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[originally published A Sense of Place, 07/11/13]

I had planned to write about cycles, after attending the recent International Conference on the Ulster Cycle in Belfast (notes are going up on my blog) they were on my mind; however, the on-set of summer weather here in Ireland has me outside not wanting to focus on anything, so my thoughts, such as they are, have shifted toward communication and pre-modern cycles of storytelling.

What the Irish do when a glowing orb is seen in the sky.

I will preface this sun-fueled ramble by admitting my scant contact with the “pagan” community, or other witches.  There was a time I more regularly engaged the wider ‘community’, and attended public ritual and gatherings, mostly due to my involvement with their organization and facilitation, but for the past several years, as was the case prior to my ‘discovery’ of paganism, my spiritual practice (if it can be called that) is accomplished quietly, and on my own.  I fancy people meeting me on the street for the first time have no idea of my spiritual leanings (I am a glamour Jedi), and I suppose I prefer it that way.  Being cut-off as I am from the wider “Paganistan” I can’t speak knowledgeably about communication in that context.   What I will speak about, and what I think this meandering post may end up being about, is how communication is important–even in summer (or perhaps not).

There was a time, not long ago, when information was shared by word of mouth because most of us were illiterate.  That word leaves such a nasty taste in the mouth, doesn’t it?  It conjures varied images, from gross ignorance to cruel acts committed by those same ignorant individuals.  I don’t like those conjurings, so let’s make our own reference phrase, shall we? (this may be redundant, as scholars who also ponder such things may have beat us to it.) Ok, let’s begin again.

There was a time, not so long ago, when information was shared orally, when we were all other-minded, and animately-literate.  We saw the world in pictures.  A tapestry of sound, vision, taste, texture–all woven into a whole.  During this time my vocal sounds blended and joined the vocal sounds of the other animals that lived around me, along with the verbal sounds of the wind, the trees, the water.  All auditory stimulation combined to communicate something to those of us who listened.

My ancient ancestress would have been acutely aware of the water listening to her.  The rain that fell outside the house heard her mumblings and hummings, her murmurs and sighs.  The water paid attention, and knew.  The trees also.  They looked in on her through the door opening and heard her speak words out-loud to herself, or to her children.  They listened, and knew.  Oh, how careful was she in what she said.  How deliberate her choice of word and phrase.  All of the animate, living World was listening.  What would they think?  What might they do?

During this time of animate-literacy, information was shared from human to human by way of Story.  These beautiful mnemonic techniques, used to pass important knowledge, allow for abundant creativity and ingenuity.  Shared around a toasty fire, over a hearty meal, they were comforting entertainment and essential reminders.  Yet most of the world’s indigenous population told these sacred stories, which very often involved warnings and wisdom about the natural world, during the winter.  This choice may seem purely pragmatic, after all, what else was there to do?  It was dark and cold and we were all indoors, under a skin flap or wood hut.  Ah…but let’s not be rationalists, it makes the world ever so Cartesian. Why else might winter have been the time to share stories about the living world?

The world was asleep!  The tree who peeks her knowing eye into my hut during summer, sleeps deep within her trunk in winter.  She does not hear the warnings shared about her nuts and leaves, thus the humans do not offend her.  She rests, and we respect her by not gossiping within ear shot when she wakes! Yes… I like that notion. We do not tell stories in summer, when all the world would hear, out of respect for those persons listening. Besides, there is LIVING to do in summer (well,unless you are in Texas–my home–but that’s another story).  This idea of a story-telling time of year is seen here in Ireland where it was taboo to tell stories between Bealtaine and Samhain.

So, we communicate in order to share valuable information, to pass on customs, express affection, request help, process emotional pain, and pass the time.   All those are important reasons to communicate, but it seems what I want to say has nothing to do with that.  Rather, I seem concerned with HOW we communicate; namely, with respect.  As a witch, I work with the natural world as both part and parcel.  I am the natural world. I am one with it, and I am a component of it.  Just as I hear the Raven call, perched high in our native scots pine, she, likewise, hears me.  Just as I hear the west wind sing in the tree tops, he, likewise, hears me.

Mutual respect and strong relationship are important to my work and life as a witch, and as a human.  I need a harmonious relationship with the elements.  What in the world would the north wind think if she heard me bad-mouthing her!  Goodness!  She wouldn’t be any more desirous of working with me than I would if I heard a friend gossiping behind my back!  And let’s not forget the rain!  He eventually winds his way back to the ocean, and I certainly would not wish to offend Her!  A wise witch minds her words and communicates to ALL beings with respect and courtesy; not speaking more than is needed, and remembering the wisdom of the ancestors – some secrets are best woven into Story, and those Stories are best shared when the world sleeps.   sssshhhhh

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[originally published A Sense of Place, 06/20/13]

front garden: 0530

The light, gold, like the deep raw honey of summer, washes the front garden.  The sun rests just over the eastern ridge, risen less than 30 minutes, but the first light, the uncanny gold–like a crown–wakes me.  This mysterious morning light rouses me every time, every year.  By half five I am called out of my warm bed to crawl, on all fours, to the low cottage window and peer sleepily out at the waking world.

In truth, it may be the dawn chorus that stirs me from my slumber with its song.  My open window invites all sound in, to walk among us as we dream, but the birds have hushed and gone about their day by the time my eyes open; or, they are stilled to silence as the long honey arm reaches into their summer world.

The sun stands still.  The days are long; so long, that they stretch for all of time.

My ‘little Big’ flew home Tuesday, and her sister, my ‘Little big,’ arrived the same day, into the same airport.  We women, together in one place, a place of perpetual transition, during a time of stillness, and on foreign soil–the first time the sisters had seen each other since Yule (and they live in the same town).  This week though, as Sun Stand-Still approaches, I took them both, in their turn, to a high place–the beautiful Mangerton and Tomies Mountains.  These mountains both lead to an ancient oak forest, and that was the ultimate destination.

My female Little Bigs are both young adults, both with ideas and theories of their own regarding spirituality, yet I love to share my views with them.  I do this, most successfully, by including them in my experience.  It’s never a good idea to ‘preach’ at Little Big people!  Instead, I take them with me to places I find particularly potent, or that have special meaning to me, and just let them Be.  I leave them to have their own experience, or not.  I don’t prologue the visit with my story, or fill their minds with myth and legend.  Occasionally, they ask whether I know any stories about an area, or they share a feeling or perception they had and ask whether I felt it, too.  I love those moments.

In the forest, at the base of the high place, green ferns unfurl onto moss carpeted paths.  Light dances among leaves, revealing itself in unexpected and playful patterns.  I stand still, listening.  The life that bursts forth in my silence always surprises me.  Where a moment ago was a quiet oak grove, now riotous music breaks, like a wave, upon the shore of my awareness.  I smile; I leap; I dash into the arms of the forest and set my feet, running, along unmarked ways.

And the day goes on.  By 6 in the afternoon I am brown from the sun, glowing with my genetic heritage bright upon my face.  Yet the sun still rides high in the sky and I stretch myself out, iced cider close to hand.  I have lived a lifetime already, filled the daylight hours so full my skin is bursting with it, but there is more.  Liquid amber raining down upon me, inviting me to adventure.  I think of the Fianna, and their summer exploits.  The goings and comings, and the sun stand still of Aengus’ birth.  At the height of the day, the light is white–like milk–poured out by Boann, the sacred cow who had the power to curse.

back garden : 2230

Stretching on, the day fades to pastel.  The night, a glowing purple that never really darkens.  An endless day, a day and a night of eternity, when all things are possible and great deeds await.

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[originally published A Sense of Place, 06/06/13]

The post below was written a year ago.  I am recycling it for two reasons.  Firstly, the topic engages the recent ‘fictional paganism’ discussion by way of exploring a story’s immediacy and connection to the lived world (and offers a glimpse into my own journey of pagan theology).  Secondly, and most importantly, I injured my finger yesterday, so am forced to type one handed–which is not fun!

my lane : east cork

Reading my previous thoughts on a subject is challenging.  I am often embarrassed at my inadequacy as a writer,  or wish I had been more concise.  In the retelling of this particular tale, I have to smile.  It has been sunny here in County Cork for the past five days–a rare phenomena–and I’m reminded, once again, how easy it is to love Éire when the sun shines.  But the test of true love, or at least the right to rule…. Well, here, let me hush and tell the story:

I am taking a very long way round in expressing my recent thinking on ‘pop-up gods’, to coin a bad phrase. There are certainly as many ways to experience and engage with one’s spirituality, or religion, as there are people. My own took a fateful turn when I invited the Ancestors to work intimately with me during initiation, and again when I moved to this green island of madmen and poets. You see, one winter I took a drive…

Achille Island : Mayo

In far western Mayo, on a blustery gray winter day, I ventured to Achille Island. The bleak expanse of rock, jagged and forlorn, was desolate, cold, and mostly uninhabited. Standing on a remote pebble beach, a bracing wind in my face, I felt the mighty power of the Atlantic. I marveled at the hardy souls, human and other-than-human, who call that place home and love it with a fierce passion. The Cailleach reigns supreme in winter, and feeling the inhospitable landscape around me as an embodiment of her, I shivered. And then I remembered …. all the stories when the hero meets the hag.

The hero is often out on a great adventure, seeking kingship, when he encounters an old woman in need of help or requiring a favor. Occasionally the favor is sexual, and often explicitly so. For those who reject or spurn the old woman, disaster befalls, but for those who willingly and gladly give what she asks, they discover, to their amazement, a young and beautiful woman who bestows upon them the greatest gift a warrior hero could ask for: sovereignty.

Standing on Achille, in the fierceness of winter, I understood that for a King or Queen to rule justly and rightly they needed to love the land in ALL her aspects. If they wouldn’t lay down their body for the blighted winter, they did not deserve the lush spring and verdant summer. I scrambled then to search out folklorists who had studied the Cailleach, and Professor Gearóid Ó Crualaoich’s book, The Book of The Cailleach; Stories of the Wise-Woman healer, beats them all! In it, he discusses the role of Irish oral tradition, as both therapeutic and literary, and he exuberantly delves into the history, displacement, and reinterpretation of the Autonomous Female — the Land.

At this point, a part of my brain screeched to a halt. “Wait! That’s just anthropomorphizing a natural phenomena.” *Just*. Can you see my Western centric world view at play? I took a Great Power…the rich and luscious consciousness that my head rests upon, and denigrated Her to the position of *just* a natural phenomena. Oh, how I weep to remember it. How lost and human centric to imagine the complex Being I live upon is *just* a piece of dirt! I imagine somewhere in my body a liver cell, right now, is thinking the same thing about me.

barley field : cork

It was at this point I began hungrily searching out other connections between myth (or folklore) and the bountiful, conscious non-human persons that populate the land around me. My first was Áine, Crom Dubh, and Eithne…which was fitting, because Lughnasadh is a special Gate for me. Even then, it took until this year, living as I do now by fields of barley, to hear for myself the wonderful story of Eithne, the grain. How beautiful that at some time, some one lovingly listened as this sacred non-human person shared her story. Her blowing yellow tresses have now been cut…she is deep within the earth with Crom, and a remnant of her sacred body rests on my altar.

Lest I neglect Áine (how could I), many of my dear friends have felt the touch of her kiss at Lough Gur and seen her gentle dancing feet. Her swelling belly embues the land of southern Limerick with a dance of dream, sexuality, and fertility. She is the autonomous female of that place, and she alone determines which persons, human and other-than, thrive and flourish upon her. I adore her, and she holds my heart close…. yet…… she is not here, on my ridge, where Mór Muman spreads her skirt wide. In this BlackWater valley Great Munster has a different face.

Oh…and back home in Austin…who could not love Quick Silver of the water, the great Power of Barton Springs. She is lively and laughing, a white flash with long silver hair. Her arms reach out to hold you and her youthful face is glowing.. Yet, she is not here. I reach my long arm of awareness toward her and the Great Lady Tejas, and I can…touch them. But why? Yes, I love them. Yes, I wish them well. Yes, I feel bound to them. Yet, why would I ask them to come here, to help me here?

There are some Great, Old Powers that are outside of earthen borders. They exist in a darkness so black, a space so cold, that their consciousness is as my pre-frontal cortex must seem to my big toenail. They are larger than one continent or another, one atmosphere or another, one galaxy or another. In all of these lesser spirits, is consciousness. My word…. what type of person is Mars, our neighbor??

my back garden : yesterday

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[originally published A Sense of Place, 05/30/13]

With the recent discussions of  ‘fictionalized paganism’ on my mind, I am revisiting my own ideas of what constitutes sacred story; and foundations, or definitions, are a good place to start. I stumbled upon this video last year, and found it useful. I hope there is something in it for you, too.

Folklore, Culture, and Authenticity

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[originally published A Sense of Place, 05/23/13]

Co. Kerry

Sermons from the Mound published a summary article last week titled, “Notes toward a Pagan Theology of Fiction” and referenced some of my own tangential thinking on ‘spirit’ communication, and how the mental images derived from fiction impact this.  Re-reading my cogitation offered an opportunity to consider whether my thinking had changed.  I found it had not.  In fact,  if anything, it had deepened.  My move three years ago to Ireland, a land I mythicized for years, dramatically shifted my spirituality.  When finally able to experientially connect with the land on a daily basis, the stories I had long read with a sense of disconnection, and almost romanticized wonder, took on an unexpected immediacy–they became embodied.  No longer was the Cailleach a symbol, or even a divine principle.  She was now the unity of all it means to live in a dark land during the howling winter.  With this in mind, I want to re-examine how I, as an animist, perceive ‘spirit’ communication and how fiction might influence this.

If you have read any of RJ Stewart’s work, you know he advises against “filling your mind” with images from popular entertainment.  His reasoning for this is two-fold, and related to an example I heard Ivo Domínguez, Jr. use at PantheaCon some years ago during a possession workshop.  In this workshop, Ivo discussed his process for god-form communication, and how he ensures he has “dialed the right number.”  To explain how god-forms might communicate with human-persons, Ivo told the story of the monkey and the talking board:

A monkey, who was willingly or unwillingly a subject in animal communication research, had been given watermelon and really liked it: in fact, he wanted more!  He communicated with his human collaborators using a board with images painted on tiles.  Having decided he wanted watermelon, but lacking an image for watermelon, he pressed “water+candy+fruit” – the closest imagery available.

Yule Revels

Ivo’s point being that spirits use the same principle when communicating with humans — they use our stored imagery.  This is why RJ recommends staying away from modern entertainment, such as TV, movies and popular fiction.  Instead, he encourages his students to read source material and folklore. He wants mythic imagery stored in the human mind to ensure more accessible and accurate faery communication.  RJ also relates this sanction to the old faery warning that the underworld acts as a mirror for our psyche–reflecting back to us what we bring in.

Mental imagery is also used in horse training, and in the experimental fields of consciousness research.  A study that came out recently, which I have misplaced the reference for (though other research can be found here), recounts how horses respond to the image held in the mind of the human trainer, i.e., if you want the horse to go toward the barn, hold the image of the barn in your mind.  Relatedly, Psychologists report accounts of humans with memories of both understanding and communicating non-verbally to those around them, during their pre-verbal developmental stage.

Straw Boys

In Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram touches on this extra-sensory way of perceiving and discusses how it is normative in pre-literate cultures.  He describes how human-persons, in those oral cultures, “come to know themselves primarily as they are reflected back by the [other-than-human persons] and the animate landscapes with which they are directly engaged.”  I suspect this extra-sensory mode of perception was once tied more closely to our primary method of communication, and still is for most life in the universe–including earth herself.   Yet, we  need not think of this experience as ‘extra.’  It is based in our neurology.  According to Merleau-Ponty, when the synaesthesia between our eyes and ears is concentrated, the visual and auditory foci are virtually indistinguishable, readying us–sensual beings that we are– to respond with our whole body to the Other.

“The animistic proclivity to perceive the angular shape of a boulder (while shadows shift across its surface) as a kind of meaningful gesture, or to enter into felt conversations with clouds and owls–all of this could be brushed aside as imaginary distortion or hallucinatory fantasy if such active participation were not the very structure of perception, if the creative interplay of the senses in the things they encounter was not our sole way of linking ourselves to those things and letting the things weave themselves into our experience.  Direct, prereflective perception is inherently synaesthetic, participatory, and animist, disclosing the things and elements that surround us not as inert objects but as expressive subjects, entities, powers, potencies.”

Forenachts : Co. Kildare

Anthropocentrism has led us toward an experience of isolation and separateness.  Cut-off from the living world around us, we turn instead to fictions and fantasies of our mind: constructs developed to mimic the native connection between one’s own flesh and the encompassing flesh of the world.

As an animist (and I only speak for myself), I do not view the land around me as filled with disembodied, non-corporeal entities–a dualism arising from the scientific world view– though, I do not discount the possibility of Mind or Life expressing itself in this way, in some alternate reality or universe.  Instead, I see the universe as FULL of living, conscious, embodied powers, some of whom may be open to, or interested in, communication.  “Helios, ‘lord of high noon,’ is not distinct from the sun (the fiery sun here a willful intelligence able even to father children).  Even ‘fair Dawn, with her spreading fingertips of rose,’ is a living power.”  Within this perspective, I see our common language–the one all life can tap into–as one of imagery and sensuality.  I leave it with you to decide, given the importance of this channel for direct and participatory experience, what constitutes ‘garbage’ –in regard to the images we fill our unconscious with– and whether ‘garbage in’ equals ‘garbage out.’

 

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[originally published A Sense of Place, 05/16/13]

 

Glenafooka: a documentary about Irish folklore and mythology. Enjoy!

http://www.snagfilms.com/embed/player?filmId=b929e360-a74f-11e0-9048-0026bb61d036

Glenafooka

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[originally published A Sense of Place, 05/09/13]

And over that potato-field
A lazy veil of woven sun,
Dandelions growing on headlands, showing
Their unloved hearts to everyone.
-from Spraying the Potatoes
by Patrick Kavanagh; 1940

Our gardens are full of Bearnán Bríde – the sunny dandelion.  I like to leave them growing because the bees and birds love them, so.  I also enjoy making yummy things with their flowers, leaves, and roots.  Today I gathered a few bright heads to make Dandelion Syrup!

Here in Ireland, as elsewhere, dandelion has many uses: from children’s games to herbal preparations.  The ‘clocks’, or puffy seedheads, were blown to tell the time, with number of puffs signifying the hour.  In Dublin, a cure for tuberculosis involved eating a sandwich of bread, butter, and fresh dandelion leaves.  Among other things it was used for cuts in Counties Cavan, Wicklow, Limerick and Kerry; for sprains and swelling in Counties Kildare and Limerick; and for diabetes in County Kilkenny.  In Ulster they referred to it as ‘heart-fever grass’, and as ‘piss-a bed’ in Co. Offaly.

In ancient Ireland a cure called ‘Diancecht’s Porridge’ was prescribed for fourteen different disorders of the stomach, as well as for colds, sore throats and worms.  It was a brew made from a mixture of dandelion, hazel buds, chickweed, wood sorrel and oatmeal.

Foraging for edible and medicinal plants is something I do wherever I live: whether in my urban Austin neighborhood, along a trail in Colorado, or from my Irish hedgerow.  It connects me to place in an immediate and sensual way–through body awareness of the local fauna and seasonal rhythms. The beautiful thing about harvesting Dandelion is how prolific they are, and how universal.   Bearnán Bríde –‘the indented one of Brigid’–grows everywhere!

Dandelion Syrup

Gather as many dandelion flowers as you’ll have the courage to prepare.  I collected close to 100.  The exact quantity isn’t important as you will adjust the quantity of water anyway.  Wash the flowers and separate the yellow petals from the base and green leaves.  We use only the petals.

In a saucepan, cover the dandelion petals with water.  Stir or press to ensure they are well covered.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover and let infuse in the fridge overnight.

The next day, filter the mixture through a fine sieve and press with a spoon to extract all juice from the boiled petals.  Weigh the liquid.  Add a little lemon juice to taste.  Some people boil the syrup again to make sure it is sterile, but others fear this may destroy the more volatile component of the flowers fragrance.

For each gram or pound of liquid, add 0.95 gram or pound of sugar.  Too much sugar will prevent the syrup from diluting properly.  Too little and it might become contaminated by bacteria.

Mix well and heat slowly until all sugar is dissolved.  Filter again and store in a bottle.

The syrup is drunk diluted in cold water – a little glass of sunshine.

You can use more sugar, or a little pectin, and cook a bit longer to make Dandelion Flower Jam.

 May
Come walk with me along this willowed lane,
Where, like lost coinage from some miser’s store,
The golden dandelions more and more
Glow, as the warm sun kisses them again!
For this is May! who with a daisy chain
Leads on the laughing Hours; for now is o’er
Long winter’s trance. No longer rise and roar
His forest-wrenching blasts. The hopeful swain,
Along the furrow, sings behind his team;
Loud pipes the redbreast – troubadour of spring,
And vocal all the morning copses ring;
More blue the skies in lucent lakelets gleam;
And the glad earth, caressed by murmuring showers,
Wakes like a bride, to deck herself with flowers!
Henry Sylvester Cornwell [1831-1886]

Sources:
Allen, D. & Hatfield, G. (2004) Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, Timber Press.
Logan, P. (1981) Irish Country Cures, Appletree Press.

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