Friday, December 25, 2009
As I’ve spent time exploring my own spirituality I have found a fair amount of meaning and tradition to pull out of that strictly materialistic celebration of my Photo by HRW Worchester childhood. As I studied ancient and neo-Pagan beliefs and practices I have built a winter celebration that I really enjoy. Of course, though, as soon as you think you’ve got something figured out the universe throws a wrench in the works. Keeps you on your feet, I guess.
This Advent season I started attending a Friends church in my neighborhood. Quakers come out of a Christian tradition and some groups are quite traditional and conservative in their Christian belief. The Meeting I am attending, though Portland-Oregon-liberal, still includes scripture readings and some serious Jesus talk at times. The last Sunday of Advent Meeting for Worship included a “Christmas Pageant”, the first I’ve ever attended, where the kids dressed as characters of their choice, gather around a growing nativity set. If there is anything more in the spirit of Christmas than a dozen tiny angels with bed sheet robes and pipe cleaner halos, I don’t know what is.
Being exposed to all this Christ focused thought, including that found in Waldorf inspired blogs I’ve been reading, and a “new believer’s New Testament” bible I found in a free pile, has led me to a reexamination of my beliefs about Jesus. But reexamination has not led to any conclusions yet. I still have some major reservations about Jesus and Christianity, reservations that may never be reconciled. The Bible I found has an introduction for new readers that sums up Christian belief. After long meditation I disagree with almost every point, from original sin to a devil who tries to keep us from the light. I also don’t quite hold with photo by Fruitnveggies' a belief in time with a singular beginning, pivotal and unique points and a final end. Both my spiritual and scientific world views see time as cyclical, rather than linear. And without a belief in original sin or the unique event of Jesus Christ’s life can I really believe in redemption through his death? At the same time there is so much theology and philosophy woven throughout Christianity that I couldn’t possibly reject it all out of hand. Rudolph Steiner wrote extensively about Christ and I haven’t read any of that. I look forward to continuing to broaden and deepen my relationship with Christianity, and with human’s relationships with the divine.
The pastor at my Friend’s meeting left us with a final thought the other weekend. He said that all of the characters in the Nativity story were active participants in the story. Each of the participants had heard God’s invitation and actively engaged in the events. He said some people were like the Shepherds, minding their own business until they were asked to come and witness God’s works while some are like the Magi who had been searching for a lifetime. Others are like Joseph who thinks he has everything worked out before God wrenches everything apart only to put it back together completely differently. He reminded us to listen for that invitation this Christmas season, listen for the invitation and accept it, no matter what our part may be to play. What invitation are you being sent this winter?
Christmas, though, is very much about tradition. No one ever read me the story of the birth of Jesus when I was a child, so my traditions aren't about that part of the story. In the end, there is one story that sums up Christmas to me.
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
By Clement Clarke Moore
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
On, COMET! on CUPID! on, DONDER and BLITZEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOOD-NIGHT!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
photo by mikeropology
-attributed to Rudolph Steiner
Are you feeling the energies of the Death Moon or the Advent season this week? Or are you feeling both? How are you marking the turning from the season of the dead into the season of that which will be born? Do you celebrate Advent? Have you had to turn on the heater yet? :)
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
This story is an old Russian tale I first heard through the Jim Henson's The Storyteller series. It caught my imagination and when I found a written version of the story I knew I would have to retell it as my Death Moon story. Here is my version, with links to the Jim Henson and Arthur Ransome versions at the bottom.
*** *** *** ***
The Soldier and Death
Once upon a time there was a soldier who had served his King well for 25 years and was finally free to go home. He gathered his cloak and his sword, kissed his companions good bye, and took three dry biscuits before setting off into the early winter morning.
He whistled an ancient tune as he traveled the high road past snowy fields and under grey skies. He walked and he whistled until he met a beggar along the road. The old man was dressed in patched and ragged clothes and begged for alms. The soldier had no money to his name but gave the old man one of his three dry biscuits.
“God keep you and Goddess bless” said the beggar.
“Goddess bless you as well, old man” said the soldier and he set off.
He whistled his ancient tune as he traveled the high road through wooded hills and marshy lands. He walked and he whistled until he met another beggar along the road. The old man was dressed in clothes even more patched and ragged than the first and was also begging for alms. The soldier had no money to give but handed the old man the second of his three dry biscuits.
“God keep you and Goddess bless” said the beggar.
“Goddess bless you as well, old man” said the soldier and he set off.
He whistled his ancient tune as he traveled the high road past fields of wooly sheep and shaggy cows. He walked and he whistled until he met a third beggar along the road. This old man was dressed in even more patched and ragged clothes than the other two. He looked so thin and weak he could hardly stand as he begged for alms. The soldier thought of his one remaining dry biscuit but decided that he was close to home and the old man needed it more than he did. He handed the beggar his third dry biscuit.
“God keep you and Goddess bless” said the beggar.
“Goddess bless you as well, old man” said the soldier.
“Is there anything you would like as thanks for your kindness?” the beggar asked.
“There is nothing you can give me beyond your blessings, friend” replied the soldier.
“Looks can be deceiving, young man. What would you like?”
The soldier thought back fondly on evenings spent with his companions wagering all they could think to wager playing cards. He asked the old man if he had any such thing as a pack of cards about him. The old man reached under his patched and ragged cloak and pulled out a small but beautiful deck and something else the soldier could not at first identify.
“Take these as thanks, and you will never lose no matter who you play against. And take this sack as well. If you come across any beast of fowl and want to have it just tell it to get into the sack and it will. Then you can do with it what you wish.”
“Thank you kindly and Goddess bless” said the soldier one more time before he set off again, whistling his ancient tune traveling down the high road.
After a night and a day of traveling the soldier found himself on the shore of a small glittering lake. He stopped to rest his feet and quench his thirst. As he lay back among the grass he noticed three wild geese paddling across the lake. “If only I could catch them,” he thought, “then I would not be hungry as I am now.” And then he remembered the sack the old man had given him. He stood up, held the sack open and cried “Hey, you, geese! See my sack? Get into it!”
The geese rushed quickly towards the sack and clambered over themselves to get into it. When all three were in the sack the soldier tied the top with two double knots, put the sack on his shoulder and set off again. His tune was a bit less lively due to the effort of carrying the three geese, but he traveled still along the high road past stacks of hay and fields of stubble.
Before night fall he found himself on the main street of a small but lovely town. He found a well kept inn and asked for the landlord.
“Sir,” said the soldier, “In my sack are three fat geese. I would like one roasted for my dinner. I’ll trade the other for a bottle of your finest wine and you can keep the third for your troubles.”
“Oh, aye,” cried the landlord and rushed off with the sack into the kitchens.
“Don’t forget to bring back the sack,” the soldier called after him.
In no time at all the soldier was tucking in to a wonderful dinner of goose roast in honey and cloves and washing it down with a bottle of fine red wine. He spent his evening dancing and laughing with other guests at the inn and finally laid his weary body down in a soft, warm bed upstairs.
In the morning the soldier woke up and looked out the window of the inn. On the hill above the town stood a beautiful palace all made of rose red stone with red tile roofs, a tower, walled gardens and beautifully carved wooden door posts and window frames. The odd thing was, that none of the windows had glass in them, and the gardens were clearly overgrown, and some of the roof tiles were broken or missing.
When the soldier went down for breakfast he asked the landlord about the palace.
“Oh, aye, that palace belongs to the Duke who rules these lands.” said the landlord. “It’s been empty these three years, though, because evil spirits have taken up living there. They say they are angry that the Duke didn’t pay proper respects to the stones and trees that made his palace. Every night the spirits come in and make such devilish noise, stomping and singing, hooting, hollering and playing cards. There’s no living there for decent folks.”
“Can no one clear them out?” asked the soldier.
“Easier said than done.” replied the landlord. “Brave men go in live and well in the evening and in the morning the Duke’s servants have to sweep the floors to pick up all the pieces of their bones.”
“I’ve served my King well for 25 years. Fire won’t burn a soldier and water won’t drown him. A single night in that palace won’t be the end of me.” And with that the soldier asked the landlord to point him in the direction of the Duke’s new home, wishes the landlord well and set off to talk to the Duke.
“Your majesty,” said the soldier after giving the Duke a proper bow and salute, “will you give me leave to spend one night in your empty palace?”
“No man has survived a night in that palace since the evil spirits have taken up residence. I hate to see the end of such a fine man as yourself,” replied the Duke.
“I’ve served my King well for 25 years. Fire won’t burn a soldier and water won’t drown him. A single night in that palace won’t be the end of me,” Said the soldier.
“Well, if that be so then God keep you and Goddess bless,” the Duke said, “Spend the night there if you’ve set your heart on it.”
The soldier entered the palace, whistling his ancient tune, cards in his pocket, sack on his back. He whistled and sang his way through all the empty rooms admiring the beautiful rose colored stone and admiring the carved wooden beams. He lit a small fire in large room, and sat down at the table to wait for the spirits, shuffling his cards and whistling his tune the whole night through.
At 12 o’clock sharp he heard such a noise as the soldier had never heard. Yelling and screaming, dancing and singing, drums and fiddles, hooting, hollering, stomping and yowling. The room filled with the devilish little spirits, with long fingers and toes on the ends of their long arms and legs, wispy white hair floating above their pale faces and sneering mouths filled with sharp pointed teeth.
“You, soldier,” one cried, “What are you doing here? There’s no living here for decent folks”
“What a nice tune he has” another cried. “And lovely cards” yet another cried. “And such a decent soul” a third remarked.
“Deal out the cards, we’ll take them all from you, and then we will tear you to pieces and eat you up!” the first screamed again.
The soldier laughed. “Be sure you know who is eating who. What do you have to wager against my tune, my cards and my soul.”
“We have 40 barrels of gold, we do” cried one of the spirits.
“Bring them here and let’s play a game” said the soldier.
No sooner than he had said it had forty of the spirits dragged forty barrels of gold into the room. The soldier shuffled his cards and dealt them out to the spirits pushing and shoving for room on the benches around the table. They played a game and the soldier won. They played again, and the soldier won again. A third game they played and a third time the soldier won.
So it went on all night with the spirits using all their cunning to cheat and lie but the soldier winning game after game. The gold moved from one end of the room to the other until the whole 40 barrels were stacked up behind the soldier’s chair. When the spirits realized they had no more money to lose they cried out with such a clamor. They yelled and they howled, they screamed and they screeched.
“Tear him to pieces! Eat him up” they cried.
“Be sure you know who is eating who,” said the soldier as he pulled out his sack. “Do you know what this is?”
“A sack.” One of the spirits replied.
“If it is a sack, then get in it!” called the soldier. With a rushing and a whistling all the spirits flew into the sack, clambering over each other to get into it. When they were all in the soldier tied up the sack with two double knots and threw the sack on the ground. He kicked it and tossed it around, punching it and beating it until the spirits cried out for mercy.
“Do you promise to leave this palace and never come back?” asked the soldier.
“Yes, yes, we promise!” cried the spirits.
And with that the soldier untied the sack and let the spirits fly out. And fly out they did! They tripped over each other to get away from that soldier and his sack. The soldier, however, caught the last spirit as it left the sack and held it by the leg. The spirit hung, gibbering and flailing, trying to get away. The soldier grabbed the spirit’s hat and said
“Spirit, promise me to be my faithful servant.” There was nothing to be done other than agree so the spirit agreed and agreed so the soldier would let him go.
“I will keep your hat and when I call for you, you must come to me.” Said the soldier and then let the spirit go.
The last spirit hopped off screaming, following the others over fields and woods, hills and pastures, across the Great River to the Isle of the Dead. They called all the other spirits and spooks, fairies and furies, banshees and angels, dryads, nymphs and gnomes, crying and aching in all their bones, and told them about the soldier and his sack. They set sentinels all around the Isle of the Dead, and warned the ferryman who ran the ferry across the Great River, and ordered them to watch well, and whatever they did, not on any account to let in the soldier with the sack.
In the morning the Duke and his servants came to the palace and instead of finding the soldier ripped to pieces found him whistling his ancient tune in front of a small fire in the large room. Behind him was the forty barrels of gold and at his side his sack. The soldier told the Duke all that had happened and how he had won the gold from the spirits and chased them away so no spirits would dare set foot within a hundred miles of the palace.
“If that be so,” said the Duke, “then we shall move into this palace at once and you shall live here with me as a brother.” And so they did. They moved in all of their tables and beds, servants and cooks and even the Duke’s wife and children. Soon after that the soldier himself took a wife and they all lived happily in the beautiful palace above the small town.
One year after the soldier married his wife gave birth to a beautiful son. The soldier loved his son more than anything and told him stories of his own valor and made up stories about when the boy grows up and becomes a general himself. The son grew into a fine young boy, happy and strong. One day, when the boy was three years old, he fell ill with a terrible fever. The soldier and his wife prayed and tended him, they called in doctors and wise women, they fed him teas and gave him baths and special ointments were put on his chest and forehead. Despite all of this the boy got sicker and sicker. The Duke was about to call for a priest to care for the dying boy when the soldier remembered the deal he made with the spirit all those years before.
He grabbed up the spirit’s hat and cried out, “Where the devil has my devilish spirit gone to?” With a small whoosh the spirit appeared in the room of the sick boy.
“How may I help you, great Sir” asked the spirit, his eyes full of fear.
“My son is very sick. Do you or any of the other spirits of the Isle of the Dead know how to cure him?” asked the soldier.
The spirit, with his with long fingers and toes on the ends of his long arms and legs, wispy white hair floating above his pale face and fearful eyes above a mouth filled with sharp pointed teeth, looked around as if unsure whether to reveal his secret but in his great fear decided to tell what he knew. He pulled a small glass goblet with strange etchings all over it out of his pocket and held it in his long fingers. He filled it with cold water from the basin next to the bed and held it upon the boy’s forehead.
“What do you see in the water, great Sir” asked the spirit.
The soldier looked through the glass into the goblet and saw a shrunken woman dressed all in black, her face shifting from young to old, beautiful to ugly, dark to fair and back again more quickly than his eyes could make out. “I see Death” he whispered, “standing at the foot of my son’s bed.”
“All is well, great Sir” said the spirit, “If you see Death at the foot of a sick person’s bed then with a sprinkle of water from the goblet they are fit and fine. If Death is at the head of a sick person’s bed, however, all is up with them and Death will have her due.”
The spirit sprinkled a little water from the goblet onto the boy and he was instantly laughing and crawling towards his mother, as if he had never been sick a day in his life.
“Give me that goblet and I will give you back your hat. We will call it quits and our deal be done,” said the soldier to the spirit. The spirit looked greatly relieved, handed over the goblet, grabbed his hat from the soldier’s hands and whooshed off, as quick as he could, away from the soldier and his sack.
Starting that very day the soldier set up as a wise man, traveling from sick bed to sick bed. He would fill the goblet with water and hold it up to the sick person’s forehead. If Death stood at their feet he would sprinkle the water and up they got. If Death stood at their head he would say “All is up with you, Death will have her due”, and the person died as sure as spring would come again. It was a hard time for the doctors and wise women, but a great time for the soldier.
One day the soldier’s great friend the Duke fell ill. The soldier quickly came to his bedside, filled the goblet and held it up to his head. To his great fear and horror he saw the shrunken woman all dressed in black, her face shifting from young to old, beautiful to ugly, dark to fair and back again more quickly than his eyes could make out standing at the head of the Duke’s bed.
“Quickly, man, what do you see?” asked the Duke. “I am feeling weaker with every breath.”
The soldier made a choice and chose to sprinkle the Duke with the water from the goblet. The Duke rose, fit and fine, but the soldier immediately fell ill himself. Death would have her due. The soldier lay on the bed, feverish and ill, getting weaker with every breath. He held the glass up to his own forehead, looked Death in the face and pulled his sack out from under his cloak.
“Do you know what this is?” he asked her.
“A sack.” she replied, her eyes growing wide with fear.
“If it is a sack, then get in it!” he cried with the last of his strength. And with a rushing and a whistling Death flew into the soldier’s sack. He jumped up, fit and fine, tied the sack in two double knots.
“I’ve caught Death in my sack! I’ve caught Death in my sack!” he cried. And with that, he took the sack, slung over his shoulder and headed off to the deep forest, far away from the small town with the beautiful palace. He traveled into the very center of the forest and climbed he tallest tree in the darkest heart of the forest. He climbed the tree with his sack on his back and tied the sack with Death in it onto the highest branch of the highest oak tree in the darkest heart of the forest. And then he went home.
With Death tied in a sack no one could die. There were births every day, and plenty of them, but no deaths. Wars would be fought and people would get sick, but there would be no deaths. The soldier looked out over his small village below his beautiful palace and was very pleased with himself.
This went on for a number of years, happy years in which the soldier’s son grew into a fine young lad. The soldier and the Duke remained friends and grew even more wealthy with the prosperity of their land. One day the soldier went for a walk through the town and saw an ancient old crone sitting on a doorstep. She was so old and tiny she looked like she could hardly keep herself upright and tottered in the face of every breeze that blew down the street.
“Grandmother,” said the soldier gently, “is there anything I can do to help?”
“You,” cried the old woman full of anger “you soldier with your sack have done nothing but harm to me. Years ago I was ready to die in my bed surrounded by my family. I was ready to find a peaceful place across the Great River and grow young again, ready to meet the Goddess in the place she made ready for me on the Isle of the Dead. But then you caught Death in your sack. I’ve now spent years in this broken body wishing for nothing but Death’s release. There is only one thing you can do to help me.”
And with that the soldier set off straight for the deep forest, far away from the small town with the beautiful palace He traveled into the very center of the forest and climbed he tallest tree in the darkest heart of the forest. He untied the sack and carried it back to his palace, ready to meet Death and go with her when he opened the sack. But when he opened the sack Death flew out, as quick as she could away to the Isle of the Dead, terrified of the soldier and he sack.
The soldier cried out for her to return, to take him as was her due, but she would not return.
“If Death won’t take me then I’ll have to go myself.” he said to himself and he immediately set out. He marched over fields and marched through woods. He marched over hills and he marched through pastures. He marched and he marched until finally he came to the ferry across the Great River to the Isle of the Dead.
“Hulloo there!” he called out to the ferryman. “I’ve come to take the ferry to the Isle of the Dead.”
“And who are you?” asked the ferryman, “and why didn’t Death bring you here?”
“I am the soldier who caught Death in his sack. She wouldn’t bring me here so I brought myself.” Replied the soldier.
The ferryman left the soldier and went across to the Isle of Death to see what should be done about the soldier. When he returned he told the soldier that they would not let him into the Isle of the Dead and he should return to his small town with his beautiful palace.
“But I have done a terrible thing. I owe Death her due and deserve to die!” cried the soldier.
“There is no place for you here,” replied the ferryman.
Just then, Death, a shrunken woman dressed all in black, her face shifting from young to old, beautiful to ugly, dark to fair and back again more quickly than his eyes could make out, arrived on the shore near the soldier. With her was the ancient old crone from the streets of the soldier’s town.
“Death! Tell the ferryman to take me to the Isle of the Dead!” cried the soldier, but Death shrieked in fear of the sack, turned away and disappeared as quickly as she could.
The ferryman reached for the ancient old crone’s hand to gently help her into his ferry but the soldier begged her to stop.
“Grandmother, please help me. I let Death out of the sack and allowed you to come here, to the Isle of the Dead where you will grow young again. Do me this favor and take my sack. When you reach the other shore call me into it so I can meet the Goddess and beg her forgiveness. Do this for me as I have done well by you.”
The ancient crone took the sack and stepped into the ferry. But when she stepped on the shores of the Isle of Death she began to forget all that had happened to her on Earth, starting with her meeting the soldier on the shore. She dropped the sack somewhere on the Isle and there it most likely lies to this day.
The soldier waited on the shore of the Great River to be called into the sack, but he was never called. He waited and waited and eventually he turned and walked slowly back to Earth. For all I know, he wanders the Earth still.
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If you liked this story please check out my source material. Both of these versions are delightful and rich in language and images.
Google Books page for Arthur Ransome's The Soldier and Death
Jim Henson's The Storyteller episode, The Soldier and Death
A Veoh.com video of the entire episode (also avaliable on Netflix as of October 2009)
Someone's personal page with a full transcript of the episode.
The Muppet Wiki page with information about production and the cast.
Monday, November 2, 2009
In the evening:
Alternative if you don't own or don't use a crock pot:Instead of putting beef and carrots and stock in a crock pot, put it in a heavy stock pot. Simmer on the stovetop for a couple hours, or bring to a boil and then place in a 350 degree oven for a couple hours. Proceed as above.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
"In my ideal version of Halloween, we wouldn't scare ourselves with images of ghoulish skeletons, eyeballs floating in cauldrons, and hissing, three-headed snakes. Rather, we'd confront more realistic fears, like the possibility that the effects we have on the world are different from our intentions . . . or that we have not yet reached our potential . . . or that people we like might completely misread and misunderstand us. Then Halloween would serve a more spiritually useful purpose. It would bring us face-to-face with actual dangers to our psychic integrity, whereupon we could summon our brilliant courage and exorcize the hell out of them." - Rob Breszny
Dressing up in costumes has always been my favorite part of Halloween. I love figuring out what I am going to be and figuring out how to make the costume. I love watching my friends ramp up their creative juices and enjoy working together on creative projects with the deadline of the party looming over us. None of my friends go for store bought costumes - creativity and home-made are the words of the day. One year a group of friends went as Zoltan followers from the movie Dude Where's My Car by wearing amazing interstellar jumpsuits. They worked for weeks on their bubble wrap suits, complete with interstellar fanny packs to carry wallets and house keys. This year one of my friends dressed as the Morton Salt Girl (yellow dress, big white umbrella) and another as Zoltara, the fortune teller from old penny arcades. I also met a wind up ballerina from a music box, a giant lolly pop, Tank Girl and a chocolate bunny. Too much fun!
The question comes up, though, of why do we dress up for Halloween? A little internet research confirms the idea that dressing up like this is an ancient Celtic custom during particularly holy days. This time halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice is the time of Samhain, the Celtic new year celebration. It is a time of the turning from the light half of the year into the dark and was a time when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was thin. It was a time of a transition, a time when beings and spirits could move freely between the two worlds. Our modern tradition of dressing up is a direct descendant of Medieval costume parades during holy days and the upside-down revelry so important in those structured and stratified cultures. Other sources say that dressing up came from a modern fear of the spirits that can be found prowling the earth on these dark nights. As our society moved away from death as a part of daily life in the form of butchering animals and reaping crops we became fearful of the dead and started dressing up to scare off the un-earthly spirits.
One challenge that faces those of us who are rebuilding our own spiritual practices is how to reclaim ancient practices in a modern context. How do these old customs of dressing up, carving pumpkins and trick or treating fit into my life in a spiritual manner? My Personal Astrologer and Hero, Rob Breszny gives me some ideas with the horoscope he wrote above. His syndicated column, Free Will Astrology, has been a source of wisdom and meaning for me for years and I am always particularly thrilled with his writings around Halloween. What are we really afraid of? What do we really want to be? Lets make dressing up for Halloween serve to illustrate these big questions!
This year for Halloween I was a Dead Prom Queen. The costume pieces came to me easily once I decided and in the end I was really happy with it. I've never been a girly girl and never been one for dressing up but the idea of wearing a prom gown was exciting to me this fall. I found a beautiful red dress at Goodwill and it looked fantastic on me. I wore my tiara to work the day before Halloween and noticed something fantastic about costumes. What you wear effects how people treat you, and how people treat you effects how you feel. By the end of the day on Friday I FELT like a Princess. By the end of the night on Saturday I FELT like a Queen in a regal gown. The story I made up for my drowning was that my date was jealous and pushed me into the river after our Prom. In my costume, in my character, I was so awesome and beautiful that someone was jealous enough to kill me. What an inspiring thought to take away from a night of partying.
Luckily, none of my friends really were that jealous and we just had a grand time. What did you dress up as for Halloween this year? What could you dress up as to illustrate your fears or your hopes? What's the best costume you've ever seen on someone?
Sunday, October 18, 2009
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1/4 cup white or whole wheat flour
1 cup kefir or buttermilk or yogurt thinned to buttermilk consistency
Up to 3 tbs honey or maple syrup
Up to 1/4 cup melted butter, coconut oil or olive oil
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
Stir together the cornmeal, flour and sour dairy and let sit overnight.
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Sunday, October 4, 2009
There are some other fantastic signs of the season readily apparent as we settle fully into autumn. The sunlight continues to change, to get thinner. I met some friends for afternoon drinks the other day and we sat out on the deck and wore our sunglasses, but where I parked my car in the shade was still quite cool. The evenings and mornings are distinctly cold and I my dog is spending more and more hours under the covers with me rather than sleeping on her own dog bed as she prefers in the summer. The leaves on the trees are changing color and I am seeing more and more reds along with the common yellows and browns. The hills behind downtown Portland are starting to look golden green instead of just green as they do during the growing season.
Autumn is soup season, and root vegetable season. Here's a recipe from last autumn that combines the best of both worlds, and was made with turnips I harvested myself.
Harvest Moon Turnip Soup
4 or so cups of washed and chopped turnips
2 small potatoes, washed and chopped
1 small white sweet potato, peeled, washed and chopped
1/2 an onion, chopped
Couple tablespoons butter and olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic powder and thyme
3 cups chicken stock, plus some more water
3 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
3/4 cup milk
Grated cheddar cheese
Croutons (bought oh, so long ago and finally getting used up)
- Sautee the vegetables in the butter and oil in a big soup pot along with the seasonings until they are starting to get soft or color or both.
- Add the chicken stock and scrape to get the crusties off the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, drop to a simmer and check for seasonings. Simmer until the vegetables are well cooked.
- Puree the soup in batches in a blender (being very careful! Volcanic hot spewing soup is not fun for girls or boys! Cover the blender with a dishtowel, and use the low setting on your blender!) or with a stick blender if you are cool like that. Keep the soup warm in the pot once it is all blended to your desired consistency.
- In another small pot heat the butter and when melted add the flour. Cook a few minutes until it is a little golden in color. Slowly add the milk, stirring until the sauce is thickened. Add the sauce to the soup and stir to combine.
- Grate a generous portion of cheese into each soup bowl (you could add cheese to the pot, but it makes reheating difficult, so I didn't) and ladle hot soup over the cheese. Stir to combine. Garnish with croutons, a little more cheese, and black pepper.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
- Rudolph Steiner
Rudolph Steiner was a visionary and philosopher who lectured profusely through the early decades of the 20th century. He developed a model of thinking about human life that he called anthroposophy and is the founder of the Waldorf school movement. At the center of Steiner's philosophy is the understanding of man as a three fold being of body, spirit and soul and much of his work focuses on how we can balance and align these three parts of ourselves to meet our personal and cultural soul destiny.
One of the tools Steiner advocated for aligned our beings with the cosmic rhythm of the universe is the seasonal festival. He incorporated many elements of esotaric Christianity in his philosophy but, conciously or not, his descriptions of the festivals corresponds amazingly well with the pre-Christian wheel of the year festivals that I celebrate and talk about in this blog. Waldorf schools are the main celebrants of these festivals today and each group chooses different festivals to focus on, much like ancient pagan groups would have chosen some of the 8 quarter and cross quarter days to celebrate with a big party. The main festivals Waldorf or Steiner followers celebrate are Christmas (Dec 24), Candlemas (Feb 2), Easter and possibly Pentecost/Whitsun (March/April/May), May Day, St. John's Day (June 24), Michaelmas (Sept 29) and Martinmas (Nov 11). It is obvious that the dates align with the wheel of the year celebrations but I am more and more amazed that the essence behind the festivals is so similar as well.
This is the time of year of Michaelmas, the time when summer is tipping into Autumn. Steiner writes of the rhythm of the earth's year as being like any other living thing's rhythm. It includes outbreaths and inbreaths - times of being expansive and times of being contractive and huddled. He speaks of midwinter, around Christmas and the solstice, as being the most contractive part of the Earth's year and as a time when the Earth's soul, it's life force, is contained deep within her. At the other end of the rhythm is midsummer when the soul of the earth is completely exhaled and at one with the universe. Michaelmas represents the time when the Earth is breathing it's soul back in. Humans can use the spirit of this time to bring the universe's cosmic wisdom to bolster our will and courage as we face the dark days of winter and the dark times in our lives.
But these are big, unweildly concepts that aren't very practical, or much fun. Waldorf education uses stories to introduce academic material and the story associated with Michaelmas is that of the Archangel Michael, or St. George under the protection of Michael, battling a dragon with his sword of heavenly iron. Depending on who is doing the telling and who is doing the hearing the story could take the form of this classic tale of St. George and the Dragon, this tale of Li Chi and the Serpent, this lovely story in verse from the Wynstones Press book Autumn or any other story that shows an individual standing up against a large, scary force or being. Michaelmas activities include a pageant retelling the story, baking dragon shaped bread, tasks of courage and strength and parties featuring blackberries (one story says that Lucifer/The Dragon fell into a blackberry briar when he was defeated and so the fruit is no good to eat after Michaelmas). All much more accessable, and fun than deep philosophy, don't you think?
The Festivals that Rudolph Steiner writes of have captured my imagination thorougly these last few months. I know already that the celebrations marking the wheel of the year mirror cosmic truths and that symbols and stories help bring those truths to an accessable level. The writings of Steiner and the activities of all the Waldorf families and schools that have brought his writings to life have illuminated this knowledge in a whole new way for me though. And equally importantly, have given me some new ideas as to why it is important to celebrate the turning of the wheel - both to celebrate the turning itself and to use the reflection of our lives in the turning of the year to make our selves, our families and our communities the best they can be.
"The Festivals have become abstractions, matters of indifference to modern people. The word as a medium of strife and blasphemy often means more than the Word conceived as the power by which the world itself was created. Yet the alphabetical word ought to be the representative, the symbol of the Word Creative in Nature around us, in the great universe and within us too when self-knowledge awakens, and of which all mankind can be made conscious by those who truly understand the course of Nature. It was for this that the Festivals were instituted and with the knowledge we have gleaned from Spiritual Science we will try to understand what it was that the wise men of old set out to express in the... Festival[s]."
- Rudolph Steiner
For more information on Rudolph Steiner, Waldorf schools and the Steiner/Waldorf festivals, check out some of these resources:
- Christopherus Homeschool Resources - curriculum, articles and a blog from a Waldorf perspective http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/home.html
- Bob and Nancy's Services - a fantastic bookstore as well as articles and consulting services http://www.bobnancy.com/
- Millenial Child - the web page of Eugene Schwartz, a well known Waldorf teacher and consultant. Be sure to check out his curriulum overviews in the articles section http://www.millennialchild.com/index.html
- The Parenting Passageway - a blog by a Waldorf Homeschooling mom http://theparentingpassageway.com/
- Today in Faerie School - another Waldorf homeschool blog http://faeriedust2001.blogspot.com/2005_09_01_archive.html
Monday, September 21, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
It is also the time of year to harvest the goodies out of the fields and gardens that we spent all year working on. I planted and tended a beautiful little vegetable garden this year and have really enjoyed the work and the harvest. The Harvest Moon is the polarity to the Seed Moon which adds symmetry to the fact that the last time I told you about my garden was in my Seed Moon post.
As I said then I was planning two gardens for this year, one at my parent's house and one at my own little house. The bed at my parent's house is 4' x 6' and I planted early season greens, peas and beets as well as an eggplant, a chile pepper plant and some flowers. My lettuce was a huge success and there was a time when I was harvesting more than I reasonably wanted to eat. The radishes, on the other hand, were a complete bust. Who knows why but the garden spirits just didn't feel like granting me radishes this year. Ah well, they made up for it in beets and chard. One of the big suprises in my little garden was the calendula I planted. I think I planted it late and didn't expect it to do anything but then one day I looked out and there was a gorgeous yellow sun of a flower. In fact, all the flowers I had in my garden were thrilling. Mostly they were bolted veggies like radish and mustard, but I loved my nasturtium, rosemary and pea flowers as well.
The little garden really isn't that much littler, but it did end up growing just one kind of food - tomatoes. Everyone needs a tomato plant or three and I had four. I grew a hybrid grape tomato and three heirloom slicing tomatoes. One set flower and fruit so late that I got only one single red tomato before the weather changed (note to self, don't buy that variety next year) but the Kellogs Breakfast Tomato and the Amish Paste both did respectably. The Kellogs Breakfast makes giant wrinkly tomatoes that ripen to an orange juice orange color. I am certainly growing those again next year!
Growing a garden is a deeply moving experience when you approach it as a partnership between yourself and the plants. I really enjoyed getting to meet new plants and new vegetables this year. I loved eating food that grew in dirt I tended with my own hands. I loved the work I put into my garden and loved showing it off. Of course, I am already making plans for next season. I put in more lettuce and radishes for the fall (maybe the autumn fairies will like radishes more than the spring ones did) as well as collards, kale and chard. I'm planning a garlic planting and daydreaming about another bed or two or three.
What are you harvesting this autumn? What did you grow in your garden? What did you grow in the garden of your life this summer? How is that harvest coming along?
You can see more photos of my garden on my flickr stream here.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
My birthday happened to fall on Labor Day weekend this year so I made plans to go to a camp site near home and for a group of us to go up after work on Thursday night. My friend had to work on Friday so after a night of setting up camp, sitting around the campfire and sleeping in a tent we drove back into town for work on Friday. It was novel and fun - I'm at work, but I'm camping! On Friday night the whole gang showed up and we commenced the debauchery. It was my birthday, after all.
Sometime in the middle of the night of the full moon Friday the Pisces energy took over and it started to rain. Not just a little drizzly rain like we so often get in Western Oregon, but real, water pouring out of Aquarius' water jug, fish swimming through the sky rain.
I spent a some time that night and the next morning being alone with my thoughts. The full moon in Pisces brings a mystical, dreamy time. A time to face karma and, as my friend Riana put it so eloquently "Listen carefully as the fullest version of reality is unveiled and you can realign yourself with the purest intention and purpose." On that day, my 29th birthday, the day of my first Saturn Return, I laid in my sleeping bag for a while that night just listening to the rain. I sat in the woods, sipping a Bloody Mary in the early morning mist, watching the rain pour through the old growth trees and into the Salmon River. Later in the day I balanced rock towers in the river bed, one of my favorite meditative activities. I certainly didn't get any clear view on The Fullest Version of Reality, but it was good to spend some time listening for the small still voice.
Luckily, I got that out of the way early because the rest of the weekend was full of deafening noise. My friends built an awesome tarp shelter around the campfire and the weekend's soundtrack was that of us telling stories and singing with the ever present background noise of rain on plastic sheeting. The rain seemed to be taking part in our conversations. Every once in a while the puddles that formed on the top of the tarps would spill out with a splash onto the ground. As the day wore into evening and the number of empty beer cans started to outnumber the full ones the sound became funnier and funnier. Sploosh... giggle, giggle, giggle. The Piscean water goddess was having her way with us, and we went willingly.
We cooked food over the campfire, we drank whatever we could find, we were wet and we laughed . And we did all of it in the middle of the most beautiful old growth forest I can imagine being in. I honestly couldn't ask for a better birthday. Happy birthday to me!
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Thursday, August 6, 2009
by Robert Frost
Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air
That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of--was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?
I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.
I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.
Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.
When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,
The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.
In Earth Time, Moon Time Annette Hinshaw quotes this poem, specifically the lines "Now no joy but lacks salt that is not dashed with pain... ; I crave the stain of tears, the aftermark of almost too much love." At first read, and in most literary analyses of the poem I saw, it is a story of longing for youthful love and discontent with the bitterness of age. Most comments about the poem focused on the sexuality of the first half of the poem and interpreted the last stanza as a longing for death. One blogger, Kelly Fineman, sees the whole poem as a bit more ambiguous than all of that. "I don't think he's a masochist; he's a realist who accepts the complexities of the world, including the negatives along with the positives," she says. I don't even see negatives in this poem, I just see the next step.
Like any good love story the story of this poem can be not only about an individual Lover and Beloved, but also about eternal, universal or cosmic Lovers and Beloveds. It could be about any of us, it could be about all of us, it could be about the God and Goddess or about the Creator and the Created.
In the Wiccan Great Story there comes a time of the year (this time of the year, in fact) when the Father God realizes that he must sacrifice his individual life so that the universal life may continue. He understand that after the spring and early summer of loving his Goddess and their Creation he must shoulder the weight of his responsibility. May and June were the time of those "strong sweets" that caused the "swirl and ache" of the creating-love. Now, August and into September comes the "sweet of bitter bark and burning clove" of sustaining-sacrificing-love. We still get the "aftermark of almost too much love" in the form of the harvest and the hot late summer days, but we know, as he knows, that winter is on it's way.
August is a difficult time of year for me. My birthday is in the first week of September and I feel like August is the end of my cycle. It's that frustrating time before the next start when you aren't quite sure what to do next. I also think the discord between the hot temperatures and shortening days sends me into an existential funk. I seem to weather it well these days, but it's a frustrating few weeks.
How are the shortening days and growing harvest effecting you? How do you feel about the responsiblities you have towards the things you have created? What do you think about Frost's poem?
Thank you to DW and Stubborndev for their beautiful photos.