On Seeing Beyond Ourselves

This one’s for the street kids
The runaways and the throwaways
The queer kids and the trans kids
and the druggie kids with empty eyes
who can’t go home even if they wanted to
The travelling kids, the hitchhikers
who no one will stop for
The buskers and the panhandlers
staring at empty streets

homeless boy 1860

This one’s for the homeless
who have no place to shelter
The street people
The cold and hungry people
The ones with no soap
No running water
No take out or delivery
The ones with bad lungs
and diabetes and rotten livers
and damaged skin
who already saw friends die

This one’s for the buskers
and the living statues
and the people in costume
asking a fiver for a selfie
The ones who found
a way to survive
that worked for them
Who used their creativity
to find a way
Who stare at empty streets
with empty pockets
Knowing no government program
will compensate them

This one’s for the refugees
The ones in camps with
bombed out homelands
or drought or flood
behind them
and nothing in front
The ones who have no soap
and carry their water
The ones raising
their kids in tents
with nothing but fabric walls
separating them
from their neighbors
The ones who did
the best they could
and now they’ll see more death

I see you
I hear you

I fear for you more
than I fear for myself

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On Solstice Morning

As it has proved nigh impossible to get my group of regulars together to ritualize Yule (we did have a lovely dinner celebration last weekend) I had been mulling over what I might do by myself to mark the Solstice.

Do something at dawn, I thought. The sun rises at a very reasonable o’clock this time of year (7:36 am local time). But what? I could go out on my east-facing balcony, perhaps. But in the less-than-a-year I’ve been living in this building, I have learned that the east-facing balcony means the rising sun hits you right in the eyes. It would not be easy to be devotional while trying to prevent my retinas from burning out. So I thought, why not stretch myself and be somewhere nice when the sun rises. The Episcopal church downtown has a lovely garden next to it with a Chartres-style labyrinth in the middle of it.

Labyrith in stone

Now, I have a special relationship with that style of labyrinth. The first labyrinth I ever walked (long ago, when dinosaurs roamed the circle) I helped build, with string and sticks and candles at the turnings, on my friend’s property in Indiana (it’s still there, now marked out in bricks). That night, I was initiated in the center of it. Ever since, whenever, wherever, whatever style labyrinth I walk, it brings me back to that night. I am reminded again of my vows.

When most of us met for dinner last Sunday (and tossed around possibilities for an evening ritual) I said, no matter what, I intended to walk the labyrinth at sunrise. This was met with some skepticism, as my aversion to early morning hours is well known. But I persisted. I invited everyone to join me, Everyone declined (whether for previous commitments, their own aversion to early morning hours or doubt that I would show, I don’t know).

So last night I went to bed reasonably early, told myself when I needed to wake up (6:30-7) and slept like a log till 5 am. Grrr. I know myself well enough to know that if I got up at 5, I’d be pretty groggy by 7:30, and a groggy me should not be behind a steering wheel. I decided to risk going back to sleep using the nature sounds thingy and a sleep mask. Because of course, I couldn’t get back to sleep right away. But I did, and I did wake up a little after 7. It would be cutting it tight, but if I skipped coffee, skipped shower and just threw on some clothes, I could make it.

I got out to the car about 7:30, only to find it was encased in ice. The driver’s side door tends to freeze closed, so my first task was to just get that open. Then with all the defrosters on, I went to work with the ice scraper. Now I was officially late. But still, I persevered.

When I arrived downtown (it’s a small town, so we’re talking ten minutes away) I found a parking place right opposite the garden. Good sign! So at about 7:45, with the sky bright but the sun still not visible over the rolling landscape, I hopped across the street and into the garden.

To my surprise, I was not alone. Turns out, the Episcopalians who own the garden have a custom of walking it on solstice morning. They weren’t going to start till eight, though (isn’t it funny how 8am seems so much more reasonable than 7:36?). Two ladies were there already with candles and lumenaria. I asked if I would be disrupting their plans if I walked the labyrinth, too. They welcomed me warmly, asked if I wanted a candle to carry (Sure!) and invited me to either start now or wait until 8am when they would do a blessing for the walkers. I opted to delay no longer and began to walk. By 8, about ten people had joined me, all in silence.

Walking the labyrinth is a moving meditation. In a slightly altered state, I sang Charlie Murphy’s Light is Returning under my breath, along with other fire chants that came to mind. Sometimes I just walked, ruminating on the oaths I took so very many years ago. I stood in the center of this labyrinth for a long time. Facing east, I did a Qabalistic Cross and the Middle Pillar exercise. I remind myself, that of the five of us who stood in the center of my first labyrinth, only three are still alive. I remind myself, that despite all those who have gone, I am still alive. Despite many trials, I made it to the center of my first labyrinth, and walked out forever changed. I made it to the center of this labyrinth, too, and would walk out again to who knows what. But it doesn’t matter what. I still walk on, step by step, around the labyrinth, first one to the center and last one out again.

One of the Episcopalian ladies read a lovely blessing for those who had walked, perfectly suitable for Christian and Pagan alike. I thanked them for letting me crash their partly, and received some hugs in return. “Merry Christmas,” said one aged lady. Happy Solstice, I said in return.

And then, done. I wasn’t ready to go home, so I walked to a coffee house and got caffeine and a bagel with lox and cream cheese (might as well make the morning as ecumenical as possible). I read the New York Times, then came home for a couple of cups of my own coffee, and to write this all down before I forget.

I think I might try to do a circle of labyrinth walks, at noon on the equinoxes (real noon, not daylight-savings-time noon) and just before sunset on Summer Solstice. Once around the wheel again. Just because I can.

The sky here is bright blue with the sun illuminating all the patches of snow on the hills and the mountains. Hummingbirds are visiting the feeder; the jays and woodpeckers are waiting for me to put peanuts on the balcony rail. The cold will get worse for awhile, but a mere six weeks from now, the days will be noticeably longer. As I have said at so many rituals, Winter Solstice is the promise that no matter how long or dark the night, the light returns. Always.

May all your Solstices be bright.

Light is Returning, Charlie Murphy

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An Open Letter to My Peers and Students…

To all my friends who learned ritual and magic way back in the day when I did:

  • Please teach.
  • Please do public rituals.
  • Please start training covens/circles/temples/whatever.
  • Please pass along your depth of knowledge and skill as we were taught by people who were deep in their knowledge and skill.
  • Please give people the opportunity to learn from your example and mentorship, not just from books.
  • Isaac Bonewits standing at altar with flames rising 2008

    Isaac Bonewits 2008

    I am constantly meeting people who are so hungry for the real thing. They don’t even quite know what the real thing is, but they know something more must be possible. It’s just that, they don’t know how one gets there.

    So many people have never experienced the powerful rites that we took for granted. They are earnest, they are committed, but they don’t know what can be achieved because they’ve never actually experienced it.

    We can’t (and some would say shouldn’t) teach everyone. Over the years, I haven’t taken on that many personal students. It’s hard work, and if you move around the country a lot as I have done, it’s not possible to do one-on-one work with people for long periods of time. (And yes, teachers of mine, you were right; students will break your heart.) So you do what you can do, which is heaps better than doing nothing at all.

    I would not be the practitioner I am today without the generosity of those who shared their skills and experience with me; to name a few: Christa Heiden Landon, Althea Northage-Orr and the late John Northage, Alan Salmi, Aidan Kelly, my beloved Isaac, of course, and many more, some well known, many not.

    I also owe something to everyone who gave a workshop I attended, or put on an event, or officiated at a powerful ritual that I had the privilege to attend. All you old-school Pagans and occultists in Chicago who set such high standards, I owe you.

    We’re getting old. We’re dying off. Too many of those who drove the scene (however you think of it) are already gone. (If you think at 50 or 60 you automatically have decades still ahead of you, believe me, it’s not something you can count on.)

    Students and initiates of mine, have you trained at least one person? Have you done a ritual for guests or for the public so they can get a sense of what good ritual feels like? Have you done a presentation or given a lecture or led a workshop? Have you done these things the past decade? If you have, bless you, keep it up. If you haven’t, give it a shot. Do it for me.

    Heck, do it for everyone. And for the ones who will come after them.

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    Did You Know? #3. The Wheel of the Year (Part 1)

    Everyone talks about the Wheel of the Year, but where did it come from? A first installment about that famous cycle

    #3. The Wheel of the Year: The Basics

    The Wheel of the Year is the name given to a cycle of eight seasonal festivals spaced approximately every six weeks throughout the solar year. These celebrations are also known collectively as Sabbats, High Days, the Eight Great Festivals, the Greater and Lesser Sabbats, the Quarter and Cross-Quarter Festivals, or other names depending on your tradition.
    Graphic of the Wheel of the Year

    Four of the holidays are based on observable solar events, and in the Northern Hemisphere will fall on or about the following dates:

    Spring Equinox March 21 (Sun enters Aries)

    Summer Solstice June 21 (Sun enters Leo)

    Fall Equinox September 21 (Sun enters Libra)

    Winter Solstice December 21 (Sun enters Capricorn)

    The equinoxes are days when day and night are the same length—equal. From Spring/Vernal Equinox onward, the days get longer and the nights shorter until Summer Solstice, which is the longest day and shortest night of the year. In far northern or southern latitudes, the sun may never totally set. After Summer Solstice, the days gradually become shorter and the nights longer until Fall/Autumnal Equinox when they are again equal. The nights then become longer than the days until Winter Solstice, which is the longest night and shortest day of the year.

    The Solstices and Equinoxes are in some traditions called Quarter festivals, or the Lesser Sabbats.

    The other four observances fall more-or-less between the solar dates. Some groups choose to observe them at the exact midpoint between solar events, but they are most commonly observed on specific calendar dates:

    February 1 Imolc, Candlemas, Brigid, Oimelc

    May 1 Beltane, Bealtinne

    August 1 Lammas, Lughnasadh, Loaf Mass

    October 31 Hallowe’en, Samhain, All Hallow’s Eve

    These in-between-solar-events festivals are often called Cross-quarter Days, or the Greater Sabbats.

    As you can tell from their various names, this second group of holidays has strong roots in Celtic and British cultures. The cross-quarter days were the traditional dates in Britain for collecting rents and taxes and other quarterly activities.

    Many people observe cross-quarter days starting on the night before. In the Celtic calendar system from which they were originally derived, the new day started not at dawn or at midnight but at sunset the night before, similar to the Hebrew calendar system. For one holiday, Hallowe’en or Samhain (SOW-when), the eve is observed by Pagans while the next day, All Hallows, is ignored.

    The solar holidays are not always named, although Winter Solstice is also known as Yule and Midwinter, and Summer Solstice as Midsummer. Spring Equinox is increasingly popular as Ostara, but that is as much a back formation from the link between Easter and the equinox as it is a known date for a festival of the Germanic vernal Goddess Eostar/Ostara.

    Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox are also known as Litha and Mabon, but those names are completely ahistorical; they were first applied to the festivals in the 1970s by Aidan Kelly, who thought it would be more aesthetically pleasing if all the Sabbats had Celtic names (although Yule and Ostara are clearly Germanic). Although there are Celtic heroes and observances using those names that happened vaguely around the same dates, there is no historical evidence of those names being applied to Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox before Aidan Kelly did so. But the new names caught the attention of Oberon Zell, the editor of the influential Pagan magazine Green Egg, who liked them and popularized them. Such is how modern ancient Pagan traditions are born.

    There is also no record of any Pagan religion before the modern era observing all eight holidays, although there is evidence that each individual holiday was celebrated by some group at some time. The Celts, for example, observed only the cross-quarters until the Romans introduced solstice observances; some regions celebrated either Summer or Winter Solstice, but not both. The equinoxes were the least observed of all. Though all were celebrated somewhere, at sometime, by Pagans, the cycle of eight that we call the Wheel of the Year is a modern invention.

    But even if there is no precedent for observing all eight as an integrated system before the 20th century or so, it’s a good, workable Wheel. And it’s especially nice because the Wheel of the Year provides the perfect reason to have a good party every six weeks!

    Isaac Bonewits’s Neopagan Druid Calendar

    Eight Sabbats for Witches by Stewart and Janet Farrar

    Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life by Pauline and Dan Campanelli

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

    The Wheel Of the Year At Muin Mound Grove, ADF by Skip Ellison

    The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year by Michael J. Dangler

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