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How to Have a Perfect Yule

It was twenty-five years ago:

Coming through the door, we stamped snow off our boots and were hit with a wall of noise. There must have been fifty people crowding the farmhouse that night. Some were locked in conversation, clustered in twos and threes.  Toddlers careened across the room at knee level, and out in the kitchen two guitarists and a drummer hunched over mismatched chairs, their music lost in the general roar.
. A wish-net filled with lights and tokens hung over the battered sofa, potluck foods were laid out in heaps, and the wood-stove cranked out needless heat. Hats and boots and mittens steamed in the entryway, friends greeted each other with hugs, and a man I’d never met before pressed lyrics into our hands.
. Outside under a dark sky studded with stars, the snow was too cold to make snowballs; inside, everything was laughter, and light, and noise.
. We sang the songs, we lit the candles, we called back the sun. At the end of the night, we took home a candle a…
Recent posts

Walking through Grief and Loss

I should not have been surprised that my last post touched a nerve; not only is it Black November, but grief knows no season.  That’s the thing about loss as universal: in any community, someone is grieving today.

As someone who used to do grief counseling for a living, I should have remembered that.  It is one of the things I have learned about grief; within a community, it’s never an abstract notion.

Working with death and dying, back when I was a counselor, taught me a lot about how humans grieve.  Aging and loss have taught me more.  It occurs to me that it might not be a bad idea to put some of the things I’ve learned into words;  if it is true that someone is always mourning a loss, it’s also true that any hope or comfort we can offer will always be useful to someone, too.
It turns out, for instance, that it is not futile to learn about grief.

In fact, it turns out that we get better at grief with practice.  Grief is hard work, but it is also a skill, and one that i…

Grief, Death, and the Wheel of the Year

This has been a tough fall for a lot of the people I love.

My daughter’s stepmother has died, my favorite aunt has cancer, and one of my closest Quaker friends lost his wife at the end of the summer; her memorial was on Samhain itself.  Throughout this fall, I’ve been watching as people I love feel grief and loss.

It has been a lot like watching them drown.

I know, intellectually, that grief rarely kills.  I know, intellectually, that the wrenching sobs and the painful moments in between are not the sounds of my friends and family dying too.  I know it, and they know it… intellectually.

It looks a lot like knowing, intellectually, that you’re not going to die while you’re being waterboarded.  I mean, probably.  Almost certainly… right?  And meanwhile, every cell in your body is screaming at you with the certainty that you cannot possibly go on living.

Grief is so much more terrible than we think it will be.  Grief is horrible.  Grief hurts, and just watching it leaves us…

November, and the Nurturing Dark

October’s landscape is all burning bush… and yellow aspen, orange maple, and smoldering-ember oak. October is brightness, and fire, and hurry.

November, though? Is ash.  November is the fire burned out, the hurry burned away. October takes the breath away.  But November is the world taking back that breath, pausing for rest.  November is the world scoured clean.

Perhaps it’s because I am a teacher; early fall seems like one demand after another to me, and I reach the end of October days like a marathon runner who staggers across the finish line.  By the time November rolls around, with the end of Daylight Savings Time, that extra hour of sleep feels long overdue.  I set my clock back in relief, and accustom myself to seeing the sun’s weak light in the mornings again–though I know the darkness will swallow it up again soon.

This morning, as the sun punched up over a horizon neatly cleared of leaves, I watched the slanted light sweep long shadows over fields gone bare of …

Samhain Is My Fertility Festival

There is just something about the light this time of year.

Of course, it helps that I live in New England, where the slanted light of autumn pours over leaves that are themselves turned gold.  There are mornings and afternoons  on my commute when it’s all I can do to watch the road.  In hurried glances, I gulp down visions: pale fields of bleaching corn,  mist that blankets meadows, and the way the sun burnishes all the leaves and the limbs of trees that hurry past my car.

That beauty stirs my gratitude, but it stirs other things as well.

When the blue of the hills grows soft, and the shadows in the woods are long; when crows make calligraphy against the sky, I can feel the Samhain’s tide rising within me, and as it rises, it glows.

I’m not one of those Pagans who can recite for you the names of all the chakras.  I don’t know their colors or their Sanskrit symbols.  I’m not even sure I’ve sensed them all.

But at Samhain time, I can feel warmth like an ember, low down in m…

Altruism, Becoming the Crone, and the Grandmother Effect

I’ve been working on my Crone’s Wings this year, and I’m here to tell you: menopause is a nuisance.
I never know, from one month to the next, whether I’m going to skip a period, spot every day for three weeks and then have a period, open the flood gates and have a super-period for three weeks in a row, or even whether this month is the end of the show.

And, yeah, I have mood swings, hot flashes, and migraine headaches–my record is three in one day–along with a host of other bothersome physical changes, from suddenly having hyper-sensitive skin to developing an allergy to chocolate.  (Now that was epic!)

I comfort myself with the knowledge that all this misery is what has given the human race its weirdly long lifespan.

No, seriously–I don’t just mean life feels longer when I’m having menopausal symptoms.  I mean that, according to theory, the evolution of menopause and the evolution of our long lives are linked.
At first blush, that may seem unlikely.  How could menopause–t…

The What They Did, Not the What They Are Conversation

Oh, my people, my people.

Clearly, discussions of cultural appropriation are the third rail of Pagan race discussions right now.
If you are one of the fifteen people in North America who has yet to read Tom Swiss’s frankly wrongheaded take on cultural appropriation, which has absolutely blown up into a flying shitstorm over at The Zen Pagan, I’ll give you the short version: he doesn’t believe we need the term at all, that the term is mere political correctness.

Of course, this idea is wildly popular with all of us white Pagans who want to stop taking on the annoying, stressful work of contemplating which of our own favorite practices might be cultural appropriation, and to changing them.  Tom has a lot of fans right now.

His idea is less popular with those who have been paying attention to how cultural appropriation causes actual harm to actual marginalized people, and can play right into reinforcing racist stereotypes that cast all but members of the dominant white race an…