Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thursday Poem - The Shortest Day

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!

Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day
 
One of my Yuletide traditions is to read the five volumes of Susan Cooper's magnificent "Dark is Rising" cycle.  Her lovely Christmas Revels poem is perfect for this whole holiday interval in which we celebrate the return of light to the world.

Thursday Poem - Initiation Song

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

Ursula LeGuin, from Always Coming Home

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Little Friend in the Snow-drowned Garden

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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 08, 2018

Friday, December 07, 2018

Friday Ramble - Adrift in Winter Mind

Ice, hoarfrost and snow are everywhere on the trailing edges of a calendar year, and eyes and camera linger lovingly on it all. We are spending much of our time indoors at the moment, but it is astonishing what can be seen right from one's window on a winter morning in December.

Frost glosses trees in the village and sparkles on our window panes at first light.  Here and there, ice forms cornices and dangles in artless suspension from eaves, roof lines and wind chimes. As glossy as hard candy, it sheathes roads, driveways and cobblestones.  When the winter sun touches it, the layers reveal themselves as lacy blankets draped over streets, sleeping hills and fields, crystalline fronds of grass and ferns poking out. Lovely stuff, ice, whether seen in an urban setting or glittering on branches in the snow-drowned countryside.

Whole worlds cavort and hum within icicles, and there is elemental wisdom in their shapes and their transparent suspension.  Once in a while I wake up and get the message, but it doesn't happen nearly often enough. Effortless grace and form and natural perfection are everywhere if we will only cultivate the eyes and attention to see them.

Everything around us has a story to tell, and tales from the trailing edges, liminal intervals and seasonal turnings of our lives help us to learn and grow, to exercise the wonder and connection that is our birthright. All this simply from contemplating icicles dangling outside the kitchen window? I am adrift in winter mind, and it happens every year around this time.

Winter's fruitful darkness is a doorway through which we pass to ready ourselves for an exuberant blooming somewhere up the trail. Beyond these dark turnings at the postern of the old calendar year, light, warmth and wonder await us.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Thursday Poem - Come to Dust

Spirit, rehearse the journeys of the body
that are to come, the motions
of the matter that held you.

Rise up in the smoke of palo santo.
Fall to the earth in the falling rain.
Sink in, sink down to the farthest roots.
Mount slowly in the rising sap
to the branches, the crown, the leaf-tips.
Come down to earth as leaves in autumn
to lie in the patient rot of winter.
Rise again in spring’s green fountains.
Drift in sunlight with the sacred pollen
to fall in blessing.
                                    All earth’s dust
has been life, held soul, is holy.

Ursula K. Le Gui, from So Far, So Good

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Tea and Redemption

The world outside is still dark, and the village 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 canisters and sniffing them appreciatively. Earl Grey? Darjeeling? Irish Breakfast? Lapsang Souchong? Yorkshire Gold? Constant Comment? Chai Latte? Northern Delights Cloudberry (Arpiqutik) or Crowberry (Paurngaqutik)? Rooibos? Ginseng? Japanese popcorn tea? Perhaps a simple Orange Pekoe?

The last container is away in the back of the tea cupboard, and it holds tiny 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. Oh yes, this is the ambrosial stuff we will partake of 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?

Monday, December 03, 2018

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

...as dreams are essential to the psyche, so wildness is to life.

We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know it unmistakably, they know the tug of wildness to be followed through your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. ('You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' wrote Nietzsche.) Children know it as magic and timeless play. Shamans of all sorts and inveterate misbehavers know it; those who cannot trammel themselves into a sensible job and life in the suburbs know it.

What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.

Jay  Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday Ramble - Shelter

Shelter's a word dear to a cronish heart when winter arrives. Daylight hours are short, and I become insular, retreat to tottering stacks of books, lighted candles, mugs of tea and a comfy chair by the hearth. I pull draperies closed at dusk and try to tune out the snowy world. I spend hours posing teapots and mugs on the sideboard, and everything I brew up seems to contain thin half-moons of orange, clove nubbins, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods or anise stars, sometimes all at once. One does whatever she has to do to drive the dark away.

In the dusky 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, 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 the great creatures 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 many layers of warm clothing involved, a camera or two and a whole bag of lenses. No problem about snow, there is already enough down to make the experience complete.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thursday Poem - Instructions in Magick

You don’t need candles,
only the small slim flame in yourself,
the unrevealed passion
that drives you to rise on winter mornings
remembering summer nights.

You don’t need incense,
only the lingering fragrance
of the life that has gone before,
stew cooking on an open fire,
the good stars, the clean breeze,
the warmth of animals breathing in the dark.

You don’t need a cauldron,
only your woman’s body,
where so many of men’s fine ideas
are translated into life.

You don’t need a wand, hazelwood or oak,
only to follow the subtle and impish
leafy green fellow
who beckons you into the forest,
the one who goes dancing
and playing his flute
through imperial trees.

And you don’t need the salt of earth.
You will taste that soon enough.

These things are the trappings,
the tortoise shell, the wolf skin, the blazoned shield.
It’s what’s inside, the star of becoming.
With that ablaze, you have everything you need
to conjure up new worlds.

Dolores Stewart, from The Nature of Things
(reprinted with the late poet's kind permission)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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 this 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. 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 late 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

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: Traditional 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

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)

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

The Modern Witchcraft Guide to the Wheel of the Year:
From Samhain to Yule,
Judy Ann Nock

The Provenance Press Guide to the Wiccan Year: A Year Round
Guide to Spells, Rituals, and Holiday Celebrations
Judy Ann Nock

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, November 26, 2018

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

You cannot buy the revolution.
You cannot make the revolution.
You can only be the revolution.
It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.

Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Saturday, November 24, 2018