Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Archepelago: The Isles of the Wise

We at Mastros & Zealot are both excited and delighted to announce our newest game, Archepelago: Isles of the Wise.  Like last fall's Apokalypsis, which unlocked the Seven Great Mystery Cults of Lydia, Archipelago is an initiatory game of mythopoetic magic which discovers the long lost magics hidden on twelve mythic islands.  The game is open to everyone, free to play, and rewards richly its winners and heroes.

Every Wednesday, for twelve Wednesdays, players receive a new missive.  Decrypt the missive to identify the island, uncover the clues hidden in the islands history, geography, and mythology, and unlock the Mystery you find there.  On August 30th, if all twelve mysteries have been revealed, the Great Revelation of the Game will be unlocked, Winners will be acclaimed, and Hero's prizes will be awarded.  There is no way to lose the game, except to quit.

There are Twelve Isles of the Wise where the Mystery Cults born on Atlantis retreated when the old ways gave way to the new.  Six of the twelve are known to me:

The Navel of the World
The Fruited Isle
The Island of the Hawk
The Pillar of the North
The Island of the Fates
The Island the Supports Bliss

The final six we will need discover together on the strength of the magics we learn on the first six islands.

You may choose to work alone, or you may work in small teams.  For the greatest reward, play on Hero Mode: throw open the Gates for everyone, and clear the path of stumbling blocks for those who follow after you.  To win the game, all you need to do is play along; you can quit any time.

Comment here or on the Mastros & Zealot facebook page to declare you are playing. You will be sent complete instructions.

The preliminary missive, below, is your clue to opening the initiatory gate, and discovering the lost secrets of...

Navel of the World

Star-born island, daughter of Wisdom,
Mother of Dark Prophecy,
Floating island at the center of the world,
No man may sleep upon your breast.
No woman may bear children upon your lap.
And on you, it is forbidden to die.

Artemis & Abortion

UPDATED May 2022.

As many of you know, Artemis and I have a close relationship. My best friend when I was a girl, with whom I cut my magical teeth as a teenager, was (and remains) dedicated to her. I've been doing a lot of work with Artemis in the last few days, and she asked me to share this teaching, one of her oldest and most important.

Since time out of mind, Artemis, the Huntress, the Unwed, the Great Midwife, the Witch Sister, has taught women how to own and defend our own bodies. That ownership is once again, perpetually, under threat, and Artemis, and her Sister Witches stand ready to defend it. No one can really call them self "witch" if they don't know the ancient magic that liberates women from unwanted pregnancy.

Modern medical abortions, both surgical and chemical, are much safer and more reliable than the ancient ways. Do all you can to keep them safe, legal, and affordable, but also learn now what it may become illegal to teach. This is the knowledge our foremothers went to the pyre for. Pray you never need to know this, but also plant some herbs. Print this out. By the time you need this, it will be illegal to teach it.  By the time you need it, I won't be here anymore.  If you would like to prepare further, I strongly recommend the book "The Woman's Book of Choices" by Rebecca Chalker.

The first thing you have to know is that herbal abortions are dangerous. This IS NOT homeopathy, or green living. It is not a "safe alternative" to a real abortion. This is post-apocalypse medicine. If you at all can, get a real abortion, from a real doctor.  Our ancestresses fought, we are all still fighting,  so that you will never need to know this, but when being pregnant seems worse than being dead, this is the medicine you need.

Secondly, take a pregnancy test and be sure you are pregnant before taking any of these herbs. I know some women would "rather not know", but these preparations are too dangerous to be taken unless they're actually needed. These aren't emergency contraception; they're abortion. I'll talk a little about emergency contraception at the end of this post.

If you are afraid, Artemis will give you strength.  (Magic for that here)

Cold pressed evening primrose can be applied as a douche.

Angelica root is probably the safest abortifacient herb that's easy (and covert) to grow or gather.

American Angelica
Garden Angelica

Angelica archangelica, known as garden angelica, wild celery, and Norwegian angelica, is a common garden plant.   Angelica sinensis
known as dong dong quai, can be purchased in most places that sell healing herbs.  Angelica atropurpurea, known commonly as purplestem angelicagreat angelicaAmerican angelicahigh angelica, and masterwort, is native to most of the US.  It grows along riverbanks and in swamps. Both kinds of angelica are very easy to grow or find, and they can be used interchangeably.  To use, simmer dried root in water for 15-30 minutes.  Drink every four hours (day and night) until bleeding begins.  DO NOT use for more than 2 weeks.  DO NOT use if you are prone to heavy bleeding.

Ruta graveolens, commonly known as ruecommon rue or herb-of-grace, is a common garden plant that is extremely easy to grow.  In much of the US, it has "escaped" from gardens, and grows in ditches and along roadsides.  Take caution when gathering it, as it can cause blistering similar to poison ivy.  It has a long history of use as an abortifacient, including in medieval Europe and contemporary Latin America.  If your period is overdue, boil 1 cup water, and pour over 3 Tbsp of dried leaves.  Allow to cool.  Drink every 8 hours until menstruation begins.  If menstruation is more than 1 week overdue, wait until 4 days before your next period is due, and begin again.

American Pennyroyal

European Pennyroyal

Hedeoma pulegioides is also called American pennyroyal, false pennyroyal, squaw mint, tickweed, stinking balm, or mosquito plant. It is native to the North Eastern US.  Mentha pulegium, called also (European) pennyroyal, or pennyrile, also called mosquito plant, and pudding grass, is a common garden plant related to mint. It is extremely easy to grow, and can, in fact, be difficult to contain. Put it in a pot if you don't want it to spread. To use, add 4 parts boiling water to 1 part dried leaves, and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Drink 1 cup every 4 hours until bleeding begins. You will be nauseous, but try to keep it down. Some additionally recommend that you steep the dried herb in oil, and massage into the feet and heels, abdomen, and forehead. Do not take for more than 5 days. Do not use if you have any problems with your kidneys.  DO NOT take pennyroyal essential oil (or any essential oil) internally.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Fertility Magic

Woman Bathing in Lakeby Regina Warriner
A friend asked for fertility magic for a (Jewish) couple having trouble conceiving. Here is some traditional(ish) Jewish fertility magic. It is designed to open her womb. If the husband is the infertile party, he will need different magic. This magic is pretty specifically designed for a married couple. I don't know if it will work if you're not married.

This magic involves a mikveh, which is a kind of magic bath ritual that must be done with "living" water. Ideally, she will need a natural body of water in which she can submerge, naked. It's ok to wear a bathing suit if needs be, but not one with knotted string. If nothing else will work, she can collect rainwater and put it in a bath, but a natural body of water in which she can submerge is much better. She will also need to be tracking her ovulation.

On the day she ovulates, she should begin by cleaning herself very well in the shower, being sure to clean EVERYWHERE. Complete the shower by pouring some salt water over her head. She should wear only white from the time she showers until she has completed mikveh.

Before entering the bath, she should imagine walking down seven white marble stairs, while praying (something like):

"I am NAME, daughter of MOTHERS NAME, daughter of GRANDMOTHER's NAME. Shaddai El Chai, god of Sarah, Rebekkah, Leah, and Rachael, bless me as you did my mothers. Open my womb, as you opened theirs, that I may bear children who will grow in health and strength and goodness. Bless me in body, mind, and spirit, as I enter into the Living Waters, the font of Holiness.

Ribono Shel Olam, Ruler of the Forever, you created the world from your womb of water. You have made me in your image, pure and holy, and my womb is also the womb of the world. As I stand here, naked, I feel my dependence on you; moment by moment you breath life into me. I beg you to breath life into my womb."

Immerse three times in the mikveh, being sure the hair is loose and free, and that all of it went under the water. Every single part of you must get wet. Immerse once, then arise, and cross your arms over your belly. Say aloud (something like) "Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the Forever, Who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters."

Immerse twice more. (this is really just to MAKE SURE that every part of you get wet.)

While underwater for the third time is a very powerful time for personal silent prayer.

After the final immersion, her husband should draw a large red spiral beginning at her vulva and ending at her belly button. The spiral should go from left to right at the top, and right to left at the bottom. There should be seven circles. Red ochre mixed into butter would be great, but you can also use a lipstick, or even a red magic marker. While doing this, he should pray "I am NAMe, son of FATHERS NAME, son of GRANDFATHERS NAME. El Shaddai, god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, bless me, as you blessed my fathers. Give me the strength to engender a child, who will grow ever in health, and strength, and goodness. Bless in body, mind, and spirit, as I am about to enter into the Living Waters, the Font of Holiness."

Precede to baby-make however you see fit.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Blackthorn Dragon Home Protection

New from Mastros & Zealot, these small spell bottles pack a big punch! They are designed to be buried near the front entrance of your home, but can also be inside near the front door. These are most potent protective charms I make.   As with all magic, I'd actually vastly prefer to inspire you to make your own rather than sell you mine.  :)  Use this recipe to inspire your own work.  I will be teaching a DIY class on this at Sacred Space 2019.

 While each is unique, they all contain:
  • a single blackthorn, collected in Glastonbury, England and soaked for 13 days in
  • dragonfire protection powder, which includes:
    • dragon's blood
    • cinnamon
    • black pepper
    • jalapeño pepper
    • ash from a lightning struck oak
    • iron filings
    • frankincense
    • ginger
    • sandalwood
    • and many other ingredients
  • golden rutilated quartz (to ensnare anything that's coming for you)
  • a rusty 4-sided nut (to invoke the powers of Gevorah)
  • a battery (to energize)
  • 2 plastic googly eyes (to keep watch, and avert the evil eye)
  • mirror shard (to reflect ill intention)
  • several elderberries (to exorcise evil)
  • a red silk cord with three knots in it, for strength, health, and safety
  • alchohol
  • red paint
  • your own urine 
    • obviously, you will have to supply this yourself. I've left space in the bottle for it)
  • and many other ingredients, some unique to each jar.
These jars were blessed under the auspices of the constellation Draco, the Great Dragon of the North.  Only ten were made; nine are available for sale.  They come with complete instructions, including a small ritual to bind it to you.  $100 each, available here.

We also offer the dragonfire protection powder for $27 or a dragonfire guided trance audio for $7.

Noontime, Twilight, Midnight, Norning: A Teaching of Three Weird Sisters

Prophetess's note: This is super dense. It was channeled during an accidental possession from the depths of the Well. I will write commentary explaining it as best I am able. Commentary is in blue.

Noontime, Twilight, Midnight, Norning: A Teaching of Three Weird Sisters

There are those who say my sisters and I, who are one, who are three,
who are legion,
who, finally, are
and No One,
and Nothing,
came into your world from a land of ice, and that is true, but it is not all there is to tell. We were here before the ice came, and the ice before that, and the first fire from which ice is born.

We are the mothers of your mother’s mother, and we are the mothers of the Old Folk of the Hills [Neanderthal, also Kindly Ones], now long gone.

I was old before your gods had names, and she will be young when they are passed again into dust.
But, once, I was she, she they, and they I; for then was then now, which then was before, and before will come round once again.
I speak:
When you walked across the land, and into the North, we were already here.
When you threaded the needle, and conquered the cold, I was there, and she saw, and they smiled.
When you hit stone to stone, making blades, making sparks, I was there, and she saw, and they smiled.
When you picked up your hands, turned your heads to the sky, tipped your cunt to the earth, I was there, and she saw, and they smiled.
When you sprouted thumbs, when you grasped and you held, I was there, and she saw, and they smiled.
When you gave birth to your young, I was there, and she saw, and they smiled.
It was I who taught you to the suckle your young, and she who wove your first furs.
I were there when you crawled from our womb, the great sea, and we were there when sex came to be.
Before there was Life,
I was, we are, you were.
Before the Earth came to be, there we were.
I was your first thought and they will your last dream, and she-he-it-they-we are all the things in between.
I am the soundless breath, the open mouth, I am the aleph, אהיה (Ehyeh, it means "I AM" more or less), Urd-Erath. (Urd is one of the Norn. Many people think her name means "Fate". I have no idea what "Erath" is. It is not a typo for Earth, because the meter indicates it definitely has 2 syllables.  Your guess is as good as mine)
You, who walk in the outer darkness, you who breathe in the sky, you who live in Heaven have forgotten that the crust of the Earth is the skin of the Earth, and you live not in Her nor of Her, but On Her and Off Her; you live by eating Her life.
This, where you breathe, is Sky, and that, where you die, is the World.
And there is a third world below Her; not within Her, but Before Her, Beneath Her, Between Her.
You think that the underworld is within the Earth, that my well, Urd’s Well, Earth’s Well, the Hallowed Hollow, the Holy Hole, is the Whole who hauls his water from within the world, and it does, but you do not go deep enough.
Within the World is not Under the World, Within the World is the Word of the World, not the World of the Word and the Worm.
Down, not with the pull of the Earth, but the Down that is Down from Her Center.
Intus Deus Altus Est. ("The God Within is the God Above". It's a quote from St. Augustine)
I have no other words. My sister now will speak:

Now is a moment, the time between breaths, but the breaths of the Earth are quite long.
You, Children of the Sun (I think this means homo sapiens?), came into the world when I drew in a breath, and when you pass from the world, I will exhale.
I am She-He-It-They-We, I Am that Which is Becoming, I am the water of Miriam’s Well (a Hebrew legendary well.), I am אשרה (Ahsera, a tree goddess)‎‎ and I am שאר (Asher, the male form of Asherah, and also the middle word in Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, "I AM that I AM"); I am the Root and the Head and the Tree; I am the the water of Mimir’s Well (a Norse legendary well), I am the Root and Head and the Tree.
Pluck out your eye and feed it to me; hear it splash, smell it sink, feel it rot, taste the cold.
Here, Underground, all are blind, and all can See.
When the Children of Sun displaced the Old Folks of the Hills, they were there, and I saw, and she smiled a fang-filled grin.
Vanir, Aesir, Xristos, Kroner....all this is but a blink of the eye. (Xristos is the Greek spelling for Christ. Kroner is the currency of Iceland.)
We who are three are not three in a line; three points makes a plane, makes it plain?
Front-Back, Left-Right, Up-Down, Past-Future, In-Out, Round-About. These are dimensions, and you must see all six.
There are actually twelve, one's hidden!  For we three are only the wives.
My husband, the Here.  Her husband, the There.  Their husband, the Elsewhere, so to speak.
Six children have we, but they are yet in the womb, and the birthing will be the end of her mother.
Time runs not like a river that spreads into a lake, but like a delta enriching the sea.
Inanis Deus Altus Est. (The inane god is the god above.)
I have no other words. My sister now will speak:

I hiss like a snake, and I roar like a bear; I make the spider-sound you cannot hear.
Thus I awaken, like a tree, like a delta, like an acyclic planar graph, but that, you know is a LIE!!("acyclic planar graph" is just a mathy way to say "like a tree", or "like a delta")
I am anti-arborescent! ("anti-arborescent" means that the paths point back toward the root, not out toward the leaves)
I am uncountable! (There are as many paths as there are points on a line)
I am replete with cycle and I am perfect! (I curve back in on myself.)
My bipartate is perfect, and we are perfected together; Altogether Perfect! (some technical math stuff)
You think I branch because you decide, but I am not bud nor blossom nor fruit nor flower.
I am vriditas and I am blood red. I am dense as stew and I foam like bread.
I am the curve that fills space and the the fractal geometry of nature.
I am Chaos-Chasm: Void and Voice and Veil; I am here to tohu your bohu, and you will wahhh, wahhh wahhh all the way home! I am invisible and unadulterated.
I am ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατα-σκεύαστος (void and without form). My sisters were אהיה אשר (Ehyeh Asher) but I am not אֶהְיֶה (Ehyeh) but היה (Heyeh), I am not εγω ειμι (Ego eimi), δεν (neither am I) I AM,
but the Being, I am no Noun, nor a Verb.
I am not Ein Soph, nor Ayn. I am the Ayin inside of the אין (ayun, "It is not");
I am the the Eye that you threw down the Well.
Inanis Deus Altermus Est. (the deep god is other)

I have no more words, and my fourth sister cannot yet speak.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

American Witchcraft: Working with Father River

This post is part of an ongoing series on working with the spirits of the American Land.  Read more about the American Gods Project here.   Before going on to today's ritual, I would like to summarize the teaching of several relevant bard-magicians:

A Teaching of Arch Bard Neil Gaiman: The new gods and the old gods are not actually enemies.  They're ALL American Gods.

A Teaching of Arch Bard Stan Lee, and Arch Bard Jack Kirby, of Blessed Memory:  Captain America and Thor are on the same team, and anyone who says different is a Nazi.

and finally, I'd like to give a shout out to Hekate Demeter's recent series "Magical Battle for America.  This post is my result from today's Magical Battle for America ritual, fueled by the music of AMERICAN REFLECTIONS: a nostalgic journey in the American acoustic soundscape

A few days ago, I spoke to you the Word of the Ohio River, as best as I was able.  I want to talk, today, a little more about how to work with a river, magically.  What follows is a ritual you can do by rote, but it's also an example of a general formula; you should adapt it to your own magics with your own Great River.

Rivers are one of my favorite kinds of spirits.  They are strong and powerful, often appearing as dragons.  But they are also among the easiest spirits to contact.  In truth, it's hard to be out of contact with you local river, even if you wanted to be.  You are 90% water, and a significant portion of that water came from you own local Great River.  (unless you live very close to the sea, or in the desert, or in the tundra.  But for most people in the United States, Father River is one of the Great Powers of your local spirit court.  And, of the Great Powers, they are one of the easiest to first identify and communicate with (aka "attain knowledge and conversation of").  A note:  I am consistently using "Father" because the Ohio is male.  Some rivers (such as Grandmother Monongahela) are female.  I assume their are also rivers of other genders, though I have never met one)

Rivers are HUGE laylines, courses by which power flows through the land.  Unlike with some other kinds of laylines, there's no mystery how the power of water moves, and so rivers are among the easiest kinds of laylines to identify.  (roads are another).

It's important for you to identify your own Great River.  If you live in the United States, in less than a minute, you'll know the name of your own Great River.  If you live elsewhere, you should be able to find a "watershed map" local to you.

If you want, go read the Wikipedia article about your river, so you know a little more about your river's history and geology, but you don't need it.  Better than reading about him is to go sit by him for a spell.  Ideally, read about it while sitting on his banks.  But, for now, you don't really need to do that either.  He's a river.  You know what rivers are, and for this ritual, you don't really need to know anything more than that. 

Now, once you know who your Great River is, what do you do next? We're going to brew a potion, which you will pour it out to the river. As the potion crosses through the land getting to the river, and as it travels down the river, every piece of the watershed will be effected, and every watershed downstream. Such is the power of Father River.  Why?

Water is the universal solvent; both magically and mundanely, the river collects tiny bits of land as it moves; it is transformed by everything it touches. A river is the distilled essence of its entire  watershed.  To learn your watershed, ask yourself this deceptively simple question:  When a drop of rain hits the ground at your feet, where does it go? As you begin to answer that question, you'll come to understand how the spirits of water move and live and flow where you are, you'll learn to work with them. When you pour out offerings on the ground, it is this watershed that you are feeding. When you travel in water-form, it is along these paths that you can most easily swim.

As an example, my watershed path is this:  From my backyard, water flows thru my land, down the cliff in the backyard, and into the drainage ditch next to the railroad tracks, which diverts it into Turtle Creek, which empties into the Monongahela, which feeds the headwaters of the Ohio at the Point.  The Ohio spills into the Mississippi, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico, and thence to the Atlantic Ocean.  THAT is my watershed path.  However, my front yard empties into a storm drain, which empties into the Mon at a sewage treatment plant.

Most places in the world, determining your watershed is easy, but if you (like me) live in an urban area with a lot of rivers it can be a little tricky.  If you live inside the Pittsburgh triangle, and want help figuring your your watershed-path, ask me.  However, all of Allegheny County (and the surrounding region) is in the Ohio's watershed, as is 10% of the rest of the population of the US.

However, for this ritual, you don't need to understand your whole watershed, you only need to know the name of your Great River, which you can find from any watershed map, like the interactive one above.  

Step Two: Brewing the Potion

Boil the following ingredients in a large pot.  A cast iron cauldron is best, but if you do not have one, that's ok, any pot will do.

1 gallon thunder-water  Here are five recipes for thunder-water.  You may choose any one of these, combine them as you see fit, or make up your own.
  • water collected as rain during a thunder storm
  • water in which you have soaked 13 acorns
  • a strong decoction (tea) made of rain water or spring water and the leaves or roots of Tripterygium wilfordii aka 雷公藤 aka Thunder God Vine
  • any water in which you have dissolved 1 Tbsp of Mastros & Zealot's "Thunderwater Elixir" which is simply all three of the above.
$17.76 composed as:
  • 1 Hamilton $10
  • 1 Lincoln $5
  • 1 Sacagawea $1 coin
  • 4  Washington quarters (choose from among the many kinds of quarters available)
  • 1 Kennedy half-dollar
  • 1 FDR dime
  • 1 Jefferson nickel 
  • 10 Lincoln pennies (because we can use all the Lincoln we can get)
  • 1 Wheat penny
Your bank will have all of these except the wheat penny.  If you buy 2 rolls of pennies, chances are you'll find a wheat penny in them.

Spit in the pot, while thinking about all the reasons you're angry at America.

Bring the water to a boil and then stir the pot with a hammer, 13 times clockwise, while naming 13 things you love about America.  (If you're having trouble, think about things you love about the Land.  A thing I love about America is white tail deer, for example.)

The water can be stored until you are ready to do the next part.

Step Three: Pouring Out the Potion

Go outside with a pitcher or pot of this water and a shot of whatever grain-based alcohol you think your river will like.  Pour out a tiny splash of water onto the ground, and imagine the course it will travel to get to the river.  When you have felt how you are connected to the river, begin to speak out loud:

"Great Mother/Father River, I hallow your name, __________________.
I pour out this drink for you, that you might spread it across all the Land."
(splash a bit of potion onto the ground with each line...
"I pour out my love for America
I pour out my anger with America
I pour out the Amber Waves of Grain
and the power of Abraham Lincoln, Blessed be his Name.
I pour out Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
I pour out George Washington times four!
I pour out Kennedy and Sacagawea, and five hundred more Abraham Lincolns!
I pour out Alexander Hamilton,
and I pour out the power of Thunder and Water and River and Rain!

Thank you mighty, _______________, Great River.  Hallowed be your name."

and finally, Pour out the rest of the offering.

You may do as you choose with the $17.76, but I recommend donating it to the charity or candidate of your choice.

(1) Or Grandmother River.  Different Great Rivers have different genders.  Some have no gender.  As you come to know your river, you'll come to know better what names and titles to use.  If in doubt, keep it gender neutral with "Great River".

Friday, May 5, 2017

American Gods: The Ballad of Mike Fink, Pirate King of America

This post is part of an ongoing series.  Read more about the #AmericanGods project here. 

Well, my daddy was a bear in the Allegheny Mountains
And my mother was a 'gator in the Ohio.
I was born full-growed at the forks of the river
And I cut my teeth on a catfish bone.

Oh, my name is Mike Fink, I'm a keelboat poler,

I'm a Salt River roarer and I eat live coals .
I'm a half-alligator and I ride tornaders,
And I can out-feather, out-jump, out-hop, out-skip,
Throw down and lick any man on the river.

The Ballad of Mike Fink, by Bob Dyer,
preformed by Michael Cochran & Pete Szkolka

Last night, I told some tales of the Ohio River.  Today, I want to tell you of his king: Mike Fink, the Pirate King of America.

Born in 1776 at Fort Pitt, Mike Fink spent his teenage years following in his father's footsteps as a militiaman. He was known, even as a youngster, as the best sharpshooter on the western frontier, and earned for himself the name "Bangall".  But, following orders wasn't much to Mike's taste, and in his early 20s, he heard the call of freedom, and he became a river man.  Among the rivermen of the time boasting was a competitive sport; the song below is Disney's 1957 version of Epic Rap Battle of History: Mike Fink vs Davey Crocket aka Davey Crocket and the River Pirates.

Listen to the thunder! 
Hear the winds roar! 
Hurricane's a-coming; Board up the door
Load up the cannon! Call up the law!
Worstest calamity that folks never saw.
Girls run and hide! Brave men shiver!
I'm Mike Fink, King of the River!

Despite Disney's smear campaign, Mike Fink and Davey Crockett were, in traditional tellings, friends, or, perhaps frenemies.  In one famous myth, they compete to shoot the tails off pigs.  I was going to retell it for you, but I don't think I can beat this wonderful version by local storyteller Pennsylvania Jack.

Although Mike was a brawler and downright mean and ornery to folks he didn't know, he could be a good and true friend to those he did, and so he welcomed Davy. The two of them sat on the porch taking a few "phlegm cutters" from Mike's favorite jug, while they caught up on each other's goings-on and while Mrs. Fink rustled up some supper.

Davy was up early the next morning, preparing to head off again on his hunting trip. Mike was up a wee bit later, but he had had a bit more of the jug the night before than had Davy and it was still showing. In what was typical Mike Fink bragging, he greeted Davy with a declaration. "I've got the prettiest wife, the fastest horse, and the sharpest shootin' iron in all of Kentuck, and any man that says I don't I'll be in his hair quicker than hell can scorch a feather! So there!"

Now all that gave Davy Crockett reason to pause and consider. After a moment, he said to Mike, "Well, Mike, it seems Mrs. Crockett is in Tennessee, and I don't have my horse along on this trip. But as to your rifle - I don't like to call you a liar, but I'll be danged if you speak the truth!"  
Read the rest here.

Many of the tales of Mike Fink are, like the one above, tales of his sharpshooting, fighting, or other sporting prowess.  However, he is also a bit of a trickster.  Here is a tale highlighting that aspect of our hero.

One day, as he lazed his way down the Ohio, Mike saw, on the shore, a large flock of beautiful, white, fluffy sheep.  His mouth watered; he and his men hadn't had fresh mutton in many months.  So, he thought to himself, what if I pull a little trick?
Now in his hold, he had some fine scotch snuff, which he took ashore.  Under cover of night, he chose six of the finest sheep and rubbed their faces black..  Meanwhile, he sent one of his men to go get the sheep's owners, and tell him to hurry and see what was the matter with his sheep.

The farmer came, still in his nightdress, only to find his sheep dancing about, bleating and leaping, a regular sheepish bachanal.  The farmer was alarmed.  "What is wrong with my sheep?"

"You don't know?" said Mike, all astonishment.  "It's the black murrain!  All the sheep upriver have it, they're dying left and right.  Once one sheep gets it, soon enough the whole herd is a goner.  Best to shoot the sick ones now, to save the rest."

"But no man but Mike Fink could target a single sheep, dancing about like they are!"

"Well," said Mike, "It's your lucky day.  I'm Mike Fink."

The farmer begged Mike to shoot the infected sheep for him, and throw them into the river.

"Might be mistaken," said Bangall.  "Best go to ask your neighbor if it's the murrain.  Wouldn't want to shoot no poor innocent sheep if we was wrong."

The farmer begged and begged, and finally promised three full jugs of fine peach brandy if Mike would help him.

That night, Mike and his men laughed and sang, and washed down their lambchops with fine peach brandy.

Now, having heard that tale, you might be asking yourself "Is Mike why we call a cheater a fink?"  I asked myself that too.  As near as I can tell, no.  However, the word doesn't appear in English until 1902, and is of uncertain origin, perhaps a variation on "pink", related to the Pinkerton rent-a-cops who busted up the Homestead Massacre.  (which I'll tell you all about when I sing to you of another local hero, Emma Goldman)

If your savvy, you might, by now you might be thinking that you've heard this one before....

Mike Fink, Master Navigator, Athlete Hero's, Herd Snatcher...
Trickster, Liar, Thief...
Hail to you Quicksilver Lord, the Pirate King of America.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

American Gods: The Great River

The National Wildlife Refuge at Ohio River Islands, WV.  Photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service
Read more about my American Gods project here.  NOTE:  I am not a historian, but I've done my best.  I'm VERY open to correction.

The Ohio, whose name means “Great River” in the Seneca (Iroquois) language, is an amazing river. Thomas Jefferson called it “... the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken..."  Twenty-five million people live in his watershed.  He is the 10th longest river in the United States, traveling almost 1000 miles from his headwaters here in Pittsburgh, past Wheeling WV, Cincinnati OH, and Louisville KY to Cairo, Illinois which figures prominently in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods book.  There, the Ohio spreads into a delta and spills into the mighty Mississippi.  Personally, I am most familiar with the upper Ohio, especially with his headwaters, which are about 10 miles due east of my home.

The Ohio's headwaters in Downtown Pittsburgh

In our limited human conception, we sometimes think rivers are eternal, but that is simply not true.  The Ohio is a very young river, only 100,000 years old.  Before the Illinois Ice Age, he simply did not exist in any way we would recognize.  Father Ohio came into being when the ice pushed more northern rivers south.  At that time, the upper Ohio river actually flowed north, but he was still a small stream; a tributary of ice age Great Mother River of our region, whom we now call Grandmother Monongahela.  

In ancient days, Mother Monongahela continued past Pittsburgh, along the course of the modern Ohio, toward the Ancestral Basin which would, in time, become Lake Erie.   The Ohio's headwaters, in these ancient days, were near what is now Moundsville, WV (so called because it is the site of an ancient barrow) about 114 miles downstream from Pittsburgh.  From there, he flowed north to New Castle, and there joined the Monongahela.  Only after the world froze and melted again, in the Wisconsin Ice Age, did our Ohio take on his familiar form, running south from Pittsburgh inexorably to the Mississippi, taking the waters of the Mon and the Allegheny with him.

Current River Paths
Ice Age River Paths

The Ohio River and his Valley have an extraordinarily rich relationship with humans for more than 15,000 years.  (In fact, the nearby Meadowcroft Rock Shelter is one of the earliest remaining human habitations in the Americas; there are some good reasons to believe it was settled well before the massive immigration made possible by the opening of the Bering Land Bridge about 20,000 years ago). 

The area was likely settled by so-called "Paleo-indians" first, and then by the Archaic and Woodland cultures.  Among later inhabitants were the culture we now call "Adena", who lived primarily in the western reaches of the Ohio Valley, around 1000-200 BCE. We don't know much about the Adena, but we do know that they built huge earthworks, including (probably) the Serpent Mound, whose word I spoke yesterday.

I know very little about the peoples who lived on the upper Ohio during the first part of the previous millennium.  Because of our confluence, this has always been a crossroads between cultures, and a strategically valuable and hotly disputed region.  Most likely, the area changed hands among several different peoples many times during that span of time.  In the early 1600s, before the arrival of European colonizers in our area, most Native peoples appear to have fled, trying (and mostly failing) to outrun European violence and disease, as well as bands of invaders indigenous to the Northeast, displaced from their own homes by colonization.   In the early 1700s, several tribes settled here, also fleeing European settlers. These include the Lenape (Delaware) from the Philadelphia region, Wyandot (Huron) from Ontario, Shawnee from the south, and Miami from Indiana.

On May 19, 1749, King George II granted the English-speaking Ohio Company a charter for much of what is now Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, including the Great Confluence we now call Pittsburgh.  However, this land had already been settled by colonists from Pennsylvania and Virginia, many of whom were French-speaking.  This conflict led directly to the so-called "French and Indian War", which, in Europe, is called the "Seven Years War" but really could, very reasonably, be called World War Zero; it was in many ways the first truly intercontinental war.  For more about this fascinating time in Pittsburgh's history, I strongly recommend "A Colony Sprung from Hell" by Daniel Barr.

After much conflict, Father Ohio became the southern border of what would later be called "the Northwest Territory". In several treaties, he also served as a dividing line between British settlements in Kentucky and Native American communities north of the river.  By the early 1800s, those Native peoples' grandchildren were forcibly resettled on reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma, where many of their descendants still live.

In the early 1800s, Father Ohio became among the most important shipping lanes for the Westward Expansion. Pirates roamed his waters, preying on both naive pioneers and industrial shippers alike. Tomorrow, I shall tell you of one such pirate, the legendary Mike Fink, a Pittsburgh-born "king of the river" of whom it was said that he could "drink a gallon of whisky and still shoot the tail off a pig at 90 paces".

Prior to the Civil War, Father Ohio was the extension of the Mason Dixon line; the boundary between free Ohio and Indiana, and slavers in Kentucky and West Virginia.  He was the only physical boundary* holding the line between free and slaver states, and has thus taken on a simultaneously sinister and liberatory character in American myth that ties it closely to the Jordan.  (*as opposed to the purely political Mason-Dixon line) 

Father Ohio is the river of slavery.  He was a major route for the transportation of enslaved people; he is the river we're talking about in the phrase "sold down the river".  Enslaved people of Kentucky and West Virginia were often shipped along the Ohio  to cotton and sugar plantations, particularly following the Louisiana purchase.  While the conditions of of slavery were intolerable everywhere, they were much worse "down river" than in more northern slaver states. 

While traveling on the Ohio as a teenager, Abraham Lincoln (who grew up in the free state of Illinois) first came into contact with an enslaved person, and it shook him greatly.  Much later, in 1855, he wrote: "The sight was a continual torment for me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio".

And yet, Father Ohio is also the river of freedom.  If you close your eyes and imagine a scene of people fleeing to freedom across a river, the river you are imagining is almost certainly Great Ohio.  Both Uncle Tom's Cabin and Beloved feature dramatic scenes of mothers escaping across it with their children, and Father Ohio also plays an important role in Huck Finn and Jim's escape.  More people escaped slavery across the Ohio than by any other route in America.  Perhaps no other river in the world has freed so many people.  

In 1830, Josiah Hanson, thought by many to be the inspiration for the story of Uncle Tom, escaped across the river near Grandview Indiana, and continued north to Canada, where he founded a settlement school for other refugees from the slaver states. In his autobiography, he writes of a woman's escape across the river:

"Thus when her form flits wildly by, 
With bloodless cheek and fearless eye, 
Resolved to free her child or die,
We still our very breath--
Till, safely on the farther shore
She stands, the desperate journey o'er
So fraught with life and death."

circa 1918

It is not only his history as the entry to the Promised Land that connected the Ohio with the Jordan.  It is also a site of an important American Christian myth.  In his propaganda tract "Jesus Christ: The Same, Yesterday, Today and Forever", William Branham (who would go on to found the "Healing Revival" movement, a precursor of modern Charismatic Christianity), tells the following tale, set in August of 1933:

"One day at the foot of Spring Street, in Jeffersonville, Indiana, after a two week's revival, I was baptizing 130 people. It was a hot August day and there were about three thousand people present. I was about to baptize the 17th person when all of a sudden I heard that still, little voice again and it said, "
Look up." The sky was like brass on that hot August day. We had not had any rain for about three weeks. I heard the voice again, and then again the third time it said, "Look up."  I looked up and there came from the sky a big bright star which I had seen many times before but that I had not told you about... After a few seconds had passed, I screamed and many people looked up and saw the star just over me. Some fainted while others shouted and others ran away. Then the star returned back into the sky, and the place where it had left was about fifteen feet square, and this place kept moving and churning about or as though waves were rolling. There had formed in this place a little white cloud and the star was received up in this little cloud..."

Praise to you, Father Ohio, American Jordan, river of Liberation.

The American Gods Project

Recently, at a trance possession workshop, someone said something about how the practice "has to be grounded in some kind of culture". They meant to say that the practice, which was originally Norse, could be used as a template for developing a different practice, within another pagan cosmology. But it got me to thinking. With perhaps some very technical exceptions, everything humans do is rooted in some kind of culture, because we humans are, ourselves, always deeply rooted in culture. So grounded in culture are we that we sometimes fail to even recognize our own culture as a culture, like a fish who doesn't know what water is.

That line of thought, along with the recent premier of the American Gods TV show(one of my all-time favorite books), have got me doing a lot of thinking about what the "native" paganism of my own culture looks like. The #AmericanGods project is part of that. In case you've missed it, I'm encouraging everyone, but especially those of us here in North America, to write a short (or long!) telling of their favorite local-to-them spirit or god. A spirit who emerged in and from their own land. (What exactly "your land" means is up to you, but at least one location you associate with them in your telling should be within a 4 hour drive of you) . Those can be pre-colonial spirits of your area, or more modern spirits, but not imported ones.  And, of course, like any authentic telling of myth, my telling is mine, arising out of this moment, and unlike anyone else's. If you publish your story online, tag it #AmericanGods, so it receives some trickle-down publicity, and gets wrapped up in the mass-media current.

A note on the "rules": One of the many powers of the True Bard, as you well know, is the power to not just get away with ignoring any rule you want, but to make the judges applaud when you do so. Is not our beloved god of stories and bards also the god of lies and cheats?

I'm keeping an updated list of all my American Gods stories here. I'd love to include yours as well, if you'd like me to.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

American Gods: Great Serpent Mound

This post is part of an ongoing series.  Read more of the American Gods project here.

The Great Serpent Mound of Adams County Ohio is the most impressive of the prehistoric earthworks of the United States.  More than 1300 feet long, the Great Serpent winds her way across the rolling hills, their topography giving her life, and her grace bringing forth their spirit.  The largest serpent effigy in the world, Great Serpent swallows the egg of the West, aligning perfectly with the setting of the summer solstice sun.  Is she the serpent who, each night, swallows the sun, and shits it out again come daybreak?

Many in the modern day think that Great Serpent was built around 1070 CE.  Some others contend she was born in 300 BCE.  There are those who say she is the great Sky Dragon, the constellation Draco, with Thuban, who used to be the Pole Star, at the very center of her spiraled tail.  This leads some to suggest that, when Great Serpent was born, Draco was still the Pole, and the spirals taught how to use it to find True North.  That laughable hypothesis would mean that Great Serpent was 5000 years old, and, anyhow....it's not as though they'd need a way to find True North....except, of course, that magnetic compasses loose their shit in the presence of Great Serpent, the beguiler of ways.  Migrating birds circle above her, lost in her mighty presence.

And then, of course, there are those of us who know that Great Serpent was there before men made an effigy for her.  Before men stepped foot into America, she was.  Great Serpent is not her mound, is not anything made of human hands.  She is of the Land and in the Land, and her spine is the hills, and she twists and turns like the Mighty Ohio.

American Gods: Johnny Appleseed

As you guys know, I'm a big advocate of working with local spirits. This post is the first in a series about indigenous spirits of our area. Read more of the American Gods project here. Today, I'm going to "introduce" you to one of my most beloved local spirits of our region, like me, a devotee of the Apple Queen. I say "introduce" because, if you live in the area, I'm quite sure you were introduced to this spirit in kindergarten, and just didn't think of him as a "local spirit" then. Although he was born in Massachusets, he's an important genius loci through our surrounding region; his "territory" includes Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and much of Ontario and northern West Virginia.

The Story of Johnny Appleseed

On the autumnal equinox, in the year seventeen hundred and seventy four, John Chapman was born in Leominster Massachusetts, on that old hill now called "Johnny Appleseed Lane". When he came of age, Johnny walked west, wandering. That was the year seventeen hundred and ninety two. He walked south, and he walked west. We don't know exactly which way he wandered, but when they Whiskey Rebellion broke out two years late,Johnny Chapman was there, fighting, for he was a cider-maker, and a liquoring man. He had him an orchard out on Grant's Hill, where now stands Mellon Square.

"Here [in Pittsburgh] it is that Jonathan Chapman ceased to exist, and a new man with strange far-away ideas in his head came to life, a man people called Johnny Appleseed. Not quickly, by no stroke of lightning! Johnny Appleseed had been forming a long time in the shell of young Chapman. For twelve years Pittsburgh swallowed him up, but Johnny also swallowed Pittsburgh and all the meaning of life it could teach him. He worked in the shipyards along the Monongahela. When he wanted to think, he worked with his hands at some tasks he loved, and by-and-by, the idea he wanted came uncalled for out of the thin air and he knew what he wanted. And so, although he also knew in his heart that some day he would slide out upon the current of the Ohio and go on and down into the greater wilderness, he built himself a log home on a grassy rise of ground called Grant’s Hill."
--The Adventures of Johnny Appleseed, Henry Chapin, 1930

Here, in Pittsburgh, Johnny caught the call that would turn him into a saint, and it came in a strange form. "Go west," said the voice. "Spread my word," said the voice.  "Plant my seeds," said the voice. And so Johnny gathered up his best seeds, his most treasured possessions, and his cooking pot, which he wore like a cap over his long flowing hair. He gave away his orchard, and he began to walk west. After he'd walked a spell, he planted his seeds, and he built himself a little cabin, and he began to preach his gospel. "Love your neighbor," he taught. "Love the earth," he taught. "Be generous, be kind, and forgive."  So says the legend: When asked why he feared neither man nor beast, he replied that he lived in harmony with all people and all living things, and that he could not be harmed as long as he lived by the law of love. He would not even graft his trees, because he thought it made the trees suffer.

Along with apple seeds, he is said to have sown the seeds of medicinal herbs wherever he went: fennel, pennyroyal, catnip, hoarhound, mullein, rattlesnake root, and others. He healed the sick, when he could, with his herbal potions, and he taught his recipes to any who wanted to learn. Everywhere he went, he learned about their plants, and their healing ways, and those too he spread far and wide. He taught people how to make cider. He charge 6 cents a seedling for apple trees, but only for those that could afford it. For those that couldn't he would take a bit of cast-off clothing, or a bit of food, or a story, or nothing at all, from each according to what they could give.

During the War of 1812, he warned the settlers when Native tribes (who sided with Britain) were about to attack, and he warned Natives when Americans were attacking. He was a peacemaker and a true Good Neighbor. ;)

Whenever, in his wanderings, he found a fit opening, he would plant his seed, sometime in the villages of the natives, sometimes in the villages of whites, but more often in some loamy land along the bank of a stream where an open space gave promise of their growing…The traditions of his operations are found from Wayne County in Ohio, to Fort Wayne, Indiana…some two hundred miles long and fifty or sixty miles wide.
--History of Morrow County, OH. 1898

"We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrillin—strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard. His was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius."
-- an old woman's recounting of his preaching, from Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero", Harper's New Monthly Magazine, November 1871, page 834

And then, after a few years, when the new trees set fruit, he would gather the very best seeds, and he would give away his cottage and his orchard, and he would set to wandering again. He wandered all over, heading west, planting trees, teaching the truth, as best he knew it. He did no harm to any person, nor even to any beast. When he heard of a horse, gone lame, that farmer would kill, he bought it, and set it free to heal. He rescued a wolf cub from a trap, and that wolf followed him all of his days. Barefoot he wandered, over snow and ice. It was said the skin on his feet was so thick, it might kill a rattlesnake if it even tried to bite him. But it never did. Johnny Appleseed loved the Land, America, and the land loved him back. Fifty years or more he wandered, until he came to rest in March of 1845 near Ft. Wayne Indiana.

"The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years...He is supposed to have considerable property, yet ... he submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter. In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60. He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenborg with which he was perfectly familiar, and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration. He never did any harm to anyone. His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous."

--Fort Wayne Sentinel, March 22 1845

When prohibition came, the FBI cut down most of the orchards Johnny Appleseed had planted, because they were used to make cider, the people's drink.   And yet, the spirit of Johnny Appleseed lives on, teaching healing, and generosity, and peacemaking, and teaching the wisdom of Apple.

The Ballad of Johnny Appleseed

Working Magic with Johnny Appleseed

"Like Johnny Appleseed, every boy and girl can be a fairy. All you have to do is plant an apple tree by a roadside or sow the seeds of healing herbs here and there. The rain and the sunshine will make them grow, and long after you have finished your work on earth, they will stand as sentinels to welcome future generations. And every year, the goddess of spring will touch them with her magic wand and they will give their flowers and their fruit to thousands of children who are still unborn."

--The Lutheran Companion, 1918 (ps: can we talk about a time that a Lutheran church book for kids actively encouraged worship of faeries and the goddess of spring?)

Like all spirits of the court of Apple, Johnny Appleseed is a teacher and healer, and creature of beauty and sweetness. The most obvious way to work with him is for success in growing apples, making apple cakes, or brewing apple cider. But, he is a great spirit to work with on any sort of urban farming, or other sort of "wildness taming". He will help to clean and fructify land despoiled, and he he promotes love and understanding between neighbors. To work with, if you can, plant apples trees. But, if you cannot, pour out good (hard) apple cider at the base of any tree, sing his song, and ask for his help. In life, Johnny never heard a cry for help he did not answer, and neither death nor prohibition nor disneyfication have managed to snuff his light.

Johnny Appleseed: He Lived For Others