September 17

[Darkling Light]

The chill of first light is slowly setting the stage for the Winter Wait; it seemingly flickered out only a day ago. It invokes memories of the Old Ones, long gone, remarking simply as they aged that the pace accelerated imperceptibly until it felt like they were running to the Ancient Ones in breathless anticipation. In a week this ritual will rest inside of the womb of our Mother, waiting in the long sleep of dreams to be born again. Near nineteen years will circumvent our lives before we will find ourselves here again, dead or alive.

The woods surrounding the Great Circle are teeming with the spirits of our ancestors, so clear in moments I can catch glimpses of their twinkling fires in the dark shadows of the trees as I make my way to Old Man Beard Lichen’s camp. The pop of snapping twigs and a soft rustle in the underbrush tells me that the Ancient Ones still-hunt the spirits of creatures in the impenetrable nightblack. In the forest the night holds tight to its darkness even as the sun makes his inevitable way into day. I want to be with Old Man Beard Lichen and Little Mouse, sit in the quiet with them, and warm myself at their fire before his transmutation begins. They are as in love as any two I have ever known, she with her foreboding Owl medicine and he as beautiful and awestruck as the child he once was. It is good to sit with them in the peaceful coolness, they seeming so unremarkable beyond their beauty, just a couple breaking the nightfast together, in front of their fire, waking up to the day.

I wait for their acknowledgement before entering their camp. Both wave me in with smiles followed by warm embraces. We sit soundlessly together contemplating the day, knowing what is coming.

In insular privacy Old Man Beard Lichen will transmute from a handsome, blue-eyed Willow son into the tree spirit that he is, old, gnarled, twisted, and encrusted with clumps of lichen. No one other than Little Mouse has ever seen his transition to such extraordinance. The night ritual, so anticipated, will be a thing of his making, divined by him for our people.

Sunrise has penetrated and I take my leave. Old Man Beard Lichen and Little Mouse have magic to make for us all. By sunset he will be unrecognizable. I return to Moondog and Gobetween. Nestled together like unborn we sleep away the day as the sun makes haste for the western horizon.
Tonight is the breath of reeds, the conclave of prayer given up to the universe on air. The drum is soft, silent as a whisper, canticles as quiet as cradlesongs. Flutes and whistles hold dominion. We wait for Old Man Beard Lichen to join us, and at once he is here. A chorus of collective awe leaves our lips as our eyes behold his wonder. An orchestrated duet of birch and willow flutes signals the drum to start up and Old Man plucks the soul quieting medicine of water milfoil from his attire, offering up a sanctifying prayer. Having no fear of unseen things, he will be strong as the hard night ahead unfolds.

We know that every agency we harbor must be given up to insure that we move forward into pristine beginnings. Old Man blesses us with driftweed and holy relief displaces the grief carried up and away in the songs. The willow and birch flutes shift to call in the wisdom we seek, our quarry beauty, knowledge and safe steps into new worlds. The spirit of turmoil is put to rest with meadow saffron and we are bound together with the medicine of bindweed in love for each other.

The sound shifts again and Lynx step into the circle showing us in their strange dance that wisdom is a thing that must be stalked. The dancers are garnished in the golden pigment of wolf lichen. We watch with a profound sense of revelation as these rarely seen creatures bring the blessing of a prophetic grasp of the world that will re-open before us. Old Man procures a bundle of plantain, a sign that this ritual will be long and strenuous for us, the music makers, and for him, a determined recovery and prophesied challenge to learn unforeseen things. He ambles over to the spirit handlers, their implements displayed to receive the blessing. Old Man chews up the plantain and blows it over both the instruments of doctoring and those of music as well. It is the moment where harmonious attunement is re-established and in its wake longevity puts on the immaculate cloak of amiability and goodness. Our union with the spirit world is re-woven like a weir through which life flows catching minute treasures of mystery that incite joy and reverential wonder in our hearts. The Lynx reveal that concealed in ancient wisdom can be found in the knowledge of all outcomes. Every challenge has been safely put to rest by the Old Ones of each generation since the beginning. And here, on this night, in this moment, we move to do the same, endowed with their memories. Roseroot materializes in Old Man’s hands, it the protectress against the darkside of our capacity, the self same disposition that blinds us to the love and light that will divinely facilitate our rebirth.

As the Lynx disappear into the gloam, the haunting sound of Owl Clan bone whistles joins in the melody. Plumed dancers enter the ring. They are fierce, complete with talons, wings, and great piercing moon like eyes. They are the raptors of hushed swooping, and we, the helpless prey of human frailty, stand appalled as our souls are devoured. Even so we watch and watch and slowly we see the nurturing nature of Clan Owl and his devotion to dance until our trust is secured. He is not a virulent destroyer but the devoted keeper of our hearts. Old Man brings up a bundle of blue-eyed grass. We are sanctified and drawn together in the singular intent of ritual. The last bits of distraction are gone as our awareness heightens to the purpose at hand, setting the ceremony in perfect balance with good and hearty hearts.

Old Man moves among the dancers as an ancient tree might move through a forest; owls gesture as though perched on his branches. A bouquet of deer fern appears, bundled to a clutch of holy clover. He moves subtly, indiscernibly, so delicately we become aware of the need to be discriminating about the understated details of the abundance that surrounds us. Our spirits are clarified as the holy clover repels that which stands determined to meddle in our security. It is primal in its sanctity, for family and community, for food, warmth, and shelter, for the health and hope that make us a people. The spirits of secret self-service and greed are destroyed before us and we cringe knowing that each of us harbors hidden fragments to hoard this or that. It is human, it is forbidden; it is aberrance now exorcised by the empowered magi that stand among us.

A few severely compromised emerge from the gallery and assemble in front of the spirit handlers. As they do so elder flutes take up the prayer as medicine people suck out the dark cause of affliction with the hollow stems of deer grass. Old Man moves his limbs as though air sweeps them back and forth and in doing so he releases the dust of meadow thistle. It is the blessing of otherworld journeys, the guardian of trails that lead to taintless lives, the protector of plenty. This is surely a banquet for the heart. Our eyes are fixed on a collection of exemplary souls struck down by a weakness that has no visible cause. As Old Man dances more meadow thistle flies, purging away the elusive spirits that have stolen their strength. They smile feeling the blessing infusing them with renewed vision and voice. Tears well up in the relief and gratitude that we remain a compassionate people, no life left behind in the old and dying world. Alder flutes commence, calling in the wind, it formidably gentle and warm, blowing away the dark spirits hence released. Old Man conjures a bundle of valerian, resetting the peace as one after another is relieved of his or her anxiety, made again receptive, restored to spiritual wellness, expressive and away. The old wisdom turns the wheel of wonder as Deer dancers dance our joy. Boxwood and juniper flutes lead our hearts aloft knowing that our knowledge of the Ancient Ones is alive and well. The practitioners reach for bundles of woodrush and oak, sweeping down their bodies, giving the doctored affliction back to the Earth. Bear, Ram, and Bison circulate among the crowd offering sprigs of carex to anyone that has lost his songs or his world of dreams.

Reedgrass flutes start up. Playing remedies, we listen to the wind, it carrying a cacophony of messages unique to each of us. Vibrant secrets emanating from the moment of Creation reach us and we know in our own depths that we will endure no matter what life-storm blows. Old Man shows us the ragwort that brings us home again after a long journey, only to embark again on another. We are clear and strong, pure and empowered, safe from injury for awhile.

Singers add their voices to the prayers of flutes and whistles. We detect illumination re-fusing our bones. Women move into the ring wearing wreathes of sweet, fragrant fennel, bolstering our courage to be yet reborn. They bear bundles of lamb’s lettuce, the quintessential keeper of harmony, it resetting our balance with the natural world and the seat of beauty.  We regain the harmonic that moves between the quiet of reflection and the elation of moving forward. The women offer sea radish. Soon all spiritual distress will be gone; we will step again into the spiral of life, balanced and free.

Diminutive Mound Makers drift in and sweep away all that lurks to spoil the medicine. As they depart shavegrass whistles add a soft high pitch to the prayers; troupe after troupe enter the circle to dance. I see the clans of Eagle and Raven quickly organize their steps to the haunting rhythm. We watch spellbound as Salmon concenter into divinatory bliss, pulling out the spirits of virtue and artistic expression. Bear lumber in carrying hazelnut wands pointing them at the feet of those that allowed their sense of responsibility to others fails them. The spell is cast anew; our heartfelt tie to each other strengthened as the wands burst into flames. We can’t be lonesome when indigence ceases.

Bird clans dance a wondrous portrayal of nest building with twigs and flat lichen, it the foundation of security and abundance. The nest is tight and safe again, impenetrable by that which waits to exploit our failings and plunge our people into starvation. Bundles of agrimony rattle to the rhythm reversing the spells cast by the spirit of greed and returning them to the sender. Our Mother provides for all need so long as we walk in the beauty of the mystery. We swing and sway to Her secrets accepting graciously whatever She gives us, adjusting ourselves to Her ebb and flow. Old Man releases the spirit within rockrose into our midst, enabling our fortitude to survive famine as enduringly as we celebrate abundance. The teaching is Hers. We do not lament, adjusting always to the flux and reflux of bounty. In the spirit of frugality and humility, we find the means to exceed hunger in what we return. The medicine is good.

We aspire always to remain with the insularity of nurturing natural order. Even as we stumble, often knowingly, the path to harmony remains ever visible. Remedy flourishes around us. Our missteps are often the secrets of our souls. But there is no lack of grievous offenses for which intervention can be far more severe than the censure earned from the Old Ones.

Ram compliment the artists demonstrating the power needed to handle the temperamental wild vine. It is as virulent as the spirit it exorcises, inhabiting the realm of our imperfection. We create our own havoc and in doing so live at our own peril. Defectless moments become safeguarded treasures, the litmus of an otherwise flawed existence. Guided by beacons of impeccability we accept our blemished natures with humility and essay tirelessly, imperceptibly toward a state of grace and completion.

I wonder about the vast pantheon of consciousness found within every flower, leaf and root. These extraordinary spirits form the bridge between who we are and what we could be.  That world is the lens through which we view our lives and the liaison between ineptitude and hope.  Overtaken by awe I try to grasp the depth of spirit required by those who devote their lives to unlocking the secrets that make our lives formidable and filled with good purpose. I think about these things as I watch Old Man Beard Lichen subtly balance the wild vine with the fragrant blessing of balm. In one hand he holds our havoc, in the other he holds the spirit of love and ancestral memory. She is the keeper of happiness and tranquility, the protectress against injury, the sexual bliss that renews the land each spring and brings abundance to our Mother. He displays to our ever-hungry eyes the simplistic wonder of duckweed, the medicine of fish and water birds, their symbiotic love critical to our own survival. Old Man scoops up soil, holds it close so that he can inhale its bouquet. His eyes close in the ecstasy of knowing that not a single feature of our world, no matter how elemental, dare be forgotten. We are as basic as the dirt out which we emerge and to which we always return; as simplistic as the tiny green bits of duckweed that survive only on the surface of great mysterious depths.

He reaches for a braided hank of vernal sweetgrass touching it to the fiery coals to release its blessing. All that is beneficent in our world moves in to assure us that no matter how challenging our rebirth those spirits stand with us, insuring us that the effort to live in a good way is vitally beautiful. Validation will always equal the conviction with which we live our lives and rituals will remain infused with power equal to our devotion of spirit toward the beauty of the mystery. Should we ever become dismissive to that we too will be summarily gainsaid, easily discarded and replaced by another species of hope.

Old Man conjures a sprig of sicklewort and the remembrance that our lives are locked into the world of dreams, the Lifeblood of profound awareness. He compels us to retrace our steps to rest assured that suffering has always held secret lessons that teach the attainability of happy, healthy lives. Balance reset springs the gate to the dreamtime and that place of magic where we thrive.

He brings the slipperweed blessing into our view, prompting our recollection that from the pool of dreams is drawn the concepts that allow us to live well. It is a cultivated, wise world, neither random nor accidental. The knowledge secreted away in slipperweed speaks always to safeguard against the spirit of stagnation. It poisons our poetic flow within the mystery, corrupts our songs, distorts our vision, and jeopardizes the peace of abundance easily held in the gentle grasp of harmonic essentiality. We remember that our impervious shield against the spirit of doubt must always be polished, reflecting with bog rosemary any dark malevolence that interferes with our fervent ceremonious expression.

It is frightening to consider that any spur of this long reconciliation be dismissed. It could happen, some sweet spirit left out, knowing not where the forgetting would end. How many rituals have already been discarded along the trail, lost little bits that uphold the universe? I have heard grumbles in the north among those that whisper, “restore and invigorate us, and be done with it”, as though dragging our failures into our new lives will not corrupt them. The wild chervil teaches that what precedes us must be put to rest first. We must face recompense and restitution openly, that a single secret thought or act ripples through Infinity. We cannot simply be done with it or its haunting influence. So we stand together, heartbroken, humiliated, sick, distraught, and guilty, freeing ourselves in order to join in the harmony with each other again, and with our Mother.

Old Man blesses us with a bouquet of aster, fortifying the refuge from vicissitude and invisible mutability. As we suffer in our remembering we feel our ancestors standing at our side, forgiving our blunders, and empowering the unsullied lives that will rise with the moon’s return. He shows us shield fern, the beauty that glistens in the shadows, bringing the wind when we long for its touch, and dressing our children at each initiatory rebirth. We are those same children awaiting admission to the great gift-giving ceremony of uncorrupted life, compelled to take the blessing to our ancestors’ graves, bringing them and their resplendent wisdom with us. A simple sprig of sorrel enhances our communion with them, infusing our spirits with the power of our rich, ritualistic lives, where songs are prayers and attunement a vibratory note with eternity. With the blessing we are left clear and strong, effective and well.

Practitioners step forward bearing formidable objects and Old Man sanctifies them with a dusting of dock pollen. He lights his sprig of sorrel casting the ultimate spell for the prosperity of our people. In this climactic moment the intensity surges and subsides. The masters of absurdity bring on the spirit of comic relief to balance the weight of atonement with the sanctity of humor. We are buoyant and refreshed by the levity, energized to face what must come next.

Deer dancers enter the ring carrying buckthorn torches, the virulent medicine that intervenes against the catastrophic tribal loss when a single spirit is poisoned. We are silent as we watch a handful of our sisters and brothers step into the light. Their lives are the tragedies we each must assume if they are not healed of an unwillingness to go on. Old Man is consumed by their pain, touches them with utter, empathetic compassion. He cries the tears of an entire people as his hands gently slide up and down their bodies, rebuilding protective shields, restoring their sense of wonder, refueling their desire to live, and making peace with their pain. Old Man blesses them with knotgrass smoke, killing the parasitic malevolence that has destroyed their lives. Rebirth is assured, safeguarded against peril. The atmosphere of their hearts shifts as though a spark has touched dry tinder. Their eyes light up even as a veil of tears is shed in relief. We stand touched by the awareness that all would be lost had we stepped away from the wisdom, the unconditional gift from our ancestors, and those spirits that find us worthy of their investment.

Elder flutes start up, not as entertainment, but the critical reset of balance and sanctity, sealing in the medicine with their enduring songs. The indigent ones are dusted off with long beech fern destroying any trace remaining of the aberrance that drained away their love for life. We are reminded that there exists no refuge in our world for the spirits of criticism, judgment, and disregard. We cure with rituals, supplanting misapprehension with a state of grace. Our medicine is good.

A murmur rises as we sense the acute bouquet of watermint. Not hock or trepidation can stand in her formidable presence. We are safe and cleansed away. With rose our sleep is deep and prophetic, with melissa our minds and memories inspired. In our re-dedicated love rests the fertile field in which the seed of benevolence sprouts and thrives in our child-like ritual magic. We invest in safeguarding each other. Old Man conjures the peppergrass and plucks out our disharmony, showing us our pain. It no longer matters, it our own making, now extracted, placated, put to rest. We are again strong, our hearts are clear.

Bull, Hare, and Ram return, dancing celebratory spirals with bundles of storksbill. Even as the many-layered mystical world of abundance is honored before us we know as well that world will abandon us if we cling to ourselves alone as the ocean clings to the outer islands. The community of which we are an intrinsic part will fail us if we fumble in our devotion to the wisdom carried on the Lifeblood of our history. Old Man brings the goat’s rue chasing off the spirits of malevolence that rob us of the bounty in our lives even as we give birth to that very malevolence in our moments of deliberate ineptitude. He drops puffballs into the fire reversing the attrition of spiritual divinity. We look at each other and see the beauty of wisdom in the eyes of those with whom we have shared the mystery, knowing somehow that the effectuation lives in the eternity of blood and spirit. We are a people, divinely betrothed to each other as a vast, undulating organism of our Creatress. Living in awareness amassed we stand courageous and exhilarated together. With every cathartic cleansing the obstructions we have built dissipate. Old Man blesses us with samphire as our journey toward completeness progresses into the forgotten realm of utter attunement to each other. He shows us crowberry, it the pathfinder to collective knowing. We are reminded that our nurtured gifts, each an irreplaceable jewel, belong not to ourselves but to our people. Therein lay true inspiration. We watch as Old Man seals it in with onion grass. Hidden fragments of disharmony are pacified; our loving nature is restored.

The Bull and Ram retire for the night leaving us with Clan Hare running wildly with fleet of foot determination. They are joined by the Dog Clan shaking bundles of hound’s tongue and dancing with the Hare in mock pursuit of desired prey, the Hare hiding in the stillness of their medicine. The Dogs, noses to the air and ground, seek and pursue the infinite beauty of elusive harmony and mystery. They are funny, portraying us as both lost and fully aware, one moment foolish, the next spiritual warriors of great knowing, and we laugh. Our loyalty and love for each other is replete in its power again and we are happy in this moment.

There will be more ceremonies to endure and we will be called to task again in our anticipatory surrender. This is the hardest thing that we do, facing our own imperfect selves, but never would we not do it. We do it for our people. The sun is taking back the world; the magic is sealed in. We laugh quietly, tiredly as we break the nightfast of mystery and go about our morning.

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Responses to “September 17”

  1. Angela Cheetham Wilkinson September 19th, 2013 - 9:56 pm

    For me this chapter flowed easily from the previous one although the ceremonies appeared less arduous, with less emphasis on dispelling malevolent spirits and more about regenerating a harmonious people, being sure to leave no-one untouched by the leader’s endeavours.
    When Old Man touches suffering people, with his compassionate tenderness, sharing his tears events became moving to me.
    The writer’s work and depth of knowledge as an ethnobotanist is skilfully woven into these
    chapters. The plant names, known today, brought pleasure to me as a reader because I could experience their use as described.

    • One thing I have observed is that those who led rituals were masters at managing the ebb and flow of energy. They knew that when the participants were worn out they needed to back off a bit and create moments of respite. I could never quite figure out how they did this but it was dazzling to watch. They never lost their “audience” no matter how long or arduous the ritual. And I can assure you that it was a skill that these people devoted their lives to cultivating. Those that I knew were incredibly old and certainly never younger than their mid-sixties when they set out on their own while remaining for sometime under the guidance of someone much older.

      Your comments are deeply appreciated. You have a generous heart.

      • Angela Cheetham Wilkinson September 20th, 2013 - 1:18 pm

        I like it that you tell me about the masters’ abilities to gauge the mood, energy or weariness of the people they were engaging with – I understand the change of pace now and love that those who led the rituals were lifelong devotees to honing their skills (though I guess I knew that in my heart).

  2. Beautiful