What Is Remembered, Lives

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Today unofficially begins Memorial Day weekend. We Pagans honor our ancestors throughout the year, but this weekend is a time to especially remember our ancestors who died in service to their country. Military ancestors, of course, but I also think of those who died fighting for equal rights, protesting America’s wars, fighting fires, treating the sick.

Michael Twitty‘s column in The Guardian tells the story of the first Memorial Day and its basis in African Diaspora religion:

[T]he [enslaved] Gullah [people] developed their own language, a unique syncretic religion blending African and Christian elements, a food culture that birthed Lowcountry foodways as we know them, and they preserved names, stories, traditions and customs from across the African continent. One of the most important rituals that they preserved and passed on was the honoring of the ancestral dead and giving proper due to those transitioning out of this world.

***

And, on 1 May 1865, they performed an act of gratitude to the country that had first enslaved and finally freed them, firmly based both in their African and American heritage that became part of what we now celebrate as Memorial Day.

As the war ended, behind the Italianate grandstand at Charleston’s Washington Race course – which, in the pre-war years had been the playground of the rice and cotton planter elite – there was a mass grave holding over 200 Union soldiers, because the track served an outdoor prison during the last year of the war and many prisoners died of disease and exposure. At the war’s end, after the city was surrendered to African American troops and largely abandoned by whites, the Gullah people were ready to begin facing a new reality of emancipation – but first they chose to pay homage to those who had died.

In the West African tradition from which Charleston’s Gullah people came, honorable warriors deserved sacred burial, and the dead were seen as part of a cycle of souls entering and leaving the world. To disrespect those dead was to ensure a negative energy in the future, so 28 Gullah men dug up the 200 men in that mass grave behind the grandstand and gave them proper burial – horrific work under the best of circumstances.

On 1 May, “in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers”, 3,000 black children bearing roses led women bearing wreaths and men, marching together in a circle to honor the newly-buried war dead. Black troops were present at the commemoration – including some of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (who were later memorialized in the movie Glory). That the Gullah people performed a march and parade in a circle was no accident: movement in a circle – the Ring Shout – was the most sacred rite brought by the enslaved to North America. In a mixture of African and American custom, the Gullah put to rest the Union soldiers, who in part, lost their lives to ensure the freedom of those who later marched for them.

***

Three years later, just days before Major General John A Logan declared that 30 May 1868 should be a “Decoration Day” to commemorate the war dead, many of the people who participated in the 1865 ceremony returned to decorate the graves of those that they’d interred. America takes time each year to celebrate the sacrifices of our war dead; this year, we should take a moment to also honor those who, despite facing hardships of their own, chose to commemorate the lives that had been lost partly in the service of securing their freedom from enslavement.

I had no idea.

Picture found here.

Like That

So it’s no secret that I am a huge believer in the magic of visions boards, Five Year Plans, One Year Words of the Year, Monthly Goals, Weekly Objectives, Daily To-Do Lists. I believe in the magic of wall calendars, desk calendars, and electronic calendars on my computer, iPhone, iPad, etc. I would not be where I am today without all of these.

But I’ve also been thinking lately, old woman that I am, about how, sometimes, even beyond or outside of a specific plan, just going towards what feels right can lead you to where you want to be. I’m awfully happy with where I’ve wound up and I think that this was maybe fifty percent due to vision boards, calendars, goals, objectives, and pencilling in tasks on my filofax pages. And I think that it was maybe fifty percent due to going towards what felt right.

Is it like that for you????

Wednesday Poetry Blogging

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The White Witch

~ James Weldon Johnson

O brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
Trust not your prowess nor your strength,
Your only safety lies in flight;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

The great white witch you have not seen?
Then, younger brothers mine, forsooth,
Like nursery children you have looked
For ancient hag and snaggle-tooth;
But no, not so; the witch appears
In all the glowing charms of youth.

Her lips are like carnations, red,
Her face like new-born lilies, fair,
Her eyes like ocean waters, blue,
She moves with subtle grace and air,
And all about her head there floats
The golden glory of her hair.

But though she always thus appears
In form of youth and mood of mirth,
Unnumbered centuries are hers,
The infant planets saw her birth;
The child of throbbing Life is she,
Twin sister to the greedy earth.

And back behind those smiling lips,
And down within those laughing eyes,
And underneath the soft caress
Of hand and voice and purring sighs,
The shadow of the panther lurks,
The spirit of the vampire lies.

For I have seen the great white witch,
And she has led me to her lair,
And I have kissed her red, red lips
And cruel face so white and fair;
Around me she has twined her arms,
And bound me with her yellow hair.

I felt those red lips burn and sear
My body like a living coal;
Obeyed the power of those eyes
As the needle trembles to the pole;
And did not care although I felt
The strength go ebbing from my soul.

Oh! she has seen your strong young limbs,
And heard your laughter loud and gay,
And in your voices she has caught
The echo of a far-off day,
When man was closer to the earth;
And she has marked you for her prey.

She feels the old Antaean strength
In you, the great dynamic beat
Of primal passions, and she sees
In you the last besieged retreat
Of love relentless, lusty, fierce,
Love pain-ecstatic, cruel-sweet.

O, brothers mine, take care! Take care!
The great white witch rides out to-night.
O, younger brothers mine, beware!
Look not upon her beauty bright;
For in her glance there is a snare,
And in her smile there is a blight.

Picture found here.

Tuesday Evening PotPourri

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* If I lived in Ann Arbor, I would go with a huge wad of cash.

* This is a pretty interesting discussion of the magical difference between cause and influence.

* If you claim that you are a member of a group, but all of your efforts are addressed against that group and none are addressed against the group that obviously dominates and discriminates against that group, well, pardon me if I imagine that your loyalties lie elsewhere. YMMV.

* Sleep the sleep of your ancestors:

Prolactin creates a feeling of security, quietness and peace. And it is intimately, and biologically, tied to the dark.

* I’m not sure I could take the crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show. And, Goddess knows, my own, tiny, suburban garden has nothing on those gardens, but I do agree with this gentleman about the importance of a garden forcing people to walk around and, while I haven’t nearly the number of stones that this garden, which won first prize, has, I do think my one, own, Appalachian stone “makes” my own little garden. Recently, a dear friend visited, looked around and said, “This is far lovelier than even your pictures make it look.” Gardens are about causing us to walk around and discover and I’m delighted with this year’s Chelsea winner.

Picture posted by the Patowomeck Indian Tribe.

Monday at the Movies: Meditations on Air

The Sagebrush Sea airs this week and looks lovely:

I’ve gotten so addicted to Cornell’s red-tailed hawk cam that I even follow them on Twitter.

And, of course, if you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, there’s always the classic, Winged Migration:

Sunday Ballet Blogging

Right Livelihood

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I work at a job that I love, doing what I was always meant to do. I’ve been doing it long enough that I’m generally pretty damn good at it. Goddess knows, this wasn’t always the case. I had a really steep learning curve. But if I could say one thing (OK, maybe a FEW things) to my younger, scared, insecure self, I would say:

* Keep, as Jos. Campbell said, following your bliss. Keep going towards what feels fascinating, and difficult, and real. It’s pretty clear what things you weren’t meant to do. Walk away from those and keep seizing every chance to do the stuff that feels right.

* Be a complete and utter bitch about quality. Demand it from yourself and from the people who work for you. You don’t have to be bitchy to do this, but you do have to have a devotion to “doing it right” that goes beyond “normal.” The people who can’t hang with you on this deserve the chance to move on and be part of some other team. And when you find people who can hang with you on this, do everything you can to thank them, reward them, champion their own careers — even when it means that they will soon move on and get teams of their own. Sleep is over-rated. (No, it’s not. Sleep is exquisite and you need sleep. But you know what I mean.)

* Second careers rock. I spent almost two decades as a teacher before becoming a lawyer. I wasn’t a bad teacher, but I’m a far better lawyer than I ever was teacher. A first career can help you to hone some skills and can show you what you’d be better at. There isn’t a day that I don’t use skills that I learned in education: managing emotional “children” (lawyers, ahem), making complex issues simple, getting support staff to work together, saying things in a way that will be appealing rather than scary. But there isn’t a single day I regret leaving education for the law. Don’t be afraid to follow your bliss into a second career.

* You are so competitive enough. Maybe (I hope) it’s only women of my generation who worry that being competitive is “bad” or “too difficult.” But I do know that when I was thinking about going to law school, one thing that really worried me was whether I was “competitive enough” to do law. Which was INSANE because I LOVE to win. No, I mean that all my life I have always been willing to sacrifice sleep, love, fun, friendship, whatever to win. But I grew up thinking that “nice” women weren’t competitive and that I was more “supportive” than “competitive.” What a crock. Law school was worth every penny I paid and every minute of sleep I lost if for no other reason than that it made me realize this truth about myself: I am VERY competitive and I will do WHATEVER I can to win. I haven’t won every single case, but I have won nearly all of them. (And, now that I think about it, I haven’t won every case at first, but, by the time we get to appeal, I do have a pretty sterling record. Because I’m “competitive enough” to keep on attacking and trying to win.)

* There’s a craft associated with almost every job. For my job, it’s writing. I often joke that what I do is to produce prose for pay, but, really, that’s what I do. I show up every day and try to craft the very best prose that I can craft. If I were a smith, I’d show up every day and try to hammer molten metal into the very best shapes I could craft. Learn your craft. Respect your craft. Pay attention to the details. I’ve spent years learning (and I’m still working to learn) how to craft perfect sentences that simply cannot be misunderstood or refuted. Craft matters. Honor it.

* Have fun. Celebrate what you do and who you are and why you do what you do. Life is short. Livelihood should be fun.

Picture found here.