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A Find Amongst the Documents

I’m working on the Mother Grove Solstice ritual and ran across this poem. I’m not much of a poet, in spite of my name, but sometimes I can’t resist.  So, here’s this–

Seasoning

By Byron Ballard

 

I peel the myth away,

smelling the acid in the air,

feeling the oily leavings of the peel.

 

It is easy—the work of a moment.

 

They lie in my open palm,

            the segments of story and lore

that guide the culture’s heart

into this

darkening season.

 

I poke the cold segments with my fingernail

and see here a Baby move

            there a Winter Queen

                        yonder the oak and holly fret

as my Ancestors cut the sycophant mistletoe from

            the tender apple branches.

 

In the middle of this mess of legend

there lies a curled and spiky ball.

When it is gently prodded, it

kicks free of the sickly sweet pieces

and shows itself to be a star.

 

The star.

Not only in the East but certainly now

returning there.

 

The star.

Leading us into ourselves and out again.

Dancing the carol.

 

The star of wonder. The star of renewal.

Sol Invictus!

 

The reason, long-known and sometimes forgotten,

For the season.

 

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Dreaming of Farms

As usual. As always.

I grew up in west Buncombe on what was once a pretty little farmstead, with a lovely orchard, a root cellar, a springhead. My parents were not active stewards, shall we say, and the whole place was run-down by the time I was old enough to remember it.

We had a parade of interesting animals over the years–a cow, a donkey, ponies, a horse, chickens, a myna bird, parakeets, white mice, guinea pigs, canaries and the usual dogs and cats.  One summer, we had three mama cats with their 14 kittens.

Yes, not careful of things, my parents.

But we grew a garden every year and played at self-sufficiency.  And ever after I’ve felt myself to be a country person. Most of you know I garden and have kept bees and all that homesteady jazz.

I’m off the road for a couple of months–doing retreats and classes here at home and renovating a house.  So I signed up for a class from Organic Growers School. It is called Farm Dreams and it was all day today.

We learned about the ins and outs of beginning farming and the participants were from some far-flung parts of NC.  The netw0rking part was really good and the process was good, too. A solid way to think about it and to plan for it.

We did sketches of our farms and listened to local farmers who talked about their lives and their own dreams.

I’m still processing all the info and dreaming some farm dreams of my own.

 

future cider

radishes for breakfast

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An Energy Trap

I’m posting this because I mentioned it on Facebook and several people wanted to know how to do one. I developed this years ago when I was called out to a house near Enka Lake that needed a clearing done on it. So I McGuyver’d this thing that worked so well for the occupants that I set them up in all sorts of places after that. It appears in my first book “Staubs and Ditchwater.”

a Receipt for clearing the energy in your Home or Place of Business

an energetic filter

I developed the Energy Trap many years ago and it has proved to be very effective. It acts as a kind of HEPA filter for stagnant energy in your home, energy that can be misconstrued as spirit activity. Here are directions for constructing and using one.

You’ll need a flat, round reflective surface (the bottom of a throw-away pie pan is the best but you can use a round mirror, too), three flat black rocks, a tealight candle (my preference is a battery-operated one because they are safe around children and animals) and two grades of salt (inexpensive table salt and kosher salt, for instance).

Place the reflective surface on a flat surface–put it on a high shelf out of sight, if that’s needed or put it in a prominent place to add the energy of your thoughts every time you see it. Put the three flat stones in the center of the mirror. Pour the kosher salt in a circle around the stones. Pour the table salt on the outer edge of the mirror. Now, place the tealight on top of the stones in the center and light it or turn it on.

The theory behind this trap is that stagnant and unhealthy energy is drawn to the light, filtered first through the stones, then filtered through the rough salt, filtered a final time through the fine salt. It is then reflected back out into the area as clean, useable energy. You can keep one of these going all the time, but it isn’t necessary. You’ll feel the difference in a few days.

If you are moving into a new place or if your office environment is harsh, run the trap for at least a Moon cycle. If you run it longer than that, change the salt every Moon cycle.

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A Circle Cast for the Winter Solstice

I just submitted this to our newsletter and thought I’d share it here, too.  I am trying valiantly to avoid talking about politics–is it obvious?

This is particular to where I live in the southern highlands of Appalachia, so you may have to tweak it a bit if you decide to use it.

Here you go–

A Circle Cast for the Winter Solstice

Because we are “inviting back” the Sun, we began this circle cast in the fiery South. Feel free to add in the geographical elements that are in your part of the world.

Invocation of the Directions

South–I call out to the living fire of the South and invoke its power in bonfires and cookfires, in soft candlelight and fierce conflagration. Bearing both heat and light, contained in the woodstove, feral on the dry autumn hills. Warm fires of the South, we honor you this Solstice night. Be welcome!

West–I call out to the liquid West and invoke its power in the oils that feed fire. Coal oil pulled from the face of the mountains, kerosene lamps to read in the evening, tallow of slaughters to light the way. Western flame of lamp and heater, we honor you this Solstice night. Be welcome!

North–I call out to the solid North and invoke its power in the hot springs of far Madison. A micro-climate sweetened by the fiery heart of the Earth herself. Steam and wrinkled fingers, cares are left in the healing waters of the hot springs. Beautiful north, we honor you this solstice night. Be welcome!

East–I call out to the mists of the Smoky Mountains and invoke the power of the smoke of campfire and burning leaves. The wind carries the smells to us from miles away, gathering all the scents–of wet earth and skunk and incense on the altar. Deep breath of East, we honor you this Solstice night. Be welcome!

 

Circle release

East–We watch the woodsmoke move along the valley, always following beauty. Grandmothers of the East, go if you must. But lend us your scent of freedom a while longer, if you will. So may it be.

North–We feel the hot water sooth our aching feet and backs and soothe our anxious souls. Grandmothers of the North, go if you must. But lend us a moment longer in the hot tubs, if you will. So may it be.

West–We wind down the wick and extinguish the flame. Grandmothers of the West, go if you must. But lend us your light a while longer, if you will. So may it be.

South–We stir the coals and bank down the hearthfire. Grandmothers of the South, go if you must. But lend us your warmth on this cold night while longer, if you will. So may it be.

 

Sol invictus

 

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A Memorable Fortnight, or shameless self-promotion

I had such a streak of good fun as the end of November neared.

I got to be on my first-ever webinar with my good friend and sister-mischief maker Maia Toll.  There’s a link to it below. But you’ll need to pony up a donation to Mother Grove Goddess Temple to watch it.

 

Then, a few days later, I did a two-hour live radio show with Kitty Love.  You’ll find that link below.

 

And last–but certainly not least!–was a terrific article by Beth Ward in Atlas Obscura.  Again, click on the pic and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the hyperlink works.

But maybe don’t read the comments on that last one. Some people are insufficiently cultured to understand subtleties.

 

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The Mote of History: Dusting as We Go

 

I volunteered for a few hours today at a local historic home, the Smith-McDowell House. It is set up with rooms indicative of the history of the family—a local and prominent one—and they decorate lavishly for Christmas. My young friend Jenna and I had the 1870s bedroom upstairs. There were two tubs full of décor and lots of photos to show us what went where.

We wore white cotton gloves to protect the artifacts and we squinted at the photos to decide exactly which Father Christmas went where. We moved some china vases into the deep window ledge as a staging area and I noticed how dusty it was. On my next trip downstairs, I asked for a dusting cloth so that I could dust as we went. I really fancied dusting the chamber pot and the wash basin and pitcher.

One of my pet peeves is to go to a museum and see dust, but I understand that most of these places are understaffed or staffed by volunteers, so there are often more pressing matters than whether or not there’s a bit of dust on the marble table. (I often wish I could take a dustcloth with me and help just a bit. When we went to George Washington’s nice place at Mount Vernon several years ago, I hung out in the walled garden for so long, they let me help with the potato digging. I helped with gardening in several places in Britain over the years. Earning my keep, a tiny bit. Feeling as though I belong to that slice of time, this mote of history.)

Microcosm, macrocosm. As I dodged around the young Twins who were setting up the Spiderweb Game in the corner of the room, I also considered what it meant to dust as you go. Why is it so hard for me to tackle a project in increments, a bite at a time? My preference since a mostly-feral child has been to bite off more that I can possibly chew. And then chew it and swallow it, and move on to the next project.

I am a biter and a swallower. And I suspect it is my nature to be so.

Looking at the coming fourteen months, I long to bite more things—fiddle-playing, singing, writing, teaching. I want to visit the places I love—Madron and Carlisle, Slane and Yorkshire, Marshall and Folly Beach—and I want to do that with the people I love.

Bite, chew, swallow.

And just a bit of dusting as I go.

 

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The Land Grows Cold

I am home from the road. For now. The grounding of my life is the land here in the southern highlands of the old Appalachian mountains but the road is always tempting me to go farther, to travel more, to be compact and joyful as a rambling woman.

A rambling woman. A merry passenger. Wondering as I wander.

Like a sailor, I have friends in many ports. Colleagues with far-ranging ideas and generous spirits seem to always be just around the bend in the path. I am ever-blessed in the company I keep, whether at home or abroad, across the wine-dark seas.

The land here is still redolent of autumn—damp soil, cool mornings, bright days. I harvested tomatoes today—tomatoes so far into the Samhain season! Chard, spinach, radishes—all made a good meal tonight.

But I thought I smelt some winter in the air tonight. I wrapped myself in scarf and flat cap against the coming night and filled my pockets with little tomatoes. As I straightened up, I looked toward the western hills and sniffed the air, filling my lungs slowly, digging my heels into the mulch.

Wood smoke.

Basil.

Bruised marigolds.

And…that.

Sharp and metallic.

Winter begins her dance around the hollers. Her nails are sharp and her smile is cold, but in her pockets are the seeds of next year’s gardens, next year’s tonics, next year’s abundance.

I hope her pockets are both deep and wide, and that her apron strings are sturdy.

 

beautiful nettles

 

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Setting of the Sun–a Harvest Lament

 

 

 

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness, Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve; Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Refrain: Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves; Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows, Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze; By and by the harvest, and the labor ended, We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

If we leave off the final verse of Knowles Shaw’s 1874 hymn, it is perfectly workable for a Pagan harvest festival. We can feel the secondary and tertiary meanings, too, just like the intended Christian audience.

Lughnasadh. Lammas. First Harvest. Depending on the spiritual trad you follow, you may call this holy day by one of those names—or by another. Many Pagans conflate the first two but they are very different celebrations of the First Harvest. One is Irish and one is Christianed Saxon. One is games and homecoming. One is bread and the in-gathering of grains.

Every year, long about mid-July, there are Pagan folk in the Northern Hemisphere who start to complain about and boycott this holy day. They’re not farmers, they write, they are urban people who don’t get this whole harvest business. Or the weather where they live doesn’t feel like early autumn. Or they don’t practice a “Celtic” spirituality. Fair enough. Since we have not yet convened the Neo-Pagan Council at Nicaea nor pay fealty to a Pagan Pope, you are pretty free to celebrate this sweet cross-quarter day as you choose. I’m not sure why they can’t celebrate the abundance that fills the shelves of their local Whole Foods or treat the whole harvest idea as metaphor, as in “time to consider what I’ve ‘seeded’ this year and whether that has come to fruition” sort of thing.

But again…no Pope. No Council.

Not yet.

I personally love this holiday and have since the days of Notre Dame de l’Herbe Mouillee, that marvelous coven of memory. We often celebrated Lughnasadh by having a talent show, what is now referred to as a “bardic circle.” We weren’t so fancy in those days. Coven members showed off some skill or art. Kate and Geneva sang Sweet Georgia Brown in Polish. I played Danny Boy on the fiddle. Teleri belly danced. The W-J children made beautiful drawings.

The sun has set now and I have spent hours on the phone and on Messenger today, listening, talking, grieving the place so many stand right now. Fear and fury walk hand-in–-hand as we step into this festival. Is this the harvest we want? The harvest we expect in these Tower Times? Did we even plant these seeds, in the long ago springtime?

But my house is quiet now, at last. I can hear night insects in their chanting and I am drawn at once to my altar, to do my own soft prayers. And I repeat the circle cast I wrote so many years ago, when the directions were all honored with paeans of grain:

North: I remember how the seed-heads, tanned from the sun, stand in the wide fields near the river. I remember the threshing of the grain and the stretching stomachs it fills. I remember the bowl, with butter and sugar, and a man dressed as a Friend. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and the Guardians of the North with the strength of oats! You are welcome at our table! have them repeat this

East: I have planted the flat kernels in mounds the width of my hand. I have seen the shocking green of the stalks as they rise. The oldest peoples put a fishes head in the mound to feed the proud green spears. Tall spears to hold the other Sister. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and Guardians of the East with the bright yellow kernels of corn! You are welcome at our table!

South: I sing now of the loaf, of the fire of the sun made edible through the flailing of the grain. I sing now of the bright fire of food that is enduring, of food that is beautiful to see. I sing of grains that feed the people and straw that makes the bricks. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and Guardians of the South with the banked fire of wheat! You are welcome at our table!

West: I create a necklace of the pearls of barley. I create soup from the waters of the sea and the tears of my kindred, who passed into the West. I create the living vision of a shining new world. I create a passageway for my Descendents to greet my Ancestors. In this time of the grain harvest, I call the Ancestors and Guardians of the West with the perfect jewels of barley! You are welcome at our table!

 

And now the opening, as we open to this bountiful, troubling, problematic season:

West–Sweet pearls, rich grain. Barley of my people. Though our circle be open, we honor the West!

South–Bread-maker, brick-maker: wheat of the plains. Though our circle be open, we honor the South!

East–The tall sister, the one who stands: silk and husk of corn. Though our circle be open, we honor the East!

North-Tanned for the harvest, sweet beyond measure. Oats for our bellies. Though our circle be open, we honor the North!

The circle is open but never again broken. May the Goddess fill all hearts as the grains of Autumn come to harvest. Merry meet and merry part! And merry meet again!

However you choose to honor or not honor this time, let it be rich for you, and deep, and filled with meaning. For there is no time now for fads and faithlessness. May you make room for life and for joy.

Blessed Lughnasadh! Let the games commence!

 

 

 

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What I’ll Be Doing For The Rest of the Year

o dear…

 

So…today I had brunch with my friends Mia and John, and my work-wife, Star.  Mia asked me if I had posted where I’ll be appearing for the rest of the year and I looked at her blankly. Recovering what passes for my composure these days, I allowed as how I probably should do that. Somehow I don’t have a sense that people want to know such things but Mia assures me some may very well.  With thanks to her for her encouragement, here’s where you may see me in the next six months. 

Hang on to your knickers.

June 22-25, Wisteria, Ohio

Midsummer Festival with a focus on primitive skills. Teaching traditional Appalachian herbal healing.

June 28, Ashe County Public Library

A talk on Appalachian folkways with a focus on folk magic

July 7-16, Summerland Festival, Wisconsin

Teaching some stuff, doing some ritual, hanging with friends

July 20-23, Mystic South Conference, Hotlanta, Georgia

Headliner: which means teaching some classes. I will also present an academic paper on my recent research on the roots of Appalachian folk magic. And, shockingly, I will be leading an early morning tai chi class. I know, right?

September 9-10, Organic Growers School, Asheville, NC

Teaching a seminar on Appalachian folkways

September 15-17, Delaware

Delmarva Pagan Pride (and a class at a local shop the night before TBA)

September 22-23, Piedmont Pagan Pride

Teaching and talking; class the evening before (TBA)

October 5-8, Calderafest, somewhere in Georgia

Huge Pagan music festival that you shouldn’t miss; I’m just going to goof off but will be singing in the choir for the performance of Brian Henke’s Raven King

October 13-15  Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference, Swannanoa, NC

Stuff

October 26-29, Florida Pagan Gathering Samhain Festival

Headlining: teaching, ritualing

November 2-5, FaerieCon, Hunt Valley, Maryland

Teaching, dressing up like a faery, drinking to excess

I think that’s it.  I’ll be helping to train new priestesses for Mother Grove Goddess Temple and continuing my clergy work there, of course.  I plan to have my new book–Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet–off to the editor by Lughnasadh. So a new book by year’s end, if all goes well. Plus gardening, canning, teaching locally, reading tarot. You know..the stuff one does when living a rich and juicy life.

Come see me at one or more of these things. I’d love to see you.

Oh!  And witchery. Lots and lots of witchery.

 

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Something Big A-Rolling

into the woods

 

Yesterday, early in the morning, before the sun was rising, I had an odd feeling that I couldn’t quite peg.  I went to Facebook with one of my all-purpose advice balls and got an overwhelming response from my contacts there.

Since many people seem to also be feeling this unease, I thought I’d copy the postings here, for those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook.

Here it is:

Friends, I was called to my home altar in the night. Please ground, if you aren’t already. Ground deeply and get your shields up. Center yourselves as you may. Focus. Words to the wise in the gloaming of the world.

 Later in the day, I added this:

Many of you have responded to my early morning post about my late-night adventure. I’m not surprised–given who you are–that this affected you, too. I am discerning what this trigger is, so if you are “getting” further information about this intuitive alert, please pm me or respond on this thread. And…be safe, observe your world, love big. Also, fear not. #witchery #SleeplessinTowerTime

Again, there was a powerful response, both public and private. Today I elaborated a bit:

Gratitude for all of you who responded both publicly and privately to my puzzling experience yesterday. In my morning walk, as I peered at the greenness all around, I realized the feeling/premonition lingers in and around me. This is the way with some witches–we note a change, we examine it, we bring our best discernment processes to bear and sometimes we reach out to colleagues for further information. I am still deep in the discernment process, still gathering information. Thanks to all of you for your patience with my process. It is Tower Time, as I call it. We are asked to be strong, purposeful and open-hearted. Never a bad thing anytime. #witchery #LoveintheTimeofTowers

I’m still considering, pondering, wondering.  Thanks for listening.

 

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Spinning. A Bit.

Gosh, I wish this was about me spinning all that pretty wool into yarn.  Yeah, all that wool in the bag just over there–wool that came from my sheep-friend, Monkey Boy.  Well, maybe it did. It’s been in that bag since shearing season last year.  To be honest, I did spin one big hank of it before summer came and it got to hot to mess around with wool. Plus I began traveling and…

very, very yonder

The good news is that my brilliant and relentless editor Annie Sarac has the text for my new book.  She is poring over it, making it sensible, making it work.  You’ll be able to pre-order it in a couple of weeks–at least that’s my plan.

I went to Pantheacon where I was on a panel talking about death, but where I didn’t teach. I don’t understand Pantheacon.  I’ve been there twice now and still don’t quite get it.  We go through this weird raffle-thing to get a room.  I taught one class last year and it was full-to-overflowing but none of the classes I submitted were picked for this year.  But I went with my friend Maeve and–I had fun.  Go figure.

My friend, the fabulous guitarist Brian Henke, came to Asheville at the beginning of March and played a concert on the night of my birthday.  I enjoyed showing him my town and hearing the music from his new album, the Raven King. We’ll be traveling to some festivals together this summer–Florida Pagan Gathering, Our Haven, Summerland. He and I are working on a couple of projects together. He’s a very fun feller.

 

The Henke

Then Star and I wandered up to Hunt Valley for the Sacred Space conference, where I taught three classes and sold a few books. But mostly I spent time with a bunch of people I love and respect, which is a great combination. I go there every couple of years and it is always inspiring.

RR Rose Carbinela doctored this photo (original by Shelly Nixon) and gave it to me at the conference. Sparkly.

I’ve started work on my next book “Old Wild Magic of the Motherlands” and I’m getting ready to do an online class with the same title.  You’ll be able to find that offering, as well as a chance to pre-order “Embracing Willendorf,” here on the website in a couple of days.

And now, it is gardening season–finally–in the southern highlands of Appalachia. And did I mention I’m renovating a house?  And singing with a little band?

No?

I’ll talk about that next time.

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Honey on the Stones

Some of my recent research and practice has included an intense examination of several aspects of what has come to be called “sex magic.”  I have found the work endlessly fascinating and am offering a workshop at the end of this month called Honey on the Stones.  Variations on this workshop will also be offered at Florida Pagan Gathering, Beltaine at Our Haven in Indiana and at Blue Ridge Beltane.

Here are the details for this month’s offering–thought you might find it interesting, too.

Honey on the Stones: Sovereignty, Sex and Myth

The counterbalance to living in a culture of death is to embrace the totality of life and enrich the life force through conscious and intentional action. This workshop will explore the Sacred Sexual as a healing modality for both ecosystem and human community. We will examine techniques for utilizing the life force as it courses through human bodies to enact change in the world around us—sexual activity (partnered or otherwise) as a means of raising energy. Discussion will include the hieros gamos and sovereignty in the modern world, the so-called Great Rite, and the terrible question of power. This is an intensely adult workshop covering several aspects of sexual activity (including technique) in the service of Earth healing and of magic. It is very sex positive. Space is safe and private but very limited and I reserve the right to refuse potential participants.

 

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Awash in the Uses of Magic

But what tools do we really need to do the simple and required magics? Only this my heart and these my two hands.

I stand with the Queens as my allies, here in the Realms beyond the Veil.

I’ve gone poetical tonight.  You may blame my name or the fact that I’ve been listening to Shakespeare all evening. But I have spent some time resting today–after the excitement and hard work of celebrating Imbolc and beloved Brigid–and contemplating the deepening of my magical practice. I have been doing magic in one form or another for half a century now. The practice has become consistently more intentional and stronger over the years. And there have been many gaps in practice and certainly gaps in formal training.

So I am both simplifying and intensifying my practice as the Moon (and the year) waxes. I have found there are weaknesses in how I do what I do, so I am working to recognize and mend them. This is happening through meditation, contemplation and, of course, practice.

Practice, I hear, makes perfect. But, in my case, I will be happy if practice can achieve improvement and a better consistency of effect.

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Now What?

Stop.

Ground.

Listen.

Sense.

We are being bombarded by histrionic information. This is not an accident. It is by design.

Ground. Then shields up. Strong. Sense. Think.

What is really going on? Quiet your soul. Breathe. What is actually occurring? When you have an idea of what’s really happening, come back to your tribe and tell us what you’ve learned, please.

But right now–ground, sense, listen. Intuit.

It is neither the one nor the other, but both and neither. Look for the third way, and the fourth.

Strategy.

Wide-ranging thought.

Profound connection.

 

The days since last week’s Women’s March have been very full, emotionally challenging and charged. Social media–in my case Facebook and Twitter (I am a terrible Instagram slacker)–is full of hand-wringing as well as genuine distress. Reports are coming in from the new president’s first full week in office and every stroke of his pen seems designed to insure disaster, taking the Republic over the edge of the cliff.

Or are we well-placed to engage deeply as citizens, to stand up to the Powers that Are and stand by the citizens–the neighbors–that need us?

Yesterday, I recommended that every woman read Machiavelli’s The Prince and my friend Thrax recommended Xenophon’s Cyropaedia.  But first, may I suggest we start with the foundational documents of our tattered republic?  How about The Declaration of Independence? 

Let’s broaden our knowledge base, sharpen our compassion skills–and remember what it means to be an active citizen in a democratic republic?  “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” was queried of Ben Franklin, after the Constitutional Convention of 1787. “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” 

Can we?

 

 

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This Week

I’ve been posting on Facebook this week, leading up to the Women’s March today. I’ve put those pieces together here so I have a record of this powerful time. This place where we can practice love…in the time of the falling Tower.

 

The Week Before the Global Women’s March

Inauguration Day:

Knowing something of US history is a comfort as we face (the presidential) transition. The republic is flawed, for sure, the country polarized, the citizenry capable of disdain and hostility towards the parts of the nation that don’t conform to their standards, whatever those are. You do yourself no favor to think this is the worst or the best thing that has ever happened. It is neither. It is not as wonderful as some think nor as dire as others do. Try not to be surlier than necessary to the folks you have othered today. A republic is a tricky beast and requires an involved as well as informed citizenry. As a passionate member of this American culture, try to be a citizen today and not an obnoxious, self-serving jerk. Words to the wise.

Later, that same day…

While you are avoiding watching the inauguration (if you are doing that), please think about what you personally are going to do in your town or county to make the transition out of patriarchy and into the world we want. Community garden? Childcare co-op? Health center? Tai chi for elders in parks? Helping children with homework? Making art–music, theatre, poetry, sculptures, dance? Assign yourself to listen to people who need to be heard? What are you going to do, dear citizen, as the Tower falls and we rebuild the world?

 

 

Monday.

This week.

Begin this week with a song of praise–to the Earth, to the Divines, to your Ancestors. Ground yourselves deeply and get your shields up, singing them into place. There—that’s better. We are standing under a waning Moon, slipping into Dark Moon next week. Many of us are anxious and even fearful about the upcoming events. I will be here all week, bossing you around on social media and encouraging you to remember who you are.

So many of you have worked abiding processes for personal empowerment–well done, you. And now we are going to practice the uses of that sort of energy. Like a well-made blade, we will wield these potent magics in service to our communities, our circles, our kindred.

If you have neglected or removed your personal Ancestor altar–today is a good day to replace and refurbish it, to feed your bloodline. To re-member who you really are.

Breathe deep. Hold fast. Fear not, in these Tower Times. These are the times we were made for. Fear not. Fear not.

#LoveintheTimeofTowers #BeTheWitch #KickItDown

 

Tuesday.

This week.

You began with grounding on the Moon’s day. You honored your Ancestors. You fed them.

Today, take this noon-time to honor the land spirits that cluster around us and the ones that go about their business with no care or thought of us. Take them something shiny. A shining dime or a bit of mirror or some mica–take that outside for them, with maybe a piece of candy.

While you are there, in the world of the world, feel the solid foundation of the dear old Earth under your feet and renew your grounding. Remember the complex narrative that is your body and honor that, too.

Exercise your common sense and keep your wits about you. For this is the Tower Time we’ve been discussing for so long–days of dismay and courage, nights of reclamation and healing.

Tuesday.

Hold fast that which is good and, as always, fear not.

#bethewitch #LoveInTheTimeofTowers #danceontheashes

 

Wednesday.

This week.

In German, it is Mittwoch: the middle of the week. It is liminal, a gateway, the hidden door in the secret garden. You have been grounding deeply this week and raising your shields. In love and with respect, you have honored your Ancestors, the land, the Divines as you experience them.

Good.

Today, with one foot in the beginning and one foot in the end, straddling the doorway…today reach out with your hands and seize this time. Mid-day, mid-week, mid-month. Balance now your expectations and your fears, your courage and your vulnerability.

Holding fast to all those possibilities, feel the dear Earth’s energy flow up and through you, strengthening you, re-membering you.

You got this, this transitting white-water.

It’s Tower Time, as you well know.

Looking forward and holding fast to the good, the real.

Fear not. Fear not.

#bethewitch #LoveintheTimeofTowers #kickitdown

 

Thursday.

This week.

The energy is ratcheting up. Edges are crumbling. The center can’t hold.

Or can it?

You know what to do, beloveds. Pull up a swift protective circle and arrange your magics according to your skills.

Gather what you need from the hedges and edges. Create your clockwork shambles and set them in motion.

Join me now, in the center, in the heart, of this great working. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our Kindred, our Ancestors, the ageless spirits of the land. We are a mighty cohort, patient, waiting.

A chord is struck. A bodhran speaks. The little pipes begin and the great pipes warm up.

We are readying ourselves for the exquisite moment.

Hold fast.

Fear not.

It is time.

#LoveinTheTimeofTowers #bethewitch #danceitdow

 

Friday.

This week.

Night has fallen in the southern highlands of the old Appalachian mountains. In my house, we are replacing the furnace, readying the gardens, preparing for our annual celebration of Rev. Charles Bryan at Burns Night.

This day has brought what we need and, for some of us, what we want. There is a wild swing amongst emotions on social media and in society. There is mourning and fury and joy and satisfaction.

Today I heard a train whistle and a love song and a woodpecker in the maple tree.

And I heard you.

We are standing at the gates, the great pipes skirling around us. We are fearless and proud, far-seeing, strategic, cunning.

There is a culture to heal and a world to build. There is healing to be found in the darkness, nestled in mystery. You are the weaver and the healer, the web and the seeker.

Tower Time. Engage it. Own it. These are the times we were made for.

Hold fast. Breathe deep. Fear not.

#LoveintheTimeofTowers #bethewitch #kickitdown

 

 

Saturday.

This week.

Dawn.

As the Sun rises on this day, my social media feeds feature words of determination, of comfort. Women are sending blessings, encouragement and sensible caution to marchers across the globe.

Very silly hats are everywhere, belying the strength and fury that strides beneath those perky ears.

Go ahead and underestimate this event, this moment, this action.

These women. Because this is different, this one. It has been building like an ancient relentless tsunami for so many generations, so many Moon cycles.

The energy surges not from the top down, not from the capitol to the wildlands, not from the civic plaza to the hearth. Reverse it. From heart to hearth to town square to county seat to state capitol to the boggy seat of the republic.

Underestimate it. We smile when you think that. We smile and plan.

We have brought a battering ram shaped like Eve and Gaia and Grandma to the gates of power. Wherever those gates stand. Even if they stand in our own souls.

It doesn’t begin today. It continues, this work of many hands and hearts. Spiral in, spiral out. A clockwork of deepest freedom, of desire, of joy.

We are come to kick it down. And to dance on the ashes. And to rebuild the world.

Breathe deep. Ground yourself in the dear old Earth.

Fear not.

#LoveintheTimeofTowers #bethewitch #kickitdown

 

 

 

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A New Pair of Boots and the Bride’s Bed

bits and bobs and Imbolc very, very soon

I got a new pair of work boots today and they came in a big cardboard box.

Brilliant.

With Imbolc only a few weeks away, my thoughts are turning to prep for that sweet holy day, and one of the fun things to do is create a bed for Brigid, a place for Her to rest Her head as She travels the land, with Her companion cow. It’s a lovely thing to do with children but is also a fun way to prepare ourselves for this shifting season.

We’ll look at several ways to prepare over the next few weeks and you are invited to do the things that make your heart sing.

Irish folklore includes stories of Brigid travelling the land, bringing blessings (and we assume, fertility) to all She meets. Sometimes one may see tiny footprints in the ashes from the hearth fire. Sometimes small gifts are left for the littles. And in the spirit of another kind visitor from December, sometimes it is very wise to leave Herself a shot of good whisky and a bowl of oats for the wee cow.

My daughter and I used to leave out the bed every year. The bed was made from a shoebox and had a soft mattress, a little pillow and a pretty coverlet. There was a little cup and saucer from Bonwit-Teller that held tea or whisky.  And there was a saucer full of oatmeal–and sometimes an oatmeal cookie– for the happy cow.  We talked about the blessings She brought to our house and we marveled at the love She bestowed on us throughout the year. It is a small enough thing to leave out a soft space for Her to rest Her head and a sup and a bite.

Try it with your littles–or for yourself–this Imbolc season.  Be as fancy as you like–a lace hankie as coverlet? A hand-knitted tiny pillow?  Do what best pleases you and I guarantee it will please Herself as well.

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An Evening of Shakespeare

this earth, this realm

I’m sure I should be exhorting you, gentle reader, to ground yourself and set strong intentions for this new year.  But better folk than I are spending so many words on doing so that it seems hardly worth the effort to nag you who are so thoroughly chided to carpe annum.

Besides, I am resting up during this Mercury retrograde time and weary from my year of travel, I am looking for inspiration of my own.  So Shakespeare.  I love Shakespeare and have been reading his words since I was about 10. My mother was a fan and quoted some of the best bits when I was very young indeed.

I find comfort, solace and inspiration in the plays and the poems, and have been fortunate in my life to play many roles in these familiar works.  When the times in which we live offer us enormous challenges–personal as well as civic–I have always found answers in the Riverside Shakespeare, read aloud in a silent room, read silently in company.

When faced with incompetent leaders, can we not turn to the War of the Roses and visit again the victories of Henry V torn to pieces by the lesser monarchs that followed him?  Crazy leaders? Mad in their rage? There is Lear for that.

And Richard II, which I am watching now, yields this, seemingly about the nation in which I am a citizen… “This dear, dear land is now leased out…”

But I began the evening with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” All my work of late with the Fair Folk, with the Gentry–how right it feels to see the fey-haunted forests beset by asses and changlings and fumblingly-bad actors!  And how perfect for the times that are our times today. So I am comforting myself with Shakespeare tonight.

What are the things–the words, the beings, the sounds–that nourish and repair your soul in times that clang with chaos?

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On the Intricacies of Candleflame

babaaltar

ancestor altar 2014

We are in the final weeks of the half-year season that I call the Long Dying. The Winter Solstice will be arrive on the longest night of the year, when all hope of mercy and aid has been smoored to the palest glow of renewed fire. In interfaith circles we talk about the importance of this time of lighting candles in the darkness, of using nature as a convenient excuse for giving in to ennui and despair.

Harumph.

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” No doubt it is, since cursing the darkness implies we don’t understand the importance of healing and rest and deep nurture, which all wait for us in the dark. But I am working with a different candle metaphor these days. I don’t encourage participating in it because it is hard, lonely and bitter work that can only be undertaken through will and determination. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires seeing through tears and veils of weariness, of hearing the unhearable and taking on the impossible.

There are ugly, hard edges in this work. Ugly and hard don’t work so well for many of us in our modern soft lives. It is homely work that will not be curated but is possibly artisanal in the way that hand-work sometimes is.

Candles are extraordinarily simple and beautiful things. A wick holds the flame that is fed by the wax of the candle. Candles come in many styles and sizes and colors. Like people do, now that I think of it.  Ideally–and sensibly–candles stand upright and the flame burns at the top end. Simple, proper, safe.

When we work too hard, we speak of burning the candle at both ends. This technique offers more heat and light but is trickier to house and uses the resources of the candle–the wax and wick–twice as fast. Many of us are in this place right now. We stay up too late, then get up early, then arrange our thoughts into words and our limbs into actions. We have intentions and chores and promises to keep. 2016 has been an extraordinary year for many of us. Death, birth, disappointment, love, lust and the Great Cycle writ large: the cycle of destruction and creation.

You do not want to read this next part, so please return to the photo of the Ancestor altar from a couple of years ago and go back to your challenging life here in Tower Time, here at world’s end, here at the birthing of tomorrow and the day after that.

Some of us have looked into the days ahead and have contemplated the days past and we are also burning the candle–that useful and ubiquitous metaphor–in the middle. It can’t be held, it can’t be contemplated with any sort of logic or reason. It is the Fool’s course, the one way we see to live life as fully as it can be lived.

Vision, miracle, metaphor. We are witch and shaman and beggar and thief. We see a new way and a potential for new worlds, and we can’t shake the vision of the signal fires and the scrolls kept and the temples to be built. Of circles on the ground and a simple light that clearly shows love and freedom in the healing of the darkness.

Per ardua ad terra, friends 

Carpe diem.

Carpe noctem.

Carpe vita.

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Harvest Home. It’s complicated.

It may be that celebrating the harvest was always a complicated matter. After spending months in the anxiety and hard work of planting, tending, harvesting and preserving the crops, we were exhausted, worn out. We faced a winter that was uncertain as to its duration and severity, causing us to worry if we had set aside enough food and wood for heating. There would be fresh game to supplement the salted or canned food. There would be long cold nights and short cold days.

Great rejoicing at harvest time but never a sense that anything was finished–only a continuation of the cycle of the agricultural year. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Repeat, repeat. It wasn’t a total crap-shoot, of course, because you would have been through a winter within easy memory and would have a rough idea of how much of everything was needed. But a poor harvest meant a lean winter and there were folks who didn’t survive a fat winter. Our Ancestors used alcohol and sex and religion to dull the edge of panic that must have highlighted the move between seasons.

Fast forward to today. Thanksgiving Day, 2016. Social media is a harrowing battle ground where a simple greeting of Happy Turkey Day! can get you the strappado. How dare you celebrate this terrible day?  Don’t you know the real meaning of Thanksgiving? Are you so thin-brained that you don’t know what we did to the Native peoples?  Stealing their land, giving them smallpox?  Trail of Tears, anyone?  And right now, as I type these words–full as a tick with traditional Thanksgiving foods–the situation in the Dakotas with the water protectors and the Dakota Access Pipeline debacle rages on, with water cannons and sound grenades, and no help from the Obama administration. How can I eat pie and play peek-a-boo with my great-niece when this injustice is being perpetrated Right Under My Nose. How?  How can I? Have I no heart?

That sort of thing.

We seem to have lost the handy skill of being able to hold more than one idea in our wee heads at a time. But we have certainly not lost the knack for judging each others every mood based on our own beliefs and passions.

Cut it out. Seriously.

Thanksgiving and other times of family in-gathering are few and far between for many families. The old days of lingering around a table telling stories–hearing the mythology that makes up our family and cultural heritage–are slipping away from us. And many of us choose–rightly or wrongly–to embrace chosen families because our birth families are so toxic to us, so different from us. So we may not be able to pass on the story of Cousin Evvie’s pound cake or the way CB used to crack black walnuts. We are encouraged to bring to the table the full-throated cry of our political position and to let the racist/homophobic/sexist members of our extended family have it. Except if we spent more time with them, in spite of our political differences, we might find that the thing we think of as racist is simply an awkward and old-fashioned use of language and an unfamiliarity with cultures outside their limited worldview. It will certainly bring them to your rightness of opinion if you come to the Thanksgiving table as an arrogant snot who is here to shed light on the benighted world they still cling to.

That technique is not an effective strategy in most cases, friends.

You may choose to prove your perceived superiority on this field of battle–indeed you have every right to do that. And heaven knows there are plenty of your online acquaintances who will demand that you de-platform Grandma because her languaging on a particular social issues is so dated and triggering. But I invite you to take a longer view and to hold out both your hands to hold onto contradictory ideas.

You can love your Grandma and cut her some slack, knowing her life story and sheltered life. You being a bright light of modernity and kindness may go much farther than you tone-policing your Elders.  You can acknowledge that this horror happening to the water protectors in the Dakotas is a continuation of what has been happening to Native peoples all over the world for a very long time. You might wonder why American First Nations peoples and their plight and continuing search for justice seems to get so little traction in social media or mainstream media.  Ditto women’s issues. How can it possibly be true that in this day and age, women can be told they are being paid less than a man doing the same job simply because they are women… and monuments are not blowing up all over the country? Hmmm?

You can hold in your heart that a period of intense colonization was horrible and continues to be tragic for indigenous people without blaming it on your hapless Uncle Bill. Honestly, you can. In fact, I encourage you to celebrate the harvest as it sets on your table in all its messy American glory, while celebrating your hopelessly outdated and parochial family and its corny stories. Your cred as an activist will not be compromised because you weren’t the sullen know-it-all at the family gathering.  And if it is, you may be hanging out with some short-sighted people who are too judgy by half.

Guilt rarely accomplishes what we intend when we either wallow in it or inflict it on others. There are better ways to change minds and hearts, more effective ways. The best being the technique of walking your talk. Of being in the world in a way that reflects your ethical standards and your courage and your love.

Enjoy this brief time with people who share your bloodline but not your political views. There is much work ahead of all of us as we tackle this brave new world of ours, these strange-bedfellows alliances that may have real possibilities for shifting the culture. For today–and maybe tomorrow–you can regain your perspective, listen attentively to people you think are not like you and practice radical kindness. The revolution will still be there waiting when you return. And you will be the better for a slice of homemade pie.

Viva le Revolution!

fallwindow

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Symbol. Omen.

gazingpool

gazing pool

The smoke has returned here. We had a couple of clearer and more hopeful days but today the air quality took another downturn and I am coughing and red-eyed again. As North Carolina continues to struggle with who is and is not our governor, the burning of the western part of the state feels much like symbol or even omen of what is to come.

The Old North State has endured the stranglehold on government that the Republic is about to encounter. As a Republican-owned General Assembly and a Republican governor have roiled the education, healthcare and other systems throughout NC, we have endured a steady barrage of quips from people outside the state and outside the South.  Serves us right for electing them, is the general theme. The quipsters never take into consideration that the districts are thoroughly gerrymandered now, making a fair election darn night impossible. Given a generally ineffective Democratic response, the citizens of the state have struggled and mourned, have marched and petitioned to little effect.

Now the Repubic gets to face the same thing and I don’t look forward to it. Because the opposition party is even more moribund on the national level. And the Republicans have been terribly efficient here–as though they came in with an ALEC-inspired and Koch-funded masterlist and have gone down it, item by item, checking out the accomplished items.  The Republic needs all its citizens paying attention now and making our own lists, readying ourselves and our networks, girding our loins.

This afternoon, I had a brief meeting with the Cranky Clergy group to which I belong. The group includes a dear friend who is Jewish and I looked at her, sitting across from me at the table. The clergy group is made up of all sorts of miscreants and potential radicals–Pagans/Witches, Lesbians, Jews. As I looked across the table, I thought (and said)–I think I worry about you and your congregation the most. And it isn’t the potential for violence as much as the horrific triggering that the Nazi comparisons must cause for you.

We went on to talk about security issues at our houses of worship and what sorts of disaster/emergency plans we need to draft or renew. And the whole time there was a part of me that wondered how far all of this was going to go.

In the smoke of a renewed mountain wildfire, I felt the reflection of destruction in my heart and in the eyes of my colleagues. Microcosm, macrocosm. What sorts of alliances will we need to stand together in ways that are meaningful, helpful, strategic? How can we be truly stronger together in the face of fear and potential revolution? 

I wish I knew the answers, that I could read the omens. But I can’t.

I am living in the Mystery of time and history, of love and madness.

As we all are. 

firecompressed

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A Hawk on the Lady’s Arm

blogfrenchbroad2

winter solstice in the park

 

 

Lately, in teaching and workshopping, I’ve taken to beginning each one with a solemn plea to those people in the group who consider themselves magic-workers of some sort. I explain a bit about these Tower Times and I implore them to practice their craft until they are not merely competent but become adept.  I tell them that the Earth needs them, that their species needs them, that their communities need them. Please, o please! practice magic and energy manipulation until you are really, really good at it.

Does it work? Do some of them do it? Yes, they do. Or at least they report to me that they are working hard and practicing. I am taking them at their word.

I also ask participants about the Veil between the worlds. Do they feel it? Does it seem very thin and kind of tattered? Many people concur. Gathering information really. And then I ask about their grounding techniques.  Some people do that so easily that they don’t have much technique to talk about. Others have elaborate rituals and visualizations that get them to that deeply connected place.  And some of them shake their heads and talk about how they used to be really good at it but lately it has failed them.

Failed them.

They’ve tried different techniques but nothing feels as strong as it used to. It’s as if–as many have articulated–the energetic core of the planet is no longer…solid. Yeah. Imagine hearing that again and again all over this country and in places in Britain and Europe.

I’ve been playing with another style of grounding that seems to be working for some folks and does work for me most of the time.  Here it goes–

Imagine yourself a muscular young hawk, sitting on the gloved hand of the Earth as Gaia. You dig your talons into the familiar glove, know the familiar smells and sights and sounds of being a trained raptor on the arm of a Goddess. Shake your bells. Flex your wings. Solid, solid connection.

And then the leather-clad arm shifts, lowers and then raises. You gather your wings to you and bend you knees, flexing your talons and releasing your grip. As the arm raises into the wildness of the sky, you lift off, with a thrust of your powerful wings and a lifting and then—you’re away. You can return when you choose but are not as bound as you once were.

If you are having trouble with grounding, try this protocol and see if it helps.

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Pondering the Times, and polishing the good silver

Spent all day today in meetings, one right after the other. Good meetings, strong meetings, merry meetings.

Yesterday, however, was a day of traveling and thinking and scheming.

It began in Cleveland, in the rain. I woke in a shabby but comfortable motel room to a sound I hadn’t heard in months–heavy rain, with wind. I had been up pretty late and morning was not quite a gleam so my waking brain didn’t quite ken what the noise was. It was still dark out but peering out the window, I smiled to watch water falling from the actual sky. Imagine that–water from the sky. 

I called for a cab to take me to the airport, showered and did the last of the packing. I dashed over to the motel office to check on something and the clerk offered to walk me back to my room with an umbrella. I laughed and allowed as how I’d dance nekkid in the rain, if I wasn’t in a city Not My Own. Heaven knows, the old West End of Asheville has experienced by nekkid pale self under a full Moon or under a downpour. But Cleveland is not my village and I restrained myself, as was polite and suitable.

I arrived early to the airport–which is my preference–and breezed through check-in and screening, only to be thwarted in the actual leaving. There was a maintenance issue with our plane and that dragged on and on, until they reassigned most of the other passengers. Only a handful of us would go on to Dulles on the original flight, whenever that managed to happen.  If my connecting flight was missed, I could look forward to a five hour layover in the perfectly horrible Dulles and an arrival time back home around 9pm. 

O bother.

When the flight finally left, it had only a few folks on it so there was snack mix and diet Coke for everyone! In abundance!  United was at least consistent. The first flight was delayed by a couple of hours and–et voila!–the connecting flight to Greenville was also delayed. So it all worked out.  And it gave me time to ponder this whole Kick It Down/Destroy the Patriarchy thing that many of us keep talking about but don’t seem to have the ability to speak it into being.  We’ll need to find some other strategies if we’re going to achieve this Very Important Goal. 

I took out my trusty Composition notebook and started making lists and diagrams and doodles, and shaping what was churning around in my head. In witchcraft, as in life, intention is terribly important, and it’s vital to be specific if you need a specific outcome. So “Kick It Down” can be a hashtag but isn’t really a strategy.

We can start with definitions.

What is patriarchy and what don’t we like about it?  What do we want changed and what do we want to have in its place?

Can we start locally, in conjunction with like-minded groups in other localities, and target the patriarchal systems in our own families, in our lives, in our city and county governments? Microcosm, macrocosm. 

Can we look at the strategies that have made patriarchal systems resilient and successful and use them to tear down the masters’ house or must we have new tools for old systems?  Or is it, as I always suspect, a third way of utilizing all available tools and resources to achieve the end results?

As I and others develop these concepts, I will share them here, in case any of it is useful to you in your community.  Each day, we begin anew. We pray for strength and resilience and courage and endurance. And, please, Mother! some humor and music and dancing, too.

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Mine Eyes Do Itch. Doth that Bode Weeping?

 

In this case, yes. My eyes are burning, scratchy, irritated. The Sun is setting, mercurochrome pink, as the Moon rises into the thick smoke of thousands of acres of southern Appalachian woodlands burning. We came into fall fire season with a serious rain deficit and were not lucky. We rarely are. There are too many people who think they can burn off that field or take care of that brush pile only to discover an awakened wind and a land so dry that everything is tinder. There are also people careless with cigarette butts and campfires. And there are sick people who start fires for fun.

All those factors have led to air quality so poor that anyone with a compromised pulmonary system had best stay inside if they can. My Goddess-daughter went to class yesterday at Western Carolina University with a scarf around her throat and a mask over her nose and mouth. She’s staying home and inside today because it’s worse. Much worse.

This is profoundly triggering for me and I addressed that in an essay that can be found in my first book “Staubs and Ditchwater.”

This—

Weather patterns change. Now we blame global warming and over-development and in my youth adults always wondered if the preacher had been properly paid. But whatever the reason, seasons aren’t what they were when I was a child in west Buncombe county. It may be hard for newcomers to believe, but back in the 1960’s, Enka-Candler was far away from The City of Asheville, so far away that children and grannies would venture out on Saturday morning to catch the Starnes Cove bus into town. The grannies warned us of strangers and cars, as though we’d never seen either. And when I was older–in high school–I’d come into town to visit my grandfather at his barbershop in the Flat Iron Building.

We were far from most city services out in the cove, but we did have city water whose pressure was so low by the time it got to the top of the hill that my dad built a concrete reservoir to catch enough of the drops to do laundry or wash dishes or take sponge baths in the kitchen. And in wet weather there was a little stream that ran past the garden and the barn. My brother and I used to dam it up and when the stream was running we didn’t have to carry buckets of water up the hill to the ponies. There was more rain when I was young and the stream often saved our labor. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I haul buckets of gathered rainwater out to the eggplants and green beans, waiting for rains that are sporadic at best.

In the autumn of the year, we had dry days–a change from the afternoon thunderstorms of summer. We’d watch the process of the changing trees as we came up the road from school. The maples high on the mountain colored up first and the rest followed in the fiery shades that brought the flatlanders up from wherever they lived, to see “the color”. I guess there were years of incredible glory when I was growing up but that is not what I remember this time of year. When the trees start to change along Kimberley Avenue as I drive home from work, it’s not the vivid orange or gold that brings it back to me. It’s a smell, rare now in a world of lawn bags and vacuum-bearing trucks–the scent of dry burning leaves.

Our house was surrounded by woods and brush on three sides–a log and clapboard structure that lay uneasily at the top of a steep bank. To one side and above us were woods that connected directly to the shaggy back of the mountain. The kitchen door opened directly onto these woods, affording us cool breezes in the summer and visitations of possums, mice and spiders hairy and large who carried their young upon their backs. 

In the fall, we watched the skies at dusk to see if any wisps of smoke rose near us, gazing as far as Benson-town and Spivey to the left and Starnes Cove to the right. A wildfire on the mountain was a serious matter in those days when the only people who would likely be there to fight it were our daddies and our neighbors–men who had worked a full day and would work again tomorrow. Men whose experience in firefighting had more to do with burning off a field than suiting up in protective gear. I imagine there was a volunteer fire department somewhere but I only remember the phone calls in the night, as the men assembled with rakes and hoes and axes, going to take care of the fire. I would lie in my bed, watching the red glow through the window, smelling the smoke. I still sleep uneasily in the autumn and I trace it to those fitful nights in the wooden house, listening for the phone, watching, sniffing the air.

There was always a chance that they couldn’t stop the blaze, these subsistence farmers and truck drivers, especially in the driest of Octobers. We knew that we might have to take what belongings we could haul down the narrow steps beside the woods–the one-eyed bear, the sixty-four box of crayons–and load ourselves into the pink station wagon and get out of the cove.

We lived with Nature then and we knew that sometimes there was nothing to be done in the face of this immense and often uncontrollable force. Fire and wind, rain and ice. Often, with hard work and stubbornness, they were manageable and the crop was saved and the house still stood and the sick child did not die. But there were occasions when we bowed our heads to the inevitable and knew there were forces at work that were larger and more powerful than a hoe and a homemade tonic and a rake. 

Now I live in a different world–developers can shear away great swaths of timber and stone and dirt and perch a multi-million dollar home at the very top of a ridge, a home that can only be accessed by a SUV, shimmying its way up the switchbacks and curves of a paved drive. What happens to them during fire season, I wonder? Are they secure in the knowledge that they live in a safe and gated outpost, where rescue is only a 911 call away? I’d be willing to bet that they don’t watch the ridgeline at dark or pace their wooden decks peering toward Benson-town. But I fancy that there might be a little girl, with her stuffed bear and a box of new crayons in a cardboard box under her bed, who lies in the darkness and smells an old scent–bitter and sweet–that grows stronger as the winds pick up.

But are they safer than we were? Maybe. Maybe trained firefighters can get up there and get them out in time. Maybe they have perimeter smoke detectors to warn them of impending wildfire. The nightly news brings us shocking footage from the drier heights of California–crying women clutching half-dressed babies, babbling about the wildfire that ate through their exclusive development. As the drought lingers on here in the Appalachian mountains, I again watch the sky at dusk, though Benson-town is too far away to matter now. I wonder about the homes on Spivey, the trailers that creep along the creek in Starnes Cove. Nature, as we often say but rarely heed, always bats last.

 

 

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Hashtagging the Apocalypse..which it isn’t, btw

Britain 2013 450

 

come into my parlour…

 

 

So…the election was a shocker.  People are processing it on all sides. Social media is a minefield of vacuous positivities, calls for direct action and fear-mongering amongst the erstwhile patriots.  A delight, all around.

I think most of us need to be treated for shock with a warm blanket, some strong sweet tea and a little nap….because there is much to do.  I reposted the Tower Time documents on my Facebook page but I have some doubt that people are paying attention any more than they did the first, second…eighth times I’ve posted them, either as a group or singly.

For those of us who lived through Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, etc etc….we have a clearer vision of the things that could happen and some thoughts about the things that won’t.

I’ve been playing with hashtags–

#whatwitcheslookslike

#bethewitch

#LoveintheTimeofTowers

#carolinacassandra

#WitchStrong

But, to speak truth, I think one of the hardest things about this is knowing that so many powerful magic-workers were so clearly focused, to no avail.  Embarrassing really.

Except for this–one, two, three, brickwall.

That’s my motto for magical work.  I will give a working three attempts, with more focus on each successive try. After the third unsuccessful attempt–when I run headlong into the brickwall–I stand back and consider that it was not my work to do.

Imagine that…not my work to do.

More to come in the next days, from your friendly village witch.  Some of it you won’t like at all.  Not one little bit.

 

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signal fires

 

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The Veil of Memory

 

 

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There’s a big holiday at the end of the month–ghosts and candy, pumpkins and witches. We’ve come to call this now-secular holiday of Irish immigrants Hallowe’en.There is another celebration at the end of October –of the Celtic New Year, the final of three harvest festivals and the beginning of winter.

Most modern Pagans believe (and the ancient Irish believed) that there were two times of year when the barriers between the physical world and the world of spirits were thin. It is often referred to as the veil between the worlds, and those two hinge times occur at the changing of the seasons. The Irish only acknowledged two seasons–summer and winter. Summer begins at the start of May, called Beltane. Winter begins at the start of November, at Samhain. Both festivals were and are celebrated with bonfires and a notion that we can commune more easily with those who have gone on during these two liminal times.

Interestingly, October in western North Carolina is also the time of family reunions and church homecomings. A distant cousin and I had a chat about this at a family reunion earlier this month. We figured October is the one time of year when farmers can take a break and the weather is still nice enough for these all-day-eating-and-singings. We gather with our far and near kin, and eat and talk about family. We mourn those who have passed and coo over the babies.

Americans have some funny notions about ancestors, but ancestor veneration is a fairly standard worship system amongst tribal folks all over the world. There is an elegant logic to it all: you honor the earth and its spirits because that’s how you survive as a people. As tribal people, we might also have a sense of appreciation and love for those family members that have passed beyond the veil of memory. We see it happen today, at modern American funerals. There is a sense that we honor the dead by speaking well of them, by showing their pictures and telling their stories. We learn early on that one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead–almost as though it is a display of bad manners, and shows a lack of courtesy and respect.

We are a country that obsesses about genealogy but won’t go so far as to say we “worship” our ancestors. But the language we use around these actions of love and commemoration is less important that the acts themselves.

With Samhain we come to the final harvest in the agricultural year–when the herds were brought in from the high rich summer pastures. Some were kept over for another year; others were butchered and preserved for the winter. Once these ancient people got to winter, they had gathered in all the supplies to see them through, with the addition of fresh game from hunting.

It was a joyous time of plenty and sharing, as the people came in for the winter, drew in to the hearth with stories of home and family, of myth and magic. The final harvest was in. No tricks, no treats but a careful preparation for lean times. Mountain people here in the Smokies have been doing the same thing for a long time.

My family has been in these old mountains for many generations, in this and adjoining counties. My people have been farmers and city folks, have taken in sewing and put up leatherbritches. My people are buried in this land and I celebrate who they were, especially this time of year. I eat potato salad at the family reunion and respect my elders, though I am fast becoming one myself. And I honor the memory of my people at Samhain.

In spite of what you may have heard or read, as one Congressional candidate has declared, I’m you.

I’m you.

 

 

 

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Fire and Ice, Frost and Flame

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scrying fire

Communities are awkward, tangled-up and glorious messes. Many of us have fantasies of the intersecting Olympic rings as the model for strong and free-standing communities that are consciously linked. Whole and mingled, too. Learning from each other, sharing recipes, stepping smartly through tedious circle dances.

We belong to many sorts of communities. Family, religion, work, avocational pursuits. And every damned one of them as dysfunctional as a two-legged stool.  Such is our challenge, those of us who dream of healthy community. Such is the work required during these Tower Times when system collapse is a given and recalibration a daily amusement.

Weaving, weaving. I speak of it as “weaving” community. Weaving can be lumpy and misshapen and also sturdy. It can be filled with interesting textures and a multiplicity of colors and materials.  What weaving rarely does is rip itself apart to prove obscure points and gain status.

That’s what actual communities tend to do these days. The warps and the wefts like to fight about who is doing it correctly and the shuttle ends up feeling confused and belligerent. And they all have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and post pictures of the general unravelment somewhere on Instagram. The loom is indifferent to the drama, having a larger view of the proceedings.

As we wade into the depths of the Samhain season, we can inquire of the Ancestors about their own community weaving and they’ll do doubt tell us they were too busy working and dying of now-curable diseases to think too much about it. They left it to the preachers and the politicians to figure out the finer points.

It seems like it should be simpler, wholesome, Waltons-like. And sometimes it is.

I was invited to speak at the CUUPS Convocation at Salem and several weeks ago, I did that. (There hasn’t been time to write about it properly but it was marvelous and I had a wonderful time.) I knew several of the people there but it wasn’t my community, strictly speaking. And yet they welcomed me with open arms and I found a little home there.

Likewise, I found myself meeting a new tribe while in Pittsburgh at their Pagan Pride Day last weekend. I was met at the airport by a woman who was fun and helpful–and all the subsequent meetings with the committee members and the members of the community were the same. My tribe in Pittsburgh! People who get me!

Both experiences gave me a renewed sense of the possibility of those circle dances and those slightly-dented interlocking rings.

And then I returned to my own social media amoeba and read the field reports from the polytheist or Pagan or Witchish communities. We aren’t doing much dancing right now. We’re doing lots of infighting and posturing, with the accompanying whining and hand-wringing.

Great oogly-moogly. It does make one weary. Between the chill of the ice and the scorch of the flame, we’re not in terribly comfy places. And we don’t seem to be listening to each other at all. There’s plenty of grief and mockery and sarcasm and pain. And the weaving isn’t tight at all and the edges and seams are all unravelled.

The season of Samhain, in the darkening of the year, is not the most wholesome place for this hard and good work. But we don’t always get to choose when and where we engage the Powers That Are. Sometimes you simply have to strike when the iron is hot.

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The Gem of the Ocean

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spinning a different sort of world

Social media is filled with the anguish of thoughtful people and also idiots, none of whom can see a clear way ahead in the current presidential race. America, as you will gather from their posts, is doomed no matter what the choice ultimately is. Some people are devastated that Sanders couldn’t unmake the political machinery with his tired, repetitive rhetoric. They have vowed to turn the reins of the stagecoach over to anyone ANYONE who isn’t part of the “Dem conspiracy” that kept the good and perfect man out, conveniently forgetting he isn’t a Dem and hasn’t been a Dem until it was expedient, and maybe the party was showing some favoritism towards a candidate that long ago made a commitment to the party and has been a loyal, if flawed, supporter.

Others believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Republican three ring Circus of Freedom has come up with a very dangerous candidate indeed. So many Hitler references, so many dire warnings. I personally think he is more Caligula than Hitler, coming gleefully at the end of this American experience, rubbing his hands in expectation of the disaster capitalist opportunities that will be spread before him.

There are more weird alternatives lurking in the Greens and Libertarians camps, as passionate and concerned citizens show us how very little they gleaned from a public education when it comes to how the Republic actually functions. I certainly admire the fire (though I still think Feel the Bern was oddly tone-deaf) but have wished more than once that they had had the benefit of closer attention in US History class. Or at least had watched more public television as they were growing up.

The rest of this already challenging year is going to be distasteful and annoying and (for some) dangerous. What’s a magic worker to do?

This next bit is specifically for my witch-folk but some will be applicable to those who have yet to step into our world. Here are a few ideas—

Don’t give in to the mass media’s drive to control where you put your focus. Focus is one of the great tools in a magic worker’s work-basket. Like corvids, we all love the shiny but let’s work a little harder not to let it rule us. It is shiny for a reason and that reason is rarely good.

Take time for your daily spiritual practice, whatever that may be. Sit at your home altar, walk through the woods, go to your church or temple. Pray, if you do that. Circle dance. Drum. Sing. Connect with the Divines and rest in the glorious agricultural cycle that Pagan religions are built on. Hel, that all religions are built on.

Sit upon the land where you live. Notice everything you can about it—drought or flood or perfect weather, what are the birds singing in the morning, how does the air smell at the end of the day. Be outside, even if the weather is uncomfortable. Pace yourself in heat and sun, splash in rain, touch leaves, walk in bare feet. Become a helpful part of your ecosystem as often as you can.

Remember that your Ancestors had a pretty crappy time of it and still managed to produce you and your ilk. They didn’t have the blessing/trauma of social media and somehow managed to know how friends and family were faring and even what their political opinions were. Amazing. They lived through Depression and pogrom, through hunger and insecurity, through loss and slavery and exile. Buck up, for fucks sake. Even in these times of roiling change, there is joy and music and love to be found, to be tended, to be enjoyed. Talk to your Ancestors. Ask them about fiddle music and evenings on the porch and fresh peach pie. Do that—talk to Them—even if they haven’t been around for centuries or you never knew Them. Do that even if They are dust. Gain some perspective.

Instead of giving in to despair and fear, maybe you could do the thing you claim you do. Maybe you could do some fecking magic. Yes, witches, magic. That thing you post memes about but never actually practice. Ahem. You can start by setting an intention, which will require you to strategize and decide what the best course of action might be. Yes, that again. And while you’re thinking of that, you could set an altar for the country you claim to have concerns about. There are plenty of examples of that in the Google-verse but you could use your imagination—give it some exercise—and come up with a national altar. You know the colors. You know the emblems. If the national conventions have taught us anything, it is what the symbols can be. Call in the Ancestors of the Nation, however you seen Them. Call in the Divines that hold sway. Libertas and Columbia and Uncle Sam? Sure, why not?

And instead of wringing your hands, biting your nails and fearing the future, engage all your resources and do some work. Yes, you. And me. And all we.

Did you forget who you are in the drama of this moment? Remember now. There is much work to do.

 

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Greeting the Moon as She Rises

Tonight the Alewives had our usual Wednesday gathering. As I went to the cold car with my bag of knitting supplies, a jar of nettle tea and some hummus and chips, the crooked little New Moon winked on the western horizon. True for so many children, I suspect, but the Moon was a dear companion. I slept with the Moon on my face and to this day, I am a person who sleeps deeply and well on Full Moon nights.  It’s the New Moon that messes with my sleep patterns, making me restless and longing to slip out the back door and into the night.

As I trotted down the driveway to the car, the Moon was a new/old friend, bright and full of the promise of the waxing time.  I did a tarot reading earlier today and suggested to my client that she give herself the gift of going outside a couple of times a week and spending five minutes looking at the Moon and imagining all the possibilities of life as it spreads before her. 

So, tonight, I invite you to do the same and I will also practice what I preach.  Let’s be lunatics on these winter nights–wrapped warmly against the cold, let’s all imagine what the possibilities are in these lives we lead.  What can the Moon’s light show us that we can’t see otherwise?  Where are our dreams leading us–and do we have the courage to follow them?

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Pick Three

from Facebook, this morning…

Last night, I reminded myself that I can’t hold reponsibility–much less culpablity!–for all the world’s ills, past and present. Some of you will remember my Pick Three philosophy–choose the three areas about which you are most passionate and cling to them like a limpet.

Last night, I was reviewing my Picks and deciding whether to recommit. I am recommitting to Women’s Issues and Earth Issues. I have set aside First Amendment issues in the Picks (though I will still keep an eye on and work on them when needed) for now and am adding Appalachian issues to the Picks. It doesn’t mean all the other justice issues don’t touch me, or concern me. It means I will be actively working on those Three.

I encourage you to choose–especially if you are in danger of shutting down because you are overwhelmed. I know there are good people working on so many good causes. I stand as an ally, even if I am not in the trenches, on many of those issues. Because I can’t do all of them effectively. None of us can.

Choose to be an advocate and activist in the places that shake your soul–and no guilt about the runners-up (for there will be many). Others, like you, have taken up those needed banners. We have a culture to change.

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Imbolc and Candlemas and the Too-Early Promise of a Too-Soon Spring

We only got cold weather a few days ago.  Until then it had been unnaturally warm–and now it is unnaturally cold. Mountain winters have always been unpredictable and climate change seems to make that even more true than it was when I was a child.

People from around here who are about my age will remember that glorious year when we missed so much school. The weather was our co-conspirator. Every Sunday night (for weeks!), there would be a fall of heavy, perfect snow.  Schools would be closed, of course. The temperature would hover just below freezing and there was sledding and snowball fights and snow folks.  Long about Thursday, the temperature would rise just a bit and the back roads would clear almost enough. Almost.  Parents would shake their forefingers at us and exclaim–Back to school on Monday!

Ha ha ha. Sunday would be bright and cool, and the afternoon sky would darken after Sunday dinner.  It would start snowing by sundown and…repeat. Like Dylan Thomas, I was never sure how long this lasted but it seemed to take up the better part of a month. 

It was glorious. 

I am preparing for Imbolc–or Bridnasadh, as I call it–which is rightly called Féile Bríde in Gaeilge. As soon as the Winter Solstice has been duly celebrated, I am digging out my little piece of turf and dreaming of my other homeland. The one that isn’t these old southern highlands.

I have a new pair of shoes so there is a brand new shoe box to create the Brid’s Bed. I’m thinking of creating that little space as my homely art for this weekend. I’ll post pictures if I do.  Next Friday (15th), I’m leading a workshop on Imbolc prep at Asheville Raven and Crone.  Here are the details for that–Getting ready for Imbolc? Learn all about the traditions of the season–the Bridey Bed, clouties, Wheels, candles, water blessing, spinning, new fire, the Bhrat…There will be show and tell and places to create your own Wheel, tie a cloutie and practice healing. There may even be coloring sheets for your inner Irish child. Join Byron Ballard for one of her favorite celebrations and all it entails. There’ll be some soda bread and butter, too. Suggested donation ($10) to help with Byron’s Pantheacon expenses.

And we’re doing the 2nd annual Brigid, Dark and Bright retreat on the last day of the month. Here are those details–We’ll gather at the Maya Angelou Peace Garden to learn more about Brigid–Irish Goddess and saint–and to link our lives to Her inspiration and example. There will be poetry and fire and the making of vessels and healing techniques and ritual and clouties and song and dance and wanders through the woods. And soup and soda bread and lots of good hot tea. Space is extremely limited–we probably can’t comfortably do more than ten in addition to the helper folks. $50 for the day. Contact me if you have questions. This is the second year for this hands-on retreat. If you were part of this adventure last year, I invite you to return and re-experience this power and wonder. And if you are new to dear Brigid, this is a welcoming form of engagement.

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Mother Grove Goddess Temple’s South altar, all tarted up for Imbolc

 

 

 

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A Morning In Early January

My usual habit for many years was to rise about 7am and hit the ground running. But lately I have found myself working late into the night and sleeping later in the morning. Not a bad thing. The quality of the rest is still good. The length of rest is appropriate.

But I am missing the sunrise and that needs to change.

I caught it a bit this morning but not the full glory that is an Appalachian winter sunrise. There’s much to learn in studying the clouds and checking the wind patterns. And there is much joy in hearing the day birds put on their work boots and get to it.

My continued exploration of homeliness continued yesterday with temple cleaning and tidying and continued last night with a massive cooking binge. A longtime member of our community is home-bound for a while as she heals and today is the day to visit and bring food.  My fridge has small containers of all sorts of edibles and I tried to be aware of healthy foods for her healing body. Though, to be honest,  I do think there’s a healing quality in macaroni and cheese, so there’s some in there, too.

That’s homely–that flotilla of recyclable containers–so let’s add in the magical piece of it, too.  With every stirring and with every burp of those lids, I added in a spell for wellness. And a prayer for a better 2016 than she had in 2015.

That’s my wish for us all.

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Homeliness Practice

Last night, in celebration of homeliness, I sat in a comfy chair, with a good light shining over my left shoulder and I read a book. The first chapter of “Linnets and Valerians” to be exact. There was some soft old jazz on the radio. The house was quiet.

I worked for about fifteen years in a bookshop. Those of you who are avid readers may think that is a dream job and in  many ways it was. But not in the way you might think.  It made me stop reading for pleasure.

I taught myself to speed-read many of the new arrivals so that I could give our customers a sense of what they were getting. They trusted us to steer them towards books they’d like and away from ones that weren’t to their taste. They knew we knew what they liked, our regular customers.  And we did.

It started with fiction. I found I couldn’t read it for fun, not even authors I really liked. Non-fiction was safe for a while because most of our customers were looking for recommendations on fiction. But after a decade, all reading was work.  I could write reviews–good and thorough reviews–quickly and efficiently, though I had spent little time with what makes reading a book an experience of beauty and power.

I haven’t worked in the shop since 2012 and I easily got back my ability to read non-fiction.  It helps in my own work, of course, so I enjoy it as well as benefitting from ingesting the materials.

So my homely goal for now is to re-learn the pleasure of reading a good story, of getting lost in strong characters that become people I know.

Soft jazz, a good light, a well-loved old book-friend.   I think I can do this.

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In Praise of Homeliness

 

homely—simple, but cozy and comfortable, as in one’s own home; simple and unpretentious (Oxford Dictionary),   plain or ordinary, but pleasant

I have returned home from nearly a week away, not entirely unpacked, looking forward to routine reasserting itself in the morning. The satisfying click of the electric kettle means there will soon be a cuppa nettle tea, and a shortbread cookie. The thought of sleeping in my own bed tonight holds me in thrall as I mark the hours until bedtime.

My mail—yes, we still get mail hereabouts—held two cards from friends, a book that was expected and a small sturdy box that holds black drawing salve from a colleague in Missouri.

Sometimes I feign confusion on complicated social or political issues by stating flatly—I’m a simple country woman. I am going to spend some time reveling in that as Winter spreads Her wings over us and the dear land. I will do some sampling of new things as I return to old neglected favorites like spinning, canning, learning Gaeilge, playing the fiddle badly, painting with watercolor paints

I am going to live and celebrate quite a homely life for these few weeks. A life simply and joyfully lived.

Addendum:

Here are some words I am considering, in addition to “homely”:

Sturdy

Simple

Comfortable

Nibble

 

A book to consider reading is Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge. Call you local bookshop and surprise them by ordering it. Also, A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. They’ll have that one in stock for the holidays.

A review of L & V

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