herd of winter deer.
In twelve days time the whole of the world will pass beneath him.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

Safe in their homes the feasting folk cheer us by firelight.
Wee children leave treats on the stoop for our long journey.
A handful of hay and a little bread will warm our chilled bones.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

We roll like storm clouds across the snow whitened fields.
And upon our return what gifts we shall bring!
A season of dark and cold swept away by the newborn Sun.

Donder and Blitzen,
Thunder and Lightning.

Odin and Sleipnir

4 Comments

Filed under Art, Holidays, Mythology, Poetry, The Gods, Uncategorized