No one could have explained to them, without first trying it, that isolating small groups of people with specialized roles under heavy economic pressure would provide all sorts of motivation for abuse. And the failure to deal with Grandma and Grandpa, though a grandiose glitch, is no bigger than some of the boners we’ll pull, once we get the lead out and start doing things.
Who’s that in the back row? You say “doing things” is a fine idea for flaky South Humboldt hippies, but what about you real folks with real jobs and real bosses and neighbors and such to deal with?
You win a few, you lose a few. Actually, country folks can be just as hardheaded in their expectations as city dwellers, and although rural neighbors are fewer, they have more influence on your day-to-day life. Which brings me to the next point; if we expect to have any influence on our surroundings, we must exercise it as neighbours do, a little at a time.
It would perhaps be more fun to establish, immediately, a clan-type family structure with a set of equal-opportunity social customs. This is always a favorite fantasy, probably because everybody wants to be The McGregor. But if you are the leader of your embryo clan, you have my heartfelt sympathy. Chances are that your contributions pass unremarked, except by loud complaints of stubbornness, meddling, egotism, and being late when you drive the neighbors’ kids to school. The loudest grousing will come from your own immediate family, since time devoted to a larger group is time not lavished exclusively on them.
To be even responsible, much less acceptable or polite, we must start small. This means noticing small things.
To whom do we show respect, for what, and in what ways? What are our prejudices? (Careful, lying saps power.)
Is there any subject regarding which we would not want to pass our beliefs on to our children?
Are our religious ideals reflected in our etiquette? Do we give lip service to the Mother, but expect human mothers to stay home until their figures look normal and their kids don’t cry unexpectedly? Do we fear and ridicule old age?
Do we revere Nature, but describe biological processes in the language of disgust? (Footnote: this correspondent is aware of the glory-in-grossness rhetoric of Crowley, or the Hell’s Angels. She is also aware that the excuses for such rhetoric only fool men. Please don’t refer to a pregnant acquaintance as “spawning,” at least in my hearing…probably also in hers. We do know what you mean, and we don’t like it.) Or do we use euphemisms to shove conversation away from a subject, rather than handling it in a calm and neutral tone? If a child asked you to describe sex, what words would you use? My “well, they fit together” may have been less than articulate, but it at least allowed my daughter to laugh, especially when I explained that when she was old enough, her instincts would cause her to enjoy it. “I always knew grownups were weird!” said she.
Do we deplore patriarchalism in the home, autocracy in business, and arbitrariness in law, but allow them to function unmolested? Do we “mind our own business” about socially acceptable cruelties, but pretend to the “normality” of the busy bodies in power?
Do we vote? Do we volunteer in the service of our beliefs?
Do we have a relationship with our surroundings? With plants? With animals? How well do we know our climate, our soil, our geography?
See, This is the grunt work. This is the kind of thing a religion faces you with, once you’ve lasted through the honeymoon phase. And half the time, once you’ve decided what the Gods really want you to do, your first impulse will be to try to talk Them out of it. Like, there’s a quintillion bazillion gophers in my garden, and You Guys don’t want me to use any poisons? Not even one little pellet? And about that geas. Folks--You really mean to tell me that You expect people to have geasa in the Eighties? Next, You’ll be asking us whether we believe in magic.
But if you readers are members of the NRDNA or related organizations at this point in their development, you’re the diehards, the ones who have made it this far. You’ve lived through the political snits and social catastrophes that drove away the dilettantes and novelty-seekers. Your pagan eyes have seen births and marriages and divorces and deaths. You have, somewhere within you, a worldview not taught to you by either mainstream religious or secular authorities.
Now, obviously, there’s no law that says you can’t just bug out on the project at this point. Taking your feral spiritual priorities out for a spin can make you conspicuous, especially in the current sociopolitical climate of enlightened despair. Giving up always looks terribly sophisticated.
By Les Craig-Harger, Humboldt County, CA
On the farm, the day of equal-night may pass, as usual, unmarked by any observance, yet no less sacred; sacred is each moment to its own purpose. Remember the day of planting, and keep it holy, for few hours separate the rain and clumping mud from the onrushing summer. Too late, wherein seedlings rise just in time for the devouring heat of midsummer, and bolt before any but the birds and mealybugs have tasted them! Forget not the blessed days of foal-gentling, before the young horse can overcome its wobbliness and see what tottering and snail-paced wimps we two legs are! And are the fowls laying, and where--sacred to this purpose are a thousand times and place, including the tool shed, or your tennis drying on the front porch.
And so sometime after the blooming of the first roses, and the setting out of beans and tomatoes from the greenhouse, someone may notice that spring has, indeed, sprung, and too bad we didn’t have time for a Maypole last week…
One may be thankful for the Equinox as it whizzes by, seeing that the daylight hours finally hold their own with the hours of tripping over the water-hose and falling in the compost pit. One may recognize the rich generosity of the Mother in the blackness of dirty fingernails, and the smell of last year’s dead leaves calling out to this year’s living plants. On the day of the Equinox. I may be on my hands and knees in the rain, planting with my fingers in a narrow raised bed, so that each row can be reached without putting my weight on the moist earth. I may be hunting ducks’ eggs in the dew, with my son gathering feathers behind me. This year, I may be watching the cow calve, or frantically stringing fence against the incursions of milk stealing steers. But meditations may creep across the back of my mind, meditations of this day of balance, or precious and minutely-measured time—of economy, the ever shifting economy of life and of the earth, which makes hay, as the sun begins to shine, of all our smaller concerns.
In the city, our time is worth money. I could lay aside my shovel, take pen in hand, and prove to myself that in not renting a tractor to till my garden, I am earning perhaps eleven cents an hour. But what cosmic Boss offers me money for this time? And is not my time mine to keep or use, as well as sell? If I compare the time of buddy boots, dripping sweat, and peace with the time of driving cars and sitting at desks, I laugh. And if my time if not entirely my own, but also Hers, shall I offer Her days of my good, smelly, biodegradable toil, or hours and minutes of noise and spewing hydrocarbons? (Hours and minutes, which by Her own executive fiat, may not come until the time for planting is past, for it would take a worse farmer than I am to roll a thousand pounds of metal over the fragility of wet ground, when my own feet can tread their appointed walkways, and fingers and Garden-Weasel, while inefficient, will at least not undo the work of a year’s composting.
And what do we plant? As we follow Mother around the garden, clumping like children in Her cast-off shoes, which game of creation shall we play? Each has its own rules; every garden must be a little ecosystem, hopefully favoring plants over pests, and competing successfully with a system of crabgrass, slugs, gooseberry runners, and aphids that already works perfectly well, thank you. The hardy radish will crowd out the weeds, but how many radishes will one family eat? Perhaps I can sell them turnips again this year, if I chop them up finely in Chinese food, or dissolve them in lentil soup. Carrots love tomatoes, and vice versa, but neither of them loves my heavy acid loam; can I till in some sand, without merely creating a playground for the gophers? (My onions, potatoes, and garlic are planted--long before the Equinox--in old truck tires with wood or wire beneath them; for such gopher-ambrosia as these, I must create not only a separate ecosystem, but a separate little planet, inaccessible to nature’s little restaurant critics.) The years teach me to recognize lost causes, too; Bak Choi will substitute for celery and cabbage both, and the mealybugs will at least share it with me. We ask for what we want, and do what we can to earn it, but the final choice is at the Mother’s whim, varying from year to year. One year someone wished me either peas or peace, and got the accent wrong, for peas were upon me until long after summer should have withered them, whether I ever cultivated them properly or not. The next year, everyone ate a lot of borscht; the next, we learned a thousand and one ways to cook banana squash. I cannot bring myself to despair of eggplants, artichokes, or corn, but surely She laughs at my efforts, as each year’s one-meal harvest is celebrated with a toast of “Better luck next time!”
So I’ll raise a dented beer-can to this day of balance, before I’ve forgotten it (and drink the half that doesn’t get poured in the slug-traps) and then go on to do as I’ve always done, celebrating not days, but seasons of labor and years of learning. Like most of Her mob of grubby kids, I love our Mother more than I bother to tell her; and perhaps as we lesser mothers of forgetful offspring do, She know this. Another year of Her rough patience with my efforts has begun…
The Heathen On the Heath:
The Balanced Epistle
A Druid Missal-Any, Spring Equinox 1987
Balance? Not to doubt You, oh my Mother, but I don’t see it. As the hill greens around me, and the ducks begin to lay, work looms large; winter’s anomie begins to thaw, and my own identity pokes its nose out of hiding--a belated groundhog in search of its shadow. Where is meaning, or mission, or will? There is a place for me in these hills, and right easily could I stagnate in it.
Seasons come to us, reminding us that we are neither omnipotent nor alone. But seasons have as many names as there are folk to speak them. I give rose-cuttings to a Wiccan neighbor “for Brighid,” because if I said Oimelc she’d say “huh?” And local farmers have other names for it: lambing-time, and also a pain in the ass, with bummers to nurse and marauders to repel--coyote, cougar, dog-pack. And then one must ask, are the berry-bushes cut yet? Does the nursery have seed-potatoes? The time to remember the Equinox, and planting, is in February, before it is too late.
Much is said in these pages of tradition, and of scholarship, and of knowledge that must not be lost. Others, I among them, point in turn to the knowledge that sits directly in front of our noses, just waiting to be ignored. Neither the traditional scholar, nor I, can do anything as a purist but yell at the other; in the vibrating tension between us is most of reality.
So let me say now that I do not set out to abandon the mythic awareness of our forefolk, but only to live a life with leaves as well as roots. If we are not merely the inventors of myth, but co-participants with the gods, then we must recognize that myth springs both from humanity and from the soil itself. Gladly will I learn what my people once knew of their homeland. But if you ask me (or even if you don’t; you can always read something else!) I will tell you what I learn from my own homeland, for that may well be the only thing on Earth that I know and you don’t.
Myth like the grubby liberty of the hills, and hill folk join gladly in the game, taking to themselves small notorieties as straight-men to Nature’s comedies, or soldiers in mythic battles. There is a Trickster here, called The Buck You’d Better Not Shoot At: he’s robbed a thousand gardens with impunity, and whosoever shoulders a gun against him is injured in the attempt. I’ve seen him myself; he’s magnificent. There are good-lucks and bad-lucks, many of them founded in common sense: don’t hunt between the houses could hardly be called baseless superstition, nor could the rough interpretations of Karma or hubris that passes for common knowledge. “Something will hear you!” we warn our braggarts, and they turn pale and shut up. And “God” help the one who drives heedlessly by a neighbor’s stalled or swamped vehicle, for the local gods will not.
Where do these youthful, local traditions and the elder traditions of Celtic Druidism meet? I spent as many days as anyone else with neither any recognizable knowledge, nor any use for it; then a neighbor came to me. “You’re the Druid around here,” he said; “which trees should I be careful not to cut?”
I could have said that Druids don’t deal with things like that, except that what little I known of tradition states that our forebears were priests and cognoscenti, meant to be consulted by their neighbors. I could have said that Neopagan Druidism was a religion--but since when does that make it irrelevant? So “the Druid around here” spent a long day in a neighbor’s woodlot, trying to feel the life-forces of trees, inspecting roots for firmness and tops for fullness, and trying to remember snatches of an ecology course she took in 1970. Seat of the pants flying, indeed--but it might have been less confusing if I’d spent more time studying!
And there, perhaps, we have balance, if not stability. .Just so is the spring a time of balance, though when it snows one day and cooks my greenhouse the next, it may be too pretty to appreciate it. The year is not an orderly, well-mannered procession; it goes by fits and starts. And learning, if it is to take us anywhere we haven’t been before, must see-saw between study and appreciation, with each testing the other.
And when I am confused, I shall admit confusion--not by intoning that there are Things I Was Not Meant To Know, but by realizing that I can’t see (or portray) the whole picture at once. I speak to you only as one person speaking, saying one thing at a time. We are not the people of the One God, the One Truth, or the One Way; we are like the forces of Nature that we worship – a howling confabulation of extremes.
This is our balance (as when we chant to a March windstorm, “Balanced now are we!” and burst into giggles.) Let no voice among us be silenced; this is what we are, and how we grow.
The Heathen on the Heath:
A Druid Missal-Any, Spring Equinox 1988
The hills truly do flow with the milk of the ewe, and the birth of lambs in the frost. Some of them die. Lambkind, however, continues in its sheer numbers, milling back and forth past the bones of the lost ones in the field.
For the animals, the promise of fertility is enough. Each mother beast has her own soft wondering here-baby sound, of desire fulfilled and her work cut out for her. Once I, too, made such sounds.
For the ewe, the task is over when she dies, or when death looms so close that the body will no longer answer any other call. For a woman, time passes a little differently. My tall son and daughter are a source of pleasure and pride, but other work calls to me now, more clearly than that one work of my body. I shrink from the promise of fertility with something akin to revulsion. Would I risk my life again, not in action but in helplessness, while others direct me and attend my most intimate needs? Would I hang my heart once again on a newborn’s uncertain commitment to survival? For the door between world’s swings both ways at birth, and an infant may exit as well as enter. And no parent desires to outlive his or her offspring. And would plain practicality relegate my ambitions to a back corner, while I spent five years or more in a routine of baby care that left no time for anything else but servitude?--For nothing gainful can be done with hours doled out in increments of twenty minutes or less.
Not if I can help it! But then, it didn’t look that way to me when I was doing it. In calm, this appears as a function of the passage of time. Once a mother, I was a maiden no more. And someday, even the intransigent body will take its slow, awkward steps from mother to crone. So why (to more women than just me) should fertility, having outlived its personal usefulness, fester like a would that will not heal?
Some of this can be ascribed directly to the arrogance and cruelty of the powerful. What major corporation would rent part of a woman, when it can more conveniently buy all of a man? The executive woman performs many hidden duties: not only to do her work, but to be the knife-thin, aseptically tailored embodiment of a life with no other purpose. This is called Equal Rights, for now we, too, can owe our souls to the company store. And so birthing becomes either an expensive luxury, or the task of the unambitious. And the earth does not groan, for there are too many humans already.
This is our problem. Over the generations, we have brought it on ourselves, and now we bear it alone. Alone as a race, and often alone as individuals: over such issues as crying babies, housework, and the division of money not equally earned, we squabble rancorously among ourselves.
Very much has already been said, some of it by me, about the need as either political or religious whatever-we-ares to respect the decision of a mother to be a mother. But what is a mother?
Motherhood is a role, a set of tasks. But Motherhood--the embodiment of the many-named Mother we worship--is a form of power. And like any form of power, it can be abused.
We moderns shrink from the corniness of the imitator Dei, not only because of its grandiose indignity, but also through fear of failure. Which one of us is ready to be the Lover, the Father, or to brave face-on the death and rebirth inherent in the growth and independence of a Child? And who among us can live in our birthing and caring as Earth lives, both passive and productive? If I were Earth, could I whine and manipulate and demand that others care for me? Could I use the sacredness of my condition as an excuse for tyrannical Illogic, or blackmail loved ones with my supposed fragility?
Admittedly, if I were Earth, mainstream society still probably wouldn’t like me very much. If I were Earth, I would sweat blood and wallow in pleasure, all in one day. I would stride through the entire firmament with Babies on Board and no bumper sticker. I would smell of milk burps and diaper enhancers and the passion of begetting, and care little what any child of mine thought of it. I would lie quiescent under the mud pies and scheming of my young, but do nothing to keep my tsunamis and tornados and earthquake, from dusting the impossibilities off them. And the lambs wou1d drop in the silvered chill of the grass, but spring would come when it came, and no sooner. And by human standards, I’d laugh too much.
And if I were Earth, I still wouldn’t know where the money was coming from, but I would continue to Create, and not sweat the details. Without humility, I would take the gifts of heat, of light, of His love, and make life of them, simply because that is what I do.
Obviously, the courage of Earth far surpasses my own. But in all phases of life, there are opportunities to try. When the Gods inspire, shall I say, “but the floor is still dirty!” or “the boss wouldn’t like it!” and whimper proudly of what might have been? Beware the boredom of the Gods! Energy is given to up, to flow productively through us; its unfulfilled dispersal can be dangerous. Man, if you are not a father of children, what do you father? Ideas? Music? Shapes and colors, toys and shelters, parades of number and order, or conflicts and their resolution? Or do you open another beer and shrug, saying that the Father is not you? And woman, if you are done with birthing, or do not birth, what else comes out of you: teaching, or healing, or things made with the hands? Vision? Hospitality? Or purposeless busywork and endless complaint, excused by your own insignificance?
Brigit rules the season, and my woodstove. Sometimes She also decides to rule me. I can reach for guitar or typewriter, and let Her have her sport, or I can sit and fuss and hope She doesn’t decide to burn the house down.
The Heathen on the Heath:
Growth and Life
A Druid Missal-Any, Beltane 1986
Beltaine, Belanos, love’s return. The sacred shampoo commercial, Lord and Lady finally looking up, enraptured, to meet each other’s arms. Fulfillment blossoms forth in a smugly profligate burst of life, without regards for our priorities; weeds, rabbits, gophers, and bugs share the celebration with humanity’s pampered pets. Who invited the piratical jays, the defiantly rapacious boar? Never mind, you guys; I think She did. Anyway, they’re not leaving, and where’s the beer?
Beltaine, bright blossoms, how does your garden grow? With glistening backs and gaily discarded shirts, and a thousand things I don’t remember planting, and none of it all in a row. My own strawberries could take lessons from the wild ones that have crept in through the fence, and the big, bold blooms of the flower garden struggle in vain to keep up with their more fragile sisters of meadow and creekbed. And our own turn to wildness as well, howling dog and disappearing tomcat in their turn, playing hard at the only game in town. The ducks are a scandal to the jaybirds, and the jaybirds are a scandal to everybody, but scandalous thoughts come easily to mind at this time of year.
I have seen snow on this day--doubtless some manic prank for my especial benefit--but if I want to can tomatoes this year, I will Have Faith and set the starts out, now. Pleasure coaxes us to faith, to belief in the unknowable future; why else would I trust my corn to a wind called the Freight Train, because it comes every day at four o’clock? Of course, I stake everything, giving the neighbors something to laugh at when the entire assemblage arrives in their yard, green plastic ties gaily fluttering in the residual breeze. Still there are some covenants ineradicable and unbroken, and this day will see the Earth Mother’s signature to Her indelible word: the sleek twin banner of the new-sprung squash plant, and the opulent green of the potato leaf. How richly She engraves the simple promise: you shall not starve.
The breeze is perfumed with paradox; roses and garlic, those old lovers of garden-book fame, confuse the nose together. The compost heats up evocatively, and the barnyard is definitely a barnyard, unless the wind is blowing through the lilac bush.
This, they tell us, is the Season of Life, as opposed to the Season of Sleep. This is because this is the Season of Damned Little Sleep, as the screech-owl’s mad laughter proclaims its own inexplicable business to the world at large, and deer bound crashingly by the window, no fear of anything but boredom.
Life! LIFE! Wake up, oh Party Poopers, and celebrate Life! And restless at our Lady’s command, we do. For is it not Her pleasure-principle that draws us to her purpose, starting with air but inevitably going on to the harder stuff, while She, our Connection, smiles and gently suggests? We lust and are fruitful, hunger and work, desire and create. And gently, irresistibly, she draws us on.
Beltaine. Blessed be, my people. Look about us, and see the endless, pointless, perfect purpose of our existence.