Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

There are plenty of ways to die.

We are, as a species, both fearful and fascinated by death.  And the more time passes, the more we push back against certain boundaries, the more interconnected we become, the more preoccupied we seem to grow with the most unlikely of threats to our well being.

We spend too much of our time living in obscure ‘what-ifs’ and not enough in the now.

We give ourselves over to fear, and we grow smaller in the bargain.

So let’s take a moment and go through it.


The vast majority of us will succumb to simple mechanical failure…,

Hearts stop ticking.
The vessels grow clogged with gunk.
Oxygen delivery becomes less than efficient.
The lightning in our minds that form thought and feeling becomes turbulent.


Most of the rest of us will fall to some kind of disease…,

Infections that taint the blood or clog the lungs.
Cancers that turn our own cellular building blocks against us.


Your next most likely exit is through simple accident…,

Our balance fails us.
We regularly handle objects which are sharp or heavy.
Often we run and jump and fly and drive, because these are the things of living.
And sometimes it is the living that kills us.


A tiny few of us have our lives taken away by another…,

War takes some.
Acts of terrorism account for a handful.
But far more often, it is our own neighbors who kill us.
Or the people we love best.


There are plenty of ways to die, and the statistics don’t lie.

But we see big flashing numbers on the news and we are convinced that the thing which is least likely to take us, is the thing waiting just around the corner to do us in.  We become convinced that someone is coming for us, someone wants us dead, the knives are sharpening, the explosives are being wrapped in duct-tape, there are clocks and triggers and backpacks and high profile targets and you’d better be safe and you’d better stay safe and you’ll never be safe…!

You’ll never be safe because we are going to die.

But any one of us is 35,000 times more likely to die of a heart attack than we are in a terrorist attack.  Yet, by and large, I don’t see that many of us suddenly laying off the cheese-burgers.

Which brings us to another way to die, one I haven’t mentioned yet.

Sometimes we kill ourselves…,

And here is one place where I think the statistics DO lie, because it’s not always as straight forward as a gun to the head or an overdose of prescription meds.  Sometimes, yes, we kill ourselves all at once.  But more and more I think we’ve begun to do it so slowly that we don’t even know it’s happening.

People won’t give up eating fatty foods, but they’re sure wiling to give themselves over to fear.

Some of us can’t face a world full of (mostly imagined) boogymen without the security blanket of a weapon in our pocket.

Some of us would rather not face the world at all, when it’s so much safer to just sit in our homes and watch the news and fret about all the growing dangers outside.

And here lately, all too many of us are happy enough to switch off the very traits that make us human: our sense of compassion, our willingness to endure personal sacrifice to ease the hardship of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.

Make no mistake folks, we have become a culture which is living in fear.

And I don’t think I’d call that ‘living’ at all.

I find it disheartening that in this season of thanksgiving, when we are urged to count our many blessings, that bravery and generosity of spirit do not seem to number among them.

There are plenty of ways to die.

The real question is, in the long run, will we be able to live with ourselves?

Refugeess

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Filed under Culture, Death, Holidays, Modern Life

The Third Treasure

The Sword,

The Spear,

The Cauldron,

The Stone,

They were called the “Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann” because they were brought into our world by those ancient gods who arrived in Ireland in a time before the first mortal men would walk its shores.

Each of the Treasures came from a shining city somewhere in the north of the world.  Those cities are gone now, abandoned by children of the Goddess Danu, although no tale survives to tell us why.  Perhaps there was some cataclysm which forced the Dé Danann to emigrate to our humble realm, bringing the Treasures with them.  Perhaps it was the action of removing these sacred relics from their former homes that brought those fabled cities to ruin.

When I first began to explore the mythology of my ancestors, I largely ignored the Four Treasures, favoring instead the stories of the gods and heroes themselves.  With time and study, however, I have come to see the Treasures are far more than just magical tools which make occasional appearances in the lore.

I think that if the divine cities of Failias, Gorias, Findias, and Murias ever existed, and if they did indeed fall, it was through the agency of the Four Treasures and their departure from that world, into this.  And our world was changed, bent, altered in some fundamental way, upon their arrival here.

Cauldron Sculpture

Sword • Spear • Cauldron • Stone

In the mythology of the Irish, the Cauldron belonged to the Dagda, the Good God, who was the father of his mighty tribe.  The Dagda was wise beyond measure, a warrior of unparalleled strength, and a craftsmen of surpassing skill.  And like any good father figure, he was a provider for his family.

The great cauldron he carried was the instrument of his providence.  In some stories, it is said that no man could walk away from that vessel unsatisfied.  In others, it is said that it would provide sustenance to all in equal measure to their worth.  But in any case, the cauldron was a font of nourishment.

In the mythology of ancient Greece, there are tales of the Cornucopia, the horn of the goddess of abundance, broken off by the infant Zeus in his exuberance, and overflowing with all the bounty of the harvest.  The Cornucopia, the horn of plenty borne by yet another father-god, is a symbol well remembered at this time of year, although I suspect that most of those who display this symbol in their Thanksgiving decor, do not remember its divine associations.

And there are more stories still.

The Cauldron has many names and many owners, but always it is a source of life, abundance, and rejuvenation.  And if in some stories the Cauldron provides sustenance for those who hunger, it shouldn’t be surprising that it may provide life for the dead who are placed within its hallow sphere.

The Third Treasure is, above all things, the vessel of life.

Swords • Wands • Cups • Coins

Not long ago, the mythology of the Celtic tribes began to fade away.  The gods retreated into slumber, or watchful silence, or perhaps they simply wandered among other people in other lands for a time.

A new religion and a new mythology swept out from the East, to dominate the hearts and minds of the people.  A doctrine of personal salvation pushed aside the old communion between the spirits of man and tribe and land.

But even as the people forgot the old ways, the symbolism endured beyond fickle human memory.  We forgot the old stories and invented new ones, but the Treasures remain, whatever origin we choose to invent for them.

And the Cauldron of the Dagda becomes the Sangréal, the Cup of Christ.

And its powers remain the same.

The merest sip of its contents is said to sate the starving and cure the dying.  The holy chalice is said to have held the blood of a dying god, making of it a conduit between the mortal and the immortal.  The cup is both things, at once, and as such, is equally capable of bringing the light of divine inspiration to those who catch even a glimpse of it, while reducing rich farmland to a barren waste, if treated improperly.

The Third Treasure is, above all things, the vessel of life.

And the cup which dispenses life, may withhold it in equal measure.

How could it be otherwise?

Spades • Clubs • Hearts • Diamonds

The Four Treasures were brought to our world in a time long before memory.

Perhaps it really was the Tuatha Dé Danann who carried them to us, from cities more beautiful than we could ever imagine.  Perhaps it was the gods of the Greeks, or the one worshipped by the twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants.  Maybe all the stories are true (as they tend to be), or none of them.

I don’t know.

What I believe is that the Treasures came to our world, and they changed it.

And they changed us.

I have read a few interpretations of the old stories that would suggest that the Cauldron exists within us.  I don’t know if the ancients believed that, but it makes a kind of sense to me.

The Third Treasure is, above all things, the vessel of life.

And what better description could there be for the human heart?

The heart dispenses the stuff of life to the whole of our bodies.  It has the power to inspire us to great deeds and to light the fires of love within us.  Sometimes, when all the world seems arrayed against us, it is only through the power of a determined heart that we are sustained.

We are nourished by the heart within us, and the many hearts we encounter in our life journey.

But we must be cautious.

The lore warns us that the objects of the gods are perilous in the wrong hands.  The heart that warms and sustains us one moment, may make a desert of our life in the next.  The human heart has its own mythology, but its power remains the same, and the cup which dispenses life, may withhold it in equal measure.

Heart, Cup and Cauldron: The Third Treasure of the Tuatha Dé Danann is weighing heavily on my mind come this week of Thanksgiving.  I will write about the other three Treasures in due time, but for now I ask that you be mindful of that sacred vessel within you.  The power of the gods beats within your chest, and through it you may nourish the hungry and quench the thirst of the most parched wanderer.

Or you may withhold its power and make of your life a desert that stretches beyond the limits of your sight.

Such is the power of the Third Treasure.

Such is the power in you.

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Filed under Celtic Polytheism, Holidays, Ireland, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

fractured little thoughts

I’ve been having a bit of writer’s block this week.

Sometimes the problem is that there really seems to be nothing in the world to write about.  But most of the time, for me, it’s just that there are all these fractured little thoughts, bouncing around in my head, vying for attention.

They only want to be cared for, these little thoughts.

They only want me to find them a home.

And I would…,

Except that they are such little thoughts.

Except that they are too small to survive on their own.

And so I don’t know what to do with all these fractured little thoughts that don’t fit.

I mean, just by way of example, what really am I supposed to say about the Ant Rafts…,

So over the summer I noticed a peculiar thing happening in my cat’s water dish.

She’s mostly an outdoor cat, and although she takes her meals inside, I do always keep a bowl of fresh water on the front porch for her.

As the summer months passed, I began to observe something I had never seen before.  Every evening, upon arriving home from work, there would be a smallish pile of ants floating in the middle of the bowl.

At first I assumed that these were just collections of ants which had slipped into the water and drowned, only to gravitate to each other in the middle of the bowl.  I’d pour them out, refill the dish with fresh water, and move on.

But with each days passing, these piles continued to grow larger, and it quickly became clear to me that most of these ants were alive, clinging together in the middle of what should have been a watery grave.

Intrigued, I did a little rooting around on the internet, and discovered that this is a fairly well documented behavior among several species of ant, most notably, the dreaded, despicable Fire Ant.

When a flood comes and destroys their underground nests, a colony of Fire Ants will race to the surface and form a raft of bodies which floats safely downstream.  The ants are able to interlock their limbs in such a way that the surface tension against the water achieves a level of buoyancy capable of keeping the entire colony afloat.

This is an entirely cooperative mechanism, where every ant is doing its part to keep the collective from drowning.

Ants!

Fire Ant

Nasty, biting, swarming up your leg if you stand in the wrong spot for more than a few seconds, Fire Ants – who stretch their bodies out against the torrent, locking (hands?, claws?, whatever) with their neighbors, to make of themselves a raft that their entire society may rest upon in safety.

Okay, so Ant Rafts are really cool, and it would be neat to write something about them.  However, I don’t really have any place to take that.  It’s an incomplete thought that doesn’t fit well with any of the other incomplete thoughts in my head.

And why am I still thinking about Veterans Day?  That was last week, so there is no point in blogging about it now!

We see it all the time.

There’s a young man or woman in uniform.  Or maybe it’s an older gentleman, wearing a ball cap, or a jacket upon which a patch has been stitched, displaying certain insignia.  We know who they are.  We know they have made sacrifices, that they have put their very lives on the line.

And someone will walk across that room, and shake their hand, and thank them for their service.  It makes us smile.  It makes us proud to know that there are such people among us.  It makes us glad to know that we are a people that can recognize sacrifice when we see it.

Yet I am forced to wonder…,

I wonder about the guys who pick up my trash every Thursday, the guys who hang from the back of a stinking truck, in rain, and snow, and sweltering heat, the men (and women, I am sure), who breathe the foulest fumes of our daily lives and keep the horrors that we haul out to the curb every week from piling up around us.  Does anyone ever walk across a room to shake their hands and thank them for their service?

I really doubt it.

And please, don’t for a moment think that I am trying to take anything away from our men and women in uniform.  I’m really not.

But they are not the only ones who have, and will, make sacrifices.  Most of the people that make our modern little lives possible, are working jobs and making sacrifices that we would never consider doing for ourselves.  And the truth is, we’d be lost without them.

I’m glad the Veterans get their day.  The gods know they deserve it, and more.

But what about the folks who keep the water flowing, the electricity humming, and the trash picked up?  Don’t they deserve a handshake and a heartfelt thanks?

Don’t we all?

Do you see what I mean?

I can’t get anything done because I’m stuck thinking about this weird colony of ants, where every member interlocks with his fellows to keep the whole multitude afloat.  While, at the same time, I’ve got these odd ideas about the true meanings of community, and service, and sacrifice for the common good.  And while they are both interesting ideas, neither one really seems like something I could get a full blog entry out of.

And I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do, when a friend suggested I just tap into the upcoming holiday, and write something about thankfulness.  “Share with your readers,” she said, “what it is that you are thankful for.”

So what am I thankful for?

I’m thankful for all those fractured little thoughts, bouncing around in my head, vying for attention.  And for the friends and family who bring them out in me, who help them come together in ways I never expected them to.  And for the folks who read the words those thoughts become.  And for every one who has made my life possible – the billions of linked hands, keeping this whole silly world afloat against the waters that might otherwise carry us away.

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Filed under About this Blog, Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Philosophy

People of the Dawn

Wampanoag

In their own stories they had been there just shy of forever.  Their father’s fathers roamed those same woods, hunting for game and fishing along the riverbanks.  Their villages were dotted throughout lands both wild and cultivated, for they were a people who knew how to work with the land.

They knew that the “three sisters” (beans and squash from the twisting vine, and sacred maize, standing tall and golden in the sunlight) would grow best in fields that had gone unplanted in the previous season.  They would take fish from the river and, thanking them for their sacrifice, would lay them in small mounds as an offering and inducement to the spirits of the sisters.

As the first shoots of corn, planted first, began to grow from these fertile mounds, beans and squash would be planted next, so that as the stalks of corn grew tall, the vines of the other sisters would climb and grow strong, blending their spirits and changing the soil for the better.

The people had lived this way for as long as any could remember, farming the land, gathering the wild fruits and nuts, fishing it’s rivers and coasts, and hunting it’s game.  And always, they were thankful, calling out in gratitude to the departing spirit of the fallen beast, blessing the land and the trees and the spirits that watched and cared for them from above or beyond.

These were the people who where called the Wampanoag, which in their own language, means ‘People of the Dawn’.

We do not know why they were called such.

Perhaps it was because their stories seemed to reach back to the dawn of time.  Or maybe, inhabiting the very edges of the Eastern seaboard as they did, they felt that their tribe, more than any other, was closest to the rising sun.

I wonder what it did to them, seeing a new people arrive on their shores as if from out of the dawn itself.

The truth is, we don’t really know that much about them.

By the time the passengers of the Mayflower began to disembark, they had already dwindled to a fraction of their numbers, killed off by disease – an early gift from their European visitors.  We know that they worked in cooperation with the settlers of the Plymouth Colony, and indeed are responsible for the survival of that colony through it’s second winter.  They taught the colonists how to hunt and grow native crops, and it seems likely that they attempted (with mixed success) to impart upon their new neighbors something of the ‘spirit of thanks’ with which they moved through their world.

The holiday which we celebrate today as Thanksgiving, is more likely a memory of traditional Wampanoag harvest celebrations, than anything organized by those ‘oh so famous’ Pilgrims.

So where now are the People of the Dawn?

A couple thousand of them still survive.  Christianized, of course, and with only scarce hints of their previous culture and history upon which to cling.  The last native speaker of their language died over 100 years ago.

Today the Wampanoag and their traditions have all but vanished from this land.

And still we give thanks.  Not moment by moment, of course, or even daily for the most part.  Today we seem to save it all up for but a single day.  We gather our families and friends.  We feast and make merry.  We are thankful to our loved ones and our god(s).  We even remember, however briefly, that none of these things would have come to pass, had not a dying people taken pity on their new neighbors and shown them how to survive in a world that was being stolen from them, bit by bit.

And then the next morning, as the light of the sun begins to break over the horizon in the east, it will find them gathered by the tens of thousands (or is it millions?) outside the stores.  The Black Friday shoppers will be waiting for the doors to open so that they may descend like locusts upon the goods therein, freely sacrificing personal dignity for the chance to save a few precious dollars on some tacky doorbuster.

There will be no ‘thankfulness’ to be found in that mob, only hunger, and greed, and the angry noise and stink of the crowd.

These are the new People of the Dawn, and I can find no sympathy for them.

Sleep in, if you can, on Friday.

Be thankful in the moment for all that you have and always mindful of the things you can live without.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life, Traditions

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

This time of year is so thick with Holidays that it can be hard to catch your breath.  When I was a child, the weeks between Halloween and Christmas seemed to stretch out forever.  Now it feels as though I am assaulted by them all at once.  Like Sally, I find that while I still have candy left over from Halloween, a simple trip to the grocery store finds me besieged by ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’.

Still, as busy and cluttered as this time of year seems to be, I still look forward to Thanksgiving.

Despite the parades, the gluttony and ignoring, to the best of my ability, the football obsessed and their need to scream at the television between servings of pumpkin pie, there is a strange Zen like quality to the holiday.  With none of the pressures of buying the right gift or getting the costume “just so”, it exists as a moment of relative calm within the chaotic vortex of the American holiday season.

Gather your family and friends.
Eat an excess of turkey and pie.
Sleep a few hours and then repeat.

As festivals go, it is beautiful in it’s simplicity.

The other thing I enjoy about Thanksgiving is that it doesn’t really belong to any one group.  Certainly, there are certain groups who have have tried to claim it for themselves.  President Lincoln’s proclamation, making Thanksgiving a national holiday, is so full of references to the “Most High” and “Father in Heaven” that, reading it, I am forced to wonder if someone misplaced the 1st Amendment to the Constitution during the Fall of 1863.

Given the circumstances of what we in the United States like to think of as the First Thanksgiving, it is easy to see where such a claim could be made.

 

The problem with this argument is that it can so easily be turned on it’s head just by looking at the actual context in which these events transpired.

The Plymouth colony would have collapsed, and it’s people starved to death, had it not been for the assistance given by the Wampanoag, under the leadership of Massasoit.  The “Indians” were not simply invited to the feast, they were responsible for it.  The first Thanksgiving can just as easily be seen as that humbling moment when a people who believed themselves to be technologically and spiritually more advanced than the native “savages”, were saved by a people who lived in a spiritual relationship with the land.

Sounds like a very “Pagan friendly” holiday to me.

Then, of course, there are those who choose to see Thanksgiving as a cautionary tale.

Massasoit allied himself with the Plymouth colony for his own reasons, most of which were political and tactically advantageous for the Wampanoag people.  Unfortunately, he lacked a true understanding of the European concept of “Land Ownership”.  The plight of his people and eventually all Native Americans against the relentless onslaught of Euro-American expansion and depredations have caused many to mark the 4th Thursday in November as a day of mourning.

How then should we celebrate Thanksgiving Day?

The day and it’s history just sit there taunting us, daring us to try and define them, to claim them for our particular causes and viewpoints.  Thanksgiving smirks at us like Lucy, holding that damned football tipped upright in our path by a single wicked finger.  We have only to make a run for it.  She wouldn’t pull it away from us this time.  It is Thanksgiving after all and there are traditions to be observed and honored.

So, does it stand as another moment of triumphalism for the dominant cultural faith?  Perhaps it exists as a moment to embrace a gentle humility of the spirit and cooperation between those with disparate beliefs?  Perchance we shall greet it as an opportunity to initiate a deeper relationship with our environment?  Or will we cast about for ways to punish ourselves for the sins of our grandfathers?

Maybe it is my particular polytheistic perspective that allows me to see it as all these things.  The day simply IS what we choose to see it as, and the question of why we gather together is, in the end, far less important than the fact that we do.

Good old Charlie Brown will keep tilting at windmills while Linus preaches from the sidelines.  I think I’ll just enjoy another helping of cornbread dressing.

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Filed under Culture, Family, Holidays, Modern Life, Religion, Uncategorized