Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Ultimately, to live an enchanted life is to pick up the pieces of our bruised and battered psyches, and to offer them the nourishment they long for. It is to be challenged, to be awakened, to be gripped and shaken to the core by the extraordinary which lies at the heart of the ordinary. Above all, to live an enchanted life is to fall in love with the world all over again. This is an active choice, a leap of faith which is necessary not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the wide, wild Earth in whose being and becoming we are so profoundly and beautifully entangled.

Sharon Blackie, The Enchanted Life, Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Ramble - For the Winter Solstice

After a time of decay comes the turning point.
The powerful light that has been banished returns. 
There is movement, but it is not brought about by force.
The idea of RETURN is based on the course of nature.
The movement is cyclic, and the course completes itself. 
Therefore it is not necessary to hasten anything artificially. 
Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. 
This is the meaning of heaven and earth.
I Ching Hexagram 24 - Fu / Return (The Turning Point)
Next Wednesday is the eve of Yule, one of the four truly pivotal points in the calendar year, and the I Ching describes this brief interval in the Great Round more eloquently than I ever could. The winter solstice is one of only two times in the calendar year (along with the summer solstice) when the sun seems to stand still for a brief interval - that is what "solstice" means, that the sun is standing still. This week's word has been around in one form or another since the beginning times, and it comes to us from the Latin noun sōlstitium, itself a blend of the noun sōl [sun] and the verb sistere [to stand still].

December days are short and dark and cold, dense clouds from horizon to horizon most of the time. Cloudless days are rare, blue and oh so beautiful, but they are the coldest days of all. The earth below our feet sleeps easy under a blanket of snow and glossy ice. For all that, there is a feeling of movement in the landscape, a clear sense that vibrant (and welcome) change is on its way.  Sunlight is a scarce quantity here in winter, and we look forward to having a few more minutes of sunlight every single blessed day after Wednesday - until next June when sunlight hours will begin to wane once more. The first few months of the year will be frigid going, but hallelujah, there will be sunlight now and again.

I build a fire in the old fireplace downstairs and find myself thinking of the ancestors and their early seasonal rites.  They must have watched winter skies hopefully for signs of the sun's return, fed the flames burning on their hearths and lighted candles to drive the dark away.  They must have rejoiced in this pivotal seasonal observance when earth's northern hemisphere begins to tilt back toward the star that dances at the heart of our solar system.

Solstice customs here are quiet and of some years standing: a trek into the woods (brief this time around for health reasons) and a walk along the trail with grain, apples and cedar for the deer, suet and seed for the birds.  On the way home, we deliver fruitcake (an old family recipe) and Yule gifts to friends in the Lanark highlands, then return to the little blue house in the village for oranges, clementines and winter apples, for candlelight, firelight and mugs of tea. We will look out as as darkness falls and give thanks for the returning light.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Poem - Winter Light

It's a milkiness poured from
a great glass bottle,
a carafe of blanc de blanc, iced,
a light shot with pale gold,
opalescent blue,
the distillation of pearl . . . .
In this icy light, the ghostly fronds
of ice ferns cover the glass,
as the sky descends,
erasing first the far blue hills,
the cornfield hatch-marked with stubble,
coming to our street— the sky flinging itself
down to the ground.
And the earth, like a feather bed,
accumulates layer on layer. . . .
The snow bees are released from their hive,
jive and jitter, sting at the blinds.
Down here, under this glazed china cup,
the minor fracas of our little lives
is still under the falling flakes.
And the great abalone shell of the sky
contains us, bits of muscle, tiny mollusks.
These winter nights
are never black and dense,
but white, starlight
dancing off the land.
And then the luminous dawns,
the pearled skies full of hope
no matter what else we know.

Barbara Crooker

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Winter Morning Tea and Redemption

The world outside is still dark, and the village merely a collection of indistinct shapes and muffled sounds. The day is cold and damp, the kitchen a place of shadows in early morning light.  My bones, sinews and joints protest the return of winter, and summer seems like a lovely dream from long ago and far away.

How does one banish winter for a few minutes? Looking for a fine hot potion to start the day and drown my doldrums, I rattle around in the larder, opening canister after canister and sniffing them appreciatively. French roast? Maxwell House? Earl Grey? Constant Comment? Northern Delights Cloudberry (Arpiqutik) or Crowberry (Paurngaqutik)? Rooibos? Ginseng? Lapsang Souchong? Japanese popcorn tea? Perhaps a simple Orange Pekoe?

The last container is away in the back of the tea cupboard, and it holds dried chrysanthemum buds, rustling gently and murmuring softly to each other.  When I open it, the dry golden fragrance of last summer wafts out, and for a moment, I hear tinkling bells and exotic music, feel the warm August sun on my face. OK, this is the ambrosial stuff we will indulge in this morning.

Waiting for the kettle to whistle, I do a little whistling of my own and glance at the shadows falling across my mug and the little Chinese bowl of chrysanthemum buds sitting on the counter. The shadows contrast wonderfully with the fragile porcelain vessels and their aromatic contents, and light coming through the kitchen window paints their verges pale gold. Forget the the cold weather and short days, this morning scene is perfect just as it is. Tea anyone?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

For those of us who care for an earth not encompassed by machines, a world of textures, tastes and sounds other than those that we have engineered, there can be no question of simply abandoning literacy, of turning away from all writing. Our task, rather, is that of taking up  the written word, with all of its potency, and patiently, carefully, writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of the things themselves – to the green uttering forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have the rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page in inhabit these coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valleys and swamps. Finding phrases that lace us in contact with the trembling neck-muscles of a deer holding its antlers high as it swims toward the mainland, or with the ant dragging a scavenged rice-grain through the grasses. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs – letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf.
David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Friday, December 08, 2017

Friday Ramble - Shelter

Shelter's a word dear to a cronish heart when winter arrives. Daylight hours are short, and I tend to become insular at this time of year, retreating to stacks of books, lighted candles, mugs of tea and a Morris chair by the hearth, pulling draperies closed at dusk and trying to tune out the world outside.

In these dark weeks before Yule, I find myself turning ever inward and thinking about the tiny flame at the heart of things, its tender bloom promising warmth, sunlight and longer days somewhere up the trail, if we can only hang on. Alas, these are merely December's beginning pages, and there are several weeks to go before the light returns, at least noticeably so.

The etymology of shelter is obscure, but the word has been with us since the late sixteenth century, finding its origins in the earlier Old English scield, meaning “shield, protection, cover, board”. Further back is the Proto-Germanic *skelduz (also source of the Old Norse skjöldr, Old Saxon skild, Middle Dutch scilt, Dutch schild, German schild and Gothic skildus), from skel meaning to "divide, split or separate”. At the end of this week's wordy rambling is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) skel meaning “to cut”. The earliest shields would most likely have been flat pieces of wood made by splitting logs into rounds.

By the classic definition, a shelter is an enclosure of some sort, a cabin or a cave, an embracing tree or thicket, a harbor shielded by guardian hills and out of the sea wind. We all have our shelters and sanctuaries, and their shapes and trappings are highly personal. For deer and wild turkeys, it's the protection and nourishment afforded by woodland cedar groves in winter.  For hibernating bears, it's the secluded leaf-strewn dens where they can sleep away winter.  For rabbits and hares, it's snug burrows in the earth and the overhanging branches of evergreens shielding them from icy temperatures and the rapt attention of predators. For me, it's a fire in the fireplace downstairs, a mug of Darjeeling or chai, a big fat book (better still a stack) and a comfortable chair.

For local bison herds, shelter is a movable feast, and they create their own wherever they happen to be, bracing themselves against the wind, lowering their lavishly maned heads into the white stuff and standing fast. They think nothing of nodding off in a snowdrift, and when they move through a storm, they move together, facing directly into the elements rather than turning away as domestic cattle do, wild and woolly Highland cattle being the exception perhaps.

I could learn a thing or three from the bison, and I will be working on that this winter, just hanging out by the fence and watching them breathe in and out in the icy wind, facing into the elements myself and trying to stand as firmly and mindfully as they do. There will (of course) be layers and layers of warm clothing involved, a camera or three and a whole bag of lenses. Now, if only the snow would stay around and make the experience complete...

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Thursday Poem - Everything Is Waiting For You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

David Whyte
from River Flow: New and Collected Poems

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

A Yule Reading List

This morning's offering is a tradition of sorts, an annual posting of favorite reading materials for and about the holidays and the return of the light to our world. Some of these books are out of print, but they can occasionally  be found in book shops, and they are often happy campers in your local library.  May the list be a light in your window, bringing warmth, comfort and festive spirit to you and yours.

The Yule interval would not be complete without a rereading of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence in all its exquisite entirety, and the five books are: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King and Silver on the Tree. Also, at least four of my friend Dolores Stewart Riccio's delightful Circle novels take place at  (or near) Yule, and I shall be reading them again this year too - all  are highly recommended.

Decking the Halls: The folklore and traditions of Christmas plants,
Linda Allen

Christmas Folklore and Superstitions,
A.R. Bane

The Oxford Book of Days,
Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens

Echoes of Magic: A Study of Seasonal Festivals through the Ages,
C.A. Burland

The Book of Christmas Folklore,
Tristram Potter Coffin

A Crown of Candles: How to Throw a Fabulous Lucia Party,
Joanna Powell Colbert

Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations Around the World,
Heather Conrad and DeForest Walker

Medieval Holidays and Festivals: A Calendar of Celebrations,
Madeleine Pelner Cosman

Christmas and Christmas Lore,
T.G. Crippen

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World
for the Winter Solstice,
Carolyn McVickar Edwards

Christmas, A Biography,
Cynthia Flanders

The Magic of the Winter Solstice: Seasonal Celebrations to Honour
Nature's Ever-turning Wheel,
Danu Forest

Kindling the Celtic Spirit,
Mara Freeman

A Calendar of Festivals: Tradition Celebrations, Songs, Seasonal
Recipes and Things to Make,
Marian Green

The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals As Solar Observatories,
John L. Heilbron

Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth's Seasonal Rhythms
Through Festival and Ceremony,
Richard Heinberg

Celestially Auspicious Occasions: Seasons, Cycles and Celebrations,
Donna Henes

Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain,
Ronald Hutton

The Winter Solstice
Ellen Jackson

The Dance of Time: The Origins of the Calendar: A Miscellany of History and Myth, Religion and Astronomy, Festivals and Feast Days,
Michael Judge

The Solstice Evergreen: History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree,
Sheryl Karas

Perpetual Almanack of Folklore,
Charles Kightly

Sacred Celebrations: A Sourcebook,
Glennie Kindred

A Coyote Solstice Tale,
Thomas King and Gary Clement

Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun,
Moon, Stars, and Planets,
F.C. Krupp

The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today,
Clare Walker Leslie and Frank E. Gerace

Yule: Rituals, Recipes and Lore for the Winter Solstice,
Llewellyn and Susan Pesznecker

Celebrations Of Light : A Year of Holidays Around the World,
Nancy Luenn and Mark Bender (Illustrator)

Blue Moons and Golden Suns: Meditations and Celebrations,
Amari Magdalena

The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas,
John Matthews and Caitlin Matthews

Rituals of Celebration: Honoring the Seasons of Life
Through the Wheel of the Year,
Jane Meredith

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition,
Clement A. Miles

Yule: A Celebration of Light and Warmth (Holiday Series),
Dorothy Morrison

Christmas Folklore,
Cory Nelson and Kyle Pressly

Christmas in New Mexico: Recipes, Traditions, and Folklore for the Holiday Season, 
Lynn Nusom 

Sacred Origins of Profound Things: The Stories Behind the Rites and
Rituals of The World's Religions,
Charles Panati

Celebrating Winter Solstice, 
Theresa Reel 

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice
Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch

The Old Magic of Christmas: Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year
Linda Raedisch

Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide,
Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling

Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions In Norway And The New Land,
Kathleen Stokker

When Santa Was A Shaman: Ancient Origins of Santa Claus and the Christmas Tree,
Tony van Renterghem

The Fires of Yule: A Keltelven Guide for Celebrating the Winter Solstice,
Montague Whitsel

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Elder Moon of December

Sunday night's full moon was a supermoon and the last full moon of this calendar year, although it seems only yesterday that Spencer and I were out in the garden shivering and watching the first full moon of the year rise over sleeping trees. Now it is Beau who accompanies me on my lunar adventures, and he enjoys them immensely. I still miss Spencer, and I always will, but his baby brother is a bundle of sweetness, and watching the little guy bloom is a joy.

Whatever the season, the trees in our garden and the evergreens on our hill in the eastern Ontario highlands frame the rising moon splendidly: wearing new leaves in springtime, lush and green in summer, attired in bronze and red and russet for autumn, bare of branch or robed in snow in winter.

The thirteen moons of a calendar year wear different names, faces and personalities according to one's culture, where one happens to live in the world and what the seasonal activities of one's native place are. There are common threads or themes to lunar lore, and the moon's names provide food for thought about the nature of community, hearth and connection. They speak eloquently of timeless natural rhythms and the calendar of the seasons: springtime and green things springing from the earth, planting and weeding, hunting, harvesting and gathering in, rest and regeneration.

December's moon falls at the darkest time of year in the north, and for me it will always be the Elder Moon or the Long Nights Moon. The elder tree is December's symbol in the Celtic tree calendar, and this month's moon falls during the darkest time of the year, so both names are apt. This is also my birthday month, and I have particular fondness for the great lunar pearl shining over us on December nights.

It makes me happy to think that when January's full moon appears, daylight hours will be lengthening, and we will be on our way to Spring and warmth. Having said that, we will be trudging through bitter cold, deep snow and high winds, and we will have a long, long way to go. That is quite all right. The vaults of heaven will be full of stars at night, and there will be confetti skies at sunrise. Hopefully, the Northern Lights will make an appearance now and then. Such celestial doings make journeying through the Great Round a joyous undertaking, and in all the frenetic "toing and froing" of the holiday season, that is a fine thought to cling to.

We also know this moon as the: Ashes Fire Moon, Bear Moon, Beginning of the Winter Moon, Big Bear's Moon, Big Winter Moon, Birch Moon, Center Moon's Younger Brother, Cold Moon, Cold Time Moon, Bitter Moon, Deer Shed Their Horns Moon, Moon, Eccentric Moon, Evergreen Moon, Frozen over Moon, Heavy Snow Moon, Holy Moon, Hellebore Moon, Her Winter Houses Moon, Hunting Moon, Ice Lasts All Day Moon, Ice Moon, Little Finger Moon, Little Spirits Moon, Long Nights Moon, Long Snows Moon, Midwinter Moon, Moon of Cold, Moon of Long Nights, Moon of Much Cold, Moon of Popping Trees, Moon of Putting Your Paddle Away, Moon of Respect, Moon When Deer Shed Their Horns, Moon When Little Black Bears Are Born, Moon When the Young Fellow Spreads the Brush, Moon When Wolves Run Together, Moon When the Sun Has Traveled South to His Home to Rest Before He Starts Back on His Journey North, Narcissus Moon, Night Moon, Oak Moon, Paulownia Moon, Peach Moon, Poinsettia Moon, Popping Trees Moon, Poppy Moon, Real Goose Moon, Sap Moon, Sjelcasen Moon, Solstice Moon, Snow Moon, Star Frost Moon, Turning Moon, Twelfth Moon, Under Burn Moon, White Orchid Tree Moon, Winter Maker Moon, Winter Moon, World Darkness Moon, Yule Moon.

Among other monikers for this month's full moon, I am also fond of "Midwinter Moon" and "Little Spirits Moon".

Solstice Sun Wreath - Week 2

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

What hope is there for individual reality or authenticity, when the forces of violence and orthodoxy, the earthly powers of guns and bombs and manipulated public opinion make it impossible for us to be authentic and fulfilled human beings? The only hope is in the creation of alternative values, alternative realities. The only hope is in daring to re dream one's place in the world -- a beautiful act of imagination, and a sustained act of self becoming. Which is to say that in some way or another we breach and confound the accepted frontiers of things.
Ben Okri

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Friday, December 01, 2017

Friday Ramble - Anoint

The world is a nebulous place, and scenes that seldom invite a thoughtful glance later in winter are curiously soothing and comforting now. Fields are dusted with white like icing sugar, and old rail fences entice one's attention with a few rimed strands of rusty wire looped around their uprights. I am beguiled by the silvery textures and dry fragrance of weathered cedar posts, by frozen grasses blowing in the wind, by withered leaves fluttering through the air like birds. Ever possessed of a magpie mind, I gather everything up and tuck it away in my sconce.

This week's word comes to us from the Middle English anoynten, the past participle anoynt and the Old French enoint, all three forms originating in the Latin inunctus or inungere meaning to daub something or to sprinkle it with unguents, oils. salves or other liquids. When we anoint something, we consecrate it or make it sacred, and there is often an element of ritual or ceremony involved in such undertakings, a dedication to service.

The trail across the field and up into the forest to fill bird feeders is a sinuous ribbon winding among thickets, brambles and frozen milkweed, through groves and spinneys Edward Gorey would have loved to draw. Bare trees arch overhead, and their eloquent branches are anointed with snow. Every snowflake is a star, and we are moving through a winter cosmos, a whole world of stars, no two the same. When the wind quiets for a few minutes, one can actually hear snowflakes falling in the woods, and the sound is precious beyond words, one of my favorite musics in this hoary old span of earthly days.

It always seems to me that something wonderful is waiting to be known when the first snowfall anoints the highlands, something in no hurry to reveal itself as we make our way into the woods with nosh for our wild kin.

The French conductor Pierre Boulez wrote: "Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind. You can't fail to get the message." We listen, and there is no question whatsoever, this place is already sacred. It is enough just to be here and know that the grand, the fey and the elemental dwell in these winter woods and fields. Coming face to face with them on the trail is not necessary.

Happy December everyone!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thursday Poem - You Darkness

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

But the darkness pulls in everything:
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! —
powers and people —

and it is possible a great energy
is moving near me.

I have faith in nights.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Robert Bly)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017