Only One Week Left!

November 17, 2017

book cover

Only one week remains to enter and win an advance copy of Divining with Animal Guides. Here is an excerpt:

The American Alligator is cherished because we almost lost her. In the twentieth century the country was horrified to learn she had been driven nearly to extinction by unregulated hunting,but after decades of conservation this key swamp predator is no longer endangered. Continued conservation efforts focus on habitat preservation rather than hunting, which is now better controlled. The alligator hunting traditions of the Seminole Indians inspired the American sport of alligator wrestling. The moves originated in techniques for capturing large alligators, which would then be penned until ready to grill.

You may think crocodilian symbology has no relevance to you if you cannot reasonably expect to encounter an alligator in a parking lot or on a golf course, but if you cultivate a gator mind you will observe that this creature is all around you. It is common in advertising. You may have a tiny crocodile emblem on your shirts, and you may wear Crocs on your feet. Words referring to the crocodilian family arise frequently in conversation, and noticing this, and other animal signs around you, is the starting place for animal divination.

Review: Every Day Magic

November 10, 2017

Every Day Magic is a brand new perpetual Pagan calendar with short daily meditations, spells, and rituals. There are longer entries for the major holidays. There are many contributors, which adds variation to the material. There is an entry for every day of the year. In addition to adding to your knowledge base, this should be a good resource for sparking your own ideas for celebrations and rituals. I love these types of books and have several on my shelf. This looks like one that will probably be well thumbed.

Every Day Magic is written by Moon Books authors and edited by Lucya Starza.

Who is The Lady of Shalott?

November 3, 2017

“The Lady of Shalott,” by John Waterhouse..
The “Lady of Shalott” is replete with references to Camelot, yet retellings of Arthurian legends, in novel or screen form, rarely mention this personage, nor is she named in medieval or Renaissance Arthurian tales. What is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem about the doomed lady based upon?

Tennyson said he found this obscure character in a collection of thirteenth century medieval Italian romances under the name “The Lady of Scalot.” This lady pined for the love of Lancelot, for reasons that are unclear, and as she approached her death from lovesickness she asked her father to lay her in an elaborate barge upon the sea with a letter explaining the cause of her demise and denouncing Lancelot as vile, presumably for refusing her love. The unmanned vessel bore her straight to Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. The lords and ladies of the court, along with the Knights of the Round Table, rushed outside the castle to meet the barge, learning through the letter the cause of the unfortunate lady’s death. Tennyson softened her name to Shalott because he felt it sounded more poetic.

This story is recounted in greater detail in Thomas Malory’s fifteenth century Morte d’Arthur, which more people are familiar with, although Tennyson said he was unfamiliar with this work when he published the early version of “The Lady of Shalott.” In this version, a young virgin named Elaine le Blank or Elaine of Astolat encounters SirLancelot making ready to enter a joust and notices that carries no lady’s insignia on his armor. She asks him to affix her emblem to his helmet, which Lancelot gallantly agrees to do. Lancelot wins the joust, and Elaine becomes hopelessly in love. She demands that Lancelot marry her, and when he refuses, she asks to become his paramour. Lancelot refuses, as his love has already been pledged to Guinevere, and Elaine proceeds as outlined in the Italian novella, though this time her barge is set upon the Thames instead of the ocean. After the dead Lady’s vessel moors at Camelot, Lancelot sponsors a Mass for her soul. This inspired Tennyson to add the line where Lancelot asks, “God in his mercy grant her grace” to a later edition of the poem.

Neither the Lady of Scalot nor Elaine of Astolat live in a tower where they weave, nor is the tower on an island, nor are they cursed, nor are they isolated from the rest of humanity, nor are they fairies, nor do they look at mirrors. On the other hand, none of these things are Tennyson’s inventions, exactly. While few would characterize unrequited love as a curse (except perhaps those enthralled by it), people in late medieval and Renaissance times did believe that lovesickness was a serious illness that often caused the death of the lover. Fairy women abound in Arthurian romances, as they do in Celtic mythology, and one of the ways both fairies and mortal women work their magic is through the textile arts. Towers are also found in the Arthurian legends, and knights and kings, as well as ladies, often find themselves imprisoned in these towers. The Isle of Avalon, toward which Arthur embarks as he lays dying, is central to the Arthurian tales.

Dumbarton Rock. Photo: Andrew McEwan.
According to Patricia Monaghan,

The original Elaine may have been the siren of Scotland’s Clyde River. There she lived on a rock-built castle on the rock of Dumbarton, staring into a magic mirror in which she could see all that went on in the world – a mirror that has been interpreted to mean the waters itself, whose mirroring surface could be “cracked” by storms. She may be related to the Welsh fairy Elen.

Where “The Lady of Shalott” departs furthest from the mythology that gave rise to the Arthurian legends is in the passivity of the character. The Lady is trapped inside her castle, isolated from the world, compelled to weave scenes of romance but not to participate. Her one self-propelled act is to look away from her mirror, and this results in her death. The Lady epitomizes the Victorian ideal of passive womanhood, the ultimate expression of this being a lingering death that strikes while she is young and beautiful. To quote another poet of Gothic romance, Edgar Allan Poe, “The death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”

Here is the poem.

The Lady of Shalott
By Alfred Lord Tennyson

Part I
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil’d,
Slide the heavy barges trail’d
By slow horses; and unhail’d
The shallop flitteth silken-sail’d
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower’d Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ” ‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

Part II
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro’ a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair’d page in crimson clad,
Goes by to tower’d Camelot;
And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often thro’ the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro’ the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel’d
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter’d free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon’d baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell’d shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn’d like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro’ the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra,” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro’ the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look’d down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over tower’d Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro’ the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly,
Turn’d to tower’d Camelot.
For ere she reach’d upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross’d themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

Review: Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess

October 20, 2017

Through essays, poetry, art, and ritual, this anthology addresses the ways we acknowledge the yearly cycle. It is fascinating heartfelt tribute to the Goddess of the Year by women who dedicate their lives to her.

Helen Hye-Sook Hwang explains the Mago calendar in detail, exploring its history, numerology, practicality, and theoretical basis. It’s a way of marking time that works well for perennial calendars. There’s a lot of food for thought here, but I will defer an in-depth exploration for another time.

There are two essays about the Cailleach (the Goddess as Crone). Jude Lally explains the meaning of Cailleach on the British Isles and Judith Shaw relates her personal experience with this goddess. There is as much emphasis on place as on time in this collection. Harita Meenee discusses the symbolism of the pomegranate and its relationship to seasons and folk customs. Glenys Livingstone ponders the meaning for feminists of Mary as Christian Goddess. Sara Wright relates her pilgrimage to Georgia O’Keefe’s haunts in New Mexico. Anna Tzanova shares her spiritual journey with food through preparation of a Korean sweet rice dish called Yaksik, eaten at the beginning of the Korean new year. Mary Ann Beavis narrates a set of photographs she took of a wild polar bear family in the Arctic Circle. This is just a sampling of what is offered. I also have several contributions to the anthology.

This anthology spans such a wide range of religions, places, perspectives, and spiritual mediums that I am having a hard time characterizing it, but it does fit together well. Most of the articles are short, and it’s the type of book you don’t necessarily read sequentially. The artwork is fabulous. I was impressed with many of the the artists’ use of color, as color is such an expression of seasonal change.

Celebrating Seasons of the Goddess is your gift book for this holiday season. It will delight any woman who enjoys reading about the Goddess.

iPagan Anthology Out!

October 13, 2017

A huge anthology of fifty-nine articles on various Pagan topics became available this week from Moon Books. There are five sections, on Druidry, Shamanism, Witchcraft, Goddess Spirituality, and contemporary topics. I have two articles in this anthology: one on scorpions and another on the self-help movement. iPagan is offered only as an ebook at this time and the price is right: only $0.99. Available online at Amazon and other places.

More purchase information here.

What is Moon-Void-of-Course?

September 29, 2017

Moon void-of-course is a time when plans and expectations tend to go awry. Purchases made during this time may be for articles that are never used, meetings that occur during this time are often unproductive, and spells that are cast during this time manifest in unexpected ways.

To understand moon void-of-course, we need to first be clear about two things: zodiac signs and moon aspects. In Western astrology, the sky from our perspective on earth is divided into twelve equal portions. These are the twelve signs of Aries, Taurus, Gemini, etc. An aspect is a relationship between two planets, again from our perspective here on earth. The full moon, when (from our perspective) the moon is opposite the sun, is an aspect. The new moon, when from our perspective the sun and moon are aligned, is another aspect. When from our earth perspective the moon overshadows the sun, this is an aspect we call a solar eclipse. What we call the major aspects are conjunctions, oppositions, squares, trines, and sextiles. Conjunctions are lined up (0°), oppositions are 180°, squares are 90° angles between planets (again, looking at the sky from Earth), trines are 120°, and sextiles are 60°. Moon aspects don’t just involve the sun, but can involve other planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, etc.).

Void-of-course starts when the moon makes its last major aspect in a particular sign and lasts until the moon enters the next sign. To give an example, if the moon while in the sign of Pisces makes aspects that are opposite the sun, then square Venus, and finally sextile Mars – and then the moon makes no other major aspect until it moves into the sign of Aries – the moon is void-of-course during the time between the sextile with Mars and the moon’s entry into Aries. This period of time could be two minutes or two days, depending on how the planets are aligned.

So now that I’ve explained it, there’s a good chance you don’t believe it. When the concept of moon void-of-course was first introduced in the seventeenth century, astrologers chuckled and put the concept away, and it had very few adherents until the mid-twentieth century, when an astrologer named Al Morrison began campaigning doggedly for others to take the phenomenon seriously. And it turns out that moon void-of-course times do have an effect on human affairs. Yes, it’s screwy and it makes no sense. Ignore it at your peril.

My upcoming class Mastering Moon Energies will discuss the impact of void-of-course moon on spellcasting.

Divining with Animal Guides Now Available For Pre-Order

September 22, 2017

You can now pre-order my next book Divining With Animal Guides: Answers From the World at Hand through Amazon US or Amazon UK. Pre-ordering the book generates interest and helps the publisher with promotional decisions, so if you want to read this book, please consider pre-ordering. You don’t have to pay until the book is shipped. Publication date is February 23rd.

Here is another excerpt:

Ravens yelling in an aspen tree. Photo: U.S. National Park Service.
No matter how much research is funded and how many papers published, ravens and crows will always understand us better than we understand them. Their survival depends on becoming familiar with our behavior, exploiting our weaknesses and avoiding our traps. They are now so attuned to our ways that they are aware of variations in speed limit along the roads they scavenge and have learned the basics of picnic etiquette.

Though our interactions with crows and ravens have changed as we have changed, the symbiotic relationship between us is ancient. Since they know so darn much about what is going on, it would be surprising if they had not been designated creatures of prophecy. Are they truly omniscient? Do they really know that you will have unexpected guests for dinner, and that the light on your answering machine is blinking? This seems like a bit of a stretch, even for me. The thing of it is, in divination it does not matter what the raven knows; what matters is what we know when we encounter the raven.

When Alexander of Macedon saw ravens quarreling at the gates of Babylon, the emperor knew this was an evil sign, though he continued into the city. A few weeks later he was on his deathbed. Ravens portended calamity to this man in this place at this time in his life. The association of ravens with death and ill fortune is the most widespread and pervasive in Western cultures. In folklore of southern Spain, for example, one croak of the raven means misfortune and three croaks means death.

But is disaster necessarily the message of the raven? When Alexander was lost in the deserts west of Egypt, after torrential rains wiped out the road, two ravens appeared, and the emperor understood they had appeared to guide his party. Soon the conquerors had found the oasis at Siwa. Ravens portended salvation to this same man in this other place at this other time in his life. Whether Classical historians were embellishing or accurately reporting is not important here: the contradictory interpretations show a nuanced view of raven symbolism, dependent on circumstantial variables.

How Do Wild Animals Weather the Storm?

September 15, 2017
Anhinga at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Photo: Euku.

The US has experienced two major hurricanes over the past two weeks, and like many people I have been following the news on these events closely. The last statistics on fatalities that I found report that seventy-one people died in hurricane Harvey and eighty-one in Irma. More than half of the Irma fatalities occurred in the Caribbean. Death tolls from these storms are expected to continue to rise.

As devastating as these hurricanes were, I couldn’t help but compare the loss of life to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, where over 1,800 people died. One of the reasons that many people in Katrina’s path refused to evacuate was that they did not want to abandon their pets. Storm shelters were not allowing pets and buses were refusing to transport people accompanied by animals. This time around shelters were prepared to accept people accompanied by animals and animal shelters were also poised to help evacuees who could not leave with their pets.

So dogs and cats, as well as people, fared better in these major hurricanes than in previous ones. Many people are asking, what about wildlife in the regions where hurricanes made landfall?

Six toed cat at Hemingway House. Photo: Avarette.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, on the south Texas coast, was hit hard by Harvey and is closed until further notice. Major damage occurred at the visitor information center, and it may turn out to be a total loss. Public viewing platforms also suffered damage. A full assessment of damage has not occurred yet due to unsafe conditions for grounds crews. A problem with flooding in this area is almost inevitable petroleum and other chemical contamination as well as debris that could potentially harm wildlife. Refuge spokespersons report that major beach erosion occurred but that the saltwater marshes, major migratory bird habitats, suffered no obvious damage. The good news is that whooping crane migration to this area does not begin until next month. About half of the critically endangered whooping cranes winter at the Refuge.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida also suffered major damage to buildings and boardwalks. The Sanctuary is closed and there is no word yet on when it will be reopened. Again, an assessment of damage to the Sanctuary will not be completed for some time for reasons of safety, in this case the major hazard being fallen trees and unsafe structures. On Big Pine Key, deer have been spotted since Irma tore through. It is unknown what effect the hurricane had on the population of the rare Key deer species. On Key West, Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats evidently survived the storm just fine.

Whooping Crane family at
Aransas NWR. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife.
Birds and animals have a number of survival mechanisms for dealing with catastrophic hurricanes, which is not to say that they all necessarily survive. Many birds and small animals retreat into tree cavities, which provide wonderful shelter provided that the tree does not topple or floodwaters do not reach the cavity. Migratory birds are aware of tropical storms across great distances and will adjust their migratory schedules to avoid major storms. Some migratory birds fly into storms and survive, and they may even hang out in the “eye” until the storm breaks up. In both of these scenarios, surviving birds may be pushed very far out of their natural habitats. A bigger problem for bird survival than immediate deaths from wind and rain is the loss of habitat. Bird habitat is vanishing at an alarming rate due to human development, pollution, and global warming, so habitat loss from hurricanes can have a big impact.

Here are the links for updates on damage assessments at Corkscrew and Aransas.

Have you seen information yet about the webinar I will be leading on Mastering Moon Energies?