*Not* Hatin’ on St. Patrick — or Rome

This time of year I start to see a lot of “lore-based” anti-St.-Patrick arguments about the abuse heaped upon pagans at his hands. Folks, the history doesn’t support these myths. (And you may know how I feel about that. If not, read this.) We have to remember that the version we have of Patrick and his violent conversion in toto of Ireland was filtered through Catholic monks a few hundred years after he was dead and buried (presumably next to Jimmy Hoffa). Along with all the silliness I’ve seen on social media, I was glad to see Jason at The Wild Hunt address the matter in a more evenhanded way.

If you’ve only ever heard the myth of Patrick, you can watch this super-simplified slideshow. I’ll wait.

Chicago's SSI Parade

Chicago’s SSI Parade

As an American married to a ruddy Gael-Mheiriceánaigh, I enjoy our green-bacchanalia. Even if I find it to be a bit of an obscene caricature of actual Celtic heritage. (Shoot, I like cosplay as much as the next nerd.) But having grown up on the SouthS ide of Chicago–a notoriously Irish Catholic area, where I attended a Catholic school and graduated from a Catholic University–I participated in the South Side Irish Parade, both as a parader and as a spectator running across Western Avenue in traditional fashion!

Yes, I’m a Heathen and St. Patrick’s Day is (originally–or aboriginally) a celebration of the conversion of Ireland to Christianity. However, the celebration did not become a “thing” until well after Patrick was gone. What’s more important is that the conversion to Christianity was neither immediate and complete nor savage. It was a slow and cooperative “colonization” (I mean that in every sense of the word). See this for simplified info.

You see, in my experience of St. Paddy’s, the whole brouhaha had more to do with celebrating Irish-American Blue Collar identity than anything else. I mean, these were folks whose great-grandparents distinctly remembered being the subjects of New World Hibernophobia and “NINA” signs (likewise mythological in its omnipresence in America), they remembered forming labor unions and passing the value of work-solidarity down to the next generation who then told stories about working their way up the social hierarchy through rigorous work ethics and of creating their own communities for support and protection. So–it wasn’t so much about snakes and Druids–more about getting (and keeping) an honest-paying job. 

But, as it stands, I am a syncretistic Heathen who happens to value the way Christianity shapes my understanding of the divine–even if I don’t subscribe to its tenets. I figure I honor my patrons every day, and They know Ireland was converted–it’s no news to Them; I doubt they mind if I wallow in a bit of an American satire that focuses more on Irishness than it does Catholocism.

St. Pat's in Orlando

 

Now, if I was a Druid in 20th Century Ireland celebrating a High Hold Day of Obligation? They might ask me to withhold my “Slainte!” That’s a whole different story.

My main point is that we shouldn’t “hate” on St. Patrick. Instead, we should focus on venerating our own ancestors–especially if they were Irish, came to a new place, fought against yet another wave of oppression, managed to feed their families and carve out a new democracy in the workplace, and bring our generation into existence with a strong sense of ethnic pride.

If that doesn’t do it for you, stick it to Patrick by honoring your own patron gods and goddesses (as this article also suggests). And one way to do that is to find out about *real* history rather than the wholesale purchase of unsubstantiated “lore.”

I look at it like this. Creationists are often disparaged openly and loudly for their hard-headed insistence that the Genesis myth is fact when we have evidence to support a more temperate version of how the world came into existence. But that doesn’t mean that the Garden of Eden story has no value. Lore is important to the development and maintenance of a culture–so long as it isn’t confused with fact. At the same time, the St. Patrick story is important to Catholic culture. Just as the story of Iðunn is important to we Heathens and the story of Eris is important to Discordians and Hellenic Neopagans and the story of Connla is important to the Celts. The apples are different, but the need for lore is the same. Maybe we would be better off concentrating on our own lore than fixating on the lore of the mega-culture? Hmmm, just a thought.

And “hate” was never good for anyone.

Go out and kiss someone Irish–or kiss someone pretending to be Irish for the day. Either way? Propagate human connections rather than seething in anger about a misrepresented historical somethingorother. Go love your ancestors and lift up your Pagan/Heathen patrons, gods, guides, whatever you got. If you must: stick it to Catholicism by being a better Pagan.

Waes thu hael!

The thing about the hands and arms? That's a myth too, BTW.

The thing about the hands and arms? That’s a myth too, BTW.

Just a sidenote: While I’m on the subject of misplaced ire, I found some very disturbing hate-mongering propagated by Heathens. I was aghast–and really, really confused by the “Burn Rome” movement. (You can buy a t-shirt that says “Burn Rome” around a Valknut.) Because it is new to me, you might just want to read a report with more veracity here. To illustrate how it is used, see this link. Likewise, this makes no sense. Rome is not Roman Catholicism and the Vikings (because I presume this is who the “Burn Rome” crowd is emulating) never really engaged with The Roman Empire–it was already in a shambles by the time the raiders came along. Heck–Rome prettymuch burned itsownself, like, 700 years prior. I find the whole thing … odd.

 

Charming of the Plough

  • Disting—A Norse celebration of the Disr (female ancestors) and Freyja, who is most manifest in her erotic attributes at this time.
  • Grundsaudaag (Groundhog Day)—A Dietsche celebration of the great American prognosticator.
  • Imbolc or Oimelc (ewe’s milk)—A Celtic celebration; festival of the goddess Brigid.
  • Landsegen (land-blessing), or “Charming of the plow”—A Germanic Heathen rite where farming tools (or other “work” tools) are blessed. The land is honored and cofgoda (household spirits) are venerated.
  • Solmonath (Sun Month)—An Anglo-Saxon time to celebrate renewal.
  • Vali’s blot—A mid-February celebration for Vali, the god of vengeance and rebirth.

Halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox is a cross-quarter day which many Pagans will be celebrating tomorrow as Imbolc. Here at our hof, we will be celebrating creation—the act as well as its manifestation.

Imbolc is particularly important to our Kindred. It was two years ago that we celebrated our first ritual on our land: The Charming of the Plough. Last February, for Imbolc we had another first. We joined with a group of Druids who welcomed us with the warmth and spiritual devotion we just knew was out there. Seven of us trekked out to another grove and saw a fresh possibility for our own Pagan community. And we found a wonderful sister along the way.

This year we are celebrating with yet another group of Pagans on their land. It was not a planned coincidence, but it seems to be a happy one.

But before we head out to the woods, we are meeting on our own land to “activate” our landwarden, honor the land, venerate our cofgoda, and reflect on creation.

In the Germanic creation myth, the realms of fire and ice melded together in a place called Ginnungagap—that yawning primordial sacred void—where our worlds (all nine of them) took form. When we talk about Ginnungagap in our tradition we envision the “womb of the world”—or of all nine worlds—the sacred space of creation. Therefore, the image of Ginnungagap becomes very apropos to all of the celebrations related to Imbolc.

In the Disting, where Freyja is venerated in her most voluptuous form, the deference for the fecundity of all things—creation and procreation—is apparent.

All hail Freyja the sexy!

Persephone’s Womb by James Ward

The Celtic Imbolc and the veneration of fiery Brigid is not far removed from the Germanic Disting and Freyjablot. The hearth—the womb of the home, if you will—is traditionally tended at Imbolc, as are all things that hold fire: candlesticks, incense burners, etc. are proper to maintain at Imbolc.

In observing Grundsaudaag, our Deitsche kindred to the north not only give credence to the natural cycle of the seasons and the observation of animal-life, but there are also many spiritual elements imbedded in the image of the Groundhog. Like Ratatask, the groundhog is seen as an inter-worldly traveler and messenger. At Imbolc, the veil is almost as thin as it is at Winternights or Samhain. (The spirits that fly out with the Wild Hunt are flying back to the land at this time.) This makes it an excellent time for oracles and communication with the other-side. The groundhog tells us more than the weather.

Plus, just one look at a groundhog burrow and you can see both the connection between the openings of the burrow and the paths on Yggdrasil as well as the womb-like formation of the subterranean abode. This relates back to Freyja, creation, and reproduction. A perfect image of the new life that is gestating just below the crust of the earth.

Groundhog Burrow by VintageRetroAntique

This is why we include a Landsege or land-blessing: “The Charming of the Plow.” We set aside a moment to honor the land that sustains us and the cofgoda that protect and live among us. And since my particular household, where our hof is located, is aligned with Gefjon —plows are kinda a big deal.

As the main element of our Landsege, we activate our landwarden—what our Deitscherei neighbors call a Butzemann.[1] It is at this time of year that the spirits of the Wild Hunt are returning to the land. We want to welcome them with a place to inhabit. In exchange, they become part of the family and give us their protection.

We believe in a life-death-rebirth cycle as so many of our agricultural ancestors did. So the landwarden is made of last year’s crops and “planted” in this year’s earth which he will make fertile and where his “children” will grow. Think about that image. I see the posting of a landwarden as a form of hiros gamos. A sacred marriage between the people and the land.

There’s so much to talk about in each of these points, I could go on for a season. Nonetheless, we can’t have a nekid landwarden tomorrow, so I’m off to sew him some clothes!

Whatever you are doing tomorrow, however you mark the day, I wish you well.

Wæs þu hæl!

To my dear Kindred, we have just celebrated two years of togetherness. We have acted as agents of creation, we have planted new seeds, we have nurtured the environment so that we can see growth. In our third year, I hope our roots will grow stronger and our branches more supportive.

I love each one of you individually, but as a whole? You rock my world.


[1] Basically, a scarecrow—only not. When I was a kid, I thought these were called Puts Men. I thought this was because it was a “man” you “put” among  your crops. When I found out it was a derivation of another word? *facepalm*

Cast Iron and The Hearth: Happy Thanksgiving

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Photo from The Martha Blog

It’s Thanksgiving week and that means a focus on the domestic. While the relationship between Americans’ native ancestry and European ancestry[1] remains problematic as relative to Thanksgiving, I think we can all find a common ground in celebrating the hearth.

Celebrating isn’t all revelry, however. An important part of celebrating is reverence. And how do we revere the hearth? Good old-fashioned housework. Believe me, your cofgods will thank you.

I thought this was a joke. Then I got scared. Now I’m just, just, . . . .

My house has been oddly messy lately. The kid moved to college and switched bedrooms with the younger kid, the husband hasn’t been home for more than two weeks at a time, the son has been running ragged for a theatre production—thereby running me with him, a housemate moved out, there was a garage door incident (resulting in there being a lathe in my hall and a set of sundry power tools in housemate’s old room), and I’ve been submerged in the most irrationally absurd clusterfeck (and we all know “irrational” usually means “time consuming” as well), and have managed to get within a chapter of finishing this book[2] before the year ends. But, aside from picking up and wiping off, not much else has been done around here. As far as cleaning goes, that is.

But this week is dedicated to home-care. Reverence of the hearth.

When I was growing up, Mom always used cast iron. It was the 90s before I knew you could cook in aluminum—coated in carcinogens.[3] One auntie had a cast iron pot, not at all unlike the one in the top photo, where one could “stuff a few youngon’s” if they didn’t “act right.”

Mom still has her cast iron—all the same from when I was a kid, and it was already well-worn by the time I came around. I always look forward to cooking in my mom’s kitchen because I get to have my hands on memories. I get to smell the sharp tang of her old teapot, I get to hear the rattle of the “extras” drawer where all the mismatched silver and utensils go to live until holiday-season where every device is sacred—especially those that only make their appearances in Winter and Eastertime. We get to talk about all of the incidents that caused this-or-that serving fork to end up in that drawer rather as the completing factor in someone else’s drawer.

Don’t let me romanticize Mom’s kitchen, though. She works in mysterious ways and I always feel a little inept and underfoot. Then there’s the near-constant passive-aggressive power-play of other relatives in the vicinity. And lingering childhood “when Dad’s in the room” anxiety. Add three teenagers and compound religious differences.

To be sure, Thanksgiving at Mom’s hearth requires deference to her hearth-rules, as is true for any well-mannered society. Yet, balancing that with the fact that I am a full-fledged adult with a kitchen of my own[4] is a little tricky. You know this—you have a momma.

All of that from cast iron. In a family like mine, every kitchen component is a memory. Wait ‘til I tell you what I start to think when I smell thyme. Especially dressing[5] with thyme.

Sadly, I never had much by way of cast iron. One Dutch oven and the “caldron” recently dedicated to the Rokkur. Today I have accumulated a small collection of skillets and flat irons, also a proper griddle. I hope to get more for Yule–hint, hint.

Cast iron can be tricky—downright dangerous—if you don’t treat it right. But if you know what you’re doing, whether you were raised on it or it was something you learned in adulthood, it can be very beneficial and most definitely rewarding. Kinda like witchcraft. Just like witchcraft, as a matter of fact.

So, to get back to my own scrubbing (and the attendant conjuring that inevitably goes with housework for a domestic goddess like myself) and mopping and laundering, I will leave you with this guide to caring for your cast iron.

After all the pumpkin and squash seeds I made this season, mine is in need of a little attention.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Wæs þu hæl!

~E

 

[1] Some of my ancestors were among the first to settle The New World, arriving on The Mayflower; others were already here. This is no new story for any of us who have roots in America for more than four generations.

[2] For which I’m almost settled on using my mundane name.

[3] When I married, I registered for non-coated pots and pans. Ironically, I got my first Teflon pan after moving to Alabama. Grad school can feck with your priorities—let me tell ya.

[4] Two actually. Don’t ask.

[5] Some of y’all might know this as “stuffing.” But trust me, it’s different.

Samhain and Winternights

Samhain-Altar-2007-small

I found the article I referenced in my last post and was reminded that it was for the newsletter for The United Pagan Federation (October 2012). If you are interested, here it is:

Most Pagans recognize the term Samhain (pronounced: sow-an), meaning “summer’s end,” as the “Celtic” origins of Halloween. There are plenty of mythologies surrounding that particular night (or nights), but we aren’t exactly sure what the pre-Christian Celts, Gaels (Picts), and Manx did to celebrate—if the celebrated at all—because their custom was to pass knowledge down in secret, without writing much down at all. But we do know that Samhain was relatde to the nights that separated the warm seasons from the cold seasons (either the beginning or the end of summer). Unlike the equinox, when the light half of the day could be measured against the dark half of the day with great accuracy, many scholars believe that Samhain was celebrated at a time of indistinguishable change in weather.

Such is the case in Heathen practices. Harvestfest, Winternights, or (in the Old Norse) Vetrnætr is celebrated on the days surrounding the last day of summer and the first days of winter. According to the Swedish runic primestaff, the Worms Norwegian runic calendar, and the Gudbrandsdal runic calendar, this falls on the 13th of October. However, today, given the pervasiveness of other traditions, Winternights is regularly celebrated on October 31st in America.

Today Winternights festivals are held across Scandinavia, Germany, and New England and are marked by bonfires, tournaments, feasts, and arts and crafts vendors. But, originally, Winternights was far less sedate than it is today. Originally, Winternights marked the final harvest, a time when the animals that were not expected to make it through the winter, and therefore create a strain for the entire flock, were butchered and preserved for the winter months. But not everything was sacrificed; there is a common tradition of leaving the “Last Sheaf” in the field. There are a variety of stories that explain this tradition, but my favorite concerns The Wild Hunt. One of the most portrayed myths of Heathen legend, The Wild Hunt is the spectral apparition of Hel, Odin, and a horde of psychopomps; the Northfolk considered it a dark omen indeed if one were to “see” The Wild Hunt rolling through the dark winter sky. From Winternights to Walpurgis’ Night (May Eve), the roads and the fields no longer belonged gods, ghosts, and trolls. For this reason, the “Last Sheaf,” was better left as an offering to the riders of The Wild Hunt than harvested for human consumption.

Driving in the season of hunting rather than reaping, shadow in place of light, Winternights was, perhaps, seen as the last throes of abandon before the darkness of winter.  Winternights celebrations focused on divination; “seeing” omens to predict the hardships of the coming season was an important skill. The volva (female sorcerers and “seers”) and skalds (bards) were, I imagine, very busy this time of year!

Unlike the Celtic protoDruids, upon whose presumed traditions many neoPagan customs are based, we have plenty of written historical and archaeological records concerning Winternights. In The Heimskringla, we see a depiction of these festivals (Ynglingasaga, Chapter 8):

Þá skyldi blóta í móti vetri til árs en að miðjum vetri blóta til gróðrar, hið þriðja að sumri. Það var sigurblót.

[A sacrifice was to be made for a good season at the beginning of winter, and one in midwinter for good crops, and a third one in summer, for victory.]

Another difference between the Heathen harvest schedule and the neoPagan “Wheel of the Year” is that, given the range of difference in temperatures, the year was divided into three seasons: Spring, Summer, and Winter; Autumn was not a season for Northern Europeans. Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117), the great Roman historian, says in his Germania (Chapter 26):

Nec enim cum ubertate et amplitudine soli labore contendunt, ut pomaria conserant et prata separent et hortos rigent: sola terrae seges imperatur. Unde annum quoque ipsum non in totidem digerunt species: hiems et ver et æstas intellectum ac vocabula habent, autumni perinde nomen ac bona ignorantur.

[They do not laboriously exert themselves in planting orchards, enclosing meadows and watering gardens. Corn is the only produce required from the earth; hence even the year itself is not divided by them into as many seasons as with us. Winter, spring, and summer have both a meaning and a name; the name and blessings of autumn are alike unknown.]

While the differences between neoPagan traditions and Heathen traditions are somewhat marked, one similarity between Samhain and Winternights is that the separations between the worlds (all nine of them!) were considered to be “thin” or more easily traversable. Further, though costumes were not part of the Winternights festivities, we do have evidence from archaeological remains that masks were used in Scandinavia. Rather than being about frightening the spirits of the dead away, the Winternights feast was a time to celebrate kinship (this can mean blood-bonds or friendship) with both the living and the dead. Heathens hold a great reverence for their ancestors and honor their ancestral spirits, and land spirits associated with the Elves: the álfablót or Elven blót. They would also pay homage to the the Vanir. These celebrations were led by the female head of a household—the ruler of the family and the entire domestic realm. We hold on to these traditions still today.

Isn’t That Already Over?

This happens to me at Eastertime too.

CC_1969-Halloween-Store-Displays-5I get momentarily confused when our kindred has held their major festival for one of the major holidays and then I enter a retail center or grocery store and find it crammed with analogous secular celebratory goods. For just a second, I always think, “Isn’t that already over?”

I reckon I get so saturated with preparations for our celebration and ritual that I forget that the rest of the nation still lives by a Christian calendar. As I wrote for [a newsletter that I cannot recall at the moment], there are some differences between neoPagan and Heathen calendars: “Harvestfest, Winternights. . . is celebrated on the days surrounding the last day of summer and the first days of winter. According to . . . the Gudbrandsdal runic calendar, this falls on the 13th of October. However, today, given the pervasiveness of other traditions, Winternights is regularly celebrated on October 31st in America.”

Last weekend may have been a main feast day, but we totally dressed in costume. Hazey revived my Wonder Woman suit from 2002, a significant year for me (i.e. I moved to Alabama). Kiddo, you are merciless!

Kiddo, you are merciless!

This difference works well to our benefit. When many in our community adopt the 31st as their celebration date while we celebrate earlier in the month, there are fewer scheduling conflicts.

Personally, this means I get to both throw a great celebration *and* attend some bang-up Halloween parties. Win / win! (On account of I lurve a great Halloween party and kinda don’t see the point of a boring one.) And while last weekend may have been a main feast day for us, we totally dressed in costume.

Hazey even revived my Wonder Woman suit from 2002, a significant year for me (i.e. I moved to Alabama). I saw it as a bit of an homage–then again, she might have just worn it because WW is a bitchin’ costume.

I dressed as Astarte–the stone frieze version. As the night wore on, as often happens with complicated costumes, the stone wings and “chicken feet” became too much and I chucked them. This left me looking strangely naked (and cold). Some of the kin joked that I was dressed as being “skyclad.”

The Hubby embraced a recent compliment and dressed as an old-school gangster. Tommygun and everything!

It wasn’t just a party, though. We had a great ritual to honor our ancestors–the real reason for the season, as they say; we burned our land guardian, lest he be inhabited by a baneful spirit after his essence has flown-off with the Valkyrie on the Wild Hunt, and we safely disposed of the year’s ritual detritus–I’ll give you a post about the ritual itself later; and we initiated three promising newstudents–an auspicious beginning to the “New Year,” wouldn’t you agree?

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All that–and there’s more yet to be had! I am still roasting pumpkin seeds from my carvings and looking forward to a weekend partying pretty solidly for four straight days with various segments of my extended Pagan community.

I hope you are all blessed and safe and secure as you celebrate whatever lies in your path: be it Samhain, Halloween, Winternights, Allelieweziel, Dia de los Muertos, or Old Year’s Night.

Waes thu hael,

~E

Sympathetic Healing

When I was a kid, I stayed fairly doused in Mercurochrome (and sometimes Merthiolate, pronounced m’tholade in my house). My skin was stained ruby red from April to August. Scraped a knee? Momma’d shmear that plastic dipstick all over the open wound, tell me to blow hard to take the sting out, and slap a smelly Band-Aid over the middle-most part of the scrape. I heard the “cure” in Mercurochrome but not the Mercury. In the late 90s, the FDA took this childhood memory off the shelves on account o’ it’s toxicity. Good call, FDA.

A recent run-in with some “scarlet oil” in my tack trunk made me think of m’tholade and about the strange things we used to do to prevent illnesses and to heal ourselves and others. Butter on a burn? Aspirin for babies? Carrots for eyesight? Starve a sick person? Thalidomide?

My mother-in-law used to wrap a garbage bag around her neck when she had a sore throat. At least this one makes some sort of sense.

Reading up on the “homework” I’ve been given by my new-found braucher (third) cousin in Pennsylvania, I find that some of the descriptions of things that could go awry with man and beast conjure a world of boils and swellings and ruptures and “fretters.” Makes me grateful for Alexander Flemming. And the treatments are nearly as bad as the afflictions! Arsenic and hogs lard, horse and cow poop, “a small board from a bier from which a small child was buried which died before baptism,” and “the skull of a criminal” no less.

Plus the antisemitism (see Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus).

The idea is that in sympathetic healing (what you might call a shamanic experience) is escalated when the items used in ritual (when any are used at all) are “sympathetic”–aligned, corresponding, etc.–as well. I don’t know enough about pigs’ bladders to tell you what they are aligned with from an occult perspective, but I imagine there’s something to do with fluid retention, filtration, you get the picture? I also imagine the mythos of the White Sow and numerous boar stories come into play. But, according to what I’m finding, you have to know what that mythos is, how it plays into the magic at hand, and all of the connections in between.

The most fun part of this adventure is that I’m learning where some of our “old wives tales” about healing originated, like my mother-in-law’s sore throat remedy. There is an old folk cure of wrapping a woolen tube filled with asafoetida around an afflicted area. Here’s the idea of sympathy; the herb is aligned with Mars, exorcism, and protection. From an occult perspective, the herb expels any malignancies causing the “patient” distress. (The wool and the tube as significant too.) However, passed down through generations, the original method has been lost in some corners. I was reading cases where folks thought anything stinky could do the trick or that any “fabric tube” would work as well as any other. One family reported a father who put his sweaty socks around his children’s necks to ward-off strep. Needless to say, this did not work.

This is how magical practice (especially the magic of folk healing) becomes reduced to superstition. Mark Stavish of the Institute for Hermetic Studies defines superstition as, “a magical or religious act performed without an understanding of the inner principles it invokes or that are at work,” he says, “It’s aping the original and hoping for the same results” (qtd in Bilardi. The Red Church). This really hit home for me. I see some folks “aping” magical practice without knowing WTF they are doing and expecting something–something “good,” no less–to happen. I reckon they just have stinky socks around their necks.

Another fun part is that I see a lot of my folks’ “folk cures” in the volumes I’ve been reading (most private compilations of oral tradition, some in Deitsch–which I don’t speak, but it’s close enough to German that I get the gist of it). From these passages, I can see where the sympathetic symbol / item / act started, how it transformed and evolved, and why it’s sure to work just often enough to keep the superstition alive and well in pockets of Appalachia. Reading these tomes is kinda like solving riddles–not entirely straightforward at first, but once you know the answer it all makes sense.

It’s suppertime here and I’m off to (not) broil some pig’s bladder in the skull of a criminal.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Waes hael,

~E

Home Mountains

DSC_0097It’s been a rough week.

A week ago yesterday I made the hard choice to euthanize two of my fur-babies. A few years ago, the oldest dog started 49_541206540661_8863_nshowing signs of a spinal injury or neurological damage. We did anti-inflammatories and acupuncture and Reiki and massage, but it only ever helped a little. Last summer the second doggie–the best, prettiest, most loyal dog ever–had an acute onset of something strangely similar. We don’t know if they had the same thing or what. It doesn’t matter. There came a point when we had to realize that we were holding on out of our own desires and that the most humane thing to do was dig a hole and call the vet.[1] So, Sunday night I pulled out an unused cloth painter’s tarp and Sharpies and set up a table in the living room. I told the kids to write their messages and leave farewell items on the table. We would wrap our boys in the shroud and bury them together. I cooked up some hamburger and bought an extra loaf of bread and some bacon-strips and made a dog feast. We sat in the floor and watched Sunday-night TV for the last time together. I wouldn’t trade that.

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Monday went as Monday went. It was over before 3:00. The hubby came home from work early to meet the vet in the driveway, the kids were with them until it was over, I assisted the vet as best I could. You see, I’m the one you want in a crisis. In the moment? Yup. That’s me. A few days later, however, I am apt to fall apart over an unmowed lawn or broken tea-kettle. If you’re not paying attention, you might think I was really upset about recycling. But in the thick of it, I’m rock-solid.

Then my momma called. I had expected to mourn my dogs in my idiomatic slow-burn, but the news that we also lost a human family member doused my smoldering sorrow with kerosene.[2]

Having spent the weekend at a family funeral, you’d think I’d be exhausted from grief and travel. But I feel pretty renewed. I don’t mean to make light of the tragedy of having lost a relative (unexpectedly and way too soon), but I know a few things about him that make me think he’d be OK with my saying so. You see, family and laughter were his favorites. Maudlin mulling about? Not so much. And he loved the water.

The view as I stepped out my door.

The view as I stepped out my door.

I’d been hankering for water lately. I kept saying that I needed to get myself near some water. It was a craving I had never experienced so intensely before. I was planning a trip to Daphne to see the pseudo-grand-behbeh[3] but was having a hard time arranging it all. I also wanted to make the semi-regular pilgrimage to the ancestral grounds, cemetery, and cave. I feel best in a cave. But I really don’t like to go to North Alabama. It’s-just-weird. (It might seem contradictory to those of you not from The South. The northern part of the state is a totally different place than the south of the state. Proximity to the mountains is everything.) I wanted to go to the ocean or the Gulf. I wanted to sleep with that particular rush of white noise only an outgoing tide can make. And if I have to go to North Alabama, I’m more inclined to go to Colbert and Franklin Counties in the west, where my parents live.

So, when we found we had to go to the foot of Appalachia, I thought I’d be “making the best of it.” The hubby booked a room at the bend of Lake Guntersville (I still say “Gunnersville“) and soothed the hurt as best he could.[4] Tightly knit-up in the old family range of Marshall and Madison (and almost-Jackson) counties, I felt a levee that had dammed up a year’s worth of stagnant residue give way. Not like a rush of putrid contamination into a pond, but like a scanty blight that is slowly but steadily washed away with the tide.

DSC_0092Last summer I told you that I found my fire on the open sea. This summer I just may have found my earthly footing on a lake just off Sand Mountain. I stood grounded at Pisgah Cemetary[5] and hiked and healed in the belly of the earth. Now, you might read this and think, “That’s an oddly profound reaction to losing a relative you haven’t seen in eight years.”[6] But that’s not it at all. This was just the proverbial straw that made the camel say, “Enough, I cain’t carry n’more.” And for once I see a broken back as liberating. The gravity which pulled all the “trappings” I was carrying around on others’ behalf left me free to raise my arms unburdened.

Among the things I let fall away were concerns about my immediate family’s reaction to my religion. Mom is cool with it, Dad doesn’t ask questions. But I still have siblings. And regarding my closest relatives? I garnered some very empowering insights. You see, it’s like this. My extended family? I get them. I fit in with them. My immediate family? I have always felt alien. And there was always guilt about the incongruity of honoring my ancestors but not really speaking to my siblings. This time around? It felt good to be “unlike.” This time around I understand that it’s they that built the walls between us, I simply respect those boundaries. I realize that, in trying to bridge the differences between us instead of simply recognizing the integral incompatibilities between us, I was creating unnecessary friction. I’m starting to realize it’s OK not to talk to my family of origin if the talking leads only to hurt. As long as I remain accessible for reunion, all I can do is wait for them to be ready. And in the meantime—love them just the same.

And guilt is a useless emotion.

I also let some rigidity about my belief-system fall away. I felt a certain obligation to the path I had chosen. But I forgot that the path I had chosen was one of continuing revelation. Duh. Learn some and evolve, learn some and evolve. This is my mantra.

I let my resistance to North Alabama fall away too. As much as I chanted, “I do not want to live in North Alabama, please gods don’t send me to North Alabama,” I forgot that the universe does not like a vacuum and that it fills those negatives with affirmatives. I might as well have been begging to be drop-shipped to North Alabama. I still prefer to stay put or go south to the water, but I’ve stopped beating that drum.[7]

Overlooking the cove.

Overlooking the cove.

And in letting these things go, I’ve made room for new things. Who knows, maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks and maybe I’ll fill that newly vacated space with something equally problematic as what I’ve learned to let go. But maybe not. Maybe with help of the spirits of the lake and the cave, I’ll gather some better apples.

As ever, I’ll let you know.

G’night Robert. I’ll see you later.

I always try to imagine what made the first of my kin say, "Here. This is the place. Let's do this."

I always try to imagine what made the first of my kin say, “Here. This is the place. Let’s do this.”

I’ll get back to talking about witchy-er things soon. But now, these are the seemingly mundane places where I am finding the most magic.

Waes thu hael,

~E


[1] If it ever comes down to it, I recommend you act in that order.I promise. You do not want to dig a three foot hole while grieving at that level.

[2] I told Momma that I wasn’t sure if I was crying for my dogs or my cousin. Likely both.

[3] And will still go.

[4] We could have driven up and back without staying over, but there was more to do than just attend a funeral.

[5] And learned about “Primitive Baptists.”

[6] And one of you in particular might say that’s “insane” or “egotistical.” But that’s OK. Your words tend to have more to do with you than with me.

[7] Speaking of drums, I found a bodhrán that went missing about a year ago.