Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fighting the mid-winter blahs

Having returned The Red Book to the library, I have fallen back into my mid-winter February lull. I'm doing much better than in past years (thank you light box!), but I'm wouldn't describe myself as terribly motivated just now. Of course, that is probably one of the lessons of the season -- we are meant to turn inward during the cold season in New England.

That said, I think it is important for me at least to resist the temptation to turn too far inward for too long. I am a champion navel gazer, and with my history of depression I shouldn't spend more time in that state than is productive (Yes, I just said that there is such a thing as productive naval gazing. And there is! But if you spend too much time in that practice you risk being sucked into a bottomless morass. Or at least I do). To that end, I am striving to combat that tendency towards winter moodiness, while also forgiving myself for sometimes falling into unproductive naval gazing.

The most exciting way in which I am working towards this goal is the two day workshop on conjure magic I'll be taking this week-end! Since I am usually much more focused on the spiritual end of the pagan spectrum, this should be an interesting experience for me. I think it will do me a lot of good to look into a system of practical magic to make concrete changes in the outer world. It seems healthy to have a balance between inner and outer work. I'm a bit concerned about the cultural appropriate aspect of a white middle class chick from New England learning a form of magic indigenous to the southern slaves, but I will be learning from someone who was raised in this tradition. It's hard to think of a more reputable source than that. I'm very excited about this opportunity, and hope to have a fascinating blog post describing it next week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Red Book

A month ago I was sitting at my desk at work, minding my own business, when I glanced across the room and saw the holy grail in book form. In the near corner of the room, standing on a book truck, was The Red Book by Carl Jung. I first heard about the book when it was published amidst great fanfare last year, and had longed to get my hands on a copy, but the price tag (over $100) was a bit prohibitive, and so I resigned myself to a life without ever reading The Red Book. But now here it was, in the same room as me! A quick check of the catalog revealed that the copy in question was non-circulating, but I discovered that the university had two other copies which could be checked out, and so I gave the book a quick yet fond perusal and added my name to the waiting list. I had no idea how long I would have to wait, and so I put it out of my mind.

Last week I received email that my turn with the book had come. Picking it up proved to be something of production, as the book is huge and unwieldy, but I did manage to get it home, where I have been happily pouring over it. Knowing that I only have a total of 9 days with it has lent a somewhat frantic air to my reading, which is regrettable, but unavoidable. The translation of the Red Book proper is a hundred pages (though keep in mind that these pages are at least twice the size of a normal page), plus there is a great deal of introductory material which is fascinating from a historical and biographic perspective. While the imaginary encounters Jung describes are universal in meaning and scope, it's interesting to get the dual perspective of exactly what they might have meant more specifically during the time period in which he lived, as well as my own personal response.

I have been fascinated by Jung for most of my life. I no longer recall exactly when and how I first stumbled upon his theories, but I can tell you that the second research paper I ever wrote (in tenth grade) included heavy use of his ideas of archetypes and the collective unconscious. My first major project in college was a presentation on the three big dreams which led him to the development of his main theories. Though I feel woefully under read on the subject, what I do know of his work has had a profound influence on my life and thinking.

Since delving into this weighty tome I have taken it upon myself to try the technique of active imagination which Jung himself used to induce the visions which form the basis of the book. A quick internet search led me to some simple descriptions of the practice. I'm sure they are very superficial compared to Jung's own description of the process, but they served as a useful and practical introduction for me. I selected a dream from the previous night and began to take myself through the images I could remember from it, waiting for one that felt "right" to explore. Once I found one that gave a little emotional tug I set about putting myself back into the scene both emotionally and visually, and allowed myself to address the main players. The results were quite interesting. I do find myself more sympathetic to Jung's reluctance to see his words published -- there is something intensely personal about the experience, much more so than the raw dream, and I am reluctant to include my written recording of the experience here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Fires of Imbolc

Imbolc was never my favorite holiday, but I may have to revise that estimation after today!

I lit a fire in my cauldron. Once it was well established I began to feed a large cutting from my Yule tree into it, piece by piece. With each piece, the flames suddenly flared into life, reaching high above the confines of the cauldron, terrifying in their majesty and their capacity to set off a smoke detector.

When I fed the dry branch from my Yule tree into the fire, I felt shackles release what I hadn't been aware of bearing, the release of a breath I didn't know I was holding. I had intended to do some sort of cleansing after the ritual to rid myself of the free-floating anger I have been carrying these past few weeks, but it is now gone. I released the bindings of winter, allowed my own heartfire to consume what no longer served, and now feel enlivened and free. I want to say it's like a breathe of fresh air to my soul, but no – this is the cleansing renewal of a wildfire, which I did not understand until this moment.

I feel cleansed and full in a way I couldn't dream of this morning. All hail Brigid, tender of the flame, patroness of inspiration! And all hail Freya, goddess who governs my days!

* * * * *

Flames consume debris
Burn away ancient anger
Ash settles like snow
~my offering to Brigid

Monday, February 1, 2010

An Offering for the 5th Annual Brigit Poetry Festival

I had some trouble picking a poem for this year's Brigit Poetry Festival. Once upon a time I wrote poetry, but that was ages ago and I have nothing of my own to offer. I wanted to find the perfect poem to capture this season -- cold and brittle, but with the slightest hint of hope. But I couldn't think of anything that spoke to me. Then I realized the answer was obvious. Brigit as patron of poetry, smithcraft, and the like rules over all acts of inspiration. And there is one poem which never fails to give me shivers, to make me dream harder and try to live more truly. I first discovered it while I was in college, around the same time I discovered paganism, and it is one of the best expressions of the spiritual impulse for me that I have found yet.

The Night Journey
by Terri Windling

Go by coombe, by candle light,
by moonlight, starlight, stepping stone,
and step o'er bracken, branches, briars,
and go tonight, and go alone,
go by water, go by willow,
go by ivy, oak and ash,
and rowan berries red as blood,
and breadcrumbs, stones, to mark the path;
find the way by water's whisper,
water rising from a womb
of granite, peat, of summer heat,
to slake your thirst and fill the coombe
and tumble over moss and stone
and feed the roots of ancient trees
and call to you: go, now, tonight,
by water, earth, phyllomancy,
by candle flame, by spirit-name,
by spells, by portents, myth and song,
by drum beat, heart beat, earth pulsing
beneath your feet, calling you home,
calling you back, calling you through
the water, wood, the waste, the wild,
the hills where Dartmoor ponies pass,
and black-faced sheep, a spectral child,
a fox with pale unnatural eyes,
an owl, a badger, ghostly deer
with horns of star light, candle light
to guide the way, to lead you here,
to lead you to the one who waits,
who sits and waits upon the tor,
he waits and watches, wondering
if you're the one he's waiting for;
he waits by dawn, by dusk, by dark,
by sun, by rain, by day, by night,
his hair as black as ravens' wings,
his eyes of amber, skin milk white,
his skin tattooed with spiral lines
beneath a mask of wood and leaves
and polished stone and sun-bleached bone,
beneath a shirt of spiders' weave,
his wrists weighted with silver bands
and copper braids tarnished to green,
he waits for you, unknown and yet
familiar from forgotten dreams;
you dream and stir upon your bed
and toss and turn among the sheets,
the wind taps at the window glass
and water tumbles through the leat
and through the garden, through the wood,
and over moss and over stone
and tells you: go, by candle light,
and go tonight, and go alone;
he's sent you dreams, he's left you signs,
he's left you feathers, beads and runes,
so go, tonight, by candle light,
by ash and oak, by wood, by coombe.

Blessed Imbolc to you all, and may Brigit favor you in this season of cold and solitude!