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Holidays, Holy Days, Holidaze

I’m not a huge fan of secular Thanksgiving, national holiday or not. Maybe I’m just disenchanted since our long standing tradition of family getting together for a large scale meat slaughtering (seriously, it’s one of the few days that enough people have off work that we could have used for something requiring as many hands as butchering does) is now several years worth of gone. Without the thing that needs doing, what is there to bring us all together? A big meal around a table is no occasion around here. We eat well off our beautiful land. A special moment to say thanks for what we’ve got? Well call me conceited but that’s something we don’t take for granted either.

So what’s the big deal? Shopping? Don’t make me laugh.

Don’t give me the “Pilgrims! Happiness! Goodness!” speech either. I think we’re all aware of how horribly biased our history textbooks are.

So what does that leave me?

Thanksgiving falls rather awkwardly between Samhain and Yule for me, and without the family event to hold people together it tends to get glossed over. Maybe… that’s what’s missing?

Follow my thoughts here because I’m a bit shaky on this progression myself.

Thanksgiving was a huge and wonderful thing for me until just a few years ago, right when we stopped the annual freezer stocking event that was hog butchering. Suddenly only about half of the people that used to show up were around. There was no sense of tradition or community without that activity. That, I believe, is what’s missing not only from my celebrations but probably from our communities at large. Desperate consumption of entertainment and first world toys is no substitute for the sense of human kinship and tradition that I remember.

Assuming that my rural raised, urban educated, emergency responder trained, musically inclined, former gym rat turned poet opinion is worth anything, how do we go about reinstating that sense of depth to our holiday?

Ritualizing actions through repetition is a tried and true way to build a sense of near religious depth and tradition. History suggests that it works well and predictably. The yearly repetition of hog butchering had acquired such a sense of depth after several generations. I know that the early festival I attend every year in Virginia has acquired a similar sense, though in far less time. Looking beyond just harvest feasts to other holidays, I think one of the reasons I still try to get to an actual Christmas service somewhere in addition to whatever Yule festivities are going on is because of that sense of tradition. Right or wrong, the sensation of carrying out a tradition has an enormous impact on my and I think many human minds.

Maybe I just haven’t found another tradition yet. Maybe I haven’t given the ones still floating around enough of a chance to become something in my heart and mind.

Whatever happens this year, I’ll try to make the most of it. Maybe I’ll find something I want to hold on to and repeat over and over until it begins to assume the weight of tradition that seems to be missing right now. Anyone feel like sharing some of what they do on this particular holiday?

Yes, I’ve heard

the news out of Ferguson. No, I am not touching it. Not with a ten foot pole. Why? Because there is not enough information to balance out the emotional reactions currently running amok for me to form my own opinion and I flat out refuse to regurgitate someone else’s opinion.

That is all.

Windfall…

So on one hand, we got a lot of progress made yesterday on the big off grid housing project. Walls are all framed and loft joists have been set with only minimal scrapes and bruises to humans.

On the other hand, the wind that rolled through last night did a number on my space. I’ll be glad when delicate things can be protected inside by walls and roof.

Never underestimate the phoenix’ power

The time between time is our time to reflect and gather ourselves, right? Sure. Let’s go with it. It seems to be a thing I do every year around this time.

Where do I stand, now, between times? I stand on shifting sand by the feel and yet I think I might finally have found the solid rock beneath. Over the last few years, most of the old life has been stripped away. I find, now, that I can move freely once again and while the realization is frightening in its implications it is also profound.

Let me back up.

Those who have followed the story here for the last few years have been able to watch he progression in real time. You saw nearly two years ago when the first real breaks started to occur. I went through a series of what can only be termed small breakdowns at work and in the last shreds of my personal life. I lost time. I lost memories. I lost faith in myself and in the people around me. As the situation progressed over several months I very nearly lost my job. I decided to leave it anyway after realizing just what was going on. I lost most of my friends. I lost the future I thought I wanted. In some strange way, I died.

It took a long time. Months and months of watching my career, my friends, my support network, my finances, my future all slip out of my control. If you’ve been watching, you could probably read between the lines and realize just how bad it got for a while.

Until one day, about a year ago now, I made a decision that has changed the course of my life- as melodramatic as that sounds. I did two things. Well, I did one thing that immediately led into another. I finally looked up at the gods who were watching this whole process and said “Alright. I get it. What do you want?” The first thing they did was send me to a therapist- they even managed to drop the right person into my path to get me to a pagan friendly therapist.

The next thing they did was start stripping all the material trappings of the old world away from me. I even lost the apartment and the fast paced modern feeling lifestyle that I was enjoying so much. I lost the respect of the people I worked with. Of everything, that is what hurt the most. I lost sleep, I lost confidence and I lost hope. The only things I still have from the previous path are some fighting skills and a single weapon that I paid for myself instead of having issued to me. The rest of it is gone. All of it- even the retirement fund, unfortunately. I could argue that I retain the unusual awareness of other people that you only learn from that world. That awareness may have been the point.

Most of my life fits in a camper. A small, tow behind camper, at that. Total footprint 7’x13′. I do have the CPR training equipment in a different shed for storage and some of the kitchen and altar stuff spend most of their time outside but they do have places in the camper. The rest of it lives in my truck which is by far the most valuable thing I still own.

Let me say right now- it has been worth it. Whether or not I will continue to feel that way as things continue to change I do not know but as of right now, it was worth it.

I’m writing this while I sit in one of the few places to which I have access that has reliable internet connectivity- the middle school at which I have an unofficial position as “That One Sub That All The Kids and Some of the Teachers Fear.” It pays me $65 per day before taxes. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. (I’m only getting a class or two a month at the other business and they aren’t full classes, so while it’s not a total flop, it’s not what I need it to be) I’m thinking about how I’m going to work tomorrow’s gig at the church (funny story, that) because they pay me too- $20 to show up for each rehearsal and service. It puts gas in the truck. It also keeps my voice and flute fingers in shape which is more valuable than I realized. I will go home to a camper that has no heat, no plumbing, and leaks. I’m building a small cabin/glorified shed in which to actually live but it’s slow and expensive. Last night the temperature was -1oC and I woke up curled up in the pile of blankets and cat (she thinks it is her sacred duty to curl up with me when its cold- I’m OK with it.) to find ice in the wash basin inside the camper. I’m seriously considering sleeping in the barn with the goats because it’s warmer in there. I had to take care of the small goat herd- including a sick baby buck who is finally (praise be) getting better but when I went out I saw that the tomatoes and peppers and late squash were all dead. Fortunately I already had large quantities of each stored. The kale is still very happy and will be until about February or so. I’m not broke- not with about $200 a week coming in- but I have nothing that is not already earmarked for something. Oh and if I have any spare minutes of daylight I need to go scouting for deadfall to cook with in the firepit.

And life is actually… pretty damned great.

I have the life I wished for years ago. If I’d known then what it would be like to get to it, would I have still wished for it? Well, probably. I live every day with my hands in- not metaphorically but tangibly IN- the earth and water and blood and fur of this life. My life is primally real in a way that, rather than distracting me from my spirituality, supports and feeds it. I can feel the earth beneath my feet supporting me- and I can feel its heartbeat. I find that I wake and sleep with the sun and sleep much better for it. I know the stars and the dance of moon and tide better than ever before. Because I live with so little between the world and I, I can see just how alive the world really is. Paganism is not an intellectual exercise anymore. It’s real. Deeply, viscerally, profoundly real.

Emotionally, psychologically and magically I had hit “reset” and now it is beginning to grow again, and grow properly. You see, they didn’t answer my question right away when I asked them what they wanted. Recently a series of clues have got me looking in a different direction- a very old one, actually. Here’s what happened.

I found an old book of mine while cleaning out the piles and piles of stuff that have had to go as this process went along. It was one of those “All About Me” things that we sometimes get talked into filling in when we are small children. I think I was five or six when I filled this one out. I said that when I grew up I wanted to be a priest. I was very specific about it too, not a nun which would have been the only female religious figure I had encountered at that point, a priest. I tossed the book along with a bunch of other old things that I couldn’t keep, but the memory of those words on the page in my five year old scrawl (yes I could read and write by the time I was five) stuck in my head.

I started having those dreams again. The ones where I can change my shape and fly up to some mysterious place and bring back some mysterious thing. They are kind of random but it’s always the same dream and they started up once the clutter of the old life had clearly started to diminish.

I am apparently a source of more conversation than I realized in my local area. People have actually called up the places I am known to frequent and asked if I was there because they wanted a reading or a conversation or had questions or sometimes they didn’t really know what they wanted but they wanted to talk to me. Me! Wanted! I’m pretty sure I’m not actually qualified for that. The other business, which I am actively promoting, is not gaining much ground. It’s enough for me to be able to keep my hand in, as it were, but not enough to live off of. This other stuff, which I do not promote actively, is spreading.

I mentioned this pattern to a friend of mine and his response was quite simply “We don’t choose to be spiritual leaders. The gods choose us.” It was a far more direct answer than I had anticipated and probably just the one I needed.

Last week I mentioned all of this- the whole story from collapse to the reset point to the slow growth of some other position that I do not feel qualified for in the slightest- to a couple of people who are among my closest friends. They also happen to be family. We talked it over and decided that while it was certainly an interesting series of events and probably something I should look into, I had neither the time nor the money right now. I said half jokingly that while time would remain a premium until the cabin was done, I would know for sure if I came into any more money in the near future.

The next day. The. Next. Day. I was asked by the school to accept a long term sub position and the pay raise that comes with it.

It’s still not a lot of money- about $85 a day instead of $65- but it will make a difference in my finances for sure. My expenses are minimal (phone, fuel, car insurance, the groceries I can’t raise, emergency fund) so it’s a bigger help than it seems.

The. Next. Day. I still can’t get over that.

I think they answered my question. The question now is… how?

Time outside of time

Come away O human child, to the waters and the wild; with a faery hand in hand, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Yeats.

There are moments when I look up at the world around me with a sense of being startled into wakefulness, even though I was already awake. I might even be mid stride or mid conversation or maybe just watching some creature about its business in the world. I wonder, in those moments, if I’m really here at all.

Did I ever really come back out of the woods as a child? Did I take flight one autumn with the geese and never come down? Did I wander off into the mist one foggy December? Did I ever really come back?

This time of year is always a strange one for me. People talk about Samhain/Winterfinding as a strange time when magic and mystery seem to run wild. For me, that’s more the start of the season than its height. I won’t really come back down to Earth until the other side of the Solstice. These six weeks or so are full of faces in the mist, voices calling just beyond the edge of hearing, magic rippling along the wind and dancing with the tide.

This is truly the between time.

Historically (and this is something I didn’t actually know until a couple of years ago) this period between the feast of Samhain and the Winter Solstice was held to be a time outside of time. The year lay dead and would not be reborn until the sun rose again after the Longest Night. In a way, we sit now outside of all things measured and predictable. We live in the realm of magic instead of time, you could say. In some mysterious way, the world is dead and we can glimpse other realms and other times and other states because we are- partially, at least- un anchored. Everything flows better without anchors.

But it can also be lost more easily.

Sometimes, I look up at the stars and wonder if I’m really up there somewhere, looking down instead, on a world more full of weeping than I can understand.

Gnosis and Doxas: Personal Mythology and Theological Aggression

ladyimbrium:

THIS. This in big neon lights. This on a giant banner behind a plane. This in sky writing. THIS.

Originally posted on Magick From Scratch:

Most people, whether they know it or not, have a personal mythology. Usually, it’s pretty pedestrian. We take the randomness that is our life, and we spin it into a cohesive narrative. The actual facts might suffer, but the overall story gives you a really clear picture of how a person sees themselves, and what’s important to them. I find myself falling into this trap when explaining my career, actually. People ask me:  Why did I quit my job as a school teacher? Answer One:

Oh, well, I have always wanted to be a writer, and my husband finally makes enough money now that I don’t have to work.

Answer Two:

I got into education so that I could improve the field by bringing modern teaching methods into our schools. But the truth the matter is that the system…

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Accept this sacrifice…

THIS POST IS NOT I REPEAT NOT IN RESPONSE TO CURRENT ONLINE DEBATE ABOUT ANIMAL SACRIFICE. (Really it’s just fascinating timing because we slaughter stock in late fall to early winter- Samhain, anyone?- and there happens to be a debate going on right about now)

ALSO: THIS POST INCLUDES THE DESCRIPTION OF ANIMAL SLAUGHTER

Last weekend was an historic first on the mini farm. The first young whether raised on the farm (whether: castrated male goat) was slaughtered for meat. It’s not the first animal killed on the farm. I have no idea how many generations you would have to retrace to find that information. He was the first goat that we raised and killed for food.

So how and why might I call his slaughter a sacrifice? Why is this even a big deal for me?

I started this venture just over a year ago after my former life was brought crashing down around me partly through my own actions and partly through some serious divine interference. When Ares says “jump” you freaking jump. If you fail to jump then the world will fall out from under you. Trust me. If you don’t trust me, trust the wonderful and understanding professional therapist who put me back together. It was this vaguely referenced series of events that led to me finally cutting all ties with my old life and starting over as a business owner and (eventually sustainable, off grid) small stock raiser and gardener. When I took that final leap into the new life, it was Ares who said “Trust Me.”

So I did. I have my reasons for doing so and they have taken years to develop. But I did.

Money is and will probably always be tight, but it’s there. Work is and will probably always be kind of spotty but it’s enough. Barely. I’d feel better if there was more interest in the business but Father assures me that will come in time. Food is plentiful. Shelter is an interesting story but suffices until better is built. And family… with few exceptions… is healing. Friends, magic and just plain FUN have never been better. Life isn’t easy but it’s GOOD.

All of this- and there’s more that I just can’t put into words- is the reason that I consider the slaughter of this goat to be a sacrifice. He represented in a living breathing way the fruits of the trust I placed in Ares as my abundant Father. (Why, no, I don’t just honor him as a war god) This goat was sacred, and in dying he fulfilled his sacred purpose.

I cared for the animal as best as I know how, and can honestly state that he gave every indication, both physically and per his behavior, of being a happy, healthy animal. I think sometimes that we forget that prayers can be prayers of praise instead of petition, so I did voice my praise and my gratitude for my good life as well as for the healthy animal and the promise of healthy animals in the future. I made sure the goat was calm before I opened a major artery with a single stroke of a very sharp blade. He died calmly and quickly, blood soaking into the earth to feed next year’s garden. Only when every last twitch was long done did my brother and I skin and gut the carcass, and begin the process of removing edible tissue for packaging and preservation.

Killing an animal is an act that I find to be simultaneously sacred and profane. Slaughter is the culmination of months or even years of effort to keep and raise healthy animals. It is not an easy task and destroying that effort may feel strange. I take a life to feed my own life, knowing full well that when I die my matter and energy alike will feed other lives- even if those lives are single celled decomposers. I experience the resistance of flesh to blade, the heat of blood, the last gasp of air in a physical, primal way. I don’t enjoy the act, but I sense the accomplishment. While I know perfectly well that this way of living is not for everyone, I can’t imagine a better way for me, myself, to BE pagan.

I realize this post is not well timed, given the debate currently staggering about drunkenly on other larger sites that people actually read. I realize that this post may be uncomfortable and even disturbing to some readers. Sad to say, but I don’t think either statement really affects me. I consider slaughtering animals that you have raised (or hunted, I will insist on including) to be a sacred act. It is an act that I will perform whenever circumstances are right, regardless of what others are saying, and with thankfulness in my heart for the animal, the earth, and the gods.

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