America Counting Coffins

I haven’t touched enough of America to conjure an archetype or a memory that can stand in for the names of these corners and borders. But where I have traveled my ears tingle at the mention of their names. Navajo Nation. Denali. California. Atlanta. Utah. Names followed by numbers, numbers followed by faceless ghosts. 

Numbers. Numbers that are announced, day after day, at the close of business. A death toll from a nightly news pulpit. There are no church bells or gothic choirs to accompany the address. The woman on the television states more places, places I’ve never been, as her voice is laid over short scenes of downtown Lincoln crosswalks or roadside diners in North Dakota. 

It’s the sense of infinity in these numbers that haunts the most. It’s not unlike looking up at the innumerable stars of the night sky, somewhere deep in Alaska. Each star unique, special, and distant; unknowable by me, but glorious in its power; yet lost in the whole. But where there is awe in the sanctity of stargazing, the numbers flashing across the television are a disappearing act of so much starlight I haven’t yet known. 

There are hardened souls who turn their backs to these coffins. These coffins carry someones we can’t know but someones we can fathom. Mothers with the perfect rainy day soup recipe. Fathers who ultimately came around to embrace their son. Siblings who found reconciliation after years of distance. Religious leaders who acted as family to the lonesome. Grandparents who were making plans to surprise the grandchildren at Christmas. 

Proud Alaskan teachers, dedicated Brooklyn nurses, new retirees to the sunbelt. Numbers. Ghosts. A thousand today, another thousand tomorrow. Starlight sealed away in coffins and memory.

Poem: The Caves

Feb 23  /// Pisces New Moon Poem

 

There are no boundaries here.  The tide rises
to permeate these caves and I welcome the drowning,
like mountain honey on a starved tongue.


Salted ocean is a cold and wet woman, awake
to the billions of stars in her waters. She:
an expanse, cosmic and unknowable, charged
with the holding of things,
people, memory. I breathe her in
like a ship resigned to wreckage
and revealed treasure.


There are no boundaries with Her.
When the cave is full I can see
through time, like the cuckoo who eats by the sun
but calls out in the night, everything is
attainable.


Below, I see the distant glow of Atlantis.
High above, I see Her hellbent on erosion
reaching for and crashing against cliffs.
And there, on the rocks – the lamb of God-
dess


Brigantia, Laima, Hera –        No. My own Mother;
divine and dressed, as she always is, in black and white;
planting flowers, as she always is, in her garden by the water.


There are no boundaries here. The tide rises
to permeate these caves and I welcome my drowning
with offerings of honeysuckle and violets.


I don’t believe in death or in poison.


 

There is
only Her, only the tide. The cosmic mother,
my own mother, memory.


 

 

The infinite.

Winter Magic and the Elemental Spirit of Ice 

Ten inches fell in 24 hours. Ten inches that weigh down the cedar trees, coat the mossy earth, and bury the dead. Even the hemlocks look heavy, more than they used to. 

 

Curiously, in Western culture we celebrate the birth of a new year just ten days into this season of darkness and survival. I wondered about this from a young age dabbling in astrology. My elder sister is a solstice-portal Aries, making her birthday one of welcoming spring and a new, warm world.  She, like many other Aries folks, lives her life like each day is a fresh start and an exciting new challenge. That springtime energy is echoed in the depths of winter with December 31st; New Year’s Eve resolutions and diet plans. It’s an energy so out of place with nature that something else – some other energy – must be missing from the equation.

 

Shortly into my magical studies I read that winter was the power season of the water witches. Winter, too, was the domain of the water zodiac signs (and, to some extent, their mutable companions). Intrigued, I swam in a very Piscean way through this concept and aimed to consciously experience this affinity. Year after year, I’ve found that my most consistent days and weeks of physical confidence, optimum mental health, general self esteem, and desire to be creative reside in the winter months. Of the water zodiac signs or not, anyone with a particular pull towards the water – holy wells, deep oceans, long seashores, river deltas, lotus ponds, thunderous rain – may find a deep sense of comfort and companionship with the waters of winter. 

 

In some ways, the anticipation of spring pulls our hearts too quickly over this cold, dark sea, and our Oneness with winter – and all the opportunities hidden therein – are put aside for next year. And the next. 

 

What are those lessons, anyway? Patience, for one, I’d guess. Winter feels long because it is deeply still. When temperatures are low, there is less energy on the move – less room for mistakes. Stripped bare down to her most basic of energy needs, the earth mother holds us in deep silence and witnesses the cycle of life and death. Water, an element essential to that life, also drowns, erodes, cascades, and evaporates. Water can leave a desert to die, or be present in such abundance as to create the inconceivable biodiversity of the trench. 

 

This leads to the other lesson: presence in what is witnessed. In our case, that simply means presence in the tale of life – and it’s counterpart. 

 

Outside are ten inches of snow and a cold wind of 26 degrees. Trees have fallen, trapping people on the highway, closing off neighborhoods, and leaving others without power. This is the third time in my lifetime of living here that we have had a weather event like this. In the beauty of this snowstorm there is danger, suffering, and material loss. Yet, where there is death there is life. 

 

Washington State in recent years has seen a dramatic increase in wildfires in our forests caused, in major part, by the lack of snowpack from winter, high up in the mountains. In our short but hot summers, that snow from autumn through spring melts. This slow melt is what has nourished our creek beds and forests while dampening the landscape, protecting it from fires. This year, we may see a less wildfire devastation here – that is, less crazed, uncontrollable heat and energy due to the nourishment of a cold, dark winter. 

 

Ice and snow is water in solid form. Like water, it carries the energetics of remembrance, but more like an archive or library rather than the flow of memory. Ice is water’s way of standing still. The elemental spirit of ice simply asks us to do the same. 

 

In winter,  the stillness makes us vulnerable. Though we’ve adapted to physical stillness from our evolutionary legacy of migratory hunting and gathering, it would be disingenuous to imply that our mental and spiritual experience is anything but still. This is why working with the seasons in the Wheel of the Year can be such a revitalizing practice pathwalkers, as the seasons offer the most present experience we have in modern life to the natural world. Of course our ancestors venerated this cycle and presence too, but they also regularly faced the other aspects of nature on an intimate plane, like the buffalo hunt, collective grief, large predators, natural birth, poisonous snakes, and sleeping under the stars.  

 

Especially sleeping under the stars on cold winter nights.

Ascension Portals, the Cosmic Chakras of the Goddess

Reflections on a Ritual Meditation experience 

 

I felt the wells of energy in my being today. The root well released first; something unknown cleared away as I relaxed, as I felt safe. 

 

I’m home now in a windstorm with autumn scented candles burning in the window. And I felt all of myself. Something released within my hips, my thighs and back. I felt a relief and relaxation wash over me, lighting something up from the tips to depths of my being.

 

As I gazed at the passing clouds and felt the warmth of the candles on my cheeks, everything cleared away. I felt the path of the sacral open, then the way to the solar plexus, which opened up my heart, then my voice, then my mind and – finally – my soulness. Stillness. Oneness. Quiet. 

 

Breath on the window. 

 

I felt the parts of my energetic system illuminate the whole of my light body, and when it did I was suddenly deeply aware of how it – I – am part of the system that makes up the whole of the body of the Goddess. What are Her energy centers? As I felt this connection, I felt too the gods of ancient ways begin to spin. They were the sephirot of Her lightbody. I felt my own light emanate brighter, like a line of communication had been formed. 

 

Ascension is talked about as a shift in consciousness, as if anyone really knows what that actually means. States of being such as “Ascended” or “Awakened” can only be pointed to, not shared. Even when pointed to the image isn’t clear. We rely on parables, practices, pretenses, or the occasional poem. Ascension lies behind the taste of that feeling I get when I connect with Spirit, with the lightbody, with the network of spiritual beings which make up the whole of the universe: Goddess. When I sense her energy grid. When I sense her in others. Something endless is behind that unified feeling; perhaps Oneness, perhaps Source. 

 

I suspect that the key to pulling back the curtain on the Ascension experience is creativity. So much of nature and experience is rhythmic. Like the parts of an ecosystem’s whole, all does as it shall in accordance with pattern. The ants in a line, the decay of underbrush, the seasons, the hunger of a hyena, the waves, the thorns of a bush. All is as it shall be. But the human spirit doesn’t operate exclusively in a formula. We are indeed predictable, but not entirely knowable; there’s a depth of will and desire in our hearts. We’re a species apart, one bent on doing not “as it shall,” but as it will

 

This human strength has been garnered from our previous incarnations into advanced consciousness, from trees, to dolphins, orangutans, homo erectus, and homo sapien. Us. The builders. The tinkerers. The philosophers, questioners, artists, and healers. Meanwhile, the gods of ancient ways watch us; they’re curious, anxious, to see their creation gain such self awareness, hope, and willpower. 

 

“Maybe,” they wonder, “just maybe, these souls in homo sapien’s body will show the power to create, too. Create so well they can join the next realm, the realm of creators.”

Poem: a wild hymn

a wild hymn 

 

Their footprints gather around the stone. 

 

The ancient birthburial ground. 

The place hidden among the lindens.  

 

It’s as if I can see them here, women in the woodland;

knelt in prayer, anointed, weaving, drumming

through the centuries. 

 

Maybe                I’ve been here before. 

Maybe                this is from some other time, 

                            some other body. 

Maybe                here I made my plea 

                            to the woman in the linden tree

               

           And she answered. 

 

She sent out silken soldiers, retrieved my wishes,

 and has returned for me

lifetimes later, to my new body and says

“Come.”

 

Dark                     Light

Mother                 Lover

                Queen 

 

I’m back in time, surrounded 

by ancient women and from their goddess’s forest

uprose a wild hymn.

It thrills through me, opens up my bones like husks

and I’m with her. 

 

Branches grow from my shoulders, adorned

with emerald leaves, bright berries.

My skin is bark. 

My face, smoothed wood. 

 

Ancestors. Only as strong as their memories known. 

I stand in their long-eroded footprints around the stone. 

Passion Path Ritual for Sagittarius Season 2019

Winter is beginning to bite at the forests. This morning, I watched as the sun lifted the fog from the valley, and revealed the glitter of the first frost. That was the indication I needed that it was time, right there in the haze of sunrise, to read the Tarot for Sagittarius season. 

Typically I draw and place cards on intuition, and this was no different. It was easy to connect with the Archer. I saw in my mind’s eye a hunter pressed against a birch tree and hidden by ferns, his breath a cloud in the cold air, waiting for the moment to strike. I drew a simple two card spread for the Archer: 9 of Cups and The World. 

The Archer Sagittarius has us cradled in his rough, calloused hands. We are being held in a scared magnetic space between two polarities, and where we fall will determine the work we must do in the season of Capricorn. As we dance between the polarities we can appeal to the deep wisdom and experience of Sagittarius, and have the added benefit of our own wisdom peering back at us. 

What polarities are guiding us? 

Each of us have years of experience of life on Earth. We have danced, cried, hidden, been seen, felt heartbreak and loss, dreamed, and worked. This experiential intelligence, gained from our perseverance, is guiding us each towards something unique and special to our self development. Meanwhile, the other end offers comfort, familiarity, and risks stagnation of our growth. 

Sagittarius has a sense of humor, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the area in which we are being challenged to apply our experiential intelligence and grow is actually the exact same part of our lives where we are, indeed, the most comfortable. Perhaps it’s our relationship with a partner, a steady job, a daily routine, or a lifestyle choice. Maybe it’s how we communicate, make excuses, or self-soothe. Wherever it may be, Sagittarius is asking us to think bigger. 

A ritual for working with Sagittarius Season 2019 

This is my Passion Path ritual; it helps me understand my inner desires and what excites me most about my life and future endeavors. Feel free to adapt as you see fit: you may want to call the quarters, craft sacred space, or cleanse your space. Anointment with oil is recommended, though not necessary. 

You will need: 

  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Colors, optional
  • A candle, preferably red 
  • Cedar, optional 

Draw 9 cups or chalices on a sheet of paper. In each, write an aspect of your life in which you find the most comfort and happiness. Challenge yourself to consider unhealthy or destructive behaviors that you may be latching on to for escape and ease. 

Then ideate around each cup. How could this area of your life be even more extravagant, rewarding, fulfilling, or exciting? What more do you want to learn? Are there any challenges you would like to tackle? Or is there a characteristic, trait, or habit that you desire to develop?  

Each cup offers you a secret door to a garden of even more abundant and renewed bounties. Visualize what might be found there. 

When you’re ready, light the candle. Appeal to Sagittarius for the Archer’s wisdom; you may want to offer cedar or cedar incense. State any amount of your cups – one, two, maybe all nine – and your vision for enriching each. Close your eyes and listen for the Archer. 

You may want to enlist the help of Goddess in order to see and visualize your path. Some Goddesses who are appropriate for this ritual working include: 

Parvati, Isis, Inanna, Psyche, Cerridwen, Juno, Frigga, Lakshmi, Artemis, Bronwen, and Kali Ma. 

A short word of Jupiterian caution 

Though Sagittarius can bring us to a place where the path to abundance is illuminated, its ruling planet Jupiter has a reputation for promising more than it can deliver. For this reason, any manifestation of the visions acquired with the help of Sagittarius or spellwork to achieve your ends should be put on hold until Capricorn season.

I Met Arianrhod in the Pisces Full Moon

Two weeks ago, I began my schooling in druidry through the British Druid Order. The decision had been on my mind for a long while, tempting me further with every gust of wind through the trees overhead. After a year of sitting with it as a desire, I figured it was genuine and enrolled.

Being of a Goddess-oriented persuasion, though, I think what held me off from beginning the druid path earlier was my desire to have a close connection with a God or Goddess while walking the path. My altar is already quite full. I’m a polytheist and, though I’ve worked with and worshiped the Divine in other pantheons, the Kemetic god/desses are where I’ve settled. I kept wondering to myself how on earth I could mix these Divine Beings of the Nile River Valley, the desert, and the primary resource-rich past with the the Divine Beings of the rainy British Isles, of whom very few pagan records exist.

During my year of casual research into druidry, I gave a lot of attention to learning about the Gaelic, Brythonic, and Celtic gods. Brighid seemed like an obvious choice and I tried to connect with her, but it didn’t take. Then Cerridwen. All the while, the name Arianrhod tempted me – much like the wind in the trees. I think I resist Divine Beings who have little information available about them, like Atum. It’s very frustrating for me to build from scratch. I’m by no means a reconstructionist, but I do prefer to know what archaeological and historical foundations I’m building from. With Arianrhod, there wasn’t much – just a story and name etymology.

Last night with the aid of the Full Moon in Pisces, my favorite full moon of the year, I set my altar and lit a candle for Arianrhod, surrounded by a few stones I associated with her as a representation of a small henge. I did my usual Full Moon routine: drank some booze, made some sacred music, painted, and divined.

I also meditated. I’ve been under a lot of stress recently, and I wanted to project my spirit away from this world and into my happiest, safest place. Within moments, I found myself at home. Not here in Japan, but in the woods by my parent’s house, seated on the mossy fallen tree I used to meditate on, right off the path in the cedars. I was listening to the trees while keeping one eye on the candle flickering in the distance at my outdoor altar.

I felt so deeply, completely at peace. I realized that the place I missed most in the world (home) was accessible within my own mind. My heart was full. Then, on the path, a woman appeared – as if she had been standing there all along and I hadn’t noticed her. It was Arianrhod.

She was looking at me with a soft, almost curious expression. She wore a white dress with silver embroidery, and had thick white fur around her neck. Her face gave me the impression of a woman in her forties, and her hair was shining in highlights and lowlights of white and silver-grey. Jewelry made from small beads and shells hung in her hair and from her dress. Her eyes, too, were grey – and piercingly clear, as if nothing physical could obstruct them, or as if she could see another dimension simultaneously to the one within which we met.

I was so shocked at the clarity of this appearance, the sudden tangible realness, that I opened my eyes and was back on the floor in front of my altar. The moment was gone.

There is so much gratitude in my heart this morning for such a clear connection to have been made, and I’m hoping to repeat the exercise soon. Until then, I’ll simply read the Mabinogi.

Lessons in Eternity from Japanese Kami

A divine life-force energy permeates the natural world. In some cultures this is called chi, others prana or awen; in ancient Japan, that energy was given definition with kami.

The indigenous faith of Japan, Shinto, is not unlike other shamanic traditions found among human cultures. Expression of faith typically takes the form of showing honor and reverence for ancestors as familial and individual guardians, as well as showing deep respect for the abundance of kami, or gods, that occupy the islands.

Modern paganism typically tries to fit kami into the concept of the pantheon that has been defined by classical studies rather than a spiritual experience. Kami are often described by scholars as having been derived by nature. I would argue that kami are emergent rather than derivative; they are a natural phenomenon resulting from the cosmic mix of this sphere in the same way the Gulf Stream or glaciers are. Kami are found within all elements of nature, which includes human beings. Philosophy in the modern world places the Human being below the gods and above the natural world; in Shinto philosophy, much like most animistic systems around the globe, the Human being occupies the same definition of nature that the sea, a rock, or a flower does.

Kami may be worshiped anywhere at any time and with any intention and prayer, or lack of one. Many people choose to make a pilgrimage to large, sacred Shinto shrines while others may not. Worship is characterized by an act of cleansing the body, mind, and soul. This is often done through washing the hands and mouth at the entrance to a shrine, bathing before paying homage to ancestors at a home shrine, or showing general respect for cleanliness and tidiness. The emphasis on cleansing permeates into the expected character of a person, where honesty and purity are regarded as virtues of the most value.

So, where did kami and Shinto come from? The answer is, quite fittingly, lost to a time unreachable to our contemporary lenses. There is no founder nor origin of Shinto, nor are there any specifically divine texts, dogmas, or doctrines. Shinto, the way of the kami, is a legacy of how the ancient Japanese experienced the natural world of their lands, and the kami that emerged from those natural forces.

There are a few kami of particular importance. Izanagi and Izanami who birthed the islands of Japan are well known, but Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and Inari are likely the most widely worshiped. Amaterasu’s shrine, Ise-Jingu, is a must for any pilgrim. She is the thread that unites the Human world with the kami as an ancestor of the Japanese people, the royal lineage, and the one who bestowed grain cultivation to the people. Then, it is Inari who keeps watch over agriculture. Shrines to Inari are dotted throughout the landscape, on mountaintops, edges of rice fields, or alleyways in the city.

Like Loki or Set, a kami that often plays a trickster or even antagonistic role in Shinto folklore is Susano’o, kami of the seas. As anyone living near a body of water knows, those natural forces from which kami are emerged are not committed to keeping human comfort on this planet in mind. Nature is severe. Tides rise, rivers flood and destroy crops, lightning sets ablaze a sun-baked forest. Even nature’s creatures, from small insects to wolves, can cause havoc to our homes and livestock, devastate our crops, or bring illness to our families. While the Human being is meant to strive for purity and honesty, they’re also meant to seek the blessing of kami in control of nature, as well as tolerate the hardships they might bring.

Much like the druids of Celtic lands, the ancient Japanese would gather in sacred spaces deep in nature to commune with the kami and seek these blessings of safety, bountiful harvest, and prosperity. These spaces could be a sacred river or waterfall, a boulder, or an ancient tree. Today, of Japan’s 80,000 shrines are surrounded by woodland. While visiting, you may notice a few boulders or tree stumps roped off in the gravel pathways. These are relics of power spots or places where the kami themselves descended. Holding your hands out to the aura of these objects – but not touching them physically – is a common method to directly connect with the power of kami and sacred space.

Of all the elements that make up the folklore and power of kami, what I have found the most interesting is the relationship Shinto has with wood. The islands of Japan are thick with forest, so it isn’t hard to see why, in a practical sense, this renewable and sustainable resource became a favorite for both Human civilization and creation of sacred shrines. The architecture is a stark contrast to what is typically associated with ancient religious belief, where stonework and grand megalithic structures come to mind. In Japan, it is wood; and that wood is thoughtfully and routinely replaced, beam for beam when it ages. Why?

Because, in modern terms, wood is sustainable. The trees that are selected to create the beams of Ise-Jingu are renewable; this is, in essence, an expression of the eternity that the kami symbolize. Permanence has never been a staple of Shinto, or even Eastern, philosophy. Though the design of Ise-Jingu is the same with each passing generation, the physical wood witnessed has changed, signifying the passing of things within a grander scale of eternal time.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson that we in contemporary times can take from the kami. We build cities and extract resources with such ferocity, such speed and disregard for the future, that we’ve severed our connection to eternal time. Rather than participating in the natural sphere of eternal time, we’ve removed ourselves from it; by considering ourselves outside of nature, we’ve not doomed nature – but doomed ourselves.

Nature will find a way. Life will always grow. But if we are going to be the ancestors of tomorrow, we need to earn that through working with the flow of kami, of awen, to create it.