The Lenaia 2020   Leave a comment

I didn’t plan to start an annual creative non-fiction post about the Lenaia, but since I did it the last two years, might as well go for the sacred three and start a tradition.

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Dusk was still a few hours away, but the old woman couldn’t say inside. The winter afternoon was mild, sundrenched and spectacular, seducing her outside to bathe her skin in sunlight, while a ghost-white waxing moon floated in a cobalt sky.

An insistent flash from the willow tree demanded her attention. It was a Baltic amber necklace that she’d forgotten gifting to the dryad. Yet another summons from Poseidon. Uneasy, she shoved it to the back of her mind, focusing on the festival at hand.

The dog and two of the cats at her heels, she requested entry into the Faery Realm of Tinuviel. Rather to her surprise, it was granted. She stood in the branch-filtered sunlight, looking at the lovely little areas she had created for the fae over the years with small things — stones, crystals, jewelry, toys, tiny furniture. It hadn’t been tidied in months, not since her exile, and she wondered if she’d be permitted to straighten them. It came to her that it all needed to be removed. Shocked, she asked aloud if she’d understood correctly. There was no reply but an insistent silence. She gathered her wits and asked if she might confirm the directive through divination, and received an affirmative answer. But as she left, she saw a few little things, flowers and jewelry made from plastic, and took them with her. Later, in the house, she wrapped them respectfully in paper and put them in the trash with a prayer that they break down quickly and return to their component elements in the earth.

As she made her way back to the house a flash of white overhead caught her eye. She looked up to see a bald eagle hovering over her, its mate close by. Its eyes bored into hers. The pair swam against the sky in lazy spirals before disappearing over the roof.

The old woman and Delilah, the dog, went out at sunset and poured the opening libations to a sky of flame.

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After dinner, the old woman set up a simple altar before the fire—a statue of Dionysos, one of a fairy with a stag, candles, stones, incense, grapes and a bottle of homemade wine gifted from a friend. She cleansed the room with smoke, made the opening prayers and libations to Hestia and Dionysos, and read the Homeric Hymn to Dionysos. Taking the grapes, wine and a food offering from her dinner, she and the big Siamese headed out into the bright moonlight, the dog and young tabby watching wistfully from the doorway. Old Ivy was invited but chose to remain nestled in blankets before the fire.

At the doorway to Tinuviel she requested entrance and was again admitted. The starlight sang loudly in the little copse as she left an offering of grapes and poured a libation. On the way out, she paused at Dionysos’s dryad and left wine and grapes for them as well.

Marley, the Siamese, led the way down the driveway, across the boundary and into the lane. As on previous ritual pompes, the old woman clutched her offering dish and wine in nervous hands. A new house had been built since last winter, only thirty feet from the pond. Its bright dusk-to-dawn lights stabbed her as she walked cautiously down the lane, praying no cars would encounter them on their trek, bearing their strange burdens.

No cars came, but the pond was floodlit with artificial light. The moon glimmered on the water, but the old woman wasn’t able to perceive the presence of the limnades or any other spirits. Unperturbed, Marley delicately picked her way across dead grass and undergrowth to the mud at the water’s edge. They stood there together, the old woman hoping not to be seen and challenged by the new neighbors. She spoke to the limnades, promising to do what she could to make the new situation tenable for them, but received no reply. Sighing, she left the food offering on the bank and poured the libation into the quiet water.

Calling the cat to her, the old woman pulled her hoodie close around her face and made her way back up the lane to the farm driveway, grateful that no one else was about. She wondered if the pond would retain its numinous quality or if the nearness of people with their clatter and light would drive the spirits deeper into the surrounding woods. Sadness touched her, and the knowledge that for mortal things, human and land wight, everything ends eventually.

The cat the woman walked together through the mild moonlit winter night to the house. The stars danced around the moon in a scatter of brilliance, but no gods spoke to her that night.

 

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Snow was falling hard the next afternoon as the old woman came home from work. It transformed the farm into Wonderland. She changed her clothes hastily, built a fire, and set up the second day’s altar on a marble table, with a bottle of Primal Roots red wine and a pomegranate in addition to the statue of Dio, candles and incense. She collected the dog and cats and they all ran eagerly outside into the falling snow, laughing and leaping in the sparkling stuff.

As dusk fell, the snow stopped and the clouds blew away. A glowing Persephone moon emerged high in the east, turning the fresh snow into a magic carpet. The old woman opened the wine and read Dver’s ‘Lenaia’ to open the second night’s ritual. After prayers and libations, she took the pomegranate, grapes, a satsuma mandarin and wine, and headed out through the crunching snow to the Persephone shrine, the dog and cats at her heels.

She paused under Oberyn’s snow-heavy branches, the moon caught behind them. Veils of mist moved across the face of the moon, the limnades high and thin, but in the west clouds were massing, blotting out the stars. The trees stood perfectly still, branches pearl white, trunks deepest black, stark against the opaque silvered violet of the sky.

Oberyn spoke to the old woman. She listened carefully and thanked him, promising to try to understand better.

The Goddess was there at her shrine, the Winter Child, a face not previously encountered by the woman. She knelt in the wet snow and placed her offerings on the ground before the shrine, holding herself in silence and receptivity. The Kore-Queen received her with warmth, but there was a sense of distance. No communications were given. The cats and dog moved around the periphery but did not approach the shrine.

With a sigh, the old woman got to her feet and brushed the snow from her wet, aching knees. Tipping the libation flagon, she left the wine and food unshared before the shrine and returned to the house.

After warming herself before the fire, the woman refilled the flagon and took a bowl of stew with bread and butter out into the hushed night, this time just with Marley. Together they made their way directly to the Dio grapevine and his consort tree, not seeking passage through Tinuviel. As they stood before the enwrapped pair, a car started up next door and pulled out into the lane, its headlights piercing the winter-thin trees. Instinctively, the old woman shrank into the shadows, clutching her offering vessels to her chest. As the headlights swung toward her, she crouched low, then berated herself as the car passed for hiding in her own yard.

Dionysos and his consort, like Persephone, accepted the offerings with warmth but there was no ekstasis, no dissolving into the Presence. By now, the old woman knew better than to expect it, although she couldn’t help hoping. With thanks and love, she left the food, poured a libation into the Dryad’s roots and finished off what was left in the flagon.

On the way back to the house, she paused underneath Oberyn, entranced by the delicate tracery of his shadows in the snow, backlit by the Persephone moon. In that moment Mnemosyne overwhelmed her, transporting her back almost five decades into the past, into the grottoes at the Arboretum in Bermuda, a favorite childhood haunt. She was immersed in the memory, the cool, dark shadows of palm trees wavering in the hot sunlight, the humid air sticky on her skin, the little green pools full of mystery and tadpoles, the smell of oleander heavy in the air. The old woman basked in the visceral memory, spellbound. When the grip of the experience released her, she and the cat returned to the house, grateful and exhausted.

 

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The third night of the Lenaia, one short of the full moon, was crystal clear, cold and windy. After a wonderful day of writing with her muse-friend, the old woman re-set the altar with wine, grapes and forest incense for the dryads. On this night she read Dver’s ‘Limnades’ to open the ritual.

There was no trace of the mist-maidens when the old woman set off with the dog and all three cats into the hard, bright moonlight. Only a few stars were scattered through the matte purple sky.

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Tyr was encircled by an enchanted wreath of spring, an expanse completely free of the hard, crunchy snow that covered the rest of the orchard. She stepped into it, the earth so soaked with cold water that it squelched like a sponge. She spoke softly to  him, words of love and admiration, and he smiled his enigmatic smile at her.

She carried her offerings in a labyrinthine path through the trees, pausing by Gomez to wonder at the enchanted beauty of the night. As she stood there, she realized that it was truly dark except for the moonlight. Not only had the people next door turned off their various outdoor floodlights, but the new neighbors across the lane had as well— the brilliant lights above their garage and all the house lights. Only the red eye of the doorbell could be seen through the trees. The old woman was overcome with gratitude, sending it to the neighbors on the night air, reveling in the rare experience of standing in pure moonlight.

She made her way to Muninn, made her offerings, and fell through a blue hole in his upper branches. The portal didn’t lead anywhere in particular this time. She just drifted in the fathomless blue expanse.

When she returned, she took the offering vessels back to the patio and picked up the staff that was to be her thyrsos for the ritual. Chanting the traditional ‘Io Io Iakkhos!’ she made her way around the house, yard and orchard, tapping all the trees except the lilacs, who, as usual, were already waking too early, and Tyr, who was clearly stirring. The cats and dog ignored her as she went about her Work, and she moved briskly in the bright night. No one else spoke to her.

Declaring the ritual closed, the old woman called the animals to her, and they all went inside to the fire.

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Posted January 12, 2020 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Cold November Rain   2 comments

November is a tough month for me, in some ways even harder than my other Struggle Month, February. I don’t think I’m alone in this. November is when the dark descends so early that we barely have time to acknowledge that it’s afternoon. The first frosts and freezes smack into us. I have to wear gloves to manage the pitchfork for morning barn chores. The potted plants I’ve forgotten to bring in or pitch are brown and drooping on the deck. I have to plan filling the horses’ water trough around hard freezes. The mares are grouchy because the good grass is all gone. Delilah shirks her barn dog duties more and more, and is touchy about stepping onto the cold grass to pee.

There are things I like about winter, but it’s hard to remember them in November. It’s not calendar winter yet, but I’m in hoodies and scarves and have my hand warmers next to my barn clothes. I move more slowly and want to sleep more. I want fires burning whenever I’m home, even though I know that means we’re going to have to budget for more wood and I’m going to have to find the time and energy to stack it. Thanksgiving is pleasant, but not enough to pull me up from the doldrums. Yule and Christmas are still a ways away, as is the lovely month of January when I really do just snuggle in and bliss on the solitude and snowflakes for a while.

I’m still adjusting, I guess. Trying to wrap my head around how swiftly the years are flickering by, especially the bright summery parts of them. It feels as if I just barely put my heavy winter barn clothes away.

I rushed homeward the other day, having worked, then spent a little time at the library writing, my head full of must-dos and have-tos and lists. As I drove up the hill toward Sharpsburg, I suddenly pitched all the must-dos out the window and pulled abruptly into the parking area off Rt.34 by the battlefield.

I had noticed idly on the way to work that morning that the corn still stood, tall and dry and golden-brown, in the fields leading to Burnside Bridge. I had been dying to walk a corn maze all through the Halloween season but (as is bafflingly always the case) was too busy to actually do it. I love being surrounded by tall grasses, so Demetrian, as well as the spiritual and psychological gifts that come from mazes and labyrinths.

I decided that just getting lost in a big corn field was exactly what I need to do on that exact day.

I walked the Three Farms trail for about half a mile, looking into the dry rustling rows and getting excited about picking my spot to plunge in. In a vale between two hills with rows of trees to use as sight markers, I took a deep breath, said a simple prayer, and stepped into the tall cornstalks.

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It’s probably harder to do when the stalks are green and growing, full of sap and Mother energy. Now they’re brittle, rattling against each other with a sound that makes you think of insects, and mad-eyed crones, and collecting firewood. I was respectful of their aged limbs, trying not to trip or carelessly snap them.

Thin patches in the rows encouraged me to move to my left, eastward, up the hill. I got lost in the simple act of finding my way forward, no destination in mind, no task at hand, not even looking around to keep the treetops in sight. I fell into a kind of rhythm, like Fremen walking to avoid calling a sandworm. Step step. Pause. Gently move a heavy stalk. Step across. Move up the row. Halt. Listen. Duck under a leaning frond. Examine an ear of corn, its inner kernels exposed and hard in the chilly air, deep gold and red and brown.
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I topped the hill, but couldn’t see anything around me. Just the corn stalks, rising high over my head. The sky was a cool, uniform grey above me, a brighter circle where the sun tried to burn through. I stood motionless, listening. The birds fell silent. I could just hear my breath, and the snap of cornstalks breaking a little ways away, coming toward me. After a few moments that too stopped, and I stood in silence, in the cornfield, under the monochrome sky.

My heart was pounding hard when I moved on. I came to a small clearing, the cornstalks skimpy and stunted, a big hole disappearing into the earth in the shelter of some rocks. It looked like a groundhog hole, but next to it were a couple of piles of scat, oddly beautiful, deep purple and full of berries. They were the size of my doubled fists, surely too big for groundhogs? I snapped a photo, thanked the beings and spirits for tolerating my presence, and moved on. I could feel eyes on me from all around as I moved back into the rows.E6E3FD03-21E2-431C-A492-99DC060AD280

I saw a treeline ahead and made for it. The corn rows grew thicker, forcing me to move over, back, and over again in order to go forward. Almost as if the corn field was reluctant to let me out.

It felt so odd stepping onto thin grass on the verge, the trees looming over me, next to an ancient fieldstone wall. It was like waking from a dream. This was a path used only by the farmers, far off from the National Park trails. I could see the flat fields below, to the east, near the Antietam Creek. I turned west and made my way back up the hill, the cornfield on my right. I figured I’d make my way back for a bit, then summon up my courage and plunge back into the corn.

But at the hill’s crest I saw the line of trees I’d used as my marker to make my way in. Majestic, nearly naked, they towered against the watchful sky. I couldn’t resist them. I walked under their bare branches, picking my way through broken rock and gnarled roots and animal lairs, their bony fingers clicking at me in a sharp yet hushed language, similar yet not the same as the murmur of the corn.

The treeline ran out before I was back on the Park trail, leaving a thick band of corn to navigate. But as I came down past the last trees, back in the little vale between the hills, I suddenly found myself in Other.

A dozen or more boltholes were scattered between the last tree roots and corn rows, nestled into rock and earth and root, dug into the trunks of the older trees. As it flashed through my mind how dangerous it would be to ride a horse across this ground, I heard drumming. I neared one of the holes. The drumming was coming from within. I moved toward another, and heard it there too, like an echo from a memory. But I could feel the vibration under my sneakers.

A flash of brilliant gold pulled my eye to the field to the east, the one I’d walked into at the beginning of this adventure. It looked like sunset reflecting off a windshield or a window, but it was right in the middle of a field of corn, nothing else around. I watched for a few moments, but didn’t see it again.

The drumming faded away, but the sense of watchfulness increased. I stood motionless for a few minutes, wondering what the correct thing to do could be. I was so tempted to call out, to peer into a hole, to sing a greeting, to ask for something, I didn’t even know what. A boon, or just a glimpse of whatever dwelt there in the bounds of this enchanted space. But while I can be a foolish old witch at times, I try not to be actually stupid. I know my lore. I whispered an apology for not having an offering, and may have mentioned my status as a Demetrian priestess, just in case anyone might care.

Still feeling danger all around, I walked back into the corn. In about five minutes I emerged from the field onto the path, and the ordinary world settled around me again.

Or almost. As I stared back across the stiff ranks of brown-gold corn, to the rising crowns of trees past them, I was shaken by the rare grip of ekstasis, the enthousiasmos of the Gods, in this case, of Her. Tears sliding down my face, I reached into my pocket and found a beautiful polished stone of opalite that I’d picked up at the Ren Faire a month before and forgotten. Whispering fervent thanks, I threw it as far as I could into the corn.

When I turned back to the trail, a woman was coming down the hill toward me. Her face was a study in politeness and mild worry. Clearly she’d seen me gesturing, praying, throwing the offering, the trace of tears still on my face. I smiled brightly at her and said hello, she replied in kind, and we went on our paths.

Even in dull November there are gifts.

Posted November 25, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

‘Dark Horses’ is out of the barn!   6 comments

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After debuting right here on WP lo these many years ago, my first book is finally out on Amazon and available in paperbook and e-book form.

For reasons I haven’t quite sorted through yet, I’ve been unwontedly shy about announcing. The e-book has been out for a few weeks, the paperback for about a week now. But I think that blasting all 12 of my social media readers on the full moon of Friday 13th, on the first day of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, is just too good to pass up.

The sunglasses are due to an exploded blood vessel in my eye, rendering me much like the red-eyed Goddesses in my little book (Dver colored them from the green of the original paintings.)

Speaking of Dver (or Sarah Kate Winter as she’s sometimes known in Mundania), I’m beyond grateful for all of her help, formatting, tweaking, proof-reading, Hellenic detail checking, correcting, selecting and overall going WAY above and beyond in helping me get my novella out there. Winged Words Book Design https://wingedwordsdesign.com/ is an invaluable resource if you have books you need to set free but don’t possess the tech skill to self-publish.

The fantastic cover and inside illustrations are the work of up-and-coming Hood College grad and artist extraordinaire, Claudia Tisdale. She also did the mural on the wall of my writing studio behind me. I’m hoping to do a collaboration with her next.

This has been such a long journey. It all began with a little writer gathering here on the farm back in….2012, I think. Chris Copley sent out a writing prompt to use ‘spring peepers’ (which I later dropped after discovering that there are no spring peepers in Greece), and about six local writers showed up to share food and our work. Chris and Yo have since moved to Seattle, but I’m still overjoyed to know Shawn Reilly Simmons, a successful and incredibly wonderful mystery writer, who had just put out her very first one and brought me a copy as a hostess gift. Also local authors Mark and Julia Brugh, who have done book signings at Turn the Page bookstore where I’ll be signing in November!

It wasn’t until a few  years later that I found the Frederick Writers’ Salon, which critiqued and vetted every chapter along the way. I never knew the value of a critique group until I found this one, and through pure luck (or divine intervention) I found this incredibly good one. While not all of the members like my writing style, and I don’t take all or maybe even most of the suggestions, I’ve learned to read critically, critique thoughtfully and helpfully, and revise judiciously. I’m so lucky to have them.

I also have to thank the brilliant and goofy Laura Kenney, whom I discovered when she wandered into the shop where I work one day with her mom. By the time they left we were all friends, before I even found out she was an editor. She foolishly offered to edit my book for me, in return for a tarot reading, and I discovered the absolute necessity and wonder of having a great editor go over your work with a fine-toothed comb. Even when you ditz out and only send half the chapters the first time. And don’t even realize it. And make her go back and do it again. And again. Her helpful, funny, encouraging, thoughtful, insightful edits turned this from a super amateur labor of love into something I’m actually very proud to claim.

Want to write a book? Save up now for an editor. Seriously. Do not skip this.

Finally I have to thank my writing muse, bosom friend, eagle-eyed beta reader and soul sister Beth Flannery, who writes her beautiful work under the name Tisdale Flannery, for walking this path with me every step of the way.

This is a dream of 60 years in the making, coming true right before my eyes. I know this is a tiny niche product, a book that won’t interest the vast majority by far. I’m not under any illusions that this is going to be a best-seller. I couldn’t even entice an agent to peek at it.

But I can honestly say that I love my book. It’s a heart book. It is the book I set out to write, and I did it.

I’m still feeling shy about putting this out there. But in honor of the Mother, the Daughter, Pan, Hermes, Poseidon and Areion and the satyrs and dryads and ancestors and the Dark Daughter and all the spirits and guides who have pushed me along, today it’s happening.

So, please! Buy my book, read my book, review my book. If you want to read it but not buy it, let me know and I’ll try to make it happen. Obvi I’d love glowing reviews, but not if they’re not honest. I’ve got more books stacking up behind this one and need the honing that feedback brings.

And thank you.

Posted September 13, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Dark Horses   Leave a comment

via Dark Horses

Dver not only did ALL the heavy lifting to get this book ready to publish, but reviews it here!

Thank you, Dver and Winged Words Book Design!!

Khairete

Suz

Posted September 12, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Squee!   3 comments

Dears, I just have to share this moment of bliss. I got the edited copy of my manuscript back from Cat and Mouse Press, and the judge’s comment was at the bottom.

‘Judge’s Comment

Funnily enough, “A Beach Story” was the first story I picked out of my magnificent stack of short stories to be judged for this contest. I was delighted when what started out as a sickly sweet, slightly off-kilter description of a child’s time at the beach quickly became something entirely different, and far more sinister. The author’s careful use of tone and pointed use of monotony conjured, for me, a sort of daze that transformed into a chilling piece of indelible horror when I least expected it. I think it took a lot of guts to write a macabre story like this one—to be unafraid to take the idea of a “beach dream” and force readers to watch as it slowly shifts into a nightmare.’

I am over the moon!

Posted August 10, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

The Cosmos — Void — Night — Radiance   Leave a comment

this is kaye’s work, omg, so very beautiful!

khairete

suz

via The Cosmos — Void — Night — Radiance

Posted July 27, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

In the cave of Trophonios   Leave a comment

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my cherry trees have been tired for a few years now, their yield less and less. the whole 19 years we’ve been here, they’ve only given enough to pick every other year. last year they gave me enough for a pie that no one ate, and a gallon bag in the freezer for smoothies. so i was shocked this year to see both of them covered in bright red drops. you’ve got to move quickly when it happens. the birds and deer move in within a day of the mass ripening, not to mention the wasps.

so out i went in the sunshine, toting my biggest bowl, the ladder, a portable speaker and my phone. while i picked and danced and sang along to motown, the clouds mounded and darkened in the south and west.

a spear of lightning split the sky to the south, right over sara’s pasture on the other side of the lane it seemed. a huge crack of thunder shook the branches immediately afterwards. i stared up, mesmerized, as the dark blue and charcoal clouds heaved like sea lions above the sycamores. weirdly, though, no wind.

i’m kinda stupid about thunderstorms. i figure if Zeus apotheosizes me that way, what an epic way to go. so i stood in the eerie stillness, rocked by rumbles and crashes and flashes.

i could hear the rain coming. a huge, ominous hissing, right over there behind the trees lining the lane. any second it was going to hammer me, and i’d have to run for it, trying to protect my poor phone and the bose speaker.

i waited. and waited. i could hear it. it was so close.

after a few minutes i decided to take advantage of the lull, and put the ladder in the barn. then i took the phone and speaker in. finally i carried in my big bowl of cherries. then i came back out and stood in the windless orchard, listening to that monstrous hissing and waiting for the rain to pelt me.

eventually the hissing stopped. a great light opened to the northeast. shafts of sunlight started to poke through.

so, okay, no cave. no dreams. and nothing from which i needed to be healed other than the natural results of age and careless living.

but once upon a time, someone seeking knowledge or healing or prophetic dreams might descend into a cave. it seems to have worked surprisingly often. but sometimes all they’d get was a terror so profound it wiped their memories. those who recovered mentioned the God coming to them in the form of a giant snake, preceded by a huge hissing.

i wonder if that’s what they heard, lying in the cave, waiting for the approach of the God.

khairete

suz

Posted June 3, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized