The other day, someone asked, why isn’t there a Pagan coming-out ritual? When do straight people come out as straight? Maybe one day in the future, when people don’t assume that you are straight by default, there will be either be coming-out rituals for everyone, or no need of a coming-out ritual. There ought to be a coming-of-age ritual, though.
There have been criticisms of the notion of coming-out, both in terms of the notion of “out” — perhaps we’re coming IN to being visible, instead of OUT of being hidden — and in terms of the notion of a closet, in that being closeted as a way to avoid stigma is becoming unnecessary in most social contexts.
A coming-out ritual, by Yvonne Aburrow
The circle or sacred space is opened in the appropriate manner for the tradition celebrating. If quarters are called, then they are addressed in a non-gender-binary way, e.g. Mighty Ones of the [direction], Powers of the [element]. All those gathered to celebrate bring a scarf. Preferably red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. The one who has recently come out as LGBTQIA wears a cloak and a veil.
Celebrant 1: Today we have gathered to celebrate the coming out of [name] as [identity]. (1)
He/she/ze (2) has been hidden,
like a bulb hidden in the earth, waiting to put forth the first green shoots in Spring.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
like a bud waiting for the first rays of the Sun to open.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
Like a shy animal in their burrow,
Waiting for the dusk to emerge and explore.
He/she/ze has been hidden,
Like a butterfly in the chrysalis,
Waiting for the right time to emerge.
Celebrant 2: But now [name] has come out,
And emerges into the world like a bulb putting forth a green shoot,
Like a flower opening to the sun,
Like an animal emerging from the burrow,
Like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis!
Come out, [name], and be welcome in your full glory.
All: Come out! Come out! Come out!
(The outcomer now emerges from the cloak and the veil, and steps forward)
All: Hail and welcome!
(Each person now steps forward and places a coloured scarf around the outcomer’s neck, either offering their own personal blessing, or saying “I welcome you in your full glory as a [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender] (3) person, and celebrate your unique beauty and strength”)
Celebrant 1: By coming out of the closet, you have come IN to the queer community.
All: Welcome in!
Celebrant 2: By coming out of the closet, you have come IN to the Pagan (4) community. Paganism encourages us to find our true and authentic self, and to be that to the best of our ability. By coming out as [identity], you have revealed more of your true self, both to yourself and to others.
[The outcomer now gets to encounter the ten queer spiritual roles]
Celebrant 1: There are as many ways to be queer as there are queer people, but we now present to you ten queer archetypes (5), who may help you and guide you on your way.
The Catalyst: I am the catalytic transformer. (Lights a flame)
I bring change.
I hunger and thirst for social justice.
I light the fire in the human heart,
The fire that rages against injustice,
The flame that burns bright to herald a new dawn.
The Mirror: I am a mirror, presenting an inverted image to society. (Holds up a mirror)
I am the Molly and the Drag Queen.
I am the one who queers everything.
I comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
I overthrow power structures with my parodies.
The Shaman: I am the queer shaman, (beats drum)
The consciousness scout.
I find the way between the worlds,
I travel the roads of the dead.
I am a child of the Moon,
A devotee of her mysteries.
The Trickster: I am the Trickster, (presents the outcomer with a flower)
The eternally playful one.
I am Peter Pan, always youthful.
My tricks expand your consciousness,
My dreams bring sparkle to the world.
The Beautiful One: I am the keeper and maker of beauty, (sprinkles glitter)
Making music, and art, and sacred drama.
I am the queer eye, discerning beauty wherever it roves.
I am the one who makes all things beautiful.
The Caregiver: I am the one who cares, (Caresses the outcomer)
For the suffering, the lost, and the outcast.
I bring joy to those who are on the edge,
Lost in the liminal spaces.
The Mystic: I am the mystic one, (holds wand/thyrsis/caduceus)
The in-between one,
The shaman, the traveller between the worlds.
I travel between the seen and the unseen,
I mediate between the worlds of flesh and spirit.
The Consecrated One: My sexuality is holy, (sprinkles blessed water or mead)
My being is holy, and I stand before the divine ones,
And lead the people towards the union of matter and spirit.
The Androgyne: I am the Divine Androgyne, (holds wand and chalice in each hand)
Including and transcending all genders.
I am change, and I am growth.
I am space and time.
I am spirit and matter.
I am the inbreath and the outbreath.
The Gatekeeper: I am the gatekeeper, (makes gesture of opening doors)
Who stands at the door of the sacred realm,
Welcoming all who come to enter the portal,
The door to the unseen realms.
I welcome you to the place between the worlds.
All: Hail and welcome, [name of outcomer]
(The ritual is concluded with cakes & wine, mead, an eisteddfod, or whatever the closing appropriate to the tradition.)
CC-BY-SA 3.0. Yvonne Aburrow is the author of this ritual.
You may reuse it under the terms of the following Creative Commons licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
(1) replace with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as appropriate
(2) use the preferred pronoun of the outcomer here
(3) use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender as appropriate
(4) use Heathen, Druid, Wiccan, polytheist, Feri, etc if preferred
Yesterday I was a crap mom.
Yesterday I got nothing done on my to-do list. My house remained a mess. I sat in a chair the entire day, almost.
I burned dinner. We ate bread.
I burned my eyes out staring at the computer screen.
Yesterday was an election day.
Yesterday over the course of eight hours I wrote a series of 69 haiku and published them on facebook and twitter. It was a completely improvisatory performance, unfolding in real time, exploring the metaphor of elections and politics as sexy, as seduction, as the whole damntangle.
It wasn’t something I planned. I just started noodling around in the morning with the idea that “voting is sexy” and before I knew it I was composing Sexy Voter Haiku one after another, and posting on facebook until the polls closed at 8 PM. Sometimes it happens that way.
Your name’s on the list.
You would be missed. Show up.
Tell me what you want.
Sexy Voter Haiku. As a friend and political scientist commented, “Never before have those three words been used together in the English language.” Of course it is ridiculous. Politics is not sex.
And yet, it is.
Say what you want to
happen. It can’t happen if
you don’t say it, first.
In my opinion, last night the bad guys won. These are the goons who brought us mandatory transvaginal probes. If they (continue to) have their way over the next 2-4-6-10 years, the land will be gutted and fracked, waters polluted, public schools decimated, and cities and towns starved of funding. I think it’s pretty clear what is going on here.
Hold the pen, hold the
paper with its questions. Press.
Turn this poet on.
When is consensus like consent? How about compromise? That old idea that we keep talking til everyone verbally agrees and partners with each other.
These guys don’t work that way.
My colleagues here at the Mound, Christine Hoff Kraemer and Yvonne Aburrow are working on an anthology around the theme of consent in the pagan community(ies). It’s on my mind this morning, as I process the election results.
so many fingers
press so many buttons and then
watch the results
And this is what Sexy Voter Haiku gives us: a(nother) form of poetry that engages directly with political action and the public sphere.
Because in the face of powerlessness and defeat, Sexy Voter Haiku responds not with anger or despair, but with…joy. Delight. Silliness. This is life loving and life giving.
You do not need an
ID. And the cab is free.
These are dark times, but we don’t have to feel defeated by them. Creation stands opposite to war, destruction, and indifference. And after all, good things can happen in the dark: secrets whispered, revolutions begun, seeds planted, babies made.
Moved my pen again
and again. Then the ballot
machine swallowed it.
So here is my series of 69 Sexy Voter Haiku, written on 11/4/14 from about 8 in the morning to 8 at night. They respond to my own experiences throughout the hours, the articles I was reading, the errands I was running. Some of them were written in direct response to comments or requests from friends, but I trust they all make sense, more or less, here in this context.
Now I want to see yours. Already I see a few appearing from my friends, here and there. This morning Wisconsin’s Secretary of State had a beauty, although he didn’t know it:
“This has been a ve-
ry wild and sad night. Final
results not in yet.”
There are people who are well-organized, well-funded, well-scripted who are winning right now. But…they are not sexy or juicy people. They don’t play very much or very well.
That is one of our advantages.
And, it should be clear, what I’m looking for and asking for doesn’t have to be haiku. It doesn’t have to be poetry. The challenge is to find that action that feels creative and joyful and life-giving to you, and use that to engage with the political, the community, the moment.
The revolution may or may not be televised. But it will be joyful through the dark, if I have anything to say about it. And it turns out, I do.
Sexy Voter Haiku
November 4, 2014
Your name’s on the list.
You would be missed. Show up.
Tell us what you want.
2 (consent edition)
Say what you want to
happen. It can’t happen if
you don’t say it, first.
Hold the pen, hold the
paper with its questions. Press.
Turn this poet on.
so many fingers
press so many buttons and then
watch the results
You do not need an
ID. And the cab is free.
Moved my pen again
and again. Then the ballot
machine swallowed it.
7 (literati edition)
wearing badges with honor
me and Hester Prynne
8 (bake sale edition)
sugary to eat because
it makes me hungry.
9 (on being #360 to vote at my ward)
You spin me right round,
baby right round like a record
baby Rock the vote.
themselves in my bedroom, so
here I am. In bed.
Because when it comes
to turnout size does matter.
Please please me. Vote.
If I’m missing
a syllable, that’s where
you take a breath.
or maybe today
we have more important things
14 (fb feed edition)
so far the porn one
has the most “likes”…oh Zuck, what
will you do with me
Vote. The cold shower
can wait. I want to be with
you when you go…vote.
Just think: from seven
this morning to eight tonight.
A woman can dream.
More and more of us
voting: how else to upset
18 (phone bank edition)
Mine is the low voice
calling to say this is it,
today, now, please…
Why did I think I
would get anything else done
on election day
If what they’re doing
doesn’t make you hot and bothered
maybe I can. vote.
It steams up tonight
after polling closes. All
this is just build up.
22 (on voter education)
Know before you go.
I can tell you a little
learning goes a long way.
Buildup or foreplay
which is sexier…who cares,
open turns me on.
chisement was never sexy.
How long are the lines?
Not nearly long enough. I
am not satisfied.
Who says politics
and poetry don’t mix. Strange
bedfellows, but fun.
on poems and civic engagement
is writing itself.
Wearing my sticker
to the grocery store…oh,
and a new bra, too.
29 (married edition)
“If you don’t vote, no
smile, back home) “Long lines…”
You think I’m done? I
haven’t even mentioned the
word “tight.” We’re good, peeps.
Today it is tight
in many places. Insert
Who needs a ride to
the polls? I’m ready to take
you where you want to go.
33 (early afternoon, strong turnout reported so far)
This is about the
time a woman hopes you will
keep going just keep…
34 (regarding voter fraud and difficulty)
We need to talk a-
bout protection. Be smart. Be
assertive. Own it.
Voting is far more
effective than Viagra.
Let’s end impotence.
Tweeting every one.
Because who wouldn’t want a
Tell me you’ll be here
tonight. I don’t want to be
alone at the close.
38 (Poet Laureate edition)
Public poet is
a strange position but I
think it works for us.
39 (more about turnout)
When is big big
enough? Asked no woman
ever. Go vote.
40 (Rock the vote, 2)
U2 in my head
“You take me higher…” Now you, too,
take me higher. Vote.
To do this, you must
trust. You must be a grownup.
You must show up.
42 (on the rule that tablets and phones may prove residence)
devices are accepted
in this state I’m in.
43 (seeing pictures of suffragettes)
all these pictures of
women doing it must make
you want to, too.
Midterm, midlife, I’m
not hard to please and not too proud:
show me your sticker.
Me and the pumpkin
spice latte “Keeping fall spicy”
Spice up your night: vote.
Just when I start to
feel tired, the post work voters
tell me “You’re not done.”
Let’s try something new.
Because aren’t you too bored with
the same old same old?
This is what third wave
Sex positive feminism
Sounds like. Turned on? Vote.
49 (about 5 PM)
We still have hours to
go which in almost any game
is more than enough.
50 (if you’re in line when the polls close)
don’t let anyone
tell you differently:
if you’re in you’re in
no one calls it yet:
we’re not done here and you’re not
allowed to fake it
ask their history
before you consent and they
should ask your consent. Vote.
How am I doing this?
Four long years of frustration,
people. Long enough.
Nothing is sexier
than a first time voter I
don’t care your age. Vote.
Oh my one track mind
burned the hell out of dinner.
Bread it is, kids.
Right wing pundits say
we shouldn’t vote our gender?
So not getting any.
I know the only
reason you haven’t voted yet:
to hear me beg. Please.
at many wards. Take me to
By night’s end I will
be exhausted. But satisfied?
Remains to be seen.
If nothing else by
midnight there will be a new
tonight and to-
morrow I expect a little
pillow talk, friends
to all of you who
have been my muses: it takes
two to do it right.
This is what happens
when I stop baking cupcakes
64 (On the rule that if you are in line at 8 PM, you can still vote if you stay in line)
Even better than
last time: if you’re in, stay in.
Please. Do this for me.
Now when people ask
What does a poet laureate do
I’ll have an answer
Thirty minutes left
Plenty of time for the
Stay with me just stay
with me a little longer
don’t roll over yet
do the talking heads
not know we like it slow and
steady? Counting votes is sexy.
I hope it was good
for you, friends. Whether it will
be good for us …we’ll see.
I had a hundred and one reasons for changing my writing name but (attention, Facebook) none of them are nefarious. And the answer I give depends on the day, my mood, and the phase of the moon. They’re all true. It was a change coming for years and it was a moment’s decision.
“Why didn’t you go all the way and change your legal name, then?”
To this there is only one answer, but it stands up to all 101 on the other side and balances them: my husband asked me not to, and I adore my husband.
So I walk the world divided, and that provides the tension that sings through me, my poems, and keeps my pulse quick. I’m hardly alone. Writers and pagans are two communities who know all about pseudonyms, pen names, craft names.
Years ago I met a Sadie who has been a fundamental influence on me. Recently I’ve been thinking about her again:
Sadie and Maud
Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed at home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine-tooth comb.
She didn’t leave a tangle in.
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chits
In all the land.
Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.
When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.)
Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.
I discovered this poem when I myself was… in college. And that may be why I read it not so much as a diatribe against education as an argument that the quality of one’s engagement with life has more to do with attitude than privilege. Maud had the privilege and played out the script, and look where she is at poem’s end. Sadie got nothing, and yet she leaves a rich legacy behind her…and had a good time in the meantime, by the sound of it.
Reading that poem at twenty, I decided a fine-tooth comb sounded like a fine way to live. But…what comprises such a comb? Where shall we find the thing, and how shall we know it?
And what do we do if we temporarily lose it?
I found myself remembering that fine-tooth comb again this week, as I’m reading excerpts from Bill Plotkin’s book Soulcraft (New World Library, 2003). Here’s an extended passage on the figure of the Wanderer:
…This is the time in life when a person is most intensely in search of her deepest self, a self she knows she will not find reflected back to her from within the familiar arenas of her merely human culture. She searches for the seeds of her destiny in the more diverse, wild, and mysterious world of nature. She no longer conforms to nor rebels against society. She chooses a third way. She wanders, beyond the confines of her previous identity.
The Wanderer crosses and recrosses borders in order to find something whose location is unknown and unknowable. She will conclude she has found it not by its location in a certain place or by its matching a prior image, but by how it feels, how it resonates within her upon discovery. She doesn’t know where or when or how clues will appear, so she wanders incessantly, both inwardly and outwardly, always looking, imagining, feeling. In her wandering, she makes her own path.
The Wanderer discovers her unique path by perceiving the world with imagination and feeling. She senses what is possible as well as actual. She sees into people and places and possibilities, and she cultivates a relationship with the invisible realm as much as with the visible. She is in conversation with the mysteries of the world, on the lookout for signs and omens. She attend especially to the edges, those places where one thing merges with another, where consciousness shifts and opens, where the world becomes something different from what it initially appeared to be.
Plotkin’s Wanderer sounds a lot like a “livingest chit,” doncha think? And maybe, just maybe, what I’m writing my way towards in here is a Theology of the Livingest Chit.
By definition, there aren’t too many maps in this work I’m embarked upon. The Northern gods I’m tangled up with don’t set down rules to obey…but they do espouse virtues. Traditionally, these are
The nine Norse virtues are all honorable ideals but honestly they never fit me very well. Trying to bend myself to that list feels, well, like a slog. That probably doesn’t say anything very good about me, but there it is. I realize this morning this could be because these virtues are community oriented and I am at heart a solitary. They seek to weave a group together into a village or town or other workable society and I live at the far edge. My true home is not…the home. (Which is, yes, another source of creative tension for someone currently in the role of at home parent.)
But I have discovered another set of virtues…
Some of you will know the Northern gods are divided up into two groups: Aesir and Vanir. The Aesir are the ones most people know (thank you Marvel): Odin, Thor, Heimdall, Baldur, Tyr, Frigga…They tend to be sky gods, gods of justice and community. The Nine Virtues are Aesir virtues, for the most part.
The Vanir, on the other hand, are closer to the land, the seasons, the magics of earth. (And yes, I am grossly generalizing here…there is much subtlety in the system that I’m choosing not to go into in this space.) The Vanir deal a little more in the wild and fey. Frey, Freya, Njord are all Vanir…and so, by most contemporary accountings, is the Smith, Wayland.
And, I just discovered, searching online, they have their own set of virtues. Originally the list was twelve, but I split up Courage and Passion, which seem to me related, but separate:
For the original list, created by Nicanthiel Hrafnhild and Svartesol, see this link. I have slightly edited their list of Virtues and reworked the descriptions of each. (Author’s note: Svartesol is Nornoriel Lokason, whose more recent writings can be found here at Patheos Pagan at Ride the Spiral. And here is his official website.)
The Thirteen Vanic Virtues
The pursuit of beauty and elegance in thought, form and speech, and the valuation of beauty as worthy in itself.
The strength of will to see a course of action through. The ability to face difficulty and danger.
Zeal, vigor; wholehearted zest for life.
Harmonious and balanced thought and action; tranquility, calm, serenity.
The quality of being receptive to the world around one, non-judgmental. To listen deeply.
Music and dance; the nurturing of inner wildness and radical innocence, being “fey”
The recognition of nature and the environment as worthy of respect, care and reverence.
The all-encompassing force which expands outward: love for family, for kin, for humanity, for all beings.
The peace and goodwill between people bound together; loyalty and the keeping of one’s word.
The binding of two parties into one common bond, generosity and hospitality.
The ability and willingness to surrender to overwhelming grace, the ability to feel happiness in the moment.
The trust that the Gods exist and are worthy of our worship, and Their ways worth following.
The recognition that we – humans, animals, plants, spirits – are all part of the grander scheme of life,
and we share a common heritage, as children of the Earth.
So there it is. I think the Vanir have provided me my fine-tooth comb. At least for a while. This list connects me to myself, my true home (which may be no home?), and this earth that continually spins out from under my feet, leaving me dizzy.
Meanwhile, over my desk I’ve taped this up:
Do no harm.
Take no shit.
Be a “livingest chit.”
As they say at the end of church service every weekend, May it be so.
Last week I posted a story, suggesting that we can understand our interior spiritual landscapes through the telling of a tale. Story acts as map—at least some of the time, was my idea.
I’ve been thinking about how to expand on this idea. I pieced that story together from experiences in my own life. It took some years to write, because it took some years to live. When I read it over now, in its purposeful abstraction, its folk tale feel, it feels to me like a supple fabric that flows through my hands, able (I hope) to be fit and shaped to different forms, depending on the reader’s own experience and requirement.
But the point I want to make today is: it is a pieced together thing.
One of my childhood friends just moved a lot closer to me, here in Wisconsin. She’s a visual artist, a photographer. It’s her images that grace this brief essay today.
Some photographers take their cameras out into the world and try to frame what they see, catching a moment for the viewer. (John Beckett has some good things to say about that here.)
That is not my friend’s way. She composes her pictures in her studio or on location, artfully placing the various pieces and props to make the image she wants.
To use my own trope: she pieces together her images.
I’m taking a class on soul work right now and we’re encouraged in these first weeks to read widely what others say and begin to define “soul” for ourselves. It’s common for people to use the image of a candle’s flame, or a small interior voice, when talking about soul…but today I’m wondering if maybe soul something we piece together for ourselves, through our lives. If it’s a lifework, this business, to (choose your verb) stitch/cobble/paste/weld the soul from the scraps and bits. We all go down, again and again, to what Yeats names “the foul rag-and-bone shop” and we use what we find there, because it is all we have to work with.
We don’t control how life rips us apart or subtly erodes us down over time…but we do make choices about what to do in response, and how to live. It could be that art, and story, and the process of art and story making, point us in the direction of the important interior work we have to do, as well.
Thanks to Heather Atkinson for the glorious art. You can find more of her work at heatheratkinson.com
It’s my birthday month, and I’m sorry to say I got a crown.
Not a sparkly one from some kid-friendly chain restaurant. Not a crown of branches or horns from a Neo-Pagan ceremony. No, I won one of those plastic, temporary tops for a cracked tooth that will soon enough be replaced by porcelain.
Happy Birthday. Feeling older, much?
I should have taken a page out of your book, Wayland, lord, and asked
if the dentist would carve me a tooth out of bone.
So I’m feeling a little vulnerable, tonight. Aware of my body, more than I usually am, and its tender places, its wounds and scars. This is probably doubly true because I just started a shapeshifting class at Cherry Hill Seminary. Here are the very first sentences of the very first reading assignment:
Owning up to being an animal, a creature of earth. Tuning our animal senses to the sensible terrain: blending our skin with the rain-rippled surface of rivers, mingling our ears with the thunder and the thrumming of frogs, and our eyes with the molten sky. Feeling the polyrhythmic pulse of this place—this huge windswept body of water and stone. This vexed being in whose flesh we’re entangled.
From Becoming Animal, David Abram
What does that mean? What is “shapeshifting” anyway? my friends ask me. For me, the concept of shapeshifting offers (I hope) a way to enter the experience(s) of world more deeply, more fluidly. I’ve been looking forward to the start of class for weeks. But after the first Google+ chat session, I feel more trepidation than anything. The teacher emphasized what a personal journey this is going to be for us.
It’s clear that in order to learn how to move even an inch or a minute away from the usual mundane experience, I’ll have to become a little (or a lot) vulnerable. The adult layers of defense and protection I worked so hard to create? Peeled away.
Shields down, friends. It’s about to get real.
For years, no matter what term/s I called myself—poet, theologian, at-home-parent-trying-to-survive, polytheist, or (as I used to say in a whisper) just a vague-ish pagan-ish sort—my practice has been pretty much the same: a shifting triangulation between historical source/text, poetry, and myth. With this class, it looks like NATURE may be about to assert itself as the fourth leg of that practice. That includes (especially) my own human animal nature, bag of skin and muscle and bone, hair and bacteria. I welcome that. And I fear it too, a little. Abram knows this:
Corporeal life is indeed difficult. To identify with the sheer physicality of one’s flesh may well seem lunatic. The body is an imperfect and breakable entity vulnerable to a thousand and one insults…Small wonder then that we prefer to abstract ourselves whenever we can, imagining ourselves into theoretical spaces less fraught with insecurity, conjuring dimensions more amenable to calculation and control…
It’s completely appropriate and serendipitous that we’re also just back from our annual camping trip up on Madeline Island, in Lake Superior. I have some coastal friends who scoff at the idea of the Great Lakes—it’s not the ocean, they say with a shrug of a shoulder. Of course not. The ocean is endless, absolute.
The Great Lakes are something else again—interior seas. And so they fit differently into the psyche. There have been a couple of blog posts I’ve seen, here and here, in which the authors map out their spiritual geographies. I find the idea fascinating—and I tried it one night with my crayons and sketchpad. It’s not finished yet, but already off to one side, there’s a lake. A large one. When I stepped into the waters of Lake Superior, I recognized the sensation exactly. I’ve swum here before.
Remember when we pitched our tents,
young as we were, above Superior’s gray shore,
and discovered there a steep path to the back
we hadn’t seen before?
On my own map, it’s labeled the Lake of Sorrows, and there have been times when I have had to swim it, ready or no. Maybe someday I’ll write about that. About the temptation to stay there, in the water. Under the water. It was one chapter of a longer journey. Maybe someday I’ll write the rest.
It was a journey of healing, after a wounding of my own that was a little more serious than a cracked molar. And it’s important to tell our stories, to ourselves and others. But today I wonder—when I move in this essay from Lake Superior itself to my Lake of Sorrows, am I merely imagining myself into one of Abram’s “theoretical spaces less fraught with insecurity”? I’m willing to consider the possibility, although admittedly nothing about swimming that interior Lake feels “more amenable to calculation and control.” Not at all.
Here there be dragons.
You aren’t kidding.
Shapeshifting is partly about knowing yourself intimately, and all your wounds and weaknesses. In the Northern pantheon that I am learning about, woundedness is a common theme. These gods are for the most part not young and beautiful—they have their scars. I’m far from an expert in the lore but off the top of my head: Tyr gives up a hand to bind Fenrir, the wolf that represents Chaos. Sif’s beautiful hair is hacked off (and we all know what that represents, right?). Both Frigga and Sigyn lose their children. Sigyn is burned, scarred by the poison she protects her husband Loki from. Odin the Allfather sacrifices an eye for wisdom, hangs himself for nine days in order to win the runes. And Wayland the Smith is hobbled, and held captive for years.
He looks at the pictures of Lake Superior on my computer screen.
We call it the Quench.
Shaking his head. Water. We use water to quench
the hot blade. That is the moment of testing, to see
if what we made will be true, or if it will torque, twist, corrupt.
Any blessing carries its shadow, sometimes for years,
folded like the wings of a bat at noon.
How grateful I am, friends, for that shared memory,
now that I have reached another interior shore,
this time alone, and again to strip down…
We all have our scars and wounds, not all of them visible. Not even remembered, some of them, maybe, until that sudden plunge into a new element. Wish me luck.
Don’t trust to luck.
Notes and References
The whole poem, “Youth Was Armor Enough” can be found here.
Abram, D. (2010). Becoming Animal. New York, NY: Random House (Vintage)
This day is crushing me.
I’m overcaffeinated, hanging at the library while my son attends a class. My kids have been bickering for what seems like days on end and I am no Mary Poppins. My daughter’s bored and keeps interrupting my work. I doodle and draw random arrows shooting at the margins of the page.
And this is random too but last night I went to the Madison Community Foundation dinner and heard Dan Rather give a keynote address on “philanthropy” and “community” and he mentioned the importance of being a good listener, in our communities and in the leaders we elect.
Which was a little strange, because today I planned to say something in here about listening as creative act. How it’s sacred, even, to listen fully to another being. How we’re co-creative not just with our gods and gardens, but with each other.
And how that gets lost too often here in the online world. It gets lost too often in general, because we’re trained by our education system and our sports heroes to zero in on weakness, on flaw. We object, deny, challenge. Christine Hoff Kraemer recently wrote about the harmfulness of negative comments, but even at our best, it seems dialogue becomes a sport.
I suck at sports.
I don’t want to cancel debate team but shouldn’t there be other models of discourse too?
I was going to write about how listening is at its best a form of compassion, and then I was going to bring in Milan Kundera’s beautiful words on the subject: how com-passion is “suffering with,” a radical empathy with another, much different from pity. He goes into this in The Unbearable Lightness of Beingdiscussing Tomas’s character. Which used to be my almost favorite book in the world. Then I got a little older and realized that Immortalityjust may be better, even without Daniel Day Lewis and Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin.
And anyway the book is missing from the shelf.
I was going to write how, instead of Emerson’s transparent eyeball, I try to stretch myself into a gigantic diaphanous tympanic membrane every morning, just barely quivering against the surfaces of the day, trembling at the slightest fricative. Because I tremble.
Not that we shouldn’t call out bigotry, blindspots, assumption, privilege when we hear it or see it, but we may be failing each other if that is all we do. We can hear each other to our best selves. I’m convinced of this.
Listening is a creative act. This I believe. It is the poet’s first act, before pen ever touches paper. What I hear says a lot about who I am—what you read when you read my poem or my paragraph here says a lot about you and not maybe so much about me. In a strange transformation I don’t really understand, the poem becomes the mirror, the still pond. The poet becomes that non-paradox that is paradoxical only because our go go go yangsoaked extroverted culture doesn’t recognize active and interactive receptivity. In 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson “My Business is Circumference.” I see my work as dilation, opening.
If that sounds sexy, it’s supposed to.
As a mirror shows not just your face but whatever or whoever is behind you, over your shoulder, so active listening hears a comment and tries to suss out what is behind the words. Listening not so much for ulterior motive as for ghost. Mind, I’m not saying I do it well.
I was going to write all this, and it was going to be lyrical and pensive, persuasive and if I got lucky maybe even provocative. But…it’s summer. Humidity and heat, lawnmower drone. These days even the squirrels take some hours out just to hang, stretched out flat on a branch.
Maybe they’re listening too.
If you’re interested in thinking and learning more about sacred listening, try The Listening Center. I haven’t taken any classes but I did listen to one of her lectures. Good stuff.
The windchime outside my window sings to the breeze. Lawnmowers drone. It’s a mazy, lazy day, this last day before the adventure of summer begins for my family. I should be productive, but I’m distracted by a poem I’ve had in my head for a few days now, Alice Walker’s “New Face.” I’m not the hugest Walker fan out there—love The Color Purple and In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens but not every book, right? But this poem. This poem. It’s wise.
It’s wise to know we have twin and triple selves. We can, and we do. It’s wise to know we need the freedom to explore those multiple selves—to face them. That somehow, we can’t love fully and grow into ourselves if life locks us into a repeating pattern.
But there’s the rub. Because life sure does try its hardest to lock us in, shut us down, keep us traveling well-worn ruts. Maybe not “life”…when I look out at summer coming in, when I watch my kids grow into themselves, I see how in this universe creativity wells up and spills over. No, it’s something about the systems and societies we find ourselves in. A system wants to perpetuate itself, and it will use us (and use us up) to maintain.
Are you in healthy systems? Is it working for you? Is it working for your neighbor?
When I look at headlines, at news, at what is going on, I feel trapped, and fearful. Don’t you?
People talk about “imagination” and “creativity” as though these are qualities of childhood, somehow lost as we grow older. When I admit to people I am a writer (a poet, even!) I’ll hear a sigh in response, “It’s so wonderful that you are creative.” This is the same response that children get, on coloring a sky pink or green or a horse polka dotted, “What a great imagination you must have.” But imagination, creativity, are qualities we all have and can tap into, if we have the courage to do so. I find it’s mostly courage we lack, though we find excuses to explain it away in other terms.
I wonder if we have an ethical responsibility to develop creativity and imagination within ourselves, to encourage it in others. To be willing to see new faces in those we love. I’m talking about radical engagement. With each other. With life. Are. You. Happy.
I’m thinking again about that last post I wrote on ergodic literature. Paths not taken…voices not heard… Eventually, I hope these pieces I write will link into and between each other, forming a textual labyrinth, a maze of more than three dimensions. Any maze becomes a mirror, the better to see ourselves. And that makes me think of something I wanted to ask Wayland.
You were imprisoned and flew away on wings
of your own devising, like Daedalus.
There are similarities, yes.
Then what can you tell me of mazes?
I can tell you how the smith folds and hammers steel
over itself, again and again. The layers give strength.
Every once in a while it would be nice
to get a straight answer.
Straight lines are hard for us.
Layering. Curving back around. Digressions, diversions, paths, choices. Creating a maze. Creating amaze. This is how to stay sharp. To live awake to the world, you have to find your own happiness, choose your own way, accept your own power and responsibility. And when I write “you” I mean me, too. This is inviting the wound. We may have to find new faces for ourselves. That can be…awkward.
Once in my life I was too afraid to dare happiness. Maybe it is equally true to write, once upon a time I did not know myself. One time, I turned away from the proffered mirror. And for a while, all my gods deserted me. I swore then I would never again fear where life might take me.
If that sounds like a dare, it is. The same dare the Fool makes every time she steps off the cliff and trusts the path will meet her foot.
How better to enter summer?
June, and my yard is full of leaves again. I’ve been thinking about trees, about forests, dense and wild and other. It’s funny but I can’t think about forests without thinking about the branching paths we take through them, or maybe, the paths that lead us deep into the heartwood. Any forest is a labyrinth, a fractal pattern, complex at every level. Choose a path.
I’m reading a book from 1997 on ergodic literature, Cybertext by Espen J. Aarseth. “Ergodic” looks like the gods might be hiding in the text, but Aarseth states the word“derives from the Greek words ergon and hodos, meaning “work” and “path.” Unlike a traditional novel or movie, in ergodic literature, narrative is interrupted and the reader must make active choices when the paths fork. The easiest example might be Choose Your Own Adventure books, which I devoured as a kid. Interactive games are obvious examples. The Tarot deck is another. Ergodic literature is wildly fun, juicy, and completely intense all at once:
“you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard. Each decision will make some parts of the text more, and others less, accessible, and you may never know the exact results of your choices; that is, exactly what you missed.”
Every day we wake up is Choose Your Own Adventure, wildwood, labyrinth, if we have the eyes to see. I live on the border of grassland and woodland, in Southern Wisconsin. Or: I live in deep forest, the same deep forest we all wander through, that most of us have forgotten. Choose your reality; both are true.
Trees catch the wind and give it voice. Words catch at thought. These words like twiggy fingers snag on ghosts and gods. I read over my journals and weave dream and shadow together, stitch that cloth to noon o’clock until everything is weightless, suspended in blue.
The house swings up through ash trees,
to hang in light-scalloped air and interstice,
a lacework net of leaf and gap exactly
like a well-told joke that dangles us
over the pit of the true strange…
Sometimes I think of myself as a guide of sorts—
A guide? You? Wayland laughs.
No, I think not—a translator, maybe.
Choose a path. We have three large and lyrical ash trees in our yard. Someday not too far off they will all three die from the emerald ash borers now found in Dane county. In one of them, we’ve started hanging bird houses, round little doors peeking out among the green, darts of color and touches of whimsy. I know a woman who tucks her poems into an old birdhouse in her garage. Sandwiched between generations and caring for multiple relatives, she has no time to revise or send work out into the world, and she has no space in her house to call her own. I look at my birdhouse tree, the multiple doorways. Maybe I will start to poke my poems into those apertures, just as I poke them into these essays. Maybe I will shred them and let the birds weave them into their nests, along with my hair and the straw I never spin into gold. Offerings.
…Just like a joke,
the crack of alarm gives way to laughter’s gasp.
No one told us this was the day
our possessions would go weightless,
our footsteps sound across suddenly taller floors.
Paper comes from trees. All the leafy, dream-soaked notebooks I have written my way through—are my words worth the death of the trees it took to house them? They’d better be.
Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material, independent of the personality of the poet, but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning, a meaning that is not patent on the linguistic plane on which we were working but has slipped in from another level…
(The gods are not even hiding.)
Is mine a theology of the Wildwood? Or is it a theology of poems? Of fractals?
Same thing. He’s reading over my shoulder.
Sometimes the Adventure chooses you.
“Work” and “path” may be how we locate our gods. Love is work. Poems are work. Living well is work. Asking the big questions and staying ready for the answers is work. Work worth doing. Halfway through the writing of this, I look up from my screen and realize how much of the art in my house features trees. Abstract, realistic, partial or completely representational, trees have been with me a long time, I guess.
In my parents’ house, the walls are covered with birds.
In a time when hate towards women seems at a fever pitch, do we not need to answer with: that which you hate and try to destroy is sacred. That which you try to control is beyond your control. That which you try to define and shame is beyond your definition or judgement.
–Jason Pitzl-Waters, from “Goddess in Times of Horror,” The Wild Hunt
What could be less sexy than
a woman writing down plain truth
about her body and her marriage?
Putting this poem before you is more revolutionary than it should be.
This body is stretchmarked
from my shoulders to my knees,
as though a thousand pearl-eyed fish
had shivered kisses as I surfaced
through time’s suck and whinge. …
People who hate women—the culture(s) that hate women—insist that we smooth ourselves into a sort of plastic perfection, or hide our imperfect selves in shame and embarrassment, enduring ridicule, taunt, insult, oppression.
Rucks and pockets and sprouted hair,
brought on by pregnancies and arguments
and weird hormonal shifts…
But the Goddesses are not merely Arthur Rackham or Dante Gabriel Rossetti pasty-face dames trailing their robes in the water, nor are they only the scantily clad, t and a flaunting fantasies of (too many) comic books–and I’m certainly a far cry from those ladies fair. I insist upon myself: female, full, rounded and loud, complicated, desirous, furious, silly or thoughtful, confused or effusive or sexy as hell by turns. I insist on finding language to embody that woman. Me.
…now my skin
looks like the skin of a lake
when a chilly breeze ripples across…
Embodiment. Radical love for oneself as a way of loving world, loving creation. Pagan religions insist on immanence: finding god(s) in the world–in science, in nature, among people, and by embracing our own bodies. Deity as manifest, infusing our daily lives. Woman hating, body hating (and many, many women also hate the female body) goes directly against the idea of immanence. This is an old argument, an old duality, played out today through social media, movies, omnipresent advertising images and in the languages we inherit.
Some people claim that writing about oneself in a poem is narcissistic and/or tacky. Never mind that for now. If women don’t write ourselves, who will write us? How will we be portrayed? We know the answers to those questions. We know the language others will find.
I want every woman to insist on herself—and to be free and able to do so— whoever she is, intensely and immediately and forever and get to the work she must do in the world, without fear. To be in her body without having to wade a river and breathe an atmosphere of sludge and hate and violence. And we should look twice, and three times, even, at how female deities are portrayed in our own traditions.
We love and embrace sensual, sensory experiences as part of worship. What images do we find on our altars, in our gatherings, posted on our pages?
…Or skin of ocean.
(I have come to believe
life and love are questions of dilation.)
It shouldn’t be so crazy to want women to be able to laugh loud and move free. To be loved and admired and celebrated for who we are, as we are. But it still is, damn it, so here I am.
Against the shiny minor goddesses
I set moles, gray hair,
and crows feet…
Lots of people have written lots of good words about this—here, and here, and here and many places more–and how we cannot continue to live in and with such hate. How our daughters and our mothers and our sisters and our wives and we ourselves —ourselves– deserve better. I’m thankful for all the good words. I’m thankful for all the anger and the love and the people working for change.
…signs of good humor,
of pain endured and pain’s release.
Meanwhile I try to stand tall, walk straight, laugh outright when I feel joy, shout from my belly when I feel anger, and weep on the ground when I feel sorrow. To live life fully and unafraid, to live embodied, jiggly and giggly and wiping up the jam spilled in the kitchen, and to help others do the same. Because I insist on you, and your wildness, too.
This is more revolutionary than it should be.