Mabon Thoughts

Blue sky peeking between the edges of the off-white cloud cover reveals their feathery edges, recognizable to Northerners as those that provide the first winter’s snow. The temperature has dropped overnight, welcoming the Autumnal Equinox with near zero celsius cool and fading sunshine. The rich green grass of summer now complimented by the bright reds, oranges, and yellows of changing leaves, nature’s flaming crowns overseeing the last warmth as the last of the growing season is ushered out and the Wheel of the year turns again . . .

I saw the moon last night, just out of her fullness and veiled by the lowering clouds. The chill has already been carried down by the north winds for weeks, but summer has lingered, kissing bared arms with tender warmth even while being pulled away. I wonder if any of the tomatoes which grew unexpectedly in my garden this year have survived the first killing frosts. My back lawn has been carpeted in a scattering of yellowed leaves, and overhead, I’ve seen great flocks of Canadian geese spread in their vee-shape as they escape the approaching cold for the lush feeding grounds of the south.

Of course we become pensive at this time of year. Playtime is over, at least for a little while. An elusive thought finally articulated itself, just this morning, as I was contemplating one last grass-cutting: that summer is not the state of being in this part of the world. It’s winter. This land exists for the cold. Summer is only a brief respite from the long periods of stillness, piling drifts, howling winds, and freezing cold — it comes to allow the living things to prepare themselves for long sleep under white, fluffy blankets and deep dark of midwinter months.

But as much as hunkering down, building our dens, finding our thick woollen sweaters and mitts can bring us sadness, there is an excitement in the undercurrent. The last harvests are being gathered, and we can celebrate everything we’ve accomplished under the sun. To the ancients, this time represented the end of the old year approaching. There are festivals to prepare for and enjoy, renewing ties of friendship and kin, as our circle of activity begins to draw itself closer to the warmth of home.

However you spend this weekend — putting your garden to bed, setting up car shelters, taking down your summer décor — stop for a moment in the waning sun and close your eyes. The pulse of the earth is there, in your blood. It’s in the scent of the wind, fresh with the melted morning frost and aged leaves. It’s in the taste of your food, made more deep and savoury with fall’s appetite. It’s in the rosy cheeks of your son as he rides his bike stubbornly through the cold, not yet ready to put it away, and the pout of your daughter who is told to put her shorts away for another year. Talk to your family and friends about your plans for Thanksgiving, and enjoy the coziness of your socks.

Happy Mabon!

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Three Days after Solstice

Even though I didn’t celebrate Yule the way I wanted and had envisioned, I still enjoyed the moment as it passed.

I have a clear memory of a conversation I had with my mother, though whether I was 11 or 12 at the time isn’t certain. What I do remember is telling her that when I became an adult, I would be celebrating Christmas as an expression of joy in winter: that I would be rejoicing in the change of seasons, in the beauty of winter, because that was the value I saw in the holiday.

I still see that.

And that is what I have been doing. I’ve been listening to traditional Christmas carols — the songs about sleigh rides, snow, evergreens, mistletoe. None of the winter elements of the holiday have much to do with the birthplace of Christ in Bethlehem. But they have everything to do with Saturnalia, with Yule, with the time of the year when Persephone has descended to the underworld and life sleeps. When the snow comes, and the days shorten, we have two choices, as I see it: we can run away and hide from it, OR we can embrace it.

This year, I have chosen to embrace the cold. I’m doing much better at taking my children outside to play and slide and make snow angels. I’m lighting candles, and enjoying the peace of the dark nights. I’m taking my dog for walks in the winter night, admiring the lights on neighbourhood houses.

All of the colour, the glowing, the giving and receiving of gifts — it speaks to me of balance. When the world grows dark and cold, we join together (whenever we can) to reflect on our blessings and share our abundance, so everyone has enough to get through. There is so much symbolism in gift-giving, in the plump energy of Santa Claus. We party, and feast, and decorate, keeping our spirits going.

So, as a Pagan and a Wiccan, and a witch, this season has a lot of meaning for me. It goes deeper than the label. I may not have done the ritual I wanted to perform for Yule, but already, three days later, I can feel how the wheel of life has turned. It’s an intangible sensation in the air, in the body, in the sunshine. We’ve passed the test of the dark and the sunlight is slowly returning. When my children and my husband open their gifts tomorrow morning, and I receive their tokens of love, we’ll be completing our own ritual, celebrating our beliefs in each other, and in the potential of humanity to overcome all that is cold, dead, and wrong in the world.

On the practical side, until then, I will be cleaning and getting the children to help me with that, until their father comes home and our fun activities can begin.

I hope that, whatever you believe, you are with family and friends this week, or next. That you are safe, happy, healthy, have enough to eat, clean water, warmth, and love with you.

BB

Shadows in the darkness…

It seems rather unnecessary, doesn’t it? The title of this blog. How can shadows — which are themselves, dark — exist where there is no light?

They simply do.

My life is filled with them. They haunt me when I am trying to fall asleep. I see them on these grey and dreary days of fall, as the yearly cycle comes to a close. I feel them in my heart, as the dwindling light begins to sap the energy reserves I built all summer.

This is a dangerous time of year for me. I love Hallowe’en and Samhain, but as an adult, I haven’t expressed that feeling as I did when I was younger. My husband is also an eager devotee to Hallowe’en, and given a free rein, would turn our home into the creepiest on the block. So what stops me from fulfilling my every spooky desire at this time of year?

The shadows, in the form of depression. I feel them gathering in the corners and moving slowly toward me, as inexorable as the winter dark. I’m better armed against them this year, and I’m not spiralling as I have done in the past. But nevertheless, I feel them. It is the lack of motivation to get off the couch…the increasing desire to sleep…the lack of motivation to do anything, really, but those low-energy activities that help me feel less lonely. Like going on Facebook, looking at lolsnaps, fails, etc. The more I indulge in these time-suckers, the more connected I do feel but the less I get done in the things that matter in a physical sense. The shadows are gaining ground.

I attended a series of workshops in the spring, learning methods for dealing with my anxiety and chronic depression. To some extent, those techniques are working. I’ve been treated for anemia since May, also, which is helping. The techniques are going to become even more vital, now.

Part of that is learning to accept my own limitations and not comparing myself to others. I need to stop saying “I should” and be satisfied with what I do accomplish. For example, this weekend I aimed to finish my Hallowe’en decorating. Didn’t even start. I constantly visualize one of the best moms I know and berate myself for not being more like her, but at the same time, the logical part of my brain is fighting back to tell me what I am doing well and why I should not be ashamed or feel inferior. That particular mom doesn’t have a mental illness. That particular mom hasn’t gone through the money troubles we have experienced. That particular mom has gone through her own battles, faced her own demons, and for her own personal reasons, has gained victory. Maybe I’m just jealous of that and I want my own battles to be over. Could be a form of battle fatigue — maybe I could call it “life fatigue”.

I remember my mother giving me full control over decorating for Hallowe’en, and not understanding why she didn’t want to do it. Now I know…it’s just not on my to-do list of things that must be done. What I am supposed to be doing — housework, marking, shopping — those things aren’t be done either. And the whole avoidance makes me feel ashamed all over again, so I shrink further into my shell and keep avoiding until every dish is dirty, the clean laundry threatens to topple over in its mountain, and/or people are coming to the house so clean is a must.

I miss decorating for Hallowe’en.

I miss setting up for Samhain.

I miss my enthusiasm. It’s there, just dampened.

I once had a conversation with two of my colleagues and friends (one of whom was the above super-mom), about the point of Hallowe’en. The points of view were a) it’s all about spending money on candy and costumes, which is a waste, and b) it’s the Devil’s holiday, so if anything, the candy and costumes are the main focal point to take power away from the skulls and gore. My perspective is Pagan, Wiccan, witchy, and anthropological: we need a day in the fall to blow off some steam. It was once the Devil’s night, yes — after months of hard work, harvesting, preparing for winter, young people would perform acts of mischief like tipping outhouses and soaping windows. Kids needed that release, and some adults did as well. It still happens in places, when eggs are thrown or trees toilet papered.

Pagans and Wiccans of all stripes recognize Samhain as the night when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, and it’s important to remember those who have passed on. The traditions in this sense cross many cultural boundaries, and the food that is shared represents honouring the dead, feeding hungry spirits that come to the door, appeasing evil spirits wishing to do mischief, and I think, sharing the bounty of one’s harvest.

Today, the costumes and decorations and candy are mainly symbolic of cultures long dead. How many of us really believe that children in masks will frighten away spirits on the streets, or that the jack’o’lantern will protect the home? Why do we buy sugary junk to fill their sacks? I think it’s a remnant of the community spirit of making sure that all have enough before winter. We have our Thanksgivings, an official harvest festival of light and warmth and nourishing food — Hallowe’en / Samhain is another, celebrating the coming darkness with noise, colour, sweets, and candlelight. As the trees bare their skeletal arms to the sky, the rain and snow chill the air, the plants wither and die, those of us with depression (and even those who are not) are brought to thoughts of death, loss, and loneliness. Death is a solitary thing, after all. So at Hallowe’en, we push back our fears of death by poking fun at it, admonishing it by taking control of it with decorative skulls, gravestones, ghost stories, and gifts to those who represent the dead. If we laugh at what we fear, it has less control over us (or so we would like to believe). Hallowe’en is a powerful psychological device in helping us to deal with our fears. It’s a necessary device, I think.

Which brings me back to my shadows.

One of them is always money, because there is never enough. We live constantly in debt, which is a long story; my wish to indulge in Hallowe’en is necessarily curtailed by budget. I am perfectly capable of whipping up papier-mâché bats and spiders, sewing costumes from clothing remnants, etc., but I find it difficult as an adult with two children to raise. Much easier when I was single and a dependent. When I was a teenager and a young married wife, I envisioned my house changing with the seasons — throw pillows, blankets, tableware, towels, even the pictures on the walls changed to reflect each turn of the wheel of the year. We’re not even close to that goal. But I take out that dream, every October, and December with the approach of Yule, and I polish it. Maybe I should print it and post it on my fridge.

My dreams keep the shadows away.

Thy Will Be Done — Available Now!

http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Eclipse-16–Monthly-ebook/dp/B009M53KXI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1349751303&sr=8-1&keywords=Dark+Eclipse+16

So proud of this one — if you’re a fan of history, witches, the Salem witch trials, or vengeance against those who commit crimes against humanity, you’re going to love this…

Available for Kindle or Nook. Tell me what you think — I love hearing from readers!

“Thy Will Be Done” — new short coming soon in Dark Moon Digest!

This October, a short story based on the Salem Witch Trials (composed by yours truly) will be in Dark Moon Digest, an online magazine (also available in print).

I’m very excited — I have it on very good authority that they accept new work based on high standards, and so I feel quite privileged.

I started “Thy Will Be Done” as a re-imagining of events during the witch trials, from a fantasy / supernatural bent. I originally submitted it as an alternate history, but I’ve never written in that genre before and it didn’t really suit that call for submissions. Fortunately, they still liked it enough to offer space in the publication!

Here’s an excerpt to get you excited, fellow Halloweenies!

The early summer night seemed unseasonably cold to John Hathorne, as he leaned out the back door to check that the path was clear. He grimaced at the chill in the air and clutched his wife’s woolen shawl more closely about him. His dismay when he’d found that the chamber pot was missing was doubled now, as his breath puffed out in white clouds and the bare flesh on his legs rose in goose pimples.
But the demands of his earthly flesh could and would not be denied.
The moon was high and full, lighting the garden path sufficiently that he barely needed the lantern. Still, he carried it high as a standard of godly light against the Devil and his kin. No wind shook the new leaves above and the crickets were silent. He was keenly aware of the loudness of his breath and the drumming of his heart in his ears. No matter that the trials had ended, he knew that many more witches still remained free, still presented a danger to God-fearing men in their heathen alliance to the Devil. Hathorne pressed his lips together as he surveyed his property once more for signs of Satan before setting the lantern carefully on the ground.
His hand trembled slightly as he reached for the handle of the privy door. Shameful. Hathorne shook his head at himself, wiped his sweaty palm on his nightshirt, and reached back for the lantern once more. Then, whispering a psalm for courage and protection, he took a firm grip on the door and flung it open, thrusting the lantern before him into the darkened space.
No demon leaped from the inside to attack him; no spectral figure crouched on the sanded wooden seat, ready to pinch and claw his flesh. There was only a little empty room, emitting the usual offensive odours. Hathorne found that he’d been holding his breath and released it with a whoosh as he set the lantern back down, entered the small wooden closet, and shut the door.
He immediately regretted the loss of light. His internal organs seized up in utter and irrational terror. A bead of perspiration slid down his forehead, and his heart hammered against his chest. One toe snuck forward to open the door a little and admit a shaft of warm yellow light. Pale moonlight poured in as well.
There. Now, he could see the friendly glow from the kitchen fireplace through the glass window, and the candle he’d left on the table to light his way through the house.
After a few moments, his pulse slowed and the first trickles of urine promised the coming relief of his aching bladder.
A sudden gust of wind pushed the door the rest of the way open, startling him so he cried out; at almost the same moment, the lantern fell and rolled away in a half-circle, extinguishing the candle within. A great black shape on four legs stepped before him and growled. Hathorne’s scalp tingled as his hair stood on end and his bladder emptied in an unexpected gush.
The thing looked at him with eyes that glowed red, living coals of fury over a pointed snout and bared, glistening teeth.