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This week, my wife and about 60 fellow members of the Reclaiming tradition traveled to rural Wisconsin for Winter Witchcamp. Staying behind is hard for me, despite knowing I need the year off. Winter Witchcamp is a spiritual home-away-from-home, and many members of my home community will be there, as well as friends I only see at that time. I miss them fiercely.

What is witchcamp? For many, it's integral to the Reclaiming experience. It's part summer camp (even in Winter), part symposium, part family reunion. For several days, we learn together in groups small and large, eat together in a lodge and sleep together in cabins (and tents, in Summer, but this is February in the Upper Midwest, and we're not crazy) , and make magic and ritual together.

There's really no wrong way to "do" Reclaiming (folks sometimes use this as a criticism of the tradition, but I count it among our greatest strengths). But sometimes, if we're doing our thing on our own, without contact with others, we risk losing track of our principles, even the very practices and beliefs that first drew us to the tradition.

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Peter Dybing gave Sunday's keynote speech, "Stirring the Cauldron of Pagan Sensibilities."  A worthy pursuit to my mind.  In an animated talk, Peter emphasized that Paganism was not a monolithic institution.  He also spoke of the need for boundaries, avoiding what he called "the 2 a.m. crisis."  During feedback, I reminded folks that one of the required courses for degree-seeking students at Cherry Hill Seminary is Boundaries & Ethics.  I took the proto-class from Cat Chapin-Bishop back around 2000 and found it one of the most valuable classes I've ever taken.

He itemized several issues and then compared the attitudes about them of older Pagans and to those of younger generations.  He said that older Pagans generally held tightly to beliefs whereas younger ones welcomed debate.  I think this is true of any social phenomenon when it achieves some years; however, I don't think it's universal.  I count many Pagans, myself among them, as being open-minded, adaptable, and willing to engage on current issues, far from being hidebound.

It was helpful for me to hear, even though it's obvious, that we bring with us the cultural attitudes of our times.  I know that the feminism that underlies my being, religious and otherwise, has informed my views and practices.  I know that my experience pre-Second Wave Feminism is very unlike the experience of women who, for instance, grew up in a world where reproductive choice is a given.  And that's just on one issue.  I know that the zeitgeist of my formative years differs from the zeitgeist of subsequent generations.  Sometimes hearing something stated clearly from another person gives the fact a more crystalline ring.  Thank you, Peter.

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I join the chorus of voices reporting on the general wonderfulness of the 9th Annual Claremont Pagan Studies Conference.1  I found the overall quality of presentations exceptionally high, as they were the last time I attended two years ago.

I arrived Friday night after a long solo drive from the SF Bay Area to Los Angeles, through rain and the hairy Grapevine Canyon through the Tehachapi Mountains, stressed and with intense pain between my shoulders.  Cranky, in other words.  Soon Lauren cheered me up.

Saturday morning's first session consisted of four speakers.  Joseph Nichter, an Iraq war veteran, spoke of using Tarot in healing PTSD.  I loved his ideas about what he calls "peripheral exploration," wherein the querent draws a single card, places it on a larger sheet of paper, and draws a scene that embeds the image in the card in a larger picture.

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Last year a young man approached me at a sabbat and told me he was "of my line."  Huh?  I didn't know I had a line.  Then he told me he'd recently been initiated and one of his initiators was an initiate of one of my initiates.  My initiate had been a student of mine (and of others) for some years before any oaths were sworn. 

This incident brings up lots of questions, especially since it arises from a tradition (Reclaiming) that requires no initiation in order for people to participate as fully and completely, prominently and authoritatively (teaching, public priest/essing, et al.) as they choose.  An obvious concern in this scenario is accountability -- to students, to community, to tradition.  Another is whether, or how, one can assume a shared knowledge and capability.  Those are questions for another rumination; for now, let's stick with lines and lineage.

What do we mean by lineage?  Why is it important to us?  Or to those of us who may think it is important?  Or to anyone?

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  • Evylyn Rose
    Evylyn Rose says #
    Just wanted to share a quick, friendly message that the URL for the Ordains linked to in this article has changed and can now be f
  • Ro Reyburn
    Ro Reyburn says #
    I guess that I have to opt for a [i]functional[i] , for lack of a better word, definition. Lineage, to me, is the line of connec
  • Joseph Merlin Nichter
    Joseph Merlin Nichter says #
    Most teachers offer the answers, the wise ones simply ask the right questions. And you are asking the right questions. I think th

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_sixth-article-800px-Walhall_by_Emil_Doepler.jpg

Better alive (than lifeless be):
to the quick fall aye the cattle;
the hearth burned for the happy heir –
outdoors a dead man lay.

May the halt ride a horse, and the handless be herdsman,
the deaf man may doughtily fight,
a blind man is better than a burned one, ay:
of what gain is a good man dead?

– “Havamal” 70 & 71

These words warrant our reflection. They articulate, baldy and unambiguously, the high worth placed on human life among the Norse Heathens – for these sentiments are attributed to Odin himself.

We might say that they provide strong evidence for a kind of Heathen humanism. At the very least, they suggest that in premodern times folk were hesitant to dismiss any individual’s worth out of hand.

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  • John Halstead
    John Halstead says #
    Henry, I'd like to republish this at HumanisticPaganism.com next month if you are amendable. Let me know. Thanks, John Halstead
  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    I've often found myself frustrated with some Heathens who refuse to take the heart of that line in the Havamal to heart. Rather th

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I'm revisiting the practice of xenia today. Xenia, as I wrote in my initiatory post about it, is the ancient Hellenic practice of ritual hospitality. A quote:

"Hospitality in ancient Hellenic was a complicated ritual within both the host and the guest has certain roles to fill and tasks to perform. Especially when someone unknown to the host came to the door, the ritual held great value. This ritual practice of hospitality was called 'xenia' (ξενία) and is described a lot in mythology. This, because any unknown traveler at the door could be a Theos in disguise or they could even be watched over by a Theos who would pass judgement on the host."

Today, I'm expanding upon my previous post about ritual hospitality with some tips about modern interpretation of the ancient practice. Society has changed, after all, and those wishing to actively practice xenia will find themselves in situations where they will want to assume the best in strangers, but who must safeguard themselves against abuse of all kinds.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs

When I was a kid I remember that whenever a new person entered our lives, especially whenever one of us children brought a new friend home, my mother would ask, "Who are your people?"  This used to really bug me.  She did it in a challenging, even accusatory, way, like you had to prove yourself worthy of her attention or of being in her child's life before she'd accept you.

Now that so many years have past, and my mother is gone, I'm revising my attitude towards her question.  Who are my people?  Who are your people?  Who are our people?  

Certainly our blood relatives are "our people."  However, in today's world, at least here in the United States, families are smaller than they were in the past, and often widely dispersed in different locations.  Further, there are so many more blended families, step-families, half-siblings, co-parents, that make sorting and defining kin groups complicated. Plus, since the years following World War II American society (read 'real estate developers') began promoting the idea of isolated nuclear families, a phenomenon I consider detrimental in many ways, one being that it separates extended families from one another.

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  • Tom Terrific
    Tom Terrific says #
    I like your observations. I’ve thought a lot about spiritual community, because I’ve so longed for it and yet never found it. Gro
  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Wow, Tom! Thanks for your observation. I hadn't thought of this in quite this way. I'd considered undue affluence and its effec

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Meditations on Hávamál 1-4

Hávamál offers us a glimpse of a past that had already become somewhat nostalgic when a single hand transcribed the poem around 1270 CE.  As David A. H. Evans writes in the Viking Society for Northern Research’s edition of the verses, this second poem of the Elder Edda “is deservedly one of the most celebrated works to have survived from the early Norse world.” It’s full of gnomic advice that continues to be of interest—and application—to us in the modern world. Old Norse text via the Heimskringla Project.

1.    
Gáttir allar,
áðr gangi fram,
um skoðask skyli,
um skyggnast skyli,
því at óvíst er at vita,
hvar óvinir
sitja á fleti fyrir.

2.
Gefendr heilir!
Gestr er inn kominn,
hvar skal sitja sjá?
Mjök er bráðr,
sá er á bröndum skal
síns of freista frama.

3.
Elds er þörf,
þeims inn er kominn
ok á kné kalinn;
matar ok váða
er manni þörf,
þeim er hefr um fjall farit.

4.
Vatns er þörf,
þeim er til verðar kemr,
þerru ok þjóðlaðar,
góðs of æðis,
ef sér geta mætti,
orðs ok endrþögu.

 

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  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard says #
    This is what I needed today. Blessings on your dear head, Laity.
  • Kate Laity
    Kate Laity says #
    You are most kind, my friend.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I am in debt. Even when I do not count my study loans, I'm chronically--but not deeply-- in the red on my bank account. I don't have credit card loans, however, and I don't owe money or goods to anyone. I have had a tough year, but it's slowly getting better. Although I work, next to getting an education, my income does not cover all my costs. I am extremely lucky, though: I have a working partner who will gladly jump in and cover costs until my education is done and I can get an actual job that pays the bills.

I don't like being in debt. It's against the spirit of Hellenismos--or at least the two were antagonistic in ancient Hellas. Debts were paid off at the Deipnon--the end of the month--and those who could not pay them became serfs to their creditors. It was one of the main ways a citizen could become a slave.

It sounds a bit harsh, becoming a slave because of a missed payment. Yet, is modern life any different? Am I not tied to all people, companies and foundations who pull money from my bank account on a regular basis? Will not strong men and/or women show up on my doorstep if I can not afford to pay my bills and take items I own to pay off the debt? If all else fails, won't the government take my freedom? Aren't all of us a little enslaved to a economy which requires monthly contributions for protection, huge debts for housing and education, and for an ever-increasing number of people; financial support from their government simply to eat and have a roof to sleep under?

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  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    Give a pledge, and ruin is near. It's as true today as when it was first written, but our complex economic system makes it seem o
  • Peter Beckley
    Peter Beckley says #
    It's not even a fine line between the 'freedom' I was talking about, and the 'enslavement' you were, Terence.
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    My phrase "to the contrary" was likely a bit hasty. As you said, Peter, people think freedom from debt is unnatural now; we have

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

It's been a while, but I'm back again, lovely readers! I'm currently hard at work on my second book (amongst other projects, as you'll see below), but I will certainly continue to post here as and when I can. Comments and topic requests always welcome.


At this time of year, it's easy to understand why our ancestors (both actual and spiritual), those wise women and cunning men, were considered remote, unusual, untouchable, even fearsome.

As Autumn moves into Winter here in the UK, we feel our natural, animal pull to dig in, hibernate, take time within the darkness to assess the previous year and anticipate the time to come - but I doubt any busy society has ever really allowed that to happen, except when they have no choice. Stoke up the fire, head to the pub or communal house, light and laughter against the outside world.

(Photo - 'Autumn in the New Forest', from Glastonbury Goddess Temple)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Every year I keep a piece of paper on my home altar and after November 1st, I write down the names of people who die during the course of the year. And by people, I mean the beings that touch my life in ways profound and/or familial.

Generally they are the names of folks I know or the loved ones of folks I know. Sometimes they are people that I don’t actually know but whose lives have intersected with mine. For example, Wangari Maathai went on the Samhain list because of her amazing work and because of my deep admiration for her courage and strength.

Our little cat, Luka Jones, is on this year’s list, along with my father-in-law, my friend Donna’s husband, my cousin Wanda and so many, many more.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Avalon & Brigadoon

 

This is the last installment of a four part series on physical infrastructure in the Pagan community. In this post I am focusing on festivals, conferences, and other multi-day events. In almost every culture and every community there is the custom of the gathering of the tribes. Modern pagan festivals, gatherings, and conferences are our equivalent of the gathering of the tribes. For simplicity sake, I'll refer to all these sorts of events as gatherings. In earlier posts in this series I spoke about the value that comes from seeing each other, working with each other, and having places that we can call our own. What makes gatherings different from these other kinds of infrastructure is that they involve large groups of people. Why is that important? For the most part, we are relatively isolated from each other and see only a handful of people at a time that share some commonality with our path. Seeing a multitude of Pagans together is transformative.

 

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  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Melissa: to pitch me on your blog idea, email me at editor2@bbimedia.com
  • Melissa Stansbury
    Melissa Stansbury says #
    So how do You "blog"? I just signed up and wish to "blog" in this forum about our ancient Craft....I am a multi-generational Witc
  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch says #
    Another wonderful post, and I'm sorry to see the end of this excellent series. Can you recommend anywhere to get a comprehensive

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

 

My grandmother–my mother’s mother–was a great wearer of costume jewelry. She had dozens of pairs of clip-on earrings–earbobs–and many had glorious great necklaces to match.

She worked in retail for many years, starting out in a local hardware store and finishing her working life at an Eckerd’s Drug Store where she specialized in the tobacco and photography departments. She was always beautifully turned-out from the top of her bobbie-pin curled head to the tips of her high-heeled shoes.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

A couple of weeks ago—which partially explains my absence from this hallowed place—Mother Grove Goddess Temple ordained a group of women as temple clergy. The women—and in this case they were all women—were already priestesses but they went through a long process of study and practicum to make them clergy.  They can perform all the rites of passage (including the legal one of marriage), can teach and speak on behalf of the Temple and its programs and philosophy.

It was a powerful ritual at a local herb school, because the Temple is small. There were candles and simple black robes. There were special guests and people making speeches. There was a choir and a reception. There was an audible gasp in the congregation when the women’s stoles were placed on their shoulders and they turned to face out. At that point, they were introduced one-by-one as “Reverend.”

Formal, legal.  Just like other religions do.

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  • Betty
    Betty says #
    I wish I could become clergy, but I don't know how. I'm self employed so I can't afford to go to seminary, but I do take classes h
  • Theresa Wymer
    Theresa Wymer says #
    Good for them. Congratulations to all the new clergy members!
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    Congratulations to all the new Reverends!

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Better than Belief

In our culture belief is the sine qua non of religion. We talk of ‘beliefs’, and ‘believers’, and ‘other beliefs’, as synonyms for religious doctrines, adherents and other religions. The problem with this is that only one religion on the planet actually cares about what you believe: Christianity. Most other religions relate to their doctrines or practices in very different and sometimes contradictory ways, such as having several unresolved and conflicting opinions in one person. For them, this is not a problem, but for Christianity it is. The history of Christianity is mostly about disagreements in doctrine and who had to flee, hide, fight, be killed, or submit to whom, about it. It is true that across human history religion has been an excuse for war or plunder, but that was usually about resources or dominance and not about technical points of theology. Christianity is different.

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  • Henry Buchy
    Henry Buchy says #
    heh, the old 'faith vs works' debate...
  • Peggy Andreas
    Peggy Andreas says #
    That was a very interesting read, thanks. My own take on this is something I've understood since reading Starhawk's "Spiral Dance
  • T. Thorn Coyle
    T. Thorn Coyle says #
    Sam, this was nicely written. Thank you. There are two quotes that I return to again and again on this matter: Joseph Campbell's:

Over at Patheos, Star Foster recently blogged about the paganizing influence of books such as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It is a conversation I have had many times, online and in person: do such books really bring people to Paganism (of whatever tradition)? Based on my own completely unscientific survey, I believe the answer is yes. Books like the Percy Jackson series -- and possibly Rowling's Harry Potter, Neil Gaiman's Odd and the Frost Giants, Anne Ursu's The Cronus Chronicles, and others -- do seem to spark an interest in the old Gods and mythologies. Or, perhaps, fan a flame that was already there.

 
At the same time .... I have to confess, I did not particularly enjoy The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson series. I got so little enjoyment out of it, in fact, that I did not bother to continue with the books, or even pick up Riordan's other series (The Kane Chronicles and Heroes of Olympus). I was ... disappointed. Let down. I had so been looking forward to a story which drew upon the ancient mythology and treated the Gods of old respectfully that ... eh ... shallow characters, shallow use of mythology, et cetera and so on.
 
I suppose I should have known better. This is a series written for mass entertainment. Riordan (so far as I know) is not any persuasion of Pagan, and he did not write the books with a Pagan audience in mind. This series was written for people who treat the old Gods and myths as fictional characters, not as real beings or sources of wisdom.
 
Which leads me to the second half of the title above: yes, we can do better. We -- the Pagan community at large -- need to be writing stories for our children about the Gods we honor and the traditions we practice. We need to offer them positive role models, kids just like them who struggle with the same problems and who do their best to act honorably. Heck, we need to be writing such stories for the non-Pagan community, too; show what we're all about.
 
So, consider this column a call to arms ... or rather, pens. Get your collective butts in your chairs, offer up a prayer or two for guidance and inspiration, and get writing! And here are a few ideas, free and clear, to do with as you please. Adopt them whole, take pieces here and there, use them as a launching pad for your ideas. Whatever. Just get writing!
 
One) Ecological. Ages 4-8. A dryad who lives in Central Park befriends a group of young children who play hide and seek near her tree. She introduces them to the wonders of the Park, to the amazing plants and animals who make it their home. For fans of The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, The Cat in the Hat's Learning Library series, and the Reading Rainbow books. 
 
Two) Mystery series. Ages 7-12. A young devotee of Athena uses math and science to solve crimes. The Goddess Herself makes at least one appearance in each story, offering the young girl guidance by explaining mathematical theories and principles, scientific concepts, and so forth. For fans of The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen, The Magic Treehouse series Mary Pope Osborne and Sal Murdocca, and The Goddess Girls series by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams.
 
Three) Adventure series. Ages 7-12. In 8th century northern Europe, a young boy accompanies his father as they sail around the Baltic Sea, down the Atlantic coast of  Europe, and through the Mediterranean to distant Byzantium. Along the way, he encounters strange new cultures, languages, religions, and animals. A stealthy way to teach kids about geography, history and even map reading. For fans of The Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan and the Young Samurai series by Chris Bradford.
 
Four) Paranormal. Ages 10-13. In the early 1800s, the young woman who will become Queen Victoria befriends three sisters. Unbeknownst to Victoria, the sisters practice British Traditional Witchcraft in secret, and they use their abilities to protect the future Queen. A great way to explore British history, women's history, and pre-Wicca Witchcraft. For fans of the Hex Hall series by Rachel Hawkins and the Sweep series by Cate Tiernan.
 
Five) Alternate history. Ages 12-18. In this what if ... series, the Pharaohs still rule a polytheistic Egypt. Follow the adventures of one of Pharaoh's daughters, as she solves mysteries, undertakes diplomatic missions, and romances handsome princes -- with style, of course. For fans of The Princess Academy series by Shannon Hale, the Luxe series by Anne Godbersen, and Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lyn Child.
 
Six) Fantasy. Ages 12-18. Too many fantasy books draw on Greek mythology, or maybe some mash-up of Middle Eastern mythology. Time for a change. Go Aztec. It is an incredibly rich source of fantastic creatures, terrible monsters and great warriors, peopled by amazing Gods. Treat the source material with respect and go for it. For fans of The Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan, The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater, and The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney.
 
Seven) Paranormal. Ages 13-18. In the years immediately following World War II, an American teen accompanies his family to occupied Japan, where his father is stationed. When he befriends several Japanese teens, he gets caught up in a mystery involving an ancient ghost. How better to sneak in important lessons about war, peace, forgiveness, Shinto, Buddhism, and Ainu traditions? For fans of Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes, Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.
 
Eight) Science fiction. Ages 13-18. When the Earth can no longer support human life, generation ships filled with colonists flee for the nearest habitable planet. But it will take decades to reach their new home. Follow one Wiccan coven across the years as they adjust to life on the ship, adapt their traditions and practices to their new surroundings, fall in and out of love, marry, pass those traditions on to their children and grandchildren, and finally make landfall on their new home. For fans of the Across the Universe books by Beth Revis, the Matched series by Ally Condie, and the Sirantha Jax books by Ann Aguirre.
 
So, there you have them: eight ideas for Pagan- and/or polytheist-centric books for kids, tweens and teens. Choose one or two. Pick up your pen, your pencil, your laptop, whatever. And get writing! 



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  • Tess Dawson
    Tess Dawson says #
    It seems I have taken you up on your challenge, Rebecca: http://witchesandpagans.com/Pagan-Paths-Blogs/the-man-who-wailed-at-the-s
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    @Brian: give it a shot. You might discover you have a talent for writing after all.
  • Rebecca Buchanan
    Rebecca Buchanan says #
    @Amy: thanks for the suggestion. I will add Bird's book to my To Read list.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I have written before about the differences between general (Neo-)Wiccan/Witchcraft Traditions and Reconstruction. In that blog post, I focussed on the practical, on the part you can see. This is not the most important part of Reconstruction Traditions, though. It's a part of it, but it only exists because of a mental component. It's this component I want to talk about today.

In general, 'reconstruction' is the practice of rebuilding something. This can be a crime-scene, a broken vase or any number of things. In Paganism, Reconstruction means the practice of reviving lost religious, social and practical practices from a specific time period or people. It is not that different from reconstructing a vase, actually, and I will be using that analogy a lot today.

Imagine this; long ago, a potter made a vase. He needed to make one because he had something which needed a holder. He shaped it in a specific form, inspired by his culture and need, and when the shape was done, he decorated it with imagery that was also culturally inspired. Somewhere over the years, the vase broke into a dozen pieces. There was no need for that particular vase anymore, so no one put it back together. Now, people need a holder again, and it seems logical to put the original holder back together instead of making a new one, because the first one functioned very well. They realize that in order to put the vase back together, they need to understand the culture and whatever was going on in the head of the potter who made it; without that knowledge, they won't be able to figure out how the pieces fit together and they can't restore the imagery without knowing what the potter created in the first place.

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  • Robert Scott
    Robert Scott says #
    Very good points which I think apply to any variety of recon, thank you.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

Pop Quiz: What’s more magical – a redwood tree or a subway?

Which is more part of nature – a dirt path through the woods or a downtown street?

If you chose the first of each pair, you’re missing half of the story. Because the correct answer is – all of the above.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Agent Of Change, Agent Of Stability

Over the years I have committed much of my energy to a variety of organizations and movements. Currently, I am seeing lots of growth and turbulence in many groups so I am sharing some observations of patterns that I have seen repeated. This post is mostly aimed at organizers but is of benefit to all.

 

The Self-Empowerment, Drama, & Big Picture Factor

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  • Jae Sea
    Jae Sea says #
    Yes, please share more on this topic and anything else you'd care to blog about. There is always useful and insightful informatio
  • Robin Fennelly
    Robin Fennelly says #
    Wonderful information, Ivo. Thank you and please continue.
  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven says #
    Great work, Ivo; I vote for more on this topic.

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

A cross-post this week, if I may - between here at my first blog 'home', and the wonderfully eclectic 'Witches & Pagans' site (because if you can't 'moonlight' as a Pagan, then who can?).

I am very aware that I haven't written anything at either location for a couple of weeks. I could give excuses - ultimately, the days have flown past and life has been more important. I'm sure we all know how that goes. Instead, take a wander with me, if you will.

Regular readers know that one of my favourite places for inspiration is as I walk the dog across the hilltop where I live. This evening I wandered the streets, looking out at the fierce clouds parting after an intense rain and thunder-storm just a few hours ago, the remnants of a rainbow, and the slightly 'stunned' feeling of a normal, modern, country village after a violent and unavoidable incident of Nature. The grass is rich and green, the snails appear to have made a small bypass across the path outside one particular row of houses, and the occasional early bat is swooping overhead.

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