Veiled Solstice

A short hike
on this shortest day
to perform a sunrise vigil.
The cold, furtive wind
haunts the forest
like a restless spirit
skittering across the crusted snow
searching for who knows what
in every nook and crevice
chases deer through the woodland
whitetails flashing their alarm
rattles the last plants standing
shattering fragile seed heads
a forced release
of intentions held too fast
and so the future is sown
on this Solstice morning.

Attaining the summit
the overlook is overcast
clouds cloud the view
and the wind has grown teeth.
Drawn here at Midsummer
Sagas unfurled
I communed with Hel of the underworld
and gathered her sacred herbs.
Now, at Midwinter,
Hel hath frozen over
and the sun rises
behind the veil.
Remembrance is made
that this is the day
we celebrate the dark.

Then the way back to warmth
crunching footsteps
upon the frozen path
raise a whirlwind of wingbeats
wild turkeys launch from the ground
clattering through
the bare-boned branches
and perch like enormous partridges
in a pair of leafless trees

And at the darkest hour
I shall burn
the sacred herbs of Summer
bathe in their fragrance
linger in the visions
that are revealed
from behind the veil.

At the Sun’s Zenith

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Elemental Immersion

the earth of my body
at rest upon the Earth
the fire of the Sun
alights upon me
radiant flesh
pulsating star-stuff
basking in the radiance
of a younger star
breath of the forest
cool breeze wafting
from the shade
of sheltering leaves
laden with mist
and the soft kisses
of dew drops

awash
in the unrelenting percussion
of plunging waters
cascades through being
purging anything
that resists
and all that remains
is the pristine void
dwelling within the tender shell
of glistening skin

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A Taoist story tells of an old sage who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

parable

Accommodating myself to the Sun…

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Equinox Sunrise

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[remember to click upon the images to beautify your world]

For perhaps  18 years now, I have been conducting sunrise vigils on the Holy Days of the Earth, the Solstices and Equinoxes. For about 13 of those years I have been coming to this particular hilltop from which the pictures above were taken. As you can see, this vantage point offers a most spectacular view across the Minnesota landscape of prairie, woods, and lakes. The land itself is not quite public, which is to say that my pilgrimages here would be considered by some (most) people to be trespassing.

The land to the west of the hill is a residential area comprised of rather lovely homes on winding lanes. Years ago, on my second trip here, I had forgotten to look at a map before hand, and so I managed to get lost in the maze of streets as I looked for the lane where the trail began up the hill.

As I wandered about in my car, a dutiful police officer took note of my rather suspicious activity in the pre-dawn darkness and pulled me over. As he shown his flashlight upon my outdoorsy albeit rather scruffy appearance, he politely inquired if I lived in the neighborhood, and if not, what was that I was up to, driving so slowly up and down the streets at this hour of the morning. I explained matter-of-factly that it was the summer solstice and I was wanting to observe the sunrise from the top of the hill, but I couldn’t locate the cul-de-sac where a trail began.

With a rather blank expression upon his face, he studied me for a moment, scanned the interior of my vehicle with his flashlight, taking note of the mountain bike stashed unceremoniously in the back. Looked at me again, and said, “I think I know the one you mean. Follow me.” It turns out he did know the one, and within 3 minutes I was at the exact parking spot I had been looking for. So, with the aid the police officer I was able to carry out the trespassing that I had been plotting.

Since then, I have been up the hill many, many times, and know exactly how to get to the parking spot. And while I no longer require a police escort to get to my ritual site, each time I park outside one of the fine homes and wander up the trail, I wonder if another inquisitive officer might not be waiting for me when I come back down.

 

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Equinox Ritual

drummers, all in a circle
each one equidistant
upon this equinox
from the sacred center
each beating to the march
of their inner drum
a communion of resonance
percussion penetrating
all fibers of being

drumming to release
the constricting grip winter
drumming to invoke
the resurgent flow of spring
drumming to awaken
our indigenous souls

under a night sky
of wafer-thin clouds
backlit by a waxing moon
the humble shaman
washes us in the smoke
of sacred herbs
that rises to kiss the heavens
where snow white wings
appear upon white clouds
tundra swans
in delta formation
the structure of change
we are awash in the ecstasy
of their musical call

honking to release
the constricting grip winter
honking to invoke
the resurgent flow of spring
honking to awaken
our indigenous souls

snow melts
as we pass through the veil
to place our yearning prayers
secure within that unfathomable well
that is far beyond wishing
and tulips blossom
in the palms of our hands

 

 

footnotes:

The Delta Symbol: The upper-case letter Δ can be used to represent:
*The Change in any changeable quantity, in mathematics and science.
*Delta is the initial letter of the Greek word διαφορά diaphorá, “difference”.

The Circle:
*A round plane figure whose boundary consists of points equidistant from a fixed point (the center).

Erin Go Bragh!

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My grandfather was 100% Irish; his name was Leo.  Behind his back they called him Leo the Lion. It was not a compliment.   And I actually had an “Uncle Patty”.

But, alas, only one-fourth of my earthly being is Irish.   Would that it were more…

 

Some quotes about being Irish…

‘The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination.’
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

‘I am Irish by race…
but the English have condemned me to talk the language of Shakespeare.’
OSCAR WILDE

‘Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.’
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

‘This [The Irish] is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.’
SIGMUND FREUD

“Love is never defeated, and I could add, the history of Ireland proves it.”
POPE JOHN PAUL II

‘We have a tradition of passing our history orally and singing a lot of it and writing songs about it and there’s kind of a calling in Irish voices when they’re singing in their Irish accent.’
SINEAD O’CONNOR

“Being Irish, I always had this love of words.”
KENNETH BRANAGH

“It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking-glass of a servant.”
JAMES JOYCE

“The tune was sad, as the best of Ireland was, melancholy and lovely as a lover’s tears.”
NORA ROBERTS

“St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time — a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic.”
ADREINNE COOK

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Some notes about my family name

The Irish name “Fahey” has a long Gaelic heritage to its credit.  
Numerous spelling variations of the surname “Fahey” are preserved in the old documents. The various spelling of the name that were found include Fahey, Fahie, Fahy, Fay, O’Fahey, O’Fay, Vahey, and many more.

The original Gaelic form of the name Fahey is O Fathaigh, derived from the word “fothadh”, meaning “foundation”, a cognate of “fothaigh” meaning to “support or sustain”.

First found in Galway, part of the province Connacht, located on the west coast of the island, where they held a family seat from very ancient times.

The name is numerous in the area of Tipperary in the 17th – 19th centuries. The 1890 birth index finds the family in counties Galway, Tipperary and Mayo, with Fahy as the preferred spelling,

A sept of the Uí Maine,  (Uí Maine, often Anglicised as Hy Many, was one of the oldest and largest kingdoms located in Connacht, Ireland)  the centre of their patrimony, which they held as proprietors up to the time of the Cromwellian upheaval in the mid-seventeenth century and where most of them still dwell, is Loughrea in the south of the county: their territory was known as Pobal Mhuintir Uí Fhathaigh, i.e. the country inhabited by the Fahys. There is a place the modern name of which is Fahysvillage.

The O Fahy castle was known as Dunally and was located in the parish of Kilthomas. Nothing remains of it today – however the townland in which it was located is still known as Doonally.

Heraldry

O’Fahy or O’Fay (A Sept of the race of O’Conor, King of Connaught) Arms: Azure field,  a hand couped at the wrist fessways in chief proper holding a sword paleways, Argent pommel and hilt point downwards pierced through a boar’s head erased of the last.

My ancestors immigrated to America from County Mayo.

 

Sunrise at 15 Degrees Below Zero

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The heart of the Sun beats as ardently as ever
though the Earth plays the coy coquette
averting her face from the intensity
of his smoldering gaze
lingering for months in a sidelong glance
as she slowly turns in her measured pace
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and we
perched upon her cold shoulder
of 45 degrees north
a halfway house of latitude
midway between equator and northern pole
the temperate zone, presumably
despite our intemperate extremes
alternating torrid and frigid
the tropics and the arctic
visit us in their seasons
but never, it seems, together
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the arctic now pays its respects
cold rushes in from northern reaches
storied land of the midnight sun
now the land of the midday stars
what a sequenced spectacle
to watch the stars wheel
endlessly across the velvet sky
hour after hour
night after unending night
as the earth pirouettes
beneath one’s feet
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
chase each other’s tails
around and around the star of the north
polar bears, indeed
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but here
the wind rises with the Sun
and whale sounds erupt
from beneath the frozen lake
as the waters beat against the ice
breath condenses upon eyelashes
ice crystals dangle before ones eyes
illuminated by the sun in perfect orbs
like Christmas ornaments not yet put away
a sprig of Arbor Vitae lies upon the path
tree of life, messenger of life ever green

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This calls to mind one of my favorite things to say, but it’s so quaint I can only say it once a year, so here goes:
Glove-a-lees are lovely
but I’m smitten by mittens

First Hints of Fall

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Though we are weeks away from the true beginning of Autumn and the change in weather, there are always foreshadowings that occur long before the season arrives.

The honking of Canada Geese from overhead – small family flocks, this year’s hatchlings, flying for the first time.  Preparing for their long migration to come.

Acorns, (the Oak-Corn) falling to the ground, which everyone associates with Autumn, actually happens in late August each year, and has already begun.

Also in August, invariably to my recollection, we suddenly have a spat of very cool, fall-like weather, right in the midst of the heat of late summer.  Which we just experienced these last two days.

And this cool spell casts a spell upon certain of the trees, coaxing them to scatter a few yellowed leaves upon the ground.

Thoreau said:  “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.”

We are awash in the constant flow.  In the ticking of the clock. In the earth’s incremental journey around the sun.  In the joy of watching children grow up.  In the aging of our own bodies.  And yet each moment speaks to us of eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lammas at Sacred Heart

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For various reasons, I had been wanting to attend a couple of Lammas celebrations this year, and stumbled across one that was 2 1/2 hours from my home in Minneapolis, which seemed a bit much of a drive, until I saw two things.  One, it was being held near a rural town named “Sacred Heart”, and two, it was in the middle of farm country, in an area not too different from the farm where I grew up.   Where better to celebrate the “first harvest”, than in the middle of farm country?  And, “Sacred Heart” – what a name for a town!

The soil in southern Minnesota is incredibly rich, and black, and this region likes to think of itself as one of the bread baskets of the world, which is not without merit.  The richness of the soil lends itself extremely well to growing corn and soybeans (which are grown in rotation, since the corn depletes the soil and the soybeans enrich it (they’re nitrogen “fixing” legumes-  but I’ll spare you the agronomy lesson), whereas the small grains – wheat, barely, oats –  are better suited to the dry land farming of the more western states.

Nonetheless, when I was growing up, I would estimate that about 10% of the land here was planted to small grains, and the rest into corn and soybeans and hay.  Since Lammas is about celebrating the “first harvest” – the harvest of the small grains, I looked forward to my drive through the rural landscape and seeing, scattered here and there amidst the still rich green of corn and bean fields, the golden-maned fields of ripe grain, ready for the the harvest.

I have more than a passing interest in this, for, from the my mid-to-late teens, I was very much involved in the harvest of these grains (well, I was very much involved in the harvest of the corn and soybeans too, but that’s so exciting I’ll save it for a post about  “the second harvest”).   During those years I operated a Case “Swather”, about identical to this these:

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which you’ll notice are built upon a triangular frame, rather than the conventional rectangular frame of most vehicles and machinery – it has only 1 wheel in the back, which merely pivoted.  The power wheels were the front left and  front right, which functioned indepently of each other.  Meaning, the left wheel could be moving in reverse while the right wheel was moving forward, and vice versa. Which made it an incredibly maneuverable machine to operate.  In fact, it is the most elegant piece of machinery I’ve ever been on.  Operating it was almost an art form.  With the wheels moving in oposite directions, one could make a complete 360 degree circles in a space no bigger than the machine itself.

So, when the landscape (and fences) necessitated it, or if one simply felt the inclination 🙂  one could turn pirouettes out in the middle of a field.

It’s impossible to convey the full effect of that, for the reel that you see in the picture would be constantly turning like the wheel of a paddlewheel boat, and the sickle blade (which cut the grain stalks), which you cannot really see, would be moving back and forth with sewing-machine precision.  And one needed to raise the entire front mechanism over the standing grain or over the “windrow” (I’ll get to that in a minute). So the reel would be spinning high in the air and there was all this other motion going on in the machine itself as one turned one’s pirouettes;  it was a thing of beauty.

Again, it’s called a “Swather”, though my father always called it “the swatter”.   I towed the “swatter” behind our pickup truck, going from farm to farm, cutting their hay fields 2 0r 3 times a summer. And then when it came time to cut the grain fields, we made adjustments to it, so as not to damage the grain heads.  I cut all of our immediate neighbors fields, and we also had other customers miles and miles away from our farm.  Can’t tell you how many farms we did, nor how lunches I was served in farm houses scattered throughout the county.

The function of the swather/swatter, was:  1) to cut the grain while the stalks were still a bit green, so that the grain heads could dry out in the field before it was actually harvested with a combine, and 2) to pile the grain, still on its stalks, into  thick rows, called “windrows”, as you can see here:

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Gosh, I still love that word, “windrows” (not to be mistaken with a “wind rose”)  – these were made so that the wind would not scatter the grain about and knock the seeds from their husks.

I should mention here that we went through a number of “swatters” over the years.   2 or 3 made by Case, one by John Deere, and one by Owatonna – manufactured in the town of Owatonna, Minnesota – with a cab – like this one:

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– the cab saved me from becoming covered in grain “rust”, a fungus that grows on small grains – some fields were so bad, my father used to kid me that I would go out to work as a white boy, and come back as an African American (that was not the term he used).

Something to grasp here – while most occupations these days have overlapping beginnings and endings of sales and production cycles, on-going throughout the year, farming is the only occupation in which you spend months and months of planting, cultivating, and tending something, only to shear it all off and then start over the next year.   It’s a remarkable feeling, to go out to a field, stalks standing tall, heavily laden with the fruit they’ve spent the growing season producing, and to leave that same field with it shorn to the ground.

But that’s what Lammas is all about – the death of the God – in the form of the grain, and gathering it’s seed to feed the people and to re-fertilize the Goddess Earth in the spring.

So, back to Lammas and my drive to Sacred Heart.   It was very striking – for over 100 miles there was not one field of small grains or hay.  It was all corn fields and soybeans.  Field after field of the lushest of green, but all the same two crops.  Times have changed.

I had time to do some hiking in a natural area before going to the ritual, and there found the remains of what I believe was a broadwinged hawk.  There was very little left, just some of the primary feathers and a scattering of bones.   My intuition suggested that I take with me some of the leg bones, but I was not sure why.

Finally, within a couple of miles of the farm where the ritual was to be held, I encountered this field of oats:

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~ so idyllic, and so reminiscent of a late summer day of my youth.

When I arrived I was warmly greeted by the group of complete strangers, who welcomed me as though I were a member of their extended family.

This was also so striking to me – to encounter a group of Earth-worshipping pagans in the middle of farm country. This was unheard of when I was growing up.  Back then I often mused how far removed from the Earth many farmers actually were.  Even though they tended it throughout the year, they did not possess an emotional connection to it – it was merely the medium in which they worked to make a living.   But here I was , on a farm, with people who thrived upon their deep awareness of the Earth and her cycles.

From our sacred circle formed in their backyard, this was the view to the south – a wheat field that had just recently been shorn and harvested:

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In our circle, I was stationed in the East, and here is the view to the East, overlooking a soybean field:

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The great, long vistas of the flat prairie…

It was a lovely ritual, with everyone playing one role or another.   One of the men in attendance was being initiated as a “Warrior” of the coven.  In the midst of this, I was led to give him one of the bones from the hawk that I had found, to serve as a talisman to connect him to the hawk energy.

The entire experience was so moving, to have so many memories return to me, to experience this celebration of the harvest in the midst of farm country, in a setting that was so reminiscent of where I grew up.

It was a beautiful integration of two very significant parts of my life…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Inspired by Sister Madly’s  post about her (ahem) favorite Christmas Carols, I’ve decided to share what I consider to be the most charming Christmas film ever made – A Child’s Christmas in Wales, based upon the prose poem by Dylan Thomas.

I can’t believe our good fortune that  the entire film is available on youtube.

Anyone who appreciates a child’s perception of the world and the imaginative use of language and reminisces of bygone eras will love this.

I hope you do.