Mesa-top twilight smudges smoky sage around on the wind
Counter-world dreamtime seeping in, whistlings that round on the wind
Will you grasp and mark the rising tide of howling crescendo
Or be lost in noise of sprawl, pod, and team that pound on the wind
I once lost track of the medicine that I held so blithely
When a nightmare of wings hunted me, I was downed on the wind
Go tuck the holy broken things in the midden, and return
Lay low, the night spirits are screaming up the mound, on the wind
Come cast the water, the sand and salt, and make your circle bed
Relearning, shakingly, to rely on the ground, on the wind
Raining brings ancestors close to whisper what we always knew
Restoration, spirit life, memories that surround on the wind
Such songs sowed Kokopelli, forlorn flute soon to awaken
Call up the ancient new seductive healing sound on the wind
Windsong is written in the poetry form called the ghazal, and was inspired by the Navajo Night Chant, which evokes the night winds/spirits that howl up the sides of the mesas as night falls… and haunts you until you sow it into a poem with other elements of the cultures of the American Southwest, a re-enchantment message from the ancestors, and a wink from Kokopelli. 😉
A student of anthropology and philosophy, lover of learning and homeschooling mother, Lia Hunter grew up in a conservative Christian cult and had to learn critical thinking the hard way, now values it highly, and looks behind all the cultural curtains. She came home to Paganism in 2000 and blogs at SageWoman blogs (The Tangled Hedge) and her personal spirituality blog (Awenydd of the Mountains).
I walked into a temple today.
The doors opened and lured me
Into the vapid shininess of the ever new
I ascended, drifting, on a cloud of chemical blossom
And the beehive below hummed with desire.
I was held up by a priestess.
She read my hands and shook,
Her eyes filled with pity for the lost cause
I had strayed too far, and understood my visit
As my final farewell to the flock.
I looked at the faithful masses,
Hanging on to the eternal summer
As they partook in communion in expense
Of loveless figures, they paid their homage dearly
In the hope of fleeting redemption.
I would extricate myself.
No longer would the almighty number
Define my name in the world of the living
Silently, I pondered the economy of autumn
And my worn shoes took me out.
I walked away, ever further.
When the city of men had faded
I hesitantly came upon a green cathedral
A delicious sweet rotten sainthood lay in waiting
I knew I had come upon holy ground.
I opened my eyes and faced death.
As I fell, a friendly woman whispered
In the rotten leaves of many blessed returns
To give freely and live and die in turn ourselves,
So others may live one fine spring day.
When I moved to Chicago in 2007 and found myself suddenly surrounded by the vibrant Pagan community here, there was a joke that my Patron deity must have been Hypnos, the Greek personification of sleep. I slept in all day whenever I had the chance — and chances were ample, since I was living for free on some friends’ back patio between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Groggy at 3 or 4 or 5 pm, I would greet my friends and we’d spend the sunny days chatting about Star Trek and starry gods and I’d end up staying up until 3 or 4 or 5 each night. In essence, my sleep schedule became flipped from the norm.
In fact the joke became serious: I did start thinking of Hypnos as my patron deity. Eventually, I was honoring an entire little pantheon of sleep and nighttime gods: Hypnos, his mother Nyx, the Oneiroi (Dreams). I still have a drawing I made of the fabled Gates of Horn and Ivory, symbols of the Dreams and of their father Hypnos.
I began to identify strongly as a night owl. To tell the truth I was pretty careless as I began traveling across the city late at night, often in the bitter lake-effect cold, alone and young and with some trick’s apartment number burning a hole in my jeans pockets. To assuage my fears and to secure my safety I made a deal and arranged a votive altar to Nyx and her brood just above my desk. I laid anything on it that reminded me of my gods: blank books, pens that had never written, bells with no clackers, candles that were never burned.
When I began grad school, I quickly found that I couldn’t manage with my wacky sleep schedule any more. Now compelled to work and attend classes with (to me) shocking regularity, my world began to unravel. At first I felt guilty and ashamed: I was failing out of graduate school because I couldn’t get my act together enough to be an adult and go to work like I was supposed to. As I spent two to three hours each morning hitting the snooze alarm — let me say that again: two to three hours — I would berate myself for my failures, my lack of initiative, my lack of drive. (In other words, I was failing at the life set before me by the strictures of capitalism. I was failing in my corporate academic masculinity.)
I dropped out of my program and entered a year-long period of depression. I became dramatically less involved in Pagan activities and retreated into my stress-strewn bedroom.I slept during the day and was wide awake at night. I still occasionally lit candles to the offspring of Nyx; but, I began to feel as if perhaps I had attracted their fickle attention in some way. I put away the altar and put my life on hold. Even in the moments late at night when I couldn’t sleep and found myself staring at the ceiling, empty and desperate, my body and my mind shut down and all I could do was lay there with my feet over the armrests and I sat and I waited and I scowled and I sighed. I hibernated.
Later, with the help of friends and — maybe you won’t roll your eyes at me like some do — a lot of meditation, I began to come out of all of that. That’s another story.
An Invisible Disability
Delayed Sleep-Phase Disorder (DSPD) is a circadian rhythm disorder, and I’ve got it. The basic idea is that my hormonal clock is set back a few hours from most other folks’ and so I tend to stay up very late and have a lot of trouble waking up if it is earlier than the early afternoon. They call it “social jet lag” because — like when I was in college — I would feel fine most of the time if I could go to bed when I wanted and get up when I wanted. When I entered a world where I was expected to get up “like normal,” my body resisted just like it resists adjusting when you change time zones and experience jet lag. I learned to deal with this by subjecting myself to something akin to forced sleep deprivation (waking myself up every few minutes for two or three hours a day, in order to finally overcome my hormonal clock) and I could then drag myself out of bed and force myself to shower and eventually show up — inevitably late, sleepless, ineffective — to my duties. I still struggle with this, though thankfully my work situation allows for flexibility in the mornings.
I didn’t know about DSPD when I was failing out of grad school and spending my mornings beating myself up over my own failures. Now that I know — and have found out that other members of my close family also struggle with their sleep schedules — I can look back and realize that I was in fact struggling with an invisible disability that was invisible even to me.
But why do I bring all of this up? Because I still have a few bells without clackers, and some times I get them out in the night time and I say little silent prayers and I think about myself and what I know about myself and what it means to be disabled. And I wonder about sleep, and fatigue, and what it means to be tired all the time (still). And I wonder about my younger self and how our society attempts to mould us into cookie-cutter people whose bodies all fit into certain expectations that sometimes — often! — can not be met because our bodies are diverse and amazing and sometimes awful. And I think of what it means to not know, to be invisible; to come to know, to be visible; to sleep, and to be well rested; to face the world and sometimes to fit in and most often to stick out.
I am a Child of Night
The following is an excerpt from “Breath in the Bone: A Devotional Rite for Mother Night” written by Johnny Rapture and Ruby Sara, Iowa City Samhain 2010.
Litany for the Children of Nox
A Boy once played in the heat of the first hearth-fire, when a Dog like a frigid north wind shook in through the door and blew out the fire. Cold and afraid in the darkness, the Boy ran from his home in search of his Mothers and his Fathers, but he could not find them. Looking back, he saw the Dog chasing after him, and then another Dog, too. And the Boy ran for his life through the woods and along the creeks, out onto the river-banks and into the hills. He ran faster than any man or woman has ever run, tearing his clothes among the brambles and thorns, leaving blood from his scraped knees and his cut palms as offerings to the trees and the beavers and the crows, but none of these creatures could save him – the winter had come, and they were gone.
The Boy ran so far that he reached the peak of the highest mountain, and he could go no further. He had run so far and for so long that he had stopped being a Boy and had become a Man. The Dogs had stayed at his heels, coming ever closer with their biting teeth and their blood-red tongues. But when the Man had reached the end of the Earth where the sky reaches the sea and the sun falls below the black waters, then the Dogs slowed and stopped and waited. The Dogs spoke, and the Man trembled. And as the Dogs spoke the sea’s waves hummed with a shining darkness and spoke words of their own. These words were like galaxies colliding or torn spiders’ webs or bones breaking.
And the Dogs said,
Child of Zoe! Child of Life! Why do you run from us, all the way from your playing near the hearth-fire, through the woods and along the creeks, out onto the river-banks and into the hills, up to the peak of the highest mountain?
And the Man said,
I was playing in the heat of the hearth-fire, when you Dogs like a frigid north wind shook in through the door and blew out my fire, and I was afraid.
And the Dogs stood up and became as ghostly images of Two Men. One man’s eyes were closed, and the other’s skin was black.
And the Two Men said,
Child of Zoe, Child of Life! Why do you run from us, all the way from your playing near the hearth-fire, up to the end of the Earth where the sky reaches the sea and the sun falls beneath the black waters?
And the Man said,
You are famine, failure, and forgetting. You are murder and fury and hate. You are those spirits that haunt the graveyards and the battlefields, you are blame and toil and doom. You have chased me to the peak of the highest mountain, and I am afraid. You are the multitude whom the Lady birthed in her Palace in the Land of the Fleshless Ones, and I am afraid. Oh, I am afraid.
As the Two Men spoke, a thousand suns rose and set, and the Man who had been a Boy grew old and became broken by age. He leaned upon a staff and gazed out beyond the cliff, and he saw the innumerable Stars. And the Stars spoke the same words as the Dogs, and the Men, and the Waves, shining and humming in eternal blackness.
And the Stars said,
Child of Zoe! Child of Life! Why do you run from us, all the way from your playing near the hearth-fire? Do you not see that we are the Innumerable Stars who shine and hum in eternal blackness? Do you not see that there is nowhere to run? Do you not see that the end is near?
And the Old Man who had been a Man who had been a Boy laid down upon the cool rocks and prepared to die. He dreamed briefly of the hearth-fire and his Mothers and Fathers, so far away and so long ago.
And with his last breath, the Man said,
You are twilight and sleep – you are friendship and fate. You are the Muses and the Dreams and rain. I ran from you, all the way from my playing near the hearth-fire, through the woods and along the creeks, out onto the river-banks and into the hills, up to the peak of the highest mountain, for I was afraid. But now I have seen you in the shining, innumerable stars, and I am dying, and I am not afraid. I too am a Child of Night.
The book description tells me it’s about magical work and a journey, seeking a form of the Tibetan Tara mixed with Morgan Le Fay. How does that even work? I don’t understand this book. What am I missing?
Let me start it over. Again. Perhaps this time with a cup of nettle tea by my side……
Before we talk text, let me talk about headlessness. Beheadings, mine, yours. Headless statues and bleeding gods appearing everywhere. The gods, at least my gods, as if gods can be “mine” or “yours,” are asking for my head. Three paragraphs into the first preface I am reading about akephaloi and staring at a picture of a headless statue.
What have I gotten myself into?
Peter Grey, in the second preface, suggests these prose poems are what “the Fool’s journey looks like.” I agree. Because I feel like a fool when this book is in my hands, and I have no idea where we have leapt.
This is a work to be read more than once, and in more than one state of being, state of mind, geographical state even.
I’m working through this book yet again. This short work is pretentious and banal.
And then I am gut punched, spirit sucker punched, by an image that bypasses my brain. It’s like I’m walking down an ordinary street and all of a sudden a strange hand grips me, pulls me into the hedges, and I stare at a beautiful, dirty face that speaks of love and birds, lost objects and rose-hips. I’m simultaneously confused and annoyed, and desperately trying to remember every word she utters, because I know there is meaning in each syllable, waiting to be unwrapped like a gift.
Is Paul Holman, the author, obsessed with a manic pixie dream girl (1) who doles out words like skeleton keys and candy coated E? We will each of us find who we want to see in these words. Who are you? And who are you looking for? Likely she/he/they/you are in this text.
Tara Morgana reads like a magical journal, too personal to have much meaning for most readers. Except – dammit, there is another headless statue.
This book is a found sign that catalogs found signs.
My head hurts.
I don’t know who this book was written for, or why. I don’t know who this book was published for, or why. I really don’t get it.
Except, I think it was written for me, right now, as an offering, gift, encouragement.
One more reading awaits me. Once I’ve lost my head.
Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.
When Gods & Radicals first asked for volunteers to review this book, I offered to do so with some reservations. I tend to be cranky about poetry. I like it so much that I don’t like most of it, but I do love the idea of “esoteric poesis.” Having read the book, and before I get into any specific comments, I’ll say this right at the start: if you find the idea of esoteric poesis at all intriguing, you won’t regret taking the time to read this book. Most of the poets and authors here seem to be more interested in the occult tradition than in pagan religion, but obviously there is no sharp dividing line between the two, and there is much here that a pagan or polytheist would find intriguing.
I can’t say I liked all the poetry in it equally. Still, you could easily hate the pieces I loved and love the pieces I didn’t love, so there’s not much point in talking about what didn’t work for me. Instead I want to talk about what did, because the sum total of what worked for me is certainly enough for me to recommend the book.
The concept of esoteric poesis is obviously going to mean different things to different people, but a number of the writers and poets in Mandragora seem to think of poetry itself as a magical practice.
For instance, Michael Routery’s essay “The Head of Orpheus” expresses the unorthodox view that the poet’s professional task is not to comment on the minutiae of daily life through finely-chiseled turns of phrase but to bring back the gnosis of the otherworld from the land of the dead.
I’ll take a wild guess and say that very few of those who get published in Poetry magazine every year would agree with this assertion, but their poetry would probably be more interesting to me if they did (and Routery’s own “Lava Flowers” on page 52 bears that out).
Erynn Rowan Laurie’s “Burying the Poet” is an essay about the Cauldron of Poesy text, the bard Amergin and the practice of Incubation among the Irish bards. Incubation is the activity of sequestering yourself in darkness and silence to induce a dream oracle from the gods or the otherworld. I’m the author of a book on these exact same topics, which is partly a response to Laurie’s own previous work on the same text. That makes it a bit odd for me to review the essay, but no matter.
The Incubation of visionary poetry in total darkness bears an obvious resemblance to Routery’s ideas about Orpheus and the otherworld. In both cases, the poet descends into darkness, learns something by occult means and brings it back to our world. The magic can be described in terms of Greek tradition or Irish tradition, but the method isn’t restricted to Greek or Irish themes. Laurie’s “Lost Text” on page 50 is a poem on Egyptian rather than Celtic mythology, but it could still be seen as an illustration of the method in action. The poem reads like ancient liturgy, almost as if it was channeled from the distant past.
In contrast, T. Thorn Coyle’s poem “After Amergin” on page 20 is inspired by the same mythic bard Laurie discusses in “Burying the Poet,” but Coyle takes Amergin’s “Song of Power” and updates it to the 21st century. Instead of “I am a wind on the sea, I am a wave on the ocean,” we have “I am the shine of neon on black leather./ I am the life that courses under concrete.” Coyle’s poem is an invocation of the magic inherent in our world rather than a trance journey to the underworld.
“The Poet As God-Seducer” by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus examines the role of the poet as a seer and mediator with the otherworld in different European traditions. PSVL suggests that the ecstatic furor of poetic trance has an erotic element, and presents quotes from the Greek Magical Papyri and other sources to support the assertion. The idea of writing erotically-charged poetry to deities is likely to seem strange to many people, including many pagans. However, the bhakti poets of India have been writing this sort of poetry to Vishnu and Shiva for a number of centuries now. The poem “Hadrianus Exclusus” by the same author (page 84) reminds me strongly of bhakti poetry. It’s not an imitation of the bhakti style, but it has a similar sense of immediacy, presence and highly personal yearning. That’s exactly what makes bhakti poetry so fresh and intense. No matter how long some poets have been doing it, sexuality remains a revolutionary way to approach the divine.
A brief word on the poems that worked less well for me. I feel there’s been a tendency in recent poetry to create long trains of images disconnected from any narrative known to anyone other than the poet. This approach seems to produce poems that leave no impression on the reader, and some of the poems in Mandragora have this flaw.
However, I wrote down the page numbers of the poems that interested me the most as I was reading the book, and it turned out to be far too many to mention more than a few of them here. So much for my crankiness. In any case, many of the poems that moved me in some way were written as magical workings rather than poems about magic, carrying on with the theme of the essays.
For example, “The Knot and the Bottle” by Craig Fraser is actually a knot charm. “To Take On Bestial Form” by Peter Dubé is a charm to take on bestial form. These poems have both powerful imagery and focused purpose.
There are more gods than radicals in Mandragora, but Peter Grey argues in “A Spell to Awaken England” that writing poetry-as-magic is a revolutionary act:
Our culture is hostile to the numinous, disenchanting nature that it might be destroyed, splitting man and woman into consumer slaves selling us the grave goods of industry. It is time that we make our spells potent in song and deed, make terror our ally.
That’s what many of the writers here at Gods & Radicals have been trying to do. Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come!