Harvest in the Pacific Northwest

At the beginning of August many of my Pagan friends celebrated the first harvest, commonly known as Lammas or Lughnasadh (from the Celtic calendar system). That observance has never meant much to me. I am not a farmer, and have spent precious little time in places where early August means first fruits of any kind. Now in Washington, it means the height of summer, and I spend my summer time waiting for the days to cool.

As August passed I began to have half-formed thoughts of salmon. Had my father said anything about his catch this year? A good catch means smoked salmon.

Lo and behold, a box arrived in the mail yesterday. 9 pounds of hard smoked, wild-caught Alaskan salmon, that my father caught, cleaned, filleted and smoked himself. I realized this to me is harvest. August is when the best fishing occurs in South East Alaskan waters; this is when the abundance arrives.

Vacuum packed for longevity.

Vacuum packed for longevity.

We’re not yet to the autumnal equinox for the spirit of the season to truly shift for me, but we’re now at the end of summer. In Washington the salmon are running, traveling upstream to spawn. The green chiles and tomatillos, strong bitter greens and garlic are appearing at the farmers’ markets. I stock up on these. I try to make as much salsa verde as possible to store through the winter. Something about tomatillos feels like edible sunshine to me.

But Salmon is the Life Giver to me.

Growing up my family was a subsistence fishing family. I don’t think I thought of this way until long after I’d moved out of Alaska. Many families fish all summer to fill their freezers. In a land where food costs are exorbitant (everything is shipped in from ‘Outside’), salmon was ‘free.’ I remember sitting at the dinner table thinking ‘UGH. Salmon? AGAIN?!’ Not until I moved away to college did I discover that fresh salmon was a meal of privilege. I imagine that Montana ranchers feel similarly about grass-fed beef.

Salmon, halibut, crab – these are gifts of the Alaskan waters. They nourish me, the salmon especially; they connect me to my roots; they remind me that the waters and livelihoods of Washington are intimately connected with those of my homeland. When Celtic legends speak of the Salmon of Wisdom, I understand that deep in my bones. When Northwest Coast peoples tell stories of the sacrifice that salmon make for the people and how important the salmon are to traditional ways of life, I understand that. In a Christian way of thinking, every bite is a Eucharist.

So I offer up first fruits to the gods, to the Spirits of this place, and to my family. I thank my father for sending me this annual gift. I thank the Salmon and the Waters. I work toward preserving those waters. I nourish my family with bounty of this Land. We are what we eat, and we are people of Salmon.

Hail to the Harvest! Thanks be to the Mighty Salmon!

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What We’re Reading

I like books. I really like books. I seem  constitutionally unable read only one thing at a time. This filters down to the kids, too. We’re reading some great stuff right now, so I thought I’d share.

First up, the two-and-a-half-year-old. Here is her current obsession:IMG_0677

She is in love with the Octonauts, a series of books and cartoons that we discovered thanks to the BBC in Wales. We read these several times every day (saints preserve me). The art is great, the characters are adorable, and, when watching the cartoons, she learns stuff about marine life and the oceans.

My daughter is so obsessed that she insists she is neither boy nor girl, but penguin – Peso Penguin, the medic character. I am called almost exclusively Tweak Bunny, the engineer – no more Mama here!

 

IMG_0678Next, my 5-year-old. Together we are reading the following: A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K LeGuin, Wildwood by Colin Meloy (he of the Decembrists), and The Odyssey as retold by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer. These are unintentionally listed in order of least to greatest preference.

LeGuin is marvelous, but rather dense and staid for a 5-year-old. Son still enjoys it, but he asks for the others first. Wildwood, an alternate reality book set in Portland, OR, is good, but not great. Son really likes it, and middle school readers might love it. As a more advanced reader there are some flaws that I think better editing could have helped, and also could have slimmed down this hefty tome by about a third. Meloy says in 10 words what could easily be said in 5.

The surprising winner is The Odyssey. I’m pretty sure I read this a million years ago (I know I read The Iliad in 9th grade), but I don’t remember being as interested as I am now. This retelling is excellent. I highly recommend this version. You get all the awfulness and weariness of Odysseus’ journey, but little of the repetition or gore of the original, which is perfect for getting young minds hooked on ancient myth and story telling. The illustrations are beautiful. Ancient Greek lettering is used in some of the pictures, too. We found this at the library, but I would like to get a copy for our home, as I know this is a book we will return to many times. (Follow this link to see the first 17 pages.)

 

Here is what I’m reading.IMG_0682 The first is my one novel, Victor Hugo’s French classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve never read it. I have a love of 19th century and gothic novels, and Hugo’s other great novel, Les Miserables, is one of my all time favorites. This book, however, is rather slow going, both because I have limited time to get engrossed in a book like this (one with such complex writing and long-winded descriptions that uninterrupted chunks of time are necessary for true enjoyment) and because, well, it’s a little dull so far.

Second is Living Your Yoga, by Judith Lasseter. One of my yoga teachers recommended it, and I quite like it. It’s a little book on how to bring the values of yoga into your every day life. I’m reading one chapter a day and using it as a bit of focus. Today, for example, is about Control, about letting go of our need for it, and how this affects not just our asana practice but also our relationships. Yesterday was Compassion, etc.

The next two are both Scarlet Imprint books. The olive colored one is their latest, Serpent Songs, a collection of essays on Traditional Witchcraft. I’m only half way through. I am struggling with some of the essays. I may write a longer review when I finally finish. The white book is Peter Grey’s The Red Goddess. I’ve read this one before (twice), but I am reading it again! I love this book, even though it is highly problematic, particularly to anyone with a strong biblical studies background. And yet, I still think it is worth reading.

What are you reading? Anything you recommend?

 

Chop Wood, Carry Water

There is a Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I’m definitely in the ‘before enlightenment’ state of things, and most definitely lately. I feel further away from anything spiritually meaningful than I have in a while. I’m tired, getting over some sort of mild virus, and likely swinging on the swing set of hormones. While I usually have a strong container for dealing with news and the internet, the last few says have felt particularly overwhelming. It feels like the few are eager to make a quick buck off the backs of the many. If it’s not the confusion and atrocities of Syria or the targeting of Coptic Christians in Egypt breaking my heart, it’s the continued melting of the ice caps, destruction of bee colonies, or systematic reduction of access to affordable and relevant healthcare for the poor, the marginalized and/or women in the US. How can we continue to poison one another, in body, mind, and spirit??

What’s a person to do? I neither want to stick my head in the sand, nor do I want to freak out from overstimulation. I don’t want to ignore the suffering of others, but I also don’t believe that I have the power to make the change I want to see. I cannot single-handedly affect policy in the Middle East, save innocents from drones, or abolish contaminants in our water,plastics and food. While I do my best to make the healthiest choices for my family that I can, I don’t think I can avoid all toxins, nor do I completely believe that we, as a society, can shop our way to change.

Again I ask, what’s a person to do?

Chop wood, carry water.

I accept that I’m overwhelmed, that for whatever reason, my boundaries are lower today. I remind myself that usually I have good perspective and that whatever I’m feeling will pass and my perspective will return. I make sure I’m eating something healthy (not falling onto my stand-bys of milky tea or coffee). I focus on my chores. I move my body and do one thing that I have to do anyway. I sit in front of my altar, even though it seems pointless in this mood.

What do you know? I’m less cranky after sitting. Even a pouty puja is better than no puja at all. After my chores I feel a little stronger, a little more focused. I know that it’s a mere semblance of control. By tomorrow this clean living room will be dusty and cluttered and crumbed once more. And that’s ok. Every day the water needs to be carried.

That’s how I’m feeling this week. If the wise ones are to believed, I may feel this way at times even after enlightenment. Good thing I’m getting good at chopping wood and carrying water.

Five Year Old Rituals

Last week my son had his 5 Year Old Rituals. What does that mean? Let’s start at the beginning.

My son was born prematurely and spent the first month of his life in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). It was easily the worst month of my life. Son, B, was born healthy and strong, though very, very small. He has grown to inherit both his mother’s and his father’s emotional intensity, so while he’s a bright, healthy, empathetic little guy, he’s also combative, struggles especially much with impulse control, and wants all the attention all the time. (Some of this is typical to the age, some is very clearly inherited personality.)

Me and my son, 24 hours old. He's less than 5 lbs.

Me and my son, 24 hours old. He’s less than 5 lbs.

Adam and I have wondered if some of the emotional intensity of our son is due to his month in the NICU. Surely, infants have no memory of such things? He was cared for, relatively healthy, and I was with him nearly 24/7. Two years ago our suspicions were confirmed. Sitting around the table in Wales, eating breakfast one morning, Adam and I were discussing when we would move. B was just shy of 3 1/2 years old. “Don’t leave me!” he said. “Of course we wouldn’t leave you,” we responded. “Don’t leave me like you did in the hospital,” he said. Now, B knows he spent a month in the hospital, but we’ve never given him the details. What he said next blew my mind. “You left me in the hospital and I was lonely. I tried to take my stickers off, but the doctors wouldn’t let me.” And here he touched the exact places on his torso where the monitors had been attached. He had indeed tried to rip them off repeatedly. He successfully managed to rip out his feeding tube two or three times in the first weeks as well. Besides showing me that even pre-term infants have the capacity for feelings and memory, this confirmed that his early experience was exacerbating the intensity of his emotions.

Fast forward to this summer.

At the Gathering I attended in Canada in May I had the pleasure of meeting a family raising their kids in their tradition (I think it was a branch of Wicca). Their eldest child, a male, had recently undergone his Coming of Age Ritual. I asked many questions, heard the story, their reasoning, and I witnessed how self-possessed their 14-year-old son was. I was really moved. Something else they told me was that they had been building up to it over years. It hadn’t come out of the blue, but had a context. Coming of age meant something specific for their family and also for the community they circled with.

My husband and I have talked off and on over the years about the lack of rituals in our Western world. We have them, but we don’t call them out as rituals, of course. Adam and I would like to have Coming of Age Rituals for our kids, but that context starts long before 12 or 14 or whenever they’re ready. So we decided to start at 5.

When I was pregnant with my son, we were living in California and the state had a big advertising campaign for healthy kids; 0-5 years were the ages covered. How could all of those ages be lumped together? I was confused. How is an infant and a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old similar? Now that I’ve got my own kids I see just how appropriate that grouping is. Only recently has my son left all the traces of babyhood behind. The leaps of emotional, intellectual, and physical development that occur through out these years are huge and consistent. And at five kids in the United State start kindergarten. Five felt like the right age to start rituals.

Over the course of the summer we’ve been talking about B’s ‘Five Year Old Rituals.’ He seemed excited. He couldn’t wait! Adam and I have been planning out what to do, what might have meaning for him, etc. We wanted an element of surprise. We wanted to incorporate a few aspects of ritual as Adam and I experience them. We wanted to bring in some of our spirit allies. We wanted a few tasks that would mark the end of an era and the beginning of something new, using the strengths that B has. And we would celebrate!

Last week he finally had them! And it was NOT what we expected.

After putting both kids to sleep, we woke B up and had him get dressed again. He had only been asleep for 10 minutes, but he sleeps deeply and did not want to wake up. We told him there were cupcakes waiting for him at the end of the ritual – that did the trick! While I set up a few things outside, he had to help Adam build a fire in the fire pit. He carried the wood and learned to light matches. He was awake and happy at this point. We sat on the ground and did a little grounding meditation. I said the Holy Mother prayer and called to Ganesh and our Ancestors for guidance.

Fire, made by my son and Adam

Fire, made by my son and Adam

At this point B was sitting on the ground with his hands over his ears. He didn’t want any of the prayers. I brought out some special spirit food incense and he was more than willing to help sprinkle it into the fire.

Then everything devolved into a nasty mess of name calling, tears, and yelling.

The backyard was dark, except for the fire in the pit. B ran around the backyard telling us our fire was an ‘idiot fire’ and it was weak because it wasn’t burning up to space. He was angry and crying. Adam and I were a little stunned. Hadn’t he been looking forward to this? We had to reinvent our three tasks and rethink the ritual.

For the first task we had planned to recreate a womb with our bodies and have him push out. Like the armchair psychologists we are, we hoped that maybe this would give him some sense of closure and empowerment around his birth story. In the end we didn’t do this, but there was some physical struggle, since he came up and starting trying to tip me out of my chair, hitting me and trying to throw a brick at me. So we held him tight and he screamed and pushed us away.

His next task was to jump the fire. While I held B and tried to get him to stop yelling (it was 10 at night, midweek, and the neighbors were trying to sleep), Adam started jumping over the fire. This got B’s attention. We told him his task was to jump the fire. He didn’t believe he could do it. We told him we’d help him and explained that it was ok to be scared. Finally we were able to convince him to try. We held his arms as he ran and when he jumped, we lifted him up over the fire. This scared the crap out of him and he started crying some more.

At this point we decided to move inside, so as not to wake the neighbors. I carried things downstairs to Adam’s office and altar. Adam and B put the fire out. Once downstairs we sat and grounded again and then asked B to tell us his story so far. He’s very articulate, with a great memory, but he wanted our help. We coaxed him and he told us the events of his life that he remembered.

Finally I anointed him with water from the jug in which I have water blessed for Kali. He wiped that off immediately. We said we were proud of him, that he was no longer a baby, but now a boy. We gifted him with his own statue of Ganesha, and with a little incense holder and incense matches. He giggled with delight at the statue, hugging it and crying out, “My very own Ganesh!” We finished with tiny cupcakes. Exhausted, we all tidied up and got ready for bed.

New Ganesh murti

New Ganesh murti

Was this a traumatic experience for him? I wondered if this might only make things worse. What a confusing and far more upsetting experience than we had expected or hoped for. Did we do the wrong thing in thinking this was appropriate? Tucking him into bed that night, he said he wanted me to sleep with him, that he didn’t want to be a boy but to stay a baby. Then he rolled over and fell asleep.

What was fascinating is that the next day he woke up and proudly told his sister that he had had his Five Year Old Rituals. We went out for a celebratory lunch altogether. Two kids, aged about 5 and 7, were sitting next to us. B said they’d probably had their Rituals too. His grandparents came over unexpectedly that afternoon and he proudly told them about his Rituals.

B practices lighting incense

B practices lighting incense

Later Adam told me that B had apologized in the morning for calling us names, saying that he was scared and he had wanted to shut down the things that were scaring him (the ritual), but he didn’t know how so he called us names.

In the end, this was a very different experience than either Adam or I expected. We learned a lot about our son. We learned that ritual with children is never going to go as we plan it. But it also served its purpose. Our son feels like he did something Significant and he feels proud of himself. Those are great things to hold in his heart as he heads off to kindergarten in two weeks time.

Maxim Monday: Speak Well of Everyone

This one is tricky. I don’t like to gossip, although sometimes it feels good. I want to speak well of everyone, but sometimes people make it so hard to do!

Sometimes other people are awful. Instead of speaking ill of them, I’ve been learning to communicate how I feel and what my experience has been. This allows others to come to their own conclusions, expresses the truth my experience, but can allow me more space to be compassionate toward some one who has treated me poorly. I can say “I do not like so-and-so for X reason,” rather than “X is a loser.”

Is this violating the spirit of this Maxim? I don’t think so. If we try to say something nice about every one, that may actually be spreading falsehoods. But we can speak the good things we know about people when possible, and when necessary to bring up the negative sides we can choose to speak from experience, rather than name calling and blanket statements of worth.

Passing Down the Trad

There’s a series of blog posts over at Patheos on passing along one’s faith to kids or a younger generation. I’ve really enjoyed reading the different perspectives. As I’ve got two kids of my own, ages 5 and 2.5, here are my two cents.

My husband, Adam, and I are raising our kids in a Pagan household. I don’t say that we are raising the kids as Pagans, or to be Pagans, but Adam and I run our house in a certain way, practice in a certain way, and celebrate in a certain way – a rather hodge podge, but decidedly Pagan way. The kids see us and hear us, and kids absorb what surrounds them.

Many Pagans were raised Christian and have issues with the indoctrination of their upbringing. Adam was raised Christian and it’s certainly had a detrimental impact on his life. I was raised secular, with no religion of any sort, really. My kids get the best of all worlds, I think. They get the knowledge and respect of world religions (thanks to having a religions studies scholar for a mother); they get the flexibility and ‘hands off’ attitude that worked for me; they get the guidance that their parents can provide and can witness in their parents’ practices; they get some semblance of tradition that they can either hang on to or choose to reject as they grow older.

Adam and I have no faith to pass down. It’s not about faith. We are passing along tools, values, and lore (as it is appropriate, and much of Feri lore is not at this point). Does this mean that we talk about the gods as archetypes or myths? No. As P Sufenas Virius Lupus suggests, if the gods are good enough for the grown ups, surely they are good enough for the kids? I agree. The kids see that mama and papa honor Ganesh (we have statues in nearly every room!). The kids know of several of mama’s gods and several of papa’s. They are welcome to honor – or not – as they see fit.

Ganesh, Remover of All Obstacles

Ganesh, Remover of All Obstacles

Much of what we pass down is based on expediency: does it work? do you experience it? Why worship a deity if you don’t feel like you’ve got a relationship? We talk about this and we talk about how to forge relationship with deity, the Land, or other spirits. If our kids grow up and feel that they’ve experienced nothing of meaning, so be it. Maybe they grow up and Jesus speaks to them, so be it.

Right now, at 5, we’re working on ‘controlling all our parts.’ This involves a lot of listening: what does your body tell you? What do you need? How are you feeling? What else do you sense? I use the word ‘control’ here, not because our triple souls need to be controlled, but because my 5-year-old struggles to keep his hands to himself (and every other body part) and keeping his parts in check is part of controlling his hands. We have worked on meditation and deep breathing. It’s something we started with both kids when they were around 18 months, with limited success, but you have to start young! Sometimes my son sits for 90 seconds at a time and practices his meditation. You gotta start somewhere!

We’ve also worked on raising energy while meditating. I’ve walked him through a couple of very short guided meditations. Then we talk about what he experienced. It’s fascinating to hear what he’s experiencing and how he connects that his regular day existence. For example, after one of the first meditations on raising a ball of light in his center, he then asked if he could create a spirit outside himself that would do his bidding. Could I teach him that?? I was floored at that connection, because yes, it is possible! However, I’ve never done that, and he needs to master sitting still first.

The kids see their parents sitting regularly, sometimes chanting, sometimes giving offerings, lighting candles and incense, and sometimes creating spells or reading tarot. Occasionally I’ll let one or both of the kids watch – sometimes because I’m doing something very simple that they won’t disrupt and sometimes because if I don’t have them with me I won’t get another chance that day to do my offering or whatnot. I’ve embraced that I may have pujas that are more chaotic than others, and that sometimes there just won’t be meditation, only a bow and an offering.

by Janko Hoener, via creative commons

by Janko Hoener, via creative commons

Adam and I are slowly creating holidays that reflect our deities, our experiences with Place and the Wheel of the Year, and the rhythms of our family. So far, Samhain/Halloween and Yule/Christmas are the big holidays of the year. There are other ones, scattered through out the year. Sometimes the kids are really interested and other times they couldn’t be bothered. I think that’s pretty normal, and there is very little pressure for them to be involved. But they see the grown ups doing it.

Can you see the theme here? The kids see what we do and can participate as they desire. There is no coercion, but I won’t say there isn’t any indoctrination. The kids hear what the grown ups talk about, and in our house it is not unusual to hear an hour-long discussion on tarot in a car ride to Seattle, or hear discussions of magic at the dinner table, or how different branches of Buddhism have different meditation techniques as we’re getting ready for bed.

These actions reflect our values. We support these values – of experience, of practice, of finding ways to communicate with others (whether human, spirit or other), of creativity – by surrounding ourselves with others who share similar values, even if they express them differently. We read and watch things* that encourage these values as well, and we talk about them.

So yeah, we are passing along our traditions, but they are traditions that are unfolding. Neither Adam nor I are initiated into anything. We’re both learning as we go. This too is valuable for our kids to witness. Not all of our tools or practices are appropriate for little kids. We are treading each age and stage carefully as we come to it. Ask me in another 5 years how we’re passing along our traditions and I’m sure I’ll have a different set of answers.

A woodcut by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

A woodcut by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark

*Books and things that we particularly love for our kids:

Novels: The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
The Sea of Trolls – Nancy Farmer
Loads of fairy tales

Comic books and cartoons:
Avatar: The Last Airbender
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Adventure Time
Any and everything by Hiyao Miyazaki (holding off on Princess Mononoke until the kids are older)

Maxim Monday: Fear deceit

Yes. While I don’t want to cultivate fear in general, deceit is a particularly pernicious form of dishonesty, and it is worthy of fear.

This year I have been involved in or have been witness to several relationships destroyed by deceit. In one case I’m not sure there was out-right lying involved, but one of the definitions of deceit is acts of subterfuge designed to obscure the truth, and I certainly experienced that. In some ways this is more painful than direct lying. That’s clear-cut. But deceit is cultivated to have shades of truth. Finding out what is true and what isn’t can be tricky. I find that when I start to feel slightly crazy in a relationship that taking a step back and looking for deceit is an appropriate course of action.

At this point in my life I am a very straight forward person. I do my absolute best to say what I mean and mean what I say. I work hard to follow through on what I say I’ll do. I own up to my mistakes and faults, and work to improve those things. But I haven’t always been this intentional. “It takes one to know one” so the saying goes, and I can recognize compartmentalization and a certain amount of deceit because I used these techniques myself in my 20s. It wasn’t that I was deliberately trying to hurt people or lie, but I didn’t want to deal with certain truths; I didn’t have the tools to do it, so I worked the system as best I could. I never LIED, but I played up other people’s issues and downplayed my own. It was all true, just disproportionately so.

Stepping away from that behaviour I can finally see how damaging that was to others.

And now I can see deception for what it is: a technique. Some people are malicious, but most are acting out of their own fear. No matter the reason, deception is something I want no part of. Flee from deception.