Authors you want to love, but can’t

I’ve been reading more Dion Fortune as part of my research. She’s an intriguing author. I want to like her work, I really do. But I can’t.

There’s not a whole lot of magical fiction, and she writes it pretty well. If you really get into the text, she can carry you along in the spirit of a ritual, which is often the point of magical fiction, and is certainly the point of hers. So I want to like it, because it’s good at one of the major things it sets out to do. But I can’t.

It’s not the Christianity; in fact, most of the ritual work in her novels is so thoroughly little-p pagan that it has been shamelessly mined by Pagans since, well, there were big-p Pagans. It’s not even the sexism, although that gave me a pretty hard ride in the latest work I read, The Winged Bull. Admittedly, it is the bad guy who says that a particular woman needs “a sheiking” – meaning abduction and rape – but it is the good guys who talk about how if that woman objects to them manhandling her (for her own good, of course) they will simply spank her in public. That’s hard enough, but they don’t actually do it, so I can sort of tolerate it.

What I can’t tolerate is when she tells me – in the voice of that female character, no less – that “there is no blessing on a marriage when you close the gates of life permanently against incoming souls.” (322-3)

This weird bit seems like a line from her Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage wandered over onto another page and another book entirely, and she decided to wedge it in where it doesn’t really fit. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons – and maybe I’ll think about them, on another day – about why in English society at the time she couldn’t get away from including this last soupcon of morality when concluding a novel. But today, I couldn’t get over her telling me that my own marriage is a sham, or immoral, or at least “unblessed” in some way. And while I certainly don’t need her approval, her insistence on including that last ruler-smack of disapprobrium definitely keeps me from giving her too much of my own approval in return.

What about you? Are there writers (teachers, speakers) that you want to love, but just can’t?

Homophones for Pagans: Updated

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, here’s seven (updated: eight) words Pagans often struggle with.

I seriously considered calling this The Dacne of the Sneasos:

[Tiffany looked at the title below the illustration.]

“‘The Dacne of the Sneasos’?” she said. “Is that supposed to be ‘The Dance of the Seasons’?”

“Regrettably, the artist, Don Weizen de Yoyo, whose famous masterpiece that was, did not have the same talent with letters as he had with painting,” said Miss Treason. “They worried him, for some reason. I notice you mention the words before the pictures. You are a bookish child.”

Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett

I think there are probably a lot of us who are more comfortable with trees and spirits than with letters and words. That’s good; the Lady knows I look to them to guide and teach me when I’m not as comfortable in those realms. Since I am, like Tiffany, a bookish child, this is a small offering from my own interests to try to help all of us use language well.

These errors are probably common because most of them are homophones, that is, words that sound like each other but are spelled differently and mean different things. I’ve left out the most common homophonic mistakes: its and it’s, and their, there, and they’re, because those are far from limited to the Pagan community.

For us Pagans, these are also easy mistakes to make because some of the words aren’t as common outside our community or specialized religious discourse. A lot of us learn them as part of our new vocabulary when we become Pagan, and we may hear them in conversation before we encounter them in writing, so some of these are probably eggcorns.

When we communicate better – more clearly, more effectively, and more beautifully – we can do more with our words, whether by better sharing our experiences within our communities or by demonstrating to people unfamiliar with Paganism and Pagans that we can express ourselves well.

  • Deity vs diety
    Columbia is the deity who watches over the District of Columbia.
    (I don’t think diety is a word, but it sounds like the Power that guilts you into choosing celery instead of chocolate.)
  • Censer vs censor
    The burning coal makes the censer hot, so don’t touch it when you add the incense! (Notice the two e’s in incense to remember that they go together.)
    Thanks to the First Amendment, the government cannot censor people who want to speak or write about being Pagan in the US.
  • Altar vs alter 
    We had to cut a doorway in the circle for the paramedics because the sword fell off the altar and landed on my foot.
    Becoming Pagan altered my relationship to the environment.
  • Immanent vs imminent
    I like to worship outdoors because I believe that the divine is immanent in nature.
    The ritual was scheduled for 5pm, but we have to think about Pagan Standard Time – since it’s 5:30 now, I’d say it’s imminent.
  • Pore vs pour
    I have stains on my robe from where the priestess spilled wine when she poured it into my chalice.
    I pored over the text of the Havamal while studying the runes.
  • Edited to add: Tenants vs tenets (h/t to bohemimom42 for mentioning this)
    If the landlord found out how many candles his Pagan tenants used in their apartment, he might get better fire insurance.
    Honoring the natural world is a tenet of most forms of Paganism today.
  • Reign vs rein
    Persephone reigns as queen of the underworld.
    The fire alarm went off because the organizer gave him free rein to use as many candles as he wanted.

Okay, so that last one isn’t as specifically Pagan, but somehow I hate to see us making that mistake, because it comes from a time when humans worked with animals on a regular basis, and I’d like to see us remember that. Reins were used to control a horse: free rein meant letting the horse run, while reining in meant pulling back or limiting it. (Reign always has to do with kings and queens. Use the g in king to help you remember. – Or notice that “reign” is inside the word “sovereign.” h/t to inquisitiveraven!)

For a bonus track, I’d like to point out that I’ve seen multiple people using the not-a-word “submittal” lately to refer to something that one submits. Those are submissions, as in, “I had to edit my submission to the Pagan Pride Day handout so it wouldn’t be ten pages long.”

Happy writing!

Punxsutawney Phil called Persephone

Punxsutawney Phil called Persephone and said
“All clear here, spring is coming,
but don’t let me rush you.
In this our present age
of lesser gods and greater mortals
we think we’ve got this handled.”
But that afternoon the sun came out
and as he dived back into his burrow
he put his lips close to the crack
that goes all the way down
and whispered, “Hey, P?
We might need you
after all.
You’re better at dealing with shadows
than I am.”


Copyright Literata 2011; unlike other material on this blog, this work is not included under my Creative Commons license. Please do not reproduce it without my permission.

Planting Time: A Poem for Brigid Poetry Festival 2011

In the belly of the Mother, deep within the earth,
seeds are being planted while the ewes give birth.
Drinking the new milk, suddenly I know
the spark of an idea: the fire in the belly grows.

This poem was also published in the Order of the White Moon’s publication, Seasons of the Moon, in the Imbolc 2011 issue.

Stories of Brigid

This evening I participated in Sacred Circle‘s open ritual for Imbolc by telling the following stories of Brigid.

Sit down, sit down, make yourselves comfortable; you should be comfortable to listen to the stories of Brigid, because Brigid always wanted people to be comfortable.

Now, the stories of Brigid have no single beginning. Some people say Brigid was a goddess, the daughter of the Dagda, the good god. And the goddess Brigid was born to the mother goddess Danu, whose people are the Tuatha de Danaan; and Danu is the one who pours out the rivers that flow through the lands. And some people say that Brigid was a woman, the daughter of a druid, or maybe just born to a serving-woman in the druid’s household. And maybe both stories are true.

Now, Brigid was out one day, and when she came home, her cloak was wet all through. So she hung it on a sunbeam to dry. And it stayed there till it was dry. By that you know she had the power – not because she hung her cloak on a sunbeam, mind you, but because the sunbeam stayed there till the cloak was dry! For in Ireland, the weather can never make up its mind for five minutes altogether, and while you might get a sunbeam where you ask for one, it’ll never stay there when you turn your back on it. But I think that maybe the sunbeam just wanted to be helpful to Brigid, because Brigid herself was helpful to others. That’s how she used her power, after all.

And the power Brigid had, she used for her three great talents: the service of healing, the gift of giving what was needed, and the wisdom to inspire and change the souls of men and women.

Once a sick man came to Brigid to beg for food. Brigid asked, “Would you rather be king of all Ireland, or be healed of your disease?” The man answered, “I would rather be healed, holy Brigid, for a man who is healthy is his own ruler.” And she saw that he knew the truth of the matter, and she brought water, and washed him, and he was healed. In this she did the service of healing.

Another time, two widows, who were poor and sick, came to beg for food, and she offered them the one cow that she had, and bid them share it between them. But one of the widows was proud, and insisted that she would not share. The other widow let the proud one take the cow, and turned to Brigid, saying that she would be content if Brigid would just pray for her. Brigid did more than that: she put her hands on the old woman’s back, where it had been bent and sore these many years, and Brigid prayed, and the widow’s back was healed. Just as she was going out, another man who had been helped by Brigid came, bringing her a cow, and Brigid gave it to the widow who had been healed, and said, “See, because you were humble, you have a cow and your health as well, while the proud widow went away content with her pride.” This was the gift of giving what was needed.

Yet another time, two lepers came to beg for healing, and Brigid washed the first one, and he was healed, and she bid him wash his companion, so that he too might be healed. But the one who had been healed refused, and would not share the gift of healing, for now that he was clean and whole, he disdained to touch the ragged skin of his fellow leper. Brigid was angry, but she didn’t say anything; she just took the water, and as she washed the second leper herself, his disease went into the skin of the one who had refused to share the gift of healing. Now he cried out twice as loudly for Brigid to heal him again, and was sorry for his pride. She healed him again, and then he had gotten not only the service of healing, but the gift of what he really needed as well, which was the wisdom that good things are meant to be shared. This is wisdom that inspires and changes the soul.

A similar thing happened when Brigid was working in the dairy, for she was told to divide the milk and butter into twelve parts, but she divided them into thirteen, and made the thirteenth larger than all the rest, and gave it away to the poor and hungry. A woman working with her warned Brigid that the owners of the dairy would know that she had stinted the twelve parts, but Brigid said, “The Dagda, the good god, he will make it up.” Then the woman looked, and Brigid was right: the twelve jars of milk were full up to the brim, and the twelve portions of butter were overflowing. On another day, Brigid had given the milk and bread and butter for the evening’s dinner to feed a hungry woman and her children, so Brigid went out before dinner to milk the cows again. And although the cows had been milked twice already that day, and their udders should have been empty, but they gave milk in plenty, and as soon as Brigid put her hand to the churn, there was butter, as much as she had given away, and more.

As you’ve heard, a great many of the tales of Brigid have to do with cows and milk and butter, so it’s no surprise that her day falls at this time of year, when the first milk begins to come into the belly of the cows and ewes. Brigid’s day also comes at this time when we crave the beginnings of spring, when we are hungry for light, even hungrier for light and warmth than we are for milk and butter. We look for the light that was promised to us at midwinter, and Brigid brings that promised light, just as she and her priestesses tended the sacred flame at Cill Dara, the church of the oak, and still, today, in Kildare in Ireland, her sacred flame is burning, and with her three great talents, she lights the way for us.

And now, when they need her talents, the healers call on her, and they bless their water in her name, saying, Brigid, let this be the water of healing just as pure and as clean as if it came from your holy well. Brigid, let me serve others with my healing, and make them whole. Then healers wash people with the water of healing, serving with compassion and caring, helping others become whole. And in doing the service of healing, they shape the world.

And when the smiths need her talents, they call on her, and on her sacred flame, for smiths know that the fire doesn’t just consume things – the fire can give, too, and the fire can be used to make what is needed. The smiths kindle the fire in their forges, saying, Brigid, let this be a spark of your flame, let me use this flame to give to others. Then the smiths heat the metal and bend it and shape it into the tools that are needed. Thus the smiths give the gifts that are needed, and in their forging, they shape the world.

And the poets call on her too. Now you know what poets are like – they are people who feed their souls on beauty, and a verse that won’t run to its meter is as painful to them as a wrenched knee is to the rest of us. But a poet wants more, too – a poet wants a verse to go out and do some good; for the poet shapes the verse – which is what the root of the word poetry means, after all – but then she sets the verse out to do some shaping of its own. So the poets call on Brigid, saying, Brigid, heal my words so that they run to the meter, and Brigid, light the flame of inspiration so that I can bend the words to my purpose, but most of all, they say, Brigid, let my words go out to others to be a source of wisdom, wisdom that does the service of healing, and wisdom that gives the gift that is needed, and wisdom that inspires the souls of women and men.

So when we come together, on this, Brigid’s day, we who practice the craft of the wise, we who bend and shape the world, we honor Brigid. We give her praise and thanks, and petition her to be with us, so that she will share her power and her three great talents with us, as we strive to be healers, and smiths, and poets, that we too may shape the world, in her name.

The stories told herein are my interpretations of stories of both the goddess and the saint. Some are derived from these two groups of stories.

Creative Commons and the Pagan Community

I’d like to encourage the Pagan and Wiccan communities to start using the Creative Commons licenses on a regular basis. Two recent events inspired this. I was in touch with a Pagan on another blog, and she was kind enough to share with me some materials she developed for a workshop she has taught. Her work was well written, and as it was related to a topic I’m working on, I thought of how I might use it. She’d already considered the matter, and was kind enough to include a Creative Commons license on the materials she provided. Because of that license, I knew exactly what she wanted me to be able to do and not able to do. The specific directions included in the license made me think more deeply about how I could incorporate or be inspired by her work and how I could be sure that she got the credit she deserved. That’s going to make my work better and more original, and it’s going to make sure that I don’t – accidentally or not – deprive her of the benefits of her work.

The second event was a cautionary tale of what can happen when such precautions aren’t in place. I was discussing invocations with my High Priestess in the Order of the White Moon, Ka Wahine Ahi. Wahine told me about an invocation she’d written to Pele, which she had shared with some other Wiccans. Later, another student of hers who knew of Wahine’s devotion to Pele sent Wahine an invocation saying that she might be interested in it. It was the invocation Wahine had written, which was being circulated without attribution. Wahine was glad, of course, that others found the invocation good enough and useful enough to pass along, but was frustrated at not even having her name attached.

The Pagan community seems to be getting a little bit better about this; it’s relatively easy to find the “Isis, Astarte…” chant properly attributed to Deena Metzger, even online, for example. Greater publication probably helps, too. When more people get their resources out of printed books, it’s harder to “forget” over time that that chant or invocation wasn’t yours originally. It’s harder, too, to steal a copy of someone else’s Book of Shadows and claim it’s your grandmother’s, especially since print publication makes those materials available to more people. But we still patch together our own Books of Shadows, and use things that we heard once in a ritual, and circulate pieces of poetry in email, letting attribution drift off.

I’m encouraging this practice in part because I’m an author, and as such, I want to get credit for my work. Heck, someday I even hope to make a little money from my work – maybe even enough to buy some other Pagans’ books so I can keep creating more! But most of all, I think being careful to attribute works correctly makes good sense in a metaphysical fashion as well. As a Wiccan and someone who believes in magic, if I use something that is the fruit of someone else’s creativity, that creates a link – however tenuous, however momentary – between me and the creator. When I acknowledge the creator, and I am grateful for her and her work, that sends a little bit of what Bonewits liked to call “mana” to her. We find ourselves requesting and sending energy for all sorts of reasons – everything from a prayer for peace to Reiki for a friend’s sore knee. This is the same thing, even if you only take a moment to consciously acknowledge the creator. I can testify that the creative process is energy-intensive, and can be very draining. Acknowledging that work when you use the result keeps that energy flowing and is a way of giving back to the creator, hopefully so that even more creative work can take place. Just as it would be bad magic – as well as illegal – to “pirate” works that are sold for money, it is bad magic and probably a violation of the Rede to use works without acknowledgment. Especially if the author was kind enough to share the work with the community without cost – like T. Thorn Coyle’s beautiful recent work Rubaiyat for the Winter Solstice – we have an obligation for the benefit she shares with us.

I’m not trying to discourage the kind of sharing and circulation of resources that has helped the Pagan community grow. I would like to suggest that more people who share their works freely use Creative Commons, so that others know up front how it can be used. (Creative Commons provides a lot more than a copyright notice, and since it’s explicitly a license, it makes it more obvious that some acknowledgment should be made. See CC for more info.) As you’re adding material to your Book of Shadows, make a note where it came from. When you’re teaching students, or sharing resources, pass that info along. If you hear something that you like in a ritual, make an effort to ask the ritual leader where he got it, or do some digging on your own.

Attribution and keeping the energy flowing is good “karma” for you, it benefits creators in multiple ways, and it helps ensure that the Pagan community continues to benefit from the wonderful resources of its creative members.

A conversation with the spirit of TRI

The beech leaves have fallen
in thick crunchy drifts.
I see how the forest
ages into winter
from the edges in.
I’m trying to see it all
my head on a swivel
when I realize
I can relax
put myself aside
and let it flow in
instead of pushing my senses out.

I open myself to the spirit
and maybe because
I asked nicely
and maybe because
I do her favors,
picking up trash,
and she accepts the effort
as the offering it is,
she comes,
immanent in the place
welling up
to meet the transcendence
drawing down.

She has a strong sense of humor,
especially placed as she is,
a cultivated wildness
in the midst of urbanity.
I know what a microclimate is now:
it’s warmer in the green alley
thickly walled with close-laced vines
that arch over the roof
clinging to a little warmer air
like an old woman pulling her shawl tight.
But where the leaves have fallen,
I can see her contours more clearly:
a ridge here, a furrow there
and her bones of mica schist
poking through the raggedy edge
of her fallen leaf shawl.

I ask her,
but what about Teddy?
Dear Teddy, bear teddy…
Oh, him, she says.
I don’t worry about him,
she chuckles.
And she doesn’t.
She’s an outsized monument
to an outsized man
but this is no San Juan Hill
and he doesn’t ride so roughly here
as to bother the spirit of the place.
I venture a tiny joke:
If this is your body,
maybe he’s your brazen cock,
jutting up in the middle?
She laughs and says maybe.
Maybe he’s my totem spirit.

I think about that
and see the larch
standing scarlet and alone
in the middle of the marsh
like the flame of a candle
guttering low
waiting for a fresh breath
to make it leap up once again.
She’ll breathe that breath
but not now
now it’s time to sleep
holding Teddy close.


[Background that may help you understand: TRI is short for Theodore (he of “teddy bear” fame) Roosevelt Island, my favorite park in the DC area. He’s got a bronze statue in a monument in the middle of the island, but the rest of it is a natural forest.]

Journaling, meditation, and social networking

In my practice, journaling and meditation have become linked, in a sort of dynamic tension and feedback. Every morning (okay, not every morning, but most mornings) I journal, and then I meditate. Journaling functions as a prerequisite to meditation because in journaling, I record the high points of the internal monologue that’s my normal state of being; I put them down, and then I literally put them down, close the journal, and find myself prepared to go to a place where my internal monologue takes on an entirely different character. In meditation, I take my monologue out of words. I ground and center myself, and in that space, I can just be, just exist, without the overlay of the constant self-created, self-monitoring narrative. Meditation is healing; the break in the narrative reminds me that the narrative itself isn’t the sum of life. Then, when I go back to it afterwards, my narrative, my monologue, is refreshed and restored, re-centered around the immanent, the important values, experiences, and beliefs of my life.

It occurred to me the other day that one of the first forms of social networking was aptly named: LiveJournal. It was, exactly as the name implied, a place for people to journal “in real time,” in a forum that could be shared with others. And boy, does it have all the characteristics of journaling: people stop for ages on end, people say they don’t know what to say, people record their lives in numbing detail, people show flashes of the brilliance in their souls that makes you want to weep. And people experiment with what to put online and how, and if they’re reflective, they may come to realize that their choices on LiveJournal amount to a performance of themselves, a presentation of themselves to others.

Yes, of course my private journaling is a performance as well, but it’s a private performance, of myself to myself, where I don’t worry so much about the infinite hall-of-mirrors effects of my presentation. I’m not going to argue that that privacy makes it more true, but for me it makes my journaling more accurate, more linked to the self that I am when I meditate. My private writing is a better reflection of the narrative I tell myself each day, and that makes it more useful when I go back and review it later.

As social networking has evolved, it strikes me that Facebook and Twitter have become immensely popular because they provide interaction in a very different situation than LiveJournal. Both of them, but especially Twitter, are designed to facilitate the stream-of-consciousness style of writing. When used to an extreme, they broadcast the internal monologue, externalizing it and transforming it in definitive ways in the process. When the performances become our lives, the social networks we create through these media become a sort of group mind, with an endless, chattering polylogue echoing through it. Sometimes that polylogue gets summarized and coheres into a sort of journal entry, but usually not. And we interact with each other, sure, @you and @me, but we seldom stop and try to shape the polylogue into something that communicates outside of our group mind’s echo chamber.

We create a group mind, turn ourselves inside out and immerse ourselves in it, but we don’t create ways to exercise that mind, to direct it and harness it and heal it. And a mind, let alone a heart, whether group or individual, that does not ground and center, that does not create, discover, and nurture its core, well…it becomes empty. When do we, how do we, ground and center the existence of the kind of networks we’re creating?

Hangul day!

According to Patricia Telesco’s 365 Goddess, today is the day that Korea celebrates the creation of its own unique alphabet. This alphabet really is a beautifully elegant system; each symbol stands for a separate syllable, and is a combination of a consonant symbol and vowel symbol. It’s one of the most logical systems of writing around today.

I find this an auspicious day to re-purpose my blog and to start again on the work of writing to express ideas!