Longest night, lost moon.

December 21, 2010 at 12:50 pm (hedonism, natural and unnatural history, the sky gods)

I do believe in ritual cleanliness. Of course, I also do quite a lot of work while covered in entrails dragged from the depths, using a knife still covered in scales and bile and blood and gods know what else, or with garden dirt so thick under my fingernails I’ll never manage to scrub it off. However: when time allows, I do enjoy a nice bath beforehand. It’s good to give the chi a good exfoliating. Even more than the ritual bathing, however, the dandy in me looks forward to the ritual moisturising. I stand before the gods anointed, vanilla and almond scented, like I’m about to go on a date with the sky.

And I was.

I woke up in the middle of the night and put on my winter things like garb: a knitted lace scarf, cabled mittens, thick socks, a warm woollen hooded sweater, corduroys, a coat I bought in France to keep me safe in Iceland, fish boots, my beloved bear hat, and my keys. I locked my door behind me, groped in the dark down the stairs in my little outhouse of a mudroom, crunched over gravel, and spun in a circle, looking for the moon. I found it directly over my house, all but the tiniest sliver of silver swallowed by a scarlet serpent, a shooting star rushing under it, as if it wasn’t fantastic enough already.

This solstice, for me, more than most, has been a dark one. Terrible Things Have Happened. They carry the seeds of great good in them, hints that the light might now start to grow, although we daren’t say as much.

This solstice was so dark that even the moon was swallowed up. But. If you were to stand on the moon and watch the eclipse from there, the earth, of course, would have been ringed in fire. NASA had my favourite write-up foretelling the event, and although I know them to lapse into poetry with some frequency, it still surprises and delights me when it happens. From the moon, they said, you’d see every sunrise and every sunset all at once.

And this eclipse… forgive me, I know I’m making a cliché of myself, but I have a difficult time thinking of these alignments as anything other than an orgy. I imagine the cosmic bodies circling one another, curious, for time unfathomable, and once in a great while getting one another drunk and touching only briefly, spinning off again not to speak of it much until, inevitably, it happens again.

So. I stood on a bridge beneath this red and darkened moon. I caught its reflection in the water beneath me, and I caught it also in the cup that I held in my hands, from which I drank. Directly beneath me was the entirety of the world. And directly beneath that was the sun. Turtles. Turtles, all the way down.

I meant to do something under it. I’m not sure I’d decided what, yet, but I’d intended to set my roots down and my branches up. All I could do was watch. I’ve met few things that demanded and deserved simple worship so thoroughly.

How many thousands of us looked to the sky last night? How many of the stars, diamonds set around a ruby, watched the moon and the earth and the sun kiss and twittered and gossiped?

The serpent swallowed the moon and then gave it back to us, a perfect shining egg. Now the light can start to grow. Where I live, however, the darkest of the year passes only to offer us up to the terrible cold. Good luck, friends. Stay warm and brave.


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Horsies, and people up and down.

August 20, 2010 at 8:52 pm (adventure, crossroads, life! a lover!, seduction, the sky gods)

I made a pilgrimage to the north, to my lover, to celebrate the skies crashing down. She invited me to join her for this year’s Perseid meteor shower even before I was certain that I was to her what she was to me. She brought me there to meet her children and some small sampling of her immense band of relatives; certainly she is connected by blood, through a series of diplomatic, mysterious, and occasionally romantic ties, to half the North American continent?

We walked from her house to the river where we sat at the end of a dock, dipped our feet in, held her youngest daughter’s hands and let her play in the current. We collected smooth river stones. Had we chosen to swim the short distance across, we’d have climbed ashore in Canada. She took me through the woods, showing me tangles of brambles, high reeds, shifting sunlight, ogham carved in a birch, strange mushrooms.

And she took me out of the town in the middle of the night to a dock in the middle of a lake. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and clung to one another for warmth. Every three seconds a star fell, writing its name across the whole length of the black of the sky. I grew up in cities, you see. I’d have been amazed if they’d stayed still, impressed by their numbers alone. But she brought me there so that she could make the stars dance.

I made my way home in a small propeller plane, watching the sun pour itself in flashing sections from one bit of serpentine river to the next, from one lake to another, fire caught in the land, an undiminishing cordial shared as it is passed from cup to cup to cup. The earth split under me, showing the gold pulsing beneath. It hasn’t escaped me that water and land, sky and fire press close and writhe together when we meet.

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We’re all crows.

July 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm (bears, crows, the ancestors, the sky gods)

I have always worked with crow. The corvids lead me to and in my trance work. Even in this city in which there are no crows, they appear when I am attacked, when I take or leave a lover, when family dies or is born. They fly like a black tear in the sky through which these changes come.

When my father was dying and had his stroke, the words he spoke were disconnected from any meaning. Occasionally, with great effort, he could speak in riddles and symbols, and when we solved them he’d nod furiously, fatigued by our ignorance. In one of his last efforts, he called us all crows. He was annoyed at the end by the constant visitors, and wanted time alone with my mother and my sister and me. It was supposed that he felt like the extended family was picking over his corpse while still it breathed. But I wondered what it really was that his elf-touched brain was seeing.

When I go dreaming, there are black feathers and rasping calls. When I die, I’ll crawl off to let those birds pick my bones.

My older niece, who just recently reached the age of reason, spent the other evening in my company, and together we watched the sky. There were bats, fireflies, fireworks, stars. She hoped to see Ursa Major and Minor, or, as she called them, the Mommy Bear and the Baby Bear. And, as she has done several times before, she asked me about those birds, the black ones. She never speaks of them by name, only waits for me to offer, “You mean crows?” and solemnly nods her assent. She tells me that she is afraid of them. She tells me that she just doesn’t like them, that she feels like they are watching her, as if one day they might come after her. It was dark enough that she couldn’t have seen the odd expression that took my mouth.

Because, really, they might.

The Raven

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Zeus in the form of a cloud.

June 24, 2010 at 7:06 pm (books, quotations, the gods, the sky gods)

I spent this morning in the company of The Cloudspotter’s Guide, which I’m only getting to now, approximately four years after I was made aware of the fact that I’d quite like it. Reading the chapter on cumulonimbus clouds, I idly wondered what an approaching storm of that type might look like. My apologies to my city; such thoughts are dangerous.

I was biking home from the market a few hours ago, vaguely considering riding a bit out of my way to explore a garden shop I’d not visited before. But the sky seemed to be darkening, and I thought it best to return home. Turning onto my block I saw the first line of lightning, but all was still dry.

The raindrops began to fall as I lifted my bicycle inside and pulled the door shut behind me. Not a minute later the trees were bent by the wind, their branches flailing as if fending off an attack. The rain came next in terrible waves, and my windows shook with the onslaught of hail. The wind pressed at my door, driving in the rain beneath it: it crept into my house, making its way halfway across the room. The pretty girl with whom I live and I joked that it was like a Hitchcock film, all subtly threatening incursions of nature and unresolved homosexual plots. We were certain that we’d be slowly drowned.

The book indicated that unless one is at some distance, one can only know the shapeless black covering of the cumulonimbus by its sudden violence, by rain and hail and noise. Quite so. It also states that the Japanese god Raiden, the god of thunder and lightning, prefers to feast on human navels, and that Japanese children cover theirs with their hands upon hearing thunder. A wise precaution, certainly, and one that I intend to adopt. How my navel, of which I happen to be quite fond, lasted as long as it did without such safeguards is certainly only a matter of luck and rigourous personal shielding of a more general nature.

I may have to look into the referenced book, The Man Who Rode the Thunder, by  William Rankin, the only pilot to survive falling through the entirety of a cumulonimbus cloud. His engine died while attempting to fly over a storm in 1959. His recollections of his suffering at the hands of the sky gods are magnificent and beautiful.

This was nature’s bedlam… an ugly black cage of screaming, violent, fanatical lunatics… beating me with big flat sticks, roaring at me, screeching, trying to crush me or rip me with their hands… I didn’t hear the thunder… I felt it.

My full admiration goes to those who have fought the gods and survived, but, as for me, if I take on a storm like a mad old Lear, I don’t see the thing as a true antagonist. I might feel differently if I ever get so close to one as that. The storm gods are trusted friends, rather, of the sort that will let you wrestle them when your fury has grown too impotent and must be released with shouting, with a good friendly fight. They’re good enough to give me something against which I can struggle and press, to play their role in crashing and irreversible rituals. The sky gods feel too distant for me to know them properly, but I long for them. I embrace them, then, when they come nearer to my low realm.

A diversion: while writing this, I went to sit outside on my steps and watch the sky. It cleared almost immediately after the storm, and the sun is looking undaunted and annoyingly self-assured. The debris of felled branches and leaves are everywhere, and I’m afraid to check on the state of my garden. A half-blind grey cat was watching me. My neighbourhood is owned by its strays: there are more of them than us by far, and only they know the secrets of this place. This one was only barely more than a kitten, or perhaps it was hungry too much when it was young. One eye was a curious pale green, a setting for a line of onyx, and the other a shocking but useless blue, like labradorite held to the light just so, and an old scar ruined it. It was too affectionate for a stray. If I stopped giving it my attention, it reached up with its paws to embrace my wrist. I could feel its claws, but it was such a gentle thing. For which of the gods are you named, blind little cat? Odin? Bowie? Are you always page to the storm? One eye for the lightning, one eye for the rain? Be safe, little thing, and be well.

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