Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Today, at our faculty meeting, I found out that this year, unlike in years past, I have off work for
Purim 2010, by Brian Charles
Purim.  This is extremely exciting news. Long time readers know that one of the things I find frustrating about working at a Jewish school is that, while I get off for a lot of nonsense holidays the rabbis made up, I have to work on several holidays that are central to my practice of Judaism.  Among these, my most favored, my most important, my most sacred is Purim.  Some of you, who are only familiar with rabbinic Judaism, might be thinking "I thought Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement" is the most sacred holy day of Judaism?"  That's a lie the rabbis tell.  If you listen carefully, you will find that's not even the name of the holiday!  The name is "Yom Haki Purim", the "Day Like Purim".

Dancing, as it does, in the liminal space where summer ripens into autumn, Yom K'Purim is a holiday about linearity, about causality,  reason, justice.  Yom K'Purim is the day which balances gevorah (power) and chesed (compassion).  Ishtar descends into her sister, Ereshkigal's realm.  Marduk, the King of the Earth, weeps for her, and withholds his blessing on the fields.  G-d passes judgement, and we beg for his decree to be averted.

Exactly half a year later, as the wheel swings back and the Lady of Bones gives birth to Spring,  Purim  completes the cycle.  Ishtar, having completed her underworld initiation, returns to the Human World, makes the Great Rite with Marduk, and returns fertility, fecundity, and pleasure to the world.  At Purim, having passed through winter, through the illusion of death from which all things are reborn, having, like Ishtar, Ascended in Power, we know that the world is far stranger, far wilder, far more beautiful and chaotic than the rabbis imagine.  If Yom K'Purim means "Day Like Purim", what does "Purim" mean?  "Purim" are divinatory dice.  At Purim, we acknowledge the truth monotheism tries so hard to hide, that G-d DOES, in fact, play dice with the universe.  At Purim, we remember the oldest ways; that seasons turn and .  At Purim, we become so drunk that we cannot tell the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman" because, truly, the Holy One knows not the difference either!

I am so happy to have my holy day back.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Maiden of the Temple

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for months (as you will see).  I have more to say on this topic, but I'm not sure what yet.  I think it will have to come out in story form.  Something about how girls are sent to initiation to acquire that aunts/sisters/grandmother's Hekate going underground to take Leto's place, or Artemis taking Persephone's place at Demeter's side...  I don't quite know how it goes yet.

Today, the 21st of November, is the Feast of Theotokos Entering the Temple.  I think this is a story little know outside of the Old Church; it's not clear to me that Catholics or Protestants have much legend about Mary before Jesus is born.  It casts Mary as a powerful priestess in her own right, and highlights Jesus's role as an inheritor of the line of Sarai, not just the line of Abraham.

Like me, Mary was a "miracle baby".  Her mother, Anna, and father, Joachim, had long attempted to have children, but Anna's body betrayed her, and she could not bring a child to term.  She prayed, and conceived Mary, and bore her.  In the fall of her third year,  Mary was taken to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where her great uncle (Anna's mother's brother) was the high priest.  There, she was almost immediately recognized as special; the Presence hung on her and she shone.  She studied there for 9 years, until she came of age.

Sarai, too, in my personal mythology, was entered into the Temple as a young girl.  I dreamt once, of going to the Great Temple, to tell my great uncle of a powerful dream, and to demand the blessing that assured my entry into the mysteries.

There is a small chapel on the summit of the hill of Eleusis.  It opens only for the Festival of the Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos Entering the Temple on Novemeber 21st.  One day, I very much wish to be there for this festival.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bubbe Meise: 31 Days of Magic: Day 5

If you'd like to follow along with all my 31 Days of Magic work, you'll have to follow me on facebook, but I'll be writing up some highlights here as well.  As I mentioned on facebook yesterday, I decided to swap day 4 (enchant jewelry) for day 5 (cord magic).  I promised I would explain why today.  Let me start by briefly describing yesterday's cord magic.  If you already read it on facebook, skip to the ***.

For the cord magic challenge, I resurrected a spell I learned as a little girl from my "fairy friend". First, you decide on your wish, which you have to be very careful about (because we've all heard the stories!) You next pull out a single hair, and whisper your wish to it. Then, you tie thirteen knots in it, slowly saying the rhyme, and put the hair on a tree branch.
Thirteen knots, all in a row,
Sun knot, moon knot, star knot, glow!
Earth knot, tree knot, flower knot, grow!
rabbit knot hops, crow knot flies.
rock knot sits, and wind knot sighs.
Squirrel knot climbs, cloud knot skies.
Final knot, elf knot, makes it come true!

As I mentioned yesterday, I swapped days because I had to go to my maternal grandmother's funeral today. Nancy Sickles Halbert was my last living ancestor, and my relationship with her was...complicated.  You see, I didn't get Mother Goose as a grandmother.  My grandmother was Baba Yaga.  She was strong, and independent, and a feminist and an artist who raised 4 little girls more or less by herself in the 60s.  But she was also seriously mentally ill, and she abused my mother and her sisters badly.  Our family curse, a kind of slippery, elf--touched madness, blossomed to extravagant flower in her, as it did in me.  Unlike me, however, no one rescued her, and the madness went to seed.   She never escaped it.  It mutated and morphed: a slippery, bitter poison of manic depression, arthritis, witchery, and art.  She painted well into her 80s, even as her hands curled into talons; she spoke in a garbled hiss, her mouth frozen in the twisted rictus of someone who has eaten goblin fruit.

I was told, as a child, that it was arthritis that so twisted her hands, and locked her jaw.  I was terrified that I too would develop it.  I have learned now, however, that while it was partly arthritis, it was mostly madness.

My grandmother LOVED costume jewelry.  Awful, giant, loud, crazy jewelry everyone in our family hates.  Everyone but me; I love it!  My grandmother was a very bad, abusive mother and not a very good person.  But the woman had amazing taste, and was a prolific collector.  She was Iris Apfel's evil twin.  I have many pieces of hers (and I expect I will soon have more).  The piece I wore to the funeral and graveyard today, the piece I enchanted, is shown below.
The black scarab pendant is nearly three inches long.  I can't identify the material.  It's too heavy to be jet; it might be bakelite.   The amber-colored beads are possibly jasper or maybe even amber.  I'm not sure.  The brown one's are tiger's eye.  This is the necklace of the Crone, the Hag, the Lady of Bones; this is my grandnan's necklace.  I baptized the scarab with her name.  I asked for her strength, and her ferocity, and her vision.  And I asked that her spirit be healed, and at peace.

My Grandnan is the most potent ancestor I work with; the only one who reliably comes through clear and strong.  I inherited a lot of her books and statues and jewelry; having gone thru her stuff my grandnan was much more pagan than any of us knew, and maybe bisexual!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Under the Earth and Over the River and Through the Woods

"Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."
The tunnel at Chickies Rock Park
This morning, my boyfriend texted me from the subway tunnels beneath Grand Central Station.  We live in the future!  I remarked that I loved being underground, and he called me a hobbit, which could not possibly be more true!  My father (of blessed memory) and I often fantasized of building an earth-sheltered home, and so I know a surprising amount about earth-work construction  I genuinely love being inside the earth; I derive an almost spiritual pleasure from knowing that I am surrounded by the Womb of Being.

So many of my most magical memories take place in and around tunnels and caves.  I think, at some level deep in own bones, each of us understands the magic of caves.  They stir some ur-memory in us; painted bison slowly coaxed to dance by guttering torches and pounding drums.  And yet, so few people have ever been in a wild cave.  Where I grew up, almost all the land is underlain by limestone and running water.  And so, nearly anywhere you go in Lancaster County, there is quite likely a cave beneath your feet.

Indian Echo Caverns
When I was a child, we frequently went on school trips to Crystal Cave, a limestone cavern that was retro-fitted for tourists (including electric lights) in the 1800s.  As far as I recall, that's the first cave I was ever inside of.  My father (who shared my love of the underground) took me to several more caves, but neither of us were fit enough for serious spelunking.  These included Indian Echo Cavern (pictured at right) and Laurel Caverns.  As I got older, I began to explore slightly more wild caves, particularly Cold Cave, on the Conestoga Trail in Pequea.  However, it was a different kind of earth-sheltered locale that really makes the impact on me.  Even more than caves, I love tunnels.

I have always believed that, when you pass through a tunnel, especially a long, dark tunnel, there is the possibility of crossing into another world entirely.  The folklore I was taught as a child was that you should always hold your breath while passing through a tunnel.  There were various reasons for this, depending on who you listened to.  Theories seemed to break into two general camps (1) If you held your breath the whole way through and made a wish, it was sure to come true.  and (2) If you didn't hold your breath, you might become possessed by the spirit of the tunnel (which is a bad thing?).  In my head, these combined to build the idea that every time you pass through a tunnel, reality is in a kind of "Schroedinger's Limbo"; things might well be different on the other side.

The first tunnel with whom I remember having a relationship is the one that runs between Park City Mall's parking lot and Long's Park.  Originally built as a highway underpass, the tunnel remained after the road moved.  I can't find a picture of the tunnel online, but I'll get one for you when next I can.  For me, and I suspect for many others, my earliest memories of that tunnel are mixed up with memories of the fourth of July.  The city's primary Independence Day celebration is at Long's Park; the symphony plays the 1812 overture, including firing 15 or 20 Revolutionary and Civil War cannon.  There are fireworks and people grill.  It's very All-American.  There's not much parking at the park, so my family, and many, many others, would park at the mall, and walk through the tunnel.

When I was a tween, there was a rumor going around that Satanists met in the tunnel and that's where they did their black magic.  That was among the first times I'd ever heard people talk about magic in a non-fiction context.  I was very intrigued.  I desperately wanted to meet these Satanists, and learn their black magics.  I spent A LOT of time in the tunnel, but I was not permitted to go by myself (I was, like, 12 years old) and so it came to nothing.  I suspect there was very little to that rumor.  And yet, and yet....  Even today, 25 years after the Satanist rumor was put to bed, some glimmer of magic does hang around the tunnel.  This is probably the least wild of the tunnels I'm going to talk about.  And yet, even this one offers the dark stillness of being under the earth, the sensation of being ensconced inside the Mother of Mountains.

There's another tunnel close to my heart, and one that's recently been abandoned.  As you head south along route 324 towards Lake Aldred, you used to have to pass through a very short, very dangerous one-lane underpass. Although it's difficult to see in this picture, on the other side of the tunnel, the road turns sharply, making it very difficult to see whether or not there is anyone in the tunnel. A few years ago, they diverted the road a bit, cutting the corner and obviating the need for a tunnel.  However, the old tunnel still stands, slowly re-wilding.  I am intrigued to see how it's spirit develops.  I will take a photo of what it looks like now when next I am in Pequea.

There is, however, only one tunnel that really captures my soul, one tunnel that I am 100% sure has another world on it's other side.  Shortly after I learned to drive, I discovered this amazing nature preserve, which I always referred to, only half in jest, as "The Gateway to Arcadia". I think, perhaps, my father took my brother and I here when I was very little, but I'm not sure.  In any case, I hadn't been in years when I rediscovered it as a teenager.  All through high school, especially on that long, lazy watercolor summer of morphine between junior and senior year, I used to go there to think, and talk to the Land, and search for the door to faerie. I sometimes took my brother a few times, but I never took anyone else.  It's entrance is quite hidden.

The Gateway is along a small, windy road, paralleling a creek. On the other side of the road is a steep embankment, at the top of which is the old railroad track, long since turned into a hiking trail. After a little while, there's a dirt patch you can pull over at, and a stone arch leading into the side of the hill. A small rivulet creek runs into the tunnel. If you wade in the creek (slippery!) through the tunnel, and come out on the other side, you find yourself in a hidden valley.  It's a tucked behind some hills, and difficult to find. Any real Lancastrian, I think, will be able to find it from the photos and description. If you need a map to find it, I'm not going to tell you where it is.

You see, like so many things from that time in my life, I'd completely forgotten about this place.  And then I found myself there in a dream, and that's when things began to open up, and I began to remember.  I went searching for it on my next trip to Lancaster, and I found it.  I spoke with Forsythia, the guardian of the tunnels of Faerie, the herald of spring, and asked her to help me find it.  I followed the yellow blooms down twisting country roads, winding our way through the Tucquon Glen, crisscrossing the Southern End.  After a bit of wandering, it appeared, a stone tunnel rising up from the woods.

There are two ways into the glen but I am not so sure they lead to the same place.  If you climb up over the hill, you will find abandoned railroad tracks at the top.  The last train here ran 25 years ago, and the tracks have since been removed.  Clambering over, and making your way down the very steep descent on the far side, you find yourself in a lovely nature preserve, full of wildflowers and song birds.

There is, however, another option.  You can wade upstream into the tunnel.  It appears to be short, but it is dark, and the stream bed is slick, the round stones and covered in slippery moss, stone of the walls is damp and old. Old graffiti, so faded as to be almost invisible, lies faint on one wall. A cross bedecked with horns. Is it the seal that opens the way, or does it only mark the path?

The tunnel continues. Light dawns ahead of you, the tunnel gives way to the forest, the sparkling sunshine reflecting through green leaves onto an antediluvian wood. The hills rise steep on every side. If you peer through the tunnel, you can see the road on the other side, and yet, as soon as you turn away, the outside world is utterly gone.  No noise penetrates the thick hills; only the sound of bubbling water and the cry of songbirds.

Life flourishes all around you, weeping willows kiss the river, sycamores jostle with maple, magnolia stands next to oak, yellow birch and hemlock predominate. Abundant wildflowers are everywhere, mulberries grow in profusion, butterflies flirt with orange jewelweed, forsythia hedges mingle with wild roses and tiny white baby’s breath. The smell of honeysuckle is all around you, and morning glories bloom in profusion. As you walk beside the river, deeper and deeper, further and further, into the ancient wood, you begin to feel as though you are being watched. A rustle in the undergrowth, a splash in the water.

The river grows large, too deep to ford, but if you continue to talk walk, you will come across a tree fallen across, a natural bridge. The tree is ancient and slick with haircap moss, but it is still strong and holds your weight with ease.

On the other side of the river, the forest fans out thick and rises high, the trees are bigger than they have any right to be.  Further on, the cliffs rise up higher, gusseting even tighter my magic valley.  Time gets all wibby-wobbly here, slowing down, my memories become confused.  And yet, always, I know I am being watched, that the spirits of this place remember me, as I remember them.  Scrambling up I come to this tree and I sit a spell to think.  But even here, you cannot see past the cliffs back to the real world. No sound penetrates the valley, only the river connects this Place to home.

Faces begin to appear in the trees, most natural, but then I spy this, and I know I am not the only traveler to have felt our Elder Kin here.  I understand that others might see this graffiti differently.  But running my hands along the scarred bark, I can feel the boy who made these cuts; he was the same age I was when I found these woods, 16 or 17; the liminality of his adolescence shines bright.  I suspect he didn't know why he felt compelled to carve this image to commemorating his experience.  But I know what this means, and I give thanks to the boy who made this offering to the Land, even if he didn't know he did it.

I believe this graffitti was left here by the Good Folk just for me.  The date on the bottom?  It's exactly a year after my parents were killed in a car accident not so far from here.

If you've enjoyed this post, please consider donating the the Lancaster County Conservancy, which keeps Lancaster wild.  They own a lot of the land I'm talking about here, and they love it as much as I do.  My bff's mother is their Director of Land Preservation, so I can vouch for them personally.

Friday, January 1, 2016

31 Days of Magic #1: Candle Spell

My Strategic Sorcery group is sponsoring an open magic challenge; preform a different piece of spellcraft every day in January.  If you'd like to play along, here's the calendar.

I've decided that I'm going to work one giant spell with 31 parts over the month.  I don't want to talk too too much about it until it's all done, but it revolves around the theme of "clarity", especially clarity of memories and clarity of intuition, but also mental focus and clarity.

Tonight, I worked a candle spell to illuminate the way.  I began with a yellow 7day novena candle, which I dedicated to Golden Crowned Phoebe. The Titanis Phoebe, the mother of Asteria and Leto, the grandmother of Hekate, Artemis, and Apollo, is called "The Shining One".  She inherited the Oracle at Delphi from her sister, Themis, and passed it on to her grandson, Apollo.

Golden Crowned Phoebe, you may recall, was recommended to me by Venus of the Red Rose.  She "shades Moon with Sun, granting insight of the Unseen, Clarity of Dream, and Shimmering Radiance."  I have not worked with her directly before, although I once undertook a (very successful)  great work with her granddaughters.

And, so, today, on the first day of 2016, I light a candle for Golden Crowned Phoebe, the Shining Goddess of Insight, and asked for a dream revelation to begin my work.  I wrote Phoebe's name on the candle, and anointed it with Wolf & Goat's clarity oil, which I also applied to my third eye. and temples.  I set some of Strega Babe's Clarity bath herbs to burn as an incense.  I asked her to Illuminate the Work ahead, to bear a torch for me in the darkness.  Already, I can feel the work beginning to take shape.

Moon Goddess, by Josephine Wall