Welcoming the Harvest Moon

Tonight I took some of the leftover berries from yesterday’s cobbler to make a deep reddish-blue ink.  While I worked, I invited a few meditations on the season of harvest, the waning of the light, and the seeking of balance.

This week marked the autumnal equinox, when the hours of day equal the hours of night, and the sun entered the sign of Libra, the scales.  It seems an auspicious time to be mindful of balance in our lives, but it also strikes me as a time of only very precarious balance.  With each breath, the days grow shorter, and the perception of balance is only maintained for so long.

I was raised with a general impression that things in the natural world have a tendency to seek equilibrium.  If you put salt in water, it will usually dissolve, and then disperse until each part of water bears an equal burden.  If you open the door after a hot shower, the cool air rushes in, the hot air rushes out, and the molecules hurry to take their places until the temperature reaches a steady moderation.

But what about entropy?  What about the natural tendency towards disorder, and chaos, and constant change?  The inevitability of wasted energy?

It is chaos that transforms and provides its own sense of order, if you step back enough.  Pour something red into something blue.  Give it a good shaking and wildness and unruliness, and eventually you reveal a smooth shade of purple.

I started to think of the harvest time not just as a season of bounty, but of sacrifice, marked by the sheaves we must cut to fill our bellies, and the things we must let go to strike that balance.  We celebrate the fleeting equinox as we recognize the cycles of change and instability that together make our balance.  We prepare to enter a period of accelerating darkness, until the scales are tipped so far that they are compelled to turn, and the balance rights itself again.

I found it difficult not to hold on to the blueberries we had picked back when it was hot and beautiful outside.  I found it hard to say goodbye to the fruitful, but if I had not given them up to be cooked and pressed and strained, they would have spoiled.  I gave up the last of them for my ink.  A handful of berries, pummeled into only juice.

To this I added a bit of salt, so that our sacrifices might be pure, and vinegar, so that they may be purposeful.

It’s a bitter juice to swallow, but it can create such beauty.

in quietude,
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The Stolen Child

On the subject of changelings, I read a lovely novel about changelings not so long ago, that I really ought to recommend. It’s called “The Stolen Child” by Keith Donohue.  If you are remotely drawn to the fairy tale genre geared towards adults, this is a thought-provoking and colorful read.

But now for your instant reading gratification, here is a rather somber poem, from the compassionate changeling himself:

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

– W. B. Yeats

With a faery, hand in hand,
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P.S.  A painting entitled “Changeling 2” – an unsettling image of a young girl’s glowing face – won the London National Gallery’s BP Portrait Award in 2009.  I’m sensing a comeback.

The Cobbler and the Changeling

Earlier this evening I had two pals over to the house, and we made some delicious blueberry cobbler.  This is one of my favorite desserts, especially when the berries are handpicked, and *especially* when the berries are picked at the height of summer in the mossy swamp borderlands that the moose like to frequent.  Mm-mmm!

While my friends and I waited for the cobbler to bake and we were chatting and munching on cheese and cornichons, my LO came home from the studio with an exciting bit of lore he had heard!

Evidently, some German and/or British Isles traditions say that when you suspect your baby has been taken and a changeling left in its place, the only way to get your baby back is to make the changeling laugh.  And one of the recommended ways to do this (and a fascinating addition to our list) is by boiling water or soup over the fire in eggshells! The theory goes that the changeling will take one look at what you are doing and find it so ludicrous that it will drop its mask and, chortling some comment about never seeing anything like your behavior in 400+ years, its elvish cohorts will sweep in with your baby in tow and swap them out.

Now, I personally find the idea of changelings (and doppelgangers, for that matter) pretty horrific.  I suppose that could be because it symbolizes the frightening prospect that every individual, no matter how apparently good or innocent, has the power and potential to do harm, or perhaps it relates to the fear of being misunderstood or the danger of slander if you’re talking about your own doppelganger.  But for some reason this anecdote about the eggshells makes changelings seem to me slightly less threatening, and I’m rather comforted by the idea of  humoring them into kindness.

I can imagine this story standing in as some good advice:  If you know someone is innately good, but you recognize that they’re starting to do bad things, don’t be too hard on them, because sometimes people get “taken” by a situation, and their reactions can feel out of their own control.  Try to focus their attention on the lighter side of life, to show them that it’s not so serious, and maybe you can turn them around again.

Food for thought, I guess.  Now after eating all that cobbler my lips and tongue will be purplish blue for days.  Kind of like a little demon spirit version of me.  Kind of makes a girl start to think about mischief.  Isn’t cobbler wonderful?  *g*

Love,
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A wedding, and the search for something once lost

This weekend after celebration of my loving one’s birthday, which included him working all day at the studio while I cleaned the house, but then a late, light Thai dinner and drinks, hot dice and dancing, in the morning we trucked a couple of hours east for one of the most singularly gorgeous weddings I have ever attended.

The event was held on eight acres of land belonging to the bride’s family, and at this time of year the hills were rolling green, the grasses golden, the crimson sumac turning, and the milkweed bursting in white puffs between the trees.  There was a giant tent for eating and dancing, dripping with lights under enormous sheer red drapes and sky-high cascades of paper globe lamps, a trampoline and Lego loggia for the little ones, and camping areas for the guests on either side.  All those in attendance were wearing black and white, with the exception of the godfather, who presided over the service sporting a red scarf.  The gray clouds which had been rumbling overhead all morning respectfully swept away leaving nothing but blue skies and warm sunshine behind.

At the ring of a bell, we all processed down a trail through the woods to a clearing in the meadow set with chairs on either side of a red carpet.  The bell rang again, and we spotted the groom – in a fire engine red suit, mind you – making his way through the woods to the front of the congregation… on a bicycle!  (He rode in a few supplemental circles to the cheers and hollers of the crowd before coming to a stop at the altar.)  And after the twin daughter flower girls, up the aisle appeared the bride – in a jaw-dropping hot red gown with a giant red flower and feathers in her hair, the blazing glory of the end of summer and the height of a fruitful harvest.

It was visually almost overwhelmingly beautiful, and such a sincere, generous, loving, and joyful service that there was not a dry eye or a solemn expression to be found by the end.  I was so proud when they asked my LO to bring up the rings he had made to present them to the bride and groom as part of the ceremony.  At the sign of the kiss, the festivities began in full.

As darkness fell, the cold rushed in.  My LO approached me with a panicked expression.  He had lost his keys somewhere among the now shadowy trees.  But, not to be daunted on such a lovely day, I quickly pulled from my crafty arsenal the little charm to St. Anthony I learned thanks to the folks at NWW.  I recited it for him, then we slowly wandered into the wood, whispering the words under our breath all the way:

Tony, Tony, look around
Help us find what can’t be found

Trying to make my voice as soothing as possible to ease the anxiety welling up in my LO, I confidently escorted him through the trees until at last the keys were found.  I silently thanked loyal Tony and the Powers That Be, and enjoyed the relatively new feeling of unwavering belief and a record of success.

Being an occasionally absentminded arrow, I have had a tendency to misplace.  In the two months I have known this charm, it has never failed to impress me with its quick efficacy.  On the first go, I recovered a lost camera battery that had been sought in vain for months.  The charm compelled me to look in a completely illogical location, and I found the fool thing hidden under a dusty jewelry box, wedged in by a discarded paintbrush, hidden behind a stack of books.

So, if you’re ever in need of a little help in finding something lost, I encourage you to make use of this little rune, and hope you enjoy the subtle nudges that lead you in the right direction.

Love,
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Return to Surrender

There are certain moments, or chains of moments, that seem to come in waves – moments in which you stop and notice other moments that ordinarily would have passed into the oblivion of normalcy without another thought.  But somehow, by some miraculous recognition, these moments push us above the surface where we open our eyes and realize we’re breathing just long enough to appreciate it before we sink back down into the murky water of human existence.

Some call it coincidence.  Some call it synchronicity.  What we call it ultimately doesn’t matter, as long as we can take something from it, be it wonder, or a sense of humor, or inspiration.

The other day I was eating lunch in an Italian restaurant – well, mostly sitting with my mouth open faced with a couple violently making out just outside the window – when the ballad “Torna a Surriento” began to play.  I found myself humming along, and suddenly realized that it was Elvis Presley’s “Surrender.”  I remarked with surprise to my companion that I’d never heard this song before, although it clearly predated the version I knew by several decades.

That same evening I decided to keep the tv on as company while I puttered around the house, and not a half hour later, my ears perked up to the strains of… “Torna a Surriento.”

As it turns out, this this was just one of a string of strange familiarities lately.  They all seemed to start at one moment a few weeks ago…

August 24, to be exact, I was sitting in my cubicle at work thinking about tattoos.  (No, this is not part of my job description, sadly.)  I don’t have any tattoos, but I go through periodic phases of consideration.  Unfortunately, the tattoo I most often wish I had isn’t really practicable, so I inevitably turn to the temporary satisfaction of henna or a ballpoint pen.  And thus, only so often during the year, I walk around with an extra bounce in my step thanks to masses of unfurling flowers drawn onto the bottoms of my feet.  (There’s something about the thought of walking on flower petals wherever you go that makes it hard to be glum.)

Now, I was at work perusing the internet for new flower designs, when I came across this hypnotically beautiful image:

The caption tells me it is a mandala designed by a patient of Carl Gustav Jung, and an illustration in the text The Secret of the Golden Flower.

Shortly after viewing the flower, I experience a rather profound epiphany regarding my name, and subsequently decide to start this blog.

Not long after, I assembled a post all about a stroke of luck after a long string of failures, my grandmother, and the magic of the eggshell.  At work the following day, my coworker happens to stop by to tell me a funny story about that old wonder that you can’t break an egg by applying pressure to it vertically, because of the structure of the shell.  I cocked an eyebrow at the odds, but I should have known – jamais deux sans trois. That same afternoon, I sit down to leaf through a new book I purchased about the illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, and I open to a chapter entitled “Egg of the Universe.”

The chapter contained a discussion prompted by the following illustration of the cosmic architecture, as revealed to the mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179):

(If the universe really is egg-shaped, I suppose we can only hope that when it finally stops expanding, the backlash of contractions will only be applied vertically.)

I fell rather in love with this depiction of the cosmos, and I spent a good deal of time looking at the illustration before delving into the text.  I’ll admit that one of my first impressions was akin to the feeling one has when looking at a Georgia O’Keeffe print.  But I started looking at it more systematically and thinking about the layers of the cosmos, and it seemed to me a very poetic reflection of how I myself envision the universe.

On the outside warbles the never-ending expanse of space filled with exploding gases and flaming stars that we can really only experience by the grace of light and the magic of inertia.  Our sun blazes like a tiger lily, the red-faced south wind breathes fire from the right, and our dazzling night sky crowns the ever-changing moon in all its phases.  And encircled by it all, our clouds, and winds, and atmosphere, and waters above and waters below, and the tiny complication that is earth.

[As a side note, I interpreted that interim ring of chunks with fiery tails like meteors to be the asteroid belt.  If you look at the smaller sun-shapes as the other planets in our solar system, the placement halfway between them is even just about right.  I was delighted to read Hildegard’s own description of that region as “full of sounds, storms, and the sharpest stones large and small.”  This description of the asteroid belt (if we suspend disbelief for a moment) would predate the first recorded suspicions of its existence by at least 600 years!]

Drawn by the connection of egg-related references that had been following me about that day, I sat down to read the chapter, and nearly wept at how familiar and welcoming it felt, describing ways I feel about the universe and its sacred significance, my fixation on the dynamics of microcosm/macrocosm, and my longing for the marriage between science and spirituality.  Eager to find additional sources for similar views, I flip to the end notes and start making a list of references to look up.  I almost drop my pen when I realize what I am writing:

C.G. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower.

That was only a few days ago.  I have already ordered my copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, and it shipped yesterday.  In anticipation, I searched for it on [forgive me] Wikipedia, and I found this quote: “If the practitioner sees the Mandala, that means he/she sees part of the “Original Essence”, and he/she is entering the beginning level of the immortal essence.”  Sounds nice, no?

This brings us to tonight.  Tonight my loving one (with whom I had not discussed the Golden Flower phenomenon) came home with especial exuberance, saying, “I have to show you something!”  Inspired by a science podcast he had listened to earlier that day, he had been prompted to look up “cymatics.”  He sat me down in front of his computer and pulled up a video of a cymatic experiment in which grains of sand were poured on top of a metal plate balanced on top of a speaker.  The sand responded to each note played through the speaker by spontaneously shifting into symmetrical, increasingly intricate formations:

The resulting shapes, according to the caption of the video, might easily be called MANDALAS.

Perhaps this feeling was best described by one Hildegard of Bingen, when she wrote about an egg-shaped vision of the universe, and said:

O Spirit, you are the mighty way in which every thing that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.

What a lovely way to feel.

Love,
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Alma + Fred, in memoriam

Love you, gma & gpa.

Yours,
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Alma and the almighty Eggshell

My paternal grandmother was named Alma.  A comfortingly plump woman with thinning baby-blond hair and large pink-rimmed glasses on a gold chain, she cooked everything with Crisco, never used a sponge (only dishrags), and I never saw her wear anything other than a house dress, pantyhose, and giant fake pearl clip-on earrings.  Her favorite term of endearment was “Louse Poop,” and whenever she wasn’t really following a conversation, she would sigh, “yeah, right…” as though she had never heard the phrase spoken with a sarcastic tone.

This woman left her parents at age 14 to be a domestic servant, then to teach in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie, and she taught me how to “puss” my soup if it was too hot.  I didn’t find out “puss” wasn’t a real English verb meaning “to blow on something to cool it” until I was about 20.  (It means “kiss” in Swedish.)  I never heard my grandmother talk about religion, or saw her go to church.  The regular weekend routine usually just involved bacon, eggs scrambled with milk and sausage, and bourbon highballs at 4:30 p.m.

Alma was also the queen of outlandish home remedies.  Have athlete’s foot?  Go walk in the dewy grass at sunrise.  Got a stye?  Rub a gold wedding band on wool and hold that on your eye.  My dad always laughed when these cures came up in conversation, but secretly I believed in, and desperately wanted to know them all.  Heartbreakingly, I never got the chance to sit down and talk to her about them.

So over the last several years, I have made many futile attempts to find examples of other remedies like Alma’s, and to figure out where they come from.  Earlier in the summer I renewed my search again, and this time, finally, I had tremendous luck.

By grace, I stumbled upon UCLA’s archive of folk medicine.  Not only did it contain variants of Alma’s foot-dew and wedding ring eye cures, but I was able, for the first time, to shed some light on one of her more confounding suggestions — putting an eggshell over a bleeding nose.  I entered a few search terms in their database, and came up with the following:

“If one’s nose bleeds and will not stop bleeding, take an egg shell and let three drops of blood fall in it and throw into the fire, thereupon the bleeding will stop.”

I stared at this prescription for hours.  I found myself completely fascinated by the symbolism and ritual of the cure.  And on top of that, I was transfixed by the source.

Ethnicity Of Origin Pennsylvania German

Now, as far as I knew, Alma’s heritage was a mixture of German and Swedish, and the all-American who-knows-what.  In a recent endeavor to uncover my family history, I’d confirmed a rumor that my mother’s mother’s line was Pennsylvania Dutch — we landed in PA in 1732 and camped there for a good hundred years before moving west toward Ohio and Iowa.  This had elicited a good deal of excitement on my end, as I’d just recently learned about the Pennsylvania Dutch folk-magic tradition known as Pow Wow or Braucherei.  Now I learn that I may have some Pennsylvania Dutch folk traditions on my father’s side as well!

I immediately went out and hunted down used copies of some massive collections of Midwestern folk beliefs listed as sources by UCLA, and have been perusing them with glee ever since they arrived.  In case someone else out there is looking for long lost remedies or simply carries a torch for some old-time superstition, I’d like to share some of these  curious remnants every now and again.  To start us off, I bring to you now a collection of folk wisdom regarding Alma’s favorite coagulator: the eggshell.

  1. To cure boils, eat eggshells.
  2. [But…] If you handle too many egg shells, you will get warts.
  3. After you eat an egg, crush the shells to avoid harm or bad luck.
  4. To protect against caterpillars, scatter about your cabbage bed shells of eggs blessed for the Easter feast.
  5. Chickens will lay if fed ground eggshells.
  6. [Not just for chickens…] Keeping eggshells will cause fertility.
  7. [Alternately…] Keeping eggshells will ward off fire.
  8. For epilepsy, use eggshell tea.
  9. To dream about broken eggshells means gossip.
  10. In order to be assured that a cake will rise, put the eggshells in the cupboard until the cake is baked.
  11. If you make a wish on the first Easter egg you break and put the shells under the pillow at night, your wish will come true.
  12. Eggshells burned during a thunderstorm will protect the house against lightning.
  13. Crush eggshells before throwing them away, or the witches may use them for boats.

Hm… sounds to me like kind of a cozy way to travel!  Or as Alma would say, “Absolutely elegant!”  Until next time…

Love,
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Calling the Moon by Name

A couple of nights ago I was thumbing through my copy of Ann Moura’s Grimoire for the Green Witch (a recent acquisition), and I opened to a list of names for the twelve full moons of the year. I’ve always rather liked the idea of having names for the moons – both to set them apart from one another, and also so that I can welcome them with some sense of familiarity.  So I decided to look through all the variations on this list I could find and filter them down to a set of names of my own that would correspond with the changing seasons as I experience them.

While I was working on this, a couple of complications arose.  First, there was the issue of the Blue Moon, which I grew up believing to be the second full moon in any calendar month, but which apparently originally referred to the third moon in any season with four full moons.  (It seems the Farmer’s Almanac utilized this rule to accommodate the convention of naming the moons by season, as in “early-summer,” “mid-summer,” and “late-summer” moons.)  Misconception as it may have been, the designation of the Blue Moon by calendar month better suits a list of twelve names, so I have resolved to embrace the error of my ways in that regard.

Second, I wondered about names for the new moons in each month.  Rather than separate them, I am inclined to have the full moon name apply to all of the phases of that cycle, from new moon to waning crescent.  This may be a bit of a challenge, since our calendar is a solar one and there will be overlap from month to month, but hopefully worth the effort.  I also learned from Ann Moura’s list that there is a name for the second Dark Moon in any calendar month.  She calls it the Sidhe (‘Shee’) Moon.  Since I don’t feel much connection with the Celtic traditions, I prefer to call this the Shadow Moon.

So!  Here is my list of possible moon names as it stands so far.  The first moon would be that just before Yule.

  1. Long Night Moon (December)
  2. Wolf Moon (January)
  3. Ice Moon (February)
  4. Crow Moon (March)
  5. Rain Moon (April)
  6. Flower Moon (May)
  7. Honey Rose Moon (June)
  8. Thunder Moon (July)
  9. Full Grain Moon (August)
  10. Harvest Moon (September)
  11. Hunter’s Moon (October)
  12. Frost Moon (November)

Tonight the fading light of the Corn/Grain Moon becomes dimmer, and in a few days the Harvest Moon will start to grow, and I will smile and call them by name.

Love,
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Woodland Creatures

We found this little guy on a walk in early August.  Actual size: about one inch by one inch.  I wonder if the toupee of moss is because he’s self-conscious about his bald cap, or just a fashion statement.

Keep an eye out.

Love,
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Setting Out in September

Well, here we are!  Welcome to my very first post! September has barely taken its first breath, and already the chill of frost is seeping through my window screens. I try not to be hasty with the passing of one season to the next (a sure path to disappointment), but I will admit that I am looking forward to the joys brought on by fall. The bright-colored leaves, pecks of hand-picked apples, baked acorn squash with butter and brown sugar, a bounty of black walnuts… all of these together serve to soften, to some extent, the grief of a summer too fleeting. It’s a beautiful sadness, though, in my mind.

In honor of the turning, a poem by Ono no Komachi of the Japanese Court, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani:

Seeing the moonlight
spilling down
through these trees,
my heart fills to the brim
with autumn.

Love,
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