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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

                                        Sweet or tart, cherries are the bomb | Health Beat | Spectrum Health

I don't own a cherry tree myself, but I've got the next best thing: picking rights on a neighborhood tree.

(“Hi, I'm the guy that's been stealing your cherries,” I said when I finally met the couple that “own” the tree. They laughed. “You're the third person that's told us that,” they said. “Take all you want.”)

This year I harvested about two gallons of cherries. Some became jam; most went into the freezer to be baked into pies in the deep pit of Winter when you're starting to think that Summertime is just a dream, and eating the fruit of July becomes an act of sympathetic magic.

Meanwhile, there's the cherry vodka.

As a neutral spirit, vodka absorbs flavors beautifully. The color, the fragrance, the flavor on the tongue: cherry vodka is Essence of Cherry, Summertime in a glass.

As we do every Yule, this year the Mother Berhta Guerrilla Wassailers will once again be making our annual rounds to do some socially-distanced, doorstep wassailing to deserving households. This year, as one does, we'll be wassailing the cherry tree as well.

We'll gather around the Tree and sing to it, thanking it and asking for more of the same next year.

We'll pour a libation of cherry vodka from the tree's own cherries.

Then we'll toast the tree in its own vodka.

(In the Old Ways, this is what passes for religion. What's not to like?)

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Deer People Have Come

In the dream, the coven has gathered, ready to begin the Rite of Samhain.

Night has fallen. Turning, I see deer on the hillside: first two, then more, then many.

We have visitors, I say.

We watch them watching us. The Deer People have come to witness our sabbat.

As we watch, one by one, the deer take human form.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Shared Bed Is Warmer

A shared bed is warmer.

(Nils-Aslak Valkeapää)

 

Beltanes up at Sioux Portage were always cold, and that was the year that it snowed while we were dancing the Maypole.

I was skinny as a boy well into my 30s. In the time that it took to empty my bladder and fumble my way back into the tent, I was already shivering uncontrollably.

Fortunately, I had offered tent-room to my friend Daniel that year. Though we weren't lovers at the time—that would come later—in an act of pure body hospitality, only half-awake, he wordlessly opened his arms to me and enwrapped me in primal mammalian comfort. Willingly I dove into those warm waters.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Language of Serpents

In the dream, the whole coven is over for New Moon. We're discussing the writings of occultist Dion Fortune: in particular, a passage in which she writes that, after disincarnation, she will return as a golden serpent. We discuss whether or not this could actually be so.

It so happens that the long-time partner of one of us, a magician who sometimes attends our rituals, is himself conversant in the Language of Serpents.

As one, we turn toward the temple's snake-hole. (Since the days of Knossos, every good temple has had a snake-hole.) In the Language of Serpents, with his arms extended and palms turned down, M— delivers the invocation.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Breaking the Wheel

At Paganicon in several weeks' time, we'll be doing something profoundly non-pagan: anti-pagan, even.

We'll be singing seasonal songs out of season.

The pagan's work is to Turn the Wheel: to make sure (inter alia) that the Sun comes up in the morning. (Whether to read this literally or symbolically is up to you.) The greatest pagan sin is to try to stop the Wheel or (worse) to break it.

It's our conviction that to sing the right songs in the right season helps to Turn the Wheel. So to sing the songs of other seasons now in this season raises some deeply theological problems.

Well, the pagan world is a place of gradation. What needs to be done, you do in the best possible way that you can.

For my upcoming workshop All Around the Wheel: Sacred Songs and Dances from the Midwest's Oldest Coven, we'll be singing songs from all the firedays, not just the current one. That's the point of the entire endeavor: to teach songs for the whole year.

So here's what we're going to do to make it magically palatable.

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Pagan Place, or: There Are No Generic Pagan Rituals

A local festival asked a friend of mine if he would write a ritual for them.

“We can't guarantee that it's going to be in any particular location,” they told him.

“Sorry,” was his reply. “If you can't give me a place, I can't give you a ritual.”

Corollaries:

  • There are no generic pagan rituals.
  • All pagan ritual is place specific.

Take, for example, the kachina religions of the American Southwest. You couldn't really pick these religions up and practice them in, say, Minneapolis. They've evolved as a perfect unity of place, people, and religion: what in Witch we would call Land, Lede (“tribe”) and Lore. This unity constitutes the pagan ideal.

I look at my coven's Wheel of the Year. Nearly every one of our rituals has evolved to fit a specific place. You could, theoretically, enact them elsewhere, but it would require a re-envisioning and a recasting of the rites to fit the new location.

The Paganicon 2020 committee asked if I would be interested in crafting Opening and Closing rituals for the upcoming event. As you'll have gathered, I'm not much one for casting circles and calling corners in ballrooms, but if things were to go as I foresee, our rites would mark the tribal Ingathering with what heathens call a “land-take."

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The Year the Yule Tree Saved the Coven Jewelry

The coven had been together for not quite a year when we all decided to move in together. Hey, it was the 80s.

Soon our second Yule together rolled around. Naturally, we had our discussions about whether or not it was ethical to kill a tree just for purposes of decoration. Like I said, it was the 80s.

Some felt one way, some another. As it turned out, though, we didn't have to kill a tree for Yule. Instead, one offered itself.

Just before Yule, an early blizzard blew through town, dropping lots of heavy, wet snow. The weight of the snow snapped off a tall, slender arbor vitae in the back yard.

(By the way, for those of you who didn't happened to grow up speaking Latin, arbor vitae means “tree of life.” Interesting.)

So we dragged the tree into the house and decked it out. Goddess will provide.

This being early on in our pagan careers, we didn't have much in the way of Yule ornaments between the lot of us. So we hung the tree with jewelry instead. Pagans, of course, have lots of jewelry that looks good on a Yule tree. Interestingly, the German word for Yule tree ornaments—Tannenbaumshmuck—means exactly that: fir tree jewelry.

So that was our first coven Yule tree together. But there's a coda to the story.

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