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:

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Of Cats and Bags

Once upon a time, in a land right where I am today, I was a very Charismatic Evangelical Christian. If you’ve read the blog at all, you know this. It made a big impact on me. More than developing a lasting faith in x, y and z, I developed a handful of lifelong, cherished friends.

However, starting in 2008, I began to grow away from the church. Little things at first (why can’t women be elders in our church?) to bigger things (what do I do about these experiences outside of the Christian norm?), and finally, I made a break with that particular church. Not too long later I broke up with The Church as a whole. About 12 to 18 months ago, I began labeling myself Pagan.

But I didn’t tell anyone, except my husband. Why? Because I had made these friends, see. These were people that I  had been through the most developmental part of my life with. We lived together, went to school together, were instrumental in each others dating relationships with future spouses, in each others weddings, went on vacations together, got pregnant and were at each others deliveries in some capacity or the other. Now, our kids play together, and we still see each other a few times a week. So when I say that we’re close friends–what I really mean is that we’re chosen family.

Chosen family, I believed, predicated on the fact that we believed similar things. And when I didn’t believe those similar things anymore–I was, I feel, justly terrified that I was putting them in a very bad position and threatening my community and support system. It wasn’t a good feeling.

For awhile, I avoided dealing with it because I wasn’t exactly sure what I believed. When I figured it out, I felt a huge pressure to TELL EVERYONE! that was allayed by another feeling that…the time will come when it’s right. So I waited.

Friday night, one of my close friends and I decided to hang out after a baby shower. When I turned off the car in a parking lot there was a tense silence for a moment, and then she started telling me she had something to say.

I knew right away it was two things: One, she was pregnant, or Two, she found my blog.

Turns out it was two.

I wasn’t surprised. That’s the deal with an Internet presence, and one I chose to make. Lesson one, Pagans who don’t want to be found out, don’t have an Internet presence. Either that, or couch it very well.

For me, though, the potential of Internet Pagan community was a risk worth taking.

We talked for a long time. There were no recriminations. No arguments, accusations, banishments. It was…can I say anti-climatic, in a way? The best possible way. We talked. It was out and the open, there it was. I was a Pagan.

The best part was one that I would suspected would happen–she wasn’t surprised. And I feel like, if someone really is your true friend, and this conversion has been going on a long time, how could they be?

We didn’t get into much of the particulars, and these things may (or may not) have to be dealt with at a later date.

There is the looming issue of salvation. As Jax wrote in her Wife of Pagan series, traditional/evangelical Christians desire others to become Christian for their eternal salvation; this is a conundrum that has no answer. Really, there is nothing to say, no argument to make. It’s a choice of faith, and most likely, every Insert-Other-Faith/Christian relationship has to navigate that territory on its own terms.

Luckily, this friend (M) wanted a relationship with me more than…_______.  That’s a true friend, no matter what the stripes. The interaction did make me ashamed that I had waited so long–that I had doubted her loyalty. However, who knows? This was most likely the perfect way, in the perfect time. I had faith that these confrontations would come when they should, for all parties involved, and that was borne out.

So, now, I’m basically an Out Pagan. The freedom of it is a strange brightness, a bit perplexing in its own way, but something to grow in to.

Summer Solstice/Litha 2011

This post is a little late; I apologize. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t post about the solstice.

When I woke up Tuesday to NPR telling me it was the Summer Solstice I was actually kind of surprised. Somewhere between Saturday and Monday I had lost time and thought I had another day to plan! But, no! I felt rushed because I was in the middle of writing a ritual.  I really, really wanted to do it, but it wasn’t close to being finished.

So, when C went down for her first nap mid-morning I scurried about gathering the tools that I wanted, rehearsing the half-hashed-out ritual in my head. I planted my butt outside, calmed down and performed what I set out to do.

And it wasn’t half bad. I felt the energy palpably raise, the breeze rustled the dry leaves, the sun gently warmed my back as it hit its peak in the sky. Dogs barked in the distance; squirrels nibbled on acorns. As a bonus, later that day I felt that what I had done worked.

All in all, a successful ritual. I learned quiet a few useful things, too, one being that contrary to my previous belief my neighbors can see me when I stand up in our backyard. Whoops.

For the rest of the day I spent as much time in the sun as I could. I talked to C about the solstice. When J got home we drank sangria, and I sunbathed until the ants bit me back inside.

Even better, at one a.m. I woke to lightning flashing and thunder rumbling.

Rain. The perfect way to end the solstice.

Solstice Kitty! She's my writing mascot.

Quick Solstice Sangria: red wine, orange juice, apple-pear soda. Presto!

Our grass has turned to dry straw.

Dead leaves, dry ground.

The ants go marching one by one...

Hurrah! Hurrah!

Inch by inch, row by row/ Please bless these seeds I sow/ Please keep them safe below/ 'Till the rain comes tumbling down

Grain for grain, sun and rain/ Find my way in nature's chain/ Till my body and my brain/ Tell the music of the land

Lyrics provided by The Garden Song by David Mallett

A Dash of This, A Pinch of That

* I went to church today. Trinity United Methodist, for all you Austinites. And…they celebrated the Summer Solstice. No joke. With drums and a calling of the elements. They even talked about the Wheel of the Year. Yes, my circuits fritzed. Completely.

* I watched all four seasons of True Blood in two weeks. I’m not sure how it happened. I kind of hated it by the end. Like, Sookie? She’s annoying. Lafayette and the 3,000 year old dude (now encased in concrete…) were/are the only reasons to watch that show. Though, they are featuring witches for season 5. So that’s interesting. Seeing media portrayals of witchcraft and Wicca are always…interesting.

* For Father’s Day, J and I went out on a *real* date Friday night. Drinks and dinner. It was lovely. We had drinks at Péché and dinner at Congress. Both were terrific and a perfect way to celebrate. This morning, J woke up to a mimosa and crèpes with dulce de leche and whipped cream. Spoiled? Just a little.

* I have writer’s block. Intensely. I’m debating on giving up a story that I’ve worked on (on and off) for over two years. It’s just…I’m not that person who started the story, and as the story evolved it’s not really the original story anymore…I don’t know. It also has some major structural and plot problems, as well as just being an overall bitch to write. But when do you say when? Any writers have advice on this?

* To help with the writer’s block and generate ideas I’ve being drawing a Tarot card and just writing with it. Sometimes it’s a character sketch, a situation or a simple description. Anything to keep the juices going. If I take long breaks from writing I gather inertia so quickly. It becomes hard to even type. Gotta keep chuggin’.

* I have no idea what I’m doing for Summer Solstice. I’ve thought about Sun Salutations at dawn, which seems okay. But I’m also feeling this draw to do a magical working of some sort. I picked up a new book titled Embracing the Moon by Yasmine Galenorn. At first I was thrown off by the dated cover–a woman’s hands embracing a green-tinted moon (thank you, Llewelleyn). Turns out though, it’s a very good beginner book. While I’ve been researching this path a long, long time I still consider myself a beginner, especially with magic and energy working since (besides observing the Sabbats and occasionally the Esbats) I don’t actually do the stuff a ton. I think. I read. I contemplate. But doing…not so much.

Which, leads me to want to start doing. Going to church today also lit a fire under that desire. This leads me to…

* Fear. I have a lot of anxiety and fear stemming from a pretty creeptastic experience I had a few months ago. This could be a post on its own, and it might become one. Hmm. A Litha ritual to bring light into the places of dank, of fear? I don’t believe that shadow or darkness is bad, at all. It’s neutral like the light is. However, fear—fear and anxiety live in a dank, cold, awful place of the soul. A place that could use some warming light. Hmmm.

That’s all. Enjoy the week, everyone 🙂

Midsummer Thoughts #1: Drought and Flood

Around each Sabbat I find myself talking it out with C on our morning walk. She sits in her stroller, looking up at me with wide-eyes (which I either interpret as criticism or adulation for my genius) being forced to listen as I pontificate and wheel her around the neighborhood.

Not an odd sight. Not at all. Does wonders for the Pagan/Witch image of eccentricity, let me tell you.

Anyway, this morning I was going on about Litha. Litha is that one of two Sabbat holidays that doesn’t really ‘click’ with me–the other being Ostara/Spring Equinox.

As I talked to C about the traditional meanings of Litha I began to compare and contrast the four season model (of which the Wheel of the Year is based) and South/Central Texas seasonality.

What we have is more of a two season model, warm/hot and cool. From March till October temperatures are generally warm, hardly ever dipping lower than 50 except for a few freak incidents. From November till February temperatures are cooler (‘cool’ being relative), and it freezes occasionally, usually in January and February (right before it warms up).

Most of the Sabbats work quiet well in warm/cool seasonality. A ghostly chill can be detected in the autumn breeze at Samhain, and the immediacy of spring is easily felt at Imbolc.

Litha/Midsummer/Summer Solstice/Whatever seems to be kind of lost. I understand the more cut and dry part of the holiday: it is the longest day and shortest night. The zenith of summer yet the onset of winter, etc.

But the more seasonal connotations don’t really jive here. It’s not a time of fertility. It’s actually a time of death. The harvest in our warm-season gardens has been coming in and reaches its peak. Soon, in July, most of us will be composting the last dying tomatoes, eggplant and squash. Whatever spring rains we have given way to drought.

Drought.

As C and I continued our stroll my mind worried over that word a bit. Drought. It’s a constant in Texas nowadays, each few years worse than the last. Right now Central Texas is in an ‘Exceptional Stage’ drought.

…Texas…is experiencing harsh drought impacts in both the short-term (up to 90-days) and the long-term  (beyond 90-days). For the March to May period, San Antonio reported only 0.88 inches of rain, the second driest such period since 1885, with the driest being in 1961, when only 0.52 inches of rain fell…Temperatures ranged from 6 to 10 degrees above average across the state, causing even further dessication of soils.

It’s important to note what drought is and what it does. Drought is “a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall; a shortage of water resulting from this” (Google Definitions). Drought accelerates erosion and the loss of topsoil. It increases risk of wildfire. The lack of water poses a threat to habitats and ecosystems, especially those that aren’t conditioned to regular drought.

In a farming state like Texas, drought combined with intense irrigation practices can wreak havoc by increasing soil salinity and draining aquifers. I wondered about the ranchers trying to feed their livestock on brittle grasses. As I drove across the state last weekend I marveled at field upon field of maize, corn and cotton. How were they surviving? Some looked the worse for it.

When I was a Christian ‘drought’ symbolized a time when God didn’t really talk to you. You were in a “season” of drought, in a “hard” place. A time of “suffering” perhaps because your relationship with God was “dry”.

What are the spiritual connotations to a Pagan? Especially an earth-centered Pagan? Is drought ever necessary?

I thought about the implications of a spiritual drought: I could see that if you felt your gods were ignoring you, or you were ignoring your practice, how it could snowball into undesired effects. Maybe bitterness and apathy arising like salt from parched ground. A dying off of important parts of self. Certainly, drought is destructive. The only benefit of drought I could find mentioned was…wait for it…more sunny days for golfers. So, drought doesn’t seem necessary the way that flooding can be for some ecosystems.

Flood.

Now, there’s a concept I haven’t really considered in spiritual terms, Pagan or not. As Texas is experiencing yet another drought, to the north people are contending with epic flooding.

Flooding is defined as “An overflowing of a large amount of water beyond its normal confines” (Google Definitions). Flooding is destructive, obviously: it destroys homes and communities, crops and ecosystems just as surely as a drought does. But it also has benefits that a drought does not. Floods can recharge groundwater, as well as increase nutrients in lakes, rivers and on floodplains. (Source) (Source)

For some reason though, the idea of spiritual flood is overwhelming and unpleasant to me. What is that even? A supernatural experience so vast that it overloads the circuits? There are only two that I can recall off the top of my head. The first was when I began to speak in tongues. The second was this past February when some weird shit went down as I was cleansing my house. Each time had serious, immediate ramifications. One was met with joy, at the time (tongues), and the other, fear (cleansing). The tongues incident propelled me even deeper into that branch of Christianity; the cleansing repelled me from magical practices for a while.

Flooding also brings to mind how over the course of history civilizations that depended on flood built to accommodate them. They didn’t try to fight it. The rains would come, the waters would rise. Therefore, they grew x-crop that could benefit; they oriented their calendars around a certain set of seasons (for instance, rain-flood-dry/harvest). They built the foundations necessary and expectant of such events.

 

Summer

Summer is…

Ripe tomatoes.

Pests.

The promise of sweet corn.

Going to the beach. And, if you’re C, eating sand.

Seeing extraordinary things, like a sea turtle release.

Summer is here, no doubt. This Pagan house (as in my literal home) is in a bit of a disarray, but it almost seems normal with the heat of summer descending on us to have an adjustment period. The brief spring is over and the season of (wild)fire has begun.

Litha/Midsummer has been on my mind lately. I’m not sure what to do to celebrate it. Last year, heavily pregnant, I went around town and snapped pictures. This year I’d like to do something a bit more formal.  I think what I have to work out is what summer, heat, fire actually means to me. I much prefer autumn and winter, so this is a bit of a mysterious holiday. I’m taking note of the weather especially, as it’s been odd this year (especially the constant gusty winds!).

What are your plans for the summer? What does Midsummer mean to you?

Wild yarrow growing in my backyard.