Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Faery Freedom

In a couple of days, I'm off to co-facilitate a weekend of Faery magick, focusing on a chance to explore, introduce, and deepen our relationships to the Fae world.

I know that sometimes people get freaked about the Fae - usually out of bad past experiences or the curse of the Precious Moments figurines. Either way, both ends of this Faery-ick spectrum are not something I've had to deal with. However, these perceptions stopped me for a while from fully opening to this spiritual path and magickal energy, but once I got over it (with a nice push from the Faery clan leader I work with, Elavin), I realized how deep and powerful this magick is.

It's all about freedom and not the kind that is without responsibility. For if there isn't some kind of understanding about interconnection, then free-livin' is just rampant selfishness - not a Faery virtue at all.

Faery Freedom has been presented to me as a tree image. Each branch, each twig sails off into the air, reveling in its direction and sense of purpose, but it is ultimately intimately connected to the rest of the organism. If it grows out of balance, it can bring down an entire branch and sicken the whole tree. It's the same with freedom and the individuality that's often preceived to go along with it - we do strike out in various directions that seem like completely unchartered horizons, but without the support of a family, friends, previous explorers, farmers growing food, etc., we wouldn't be going anywhere.

And all to often, our culture values inbalanced and eventually malignant growth more than it does a community-based model.

May we all dare to explore freedom as the faeries do - in conjunction with one another.

(The first image is of the Faery Godmother by Brian Froud, an amazing artist of the Fae. The second is some stock photography.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Grandmother Spider

Out of the dark roiling fabric of the Multiverse she comes. Multiple, long legs emerging, followed by a series of eyes and a a large beautiful body, full of possibility, full of endless creation, and full of Mystery.

Spiraling strands of will into the blackness, worlds are created, as are particles, atoms, sub-atomic energies, matter, light - creation itself springs from her in filaments, giving a toe-hold to future beings still held deep in her body.

Slowly, light coalseces into stars, which send their energy into the surrounding space, leading to the birth of infinite galaxies and universes, infinite realms, folding onto one another like the endless and only seemingly chaotic web of a Wolf Spider.

Grandmother Spider gives birth to others like her, carrying them on her back as she makes her way through these new hotbeds of creation. One of her many worlds and homes is, of course, Earth. A place of exquisite beauty, she leaves some of her children here, and finds her place on the heaving planet in its early years.

She befriends Gaia, guiding her through her birth and growth, tending her in hours of confusion and rejoicing with her as waters grow in strength. Grandmother Spider sends strands of connection between oceans and moon, creating a love song between these bodies that still resonates today.

Other beings begin to inhabit Gaia, and Grandmother Spider takes an interest in all of them. Along with her progenitor sisters, Grandmother Bear, the Snake Mother, the Great Tree, and others, they become matrons of this planet, taking delight in all of the inhabitants, including the humans who eventually emerge from Primate family.

From Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelley to the deserts of Australia, the jungels of Meso- and South America, to Africa where her son Anansi became one of the trickiest of the tricksters, her spirit can be found.

In our thoughts, which physics has shown to hook up to actual points in space, to the sound of splashing waves, her Web of Creation pulsates with life force. All our experiences and the experiences of this place we call home are the result of this Web, that spirals ever outward, growing, changing, shifting, deepening, and vibrating with color, sound, and power. All we need to do is access it, be mindful that string theory is the modern way of explaining the Web, and realize that interconnection is not just some platonicc new age platitude.

Whisper your dreams to spiders in their webs, send energy out along Multiversal strands, and realize that one day, we all will be consumed by Grandmother Spider and sent on to our next experience.

I first became aware of her presence on a trip to Canyon de Chelley, many years ago, but my first formal moments with her were in a labyrinth at my first ever Reclaiming Witch Camp. Since that time, she has become one of my matrons, and only recently have I begun to understand the ways in which my relationship with her has unfolded - including, of course, as a tarantella priestess.

In many ways, it's hard to discuss where she is most or what she does, because her handiwork is everywhere. Every object, energy, thought, breath of every being is part of the constantly unfolding Web of Creation, and because of the nature of the Web itself, she is omnipresent, feeling and having a connection to absolutely everything.

Despite all of this, she often comes to me in very grounded forms - most always as a large spider. (One of her favorite games is what I call the "Horror Movie Spider Game," where she peers menacingly over entire city blocks, legs perched on various buildings. She never gets tired of this, and honestly neither do I.) Only on very rare occasions has she appeared to me in a human form, and then it was usually a composite of human and spider.

Being a non-human Mysterious One, she sometimes has much different opinions on certain questions or dilemmas. Shortly before going to my first tarantella workshop, she leapt out of a stairwell at me and sank her fangs into my heart. After recovering from the shock, I said, "Can you warn me next time?"

Somewhat incredulous, she responded, "I AM a hunter."

Point taken.

Yet, the love I've experienced from her is overwhelming, and I am ever grateful for her presence and magick in my life.

Grandmother Spider Holds a Special Place in Her Heart for the Following:

A good hunt
Surprises (more specifically, surprising others)
A well-made web
Dances of healing and transformation
Sacred dancers
Teasing arachnophobes
The month of August in the Northern Hemisphere
Spending time with her Progenitor Sisters
Chasing prey
Dancing by moonlight
Eating her husbands
Playing fetch with dogs
A good circus act (no animals, though)
The laughter of children (human and otherwise)
"Charlotte's Web"
The Shelob scene in "Lord of the Rings" (sans the killing of Shelob)

Grandmother Spider is a Friend of Many Clans, Including:

The Bear Clan
The Snake Clan
The Tree Clan
The Human Clan
Clan of the Queer Priestesses
The Dog Clan
Clan of the Wild Fae
All Insect Clans
The Crab Clan
The Scorpion Clan
The Wild Grass Clan
The Family of the Tarantati
The Apple Clan
The Pear Clan
The Pecan Clan
The Pine Clan
The Rose Clan

Blessings of the Web upon you.

As with all things related to mystery that I talk about, know that this is how I have experienced it or gotten the info. Nothing is holy writ. In fact, I'd love to hear what others' experiences are with the spider folk, if you have them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

An Ode to Figs

Those of you who know me well might want to skip this post altogether, because I'm about to wax rhapsodic about my favorite fruit and one of my favorite foods: the fig.

For years now, I've been eating dried figs every day, usually on their own, but sometimes baked into French tarts (with fig pastry cream and paired with grapefruit wedges on top); sliced and placed on top of bread spread with mascarpone cheese and garnished with fresh basil leaves; or (perhaps my favorite) stuffed with walnuts and baked in vin santo, honey and some orange zest.

The real treat, of course, is the unparalleled fresh fig - proof that despite the madness in our world, the pleasures of this Good Green Earth can make us remember that life is full of deep joy.

"Why now?" you might be asking with impatience. "Why does he blather on about his obsession on this particular day? "

Mostly, because my hubby sent me a link to a story on NPR about the fresh fig.

Also, because one of my favorite vendors at the farmer's market told me that she would have figs this coming Sunday. I plan to be there before the 9 a.m. opening bell so I can sweep them up by the bucketful.

For someone with Italian roots and someone who is a deeply sensual person, this fruit is an orgiastic culmination of what life has to offer.

So, as a spell of indulgence and pleasure, I challenge all of you to go out and buy fresh or dried figs and eat them daily, perhaps chanting some mantra to sensual delights or allowing the flavor, downright naughty texture and juiciness to be the prayer itself.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Trip to Siena

The Catholics understandably get a bad rap for a lot of destructive behavior over the years, but there's one thing I have to hand to the Mother Church: the preservation of some form of Goddess worship in a patriarchal world.

This was so obvious at Siena's famed cathedral, Il Duomo. Started in the 1300s and worked on for 500 years, this large shrine to the Virgin Mother was breathtaking and the site of some profoundly spiritual moments for me.

The floors of the cathedral are all done with stone inlay that depicts different biblical events, but also some serious pagain imagery. Included in this are the seven Sibyllae (the Sibyls), prophetesses from all over the ancient world. They're present here, because according to legend, they heralded the birth of Christ (or at least a figure of great love who would bring much change to the world). Interestingly, the Sibyl of Cumana, outside of Naples, gave one of these prophecies to the ancient Roman poet Virgil (composer of the Aeniad, the Ecologues and the Georgics), who was also initiated into the cult of the great Mother Goddess, Cybele.

These images still resonate with power that I could feel travelling up from the stones and into my body, and, of course, they are works of incredible beauty.

Scattered throughout the Duomo are other amazing pieces, including this triple goddess image holding a serpent. I stood with mouth agape at this piece for quite a while, stunned by the brazenness of this pagan image in this "Christian" church.

After some intense experiences with the Goddess and being dizzy from the incredible energy of the place, I was happy to wander the streets of Siena, purposefully avoiding the cermaics store (how on Earth would I get that huge serving bowl home) but not even thinking of avoiding the gelaterie in town.

It was truly a divine experience to eat gelato in the Piazza del Campo under a clear, stunningly blue sky. I'm pictured here with my gelato buddies and workshop friends. (I got two scoops of gelato - one was hazlenut and the other was panna cotta - if I had time, I would have gone back for another until I was sick with the heavenly delight!)

The same day we went to two other sites, collectively called San Galgano. The first was a ruined and unfinished monastery from the Middle Ages, and while here, we played ancient Italian songs to the Black Madonna and danced one of the healing dances among the still-standing walls.

Then we headed up a hill to a smaller chapel where Saint Galgano, one of the Knights Templar, returned from the Crusades and swore off war by thrusting his sword into a stone. The sword in the stone (one of many throughout Europe) was still there, in the center of the chapel honoring the Black Madonna, and I finally realized what this was all about. I saw it as an incredible spell-working for peace - turning a weapon of death into a kind of sacred marriage, phallic symbol in the womb of the mother - a testament to keeping the ways of love as opposed to violence.

I could feel the power of this magickal act still resonating in the earth below the chapel, and the energy flowed into the countryside surrounding it. So incredible!

This was also the place where a small shop sold lots of wonderful goods, and I swept up jars and jars of local honeys - honeys from gira sole (sunflowers - the Italian word comes from the verb for "to turn" and "the sun", therefore, turning toward the sun), lemon, acacia, rosemary and corbezzolo (a type of Mediterranean tree, the Latin name is Arbutus unedo - a picture is below). I also picked up some bee pollen from the region to use in some upcoming ritual work, keeping me connected to the experiences I had in Tuscany, the things I learned there about myself, and the commitment I have going forward to continue the work of the Black Madonna and the deep power of the Tarantella.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Food Is Love

The food prepared by the lovely Rosanna Passione at the villa was some of the best I've ever eaten - and I'm no lightweight in terms of food appreciation. Call it something in my blood and then something honed by the company I keep, but I deeply believe in the power of food to heal and transport us to living lives full of joy.

Breakfast was always very simple but delightful - plain yogurt, muesli, fresh peaches, pears, figs, and plums, wonderful honeys, plus tea and coffee. Not to mention the homemade breads that were present at every meal - unsalted, interestingly enough, something not uncommon in Tuscany.

Lunch and dinner were more elaborate affiars. We ate both meals outdoors, and the food coming out of the kitchen was downright magickal. Rosanna always cooked with produce that was coming straight from the villa's organic gardens, and at this time of year, that meant lots of zucchini, eggplant, various kinds of peppers, and, of course, some of the most delectable pomodori (tomatoes) I've ever had in my life. (Above is a photo of some of the gardens' offerings, notably on the right, fennel. A wonderful plant, "finocchio" is also negative slang for gay men. Some of the reasoning behind it is that fennel seeds were tossed on the pyres of gay men burned for their various proclivities as a way of masking the smell. I suspect there's something deeper and older there, too.)

Frittate were par for the course, and they were very thick, with roasted eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes tucked into the fluffy eggs. There were pastas to be sure, served with a lovely pesto and capers or simple tomato sauces. Risotto made an appearance, and then there was a barley grain likely cooked in the manner of risotto (it had a wonderfully creamy and chewey texture leading me to think that she cooked it in the traditional risotto style).

Not surprisingly in Italy food is not just fuel - it's part of the day's ritual and integral to this particular workshop's healing experience. Every meal was presented with beauty and forethought, and the native Italians in the group always led a round of "Buon Appetito" or "Salute" with wine glasses raised. I realized that as an American I'm really only accustomed to toasting on "special occasions," yet here, every meal was an expression of deep joy and vitality. So why not wish everyone good health and pleasure each time we sat down together?

Most days, I jotted down notes or took photos, and since my return, I've been experimenting with some of the food I enjoyed in Tuscany. This past Sunday I came home from the farmer's market laden with bags of eggplant, zucchini, wonderful tomatoes and peppers, and I've been slow roasting tomatoes with thyme and olive oil, making pappa al pomodoro (a traditional Tuscan bread stew that's out of this world!), and filling my fridge with various experiments.

One of my greatest joys when I cook is to call the power of my grandmothers into my hands. I honor them and ask for their guidance while I whip up meals of love, and I feel so grateful to have their blood in my veins and their suggestions for simmering time and spicing. These are the traditions that connect us to our loved ones, the Great Mother Gaia, the shining Sun, and the vital powers of our life.

Buon appetito!

Speaking of the need to change our lives to ones of deep joy, check out Donald Engstrom-Reese's blog about the insane and disturbing goings-on in the Twin Cities during the RNC - a call to action and to living our lives differently to be sure.