TL; DR.

For awhile I didn’t think I would come back to this space. It seems part of a different time of my life, so integrated with our old house, with the city and life that we left. 

But I keep thinking about this blog. The title: This Pagan House. I am still a Pagan, and I still have a house. More than ever, after this past couple of years, I am more confident in the identities that I have chosen. It seems like every day I desire to walk more publicly in who I am, what I believe. To begin the walk of becoming who I want to be. 

I keep thinking about how I want to take up writing again. 

—–

It’s been about a year. 10 months. Hello, again. 

I look through these old entries and some of them feel familiar. 

Oh, hello! I still do that. I’m still like that. I still think that.

And some of them feel very…young. And hopeful. And naive. 

I read those posts with a half-smlie, and maybe a prickle of tears. To make the choice: stay, or go? Stay, or become? 

——

Briefly: 

I see that the last set of posts I wrote informed this space that J had lost his job. That I had Eleanor, successfully, but returned to the hospital. October 2013 was a time of refocusing, reinvention. I remember that time; everything was going pretty well, considering. 

In the latter part of October I developed a severe case of pericoronitis, basically inflammation of the wisdom teeth, most likely due to a super-stressed immune system (read, the mystery illness after Eleanor) and crowding from my jaw. The surgery to remove all of my wisdom teeth had to be done immediately. This wiped out the last of our reserve money from selling the house. In December, we broke our lease and moved in with J’s parents. J also had the chance at a Supreme Career Maker Opportunity, the kind of job that only comes along once-in-a-blue-moon. He was told by the HR rep after the on-site interviews that he was a virtual lock. They loved him. They’d be in touch soon. 

We were so excited.

Two days after we moved in with his parents we learned that he did not get the job. It was devastating. 

We lived with his parents for almost six months. I weaned Eleanor and took a full-time retail job. Promising job prospects came and went, often with enough interviews to make him, us, feel hopeful. But they never actually resulted in anything. 

One job, an entry-level job in a town we didn’t even have on our radar, came up. It was in the right field, not quiet what he wanted to do, but still. Something. Enough to keep going to the interviews. They flew him out. They offered the job. At the time he tried to leverage it into another job, another promising prospect that was another Supreme Career Maker Opportunity. It looked for a few days that it might happen. 

And again, disappointment. The preferred plan again fell through. But he accepted the other job. We had to at that point. Everything in our life at that point was brittle: our relationship, our relationship to our children, and to his parents, the atmosphere at my job. We had to leave. 

Two months (due to security clearance) later we found ourselves moving from Texas to the Midwest. 

And here we are, in the suburbs of St. Louis. 

—-

To prepare for our move, I flew up to St. Louis to find a house to rent. We both agreed that if we could get it as settled as possible before we actually moved that would be best. I met with a rental agent, we toured the city, I settled on a house in the County, to the north-west of St. Louis. I signed the papers, reassured that we could pick up the keys as soon as we got in to town. Everything was ready. 

Well. In St. Louis County there’s something called an occupancy permit, that can only be obtained after an inspection of the property. It’s basically a (corrupt) moneymaker. I was told when I signed the papers that the inspection was done, and that the permit would be waiting for us when we got to town.

J went to the City Hall the first day in town. The leasing agency hadn’t done the inspection, thus, no permit.

I was livid. The leasing agent gave us the run around. J’s new company began legal proceedings. They had one inspection done later that week–and they failed it, meaning no permit. They greased some palms, got a date for another inspection less than a day later, and passed it. Yeah, not suspicious at all. 

When we finally moved into the house…it was a mess. Not at all like I had been shown. They had contractors come in during the week to fix some things so they could get the inspection passed, and they had left the house in shambles. Broken kitchen drawers. Three cups of sawdust in the carpets from cutting off the bottoms of the doors so that they would fit in the doorway–and then, the cuts were jagged and crooked. Nails sticking out of cabinetry. 

To top it all off, when we turned on the shower to clean the tub, water began pouring from the pipes into the basement. The leasing company hadn’t overwintered the property, and all of the water pipes in the basement had shattered. 

(So…how did it pass the second inspection? You tell me.)

Needless to say, we broke the lease and demanded all of our money back. 

When I did a move-out inspection a week later, the representative hopped out of his car and came up to me with a puzzled look on his face. 

“Are we doing a move-in inspection?”

I paused. “Um, no. We’re moving out.”

His frowned deepened and annoyance clearly showed on his face. “What do you mean, move out? I’m the agent who okays listings to be put on the market. I expressly did not approve this property.”

We went into the house, I showed him around, and asked him if he wanted to see the basement to make sure it was okay. 

He gave a half-laugh, the kind you give when something is not very funny. “I don’t need to go down there. I know it’s a mess.The pipes are shattered, and there’s a leak. We have those water-absorption buckets all around.  Now tell me. Who was your leasing agent?”

—-

We found a new house. We moved out a week after living in the Broken House. 

The new place is homey. The new leasing company is responsive, kind, and eccentric. The hardwoods shine. The kitchen is stuck in the ’90s, but that’s okay, because there’s a three-season porch, and a finished basement. It’s taken awhile, but we’re painting the walls and decorating and making it home. It’s only a rental, and we’ll probably be leaving soon-ish. But it’s our home, for now. Probably for the time that we stay in St. Louis. 

—-

Two weeks after we moved to St. Louis, J got a call from a company that had initially passed on his resume. They’re exciting, a lot of influence, research, and innovation. They were very keen to interview him, wanted to talk to him about a new position that had come up. 

It was in Texas, close to family. Close to friends. Good benefits. Awesome opportunity. 

We laughed and laughed and laughed. Then I rolled over and cried. 

—–

I go to therapy now. I like her. She’s earnest, beautiful, and I detect a bit of kookiness. I enjoy it. Some of our sessions involve talking, some involving trance-meditation. My kind of therapist. 

I’ve struggled to cope with this move. Hell, I’ve struggled to cope with the past two years. My first therapy session I finished a long tirade with: “How did I even get here?! This is not the life I wanted. This is not the life I want!”

She nodded, very calm, like a therapist should be, and told me that we’d figure it out. But it was going to take some time. 

—–

One thing I love about St.Louis is that it rains. Right now it’s thundering and lightening and just pouring down. Before the storm began, nature became a visual and sonic cacophony. Clouds purpled and multiplied. Lightning pierced the suburban sky in eerily straight lines. Thunder clapped and rumbled. The cicadas roared a deafening tune. 

So loud that C stood in the driveway, clapped her hands over her ears, and yelled at All of the Forces of Nature to cut it out. They didn’t listen, much to her consternation. Her four-year-old self is giggly and joyful, but also imperious. Of course Nature should obey her, and why not? All she wanted was a gentle, cool summer evening so she could play outside. 

But only the downpour ceased their racket. 

Now it’s the sound of softly falling rain, distant rolling thunder, and the gentle song of crickets. Green leaves, a bit on the tired side of summer, weighted down by heavy drops of rain. A cool breeze, finally, in the wake of the storm. 

—–

It’s taken me a few days to write this. I went back and forth on whether or not to post it, but if I keep up this space here—which I intend to—then this part of the story needs to be told. 

One last thing. 

Being a pagan in a strange land can be difficult. I intimately knew the gods and landspirits of Texas, especially Central Texas. I felt them in the cliffs and brush and oak and dry creeks. In the searing heat of summer, in the sharp stillness of those brief winter nights.  I celebrated Dionysus in the vineyard I worked; I touched Aphrodite in the silky softness of May evenings. I saw mischievous faces in the hedges of the park where I ran. 

Here, I feel displaced. I intellectually know that this is a place of rivers and waters and hills. Trees tower over the suburbs. It is so humid that the mornings shimmer in the sunlight sometimes. There is emotion here, so much of it, and so much hurt and displacement and regret. It is an area with a deep and complicated history.  You can feel it simmer over St. Louis, and indeed, it burst forth a few weeks ago in tragedy.

I find that in these places–there is deep, deep magic. Old magic. It’s palpable here. As I write this I feel a certainty that even though this land is unfamiliar, that there is a rightness of me being here at this time in my life. 

Even though this place is complicated, and I don’t always like it, I know that I am supposed to be here.

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PBP 2013: Burial and Burial Customs

I had several ideas for the ‘B’ category. Bones, blood, boar, basil, bay laurel, Beltane. Then, on Saturday, I was talking with a lady about the subdivision where I lived and she mentioned that it used to be an old Native American reservation…or burial ground…or spiritual place.

Well, I have no idea if that’s true. The correlation that’s a little weird is that I live in a subdivision named after Native American tribes, but let’s be honest. The likelihood of that being true, and not just hearsay, is small.  I researched as much as I could online and came up empty.

Still, the conversation got me thinking about the concept of burial, burial customs, funerals and graveyards. Ripe topics for Witches, Pagans and assorted ancestor-honorers, huh?

(Also: I meant to do many more cultures and societies, however, both those here took a couple of hours of reading + writing. It’s definitely a subject I hope to continually return to—talk about fascinating stuff!)

*****

Ancient Egyptian

The Why: The Ancient Egyptians believed that people had a ka, or life force, and the ba, a set of spiritual characteristics unique to the individual. The ka was attached to the body, and needed it as a home–thus the offerings of food, drink and the process of mummification. Priests performed funeral rites to release the ba from the body. When combined, the ba and the ka formed the akh. (Note: I’ll be honest…I read on this subject for quiet a while and didn’t understand it all…so, any well-researched Kemetics are welcome to explicate in the comments.)

At first, Egyptians were buried in the desert sands. The arid conditions dried out the bodies and naturally mummified them. Soon, people began building mud structures on top of the graves (called mastabas).  Eventually these lead to step pyramids and the iconic Great Pyramids of Giza. The pyramid building era lasted about a thousand years, from 2700 BCE to 1700 BCE.  Afterwards, kings and nobility began to cut their tombs into rock faces (like The Valley of the Kings in Luxor). The hope was to prevent grave-robbers from thieving all the goods, alas…we all know how that turned out.

Besides the structures, the (wealthy) Egyptians had burial rituals  that involved mummification, spells and magic. After elaborate rituals, the priests placed the body in decorated coffins, surrounded by offerings and goods for the person to take into the afterlife.

Sources:

Wikipedia–Ancient Egyptian burial customs

Wikipedia–Egyptian Pyramids

Egyptian Museum’s Burial Practices Gallery

Encyclopedia Mythica–The Akh

*******

Celtic

The Why:  The Celts believed that there was a life beyond death. Souls moved beyond the body and into an afterlife, though historical details of this afterlife aren’t clear.  It should be remembered that the Celtic people are a very large, very expansive grouping of tribes that at one point reached across the European continent. Beliefs and customs varied.

There is evidence for a variety of burial practices and customs across the Celtic world. Burial (inhumation) was common, as was cremation and even excarnation (where the bodies were left out in the elements).  There is evidence that during some historical periods Celts expected the next life to be similar to this one, as they were buried with jewelry, food, beloved animals, chariots and martial gear.

How elaborate a funeral and tomb was largely depended on the social status of the dead. A person of high social standing might be celebrated with feasts, bards, elegies and even games–though it might not be an exact correspondence.

Sources:

Burial practices reveal secret Celtic worship in Britain despite Roman occupation (1998)

Celtic Culture Encyclopedia Volume One (Accessed through Google Book preview), page 1420-1421

Tairis: Death and Burial (EXCELLENT article about Irish and Scottish burial customs…really, much  better than any summaries I could put up here.)

Tairis: Afterlife and Ancestors

ADF: The Afterlife, the Heroes and the Dead (Ian Corrigan)

Bountiful Celtic Burials (Archaelogy, 2003)

The Iron Age Celts (University of Texas at Austin)

*******

Conclusion

Whew. Well. That was a lot of research and reading for, I’ll admit, still (very) limited understanding. However, I hope the resources linked will provide those interested with more avenues for information.

The Green Man

[Written August 29th–sorry for typos/grammar, it’s kind of a thought spill]

Yesterday I took a walk. Not a very incredible thing, a walk. But things can happen.

At last week’s Pagan Meet-Up the idea of noticing was batted around. Notice the birds, notice nature, notice the patterns. And I do that in a broad scale, but sometimes I miss the trees for the forest.

Anyway, I went walking. In my favorite place. At twilight.

The shadows were cool, a sign of the impending shift, and cicadas whined high and loud. People were out and about, kids escaping homework and adults desperate to hang on to the fading summer. I walked into the park and passed the bridge. The bridge is a short wooden plank bridge over a drainage ditch, but it connects the civilized, structure-oriented part of the park to the area filled with overgrown hedges and twisting streams.

I nodded a brief hello to Niana, the water spirit, and kept on. As I followed the path into the back section of the trail I noticed, for really the first time, how wild this part of the park is. The hedges are tall and dense and so very green. Honeysuckle and cudzu draped across holly bushes and vitex trees. Young oaks stood sentinel, about a hundred of them in columns four deep. As I rounded the keyhole turnabout I saw that someone had taken an informal rock dike and constructed small pillars every six inches or so. It was unexpected and completely magical. It took an already liminal space and made it completely other.

I paused to appreciate the site–a small half circle of standing stones casting long twilight shadows when I noticed the hedge beyond the dry stream bed.

I noticed, first, that somehow–maybe the way the sun hit some leaves in the green layer behind?–that there were golden eyes and a golden mouth in the hedge. Forming a face that looked like…depending on the way I squinted…either a man, a bird, or a deer. Then beside the face was a tunnel through the hedge. You know how in the movies the tunnels look short but are really long? I got the distinct feeling that if I crossed the stream and went into that hedge there was…something there.  And that if I just discarded my reservations and walked to the hedge, walked across the grass and across the stream bed, that there would be…I don’t know. A knowing.

I took a step off the path. And then another.

I paused. Looking to my left I saw that further back down the path a group of walkers. I thought about a reported assault last year. I got scared.

I backed away. I walked further down and then thought, what the hell, and crossed into the grass and over the stream bed. I said some pretty words, and turned around to cross the stream bed and…

Fell. Twisted my ankle. In front of several walkers.

I don’t embarrass very easily, but I kind of got the message.

In Memorium.

It’s been a spectacularly mild summer in Austin this year. We’ve had only four or five days of a 100+ degree weather, and a couple of rain showers even after the Summer Solstice. Last year, we had absolutely no rain from the Summer Solstice till late September, and we had already hit dozens of 100+ degree days.

So, today, when it was…check this out…eighty degrees, overcast and misty with a cool breeze on JULY F-ING FIRST!…I went for a jog. At noon-thirty.

The mind boggles.

However, our excellent and bewildering weather is besides the point. As I jogged into the little watershed area that I love I passed by Niana, the water spirit, gave a silent salute and jogged on by. I hit the turnaround point and made my way to the bank of the creek to say some prayers.

As I prayed I noticed that my mind was trying to make sense of something outside of its grid. It was a weird sensation, to say the least, but finally the ‘something’s not right’ turned into ‘turn your head to the left, moron’.

At first my mind didn’t compute what I was seeing. It didn’t have a grid for the field full of tree-stump sized pits, oak mulch and razed earth. After several false starts my mind finally turned over, and I got it.

This…beautiful, sacred piece of land…had been completely razed. From the where the creek bent to the next stand of trees, about a hundred feet further east, only a few oak stumps stood.

I gaped. Tears came, completely unbidden, as I stared at what had once been several natural circles of oak trees, interspersed with the occasional elm and juniper.  My mind flashed through all the times that I had run or walked by those trees, the certain play of afternoon or morning sunlight catching the leaves and grass just so as to give them a golden aura. The motes and dragonflies and butterflies and moths that fluttered languidly in the spring and summer sunshine. The bare, skeletal shadows that lined the path from Samhain till Imbolc.

I walked closer, and tears dripped faster.  I tried to sniffle them back a bit, but I was alone on the trail. I just let them go. In one of those true moments of nature-human synchronicity I noticed that a butterfly perched on a branch beside me, on a tree to the left a squirrel sat, oriented towards what was once a great stand of oaks.

I wanted to be mad, but without knowing the reason that the management did it, how could I be? We had to cut down 4 oaks and 1 juniper this spring because of a fungal disease. One, a 30-foot century oak, my Thor tree, was a blow to my heart and the geography of our yard and neighborhood. I’ve found that cutting down trees, for most people, is a sad act. At least, I hope that whoever did it felt a tug of something.

Whether they did or not, I mourned for the trees. I mourned for any of the spirits that made their home there, for the beauty and magic that was lost, for what was released without ceremony or succor.

I finally collected myself enough to begin jogging back home, and I noticed how much beauty surrounded this little nucleus of devastation. There’s Niana and the creek bed, more circles of oaks, reeds, herons and the sounds of kids and adults playing. But that place had always been a connection to me, a tether to something other, something older.

I’ll never stop going there. In the fall  I’ll scatter wildflower seeds, and what is now a razed field will become a meadow. And so it goes.

Here are some pictures of and around the area: