NOTE: My dear friend, artist Claudia Borgna, found this poem by Susan Edwards and sent it to me. I’d forgotten about it, 2007 seems ages ago, though Susan’s death in 2008 seems like just yesterday. I still miss her. My thanks to Claudia for this little pavan down Memory Lane. This post is dedicated to Denny Robertson.
Conundrums for those who aren’t afraid of the dark.
Save us from suffering, loneliness
and the usual confusion.
Darkness has its uses.
Creativity. The return of this generating force.
“Together” alludes us moment to moment.
Our strategy for unceasing comfort
and affluence has resulted n global toastiness.
Will there be more chances to test our mettle,
the courage it takes to be a generous earthling?
Spring challenges and cuts through our chilly cynicism.
We didn’t mean to be such poor apprentices
or stewards of our global bunkhouse.
Leap, bound, vault, and hop over haunting melancholy.
The bunkhouse is a mansion with accommodation and water for all.
Stones of fire.
Time of garden splendor.
Everyone seeks the heat of the sun.
To forget everything in the bright, blinding light.
Are we beset with original sin?
Are we here to liberate the karma of passion, aggression, and ignorance?
Does Zeus hate us?
Can we atone for our bad behavior?
Is there anyone out there who can do this for us?
We are making war in the Garden of Eden.
We are here to tend and protect the garden.
Why is this so difficult?
Amazing how many chances we get to make a good gazpacho.
Who said paradise is unregainable?
Dancing on fiery stones.
The harvest season is upon us.
The world’s wheat harvest is low again.
Harvest of violence besets the Middle East.
Nightmares in the name of God.
This harvest of drought and violence has a bad affect on my sense of humor.
Our resistance is stubborn.
Our hearts are stones.
Our projections a merciless black mirror.
How deep do we have to go?
May the grapes be sweet and Mother Earth bountiful.
No one said it was easy.
The world is too hot with righteousness.
Change comes upon us, cycle after cycle.
Even Howdy Doody shared the stage with Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring.
Originally published in Uncontained: Writers and Photographers in the Garden and the Margins, Baksun Books, 2007.
Kay-Nu-Hima was the Japanese goddess of herbs. Polydemna was an herbalist who supplied Helen of Troy with an antidepressant (heaven knows she must have needed a strong one). The herbs themselves instructed Airmed, the Irish goddess of the Tuatha DéDannan, in their own use. And while Cerridwen, the Welsh Mother Goddess, is not precisely a deity of herbs, she nonetheless kept the Cauldron of Knowledge and Inspiration and knew what to brew in it. Whatever the herbs, they hatched the wisdom and talents of the great British bard, Taliesin.
In folk and fairy tales of Christianized Europe, old age, herbs and wickedness seem to go hand-in-hand. (And indeed old age is still not welcome in our contemporary cultures.) The Grimm Brothers’ popular collections notwithstanding, even in the early 19th century, when they were writing and collecting, rural herbalists were still relied upon by plain folk and did not have particularly malevolent reputations. For example, the Buschfrauen, bush women of central Europe, who were said to have hollow backs (likely dowager’s humps), lived in hollow trees (in splendor, one hopes), and who revealed the secrets of herbs and healing to mortal women, supplying the knitters among them with magic balls of never-ending yarn.
The Dziwonzony, Polish wild women of the woods, who lived in underground burrows ferreting out the secrets of nature and herbal medicine are attractive models, too. (These days, I often think I could live like them, in a quiet solidarity with Nature.)
As with Italo Calvino’s re-telling (and my subsequent re-re-telling) of the tale of Rosemary — https://heathcollom.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/rosemary/ — many Italian folktales featuring herbs refreshingly dispense with witches in favor of enchanting stories about parsley girls and marjoram brides.
Plants like St. John’s wort ─ and so many more ─ were valued by the ancient Greeks who placed it around religious icons to ward off evil spirits. Throughout Europe, St. John’s wort guarded against witchcraft and prevented lightning strikes to the house. I used an oil I made from my own plants recently against the pain of fibroids and it helped tremendously. Rural African Americans related the root to a favorite trickster and folk hero, High John the Conqueror, who came out of slave times.
The Spanish Inquisition and subsequent missionaries for “progress” and the supremacy of The Church never entirely succeeded in wiping out the “good healer,” the herb doctor, the wise woman, the medicine man, the curandera, the shaman — those who make a conscious practice of communicating with Earth, listening to her wisdom and utilizing her gifts with care.
Most of us have been in love with love, insisting that it is so transformative, so enlightened as a thing in itself, that between lovers there can be no misunderstandings, no restlessness, no turbulence, no roiling doubts. Tra la, trip lightly into the sunset, hand-in-hand, happily ever after.
Then love itself comes along, and like moths to the flames, we rush to catch it, to grasp hold of it with every fiber. And we discover this: Love is transformative. It is enlightening. Love’s turbulence, misunderstandings, missed connections, roiling doubts and discontents are the wildly rough trail that leads to partnership with the Self, with Another and finally with the World. Love brings us to wisdom, more often than not on scraped hands and bruised knees, half strangled by disillusionments, breathless and burned along the path.
Love is tough, love is delicate, love is exquisite, love is creative force, love is worth it, because love is beauty and love is all we’ve got … if only we don’t weaken.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Excerpted from The Jewel and the Ember: Love Stories of the Ancient Middle East — on e-book at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/373174.
In February, the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated in ancient Greece. These were as secretive as the Greater Mysteries, which took place in, it’s believed, September. What is known is that participants in the Lesser Mysteries sacrificed piglets and ritually purified themselves in the river Illisos.
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands.
–Charles Swinburne, The Garden of Proserpine
This is the time when old Hekate fetches the Underworld queen. When Persephone removes her robes, her golden brown mushroom cloak, her jewels mined from between the walls of Tartarus, her crowning wreath. When Hekate takes her hand and accompanies her to the Pool of Memory, where Persephone discards recollections of her regency and maturity, and prepares to return to maidenhood. She will reclaim her memories on the autumn journey home.
Hekate and Persephone will walk past Cerberus, then slowly, slowly Charon will row them across the river Styx. With her first step into the Upperworld, Persephone will transform into the Kore. The girl. Vernal and new. Green and misty. Yielding. Tender and temporary.
This is the time when Demeter, goddess of barley and bees, awakens. When she watches Kore stride faster and faster toward her. When her breasts express a torrent of nourishment that will feed the land and the fields will flourish.
Now mother and daughter embrace. Now Spring has arrived.
The bond between mothers and daughters is thought to have been one focal point in the Lesser Mysteries. The barest signs of Spring indicate the mother’s excitement. Persephone leaves her home, her duties, her womanhood in order to become a girl again at her mother’s side (and don’t we all revert to childhood in the presence of our mothers?).
Persephone is New Crop, First Fruit, bud and blossom. She arrives and in the Homeric poem, Hymn to Demeter, all that first day long, the sun shines as Mother and Daughter “bask in each other’s presence …, receive joy and give joy, one to the other.”
Persephone seems to have ruled equally with her husband Hades, pale King of Shades, a shady, shadowy character indeed. While Hades was virtually ignored in worship, and barely appears in myth, the Greeks raised temples to Persephone, as comforter to the dying, guide to the dead, and guardian of midwives (while Demeter was thought to protect mothers). It is said that her name was never to be revealed to those uninitiated at the Mystery celebrations; she was “the unspeakable girl,” spoken of in euphemisms. Sometimes she was called “Murder,” sometimes “Dread,” always “Mighty.”
The myth of Demeter and Persephone has offered the Western world ample interpretations about the relationship between mothers and daughters. The meanings of the myths seem unlimited. Persephone’s liberation from her mother creates the ground in which the season can flourish. Life, therefore, is stimulated and made potent.
When initiates — called mystai, many the maidens of Artemis — completed the Lesser Mysteries, they were eligible to witness the Greater.
At last, it’s time again. On again. Off again. There will, of course, be more snow (in Colorado, Spring snows are simply fat rain) and then we’ll get those horrible March winds. But on warm February days, starting right now, we must seize the glorious moments!
First task: cleaning up. (Won’t that nasty old man who hates my untrimmed winter garden be pleased?)
My favorite, decades-old, rusty clippers still cut like new.
And the gorgeous new gloves my dear friend Andrew gave me are protecting me from the thorny Himalayan rose that seems to hate me (or is it Mongolian? Could it be true that cold-climate roses are particularly deadly?).
And wouldn’t you know it? Ten minutes into the first day, I get a huge splinter in my big toe. Who cares what the groundhog predicts? My toe is telling me that Spring — albeit Rocky Mountain style — is here.
Trees have lived on the Earth far longer than we have, dating back some 350 million years, so it is only natural that we turn to them for shelter, healing and wisdom. The Celtic imagination was rooted in the Earth and took its inspiration from the ancient forests of Britain. A Druidic alphabet of tree magic, called Ogham, emerged, and a tree, or in some cases a plant, such as Ivy, was assigned to each lunar month, resulting in a poetic and symbolic language based on the Moon and the cycle of the seasons.
February, the second month in the Celtic tree calendar, is dedicated to the Rowan, a tree rich in the lore of enchantment and protection. The wood was considered a powerful charm; branches were hung over doorways to protect the household, and draped in barns to guard against the bewitching of livestock. It was, like the yew, planted in graveyards to watch over the dead. Cutting down a Rowan tree would bring ill luck, but twigs and branches could be gathered for talismans and amulets. Its red berries reveal a pentagram, a five-pointed star when sliced crosswise, a tiny imprint of sacred geometry that occurs throughout nature, from apples, flowers, and tiny berries to the planet Venus, which traces the same pattern in her orbit.
In Norse mythology the Rowan is a goddess tree, associated with the maiden aspect of the triple goddess. It fosters intuition and illumination, the rekindling of imagination and creative work. it is also sacred to the planet Mercury, and the gifts of poetry, incantation and inspired speech.
The Full Moon of February occurred on February 3 at 4:08 PM, MST, and falls in the fire sign Leo, further emphasizing the theme of illumination and creative passion. The Moon makes a close conjunction with Jupiter, the planet of faith, optimism and general benevolence.
This Full Moon encourages us to fan away the ashes of past failures and doubts, and find the creative spark that will ignite a new flame to light the way ahead. With Mercury retrograde in Aquarius until February 11 there is a need to give the analytical mind a rest, and allow insight to come through dreams and contemplative moments. Aquarius is associated with the nervous system, as is Mercury; this is a good time to use herbal teas that strengthen the nerves, like passion-flower or Valerian. Candlemas, Valentine’s Day, and Ash Wednesday (February 18) all fall in the Rowan month; it is a time of purification and rededication to that which inspires and engages the heart’s passions — art, beauty, love, justice, peace.
Nan De Grove is a gardener, painter and astrologer. She writes the monthly full-Moon column for The Lore of the Garden, as well as other occasional contributions. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Saint Bridget was
A problem child.
Although a lass
Demure and mild,
And one who strove
To please her dad,
Saint Bridget drove
The family mad.
For here’s the fault in Bridget lay:
She Would give everything away.
To any soul
Whose luck was out
She’d give her bowl
She’d give her shawl,
Divide her purse
With one or all.
And what was worse,
When she ran out of things to give
She’d borrow from a relative.
Her father’s gold,
Her grandsire’s dinner,
She’d hand to cold
and hungry sinner;
Give wine, give meat,
No matter whose;
Take from her feet
The very shoes,
And when her shoes had gone to others,
Fetch forth her sister’s and her mother’s.
She could not quit.
She had to share;
Gave bit by bit
The barnyard geese,
The parlor rug,
Her little niece-
‘s christening mug,
Even her bed to those in want,
And then the mattress of her aunt.
An easy touch
For poor and lowly,
She gave so much
And grew so holy
That when she died
Of years and fame,
Put on her name,
And still the Isles of Erin fidget
With generous girls named Bride or Bridget.
Well, one must love her.
In thinking of her
There’s no denial
She must have been
A sort of trial
Unto her kin.
The moral, too, seems rather quaint.
WHO had the patience of a saint,
From evidence presented here?
Saint Bridget? Or her near and dear?
(from The Love Letters of Phyllis Mcginley, New York, Viking Press, 1957)
Every early and late, every dark, every light.
I am shielded.
Brigid my comrade-woman, my maker of song,
Brigid my helping-woman, Brigid my guide.
In late January, with the sun showing up now and again and the weather warming(ish), I’ve been pacing the garden scanning for color. Not yet, not yet…but spring truly has begun her cautious flirtation with winter. Snowdrops will be the first shy coquettes to appear, followed by miniature Siberian irises, such a dark, disappearing purple that searching for them is like a mushroom hunt.
In February we teeter at the seasonal gate. And standing there is Brigid, Triple Muse. Celtic threefold mother of poetry, healing and smithcraft (her name means “bear”). February 1 is her feast day, known as Imbolc, celebrating The Lactation of the Ewes, an ancient festival of purification and rejoicing, while the giddy month fluctuates between winter and spring. Today Brigid returns from the underworld.
A Scottish charm still recited to Brigid into the 20th century was meant to heal a burn, yet its leaping invocation from fire to frost also characterizes this mercurial time.
Three ladies came from the East,
One with fire and two with frost.
Out with thee fire!
In with thee frost!
Christians adopted Imbolc, moved it forward a day and called it Candlemas in celebration of St. Brigid. Goddess and saint share the same attributes. Blessing newborns and fire and water, Brigid brings life to the dead of winter and mediates the month’s travails as it labors toward the vernal equinox. In her Christian aspect as Saint Bride of Ireland, Scotland and England, she is known as the “Midwife of Christ.” When a Highland woman was in labor, the midwife stood at the doorstep (called the fad-buinn or sole-sod), clutching the jambs with her hands, beseeching the help of the goddess-saint.
Meanwhile, Imbolc celebrates the birth of lambs and calves. A certain trail through farmland where my friend Shireen and I walk is dotted with calves in early February.
In Ireland, a protective charm in the form of a straw rope with crosses on it, a Brigid’s Girdle, was worn on Imbolc — the word means “surrounding the belly,” and the belt encouraged fertility. Brigid surrounds and midwives the garden, nurses it as the plants labor and crown.
Pre-Christian Brigid and her latter-day saint persona each preside over art, poetry and beauty. It is said that Brigid invented whistling and when her son died, she invented keening and the extemporaneous poetry that ascends from wailing women women. Some of the most famous Irish verses have come from from women in mourning.
In India, Saraswati corresponds to Brigid as goddess of speech, learning and the arts. She, too, is celebrated as the cold winter is ending, at the festival of Vasant Panchami. Like Brigid, Saraswati is a threefold goddess: her sisters are Parvati, goddess of righteousness and Lakshmi, goddess of beauty, fortune and prosperity, who rose from the Ocean of Milk (and is honored in autumn at the Diwali festival). As straw dolls are made for Brigid, so clay figurines of the goddess Saraswati are processed and immersed in rivers or water tanks. Like Brigid, Saraswai attends all waters. She is the spirit of the river Saraswati.
Saraswati is called Mother of the Vedas. As poetic muse, Brigid inspires the Song of Amergin and the “I am” form in which the singer subsumes all being.
I am the womb of every holt;
I am the blaze of every hill;
I am the queen of all hives;
I am the shield for every head;
I am the vault of every hope.
–Song of Amergin
The god Krishna manifests similarly in the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita.
…I am the whirlwind and the moon among the planets,
I am the thunderbolt and sacred fig tree,
I am a lion among beasts, an eagle among birds,
I am victory, I am effort, I am passion
I am the cow of plenty.
“I am what is around me,” wrote the poet Wallace Stevens. The “I am” poetic impulse identifies us with Nature and seals us to the land. We are where we live. There is reciprocity between person and place: I am. We (almost) become those aspects of Nature with which we interact. We are defined by how we interact with Nature: I am my ecology.
Biodiversity = a distinct I am. Excitation = I am. Awe = I am. Veneration for Earth = I am. Gardening = I am.
Last night, a thick snowfall. We woke to a white world on Imbolc. Tonight we’ll eat warm milky foods by candlelight, write “I am” poems together and tomorrow we’ll check the news about the groundhog’s shadow.