A Lammastide Tale

Once a time, a great forest covered the westlands, streambanks and flatlands, vales and dales, meadows and hillocks, mountains and ravines and chasms deep in the heart of the country. Many kinds of trees grew there, the lesser—the rhododendron and buckeye, the dogwood and laurel, the manzanita and toyon and the greater—the dugh fir and the live oak, the tanoak and the madrone, the bay laurel and the huge valley oak.

redwoodscale.png - 1But greatest of all trees in the forest was the redwood, the sequoia, massive amid mountains or towering high along the land’s edge to drink the twilight fogs, gift of the sea. For those sequoia were more than single trees, they were the mother-tree of all the forest, gathering the mists to water its neighbors, amassing its duff to mulch the forest against the summer sun, and even in death, when an ancient tree, windfallen, cleared a space within the forest, new redwoods sprang quickly from its mouldering body.

RedwoodStreamCanyonAnd in that land, where stood these tallest of trees, blanketing the sharp-edged landscape, many waters flowed, tiny rivulets carving paths in the clay soil, or great rivers flowing easily over wide, pebbled streambeds. And not all the waters of that land were above it, for beneath the forest, the waters also ran, chill from mountainous seeps or heated with the very fires of the svartelven folk, the dwarves whose smithies ring powerful in saga and tale alike—but that is another story.

Among those waters ran a everlasting clear stream that issued forth from under the roots of a lofty, towering sequoia, old when the Norsemen relinquished their grip on the vine-lands—but that, too, is another story. From out a lightless hollow between two buttress-roots the which knotted firmly into the golden clay soil sprang forth lustily a pure gush of water, and, falling, smoothed the clay banks of the creek that issued therefrom. Even in these latter days, you may still see the remnants of this great forest, hidden away in clefts of the hillsides, nursed back to health in patches of treasured enclaves, or awaiting destruction from the hand of man.

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In these latter days, it came to pass that one such forest enclave still preserved the ancient lofty redwood and its astonishing freshwater fountain, untouched but for the addition of a cup, hooked at the great tree’s foot, ready to hand.

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Now in these days of sorrow for the forest, it came about that a harvest feast was held in that preserve whence stood the goddess-tree and her sacred spring. And a daughter of the preserve-keepers, those multi-generation farm folk, shared withal the secret of the spring, leading another girl Doireann, then but a lanky lass, into the edge of forest, and bade her drink, from the cup, of the earth’s bounty. And Doireann drank as she was bidden, and found it good.

It came about at the next harvest feasting that, though her guide—the farm daughter—was absent, Doireann was drawn alone into the deep woods. She traversed the trace, darkening from sunlight to forest dim, unsummoned, along the clay path beneath the sword fern and trillium that edged it and the watercourse to its wond’rous source, the sweet spring, for she was drawn to see and smell and drink this marvel once again. She followed her feet and her heart until she came to the great goddess-sequoia, and she felt of the texture and form of the tree, getting to know it better.

And she plunged both hands into the freshet, rinsing her hands and arms of the dust and sweat of the open country (where the Lammas sun beat fiercely beyond the cool forest air), scooping chill handfuls to cleanse her face as well. At last, she took the cup from its hook and rinsed it and drank deeply of the waters of the land, and knew that it was sacred. Leaving, she said naught of her feeling and her experience to others, fearing to make it seem less than it had been. For she felt a tie with the land, with the sequoia, with the forest that seemed new to her, yet long familiar. 

And that is the story of how Doireann met the mother-redwood and her sacred spring, but that is not the last of her tales, for it was she who serenaded the ancient sequoia of Armstrong Grove, and it was she who met the Hornéd One amid another redwood forest, and it was she who was gifted with wildlife contact amid the redwood expanse that yet survives—but those are other stories.

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Humility Equalizes…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Humility?

Having humility means to be humble. And humble means “modest, lowly in manner, respectful”—the word derives from the same root as the word humus, the organic matter of soil…or, what comes out of your compost heap when it is ready to dig into your vegetable garden. Grounded, rooted, earthed—those are the words I would also choose as having similar meaning, certainly in a magical sense.

While I expound on definitions, here are a few more root meanings that follow through the maze of interrelated definitions:

  • modest—self-controlled, moderate, temperate
  • manner—method, appearance, custom, bearing
  • respect—regard, esteem, favor

“Pride separates people; humility joins them.”
—Socrates, c. 5th century BCE

This quote of Socrates’ supports something I & my high priest taught our students for the past two decades—if you boil Wicca down to a one-word core concept, it is “connection”; (K.C.’s example for Christianity was “forgiveness” or for Buddhism was “mindfulness”). Humility joins people, and that junction, that connection, so key to the love and trust intrinsic to Wiccan magic & Wiccan ritual—that connection depends on the equalizing effect of humility as much as it depends on that love and trust.

Humility Without

I choose to employ modest as the most useful synonym for humility. Moderate in manner, showing respect for others, holding one‘s own accomplishments as equal in worth to those of others—those are traits of a humble person.

…remember what peace there may be in silence…
Speak your truth quietly and clearly

Keep interested in your own career, however humble…
—Max Ehrmann, Desiderata excerpts

Humility Within

“As if true pride
Were not also humble!”
—Robert Browning

Without resorting an exposition on the necessity of self-esteem, I will simply say that the healthy spirit values its own achievements, addresses and repairs its own failures, and rejects both undeserved praise together with undeserved opprobrium. Aristotle wordily discusses, in his Nicomachean Ethics, what I will summarize as a spectrum of internal evaluation, or self-esteem: with inappropriate humility at one end and vainglory at the far end; he places earned pride as a balanced midpoint. Browning‘s simple couplet encapsulates Aristotle’s essay, yet both emphasize the value of knowing one’s own worth.

 

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Honor Enriches…

…let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you.

—The Charge of the Goddess

Here continues a series of blog entries undertaking to examine each of the eight qualities that our Great Mother advises us to cherish in our hearts.

What Is Honor?

Definitions feel more emphatic when a word retains its nature for more than two millennia, especially in this bleeding-edge society where yesterday’s newest invention equals tomorrow’s midden-filling. Honor/honour is defined (and has been defined since BCE Rome) “dignity or reputation.” As is my habit, I dug a little deeper, chasing definitions of the definition, and find that dignity means “worth (or worthiness), proper, fitting.” My fellow BTW initiates may take particular note of those two words: proper and worthy—both used within our core ceremonies to identify someone newly become one of the Wicca.

One’s reputation is built upon others’ experience. Everything you do and say creates your reputation; nothing you do or say is likely to improve a poor reputation except possibly a sea change in one’s words & deeds over considerable time.

  • Keep your word
    Making promises is easy; keeping them often hard. Think first, before you give a promise, even to a child (especially to a child, children remember broken promises!)
  • Pay your debts
    Whether monies owed are a formal, paper-recorded commitment or merely a nod or handshake to a friend who covers one’s lunch tab the day before payday, cold hard cash is as memorable a broken promise as there is. As an indicator of anyone’s trustworthiness, the earthy reality of gelt/wampum/dough/scratch/valuta speaks volumes, silently.
  • Be on time
    “Pagan Standard Time” is a poor attempt at humor. It is not funny. Public circles or sabbats or events that start 60 to 90 minutes after the published starting time induce low regard for aught that names itself Pagan—religions, traditions, faiths: Witch, Lodge Magic, Druid, Asatru, Voudon, Heathen, Wiccan, Troth, Thelema, etc.

Doubtless other examples will occur to my readers, but I believe those are enough to sharpen my point. In societies around the globe and across thousands of years, honor/honour is a commodity valued in actual noble metals.

  • Norse and related societies paid weregild penalty in compensation for murder & manslaughter
  • Celtic peoples recorded in brehon law how “honor price” was to be calculated and paid
  • A man’s standing, known as dignitas, was a social asset in Republican Rome
  • Today as much as yesterday, Asian societies rely on the virtual lubrication of face

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

Honor Without

Today, the highest honor given to ordinary people in the USA is the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The very name of this highest civilian recognition—the Medal of Honor—imparts some small sense of the respect given to recipients, and the worth of those recipients to be so honored.

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Mary Edwards Walker, MD, sole woman ever to receive the Medal of Honor She wore it throughout her lifetime.

As the previous sentence demonstrates, it is impossible to speak or write of the concept of honor/honour without using the very words we employ to define it. Alas, such circular definitions may limit comprehension of a new concept—but the notion of honor, of worth, of respect are enacted on playgrounds every day. Our culture may value individual honor/honour above the sociodynamic face of many other cultures, yet we adopted the concept into English almost as soon as, historically, we encountered it (early 19th century, per dictionaries). Children & adults alike grasp the relationship concept of saving face or losing face—in the classroom, in the courtroom, in the conference room, and in the bedroom.

Honor Within

Quotes say so much about this topic, and so vividly, that the many voices speak louder than mine:

…honour is a possession of soul…
—de la Barca, The Mayor of Salamea

And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honour peereth in the meanest habit.
—Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

For titles do not reflect honor on men, but rather men on their titles.
—Machiavelli, Dei Discorsi

The nation’s honor is dearer than the nation’s comfort; yes, than the nation’s life itself.
—Woodrow Wilson

Beyond that, I note that one’s self-esteem translates into French as amour propre—a phrase which translates idiomatically to self-esteem, but when dissassembled into amour/love and propre/clean, appropriate, or particular to oneself. My own take on this concept reminds me of moment in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden:

Tha doesna like this one and tha doesna like that one. How does tha like thysen, then?
(Translated from the Yorkshire dialect: “Thou dost not like this one and thou dost not like that one. How dost thou like thyself, then?”)

 

 

Recycling Spirit

“In the economy of nature, nothing is ever lost. I cannot believe that the soul of man shall prove the one exception.”     —Gene Stratton-Porter (1863–1924)

There it is…a clear statement written almost a century before my own conclusion of similar ilk. I’ve thought for decades that nothing vanishes—not matter including living beings, not energy including the nuclear engines we know as stars or suns—nothing at all. Matter become energy becomes matter; thus, nothing that exists ever disappears/vanishes/evaporates/ceases to exist. Consciousness, or spirit, or soul, or qi, or ka, or that-which-lives is real, provable, tangible by its interactions with other consciousnesses. Why should consciousness be the only thing in the cosmos that evaporates, when we know that every thing else in the cosmos continues in other forms? Thus, living spirits continue.

Reincarnation

British Traditional Wicca incorporates a core belief, that reincarnation happens. Our funerary prayer includes a simple request of our Lord of Death & Rebirth:

…when our time comes, we will enter Thy realms gladly. …when rested and refresh among our dear ones, we shall be reborn by Thy grace and by the grace of the Great Mother. Let it be at the same time and in the same place as our beloved ones. And may we meet and know and remember, and love them again…

So mote it be.

 

 

 

The Northern Sky…

My room faced north, on the northern edge of a valley where the range of “hills” (mountains if one is anywhere but on the West Coast) northward was populated solely by native oak & grasses…and the few cattle that grazed them. The nightly vista of northern sky out my windows granted me a truly stellar view. The northern hills shielded my view from light pollution, so that the northern California clear skies granted me a decade of watching the Great Bear and Small Bear and Lady in the Chair and the milky star-flood of our own galaxy wheel around the Pole Star and across the northern sky…

Twenty-odd years later, when I first heard the Celtic goddess Arianrhod described as Lady of the Silver Wheel, that wheeling star-scape flashed vividly before my mental eyes. Many years later, an elder told me the “Silver Wheel” referred to the moon…yet in Welsh lore, Caer Arianrhod is the Welsh name of the constellation we call Corona Borealis, the northern crown. And as the Wicca know, the north is the place of power.

Orion-rising

Orion’s key stars are emphasized in this image.

Those northern night skies led me out to explore the night in the other quarters of the compass…where I rapidly discovered the truth of light pollution (Santa Rosa to the south & southwest, with habitation & its lighting creeping south-eastward along highway 12 towards Sonoma). The eastern view from the front porch was almost equally shielded from Hwy 12 hamlet lights by the last of the “hills” that marched down from Calistoga Pass, so that the eastern sky well above horizon granted me superlative views of autumn’s annual, stately arrival of Orion’s masterful figure, the Hunter stalking in to rule the dark skies of winter. And that led my gaze upwards to zenith, where I found the Seven Sisters—the Pleiades, clustered together as the sisters, traditionally, flee ahead of the dread Hunter and his wild hunt. Chasing the Hunter across dark-time skies from harvest to springtide, I learned other recognizable constellations—the “teapot” of Sagittarius that outlines the centaur’s drawn longbow, the aforementioned Northern Crown (which crosses high in the sky in the northern temperate latitudes), and gradually a few of the summer stars, too—most notably, Cygnus the Swan,  which constellation fills much of the Summer Triangle of vivid stars.

Cygnus-Northern-Cross-Summer-Triangle

Sacred springs…

inWater is life.      —First Peoples saying

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Greek bronze Pegasus figure, 6th century BCE

Having spoken of the Muses’ sacred spring, Hippocrene (which translates to mean “horse fountain”), it seems fitting to mention the myth of the spring’s creation. Tales tell that Pegasus—himself described as the steed of the Muses—upon launching himself skyward, that his hoof clove the rock of Mt. Helicon, opening the Hippocrene fountainhead  at that place. The Hippocrene remains accessible to hikers on Mt. Helicon today, with a battered old bucket chained to the stone well opening, allowing visitors to reach the subterranean water a few yards (meters) below the opening.

A Scattering of Sacred Springs

Look within, for within is the wellspring of virtue…      —Marcus Aurelius

As the Standing Rock water protectors have reminded us all, “Water is Life.” Freshwater sources, wells and springs, are and have been from time immemorial, regarded with respect at the least and awe at the most. Freshwater natural springs & wells are sacred around the globe.

  • Licton Spring, which I have had the honor to visit personally, is sacred to the Duwamish and intermarried regional tribes of Puget Sound; a source for the medicinal red ochre.
  • The goddess Brigid’s well in Kildare is older than the saint into which the goddess was subsumed. Brigid symbols abound: her sacred flame for forge & crafting; her sacred well for healing & inspiration; her Celtic cross for sun & grain.
  • Aquae Sulis The natural hot springs in Britain’s city of Bath are named for the mineral springs there revered by the Celtic Brythons before Rome supplied the Latin name. The occupying Romans knew her as Sulis Minerva (Minerva is the name they knew Athena by, goddess of wise counsel & creativity), while the Brythonic folk knew Sulis as a healer and judge.
  • Hippocrene fount, sacred spring of the Muses upon Mt. Helicon; the name (Greek compounded of words meaning “horse” & “fountain”) refers to the myth that Athena brought Pegasus as a young colt to be raised by the Muses; when the adult Pegasus leapt for the sky, his hoof clove the stone open to reveal the water beneath, which was reputed to grant inspiration to those who drink of it.

On Muses…

Most references state that the Greek Muses number nine, a few of whose names are part of modern English—terpsichore, the art of dance; and, calliope, a steam organ. These nine best-known Muses are connected with Hellenic Greek mythology of Mt. Olympus and the Olympian deities—these are sometimes called the Younger Muses.

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Mt. Helicon’s Hippocrene spring—sacred to the Muses

One must do further reading to learn that before the muses numbered nine, they numbered three, and before that, there was one. The little-known three Elder Muses have their own sacred mountain, Mt. Helicon, and their three attributes consist of voice, memory, and meditation. Those three attributes enable performance: of poetry, of theater, of music.

Whatever their number, Muses inspire.

When I was a music & theater major, that latter quality of meditation we called “concentration”—the focused, practiced production of sound, emotion, intention that seized and moved our audiences. And when I was brought in to the Wicca, I found that the same sort of “concentration” enables our magic. As the Brits say, “Snap!”