Tag Archives: Storytelling

Gods of Shade and Shadow

So here’s the thing, the solar gods and I, we don’t really hang out.

It’s not that I don’t like them or anything.

They’re great folks.


They’re just a little hard for me to be around for very long.

If I am being totally honest, I find that they can be exhausting.

And for all their radiant smiles and their buoyant attitudes…,

It’s hard for me to put a lot of trust in them.

I’ve been burned before.

So, as we march relentlessly toward the solstice…,

…as the air writhes and the heat rises, and forgotten atop the maypole, the flowers of spring’s glory grow bleached and brittle in the heavy air of Summer…,

You will find me in the shady spots, if you find me outside at all.

And if I seem distracted, it is only because of the heat.

Or can you hear their voices as well?

The spirits in those leafy places will whisper to you of growth and decay in a single breath. They are the watchers and the secret keepers. Tricksters, travelers, rogues, and royalty, and the world was theirs only a few short weeks ago.

But now the ashes of the Beltane fires have scattered in the breeze. The solar gods are strutting about in all their majesty, and the gods of shade and shadow must withdraw to the underbrush, biding their time through the long season, until Autumn brings them out again to roam and rule in the turning of the year.

But for now, the earth is cool here, beneath the branches.

Join us, if you like, should you grow bored of those lazy hazy crazy days of summer.

You’ll always be welcome.


Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Nature, The Gods

Fan the Flames

The gods of our ancestors are everywhere around us, though we barely know them.

Their sacred places have vanished, or become ruins, overgrown and crumbling curiosities of a bygone age.  Their sacred names are misremembered and mispronounced, uttered without the reverence and caution that should attend the power which those syllables invoke.  Their sacred stories…,

The stories we have, the myths, the legends, are but fragments of a once rich tapestry, burned almost completely away now, by time and forgetfulness.

For those of us who are driven to seek out the old ways, there is but scant evidence of the gods left to be found in this world.

We pour over the bits that we can still find, while sifting through surviving folk traditions and songs, looking for anything we might have missed.  We speculate and we argue about the fragments we do uncover.  How do they go together?  What do they mean?

And still, for all that effort, we seem to know more about the lives of the Dinosaurs, who at least had the courtesy to die and leave their fossilized remains for us to dig from the Earth.

Let us speak now, of one such nearly forgotten god.


Sometimes called Oghma the Honey-Tongued – because he is a god of eloquence, a master of poetry, and the father of writing.

Sometimes called Oghma with the Sun’s Countenance – because he is a solar deity, or because he exhibits a divinely radiant aspect, or because he likes to cause trouble in academic circles and he knew that taking on a Sun related nickname was a sure way to get people writing papers.

We know that he is the brother of the Dagda, the husband of Étan, and that he has at least two sons.  We know that he is one of the Champions of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of Ireland, and that his strength is second to only one among their number.

We know that he fought in the Second Battle of Mag Tuired, and that he died there, or that he didn’t.  The stories have it both ways.

The Irish gods do have a nasty habit of dying in one story and showing up again in some later tale.  Which may have something to do with the impermanence of death when it comes to the gods.  But more than likely, it has to do with the fact that these stories were written down by Christian monks who were trying to…,

…who were trying to…,

…we really don’t know.

We haven’t a clue as to exactly what these guys were trying to accomplish.

We do not know their true motivations or what they may have changed along the way.

We don’t know how well they knew the stories themselves, or why they chose these particular stories to preserve.

Is Oghma really just a flagstone flipping superman with a sunny disposition and a way with words?  Can that possibly have been all that the mythology of the ancient Irish had to say about him?  Or were there stories upon stories, now lost and forgotten because they didn’t fit whatever criteria the monks used to determine what should be saved and what should be let go.

Or were they written down and then lost again.

We may never know.

We owe these unknown monks a vast debt of gratitude, but that doesn’t mean we should put too much trust in them.

Let us take a side trip out of Ireland and into the ancient forests of Gaul where another god, or maybe the same god, named Ogmios, once roamed.

He too, was a god of great strength, usually portrayed as a Gaulish Heracles.  But, unlike the Greek Hero, Ogmios is also said to have been a god of great eloquence, who’s power of persuasion was so strong that silver chains dangled between his wagging tongue and hooks embedded into the ears of his every listener.  As a consequence, every mortal within the range of his voice would joyfully gather close to do his bidding.

The little we know of Ogmios comes to us through a handful of Gaulish inscriptions and from a brief description by the 2nd Century Greek satirist Lucian, a fellow who lived long after the Gauls had been conquered, and one not overly sympathetic to the gods of his own people, much less those of long dead foreign barbarians.



As I said at the start, his holy places are gone, his name misremembered, and his stories are, at best, the stuff of rumor and speculation.

His priesthood however…, his priesthood is as powerful as ever, and it has never waned.

Just don’t look for them among the folks who actually believe in him.

His priests and priestesses are those who write and who speak in a voice we can still hear long after we are parted from them.  They speak to us across the depths of time (think of Shakespeare or Clemens), and they move us with their words even today, when words seem to have so little value.

Only a few nights ago, as I sat with a few hundred others, and listened to Neil Gaiman reading from his stories and poems, and answering questions in a thoughtful, ever friendly manner, I could see in my minds eye, those thin silver chains growing link by delicate link, could feel the hooks sliding deep into my own ears, and I knew that, though he believes the Gods are things created by story, he is every bit the vessel of their power.

Later, reading through his introduction to his latest volume, a retelling of selected myths of Norse Mythology, I found this bit:

“We have lost so much…I wish I could retell the tales of Eir, because she was the doctor of the gods, of Lofn, the comforter, who was the Norse goddess of marriages, or of Sjofn, a goddess of love.  Not to mention Vor, goddess of wisdom.  I can imagine stories, but I cannot tell their tales.  They are lost, or buried, or forgotten.”   —Neil Gaiman

We who believe in the gods of our fathers know that particular feeling all too well.

We were born to find the stories, to tell them, to share in their wisdom, and to bask in their glow.  These things are as much a part of worship as any ritual or prayer.

But the previous generations have not been kind to us, and all that are left to us are the last fading embers of a once great fire.

And yet even that can be light enough, if we are careful.

We must learn what we can from the old stories.

But we must be willing to play with them as well, to prod and poke them until the hint of fire within begins to glow stronger through agitation and exposure to the air.

And we must be open to invention.  It is through Imbas that we allow the gods to speak through us, to fan the flames of creativity and to tell their stories in our voices, for new generations.

It is long past time to fan the flames.

1 Comment

Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Culture, Mythology, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Our Lady of Themyscira

There are people out there who worship superheroes.

I am not one of them.

But after having watched the new Wonder Woman movie, twice, one could almost…,

Oh, I’ve heard all the rationalizations, the misapplied references to Jungian archetypes, the quotes lifted reverently from Joseph Campbell’s books, the endless suggestions that the gods are merely manifestations of the collective consciousness, and that the superheroes, having achieved iconic status within western culture are every bit as valid a target of our mental energies as any of the “old gods”…,

I’m not buying it.

But if that’s your gig, the writers and marketers are certainly happy to sell it to you.

No, the superheroes are not actual gods, but when handled correctly they do have the power to inspire us, to lift us up from our own troubles, and to free us from the limitations which society and gravity would impose upon us, if only for a little while.

And, for a long time now, Wonder Woman has been my favorite.

Oh sure, I started out pretty firmly in the Superman camp.

I mean, what little boy doesn’t want to discover that he has amazing powers due to his secret alien parentage?

But we grow up a bit, we become angsty, our worldview darkens, and we glom onto the Batman, reveling in his trauma induced war against a bizarre criminal underworld.

Or, anyway, that’s what happened with me.

And I still buy his books, along with those of the Green Lantern and a smattering of other titles.

But it gets expensive pretty quickly.

If you’re one of the popular superheroes, a Superman or a Batman, you’ve probably got a dozen titles with your name or image on the cover, including monthlies, crossovers, and one shots.

Wonder Woman really only has the one title.

They say it has to do with marketing decisions, and the difficulty in writing a female lead who will be interesting and popular among young boys.  And sadly, that’s probably a big part of it.

But it’s not just the woman in the title.

The gods are in there too.

And I think that scares the crap out of them.

I love Wonder Woman because, even before they revamped her origin and made her a child of the gods, she was a gift from the gods.  Sculpted from clay by her mother the Amazon queen, she was given life by the Olympian gods, and sent to the world of men as an ambassador of peace.

I have always been perplexed that, in a medium where literally ANYTHING is possible, comic book writers almost never treat the gods as actual gods.  They are invariably aliens with magic seeming technology, livings in some dimension, removed from our own.  Or they are creatures of limited power, created by human thought and belief, languishing in a universe that no longer prostrates itself before them.

The gods are almost never written as actual gods.

Except in Wonder Woman.

For a long time, I thought this must have something to do with the publishing houses not wanting to rankle a largely Christian audience.  But I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard any of my Christian friends complaining about the presence of Hera or Apollo in a Wonder Woman comic.

Mostly they just seem put off by the fact that she doesn’t wear pants.

“She’s dressed like a whore,” one of them told me, a few years back.

Yeah, you try to think the best about a person, and then they make an idiot remark like that.

But for a while there, the artists gave us a Wonder Woman in pants.  And it looked terrible.

Oh how this new movie must be making their heads spin!

So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new movie, and for the most part it has exceeded my expectations.  But the revelation, in the first few minutes of the movie, that Ares has murdered all of the other gods of Olympus…,

It seems as if the bravery of the comic did not translate so completely to the silver screen.

If the gods are dead, we don’t have to write for them, we don’t have to explain them, we don’t have to be worried that people will be offended by their presence.

Maybe Ares was right, and we don’t deserve them.

But it’s not about what we deserve.

It’s about what we believe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Religion, The Gods

Two Hundred Posts Later…,

I don’t really enjoy talking about my little blog.

I’d rather just tell the stories.

Stories are powerful.

They can shape the world, if we let them.

For almost five years, I have been telling stories about that time when the gods of the ancient world began to make themselves known among the people again, and when those people rose up and fought for recognition and equal standing among the monotheists and the atheists who had for so long shaped the world in their own image.

When I started this blog, back in April of 2012, there was a certain optimism in the air, a feeling that real progress was being made in this world, and so much of it by those who had previously moved quietly through their lives, without a voice of their own.

This wasn’t a new feeling, mind you.  I’d felt it growing, very slowly at first, yet gaining momentum, for many years.  I know it was growing before I was even aware of it, before I was even around to be aware of it.  We, as a culture and as individuals, are just beginning to wake up, in bits and pieces, to some rather unexpected realities concerning ourselves and our place in the universe.

Such awakenings can be difficult.

We cling to the fantasies we have built up around ourselves.

We hold fast to the familiar and push back when our expectations are threatened.

In 2016, a great many of us pushed back, HARD!

But such reversals are common in stories like ours, and while they may leave deep scars, they serve a deeper purpose in the narrative.

I don’t feel the same optimism in the air that I felt when I started this blog.

I feel determination.  And when it comes to actually getting things done, I’ll take an ounce of dogged perseverance over any amount of simple optimism you can muster.

I have written something on the order of One-Hundred and Eighty-Three Thousand words…,

Including the ones you are reading right now.

There were several times, along the way, when I thought I was done.

Now, I know that I am only getting started.

But I want to do more.

Mine is one small voice in a rising chorus, and if that’s all I am ever able to contribute, I know that I can be satisfied with that.

But in addition to hitting my 200th post, it is my birthday this week, so I’m thinking big.

Here then is my wish list for the years to come.

I’d like to see a free counseling service for people who follow alternative religions, like a crisis hotline, manned by folks from within the pagan community, and geared toward helping those who are drawn toward pagan beliefs to navigate their own emotions, as well as dealing with family and friends who may not understand.

I’d like to see specialized legal counseling and litigation services made available, specifically geared toward helping people from our religious communities deal with issues such as workplace harassment, adoption and custody negotiation.

And finally (and perhaps most ambitiously), I’d like to see a school.  Not some knockoff Cherry Hill Seminary masters program, but instead a continuing education program, focusing upon an array of topics, some of interest to general audiences, but many geared toward our specific faith communities.  Offerings such as: Basic Wilderness Survival, Blacksmithing, Urban Herb Gardening, Aromatherapy, Book Binding, and Geomancy.

It’s a big list and I don’t know how to make any of those things happen.

But I want to try.

And I’m going to need help.

We’re going to have to tap into all that determination that I feel welling up around us.

We’re going to have to push forward, together, to reshape the world in an image we can all be happy with.  And I’m going to be reaching out to many of you.

So don’t be surprised.

Be ready.


Filed under About this Blog, Culture, Religion, Spiritual Journey

Lessons from a Spider

This is the nightmare…,

It is nighttime.

You step out into the perfect darkness of a summer’s evening and almost immediately feel a strange tension spread out over the front of your person.  For the briefest second there is resistance, as if the air itself were trying to hold you back.

You are slowed by this unexpected resistance, minutely, imperceptibly, but not enough.

The momentum of your stride carries you forward and suddenly there is a barely audible twang, several of them actually, like guitar strings being tightened to the point of snapping.

That feeling of subtle resistance, which you had just enough time to notice, is gone.

In its place, it leaves two sensations which will last far longer.

The first is a strange tickling which plays upon your face and hands and hair.

The second is that creeping horror that comes with the certainty that a spider of indeterminate size and temperament is crawling somewhere, everywhere, upon your suddenly uncontrollably flailing form.

Crawling on you, in the dark.


My feelings toward spiders are generally of the friendly sort.

I appreciate their efforts against insect pests in the outdoors, and on those occasions that I find one somewhere in the house, I make every effort to transport it safely back outside again.

I find them to be fascinating creatures, and aside from the really dangerous ones, I bear them no ill will.

That being said, should I blunder through a web in the middle of the night, I will still go through the exact same set of jerking convulsions which millions of years of instinct have firmly imprinted within my DNA.

I should know, I did it twice early last week.

On the first occasion I walked out into my backyard to leave a little something for my cat, before retiring for the evening.  I didn’t bother with the porch light because I enjoy walking at night, in the dark, and I was only going a little way into the yard anyway.

I didn’t realize, until I stepped through it, that a web had been built that covered the entire four-foot opening of my back porch onto the yard.

After a strangled cry and several awkward spins, I spotted the culprit, crawling up and away through the tattered ruins of its web.

The next night was exactly the same.  In every detail.

I’d forgotten the first incident, right up until the moment I’d felt innumerable strands of silk pressing against my face.

And again the horror, which I expressed for my nocturnal audience, through the art of interpretive dance.

By the third night I was using my head.

Going against form, I clicked on the porch light, and stepped carefully out onto the small porch.

And there, once again covering almost the entire opening out into the backyard, was a huge circular web, at the center of which clung my nemesis, a tan spider with triangular grey markings, its oblong abdomen roughly as big around as a quarter.

It really was a beautiful web, but I could see no way around it.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  And yes, I really did speak aloud to a spider, “but you didn’t leave me space to get through here.”

And then I reached out a finger and snapped one of the large supporting threads.

The web collapsed in on itself, and once again the spider scurried up into the darkness.

On the next night, I remembered the light again, but the spider wasn’t there.

And again, the night after that, spider and web were both missing, and I made my passage from the house to the yard and back again, unmolested.

And then on the fifth night, I flipped the light switch and stepped onto the porch, where I then stood for several minutes, simply amazed.

The spider was back.  The web was back.

But this time, the design of the web, instead of spiraling out from the center of the opening, was canted somewhat to the right, incorporating a perfect arch which opened up along the left side of it, exactly along the path I walk to enter the yard.  It seemed very much, as if the spider had redesigned its web with a doorway to accommodate the bungling human that kept ruining its careful work.  It was exactly the right size.  I wouldn’t even have to duck my head.

I left the cat her bowl, and then I retreated back into the house, pausing for a moment, before turing off the light and closing the door, to take another long look at the spider, still hanging there undisturbed by my passage.

“Thank you,” I said finally, done for the night.

In the morning, as expected, spider and web were long gone.

But it was back again that night, and the night after that.

And that uncanny half-arch was there too.


We give little regard for the smaller creatures of the earth.

We’ll bang on about the intelligence of our dogs and cats, apes and whales, and even those birds which mimic our speech so well, but the scale by which we judge these creatures is based largely upon signs of intelligence which we recognize within ourselves.

To the spiders web, engineering marvel though we might admit, we ascribe neither artistry or intellect, but instead we tell ourselves it is a product of that cold clockwork we have named instinct.

But instinct, I come more and more to believe, is in many ways an invention of our own.

Oh, it exists, I am sure, but I suspect it drives our own motivations neither more nor less than of any other creature.

The mechanics of how to build a web must surely be a product of instinct.  But if a spider can learn, if he or she can use experience to change the shape of its web, and in so doing accommodate the passage of another creature, what else can you call that, but intelligence?


Since those first few encounters, the spider has been an infrequent visitor to my back porch, gone one or two nights, and then back again for an evening.

When it returns, if it returns, I am sure it will make me smile yet again.

In a world where it seems we treat fellow members of our own species with increasing suspicion and hostility, to witness the capacity of compromise within a creature so utterly foreign to our understanding, gives me a certain species of hope for our own future.

We look too often, I think, for guidance from on high, and not often enough at the world around us.

There are lessons even a spider may teach, if we were only willing to stop and notice, instead of blundering through.



Filed under Nature, Philosophy, Spiritual Journey

Lift up the cloak

There are stories hidden within stories.

The monks of Ireland once wrote down a tale concerning a holy woman who went before the king of Leinster, asking for a plot of land upon which to build her convent.  The king, though amused by her request, was not of a giving nature, and she was denied.

Dismissed though she was, she favored him with a smile and tried once again, this time asking if he would not offer her at least as much land as her cloak might cover, when laid flat upon the ground.

Feeling himself mocked before his men, he laughed, as if sharing in the joke, and agreed to her terms.  And it was, after all, only a very small cloak.

Removing the cloth from about her shoulders, she held it tightly by one corner while instructing her young students to grip the other corners and to pull the cloth out as far as it would stretch.  The girls did as she asked and, to the amazement of the king and his party, the great cloth trailed out behind them as they backed, first walking, then running and leaping away, over distant fields.

As the cloak spread out before them, the king knew he would soon be bound by his promise to give up the whole of his kingdom.  And so he cried out, begging the young woman to stop, and offering her all the land she had originally asked for.

And so the matter was settled.

The woman in the story is Saint Brigit of Kildare, who is said to have roamed the emerald isle from the late 5th to early 6th century C.E., and whose feast day on February 1st, has only just passed.

Bride Cloak

There are stories hidden within stories, and sometimes, there are gods hidden within saints.

There is much evidence to suggest that the the woman venerated today as “Mary of the Gael”  is actually a modern reflection of a much earlier goddess — Bríde the ‘exalted one’, goddess of both hearth and forge, inspiration of poets and sacred flame of ancient Ireland.

With that thought in mind, imagine the same story, only stripped now of its hagiographic trappings…,

Imagine the cold fields and forests of that long ago time, still covered in the frost of the long winter.  This is the dead half of the year, when the doors to the House of Donn are thrown open, and its king holds sway over all the land.

But there is movement in the fields and valleys.  A goddess walks upon the earth.  She opens her arms, trailing her long cloak behind her, blanketing the fallow soil with the first warmth of spring.  And while the cold wind still whips above, in the deep places there is a stirring, as the seedlings of the new season begin their journey upward, where they will eventually burst free into the light of the sun.

The season of death is over and soon, the king of that realm must surrender his lands, once again, unto the living spring.  If you listen, you can still hear a gentle laughter carried on the breeze.  Step outside and turn your face to the sun, and you can’t help but feel the warmth of her smile.

The stories that we tell and pass down make up a great tapestry, a cloak of sorts, that we pull with us, covering all the lands and binding us together.  Lift up a corner of that vast cloak, and you will find truths hidden there, waiting to be discovered.

Lá Fhéile Bríde is upon us, yet again.

May it find you warm and happy!


Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Ireland, Mythology, Religion, The Gods, Traditions

We disappoint, we disappear, we die, but we don’t.

“Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom…,”

Things were moving along just fine until they removed my favorite song.

I mean, I understand that with the necessities of condensing two full acts of musical theater into a single movie, some stuff was going to have to be dropped along the way.  I’d braced myself for this harsh reality, and to tell you the truth, most of the songs that were cut were just too repetitive for general audiences.

Most of the cuts hindered neither the action of the story nor development of the characters.  Except, that is, for that one critical number, which was pivotal to the plot.

And, my favorite…,


I should explain.

If you haven’t already guessed, I am speaking of the new theatrical version of Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’, and specifically a song titled ‘No More’ which, sadly, didn’t make it into this version.

I liked the movie, far more than I expected to, but the song they took out…,

…about a son, deeply disappointed in his father, and terrified of becoming him, and finding a way, at the last, to face his fears and mistakes in a world that seems to be crashing down around him…,

It’s not the best song in the show (‘Lament’), or the funniest (‘Agony’), or the most powerful (‘Last Midnight’), but it has always been the one I find myself waiting for.

And to find it missing, with only a few strains of lingering melody to back some rushed dialogue, was very disappointing.

We disappoint, we disappear, we die, but we don’t.

They disappoint in turn, I fear, forgive, though, they won’t.

And yet, that is the way of fairytales: they change with the telling, with the means in which we tell them, and with the intended audience.

In 1812, the Brothers Grimm released their first collection of stories.  Napoleon was on the move in Europe, Louisiana became the 18th state, Charles Dickens was a newborn, and a second war was erupting between the United States and the United Kingdom.  We think of these events as being far removed from us in time, but they are really quite recent.  The fables, so carefully collected and catalogued by the Brothers Grimm, had likely passed down through generations reaching further back then we can possibly know.  However new they may have been to many audiences of the time, these stories were old beyond measure when America was in its infancy.

The fairytales of our childhood bedtime were told and retold and memorized and changed along the way, as each storyteller added little details and embellishments, to make the story come alive for the listeners.  The Brothers Grimm, collected many of them in the early 1800’s and almost immediately began adding their own embellishments, adding details and descriptions and more often than not, softening the tone of the tales, to better appeal to ‘more sophisticated’ urban audiences.

It is easy to complain about the changes wrought upon these old stories by the Disney studios, while ignoring the fact that the stories had been gentrified and dumbed down long before Walt and Co. laid their hands upon them.

It’s one of the reason I enjoy ‘Into the Woods’ so much.  Sondheim taps into much earlier versions of the stories then most people are familiar with.  Cinderella is not visited by her Fairy Godmother, but instead discovers a tree possessed by her dead mothers spirit.  Her stepsisters mutilate their own feet to fit into the golden slipper, and are discovered by the telltale stain oozing from the blood soaked shoe.

Not, I suppose, the sort of material Mommy and Daddy are likely to share with their precious little bundles come bedtime.  Assuming, that is, parents even engage in the art of storytelling anymore – rather than just letting the kids conk out in front of the latest DVD release.

I have been told over and over again, throughout the years, than an oral tradition is weak because the story changes over time dependent upon the needs of the storyteller.  Whereas, if you put something in a book and take pains to make sure it never changes, then you have something that you can trust.

I would argue exactly the opposite.  An oral tradition is a living tradition.  The stories stay alive, to grow and spread their messages whenever and wherever they are needed.  While a canon of stories, set in stone, demands that society adapt to it, holding itself back to force the stories into relevance.

No, the problem is not that the stories keep changing, it’s just that we’ve turned over the responsibility for telling them to people who are interested only in finding appeal with the widest possible audience.

We disappoint, we leave a mess, we die, but we don’t.

We disappoint in turn, I guess.  Forget, though, we won’t.

Sometimes, I am disappointed with what the hollywood folks do to my favorite stories, and sometimes, I think the changes are brilliant.

The thing that I have to remind myself of, is that the stories don’t die.  These tales have survived a million changes over hundreds (thousands?) of years, and they keep right on going.  Because they are, in many ways, living things, and like all life, they will evolve over time.  But only if WE tell them.

There is no definitive edition.

There can’t be.

Because when that happens, the story really does die.

I wish, more than anything…,

I wish, more than anything…,

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Culture, Literature, Modern Life, Movies, Mythology, Traditions

The Homeless Christmas Tree (is dying)

I’ve never been one for telling Christmas stories.

The reasons for this are, I am sure, quite obvious to anyone who professes to know me in the slightest, as well as to any who have spent any time reading this blog.

What does come as a surprise, to some, is how much I enjoy Christmas stories.

There is something special about that moment when John Boy opens his gift, only to discover that his father has known all along about has passion for writing.  I always find myself grinning, when that troop of postal workers come marching into the courtroom where Kris Kringle is on trial, dumping mounds of unaddressed ‘Letters to Santa’ across Judge Harper’s bench.  I can’t help but wonder if poor Ralphie will ever get his Red Ryder BB-Gun, or if Charlie Brown will buy the right tree for the Christmas Play.  I have always longed to attend one of Mr. Fezziwig’s famous holiday gatherings, and I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t swell during those moments on the bridge, when George Bailey cries out for Clarence to give him his life back, and the snow begins to fall once again.

I like Christmas stories.  I even like the first one.

These tales come together to form their own special mythology, one which lends unto them a kind of truth which runs deeper than the actual fictions they describe.

I read them, and I watch them, but I don’t tell them.

Until now.

Carla Christian lived on the streets.

I do not know what combination of fate and circumstance made her homeless, I only know that for a time, she was.

I have read that she drifted in and out of the shelters on the east side of Fort Worth, until she was finally able to get back on her feet.  And don’t all Christmas stories include a moment of personal triumph over impossible odds?

Well, I suspect that most people, in her position, would simply move on with their lives, never looking back.  Some would just want to put an unfortunate episode behind them, while others would feel shame that they had fallen so low.

But Carla was of another sort.

She didn’t want to forget that she had been homeless.

She didn’t want anyone to be forgotten.

And so one day, just a few days before Christmas, she carried a box full of ornaments up a windswept hill.  At the top of this hill, overlooking the Interstate just a few short miles from the shelters she had once called home, was a single mimosa tree, leafless in the winter chill, which she decorated for all to see.

She called it the Homeless Christmas Tree.

Its purpose, she said, was to remind all those commuters streaming past it on their way into town, that not a stones throw away from that stretch of pavement, people were sleeping homeless on the cold streets.

I remember the first time I noticed that tree.  It was years and years ago, and I’d passed it hundreds of times without noticing it, perched there, alone on its little hill.  And then one day I glanced up and it was covered with tinsel and ribbon, and ornaments hung from its bare branches.

I didn’t know what to make of it, except that someone must have been feeling festive.  Still, it made me smile, and it made me notice that tree.

I watched it even after the ornaments came down.  I watched it leaf out, its branches swaying on particularly windy days.  I wondered if it would be decorated again the next year – and it was.  It made me smile again, to see it.

Later, when I learned the story of the Homeless Christmas Tree, I wondered how many other commuters into the city, knew its secret meaning.  I wondered how long the tradition of decorating this tree would go on.

Long years have passed since I first started watching that tree.

I understand that Carla died some years ago, but determined friends and neighbors kept alive the tradition of decorating the tree for Christmas.

And for a while, all seemed to be well.

This is what the tree used to look like during the first blush of spring.

This is what the tree used to look like during the first blush of spring.

But things have changed, and not, I am afraid, for the better.

Where once I could look forward to seeing that lush springtime burst of leafy fronds, in the last few years there have been only scattered tufts of green.  Instead, throughout the year, the tree is almost constantly wrapped in ribbon, like some festive mummy.  Its branches droop with wooden and plastic baubles throughout the year – decorations commemorating every passing holiday.  Flags often festoon the area immediately surrounding the tree and on many occasions I have observed a huge wooden cross, nearly as big as the tree itself, leaning against its strangled trunk.

And just a few weeks ago I noticed that one of its largest branches had fallen.  In a strange irony, that branch, which jutted out from the trunk toward the southwest, once pointed almost directly toward that part of town where the homeless still seek shelter at night.  But that’s okay, because the tree really doesn’t seem to be about the homeless anymore.

I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be a symbol for now.

I know it’s not about ‘hope’, or about caring for the least among us.

The Homeless Christmas Tree is dying, and I’ll never understand why certain people choose to take a beautiful symbol and ruin it in an effort to make it their own.

The tree didn’t want to be a symbol for anything, it just wanted to survive in an impossible situation.  The people I see, huddled on the sidewalk outside those shelters on East Lancaster are trying to survive an equally impossible situation.  But the folks I talk to tell me they try not to drive down that stretch of road.  They avoid it because they don’t want to see what’s there, because they look down on those people, or fear them.

And besides, the freeway will get you there faster.

And look, someone wrapped that tree in ribbon and bows – how festive!

And that, my friends, is why I don’t tell Christmas stories.

1 Comment

Filed under Holidays, Modern Life, Mythology, Proselytizing, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions

A resurrection done right?

Oh my friends, John Constantine is back from the dead!

Constantine is Back

You may remember that it has been almost twenty months since they put him in the ground.  By my own count it has been one-year, seven-months, and seven-days, since I penned my own small tribute to the Hellblazer.  And suddenly here he is again, big as life on my TV screen, the dirt of the grave still clinging to the soles of his shoes…,

“Nay!” boom the voices of the cynics in the crowd, “It is well known that comic book characters cannot ever truly die.  Did not John’s adventures continue in the pages of ‘Constantine’ after the run of ‘Hellblazer’ had been brought to an end?”

I’ll grant you that folks in the hero-books never die.  However, John never really spent much time walking those circles, and characters in the more adult Vertigo imprint do not seem quite so robust in their immortality, as are the SuperFriends.

As for the aforementioned book, titled ‘Constantine’, well you can borrow a man’s name and his clothes, but without the body you’ve got nothing to hang them on.  Which is just my fancy way of saying that the disneyfied guy in that book is NOT John f@*king Constantine, so don’t even get me started!

A Banishing Spell

“Fine then, leaving aside the question of IF it counts as a resurrection,” comes the counterpoint, “it’s not really much of one, is it?  Over a year and a half go by before he crawls up out of his literary grave, and here you are crowing like it was the second coming!”

Oh sure, Odin only hung on the tree for nine days, and Jesus did his bit over a long weekend, but these are deities we’re talking about and shrugging off death is right there in the job description.

The character of John Constantine is a foul-mouthed, chain smoking, deviant, with highly questionable moral underpinnings, who traffics regularly with unclean spirits and the worst dregs of humanity, and has somehow made the leap from a little known comic book, into a prime-time network television series.  That alone might be miracle enough, but if the first couple episodes are any indication, he’s managed to retain most of his edge through the unlikely transition.

And as an added bonus, he’s not being played by Keanu Reeves!

“And that’s the problem,” cry the ever helpful doubters, “it’s network television, so they’ll screw it up.  He can’t possibly be the same bastard he was in the comics.  Have you noticed how most of his smoking is done off-camera, so as to be politically-correct?  You can’t really believe it’s the same Constantine you knew from ‘Hellblazer’ and not some sanitized pretender?!”

And maybe they’re right.  Maybe I’m hoping for too much.

It’s too early to tell, just yet.

Personally, I’m one to keep a real sharp eye on anyone or anything that comes back from the dead.  No one leaves the lands of the dead unchanged – fictional or otherwise – and such changes are not always for the better.  So, I’ll be watching, to see if he really is who he says he is, or if ‘something else’ is using his body to take a stroll.

Back From The Dead

I’ve missed my monthly dose of the Hellblazer.

I don’t think I’m the only one.

The writing, the casting, the look of the show, they all feel as if they were lifted right out of an old issue and projected onto the screen.  Even John’s little speech at the end of the first episode was pulled almost word for word from one of my favorite issues.  It is the same speech I quoted at the end of my little eulogy last year.

And so, as is always the case where John Constantine is concerned, there is a cautious species of hope arriving from the most unlikely and unlooked for of places.  And anyway, I really should have known better than to believe that the swindling bastard would stay in the grave one second longer than he had to.

The old place still smells the same, that’s the weirdest part.  Beneath the new carpets and the fancy wallpaper, the gloss paint and velvet drapes, the lingering taint of blood and sweat, piss and shit.  The tang of human fear.  Takes me right back, it does.  I never expected to come back.  Not after last time.  I thought I was done with this place.  Thought it was done with me…, But here I am again, back for one last ride on the merry-go-round.

Let Me Ask You

John Constantine: Hellblazer 1988 – 2013 / 2014 – ?


Filed under Art, Comics, Culture, Heroes, Modern Life, Television

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

It was a tattered little book.  The original spine had been torn away, only to be mended later by some well meaning librarian.  The pages, rough and uneven around their edges, were browned with age and the oils of countless fingers.  The binding was so brittle that you could hear the book creak as she turned its pages, reading aloud.

The fingers turning those pages, the voice reading the words, belonged to the young woman who was teaching my 2nd-Grade class.  Or was it 1st?  It’s hard for me to remember for sure.

What I do remember, is that we were given a half an hour of every day for Story Time, and that each week our teacher would choose a new book to read from.

I remember little else from those long ago days.

I know that I got in trouble a lot.  Teachers called me disruptive.

Mostly, I think, for my habit of talking in class.

Whenever I got bored, my mind liked to wander off on its own, which might have been fine if I hadn’t insisted on taking others along for the ride.

And here I am now, taking you down memory lane.  Old habits die hard I guess.

I think my mind must have done a lot of wandering in those days, because I honestly don’t think I could tell you anything else that happened in those classes.  I couldn’t name for you the children I sat with.  I couldn’t hope to tell you what it was I was supposed to be learning, when I did bother to pay attention.

It was all just too long ago, now.

And yet, I do remember ‘story time’ as if it happened only yesterday.


That’s not true.

It’s just that I remember one particular week of ‘story time’.

If you asked me what stories our teacher read to us in the weeks that came before or after that one special week, I could not say.

So the truth, I guess, is that I don’t really remember ‘story time’ at all.

What I remember is ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’.

The Great White Bear

Have you ever read the story?

It is an old Norwegian folk tale, intended for children, but like so many fairytales, it’s packed full to bursting with deeper mythological content.

On an evening at the end of Fall, a poor farmer is accosted by a talking polar bear and asked to give up his youngest and most beautiful daughter in exchange for great material wealth.  The girl at first refuses but is then convinced by her father to give herself willingly for the good of the family.

—At the beginning of that long transitional time between final harvest and first planting, a young girl, the symbol of the creative principal in its first flowering, is sacrificed to the totemic spirit of a white bear, bleak winter incarnate.

The great white bear returns the next day and, carrying our heroine on his back, takes her away from her home.  Just as their hovel is about to pass out of sight he stops and asks her, “are you afraid?”  She was not.  They travel further across fields and forests, finally arriving at the base of a steep, snow covered hill.  The bear taps against the side of the rock and a door is opened to an underground castle, filled with every luxury.

—Here we have the classic passage from the world of the living into the underworld of the fairy faith, where the great hills contain hidden halls and kingdoms which may only be entered by those who know the way or have cast off the fears and burdens of mortal existence.

Thereafter, during the day she has everything she could ask for, except the company of another living soul.  In the night, when she has climbed into bed and put out the light, she is visited by a man who does not feel like a bear, and who vanishes again before the first light of dawn.

—Here we find common ground with countless other tales of fairy-folk who are said to exist in one form by day and another by night.  The young lady is made queen of a domain that she cannot fully perceive, commanding agents which provide for her every need, but with whom she may not communicate.  And if our young lady seems more put out by her daytime solitude than she does the nightly visits from her Bear Prince, well…,

I could go on at length, but I don’t want to give away the entire plot.

If you’ve never read the story (or any of the others that usually accompany it) you should.  If you have read it, I’d highly recommend reading it again.

For such a short little story, there is a great deal of imagery to explore.

There is still the fabled (if temporary) return from the land of the dead, which always causes problems, a (magic?) candle smuggled in from the land of the living to cast a revealing light upon the nocturnal visitor, broken vows and dire consequences, a triplicate goddess who appears to guard the way back into the otherworld, living incarnations of the four cardinal directions, and just when you needed some comic relief – TROLLS!

A fateful encounter with the North Wind.

A fateful encounter with the North Wind.

I remember, as a child, thinking that the trolls were pretty crazy.  My favorite part of the story, however, was always when the young girl makes makes her way to the home of the North Wind.  I knew, even then, that there was supposed to be more to him than just a gust of cold air.  I just knew that he must have other names.  I simply had no way of knowing then, what those names might be.

But I wanted to find out.

I wanted the teacher to keep reading from that book.

I pestered her about it for the rest of that year, but she never opened it for us again.

Instead, on the last day of class that year, she handed it to me and wished me well.

And I have it still.

And I still read it, from time to time, although I’ve since bought a slightly newer copy, so as to better preserve that first one.

East Of The Sun

Those worn pages are special to me because they were my first introduction to some of the thoughts and ideas that form the very basis upon which the mythologies of Western Europe were built.  So many of the things I’ve come to revere, to question and think deeply about, are hidden ever so skillfully, between the shabby covers of that little book.

I didn’t recognize them when I first heard them, but I must have known there was ‘something’ there that seemed important enough to me that I didn’t want the story to stop.

I think I was lucky.

I wonder about the kids of today, and I worry.

They have so many things available to them that I never dreamed of, information streams into their lives through computer screens and tablets and a million other sources.  And that’s all for the good.

I wonder though, if anyone will take the time to sit down with them and read from a tattered little collection of folk tales that were old beyond memory when their words were first set to paper.

I dearly hope so.

Because there are answers there, and questions, and truths which have been long lost to us, blown like an aspen leaf on the north wind to land finally on the emerald lawn of the castle which lies east of the sun and west of the moon.

1 Comment

Filed under Death, Literature, Modern Life, Mythology, Spiritual Journey