Bonus Song for Samhein — Our Souls Are Bound to Older Ground

I was born in the state where my mother was raised
With the children of soldiers, the children of slaves
And it’s too much to take, the mind how it breaks
The lessons, the stories, the shame, and the glories, and all.

They linger ’round
Foxes and hounds
Our souls are bound
To older ground.

Fell in love with a girl who’s found love before
In the hands and the hearts of the people she wore
She’s all that I see, but there’s things in between
The fractures and fissures of all of the pictures we leave.

They linger ’round
Foxes and hounds
They’re with me now
Can’t lay them down.

And I feel it all around, I’m surrounded
And I feel it all around, I’m surrounded
And I feel it all around, I’m surrounded by ghosts.

So we keep them at home, the secrets and bones
The voices we hear so we’re never alone
They tease and they taunt, comfort and haunt
My mother and father and so many I’ll never know.

They linger ’round
Foxes and hounds
My hands are bound.

And I feel it all around, I’m surrounded
And I feel it all around, I’m surrounded
And I feel it all around, I’m surrounded by ghosts.

Radical Amazement and Undermining the Patriarchy Every Chance I Get (and I Get a Lot of Chances)


And, so, here we are: the final day of our liturgical year. The end of the end of Summer and the beginning of the beginning of Winter. And I thought that, for my final post of this year, I’d share with you a wonderful essay that Richard Louv recently wrote about religion, spirituality, nature, silence, and amazement.

His emphasis on amazement, especially at this time of year when we focus on death, reminds me, of course, of Mary Oliver‘s wonderful poem, When Death Comes. I particularly love this poem for the lines:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Mr. Louv recounts a conversation about fatherhood that he once had with a rabbi who said that:

to be spiritual is to be constantly amazed. To quote the words of Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great teacher of our age, he said, “our goal should be to live life in radical amazement.” Heschel would encourage his students to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted: Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

G/Son is turning out to be something of a rather serious fisherman. And so maybe Mr. Louv’s story of his own amazement has a special resonance for me. He writes about waking up one morning to see a spectacular sunrise, trying to wake his sons to see it, and realizing that they needed to sleep. But, he writes:

Since I was a boy, fishing has been my special window to the spirit. It is not the only window, and not for everyone. But for some of us, it is good.

As the day moved from dawn to dusk, I waded into the calm water, lifted the rod[,] and let loose of the line. I watched my boys along the shore. The younger one, who had temporarily given up on fishing, joyfully hauled his catch of the day, an old bucket, across the mud flat. The older boy had taken his rod into a thicket where there was a secluded pool. Perhaps, in that place, he was immersed in that quietest, strongest of voices.

Sometimes the rhythm of the rod is like a chant or the swinging of incense. Sometimes I can almost feel the water bulge and know that a fish is rising beneath it. Now a trout lifted itself, caught the sunset on its orange flank, and[,] above the water[,] stopped in time, as did my children and the world.

And then life went on. In a few hours, the boys and I would begin to miss their mother, and we would head home more amazed by the sunrise and sunset, by light and dark, by small muddy shoes on the stairs or the sound of my wife’s hairbrush, by the smallest of moments.

Whether our window is fishing — or gardening, or dancing, or coding, or knitting, or yoga, or poetry, or music, or rock climbing, or swimming, or painting, or breast feeding, or making love, or weaving, or organizing, or the law — I think that having a “special window into spirit,” is one of the most “radical” things than anyone, and especially we Pagans, can do. It helps us to (to borrow a phrase from Ivo Dominguez) fight off the enchantment of Patriarchy, which tries to make us believe that we are separate from each other, from the world, from nature, from “spirit.” I love the phrase that Louv quotes from his rabbi friend, quoting Rabbi Herschel: radical amazement.

I’m going to practice more of that this coming year. I won’t be gone long. You come, too.

Photo copyright protected. Please do not reproduce or transmit.

May the Goddess Guard Him. May He Find His Way to the Summerlands. May His Friends and Family Know Peace.


So close — so close — mere hours from Samhain, with the veils as thin as spider lace, as thin as an Autumn leaf all gone but the veins, as thin as woodsmoke. One of America’s great poets, Gallway Kinnell has slipped away. If it is every truly said of any of us, then he goes forth shining, then his memory will be a blessing, then when he is remembered, he shall live.

NTodd has already posted one of my very favorite of Mr. Kinnell’s poems, St. Francis and the Sow. And how can you not love a poem with the line, “everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing”?

St. Francis and the Sow always reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s poem, St. Kevin and the Blackbird:

And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

How can you not love a poem with the line: “A prayer his body makes entirely”?

As we writhe, all of us, within the death throws of Patriarchy, it’s so wonderfully helpful to have these images of strong men, men doing difficult things that affirm and support life, men who limn male strength, men who co-create the world.

Mr. Kinnell wrote about eating blackberries for breakfast:

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry — eating in late September.

How can you not love a poem with the lines: “the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge”?

And now that he’s slipped between the veils, I think of his poem, How Could You Not, for the poet Jane Kenyon

It is a day after many days of storms.
Having been washed and washed, the air glitters;
small heaped cumuli blow across the sky; a shower
visible against the firs douses the crocuses.
We knew it would happen one day this week.
Now, when I learn you have died, I go
to the open door and look across at New Hampshire
and see that there, too, the sun is bright
and clouds are making their shadowy ways along the horizon;
and I think: How could it not have been today?
In another room, Keri Te Kanawa is singing
the Laudate Dominum of Mozart, very faintly,as if in the past, to those who once sat
in the steel seat of the old mowing machine,
cheerful descendent of the scythe of the grim reaper,
and drew the cutter bars little
reciprocating triangles through the grass
to make the stalks lie down in sunshine.
Could you have walked in the dark early this morning
and found yourself grown completely tired
of the successes and failures of medicine,
of your year of pain and despair remitted briefly
now and then by hope that had that leaden taste?
Did you glimpse in first light the world as you loved it
and see that, now, it was not wrong to die
and that, on dying, you would leave
your beloved in a day like paradise?
Near sunrise did you loosen your hold a little?
How could you not already have felt blessed for good,
having these last days spoken your whole heart to him,
who spoke his whole heart to you, so that in the silence
he would not feel a single word was missing?
How could you not have slipped into a spell,in full daylight, as he lay next to you,
with his arms around you, as they have been,it must have seemed, all your life?
How could your cheek not press a moment to his cheek,
which presses itself to yours from now on?
How could you not rise and go, with all that light
at the window, those arms around you, and the sound,
coming or going, hard to say, of a single-engine
plane in the distance that no one else hears?

How can you not love a poem of death with the lines: “Now, when I learn you have died, I go to the open door and look across at New Hampshire and see that there, too, the sun is bright inside it, giving it light?”

Mr. Kinnell was sometimes compared to the American poet Walt Whitman. His obituary, from his own state of Vermont, says that he “embraced difficult issues. He protested the war in Vietnam. He protested the war in Iraq. He fought for civil rights. He argued against scarring the landscape of his beloved Northeast Kingdom.” The obit continues:

Kinnell was known for mixing the beauty of words with the harshness of social and political struggle. He was an outspoken critic of war, from Vietnam in the 1960s to the Iraq War in 2003. He joined a group of Vermont poets that year for a reading in Manchester after the White House called off a planned national literary symposium because some of the poets planned to read work opposing the Iraq War. A Rhode Island native, Kinnell recited the poetry of Whitman at that Manchester event.

“His bitterness is not because he was a bitter person or because he was anti-American or unpatriotic,” Kinnell said of Whitman in a 2003 Associated Press article. “It was because he loved America so much that he was continually disappointed.”

One of the things that I most love about Mr. Kinnell’s poetry is how willing he was to write about the hard truths. And so, since NTodd has already blogged St. Francis and the Sow, I’ll leave you with my second-favorite Galway Kinnell poem, The Bear:

In late winter
I sometimes glimpse bits of steam
coming up from
some fault in the old snow
and bend close and see it is lung-colored
and put down my nose
and know
the chilly, enduring odor of bear.

I take a wolf’s rib and whittle
it sharp at both ends
and coil it up
and freeze it in blubber and place it out
on the fairway of the bears.

And when it has vanished
I move out on the bear tracks,
roaming in circles
until I come to the first, tentative, dark
splash on the earth.

And I set out
running, following the splashes
of blood wandering over the world.
At the cut, gashed resting places
I stop and rest,
at the crawl-marks
where he lay out on his belly
to overpass some stretch of bauchy ice
I lie out
dragging myself forward with bear-knives in my fists.

On the third day I begin to starve,
at nightfall I bend down as I knew I would
at a turd sopped in blood,
and hesitate, and pick it up,
and thrust it in my mouth, and gnash it down,
and rise
and go on running.

On the seventh day,
living by now on bear blood alone,
I can see his upturned carcass far out ahead, a scraggled,
steamy hulk,
the heavy fur riffling in the wind.

I come up to him
and stare at the narrow-spaced, petty eyes,
the dismayed
face laid back on the shoulder, the nostrils
flared, catching
perhaps the first taint of me as he

I hack
a ravine in his thigh, and eat and drink,
and tear him down his whole length
and open him and climb in
and close him up after me, against the wind,
and sleep.

And dream
of lumbering flatfooted
over the tundra,
stabbed twice from within,
splattering a trail behind me,
splattering it out no matter which way I lurch,
no matter which parabola of bear-transcendence,
which dance of solitude I attempt,
which gravity-clutched leap,
which trudge, which groan.

Until one day I totter and fall—
fall on this
stomach that has tried so hard to keep up,
to digest the blood as it leaked in,
to break up
and digest the bone itself: and now the breeze
blows over me, blows off
the hideous belches of ill-digested bear blood
and rotted stomach
and the ordinary, wretched odor of bear,

blows across
my sore, lolled tongue a song
or screech, until I think I must rise up
and dance. And I lie still.

I awaken I think. Marshlights
reappear, geese
come trailing again up the flyway.
In her ravine under old snow the dam-bear
lies, licking
lumps of smeared fur
and drizzly eyes into shapes
with her tongue. And one
hairy-soled trudge stuck out before me,
the next groaned out,
the next,
the next,
the rest of my days I spend
wandering: wondering
what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?

How can you not love a poem with the lines: “what, anyway, was that sticky insfusion, that rank flavor of blood, that poetry, by which I lived?”

And, of course, he wrote what I think is likely THE great poem to the Great Rite: Last Gods.

Last Gods – Galway Kinnell

She sits naked on a rock
a few yards out in the water.He stands on the shore,
also naked, picking blueberries.She calls. He turns. she opens
her legs showing him her great beauty,
and smiles, a bow of lips
seeming to tie together
the ends of the earth.
Splashing her image
to pieces, he wades out
and stands before her, sunk
to the anklebones in leaf-mush
and bottom-slime—the intimacy
of the geographical. He puts
a berry in its shirt
of mist into her mouth
She swallows it. He puts in another.
She swallows it. Over the lake
two swallows whim, juke jink,and when one snatches
an insect they both whirl up and exult. He is swollen
not with ichor but with blood.
She takes him and talks him
more swollen. He kneels, opens
the dark, vertical smile
linking heaven with the underearth
and murmurs her smoothest flesh more smooth.
On top of the rock they join.
Somewhere a frog moans, a crow screams.
The hair of their bodies
startles up. They cry
in the tongue of the last gods,
who refused to go,
chose death, and shuddered
in joy and shattered in pieces,
bequeathing their cries
into the human breast. Now in the lake
two faces, floating, see up
a great maternal pine whose branches
open out in all directions
explaining everything.

How can you not love a poem like that?

I’ll always believe that Mr. Kinnell wrote the poems for the passing of Patriarchy, in all its forms.

Do you have a favorite poem?

Picture found here.

A Time to Connect with Ancestors

I think Mr. Twitty’s connection is fascinating. Have you ever done this sort of genetic testing? Would you if you could?

Daily Practice — Time to Switch Things Up?


As we move closer and closer to Samhain, it can be useful to examine our relationship to daily practice. We all know that daily practice is important to our religious development. And when we fall out of practice — because work, family, illness, or whatever gets in the way — we know that it’s important to return to our altars and begin again. As Rumi wrote:

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

For me, a basic practice involves grounding, centering, casting a circle, and spending time in contact with the powers, spirits, and beings of this place. Yet the details of how I do each of those things can change over time and, when I find the practice getting stale (or perhaps it’s more apt to say, when I find myself getting stale), then it’s time to re-evaluate and switch things around.

I do an alter cleansing at each of the Sabbats and a major cleaning of my ritual room for Samhein. Just now, when many of us are evaluating the past liturgical year and setting goals for the coming one, is a good time to evaluate how our daily practice is working for us. Do we need to add to it? Have some parts of it become too simple or boring? Does the space where we do our practice support us or work against us? Sometimes, something as simple as beginning by listening to new music or by lighting a new candle can make a difference. Sometimes, it’s time to consult Tarot or go into trance and see what larger changes are needed.

I’m making a major change to my ritual room: I’ve always sat on a yoga blanket on the floor, but my old knees seem less enthusiastic every time that they have to get me up from that position, so I’ve bought a desk and chair for a new altar. I think it’s going to encourage me to change a number of things about my practice — both the What and How. I’m looking forward to the adventure.

What’s your relationship to daily practice? How often do you make changes? How might you use your Samhein reflections to improve your practice? I’d love to hear from you in comments.

Picture found here.

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Change Consciousness at Will


One well-known definition of magic, sometimes attributed to Dion Fortune, is the ability to change consciousness at will. I want to ask you to do some magic, come the Tuesday after the first Monday in November (November 4th, this year).

No, it’s not a presidential election, so you may not have heard too much about it. It’s a mid-term election, when many states, counties, and municipalities, will elect Senators, members of Congress, County Commissioners, members of the Board of Education, etc. In some ways, these midterm elections are even more important than the every-four-years and much-vaunted presidential elections. Every president needs a Congress and a Senate that will confirm hir appointments, vote for hir programs, sustain hir vetoes. And the people elected today to local Boards of Education, County Water Boards, and State Legislatures often show up a few years later on the national stage — having cut their teeth on local elections, done some networking, gotten some experience. They’re often the ones that State and local parties send as delegates to the every-four-years national conventions to select presidential candidates.

Most magic requires a bit of preparation. You have to have learned how to ground and center. You have to have memorized the spell or the chant. You have to have dug dirt from the graveyard, pricked your finger and squeezed blood into the alabaster bowl, ground the deadly herbs with a mortar and pestle smudged with sage. Voting on November 4th is the same. You have to have registered to vote. (Dates for this vary, depending upon your State.) You have to figure out what kind of id you may need to bring with you to the polling place. You have to spend maybe a half an hour or so online deciding for which candidates you will vote. And, then, you have to show up and vote.

You can do it as I do: invoking the Suffragettes, a grandmother born before women could vote, and Columbia, Libertas, and Hecate (elections are a crossroad), in the early morning, coffee cup in had, and standing for a few minutes in the lightening dark with my neighbors before I walk into the sanctum sanctorum, the voting booth, cast my votes, close my eyes, whisper, “So mote it be,” and then drive to work. Or you can go at lunch, or after work, or around 11:00 am when the polls are likely empty. It’s very unlikely you’ll have to stand in any kind of long line for a midterm election, which is yet another reason why, even if you don’t vote for president, you should vote in the midterm election.

So why do I call it magic? Why do I say that voting is a way to change consciousness at will?

Single women, young people, and minorities are the groups least likely to show up to vote — and that’s especially true of midterm elections such as the one coming up in a few days. Even though Republicans — who are not popular with women, many young people, and minorities — are no longer able to appeal to a majority of voters, they are considered more likely to win midterm elections because older, privileged, white men are more likely to show up and vote in midterm elections than are women, minorities, young people. And so, not too oddly, Republicans have decided that it’s safe to conduct a war on women, voting regularly against equal pay for equal work, voting to restrict women’s access to health care, announcing that young women just don’t know enough to vote and should, as a result, stay home and paint their fingernails.

You know what? They’re terrified that you’ll actually show up and vote. You can change not only your own but also their consciousness at will.

Tell me in comments that you showed up to vote in the midterms. Tell me that you did magic. Tell me that you made them afraid to keep shitting on you to make an ever-vanishing crowd of evangelical wing-nuts happy. You can use your will to change their consciousness.

It’s magic.

Picture found here.