there we are, 1989, i think. my first dizzy heart-pounding summer of being something i’d wanted to be my whole life- a horse owner. i couldn’t afford riding britches or boots, or riding gloves. my hat is borrowed (please note the lack of chin strap, so it was a useless gesture anyway). my nice saddle, a bates all-purpose, will outlive me. david built a deck to buy me that saddle. it still rests dusty in my tack trunk, and cost more than my beautiful purebred off-the-track thoroughbred, whom i purchased for $345 on a terrible cold december night. i put her on my mastercard.
such a stupid thing to do. a young broke family with a 2 year old kid. even if she’d been a push-button packer it would have been a stupid thing to do. horses are EXPENSIVE. even if your bestie is a trainer, and helps you at the self-care barn where you board (cheaply) and you spend your afternoons off canvassing sawmills for their shavings, and ride in old jeans and battered hiking boots using borrowed bridles and get all your lessons for free.
and especially when you’re a greenie, and so is your horse, with the added bonus of being a hotblood whose only reaction to anything is to run. she wasn’t a fun ride, or an easy ride, or an easy keeper. she ran in circles in her stall, bounced back and forth in the cross ties when being groomed, never once in her entire life stood quietly to be mounted, leapt about when being tacked up, spooked at twigs and wind and nothing, and scared me half to death. interestingly, although i wasn’t then a very good rider (and am only a better one now from years of riding her), she never got me off. not once, in all those years. she tossed poor david before he’d been on 2 minutes, the one and only time he rode her. she broke TWO girls’ arms. she terrified me, infuriated me, reduced me to tears, incited me to screaming fits. but somehow i always stuck to her back.
she was a beauty, and although she was a failure as a racehorse and the worst possible pick for first horse, she was athletic and had talent. a good rider could have made a nice upper level dressage horse of her, not olympic quality but she’d have done a good third level, and maybe fourth. or been a solid mid-level eventer, which is what i bought her to do. the fact that we never got past training level and local fun shows is due to our not being able to afford a trailer, and my own shortcomings as a rider. a few big names rode her from time to time and liked her, although you could see the doubt in their faces over her ownership.
one farrier said to me, after watching me have a miserable ride and get off sweating and furious, ‘what the hell is wrong with you? there are hundreds of really nice horses right in this area, good affordable fun horses who would LOVE to have you for a mother. why do you stick with this thing?’
i had no answer then, and still don’t. keeping that horse was illogical from every conceivable angle. my kids went without cool clothes, my family went without nice vacations, i worked 3 jobs and cleaned stalls to mitigate her board bills. i remember running the manure spreader one frigid january night at 1 in the morning, sobbing from exhaustion, still with 5 more stalls to clean before i could go home, and get up at 6 to get the boys off to school. insanity.
but whenever i had a free hour i snuck off the barn and rode.
and riding a firebrand, even if you’re not a talented rider, eventually makes you a reasonably competent one. i was talking ponies with my older son the other day, wishing i could have bought him a nice pony like pepper, on whom he won a bunch of ribbons. he shrugged and said that having learned to ride nik, he knew he could ride anybody. it’s a confidence i now have too, even though i haven’t ridden for years.
i remember a windy day on a hill at charleen jones’s barn, where i kept her for several years, having a lesson with liz. nik was tense, high-headed, hollow-backed and trying to run off every single stride. i had the reins cranked back to about 6 inches long and was barely letting her take a step, and we were SO frustrated with each other. liz kept telling me to soften up my hands, to keep the reins short if i needed to but to let her step out, i kept arguing that she would disappear over the horizon with me wailing and gnashing my teeth. poor liz finally said, ‘if you’re moving i can fix you. i can’t do anything while you’re standing still.’ i softened my elbows, my mare dropped into my hands, her back lifted, and magic happened.
dickie davis, another farrier, did her feet when we were at charleen’s. she has a really nice barn, wash rack with hot and cold water, and three grooming stalls. after dickie finished nik’s feet one day i moved her over so he could work on somebody else, and i went to town. curry comb, dandy brush, body brush, polishing towel, mane and tail, hoof oil, and finally baby wipes to clean out her eyes, nostrils and under her tail. dickie looked at me in wonder as i polished and primped, cooed and caressed, fussed and finessed, finally shaking his head and proclaiming, ‘when i die, i want to come back as a woman’s horse.’
i never get tired of looking at her, even now. she’s had a rough summer, coming out of winter all bones and baldness. i finally found a supplement that put some weight back on her, and discovered that a guinness stout poured over her senior feed makes her clean it right up. she’s actually got a little shine to her now, a touch of muscle tone.
but boy howdy, in her heyday that mare was a stunner. she had the look of eagles. she’s still got it. neurotic, psychotic, nervous, high-strung, silly, paranoid, she is all of those things. but there is a fire in her that will never be quenched, not even when she goes softly into the orchard grass in a couple of weeks. she is going to be a hell of an addition to Hekate’s train.
we’re in the period of lasts. her last samhain. not that she cared, but you know? maybe she did. the last two samhains have been full of horses, and i’m pretty sure all the animals on the farm are aware of the teeming spirits. my grandmother’s horse, big red, seemed to assure me that he’ll be there for her when the time comes. red, the first chestnut i fell passionately in love with.
the gorgeous supermoon just passed. her last one. we talked about it, she and i. she’s enjoying these last weeks, and she likes that it’s a mild autumn, and that she can move about in the moonlight without being cold and miserable. she can’t eat much hay now, she’s missing too many teeth, but she likes to stand with jasmine while jazzie munches. especially on jasmine’s blind side. sometimes she makes awful faces at her, knowing she can’t be seen. jasmine’s the boss, and would never tolerate that if she had any idea.
i bought the last bag of senior feed she’ll ever need this week. the next case of guinness i buy will be the last one. i’m not being maudlin. i’m not torturing myself. i’m not pre-mourning her. she’s out in the barn while i write this, the look of eagles burning in her huge purple eyes, and while she’s here with me there’s nothing to mourn.
but sometimes it hits me.
i’m writing this now because she is still here. sometimes i cry, but usually i don’t. i’m enjoying this time with her. today we did a spa day. i laid warm damp cloths on her old bald crusty face, loosening up the crud, over and over until i could scrub it gently with cetaphil and get it mostly clean. she’s been super crabby lately about having her face done, but today she was sweet and compliant, leaning her head into my chest while i worked on her. i got david’s x-acto knife and got some jagged bits carved off her back feet, which she hasn’t been able to pick up for the farrier for the last few months. combed out her mane and tail, snipped a clean bridle path, did under her belly which made her pin her ears and grouch at me. we still grouch at each other. it’s what we do. when we were young girls we would scream and swear and hit each other with our purses, then make up and go to the mall. now we grouch a little, then move on.
jazzie was jealous. i promised her that i’ll fuss over her a lot after nik goes, but for now i’m focusing on the old lady. she accepts it, but she’s annoyed. i don’t blame her.
i’ve been with nik for 28 years. she’s been part of the experience of living on this farm for the last 16. we BOUGHT this farm for her, so that we could have her at home and not board her any more. i’ve never looked out my windows and not known she was there even if she wasn’t in view. i can’t imagine her not being here. i make myself not try to. it’ll be here soon enough, and i don’t believe you can practice these things. there’s no way to make it better. all i can do is not dwell on it now. to be happy that tonight, under a lovely waning moon, on a mild late autumn night, there’s an old red mare in my barn.
but it’s hard not to get a little shaky sometimes.
it’s all arranged, so i don’t have to think about it until the day. and the day will be a good, good day. there will be treats, and grooming, and loving, but not so much that it makes her anxious. it will be another day, until she and jazzie come out to the orchard and the vet comes. and she’s ready. my girl is having a good month, but even a little extra weight and mild weather won’t make her old arthritic hocks and hips stop hurting. blankets and hoods can only do so much in the bitter cold, when an old girl has no hair whatsoever, and no body fat.
she’s going well. my beloved april died a terrible death. bo went gently, but only after a year of lots of bad times. it’s not going to be that way for my dream horse, my first horse, my best horse. she’s tired, and she’s going to make the great leap before it becomes unbearable for her.
i’m not sad for her. she’s ready, and it’s going to be wild and magnificent for her. i’m only sad for me.
Hey! I’m going to do something really different and post on the doleful day after the election from another multiverse!
But others are saying all the important emotional and logical and political things that need to be said, and better than I could. So I’m just going to stick in one quiet geeky oar from the woo-woo end of the spectrum (all those bored or offended by my woo stuff should move on right about now) and point out that it was the Poseidon day of Maimaikterion.
I know, right?
I mean, I’ve honored Zeus Maimakteros (the Blustering) , primarily as a primal seasonal force but also as Bringer of Law, election yada yada. And on election I dutifully cleaned the Poseidon shrine, focused on him and Amphitrite but mostly in connection with a writing project. It wasn’t until I woke to the horror that I put together Poseidon- God of the sea, keeper of the soul memory, the deeply subconscious movement, the leviathan below, with the Loud-Roaring Winds of the coriolis storm that razes all in its path. Earthquakes and killer winds- Tower card time, the time of violent change not under one’s personal control.
I didn’t watch the election news after a brief check in which made me want to throttle Wolf Blitzer, then turned the TV off. I had some magecraft to do- create an elemental to perform a specific task related to said writing project. The last one I created dissipated a few weeks back, but was the most successful one to date, so the bar is set high for this one. The ritual felt particularly powerful and successful, so I happily tuned out the election and enjoyed my evening. After all, I was confident Hillary was going to win in a landslide, so the increasingly worried texts from my brothers didn’t faze me too much. When I went to bed Trump was ahead and it looked eeky, but I was still pretty sure she’d pull it out.
Spent the morning in shock, grieving with Facefriends, then shut it all down and spent the afternoon cleansing, purifying, protecting, grounding. Exactly what I needed.
I didn’t do any political magic this time around. I don’t think I have since…..wow, maybe Bush/Cheney? I have my doubts about the efficacy of political magic because Reasons. Am not going to start now either.
But it’s time to step back from social media, and go deep. The time of year, the increasing pressure from guides, the true grief of this election outcome all indicate the need for some more silent time. I work and have a family and stuff, so it’s not like I ever go total monastic, but I can for sure fit in a lot more time for listening and writing, and it feels very important to do that right now for a variety of reasons.
I’ll still be around, but less so, not that I’ve exactly set the blogosphere on fire lately.
Hopefully I’ll be able to articulate it in a blog post on the far side. I’ve never really been able to formulate anything coherent from the noisy, exciting, alarming early autumn stuff. My notes will have to suffice for posterity.
I’ve recently noticed how many notes I’ve got. I’m going to have to organize and probably get rid of a ton of stuff. Herb correspondence tables and gardening spells from my early Neo-Wicca days don’t need to sit around in folders any more, and I need to be able to lay my hands more easily on the few but important notes.
Now I’m rambling.
President Donald Trump.
I mean…….who’da thunk it?
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One really tries to remain open and receptive, to keep the cultus fresh and alive and vibrant. So when things get unexpectedly wonky, it really shouldn’t be unexpected, I guess. But sometimes it still knocks you sideways.
I was cleaning my Apollon shrine on the 7th of Boidromion, as one does. I confess I don’t always get to the shrines on exactly their correct day, although they do all get cleaned every moon phase, but I was on target this day and just lumping along happily and not one bit attuned to any thunderclouds. I did, in retrospect, have a moment of ‘This may not be too bright’ as I set the statues of Apollon and Dionysos on the weight bench, but I waggled them and they seemed steady enough, and hey, I was only going to be gone a second to grab the furniture polish and cloth.
On my way back in I saw a bigass spider scuttling across the floor, as it happens right in front of the Athena shrine. The cats were perking up, so I ran to get the humane catcher, and I guess the vibrations of my large-ish self thumping on the floor was enough to do it. The statues both crashed to the floor. Dionysos doesn’t have a scratch on him. But my beautiful, beloved statue of Apollon shattered beyond any hope of repair.
I got the spider outside and then sat for a while among the wreckage, too stunned to react. Finally I got the broom, and as I was sweeping, realized the shield was still intact. I picked it up and put in on the shrine, wondering if it could stay there as a remnant of the beauty that was now in shards all around me. I noticed the hand was still attached, and picked it up to take a closer look. It slipped out of my hands and crashed, hard, onto the piano keys, with more force than seemed possible.
Okay, so no.
As omens go, this is about as dire as it gets.
Being way too close, and too shaken, I didn’t even try to divine this one myself, and called on a mantis whom I trust, and the response was less awful than I feared.
But you don’t take this kind of portent lightly, if you’re a portent-heeding sort, and I am. So I’m taking a lot more notes than usual, in addition to this less detailed more public blogging thing, and proceeding a lot more mindfully.
I’ve got a gorgeous cut-glass lotus where the statue used to stand. Dio is elsewhere. Artemis is still there. The shrine is still beautiful, but the absence of that statue hits me like a hard slap every single time I approach it.
I’m sorry I listen so poorly that He had to do something like that to get me to pay better attention.
As a lead-in to the Mysteries, which start later this week, and will this year be deeply focused on cleansing, purity and protection, it’s a big Slap Yo Priestess and Get Her Focused moment.
A big hawk flew over me and my coffee this morning, crying loudly and repeatedly. Still pondering that one. Any ornithomancers who might like to chime in will be heeded carefully.
The always wonderful Dver has challenged us to spend the next month writing about devotional activities instead of the latest flavor of Polytheist Drama. Since I’m completely at sea about the latest drama (other than it involves fascism, racism and other nasty isms), this is a great opportunity to a) continue to stay out of the online polytheist dramas and b) spend time writing about devotional activities.
It’s sadly true that devotional activities don’t create much of a stir in the blogosphere, but that’s okay. It’s still great stuff to write about, and I know that I, for one, am often inspired, titillated and humbled by what other polytheists are willing to share about their experiences. And my blog has been getting dusty. And it’s good to write about things other than the book (which is finished! SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!! Now in the editing phase before it goes to the aforementioned fabulous Dver for formatting and whatever editing I can coax her into doing) and rants.
So, it’s Boidromion, always a bittersweet month for me. It’s so hard to let go of summer, and this summer was so fast that I’m even more whiny than usual about losing it. It was a great summer, mind you, and time always speeds up as one ages, and I’m on the topside of middle age now. It’s required for crones to make creaky depressing noises about the passage of time. This autumn is coming early. On September 1st it was cool, with crickets drowning out the cicada song, and a flutter of gold leaves down the lane. The pool is still swimmable, but getting alarmingly chilly, even though the daytime sun is still hot. The mares are starting to get thicker coats. The herb garden is exploding in a glory of orange and red.
Honestly, if autumn weren’t so glorious, I’d never survive summer’s passing. The Gods are good to arrange seasons thus.
So this Deipnon I did the usual stuff. I swept the floors during the bright afternoon, and took the detritus to the Hekate area at the end of the driveway, the 3-way crossroads. I didn’t fast- haven’t for a long time now. I should get back to it. It was a really really good devotional activity, physically and spiritually.
Later in the evening I washed meticulously, cleaned the shrine with love, and burned two incenses- sapphire for devotion, and a cone of Dver’s Dark Woods which is awesome. Then I trudged out into the moondark night with my offerings of an ear of corn, buttered and salted, 3 of the prettiest organic strawberries I could find, 3 pomegranate dark chocolates, and some wine. Now, I rarely offer wine on the Deipnon. I celebrate it as a kthonic event, Hekate wearing a variety of masks but primarily as the Guide of the Dead, and Goddess of ghosts and magic. I love to offer raw milk, but don’t get up to PA as often as I used to, so usually offer plain water from my good well (and its good well wight.) But tonight I felt nudged to go with the wine I bought to offer to both Demeter and Hermes for completing the book (Stampede, by 14 Hands Winery with its beautiful label of horses.) Dithered over what chalice to use, and was rather strongly guided to the pottery cup with an owl on it.
I left the old dog in, to his disappointment, as I don’t think the chocolates would be good for his old self, but both my girl cats came out with me. They love ritual. It was a strange night. There was a light veil of thin cloud drawn over the glittering sky, and it seemed to catch an awful lot of light. I live in a formerly rural area, which still looks rural from my place but is becoming increasingly surrounded with civilization, including several towns and a big prison less than 10 miles away, all of which emit too much ambient light. It all seemed to get caught up in the clouds, so over the dark, star-studded night was this strange glowing skein of light.
I bypassed Tyr, standing sentinel in the corner of the orchard, and opted to enter it by way of the Gates of Avalon, two apple trees which gave up the ghost this past winter, standing bare and forlorn. We’re going to have to take them down, which makes me sad. As I passed between them, one of them reached out with its bonefinger and flicked me in the face, hard. I needed it. I was going into the sacred space with too much monkey brain chatter, not the calm, clear, receptive mindset required. I stopped in the middle of the orchard and spent some time just breathing, letting go all the mundane thoughts, letting the sky and trees and loud cricket song take over. When I was ready I went the rest of the way down the driveway.
In the grass, right before the place where I lay the offerings, there was a light slowly brightening and dimming, over and over. A firefly, bravely pushing back against death, sending its message of light into the world defiantly with its last bit of energy. How perfect for the night of Hekate Phosphoros, with Her torches held high. He guided me right in.
I’ve spent a lot of time during the last year trying to dig down into Gnothi Seaton, really Knowing Myself. Who is my true self, and does that self have anything at all to do with the Suz I’ve been becoming for almost 6 decades now? It’s a much harder question than I thought it would be when I was a young woman. What I keep coming back to is the thrumming, expansive feeling of ekstasis I get when I’m in ritual. Not always. Not even most of the time. But sometimes, and as time goes by, it happens more. That singing jolt of connection that dissolves the barriers, and lets Them all the way in.
It didn’t happen for long during this Deipnon ritual, but even a few seconds is enough to keep the current active, and deepening. I poured my heart out to the Goddess, so much thanks and praise, gratitude and love, worship and ongoing devotion. Ivy was at my feet, crying so sweetly that it sounded like a song. I think she was offering praise too. I so love Hekate. I hold to the ancient proscriptions about lingering after laying down the offering, and not looking back, so after I finished thanking Her I set down her meal, and left. But I paused back in the middle of the orchard, and there it was, the ecstasy. Just for a bit. Then Marley wrapped herself around my ankles, and we all went companionably back to the house.
It’s strange how I live for those moments of connection, but can’t yet live in them. Maybe it’s a mortal thing. I never know when I’m going to hit it. It’s usually at night, and I tend to associate it with the numinous places on my farm because that’s where I spend so much time, but it’s also happened at the beach, and in the mountains, and in the desert. And during the day. Earlier this year, and I can’t even remember what festival I was celebrating, but damn, it was thrilling. I was cutting irises to give as an offering, and there, under the golden sunshine of the early afternoon, my arms filled with fragrant purple blooms, I was bathed in so much divine love that I could feel my outlines blurring and softening, the magnetic force that holds my cells in Suz shape starting to let go, dissolving me into a blinding shaft of unity that made my blood sing. And it went on and on, way longer than I usually get. It was amazing. I live for those moments.
And yet in a way, I don’t. Maybe that’s a mortal thing too, the fact that we get such a relatively short time to taste and wallow in the specific tactile pleasures (and challenges) of being a mortal with a mortal lifespan, and if we spent too much time disappearing into one god or other, we would just let go. I hit these heights, and then come thumping back to earth with a bubble bath, a book, chocolate, stream some Firefly or Dr. Who. It’s wonderful too, the coming back to earth, but I’m puzzled sometimes at how I soar, then flee to a small, comfortable, manageable joy. Maybe on some level I’m reasserting my place as a still-living servant of the Gods, and distancing myself from the rapture that dissolves.
So, that was Deipnon. This is a big month for me. Even though I’m not teaching this year, there’s the autumn work of getting the barn filled with hay, the wood room stacked with (non-spidery, please gods) wood, getting ready for my Utah trip, training for the run, planning Mabon with Gabs, starting to put the gardens to bed, and most of all, planning this year’s Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the high points and most involved, deep rituals of my annual festival cycle. Now it’s time to go let the mares out, and hit the bubble bath.
Maybe spend some quality time in the orchard, under the stars, and see if I can tap in to the Noumenia energy.
I’d link Dver’s blog post but as usual I’m too technodeficient to figure out how to do it on WordPress. Copying and pasting the link doesn’t do anything. Heh.
He stood where I was used to seeing him. As usual he gave no indication of being aware of me. I felt sheepish, but took a deep breath and plunged on. ‘Hi, I’m Suz.’ Silence. ‘I just wanted to – um – say hello. Introduce myself.’ Still nothing. ‘Okay. Have a nice day,’ I managed, and foxtrotted away.
The next day it was as if he hadn’t moved. This time I said nothing, just paused next to him for a few moments, let myself get absorbed in the pastoral scene ahead of us, then nodded to him and went on about my day.
This continued for a long time, until it became the norm. At some point I stopped feeling ignored. The silence became what we did, no judgment attached. I honestly don’t remember how long it was before I felt his eyes actually focus on me for the first time. And it wasn’t for long. I saw him see me, and just for a moment his eyes crinkled merrily at me, and then it was back to the pleasant complete disassociation with my presence.
Don’t you love eyes that crinkle like that when they smile?
From that time I stopped having even the slightest angst about whether or not he would ever actually speak to me. We shared the same space for a little time on most days, and that was enough.
I got in the habit of leaning on him sometimes, just lightly. He’s big, and sometimes it’s windy. I don’t remember for sure if it was wind that prompted it. But it felt natural, and he was clearly fine with it.
In a summer dusk I stood close, but not touching him. We were watching the fireflies spiral up like sparks from a bonfire, up from the shaggy grass and into the soft dark tree line. The stars weren’t out yet, and the sky was a vivid unsettling mauve. A finger tentatively touched my hair and withdrew.
‘Hello,’ he murmured. I smiled into the twilight and didn’t reply.
The stars came forward. The night breathed in. As I turned to go I felt that little touch again.
‘Good night,’ I said.
One autumn evening I found him on his knees peering myopically at the grass. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked as I approached.
He blinked at me. ‘You see close things better than I,’ he said. ‘Do you see something here?’
I knelt down beside him. The chilly grass around us was alight with dying fireflies, gleaming and fading so slowly. I told him what they were, and we knelt there together for a while, our knees getting soaked.
‘Why are they here?’ he asked me at last.
‘Maybe they like you,’ I replied. ‘Be in the presence of those in whose company you’d be proud to die and so forth.’
His brows twitched, then smoothed.
We danced together in the full moonlight of winter. At least I danced, while he hummed and swayed as I twirled breathlessly around him. I stopped, panting, my hands on my knees, and threw back my head to look up at the sky. He was staring down at me with two moon-shaped possum eyes. I shrieked and clutched my chest.
‘What the hell?’ I demanded.
He grinned a white feral grin.
One fine spring day I found him splendidly decked out, preening as I approached.
‘Whoa,’ I said admiringly. ‘Nice.’
As I got closer I got a whiff of something pungent. ‘Dude! You may want to rethink that fragrance.’
His eyebrows shot up, then drew together.
‘Why does everyone say that?’ he said, half to himself. He sniffed, hunched a shoulder at me. ‘I like it.’ And I got no more out of him that day.
I ran up to him in the rain, thrumming with excitement, so eager to share my good news that I didn’t care about the cool drizzle plastering my hair in soggy strands across my face.
‘Guess what?’ I shouted as I neared him. He was staring off over the heads of the trees, eyes unfocused.
‘Hey!’ I skidded to a stop in front of him. He didn’t look at me. ‘Hey,’ I said again, patting, then tapping, then thumping on his shoulder.
No response. Finally I stalked away, half expecting or hoping that he would call after me. But he didn’t.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked him not long after he began speaking to me. It was one of many questions I asked him to which he did not reply. Long after I had given up hoping for an answer he said thoughtfully, ‘Tyr,’ as we watched a herd of deer drift like ghosts across the pasture.
I was watching the lame doe lurch after one of her recalcitrant twins. ‘What?’ I said, wincing.
‘You can call me Tyr,’ he replied.
I stopped watching the deer and gaped at him. ‘Is that your name?’
He crinkled his eyes at me. ‘No. It’ll do, though.’
Most of the time he’s maddeningly laconic. But sometimes he surprises me. We spent the better part of one Summer Solstice night arguing the difference between introspection and narcissism, and how xenia and common courtesy affect them both. I can’t even remember now who took what positions, but after the discussion heated up and cooled down I whacked him in the ribs and told him he was an inflexible ogre, and he poked me in the belly and called me a callow dilettante. We grinned at each other.
I sighed one day as we stood together. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
I thought about it. ‘I don’t know,’ I said.
He contemplated me for a while. ‘You miss your kids,’ he pronounced.
I was taken aback. ‘I don’t know if that’s it.’
‘Yes,’ he said. He put his arm around me. I leaned into his trunk. A few tender leaves brushed my cheek.
Bees buzzed in the clover at our feet.
We don’t like thinking about Love. We think we like it. We tell ourselves we like it. But Love makes us so uneasy, so fearful, so desperate, that we put lots of rules around it, and try to tame it. It’s too wild, too dangerous, too destructive. But if we define it as thus-and-such, and rule out any form that doesn’t conform with the safe, acceptable mask firmly in place, maybe we can confine it, constrict it, keep it pretty but fangless, bloodless, pain-free, tamed.
It’s good that we teach our kids, boys and girls but in these days it’s okay to add more emphasis to the girls- as always, they’re in greater danger- that Love should be a Positive Thing, and that they need to have their own boundaries in place, and the necessary tools and practice so that they learn to maintain those boundaries under pressure. But it’s a process, and only useful so long as one keeps its parameters in mind. One can define a ‘healthy love relationship’ in fairly concrete forms, at least as each person to some degree modifies it subjectively, but who the hell really thinks that all love is healthy and positive?
Love is not patient. Love is not kind. It does envy, and boast, and hurt, and lash out, and shatter. Sometimes. Love is wonderful, but it is also ghastly. Super-damaged people can love. They probably don’t love well, or appropriately, or according to anyone else’s moral code. But most people are capable of love of some sort, and experience it in some fashion, even if it’s twisted and awful. Even when the outcome isn’t happily ever after.
I recently read a Facebook meme about Romeo and Juliet. You’ve seen it, I’m sure. How anyone who’s actually read it knows it’s not a love story but a dysfunctional saga about two deluded kids who get dead and dead everyone around them. It’s a popular stance. Pretty much any time I taught R&J I could count on parents winking at me conspiratorially and sotto voce-ing about how annoying the angst and drama of teenagers can be. I get it, I guess, but I disagree. You’d have to completely skim it, not read it in any sort of depth at all, to come away with such a facile comprehension. It’s a classic myth in its depiction of Love. Fiery, all-consuming, ecstatic and sometimes cataclysmically destructive. I’m forcing myself to resist the impulse to quote Juliet’s witty sophisticated flirting at the masquerade, her heart-soaring impatient longing, then her shattering honesty at the balcony, the journey she makes in such a short time from little girl to young woman. (I confess to finding her more interesting than him, but he’s a sweetie too.) Anyone who thinks a 13 year old can’t be in love never experienced it. The passion of the awakening young is full and rich and drowning and gorgeous. I’m so sorry for those who missed out on it. It was agonizing and wonderful. Fortunately most of us survive it, and the fact that we grow up, cool down and move on does not mean it wasn’t real.
Real love can and often does strengthen and grow into a lifelong commitment. I’m so grateful to have found a lover with whom I got to experience the hot melty youthful lust, and the steady fires of decades of monogamous entwining. I like that Love looks that way to us. This is some good Love.
But it’s not the only Love.
Heathcliff and Cathy were not good Lovers. But wow. There’s all sorts of sturm und drang over the recently popular Twilight lovers (in addition to ‘real vampires don’t sparkle!!!!!!’ which makes me giggle uncontrollably, there’s lots of suppositions of stalker-ish behavior which modern folks translate into It Can’t Be Love) and the horrible Shades of Grey which still somehow taps into an almost ubiquitous longing for Love. Which may or may not come with whips and chains and nipple clamps. NOT LOVE proclaim many modern feminists, since anything with Power Over cannot be Love.
(Disclaimer- I’m a modern feminist. Just not always in lockstep with my brothers and sisters in feminism.)
Maybe it can’t be Love for everyone. Maybe it can’t be for you. Maybe you’re too well-adjusted to permit power inequity, jealousy, mental instability or poor judgment to cross your good boundaries. I applaud this. I’ve worked hard to achieve this. I’m reasonably sure that destructive unhealthy Love is unlikely to make it over my hard-built battlements ever again.
But fucked-up people love too. Adolescents love. Old people love. Inappropriate people love. MacBeth, that bloody psychopath, and his terrifying vicious wife are atrociously, irrevocably in love. Scarlett and Rhett. Didn’t last, but Love isn’t always forever. Jane and Rochester. Happy ending notwithstanding, talk about a social and power inequity. He’d be pilloried in the press today.
We ‘reclaim’ the old myths, turn the Kore and Hades into a romance with an oppressive mother, not an abduction, because we can’t bear for Love to be so terrible. We find ways to demonstrate compliance in the many mortal and semi-divine women in myth because we can’t get past the rape narrative to find the underlying truths, which are often harsh and unpalatable to modern sensibilities. There’s a value in this that can’t be denied. It’s a hugely positive step that rape and coercion are no longer acceptable in humans. (At least in some places. But that’s another post.)
But Love is greater, more all-encompassing, and more stark than even positive human societal evolutions.
We might like Aphrodite to bestow all her gifts upon us in the form of rose petals. It’s so wonderful when She does. There are lovely examples throughout Nature of ganders twining their necks lovingly around their mates, of elephants touching each other gently and wonderingly, of stallions devoted to their lead mares beyond the needs and behaviors of the herd. Heck, don’t slugs mate for life?
But that’s not all. Aphrodite is also present in rough animal couplings, the fiery sploodge of volcanoes, the lightning strike that wipes out a forest in roaring conflagration, the drowning of a coastline in a tidal wave.
She is greater than political correctness. You don’t get to put Her in a box, hem Her about with musts and nevers and carefully crafted definitions.
Love is greater and far, far more terrible than you. Keep your standards high, but don’t kid yourself for a second that your healthy happy definitions are all of the story.
Nobody puts Aphrodite in the corner.
Today I celebrated my personal festival of the Iaisonia, remembering the union in the thrice-ploughed field of Demeter and Iaison, his destruction, and Her mourning.
Ritual mourning is taking on a greater impact in my annual round of festivals, rather to my surprise. For the last year or so, its role as bringing crisis and catharsis has startled me with its deepening impact on my overall development and path. I’d never really thought about it much before, it felt more commemorative than immanently important.
But I think it is. From the Adonia (which of course has a lot of overlapping elements with my festival, as well as some significant differences) to the Anthesteria to the Thargelia, even the regular practice of sacrifice (which is of course always ritual for me as I don’t perform traditional animal sacrifice) it continues to resonate, sometimes overwhelmingly.
And perhaps because I was somewhat expecting to be overwhelmed with the mourning aspect today, it didn’t really happen. They always keep me off-balance.
What I got in full measure was the ekstasis, the enthrallment, a sense of the heart-pounding breathtaking dissolution. Everything seemed to throb and ache with beauty and longing once I was fully into the ritual mindset. It was a gorgeous day, still early enough in spring to allow me to move easily through the woods, with their early fuzz of pale green and vultures circling idly overhead.
I rarely go into the band of woods between us the next door property, and I so loved being there today. But it was creepy too- a scattered, almost full set of large bones. No skull so I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing it was a deer. I can’t believe the farm didn’t reek with it. Maybe it got dragged in. There are several banks under sentinel pine trees that are soft, mounded and elongated, alarming like graves. What ARE those neighbors up to? Dangerous deadfalls, and the random surprising hits of sweet forest scent. Those always strike me as gifts from Her, expressions of love and regard.
Those woods were filled with the feeling of Him. I scattered barley through them, picked up trash, let waves of wonder wash over me over and over.
In the back woods, our wild acre that’s given over almost entirely to the fae and nature spirits, there was a greater feeling of loss and sorrow, but not overwhelmingly so. The multiflora rose is dying back a little as the trees get bigger, but it still makes it difficult to get through some spots. In another month most of the paths back there will be inaccessible. I stood in the midst of a clearing, tall slender trunks all around me, and suddenly I realized that they were aware of me too, in a way I’ve never before perceived. For a few glorious moments, we were all in synch, the trees and I, dancing together in the wild spring breeze, while fat fluffy clouds raced overhead in the heartbreak blue sky. It was wonderful. I hope it happens again.
I found more construction trash back there. I can’t imagine how much junk the former owners must have thrown back there. For 16 years I’ve been clearing it out, and more still comes up out of the earth from time to time.
I thought I’d get overwhelmed with the sorrow back there, as it’s happened back in the Telesterion area during Demeter rituals before. Not so much though, just a big feeling of being part of it all, the female cycle through the stages, the male death and rebirth. The cosmic magnetism. The eternal return.
I love being a Hellene.