Saturday, September 13, 2014

American Gods:The Legend of Chickie's Rock


This is a story about the land where I grew up.  I hiked this trail with my family many, many times as a child, and it was my father, also a native-born Lancastrian, who told me this tale.




If you follow the trail in the photo above, the woods will become denser and denser, more and more beautiful. After a mile or two, you will find yourself at a great rock cliff, overlooking the Susquehanna River far below. This is Chickie's Rock. The name comes the Susquehannock (an Iroquois tribe) name for the area, "Ka'ot'sch'ie'ra" (which was Anglicized, by way of German, to "Chiquesalunga"), which means "crayfish point". It is among the largest and most beautiful glacial anticlines on the east coast (or so I'm told). Here is the legend of the place, as my father told it to me when I was little.  I do not know the provenance of this myth.   It's possible my father just made it up, but more likely he embroidered and adapted it from a story he heard while growing up, as I have done here. I've heard similar tales from several other Lancastrians, but most have not heard it.  My father was a prolific storyteller, so it is possible (though I think unlikely) they also heard it (second or third hand) from him.



Once upon a time, when Europeans were first moving into the area, a hunter named Johann become lost in the woods.  Hungry and afraid, Johann wandered for two days, until suddenly his dog bolted off into the woods.  Johann gave chase.  As he ran, all of a sudden, the trees gave way, and there, on a magnificent cliff overlooking the river, was his dog,  curled up at the feet of the most beautiful woman Johann had ever seen.  She was tall and strong, with skin the color of clay and lustrous hair the blue black of winter midnight.  She turned, and, seeing Johann's straits, she invited him to her fire and gave him water and blueberries.  The woman too was struck; this man so unlike any she had ever know had appeared out of the woods as if by magic!

He spoke no Susquehannock, and she no Detisch, but they found a way to communicate.  The next morning, the young woman led Johann back to his camp.  For his part, he could not get the young woman out of his head, and after a week went by, he ventured out to the secluded cliff they had shared.  Much to his surprise, he found her waiting for him!  From then on, they met every few nights.  Over time, they learned each other's language, and the woman, whose name was Chickie, took Johann back to meet her tribe, including her father, the chief, who was not best pleased at this turn of events, and forbade her to see him again.  But, of course, she did.  Months past, and Chickie's belly began to grow full like she had swallowed the moon.

The chief was furious!  In a fit of rage, he killed Johann.  Chickie, mad with grief, ran into the woods.  The woods tried to stop her; trees lowered their branches into her path, brambles grabbed at her clothes, stones rolled themselves under her feet, but Chickie could not be stopped.  She leaped over the stones and ducked under the branches.  She ran so hard she did not notice the bramble cuts that covered her.  Arriving at the cliff, her special magical cliff, she flung herself over it, hoping to join Johann in the Land Below.  If her love was dead, why live anymore?

And yet, and yet, the woods would not permit so beautiful and devoted a daughter to die on the rocks.  As she fell, she felt herself melting and dissipating.  Slowly, slowly, Chickie and her baby turned into a cloud.  To this day, if you look out into the sky, you can her still, hanging above the river, reaching down with her sweet rain to caress Johann's bones.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ipomoea: The Magic Plant

If I have a primary plant ally, I think it's Ipomoea.  It's a huge genus, including morning glories, moonflowers, sweet potatoes, and High John the Conqueror root.  They are extremely useful and beloved plants, for both their ornamental beauty and their culinary, medicinal, entheogenic, and magical uses. Many Ipomoea are native to the Americas; they're very common in the north eastern United States, where I live.  Traditionally, they're associated with the planet Saturn, and with binding and trapping magics (like dream catchers or spirit traps).  
Morning glories (Ipomoea violacea) have huge, round, funnel-shaped flowers and deep green heart-shaped leaves. They grow beautiful intricately tangled, amazingly strong vines.  Their seeds contain significant quantities of an LSD-like hallucinogen famous for producing visions of faeries. I have never tried it, but I'd like to. The variety pictured above is called "Heavenly Blue".  I don't know the name of the dark purple variety to the right, but it's beautiful!

Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba), pictured below, look very similar to morning glories, but with giant white (or sometimes pink) flowers that open at dusk.  The flowers unfurl so fast, you can watch it happen.  Their smell is said to promote visions and prophetic dreams.  


Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatus) is the only ipomoea that's generally used as a food.  Everyone knows what sweet potato roots look like, but many people don't know how beautiful the plant is, with green, maroon, or purple deeply lobed leaves and white and purple flowers.  
  
High John the Conqueror, Ipomoea jalapa, is one of the most magical of plants.  The plant is named after an African Americn folk hero.  John the Conqueror was an African prince sold into slavery in the Americas.  Even though he was enslaved, his spirit was never broken, and he is a trickster-hero closely associated with Br'er Rabbit.  (You can listen to a song about him below.  I don't like the video, just the song.)  The roots of High John are used in both whole and in pieces.  The whole, dry roots resemble a black man's balls, making them a very potent talisman for sex spells. Bits and pieces of the root are used to make decoctions and oils, which are typically used for luck or money drawing.  





To me, the most important feature of ipomoea is its growth habit.  Morning glories grow extremely fast, producing vines that  twine and trail in spiral helices of power, winding their way up chain link fences and telephone guy lines.  They do this by violently swinging about their bud tips until they make contact with something they can wrap around.  The video above is about one week's worth of growth.

Where I live, in the US midAtlantic region, morning glory vines grow ubiquitously, climbing up trees and fences alike.  Even in the most blighted urban neighborhoods, morning glory can be found everywhere winding it's way down alleys and over fences.  To me, morning glory is a sign of the Hedge, the path between the quotidian world and the Other Place.  By following a trail of morning glories, one is brought deeper and deeper into the Hedge.













Thursday, September 4, 2014

Healing a broken heart

Broken heartedness is a very real thing.  It can be caused not only by the end of a love affair, but by the loss of a family member or friend, or even a more abstract loss, like the loss of self-identity that comes with loosing a job.  A broken heart is an actual, palpable wound to your psychic body, and it needs time and care to heal properly.  If you try to ignore the wound, or don't care for it properly, it can fester,  ultimately poisoning you from within.  We all know someone who's become so infected by the bitterness and bile from their broken heart that it slowly infects their whole soul.  And yet, we also know, deep inside ourselves, that broken hearts can and do heal, leaving us strong and whole again.  Sometimes, this process requires only time and rest. The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself with little intervention on our part.  And yet, many injuries cannot heal themselves, and so we have invented medicine.  Similarly, for psychic wounds, we have a remarkable ability to heal ourselves.  And yet, it's not always enough.  And so we invented magic.

Shortly after my parents died, I was doing some meditations where the energy body is understood as a landscape that can be travelled through.  For example, the cauldron of the womb (which I think might traditionally called the "sacral chakra" or the "dan tien") I usually imagine as a opalescent tangerine sea that feels just like a hot tub with bubble jets.  Similarly, I've always imagined the heart chakra to be a lush summer forest, like the ones I grew up with in PA.
Chickies Rock, Columbia PA  (see below for the legend of Chickies Rock)

That time, while I meditated,  I began to feel the forest being cut down.  I heard the chain saws, and smelled smoke.  I couldn't stop it, and soon the forest of my heart was leveled.  And that's when I understood that a broken heart isn't a metaphor.  My heart had been broken, and required mending.

I'm going to tell you how I healed it.  In no way do I claim this is the only way, or the best way.  It's just a way that worked for me.  I've been hesitant to share this, because it seems like such an intrusive thing to talk about.  But, I wish I had read a post like this when I needed it, so here goes.  If I have time, I'll record a guided ritual this weekend.  However, I think this should be easy enough to follow...

You can split this working over several sessions if you feel that is best.  If it is easy, you're doing it wrong.  Expect this to be difficult, emotional, exhausting work.  Give yourself enough room to rest after doing it.

STEP ONE:  Examine the Wound

Enter trance however you like.

Reach above you, up up, up, through the stars, up to the center of the universe.  Find the Light Beyond Light.  Grab hold, and pull some down, down, down into the top of your head, down through your spine, down and into your center.  Feel it fill you, pooling in your core, cool and clear and invigorating.  If you can't feel it, that's ok.  Just imagine that you can.  

Whenever you're ready, reach down, down, down.  Down to the center of the earth.  Grow roots from the bottom of your feet (or possibly out your butt) and growing down, down, down into the Center of the Earth.  Find the Heart of the World, green and warm and wet and lush.  Grab hold, and pull the feeling up, up, up.  Up through your roots, up though your legs, up into your abdomen, mixing with the starlight that's already there.

Repeat this a few times until you KNOW that the center of your body is the center of all that is, and that you stand at the middle of the universe, a pillar, strong and sure, a conduit uniting heaven and earth.

Carefully, carefully, turn your imagination toward your heart.  What does it feel like?  What does it look like?  Do you hear a sound?  Do you smell a smell?  It might be a forest, or it might be a glittering green gem.  It might be anatomically correct, a pulsing muscle.  It might be a symphony; it might be the smell of spring flowers.  Whatever metaphor your heart uses to communicate with you, accept it.  Examine your heart; explore whatever you find.  Locate the damage that's been done, and carefully, carefully, examine it.  This is probably going to hurt.  It's ok to cry, but get a good look at the wound.

Retreat to your center, and consult with your spirit(s).  Determine a course of care for your wound.  This should involve three stages, each of which uses a certain elemental energy:  1) cleanse (fresh (not salt) water).  2) reset (qing) and 3) nourish (warmth).  What each of these stages looks like will depend on the metaphor your heart has chosen.  For me, the forest of my heart needed a heavy rain, washing away the ashes and preparing the soil.  I then planted new seeds, and the sun shone on them.

When you're ready, take a few deep breaths, and return to your heart.  Roll your shoulders back and push your sternum forward; your breasts should spread apart.  You can try a yoga pose called the camel if you're into that kind of thing.  In any case, the goal is to imagine that your ribcage is physically opening up, and your heart is opening, folding out like a moonflower.  

Now, imagine a body of water (ok if it's salt water).  The best ones are either one in physical proximity to you or one you have a strong emotional connection to; I use the Long Island Sound, which is right down the street from me.  If you have a water-ally, call on her.  Open a connection from yourself to the water; imagine diving deep deep down under the water, to the inmost sea in its depths, the sea that connects all seas.  There, pore breathe in the water, feeding the water to your heart, cleaning out the wound you found before.  For me, because I imagined my heart as a forest, I delivered the water in the form of a gentle rain.  One time, I wrote some Thessaly fanfiction about healing from grief.  On page 5 there's a little mediation about Love as Rain you can read if you like that sort of thing.  Please don't judge.  I was grief stricken when I wrote it.  Keep cleaning.  DO NOT examine the gunk washing away.  DO NOT attach to it.  Just let it wash away.  After a while, your heart will be clean.  Still damaged, but clean.  At this point, you can stop delivering water.  Rest for a little while.  If this hasn't been difficult and emotional, you're probably doing it wrong.

Next, we're going to set the heart, the way you'd set a broken bone.  Again, depending what metaphor your heart is using to explain itself to you, this will vary a little.  For me, it's a forest, so I'm planting seeds.  Go back to the Center of the Earth, where you grounded.  There, you will find an energy called in some Chinese systems 青 (qing).  This is also the word for the broad collection of blue-green colors.  It is the energy of new-sprouting things, vegetal growth.  If you work with plant totems, this would be a great time to ask for their help.  If not, choose a special tree.  Like with the water, you should either use one in close physical proximity (it's great to do this while actually sitting under a tree), or one to which you have a deep emotional connection.  Feel the plant growing and sprouting, feel the energy that makes this possible (the "qing").  Pore breathe in that energy.  Direct that energy/feeling up to your heart, growing organically like a plant.  This will be experienced differently in different people.  Whatever seems to be happening, as long as it can be understood to be an infusion of "growth" energy into the heart, it's probably right.  In my Forest Heart, this is all about the undergrowth reasserting itself after the forest was clear-cut.  Vines twining and fragrant carpets of herbs spreading and blossoming.  Once you feel as though your heart has been stabilized, then you can stop infusing it with qing.

Take a while to rest.  That was hard work!  Once you're ready, begin the final stage, warming and nourishing the heart.  

Connect to the sun.  You might imagine yourself sitting on a beach, underneath the blazing sun, soaking up its warmth like a lizard.  However you do it, pore breathe in the energy of the sun, primordial warmth.  Direct this warmth to your heart, and see if you can feel the wound beginning to heal.  In my forest, that's all about the trees growing.  The first time into sprouts, but getting bigger and bigger every time I did the meditation.  Sprouts, then saplings, then trees, then the lush full forest, filling itself back in, even better than it was before.

(For me, it took about a year to stop grieving and then another year to actually get back to happy.  This helped, especially in the early months.)  So, I hope this helped you.  I dont' know if it will work for anyone but me, but it genuinely did help me.  This meditation was inspired by Bex van Koot's serpentine chakra mediations, which I highly recommend.





The Legend of Chickies Rock


If you follow the trail in the photo above, the woods will become denser and denser, more and more beautiful.  After a mile or two, you will find yourself at a great rock cliff, overlooking the Susquehanna River far below.  This is Chickies Rock.  The name comes the Susquehannock (an Iroquois tribe) name for the area, Ka'ot'sch'ie'ra (which was Anglicized to Chiquesalunga).  It is among the largest and most beautiful glacial anticlines on the east coast (or so I'm told).  Here is the legend of the place, as my father told it to me when I was little.  This is NOT an authentic Iroquois legend.  It's possible my father just made it up, but more likely he embroidered and adapted it from a story he heard while growing up (which I have also).  I've heard similar versions of the tale from other Lancastrians.

Once upon a time, when Europeans were first moving into the area, a hunter named Johann become lost in the woods.  Hungry and afraid, Johann wandered for two days, until suddenly his dog bolted off into the woods.  Johann gave chase.  As he ran, all of a sudden, the trees gave way, and there, on a magnificent cliff overlooking the river, was his dog, curled up at the feet of the most beautiful woman Johann had ever seen.  She was tall and strong, with skin the color of clay and lustrous hair the blue-black of winter midnight.  She turned, and, seeing Johann's condition, she invited him to her fire and gave him water and corn cakes.  The woman too was struck; this man so unlike any she had ever known had appeared out of the woods as if by magic!

Although they could not speak each other's languages, they found a way to communicate.  ;) The next morning, the young woman led Johann back to his camp.  For his part, he could not get the young woman out of his head, and after a week went by, he ventured out to the secluded cliff they had shared.  Much to his surprise, he found her waiting for him!  From then on, they met every few nights.  Months past,  and the woman, whose name was Chickie, began to grow round with child.  She took Johann back to her village, to meet her tribe, including her father, the chief.

The chief was furious!  In a fit of rage, he killed Johann.  Chickie, grief stricken, ran into the woods.  The woods tried to stop her; trees lowered their branches into her path, brambles grabbed at her clothes, stones rolled themselves under her feet, but Chickie could not be stopped.  She leapt over the stones and ducked under the branches.  She ran so hard she did not notice the bramble cuts that covered her, or the blood that ran down her legs.  Arriving at the cliff, her special magical cliff, she flung herself over it.  If her love was dead, why live anymore?

And yet, and yet, the woods would not permit so beautiful and devoted a daughter to die on the rocks.  As she fell, she felt herself melting and dissipating.  Slowly, slowly, Chickie and her baby turned into a cloud.  To this day, if you look out into the sky, you can see her still, hanging above the river.