By granny’s fire
The dancing flames
Were green and blue.
Fire in the hearth:
The flaming heart
Of an old house,
Place of magic.
A rare fine thing
Seen in old pubs,
Featured image: Fireplace by José Claudio Guima on Pixabay (public domain).
The news that Hagia Sophia possibly contains eight green marble columns from the temple of Artemis at Ephesus reminded me of this poem I wrote in 2008.
The Earth Child
by Gerald Gould
Out of the veins of the world comes the blood of me;
The heart that beats in my side is the heart of the sea;
The hills have known me of old, and they do not forget;
Long ago was I friends with the wind; I am friends with it yet.
The hills are grey, they are strange; they breed desire
Of a tune that the feet may march to and not tire;
For always up in the distance the thin roads wind.
And passing out of sight, they pass not out of mind.
I am glad when morning and evening alter the skies;
There speaks no voice of the stars but my voice replies;
When wave on wave all night cries out in its need,
I listen, I understand; my heart takes heed.
Out of the red-brown earth, out of the grey-brown streams.
Came this perilous body, cage of perilous dreams;
To the ends of all waters and lands they are tossed, they are whirled.
For my dreams are one with my body, yea, one with the world.
From The golden book of modern English poetry 1870-1920, selected & arranged by Thomas Caldwell
I have been thinking for a while that we need more liturgical poetry in Pagan traditions. I have been thinking for a while about the beautiful pieces of music composed for the Requiem Mass, and thinking how great it would be to have a Pagan Requiem – something life-affirming, but acknowledging grief and death. So I wrote one. Feel free to use it – please credit me if you do. If anyone feels like composing some music for it, that would be awesome.
A Pagan Requiem
The earth that moved
The air that filled
The fire that flashed
The water that flowed
The body that loved
Are gone, all gone.
Flesh to Earth,
Breath to the winds,
The fire to ashes,
The water to the deep places.
But the spirit remains,
Enfolded in the embrace
Of the gods.
Love is the mystery,
The hidden fire
That moves the world.
A life well lived
Is a fit offering to the gods.
Living with honour,
Weeping with those who mourn,
Lifting up the oppressed.
And creating laughter, joy, and meaning,
This is the blessing of virtue,
The garden of the well-kept spirit,
The strength of the oak,
And the grace of the willow.
Blessed are the mourners,
And a blessing on the one who goes forth
Into the unknown.
The heavens and the Earth weep for them,
And humanity is diminished at their loss.
We who are left behind weep for them,
And they sail across the ocean of our tears.
The season of grief is needful
For the soul’s healing.
And so we weep, and so we weep,
For all that is lost,
For all that we left unsaid,
For the beloved dead.
See the soul-boat’s guiding light
On the oceans of the night
Let the pilgrim soul take flight
Across the river of forgetting
To the place where souls are waiting
For their moment of rebirth.
May they rest in the arms of the Star Goddess,
In the eternal twilight of the summerlands,
The valley of yews, the hall of heroes,
The islands of the blest,
The unknown regions.
And in due time, may they be reborn
Among those who will love them,
And may they flourish.
Love is the mystery,
The mystic marriage
Of matter and spirit,
The hidden fire
That moves the world.
23 November 2016
I am a lucky woman, and much gifted. Four gifts in particular I received this year:
a perfect July peach
a knife that fits my hand
a heartmeant compliment from a teenage son
and an argument for which I did not apologize
These things exist in our world, but they are exceeding rare. I know their value and will wear them forged and braided as adornment and strength. I am a lucky woman.
A woman grown so quiet here, in this space where just a year or two ago I was all enthusiasm. For a while my silence worried me. A theologian, I’ve had to learn trust over the months as my thought moves down, into the body. Into my body. A poet, I’ve had to face the fact that language flattens and distorts when tossed about too quickly. A woman, I’ve had to find a way to understand my silences as active and alive, rather than passive and inert.
All the myths and stories tell us the gift exists to be transformed and passed on, or it loses its power.
A Poem for Women with Birthdays
It has taken me decades to learn to love
the way I pour each night into bed like a Midwestern river,
soft and insistent and ripe, effulgent with summer rain,
here and there paused and pooled
with minnows, with trout. Then too I am the voracious,
toothy carp jumping into the next boat that passes.
I was taught to play my breath out with care,
To run it over and through the knotted cords of my throat
like wind through a young grove of aspen,
to sing and laugh like the spring breeze that flirts
and lifts the hair playfully on a hopeful morning.
It’s a gift, that grace, but there are other gifts too.
By now I know we are equal parts joke and broken,
luscious bluster and blister, so very unspoken,
so very real. Silver and gilt. Sisters, tell me
how will you exult
in your gristle, the meat and fat of your flesh,
how will you rest in the mud of your marrow,
where important and ephemeral things go to be born?
Nameless and slippery, crunched and wiggling,
dark in the sockets of bone,
against all odds and cultural narratives,
we have time yet to locate each element and ore, here,
and here, and here again. Come closer.
The Queer Ones are rising. We are rising out of the woods, out of the ocean, out of the cracks between the concrete. Genderqueer, transgender, glorious peacock-shimmering, rising out of the darkness, the healing and sacred darkness, into the many-hued light of day. Queer deities, genderqueer deities, transgender goddesses and gods. Inari the fox god/dess; Vertumnus the changeable and ever-changing; tricksters and healers, poets and seers and shamans.
Gender is not a binary, not even a spectrum, it is a vast glittering field of possibility, many gender, many hues, many different expressions of being and love.
We are rising, out of the silence, out of the hidden places, daring to be, to shine forth our glorious queer radiance, because we are the holy ones, the liminal ones, the dreamers and the creators of possibility.
Our freedom is frightening to some who want there to be a binary, a set of limitations. We call them out of their fear and into the radiant and glittering field of stars, into the joy of expressing all that you are – joy, magic, dreams, anger at injustice, diversity in unity, unity in diversity. We call them to embrace their humanity and ours, not to cling in fear and loathing to a diminished, fearful, restrictive, and destructive vision of womanhood, that excludes the childless as much as the transgender and the non-binary.
The glorious diversity of the human body, the glorious diversity of life journeys and intersecting identities, is to be enjoyed and celebrated. Different people have different journeys. The penis is not a symbol of the patriarchy. The gun is the symbol and the weapon of patriarchy and kyriarchy. The penis is a symbol of life, celebrated and venerated as such by many ancient cultures, along with the yoni, the vulva, the vagina. Both are fountains of life and creativity. The kyriarchy wants to distort and desecrate these sacred places, by turning the penis into a weapon and the vagina into its sheath, a place to be violated. But we reject and resist the violence of the kyriarchy, and affirm the sacred beauty of transgender, gender-fluid, and genderqueer in all their gentle and fierce beauty and glory. We embrace the witchery of genderblending.
Gender essentialism and separatism is the mirror image of patriarchy. We reject the patriarchy and the kyriarchy. We reject all binaries. There are men who reject rape culture and women who excuse rape. Let’s promote consent culture and gather our beautiful diverse tribe. Let us include people in, welcoming and celebrating and affirming diversity, not sowing hate and fear and division. Let’s create spaces that are safe for everyone of every gender. Pagan traditions (both ancient and contemporary) affirm the queer as sacred, as liminal, as being touched by the gods. All magic is magic. All love is love. All people are people.
We are all images of divinity. As a polytheist, I affirm trans and queer deities among the vast range of deities. The Sun is both fierce and hot, gentle and warming. The Ocean is both gentle, rocking the cradle of dreams, and destructive, storming and raging and destroying. Neither of these moods has any essential gender. The Moon is the lover of the hidden ones, calling to us of wildness and wilderness, dreams and intuition. These experiences are available to all genders – we all carry the tides of the Moon in our blood and in our bodies, regardless of whether we menstruate. Let us celebrate the tides of our blood with all who venerate the body, regardless of their anatomy or ours.
Let us magnify and glorify the images of divinity within ourselves and each other. Show forth love and beauty and creativity; celebrate the radiance of the many-hued multiplicity of gender expression, sexuality, and the human body.
Exciting new projects
Pat Mosley is organising an anthology, Arcane Perfection, which will be a collection of essays, poetry, art, rage, love, rituals, spells, and musings by, for, and about Queer, Trans, and Intersex Witches. Sounds totally awesome.
How have you overcome discrimination? How have you encountered the Divine? What are your experiences with magic as a Queer person? How has Witchcraft empowered your life as a Queer person? Can you tell the story of your transition through the Tarot? What is your relationship to the world, to Pagan community, to Queer community? Do you have a rant that needs to be screamed into publication? How are you uprooting heterocisnormativity in the Pagan community and beyond? How have you dealt with loss, invisibility, violence, disability, racism, power, capitalism, jealousy, change, and love?
Other exciting trans-inclusive projects are being discussed and planned.
For as long as I can remember, the Moon has seemed like a source of mystery and magic. I have always had a bit of a thing about the Moon, and everything associated with the lunar side of life: poetry, intuition, silver, water, dreams, and stars. I always assumed that cats were lunar until I discovered that dogs are lunar and cats are solar. But I still prefer cats. The Moon represents the twilight half of consciousness (memories, dreams, intuition, rhythm). And of course, witches have always been associated with the Moon, and with a whole cohort of animals and birds who are also associated with the Moon, especially hares, bats, and owls.
The Moon in poetry
The silvery light of the Moon transforms the landscape into a mysterious deep twilight blue. The moonpath (the reflection of the Moon on the sea) may lead to mysterious other realms. It certainly did for Lucius Apuleius when the great goddess Isis appeared to him as the full Moon over the sea, and transformed him back into a human being, releasing him from the enchantment that had turned him into an ass.
“Behold Lucius I am come, thy weeping and prayers has moved me to succor thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names, for the Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, the mother of the Gods: the Athenians call me Cecropian Artemis: the Cyprians, Paphian Aphrodite: the Candians, Dictyanna: the Sicilians , Stygian Proserpine: and the Eleusians call me Mother of the Corn. Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis.”
This theme was picked up by Dion Fortune in her wonderful book, The Sea Priestess:
I am that soundless, boundless, bitter sea.
All tides are mine, and answer unto me.
Tides of the airs, tides of the inner earth;
The secret, silent tides of death and birth.
Tides of men’s souls, and dreams, and destiny –
Isis Veiled, and Rhea, Binah, Ge.
The hour of the high full moon draws near;
I hear the invoking words, hear and appear —
Isis Unveiled, and Rhea, Binah, Ge.
I come unto the priest that calleth me.
There is a wonderful poem by Sylvia Plath, The Moon and the Yew Tree, which describes the contrast between the Moon, who is “bald and wild” and “terribly upset”, and Mary, who is “sweet”:
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
Actually I rather suspect that Sylvia Plath’s poetry is a contributory factor in my being being a Pagan and a Wiccan. She also wrote a wonderful poem about the Horned God, called Faun, which also evokes the Moon:
Haunched like a faun, he hooed
From grove of moon-glint and fen-frost
Until all owls in the twigged forest
Flapped black to look and brood
On the call this man made.
In times past, the moonlight was needed because of a lack of streetlights, and the Lunar Society (Erasmus Darwin, Watt, Bolton, Wedgwood, Priestley, etc) met on full moon nights in order to be able to travel at night. The Carmina Gadelica praises the Moon as ‘the glorious lamp of the poor’, and there are four prayers to the Moon in the collection.
There are many Moon deities, both male and female. In Wicca, we tend to regard the Moon as female and the Sun as male; in Heathenry, the Sun is female and the Moon is male. Many other cultures have a male Moon deity too – Chandra in India, Shin in Mesopotamia, Tsukuyomi in Japan.There are also many Moon goddesses: the Greek goddesses Phoebe, Artemis, Selene, and Hecate; and the Chinese goddess Chang’e. Some of these deities are associated with witches.
In ancient times, people would kiss their hand to the New Moon. (It’s mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Job 31: 26-28.) The Moon was believed to govern growth and fertility, so that planting should always be done at the New Moon, so that the plant would grow with the waxing Moon. Many plants are associated with the Moon, especially white flowers that give off a scent at night, and ones that are traditionally used in witchcraft.
For me, the Moon is the source and origin of witchcraft: the lunar energy, the mysterious qualities of the Moon, and the association with the night, wildness, freedom, spirituality, and sexuality:
O, my love
Come silently in the middle of the night
As gliding moonlight…
– Nazrul Islam
Poets and mystics of all religions have praised the beauty of the Moon – especially the Sufis, who also have a mystical relationship with the night.
The phases of the Moon are also important. The Moon rules the tides of the sea; but she is also believed to rule the tides of the mind. Magic for increase should always be done on the waxing Moon; magic for decrease, on the waning Moon.
The Moon rules the twilight side of life, the wild, the uncanny, the preternatural. Civilisation tries to ignore the Moon, because she is the liberator of the oppressed and shines her light into the nooks and crannies, revealing the deeds that are done by night. But the Moon always returns with her messages from the subconscious, from the endless sea of dreams.
by Sarah Sadie and Yvonne Aburrow
Sarah and Yvonne decided to write a different kind of blogpost – a conversation. Since we are both poets, we had a conversation about poetry.
Yvonne: For me, a poem starts to build up like a pressure inside me, and then it bursts like a bubble and I get the first few lines and start writing, and then it all comes out in a big rush. Later, I start to refine it, rearranging the lines here and there – but most of my editing is pretty light after the first rush.
What’s your experience?
Sarah: This is what I love about conversations–my process is almost completely different from yours! For me, I will sense a moment–almost like a scent or texture to the day, the hour, that brushes my skin like a spider web…and I have to try to catch at whatever that moment is, put it down on the page in language. It really does feel like having a seventh or eighth sense, in a way. A poem can be just one of those–or sometimes it is a series or combination, that I build over time ,editing lines, switching stanzas around. I work it along for a number of days or weeks…and when I can’t take it any further (Plath: “I simply cannot see where there is to get to”) I set the draft aside for a couple of months. By the time I pull it out I’ve mostly forgotten it and the fresh reading shows me where the trouble spots, the faultlines are.
Do you try to write poetry regularly, to keep yourself searching for that sense of “pressure” or do you wait for it to come to you?
Yvonne: That’s a fascinating process. I often write small pieces of prose in response to the beauty I see all around me, and I suppose those could get turned into poems, and I think that’s my “poetic eye” responding to the world. I used to write poetry more frequently – but lately I’ve been more focused on writing prose. I once wrote a poem about my process where I likened it to the bends – bubbles rising from the depths. Perhaps my process has changed and I need to discover what the new process is.
I do write poetry for ritual and that tends to be more “written to order” (and create spoken poetry extempore in ritual) but even that has waned of late. Maybe I should stop waiting for it to come to me, and seek out the Muse a bit more actively. I have a fairly strong image of my muse – a dark man who lives in a cave (probably also my animus).
Do you feel that you have a Muse?
Sarah: Before I answer that question… 😉
I really like the word you use above : response. Because poetry (by extension, any art) is a response, it is part of a conversation between the writer and the larger world–and just writing that I realize how much our writing is a form of listening. And we have a response-ability that can grow, shift, change as we do over the years. When you say “Perhaps my process has changed and I need to discover what the new process is” I shout YES–with two new books out this year, I feel I’ve tapped out a bit. Need to open to the next thing.
A book of poems feels like an album to me–Prince’s death (and Bowie’s, before that) have me thinking about similarities between how I feel about creating a book and how they created albums. There are the individual songs, and then there is the overall vision–the sum is greater than the individual parts. Beyonce’s Lemonade is an immediate contemporary example as well. (btw, isn’t it fascinating how people are picking up on the polytheist content of Lemonade).
In the years that I was Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin, I also wrote poems to order and I found it–at that time in my writing life–a welcome challenge. The City gave awesome and random writing prompts (the rededication of a replica Statue of Liberty; a poem to introduce a political scientist who specializes in polling procedures; a poem for Obihiro, Japan among others)–and deadlines to boot!
Poems and spellwork are very closely related. Very, very closely, imo. So are poems and theology, for that matter.
As for my muse–yes, I have one. Also male (I would love to see an anthology of women (and men) writing about and to their male muses. It’s about time to balance the record on this). He is a reclusive character–I only catch glimpses once in a while. Just as often, I am writing to particular friends or family members–a poem sometimes (often) feels like an old-fashioned letter, to me.
I’m extremely restless with myself as a writer these days…to be a text artist in a visual age is not easy. I’m trying to understand where I go next–it feels very much like walking blind through thorns, at the moment.
What about you? Do you have a next writing project you’re launching into?
Yvonne: Yes, I’m currently working on a book about the inner work of witchcraft (that’s the working subtitle). There will be a fair amount about embodied spirituality and responding to Nature, as well as energy work, how the circle is a microcosm, visualisation, meditation, and so on.
I was interested by what you said about being a text writer in a visual age. I suppose we can take some comfort from the way that poetry is the most visual form of writing. I also know one poet who illustrates his work with photo-collages. And then there was Kahlil Gibran, who accompanied his poems with his own drawings. I was never quite sure how the drawing related to the poem, but it was interesting.
I completely agree that poetry is related to theology and magic; they use the same twilight mode of consciousness. Spells and ritual words often take the form of poetry – Doreen Valiente was very good at that. I wish people would study a little and find out about different meters and poetic devices such as assonance and the caesura though. And theology is sometimes poetic (and ought to be more often). Alison Leigh Lilly springs to mind as someone who writes poetic theology. I think also that poets, like comedians, see connections that others have missed. Both comedy and poetry are sacred arts, showing the world hidden connections and undercurrents.
Is that what you had in mind?
Sarah: Wasn’t it Victor Anderson who said that “White magic is poetry. Black magic is anything that works.” ? I agree completely that people who write spells and rituals as poetry would do well to study the craft–it is an aspect of craft like any other and the more adept you are, the stronger your ritual will be.
I also really like what Seamus Heaney wrote (I’m paraphrasing here and not doing it full justice, but the idea comes across): that a poem is like the paper bird we tape in the picture window–it’s not a real bird, but it causes the birds outside to veer their course. A poem isn’t “real life”–but it can cause us to swerve a bit. It has an effect. An impact.
It may be that poetry is as close to my religion as any recognized Pagan tradition. And I’m okay with that.
Great conversation–thank you!
Yvonne: Poetry as religion – I’ll drink to that! For me it is a sacred vocation, and one that no-one can take away from me. One is a witch in community, one has a job title conferred by an employer: but one can be a poet without approval or sanction from anyone else. Even a child writing their first poems may call themselves a poet. I love that.
And poetry as magic: definitely! A poem can transform your perspective and perceptions, it can be an incantation (did you ever hear Yeats reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree? It’s like he’s reading a spell), it can be an invocation to change the world.
Acquainted with the Night
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
Lately, thanks in part to my colleague Yvonne’s excellent writing around embodied spirituality, I’ve been thinking a lot about embodiment, endarkenment, and creativity, and how intertwined all these concepts are. I’ve even (finally) invented a phrase for how I ground my own work in the world: creative endarkenment. After all, creativity roots itself in the dark, no matter how small or large the idea…but before anyone can explore that truth, we have to get comfortable with the idea of darkness.
I belong squarely in Generation X, which means when I was in college many of us gathered and marched and
shouted and sang songs by the Indigo Girls in order to Take Back the Night. We petitioned and argued to install emergency phones and more lighting around the darkest spaces on campus. Back then, we thought if we lit up the shadows, rape culture would suffer a serious blow. And I remember wondering at the time if I was strange, in that darkness felt so much safer to me than being pinned and spotlit by the newly installed lights. Their glare made me so obviously single and alone as I walked back to my room through the Minnesota dark.
Maybe we were safer from some kinds of violence, I don’t know. But I do know we blamed the wrong thing. Darkness was never the root cause. Social media has proved convincingly that rape culture is all too happy to go public with acts of abusive power and violence.
And yet it isn’t any surprise we feared and blamed the dark. We grow up in a culture that assigns so many negative qualities to “darkness”—labels so many bad things “dark” and blames “darkness” for them: ignorance, fear, anger, violence, to name only the first few that spring to mind. And this has inevitable repercussions in a society that labels and separates people as “white” “black” and “brown.”
Now we wheel past the spring equinox into the season of light. We rake off our garden beds, poke seeds, pile on mulch and remember darkness can be kind, can be nurturing, and is certainly crucial. As Molly Meade (Remer) writes, “In darkness, things germinate and grow. The dark is a calm, holding, safe, welcoming place—we come from darkness and that is where we return.”
Light pushes always out against the dark…and yet any light source is eternally nestled within that deep embrace, no matter how bright it shines. We can feel this truth as threatening, if we are scared of the dark, of what lives in the shadows.
On the other hand, without darkness, we are left with the glare of brutal interrogation and too rigid certainty. There remains no mystery to seek. It is impossible to imagine a fluid dreaming without darkness. And what would we be without dreams? What would it mean if our shapes could never shift?
Of course, dreams are not only happy cuddly things. The phrase “the dark night of the soul” resonates in the bone because it feels true. Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the Night” knows that just as there is room for light within the embrace of darkness, there is room for much else too. Our deep depressions, our sorrows, our angers, can take us to places that are psychically quite dark. As Carl Jung knew (and as our therapists tell us on a regular basis and we pay them for it), it is at times necessary to rest in the presence of such discomfort. To stop pushing the dark away long enough to listen to what lives there.
Fortunately, there are people to help us on the path. I had the pleasure and good fortune to interview Danica Swanson recently for a class assignment. You can find the entire interview posted at her blog, but today these words are in my mind:
Sacred endarkenment, to me, is a concept and a way of being that provides a necessary counterbalance to our culture’s over-emphasis on enlightenment, transcendence, “rising above,” and so on. … Despite popular belief, darkness doesn’t necessarily mean evil or negativity – in fact, dark places can be sources of great richness, alchemy, and incubation…
I was raised in a New Age family, and had experienced first-hand the failures of empathy and errors in perception that could result from a heavy emphasis on “positive thinking” and other forms of saccharine sweetness in spiritual work. In a way, you could say my New Age upbringing primed me for a darker, more chthonic path. Dogma can be just as oppressive when it’s presented as “love and light” as it can be when it shows up in less culturally sanctioned ways.
Swanson gets it right: too much positivity results in “failures of empathy” and “errors in perception” and that my friends gets us into a mess. Welcoming the dark with all its unknowns and locating the tender spots is necessary for any fruitful germination, including our own. In our fearful, angry moment of history I can’t help thinking that it’s as good a time as any for us to face our own personal and cultural shadows, to begin to sit with our histories of violence, oppression, guilt, fear, resentment. To learn stillness.
That’s a big ask. And more than I can take on this morning. A good place to start might be just getting a little more comfortable sitting together, here in the dark. Over the next few days and weeks, I want to explore the idea of endarkenment, to think about how and why we might want to wander out once in a while past the fire’s light and peer into the shadows. I hope you’ll join me.