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Preserving Fruit to Soothe the Soul


pretty berries but not on my stove today

I have spent the last few days preparing for the winter Solstice giving season.  My year of travelling continues one week from today as we head northward to my husband’s family in New York.  Then a few days at home before travelling to Florida to spend time with my daughter’s soon-to-be in-laws.

Only a few days to write the annual letter, to send off packages, to mail cards to those I love in Britain. I have baked cakes (and there are more to come) and I have hauled beautifully frozen fruits from my freezer to become jams and jellies and sauces. Once they are cooked, bottled and labeled, they will go into bags and baskets, to be delivered to friends and neighbors.

I am finding all of this homeliness a salve for my bruised soul. What a sad time it is now, for so many. The ill mother of my dear friend and sister Sarah has made her way across the veil and into Tir Nan Og.  And only a few days later, the sweet mom of my dear friend and sister Oriana made the same journey. And in the rain earlier this week, I held the joy of its arrival while balancing the terror of dear Gatlinburg, burning to the ground. Holding all those things–and others, so many others–has left me feeling like a slow-motion plate spinner, carefully watching them dip and re-balance, only to be thrown off-kilter time and time again.

But the rain–a deep, cold and soaking rain–has come to the Smoky Mountains today. The rain we needed weeks ago–months ago!–has set in for the day and the simple act of boiling canning jars and adding sugar to the bright berry juice has settled my spinning for now.  There is always time to think as the fruit is stirred and the scum scooped off.

I have been considering the totality of this year which has been filled with excitement and a depth of both grief and love that is astounding to consider.  In this year in which I turned sixty, I have learned so much about myself and my world.  And the Divines that I serve have challenged me and infuriated me and given me more than I could have ever wished for, at the point where I had stopped wishing for those sorts of things. 

For me, the year ends with Samhain but it is obvious that 2016 is going to hold on to the last possible moment and will not be fobbed off with my notion of the ancient calendar. So I look to the Winter Solstice with some expectation, as well as longing.

And the berries in their jars are rich and vibrant and sweet as summer wine.


little green apples become Cloud Jelly

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On the Intricacies of Candleflame


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.


“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!


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Symbol. Omen.


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. 


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I’ve Forgotten the Bhrat…again

It is Imbolc and there is still much to do. With one eye, I am following the results out of Iowa and wishing NC had a caucus process because it seems so interesting. With another eye, I am reviewing the Mother Grove Imbolc ritual for Saturday night. But my third eye is set in the past, in the circle of women who came together yesterday for a day-long retreat with holy Brigid.

First, there was soup and bread in the kitchen, holding its richness and nourishment for us. Then there was a small altar set squatly in the snow. And there was a bowl of fire—bright, warm, alive in the center of the circle of women.

We were sitting close together, compressed in the courtyard circle. We shared bits about ourselves and by noon, we had cried together, laughed together, contemplated the mystery of mothers and daughters together. Because mother issues loom so large in the culture that holds us, it invited us to create an alternate motherline that led us straight back to Brigid.

We practiced our healing and our dancing. We wandered in the wood and we listened to the voices both inside and out. There was soup and good bread, and fruit and cookies, too.

The time in the wood was mostly silent. A hawk stooped as the journey began, and the young crone held onto the beloved elder crone for dear life.

By the time the soup was finished, we were a tribe of women, a village of sisters. We ended our time together with smoored candles of Brigid’s sacred Flame and a simple ritual of yarn that wove us wrist-to-wrist into a vessel of magic and healing.

Inspiration. Transformation. Healing. Fire.

I have to set out the Bride’s bed tonight and leave her some of the very best whisky in the house. I do this in love, and also in gratitude for Her goodness, Her presence.

Last night, I had come off a very busy weekend and had a carful of stuff from the retreat. Sundown came and I realized that, not only had I not put out the bhrat but it was somewhere in the full car. I was too tired to go out and find it.

Today, I unloaded the care and put everything away. And as I sit here, I have an image of the bhrat setting in the solarium, waiting to be placed on the wet Appalachian soil of my side yard.

Honestly, I won’t forget it again. As soon as I’ve posted this, I’ll take it out.

But for this moment, my eyes are in the past, considering the power and beauty of these women who are forged in fire, whose souls are sharp steel, who will never again be vanquished. With such an army of glorious and entwined women, what could be accomplished in these Tower Times, in this old and tired world?


Brigid’s crow


Altar in the snow

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A Pagan Community Dialogue on Abuse and Rape Culture

Sunday, November 22, 2-4PM

Asheville Raven and Crone, 555 Merrimon Ave.

This will be a open and safe space for discussion and conversation on the abuse and rape culture we live in. I’m facilitating the discussion. We will focus on the Pagan community, in light of the recent Waking Life revelations.

For years, we’ve talked around abuse in the Pagan community and only dealt when it when there was no way not to do that. I invite all of you to sit in this council and share your stories and brainstorm ways to be affective in both communications and healing.

We gladly accept donations in any amount and they will go the further the work of Our Voice, the Asheville area rape crisis center. You may also bring non-perishable food items for The Mother Grove Goddess Temple’s food pantry.

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You’re Not From Here, Are You? (Part Two of…several)

We are a set of communities older and deeper than the blogosphere–which may surprise some of you gentle readers. I’ll try to tread lightly on your illusions.

In the recent controversy over the arrest of a Pagan musician who admitted to uploading the child porn found on his computer, several wandering and toxic issues have risen to the top of the pail. One is the notion that there is only one way to be a “real Pagan.”

I came up in the early days when the glory of being Pagan was that one could do that in many different ways. Certainly, if you chose to be part of one of the codified traditions, there were and are proscribed ways of doing things. But no one tradition owns Paganism. One person may be initiated and hold leadership in an old-school British Tradition, another may practice the Religio Romano. Many paths through the forest, many rivers to the sea. The Roman Recon certainly thinks her trad is the best and so does the Brit Trad Wiccan.

There wasn’t much proselytizing in those old days and there wasn’t a sense of one right way to do the whole Earth religions/Pagan/Heathen thing.  We did it the way we did it (were trained to do it or invented it whole cloth) and if others didn’t like it, they were welcome to do their own thing somewhere else. My ritual, my rules. Your ritual, your rules.  There were sometimes flame wars within traditions as one sect separated from Mother Coven, but we tended to not bother preaching to the choirs outside our own trads.

Now, though, it seems to me I hear more and more about what it means to be a “real” Pagan. Events perpetrated by a well-known, highly visible person in the larger Pagan community that triggers and shames us is often met with cries of “Pagans never do that!” and “That person is not a true Pagan”. If you have been in the Pagan community longer than a few months or you are one of those rare souls who has chosen to learn the history of these religious movements, you have learned–possibly to your surprise–that Pagans are humans and we exhibit all the traits (for good or ill) of your basic human being. All of them.

We are political wonks and we are bored by politics. We are Dems, Repubs, Independents, Libertarians, Socialists, Anarchists, Greens and nothing at all. We are pro-choice and pro-life. We are good at spelling and we suck at it. We are a wide range of genders and colors and ethnicities. We are tall and short, fat and thin. We are well, we are ill, we are healing. We are differently-abled. We are single, widowed, married, partnered, polyed. We are professionals and panhandlers. I could go on but I think you get it.  We’re humans.

We have our heads buried in the sand or we are stationed in Cloud Cuckoo Land (and you should read that play, by the way, whatever your trad) if we think Pagans aren’t capable of the full range from feeding the homeless to abusing children. Yes, “real” Pagans have done that good thing and “real” Pagans are responsible for that bad thing.  And all the sorts of things that lie in between and make up our non-binary lives.

I am also seeing this interesting drawing-back from confusing and hurtful situations by leaving it in the hands of “karma.”  Most people in the West–and this is certainly true for many Pagans–have a shallow and incomplete knowledge of what “karma” is and we are wrong to leave the safety and the future of our communities to something so intangible, so poorly understood by most of us.  “Dude, I wouldn’t have his karma!” or “Leave it to karma–she’s a bitch!” are hardly inspiring in the face of massive community dysfunction.

Our work–besides reaching down the throat of our complicated history and teaching the people new to Paganism that there is more to being a Pagan than commenting on popular blogs and forums–is to create places in the web of our diverse and argumentative communities where those communities can work through the issues that rise up and to strategize ways to repair the damage in the cloth of the community. We can try to insure that the bad things don’t recur because we have ignored them for decades and they have not gone “away.” We can actually listen when people express their discomfort or fear or anger and know we are strong enough to withstand our own deep scrutiny.

When we have been here for a few more decades, I hope people will look back on this time as the starting point for a renewed love of our people and a renewed commitment to protect the vulnerable.  There is healing there, and honor.