A Lughnasadh poem from Anne Morrow Lindbergh -

Praise life-Praise life-
Before the fall
Of winter’s knife,
They stand and call,
O man, praise life.

The bee who goes
To the aster knows
December’s fear;

The butterfly
On a daisy’s eye,
That death is near;

Flies in the sun,
That summer’s done;

Ripe berries wait
Their certain Fate.

In red and gold
The lesson’s told;

In ecstasy
The end foresee.

A final cry
From earth to sky,
Tree, fruit, and flower,
Before the hour
Of sacrifice:

Praise life, O man,
While yet you can.

-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This past weekend, I went to my third Drum and Splash at Four Quarters Farm. One of my big life themes for the past year has been learning to live on my own. For all that I like to think of myself as an independent person, the fact is that I don’t run off and have adventures on my own all that much. I’m not good at meeting new people and I feel reserved and shy when in a crowd of strangers. I like to bring my own company with me.

I was apprehensive, then, when all the various friends and family who had said they would go with me all dropped out one by one. I was left to catch a ride with someone I barely knew and to camp with a bunch of strangers. I almost decided not to go, but I had been so looking forward to dancing to the drums and swimming in the creek that I couldn’t stay away. I meditated on it, and I heard a voice, a little whispering voice, tell me to go do it for Himself. Do it for Herne.

So I packed my things, my camping gear and my pretty party clothes, and I dedicated my weekend to Herne. When I got there, I found, as you might expect, that I wasn’t really alone on a crowd of strangers – I was among a whole bunch of friends I had only just met. The camp I stayed with took me in like I was family. I met amazing people and had amazing, silly, profound, hilarious, intense, passionate adventures with them – some of them, I hope, will continue to be my friends and share adventures with me back here in this world.

I love that I am strong and healthy enough to once more be able to dance all night. I love that I seem to have rediscovered my boldness and my sense of adventure. I love that there is a place where I can indulge this. I love that I can answer when the Horned One calls me out.

Thank You, Hunter.

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-      Rumi (Coleman Barks translation)

“I suspect you’re going to feel a bit constrained in the coming weeks, Cancerian — maybe even imprisoned. I suggest you make the best of it. Rather than feeling sorry for yourself and spiraling down into a dark night of the soul, try this: Imagine that you’re a resourceful hermit who’s temporarily under house arrest in an elegant chalet with all the amenities. Regard this “incarceration” as a chance to start work on a masterpiece, or upgrade your meditation practice, or read a book you’ve needed an excuse to lose yourself in. Believe it or not, your “deprivation” could be one of the best things that has happened to you in a while.”  -Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology.

At the new moon, I get together with a friend to honor Hekate. Part of that ceremony is a tarot reading for the upcoming month. This month, I was told to expect great washes of emotion, big ups and big downs. It’s held true so far. One person who is very close to me is suffering from psychological issues that are causing him to behave in upsetting ways; another friend is giving my heart a workout like I haven’t experienced in a very long time; another is very ill; almost everyone else in my life is too far away or too busy right now to spare much time for me. I naturally tend towards hermitishness but right now I want the company and it’s not there.

I spent this weekend feeling bad. I kind of did it on purpose – the bad feelings were right there and easily accessible or it wouldn’t have happened at all, but I know how to not wallow in the self-pity spiral Rob Brezsny talks about. I decided that it was time to just feel it for a little while anyway. I have this concept somewhere in my head that I’m not supposed to feel bad and that if I do it’s a sign of some great personal failing. Like I ought to be able to just take anything that comes and incorporate it into my world and going on being Just Fine. There have been times in my life, times of crisis, where the ability to be Just Fine has been really useful – times when the need to continue functioning outweighs the desire to crumple into a defeated heap. So I keep my chin up and bravely soldier on; I’m good at that. I think of myself as a fighter and when the fight is on, I am fierce and brave and madly cheerful.

Lately I’ve had a peaceful space in my life, a place where I don’t need to be quite so fierce just to get out of bed in the morning. It’s been a relief and I have taken the opportunity to work on myself in that space. I’ve been working out and eating properly and going on intense and wonderful spiritual journeys and generally feeling fantastic in both body and soul, as I keep mentioning here. It’s great because my health in both of those areas has been impaired in ways I didn’t even know about until I started fixing them. I am apparently now feeling well enough to be able to give myself the space to feel bad (as opposed to being depressed, which is something different.) It’s odd that I can see this as a good thing.

I avoid Big Emotions out of long habit and a certain level of cowardice; it’s one thing to love the Gods and the world and to send that love out to all beings, but to love other human beings is pretty scary. They become ill, they die, they lose their minds, they move far away, they don’t call or come around often enough, they cry, they make stupid personal decisions – they do all kinds of inconvenient things. So this weekend, when I was sitting around feeling terrible about the various people that I love and their various unwelcome behaviors, I asked one of my guides, with a certain level of frustration, “I give up on people! WHAT the FUCK am I supposed to learn from this crap? What do I do?” (ok, the frustration level was pretty high.) He whispered in my ear the same thing he always says… “Love more.”

And I, being kind of a brat, said “That is SO unhelpful. What kind of an answer is that? What’s the point?”

He said, “That IS the point. What else are you going to do? What else are you here for? You talk about formless spiritual fire, the matrix of the universe – you work consciously with this energy, and that’s wonderful, it’s what you are supposed to do. You think that this is somehow different from love that takes form and walks around in the world? You think you can keep doing this work you want to do and yet care LESS about other people? Forget it, you can’t have that and you shouldn’t have that. Love more. More and more and more. Let them hurt you – you’re a fighter, you can take the pain. Feel it and know that it is good because it means that your heart is working as it should. Feel it like a sore muscle after hard exercise. Love hurts. Love is good. Love more. No limits.“

I’m working on it.

“Sultan, saint, pickpocket; love has everyone by the ear dragging us to God by secret ways” – Rumi, again.

I am finding myself in the odd situation of having almost nothing to blog about. Not because there’s nothing going in with me but because none of the things that I have going on are things I feel OK about talking about in this public way. I could talk about that one thing – but then I’d have to explain about the other thing – and then there’s that issue that it raises – and suddenly I don’t want to bother. Everything of any interest or importance in my life right now could be described that way.

I don’t know what this means but it’s starting to bug me. I’m wondering if I need to either get a lot more open about myself or just stop blogging for a while – it seems like I need to do one or the other and I’m not sure which way to go. I could go all cryptic and say things like “my friends know what I mean when I say that things are happening in that situation you all know about!” (aside, to my friends who know about my various situations, that applies to pretty much all of them.) There’s really no point to doing that, though. In terms of blogging, I feel stuck. I could just shut up for a while – I’ve certainly done that before here – but I have all this creative energy zinging around that needs an outlet.

So instead I’ll write about the zinginess itself. I am feeling incredibly zingy this spring. I feel active and energetic and engaged with life in ways I haven’t felt in years. I feel springy and alive and athletic and powerful and beautiful. I have spent the past seven years wandering the Underworld looking for something I lost there all those years ago, and suddenly I feel like I’ve surfaced into sunshine and fresh air. All the same stressful situations I have to deal with still hold and I still have to deal, but I don’t feel so afraid. I still get anxious sometimes, but it passes and I can watch it pass.

At Ostara, I walked on fire. When I did that, I felt like I surrendered something. Surrendered to fire, surrendered to change, surrendered to joy and love and the continuing return of the light. It changed everything. My teacher describes the practice as transformational. I didn’t know what that meant until I did it and I can’t describe it now except to say that it burned something away that needed to go. I did it again in April and it changed more. I’m going to do it again in June and I’m really looking forward to it.

At the same time, I’ve been getting more deeply involved in my healing work. Again, there’s a feeling of surrender with that. For that work, I need to surrender myself to the energy and completely get my ego out of the way – I rely completely on my guides for this. When I do that work I just give myself over completely to it, and to be able to do that at all takes work on myself. Every day I have to do my practices and listen to my guides and let myself be led by them. I used to do this kind of work for myself, to help get through the hard parts of life and to better appreciate and develop my relationship with the universe. There’s still an element of that in my work, but there is a different current to it now that feels more powerful and significant. Now I do my work entirely for Love – no other reason. That’s where my surrender has taken me – to “the bond of Love, heavy with Fire,” as the theurgists have it.

I still worry and stress and become afraid in the night; it’s not as though I’ve suddenly found enlightenment. There is a part of me that is waiting with bated breath for the next crisis to come along.  I don’t know how I will face it – will I still be able to follow this path? I don’t know, but for now it’s all amazing.

I got back on Sunday from two days at the Spoutwood Fairie Festival. It was a good time, as expected. Just the right amounts of silliness and beauty, in appropriate proportions. The best part of the festival was of course meeting old and new friends. I went with my friend Maebius and his family, and of course my friend Anne, leader of the Mountain Tribe, was there with her lovely daughter. I got to see Andrew, the one who teaches me how to dance on fire, and my brilliant and multi-talented friend Molly, and the usual cast of characters that I always seem to run into at festivals, and many others. It was wonderful to see them all. I also got to meet, at long last, the Archdruid of the AODA, John Michael Greer. He’s every bit as brilliant and erudite in person as you would expect, and also much funnier, and I completely enjoyed his company (even though he turned my dog into a pig.)

I must be doing something right in life that I get to spend time with such wonderful people. I am nothing but grateful.

Anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse writes about what he terms imagistic vs. doctrinal religions. I’ve come across the terms lately when reading about the practices of Hellenic mystery cults. The doctrinal mode of religion is characterized by a top-down hierarchy, involving regularly repeated daily or weekly rituals, written texts, standard teachings, and lower levels of emotional arousal. Imagistic religion is less structured, with little or no hierarchy or doctrine, characterized by periodic festivals with high levels of emotion that mark a break from regular daily life. Imagistic religions utilize ecstatic trance states and altered forms of consciousness to bring about direct divine contact; doctrinal religion employs mediators to interpret the divine.

I’m finding this division very useful in thinking about modern Paganism. My experience of it is highly imagistic and seems to have a surprising amount in common with the old mystery cults. Surprising because I don’t think anyone has done that on purpose; it just seems to have happened. Most of my practice takes place at home, on my own and without much external human guidance. Eight times a year I go do ritual with my druid grove, which while done in marvelous company has a lot in common with my home practice; we don’t go wild at druid grove. But there are certain points on my personal religious calender where I do pretty much what they did in the mystery cults. I go off to the woods with many like-minded people, camp out, experience a different mode of life, and spend my days in contemplation or purification (or sleep) and my nights in ecstatic trance. I did something like this at Ostara, minus the camping (but with extra sleep-deprivation!) where we walked or danced on fire and then went to a cavern 50 feet underground to drum and dance and chant the night away. I’ll do this at Four Quarters Farm at least once this summer and perhaps more. If I get the time and the resources and the company, I’ll try to go to Starwood or Sirius Rising or some other such summer festival. A summer without at least one of these leaves me feeling like I’ve missed something important. There are a lot of us who feel the same way, though it’s by no means a universal experience for Pagans. People go for their own reasons, I suppose, but almost everyone I know that goes to these goes for the same reason I do – for the Mystery. Like the old Mysteries, and like Whitehead’s description of imagistic religion, it can’t be explained if you haven’t been there.

I’m reading Hugh Dowden’s book on mystery cults right now, and I keep thinking, yes, of course they did that, that’s like what I do. Not in the content, so much as we know of it, as the concept: get out of town and into a different world and do something profound in a place apart.

Because I think it is hilarious, here’s me and one of my besties, Maebius, on a Starwood morning (which I think was at about two in the afternoon.) Maebius is the exceedingly happy one; I am the one making GTFO face.

Last Saturday, I woke up to a beautiful spring day with nothing in particular planned. This is the first time this has happened to me since, well, last spring, so during my morning meditation I found myself thinking about what I wanted to do with my day. The thought came unbidden, “I should go to Harry’s and get a candle.”

Harry’s is, of course, Harry’s Occult Shop. It’s a Philadelphia institution, the place to go to get conditions lifted or fortunes told or lights for setting. I wouldn’t ordinarily dream of going on a Saturday; the place is always packed on Saturdays. It’s a tiny little shop and there are so many who want their help and it can be a challenge just getting in the front door, let alone getting the attention of one of the workers there. It was a lovely day, though, and just the process of going across town and walking in Harry’s front door was a pleasant enough idea. I hadn’t even been to that end of town in eight or nine months. I decided that if it was too much, I could just leave and go somewhere else, but it was something to get me out of the house and into the world.

Harry’s, for those who aren’t familiar with these things, is not a “pagan” or “witchy” shop, not a “new age” shop – its roots are deep in the working-class magic of the urban poor. I understand the place a lot better since reading up on hoodoo through cat yronwode’s books and website, but I’ve always been aware of it as a place that anyone from any background could go to and find help. It got pretty grotty back in the mid 90’s or so, but after finding new management it is now a happy, welcoming little beacon.

I went to Harry’s and of course Harry’s was packed. They aren’t really a store where one buys merchandise from off the shelves – they have a few things for sale, some crystals and candles and a few astrology books, but people don’t go there to buy things from off the shelf. They go there to have things made. This means waiting around for your candle to be prepared or your oil mixed or your reader to be free. This means lots of people standing around in a small space. It’s kind of fun just to observe, actually – people from all different backgrounds, all ages, sizes, colors, types, all looking for some kind of help. I walked in and thought, oh, I’ll be here for a while. Then I noticed who was behind the counter, offering kind grandmotherly advice to a young South-Philly-looking girl.

It’s not all that surprising that a friend of mine would be working at Harry’s, considering the kinds of friends I have – I didn’t know she was working there, but once I saw her, I saw that she fit perfectly. What surprised me was that this friend is intimately connected to the situation I came to have addressed – a member of her family was caught up in the same whirlwind as mine. After she was done helping the girl she came sailing out from behind the counter, all beads and patchouli, and gave me a lovely big hug as we caught up on each others’ news. We hadn’t spoken since September so there were some things to catch up on. I told her about the situation I needed the candle for, and blessedly had to explain very little as she already knew most of it. She looked very fierce and promised to make me “such a candle.” She did, and I had the fun of waiting around people-watching at Harry’s while I thought about my friend’s new job. She’s working as a sort of village witch, mixing up potions and spells and such on a regular basis and that seems to me to be a great way to spend time, if you are up for that sort of thing.

This isn’t really a new observation, but it hit me once again how magic is used to find power in places where you feel powerless. I am in a situation where I have some heavy guns lifted against me; I’m fighting them on my own as much as I can but in many ways they completely overpower me in the apparent world – the only thing I have extra is my fierce will and the help of the spirits, and the magic is a path to use those to my advantage. So I thought about where else I felt powerless, and when my friend came back with my candle (such a candle, the thing practically was pulsating) I asked her to also mix me up a bath for a lighter, happier heart. She did, a bright lovely lily-scented thing, and it works exceedingly well.

I lit the candle on Monday’s full moon in Libra, with many sincere and fervent prayers for success. May it be so. My heart is light.

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