Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cleansed by the Ladies of the Lakes

Naked, I ran into the waves with my fellow women.  The wind touched my skin and the sun’s unblinking eye watched from the horizon as we laughed and splashed.   The cold water delighted us.  The bracing feel of waves crashing into me was as if everything was being ripped away from me but this moment where the sky was painted in pastel hues that faded into indigo thunderheads. 

We were at a secluded spot on Lake Michigan, modeling for a photography project called “The Women We Are”. I had waited patiently for the time when I would be released from props and light reflectors so that I might return for a time to my beloved Great Lakes.  I am a Michigan girl at heart.  At night I go to sleep knowing I am surrounded on three sides by the protective and moderating waters of these lakes.  I also know the danger of the lakes.  The riptide that pulls you down, the rocks that lay in wait.  The sisters are all complicated, both giving and taking.  In that moment she gave to us a gift of beauty and strength.  I was renewed by my freedom. The rebellion of my body unclothed, kissed by the waters, was sweet indeed.

Each sister has her own personality, gifts, and dangers.  I know Lake Michigan and Lake Huron most intimately.  I think of them as the twins, touching at the tip of the Lower Peninsula where the Mackinaw Bridge spans the rocky waters there.  Michigan shares a gentler and more joyous face with us. Her sandy beaches and powerful wind whipped waves remind me of perfect paintings of Victorian beaches or vacation brochures.   She has a dark side, the riptide. Even as recently as the past season she has pulled young or inexperienced swimmers down to live with her under the waves.  Never underestimate the danger of the lakes.

Huron shows a sterner face.  Her rocky beaches are harder to walk on, and in my meditations she has not always been friendly.  The subtle movement of her water meeting the land can be hypnotic, and trances are easy to reach with her.  You must earn her trust before she will happily part with her stones and treasures.  She seems to have a soft spot for the joy a child finds in a shiny rock or a gull feather.   The Saginaw Bay is part of Huron as well.  It can be a dark and stagnant place, which I wrote about here.   

This summer I visited Superior for the first time ever.  It was a pagan pilgrimage for me, and I had been advised of her powerful and dangerous nature.  Her energy was compared to a high power line, and stories of the many ships sunk in her icy waters completed her ominous reputation.  I had been told of the mists that come in over the water, obscuring vision and the temptation to go so deep into trance that it was difficult to come back.  As we drove northward through the pine woods and rocky terrain so unlike the Lower Peninsula the mist rolled in, just as I had been told.  The hair on the back of my neck rose with the anticipation of all things Wyrd.  We arrived and there was no easy or immediate access to the beach, so typical of my family, we hopped the fence and wandered off anyway.  I met her for the first time, and hype aside, what I found was peace.  The Eldest Sister brought me peace, calm, and healing.  I saw the gentle side of the harsh sister. 

Each of the Great Lakes has given me gifts, and I have given them small things in return, like a child bringing a mother a bouquet of dandelions. What could I truly give them that they don’t already have?  I give them my respect. I have donated money to keep them safe and whole.   There is an ADF prayer, written by Ceiswr Serith that goes:

The waters support and surround us
The land extends about us
The sky stretches out above us.
At the center burns a living flame.
May all the Kindred bless us.
May our worship be true.
May our actions be just.
Blessings, and honor, and worship to the Holy Ones.

The waters truly do support and surround me.  My lakes, my land, my home.  I am grateful for the gifts given, may what I give be received with joy and understanding. May everyone partake of the gifts of the Ladies of the Lakes, in wisdom and joy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On Being a Vengeful Earth Mother for a Day

Somehow this pagan priestess ended up playing the part of Ravaging Nature in a short horror film this weekend.

I pretended to stab a lot of people with a long spiraling horn that apparently came from a Kudu. I had to go look up what a Kudu is. In case you were wondering, they’re a kind of antelope from East Africa. I also made weird growly noises and was instructed to push someone over and pretend to eat them.  My lines were all in the form of angry haiku.

I was playing Nature Enraged.
I was cranky.

The thought has crossed my mind before that we are pissing off Mother Nature with our mountains of plastic crap and miles of paved parking lot.  Certainly when I think on the possible release of the methane trapped beneath Antartica or the tide of trash, I feel pain. Honestly, I feel something that seems a lot like failure.

Today was a day where I delivered lines filled with anger and power. I got the chance to be the wounded party.  I could be filled with the rage of extinction and the sorrow of death.  But really, I just ended up feeling sorry for the characters I was supposed to be splattering with their own guts.  I felt like the bad guy.

I was evil.

Me and Voldemort might have been buddies. (I get to say his name when I’m in the bad guy crowd.  Oh yeah, I’m cool like that now.)  Maybe I was taking revenge for all the horrible things that people have done to their home. There was a thing called a “gore cannon”.  This movie is meant to be a messy bloody allegory for our issues with the environment. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how the finished product comes out.  But in my heart, I can’t hate us for what we’ve done to the earth.

Mostly it made me realize that even as much of a eco-hippy-feminist that I am, in my gut and in my heart, I’m human.  I identify with humans in a story where I can choose who the bad guy is. Even when I’m given a story where it’s made pretty clear that humans have done some major damage and this is their payback, I choose the poor, foolish humans.

That doesn’t negate my sorrow, or relieve my guilt for my part in ecological damage. Just like the realities of being a white woman living with white privilege, I live with the realities of the damage that my life brings to other beings.  In both cases I work actively to learn better ways of living.  I try to communicate honestly.  I live with less and more thoughts.  I build my skill sets so that I am more competent.  I try to make better choices every day. I accept that I will fail.  The attempt is worth it.

I don’t want nature to take revenge on us. I don’t want an escalating battle between the forces of wind and plague versus people.  I want, more than anything, to find a way to walk in balance.  That’s why I grub in the soil and why I mend clothes and make Christmas presents.  That’s why I’m a Druid.   Within the cultures that I am studying there are interlocking concepts of The Order of the Cosmos.  The Vedic Rta, Lithuanian Darna, Norse Orlog, all of these words and more attempt to get at an idea across that there are ways of being that are in harmony with how things work and ways of being that are not.   The idea that there is a sacred dance that the whole of existence moves within resonates within me.  The idea that I could find my own tiny part in that dance sounds like a worthy life goal.   I’m pretty sure filling the world up with trash ain’t it.

The experience of pretending to be Nature was worth it.  I got a tiny glimpse of how the Earth Mother might feel about her exuberant, technology-wielding children. In the end I think the word for it was: 


Everyone I know is trying hard. I hear so many stories of how people want to live more sustainable lives but they’re stuck paying off debt, or don’t know how, or are busy with meaningful work or kids. I get it.  I think the Earth Mother does too.  My hope is that if we all just keep trying our very best, we will get to a place where technology isn't about cheap plastic crap and grubbing in the earth is a game everyone plays. Compassion is a huge part of that vision for the future.  I think it's the wise choice.

In spite of all of my deep pondering, it was hilarious when my eldest daughter pointed at me and said, “Watch out! Nature’s going to get you!” and all the kids hollered and scattered.  In the end, it was pretty fun being the bad guy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Experience With The Order of the Dead

I was sitting and watching dead people.

Or at least those brave enough to impersonate them.  They wandered around with greasepaint skulls overlaid onto their faces preparing for what was to come.  I was perched on a wall of the pavilion where the Devotional for the Dead was to take place, kicking my leg out and back like a cat’s considering tail.   I am more comfortable with the spirits of the land than the ancestors.  The dead leave me cold, literally.  Now I wonder if that’s their fault or mine?

The Rev. Robb Lewis wandered over and we talked a bit.  He asked if I was planning on coming and I told him I was unsure, but in that moment of asking probability settled into form and I decided I would.  A fairy among the skulls.   We walked in singing after a sacred dance was performed by one of the painted participants.  Rev. Carrion Mann lead the rite, wearing a plain mask of white.  When I walked past her she seemed to be the very image of white-faced Giltine, the Lithuanian death goddess.  As she pulled us into trance with her voice I saw an image of the death and life. The sunken carcass of a deer on the side of the road faded into dying bees in the drying fall grasses and smell of good rich compost fed from rotting vegetation.  I heard a voice say, “These cycles that you are so familiar with are also the purview of death.  The bee has an ancestor as well as you do.   The deer has a spirit that persists.  You are to find out how these cycles relate to this work.  Your job is to discover the connection.”

            In that moment I saw the cycles of death and life flowing around us all in a great woven network that supports us.   The flower that lives and dies on the stalk has its own existence as well as the old man who picks it.  What is our obligation to that connection?  As members of the greater world how do we fit our own death into the larger community?  I see this as expressed through my work with butchering my own meat, when I take the life of another being that I may eat their flesh.   I see this also in my gardening, when I take the life of one plant so that my chosen species may thrive.  I choose when they live, and when they die.  Sometimes I feel the violence I take upon the lettuce patch when I rip it out to plant carrots.  I am channeling the Morrigan, reaping my harvest as much as the crow on the battlefield.    There is a connection between the two and in this moment of gestalt, as I sat while offerings were made to the dead, I was sure of it.

            This was just the beginning.

We were lead into trance, for the first time according to the rite, for the second time in my personal narrative.  We were to meet the ancestors.  My ancestors and I don’t seem to always get along. In trance I have been told to stay away from the gates of the dead.  I saw the gates: tall and strange, filled with vague visions of bodies and the low sound of moaning.  Then I was in a wood, with moss upon the ground and only a few leaves on the gnarled low branches.  I walked until I found a woman with long dark hair and pale skin. She was wearing a light blue-grey dress the color of the sky and was clearly quite dead.  I knew she was my ancestor. I also knew I had to wake her, and then the dead themselves attacked us.  Skeletal and horrific, it was a scene out of some sort of zombie movie and I responded in kind. I picked up a branch and used it as a quarterstaff, defending my dead ancestor from these other angry dead.   I defeated them and it was strange.  Usually, I am not allowed any kind of weapon within my trancework.   I’ve tried often enough. There are plenty of guided meditations that involve weapons, but every time I’ve tried they’ve disappeared in the blink of an eye.  This time I got to keep my quarterstaff as I dragged the deadweight of this anonymous ancestral snow white with me.  I heard the voice again, masculine and low, “To wake her will be a long journey, but a worthy one.”

            At that point I came out of the meditation and the devotional rite was concluded beautifully.  Carrion lead a discussion on the three houses of the Order of the Dead. Primarily we talked about the second house, which was about the actual process of aiding both the living and the dead in the transition between the two. I was very interested in this work, as a member of Clergy I will someday be called upon to perform rituals of death as well as of life.  As the discussion continued I began to hear children’s voices raised in playful fun nearby, and while that sound always makes me happy, I was concerned that their rather loud fun might be disruptive. I chose to make a quiet exit and help them find a different place to play. 

Little did I know that they were only going to continue my journey with death rather than end it.  As soon as they saw me, my hand was taken up and excited shouts informed me that they had something they wanted to share with me. I was taken to a rocky stream they often played in and shown a pile of rocks decorated with charcoal, presumably taken from a cold fire.  They told me they had accidentally killed a newt and had buried it under the cairn they had decorated.  In that moment my earlier insight into the connection between our own ancestor veneration and the world of the non-human was made sharply clear.   These sweet girls had done their best to honor this small dead being, making as right as they could the wrong of playing with their small companion until he died.

What is our responsibility to the non-human species?  How do we act in accordance with the harmony of the sacred cycles?  How do we come into full reciprocity with them?  My experiences opened more questions then they closed, but I felt the rightness of the thought.  The synchronicity of vision and reality closed the deal.  Maybe there’s a place for a dirt grubbing priestess of nature in the Order of the Dead.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Charm for Wellbeing in Pregnancy

I was asked to assist a grove member's daughter who has had some complications in her pregnancy by working up a pregnancy blessing ritual.  Part of that was researching what the old norse and irish did, in which I was immensely helped by Living Liminally the blog of another ADF member and reconstructionist.

I found a record of a norse charm carved on wood with threads of red, white, and black wound around it.  The bindrune that was carved on the wood was lost in antiquity, nor were any words recorded.  So though I had the basis of an idea, it needed some filling out.  I designed a bindrune, based on the helm of awe and including imagery designed to call on Laima, the Lithuanian goddess of fate, birth, and luck.

I wrote the charm upon the deadwood from a hawthorn tree that I harvested from my daughters schoolyard with thanks.

I spun thread from icelandic sheep in the three colors required using my drop spindle.

I wrote a charm for the pregnant woman to repeat and now I am ready with my herbs and charm for our working tonight.

The is the Charm of Wellbeing to be said by the one who is pregnant:

One by one the charm’s begun
Black thread for dark, and safety, and the earth mother’s mark
White thread for light, and health, and all the gods might
Red thread for love, and life, and the blessings of blood
Wind and wind
We bind and bind
Until three by three so it be.

The three threads are wound around the charm and put in a safe place in the pregnant woman’s bedroom until she gives birth, then the wood should be burned in offering and thanks along with the black thread. The white thread is made into a bracelet for the mother and the red made into a protective charm for the child.

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Years Resolutions

As a pagan, the new year is a little more fluid for me than it is for many.  Many pagans see the new year  as starting at the beginning of November, when Samhain is celebrated.  This is part of the Celtic tradition which has heavily influenced Wicca and is part of the Celtic Reconstructionist paths.   Some pagans follow more modern traditions of starting the new year in January.  This too has it's basis in the past in the Scottish traditions of Hogmany.  This is very similar to our modern new year traditions.  Think Auld Lang Syne.

So I do usually have a few New Years Resolutions in the traditions of my past and of my ancestors. This year I have two:

The first is to smile more.  I've had my children tell me they love my smile, but they don't get to see it enough.  I've had my husband and loved ones wonder if there's something wrong.  It seems, for whatever reason, that when I'm concentrating, or reading, or just not really thinking of anything I look a little scowly.  So a new practice for this year is smiling meditation.  To smile can change our biochemistry.  It can change how those around me perceive me.  Plus, I've got entirely enough frown wrinkles. I think I'm going to carve those crow's feet at the corners of my eyes a little deeper this year.

The second is about my relationship to things.  The last few years have taught me a lot of lessons about my relationship to money and attachment to physical things.  We moved and I let things go.  I've had to let go of old houses, of stability, of ideas I had about money from my suburban upbringing. I've let go of the idea of showing love through big expensive gifts.  I've realized that I can find creativity anywhere, and while I enjoy using paint and canvas or other bought items, I can use local materials with good effect and less damage to the earth.

I also usually start the year with divination. I have had a number of divination sessions, both my own and from others, that indicate that this may be a challenging year.  It seems it may be filled with some fairly serious change for me.  One of the things that was indicated was that there was something or some things that need to be offered up in order for this change to occur successfully and well.  Thus we come again to attachment to things.  I will focus on letting go of my need for stuff and of my fears about money.  I will embrace simplicity more fully and with more joy in my heart.

I am a priestess of ADF, and I'm still figuring out what that means.  The old stories tell us limited things about what the priesthoods of our pagan past actually did.  The threads of lore must combine with inspiration to fill in the gaps.  I have bits and pieces. There are stories of gifted madmen and women who could speak with the birds and the animals.  They ran wild in the woods with nothing at all, not even clothes.  There is evidence that the Volva, a keeper of the sacred songs in the northern lands, would travel from one village to another, never staying in one place very long.  There are the Vaidelutes, fire priestess who committed to tending the sacred flame for all their lives.  Though wealth is not viewed as a bad thing, in pagan practice, it seems to me, that when we look at the lives of those who were the keepers of sacred knowlege, it was not their primary goal.

I've never been very good at making money, so I will continue to focus on saving money by needing less.  I'm not sure how that will turn out, and hopefully I will find guidance and wisdom in the seeking. I do want to continue to grow my creative outlets and discover new ways to create income to help my family, but I will do so in ways that focus on my vision of creativity in harmony with the earth.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Raising Pagans: Cemetery Offerings

As the wheel of the year turns to the darker half of the cycle we pagans turn our attention to our ancestors. Even as I am furiously sewing costumes and decorating with skeletons and jack-o-lanterns I want to help my kids reflect on the more serious side of death. We are lucky enough to be able to walk to a cemetery from our house now and a few days ago we gathered flowers from our garden and went to give offerings to the ancestors.

Now, these were not our ancestors of blood, nor were they people we ever knew. We live in a mobile and transient world and the graves of my grandparents are very far away.  Instead, we wandered along like flower fairies, reading headstones and leaving little blessings in our wake. 
Not only was this declared, "Super fun!" Our walk spurred lots of good conversations. We talked about death and about being kind to others (even other ancestors!) We had a great conversation on the reality of magic and I paraphrased the classic definition,"Magic is the art of changing conciousness at will." 
Instead I told them, "If you want to change the world with magic, first you must learn to change yourselves. "

The children particularly liked leaving flowers on the graves of children and grandparents.  Maybe in some other town someone is leaving flowers on the graves of my ancestors for me.  Sometimes all we can do is pay it forward.


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