The First Review Is In! 5 out of 5 Stars!

Here is the very first review of the new book by Kenny Klein and myself! Fairy Tale Magic, coming out in May on Llewellyn (Amazon is already taking pre-orders). Review by Eryn Bagley for puretextuality.com:


“Klein and DeVoe execute brilliant relationships between engaging archetypal iconography embedded in non-mainstream cultural folk tales with their applications in the setting of practical earth-based magic. The authors elegantly correlate primitive and sacred meanings of magical theory in fairy tales and guide beginning magic practitioners through lessons based in ancient lore. Klein and DeVoe’s research of each apologue offers an impressive understanding of the implications that magic practitioners face when utilizing and calling upon the energies of the universe. By following the precedence set forth in Fairy Tale Magic, those who use the natural elements in their workings will not be steered wrong by the guidance that this work offers. Not only are the stories that the authors chose engaging, their explanations of archetypal significances are concise and extremely valuable. In this reader’s opinion, I would grant this title a 5 out 5 stars. Thank you to Netgalley and Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd for the opportunity to enjoy this read.”

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Dream Vision and “The Book of the Duchess”

If I haven’t mentioned it before now, I’m currently in graduate school working on my M.A. in English Literature. Of course my focus is on the Brits. This semester I’m taking a class on Later Medieval Dream Visions.

I was incredibly excited about this class and so far I have not been disappointed! If you’re unfamiliar with dream visions, they were (and are) a literary style where dreams are recounted for the benefit of the reader. People believed that these dream visions were sent to them from the divine and had important meaning that needed to be shared. Generally speaking they deal with quests for spiritual salvation or with unrequited love.

Usually a dream vision starts with the narrator telling about how they fell asleep. Once asleep, another important aspect of the dream vision is when the dreamer “wakes up” in the dream. The story of the dream itself is usually soaked in allegory. The dreamer will find a guide to walk them through the dream and help explain the message of the dream. The vision ends with the dreamer waking and promising to write the story down, hence the poem that is being read.

Before Christianity conquered Europe, the Celtic bards would sleep near a stream, believing that the spirit of the stream would give them a song or a vision of a song in their sleep. Some of the most famous dream visions are actually Welsh. The tradition of the dream vision is hundreds of years old and a highly favored medieval form of poetry.

Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy is one of the more famous of the dream visions. Boethius wrote it while he was in exile and describes his conversation with Lady Philosophy:

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Even so the clouds of my melancholy were broken up. I saw the clear sky, and regained the power to recognise the face of my physician. Accordingly, when I had lifted my eyes and fixed my gaze upon her, I beheld my nurse, Philosophy, whose halls I had frequented from my youth up.

‘Ah! why,’ I cried, ‘mistress of all excellence, hast thou come down from on high, and entered the solitude of this my exile? Is it that thou, too, even as I, mayst be persecuted with false accusations?’

‘Could I desert thee, child,’ said she, ‘and not lighten the burden which thou hast taken upon thee through the hatred of my name, by sharing this trouble? Even forgetting that it were not lawful for Philosophy to leave companionless the way of the innocent, should I, thinkest thou, fear to incur reproach, or shrink from it, as though some strange new thing had befallen? Thinkest thou that now, for the first time in an evil age, Wisdom hath been assailed by peril? Did I not often in days of old, before my servant Plato lived, wage stern warfare with the rashness of folly? In his lifetime, too, Socrates, his master, won with my aid the victory of an unjust death. And when, one after the other, the Epicurean herd, the Stoic, and the rest, each of them as far as in them lay, went about to seize the heritage he left, and were dragging me off protesting and resisting, as their booty, they tore in pieces the garment which I had woven with my own hands, and, clutching the torn pieces, went off, believing that the whole of me had passed into their possession. And some of them, because some traces of my vesture were seen upon them, were destroyed through the mistake of the lewd multitude, who falsely deemed them to be my disciples.

~From Song III – The Mists Dispelled

(If you would like to read the whole thing, you can find it here.)

Boethius had a huge influence on many medieval writers.

Bede was another famous dream visionary, as was Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and Dante (The Divine Comedy is one huge dream vision). Of course, one of the most famous was Chaucer.

Chaucer’s dream visions aren’t as well known as the Canterbury Tales, but I greatly prefer them.

“The Book of the Duchess” is one of my favorites. Chaucer wrote “The Book of the Duchess” for John Gaunt to memorialize Gaunt’s wife Blanche, who had died of the plague. While Chaucer wrote during the height of the courtly love tradition, it seems from the poem that John Gaunt might have truly loved his wife. This is one of Chaucer’s earliest works and it has been generally overlooked because of Chaucer’s youth when he wrote it. Chaucer was also a religious skeptic and one of the things that is extremely notable in the poem is that the Dreamer does not console the Knight he meets in his dream, who is mourning the death of Lady White, that she is safe in Heaven with God. The poem actually opens with a myth and an invocation to Juno and Morpheus.

The poem begins with the narrator recounting his insomnia of 8 long years. He decides to pick up a book of myths and reads the tale of Ceyx and Alcyone. Ceyx was a king who went on a journey, only to drown at sea. His wife, Alcyone, not knowing what happened to her husband, sent messengers everywhere searching for him. When no one could find out anything, she begged Juno to send her a dream vision of her husband’s fate. Juno does more than that. Juno sends for Morpheus to retrieve Ceyx’s body from the bottom of the ocean and then speak through him to his wife, letting her know that he was gone. The poet is inspired by the story and calls upon Juno and Morpheus to help him sleep.

I will return you to my original subject, the reason why I have told this story of Alcyone and Ceyx the king, for I dare say this much: I would have been entirely buried and dead, because of lack of sleep, if I had not read and heeded this tale. And I will tell you why: for I could not, for comfort or suffering, sleep before I had read this tale of this drowned Ceyx the king and of the gods of sleeping. When I had read this tale well and looked over every bit of, it seemed amazing to me that it would be so, for I had never heard mention before then of any gods that could make people sleep, nor to wake, for I had known only one god. 

And in my amusement I said then (and yet I had little desire to play) rather than I should so die through lack of sleep, I would give this Morpheus, or his goddess, Lady Juno, or some other creature, I care not who “Make me sleep and have some rest, and I will give him, or her, the best gift anyone ever hoped to receive. And into his possession, immediately, if he will make me sleep a little, I will give him a feather bed of down of pure white doves, arrayed with gold and finely covered in fine black satin from abroad, and many pillows, and every pillowcase of linen from Reynes, to sleep softly he will not need to toss and turn so often. And I will give him everything that belongs to a bedchamber, and all his rooms I will have painted with pure gold and arrayed with many matching tapestries. All this shall he have (if only I knew where his cave is) if he can make me sleep soon, as he did for the goddess, queen Alcyone. And thus this same god, Morpheus, may gain from me more rewards than he ever won; and to Juno, who is his goddess, I shall so do, I believe, whatever will please her.”

I had hardly said that word, exactly as I have told it to you, that suddenly, I know not how, such a desire overtook me to sleep that I fell asleep right on my book, and then I dreamed so inwardly sweet a dream, so wonderful a dream that I believe that no one has ever had the insight to interpret my dream correctly.

(I have to wonder if he followed through with his promises to Juno and Morpheus…?)

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In the vision, the Narrator, now the Dreamer, “wakes up” to hear birds singing. He hears the sounds of a hunt being called and rides out (on a horse that has apparently magically appeared in the chamber he has awoken in) to join the hunt. While on the hunt, he comes across a Black Knight composing lyrics about the death of a lady. When the Dreamer asks the Knight about the cause of his lament, the Knight replies that he has played a game of chess with Lady Fortuna and lost. The Dreamer begs the Knight not to be upset about the loss of a game of chess. The Knight goes on to explain his life and his service to Love and how he came to meet the fair Lady White. The Dreamer is somewhat obtuse and doesn’t understand that the chess game is a metaphor and that the Lady White is an actual lady. The Dreamer begs the Knight to continue with his tale. The Knight tells of how he fell in love and courted White, until at last, he finally won her and lived happily for many years. The Dreamer still doesn’t understand and asks the Knight where the Lady White is. The Knight finally replies that she is dead. The Knight rides off to a castle on a nearby hill and the poet awakes with his book in hand, promising that he will write the dream down.

“Sir,” I said, “where is she now?” 

“Now?” he said, and stopped at once. With that he grew as dead as stone and said, “Alas, that I was born! That was the loss that I told you before that I had lost. Remember how I said earlier, ‘You know full little what you mean by your words; I have lost more than you think.’ God knows, alas! She was that very person!”

“Alas, sir, how? How may that be?”

“She is dead!”

“No!”

“Yes, by my word!”

“Is that your loss? By God, that is such a pity!”

And with that word they quickly began to sound the hunting signal to head home; all the hart hunting was done for that time.

With that I thought that this king began to ride homeward to an adjacent place which was a short way from us a long castle with white walls, by Saint John, on a rich hill, so I dreamed; but thus it happened. I dreamed just as I tell you: in the castle there was a bell, and as it struck twelve, I awoke and found myself lying in my bed. And the book I had read, of Alcyone and Ceyx the king, and of the gods of sleep, I found wide open in my hand. I thought, “This is so strange a dream that I will, in the course of time, attempt to put this dream into rhyme as best I can, and do so soon.”

This was my dream; now it is done. 

Blanche of Lancaster

Blanche of Lancaster

There are many things that are interesting about the poem: the transitions of the narrator through the various dreams, the metaphor of the chess game, the comparison of black and white imagery, the Pagan mythology, the underlying sense that Chaucer is discussing religion, the Knight’s love of the Lady, the hart hunt, Chaucer’s understanding of mourning and his use of the Dreamer to actually get the Knight to express his grief…

But in the end, I just enjoy the poem. While John of Gaunt mourned for Blanche, he did remarry. Queen Elizabeth the Second is a descendant. But Blanche was forever immortalized by Chaucer in this very fitting tribute.

If you would like to read the full poem, you can find the translation here.

If you’re brave, the poem in its original Middle English can be found here.

Also, did you know that Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog? I certainly didn’t!

Winter in New Orleans: News and Notes

Three weeks ago we had snow and ice for the first time in New Orleans in five years! It’s pretty rare that we actually get cold weather like that down here. People back home in Ohio always laugh at me when I complain about the cold. While it usually only gets down into the 20s and 30s for a few weeks, very few of us have central heat. And most of us live in really old houses that were built to stay cool in the intense heat of our summers. The houses are raised off the ground and have no insulation. While they do an excellent job of staying cool in the summer, there is no way to stay warm in the winter! Two weeks ago, I went into my office, which also does not have heat and found that it was a balmy 49 degrees. Cold like this is draining and hard to recover from, even when dressed warmly.

It was however, the perfect weather to really embrace Yule and Imbolc. Winter is of course the time of death and the resting Earth and sometimes it’s hard to really take a moment and enjoy that stillness and have that break when things never really take a wintry break. The frost and ice actually allowed us to have a winter this year!

But, I will admit that I was happy to have nice weather return. It’s been in the 60s and beautiful the last week and just in time for Mardi Gras! Walking into work the other morning I walked past this:

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And so the cycle starts all over again: life to death to life.

Just some quick announcements!

I just wrote an article about my partner, Kenny Klein for The Green Egg, one of the oldest running Pagan magazines in America! Their Imbolc edition is now out and is available in print for the first time in years. You should go buy a copy and check it out! The article is titled “Kenny Klein: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse.”

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The new book from Llewellyn is also coming out soon and you can now preorder it from Amazon!

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Last weekend, while at Pantheacon, I sat on a Llewellyn panel about death and ancestor work. The Wild Hunt posted a picture!

From left to right: Tess Whitehurst, Elysia Gallo, Tony Mierzwicki, Jhenah Telyndru, Me, Stephanie Woodfield, Kenny Klein

From left to right: Tess Whitehurst, Elysia Gallo, Tony Mierzwicki, Jhenah Telyndru, Me (Lauren DeVoe), Stephanie Woodfield, Kenny Klein

Last night was my subkrewe’s inaugural march in Chewbacchus, our science fiction and fantasy geek parade! The Party Elves of Mirkwood was a hairbrained scheme cooked up to honor the Randy Thrandy meme from The Lord of the Rings. We had a heck of a lot of fun and think others did as well. You should have been there! It’s totally started my Mardi Gras season off with a bang and is only the beginning! But I was briefly interviewed in The New Orleans Advocate during Comic Con about Chewbacchus, which was a lot of fun.

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A Few Thoughts On Death

I’ve spent the last few days at Pantheacon. I’ve been having a great time and I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of awesome people. Today, I got to sit on a panel for Llewellyn on ancestor work and death.

It was a great conversation and I thought I would bring it over here for a second.

Death is definitely one of the things that brought me to Paganism in the first place. My family, on both sides, seem to have a strong connection with death.

My great grandfather was in the the last moments of his life when he suddenly looked peaceful. When his children asked him what he was looking at, he said that he could see his wife (who had died several years before) and that she was standing in a garden, waiting for him.

My great aunt died. The doctor declared her dead and one of my aunts let out the death wail, a traditional Celtic keening done at the death of a loved one. My great aunt sat back up, looked at the aunt who had wailed and said “Can I die yet?” When my poor aunt nodded, my great aunt laid back down and was gone once again.

My grandmother had Alzheimers for nearly 20 years. For whatever reason, she seemed to be scared to die. My grandfather had died when he was 52, they had been married for 35 years and my grandmother never remarried. The night before she died, I dreamed about meeting my grandfather (who died nearly 30 years before I was born) at my grandmother’s house. It was an awkward meeting, we both knew that we had no business seeing each other, but we waited in my grandmother’s living room for those last long hours together, he sitting on the ugly plaid recliner in the corner and me on the small loveseat by the organ, never saying a word. I woke up in the morning and received the phone call from my father that my grandmother had finally passed on. It made me feel better to know that he was waiting for her.

My father constantly talks to an entity he calls his guardian angel, but I always feel Death in the room.

In New Orleans, we are constantly surrounded by death. But we celebrate life’s passing and don’t let it get us down. We see life as a dance that eventually has to end for everyone. For funerals, we second line. The first line of a procession is the casket, the second line is the band. We parade someone home to their final resting place and this always seems like a fitting way to go out.

What do I personally believe? As a Wiccan, I believe that the soul passes on from this world to what many call the Summer Lands. There, the soul is able to take a break, rest and heal. In the Charge of the Goddess, we are promised peace, “upon earth I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, I give peace unutterable.” Once the soul has taken the time it needs, I believe it moves on to the next life.

As a priestess, I believe that I’ve dedicated my life to the service of the gods and I don’t believe that this service will ever end. I think the gods send us where we are most needed next, whether that be for us to learn new lessons or for us to continue to give the service that is most needed.

Discussing death is extremely important. I want to make sure that my final wishes in how my final moments and my funerary rites are handled are done in the way I want them to be done. I don’t think that death is scary, it’s simply the transition to the next phase in the journey. Unfortunately, as Pagans, we sometimes have to fight family and society to ensure our final moments are handled the way we wish them to be. I know too many people who have had families who have refused to honor their last wishes. I have DNR signed and I already own my burial plot in the family cemetery. Death is certainly not always easy or peaceful and having these details dealt with ahead of time will hopefully make the process a little smoother when the time comes.

1003435_10101134922912258_718613055_nIs this morbid? Maybe. But I sleep better at night know that my family knows that I don’t want to linger in case the worst happens.

It’s important to remember that those who came before us do still have an impact on our lives today. If nothing else, their blood and their genetic memory flows through our veins. I look at pictures of my family from a hundred years ago and see my own face staring back at me. I don’t know that in life, my family would agree with my path, but I think that in death they understand a much greater universal truth about acceptance. As another priestess said to me, death is the great equalizer and after we die, the minor details of lifestyle choice are no longer important. They don’t care that I practice something differently than they did, they do care about the fact that I am their present and might, just might, bear their future.

Death is the last great mystery that we all have to deal with in our own way. After all, nobody gets out of this life alive.

Pantheacon 2014

I just wanted to let you all know that my partner and I are getting ready to leave for Pantheacon! We leave tomorrow afternoon and will be at the Double Tree on Thursday. If you want to meet up, say hi, grab a drink, come yell at me, whatever, let me know!

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I will be on a Panel on Sunday in the Llewellyn Suite at 11 AM on “Pagans and Ancestors: Living with the Honored Dead.” Kenny Klein and I will be also be presenting that afternoon in the Llewellyn Suite at 5:15 PM on our new book and telling New Orleans ghost stories! (I have to say, we are pretty entertaining, I promise to keep you entranced!)

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(Sadly the whole band can’t come, but Kenny and I can keep you tapping!)

It’s going to be a busy week, but I’m excited to get started! See you there!

The Rusalka

I am a huge opera fan. I grew up going to the opera with my mother. Carmen was my first opera experience and while it’s not one of my favorites, it certainly left a vivid impression on my imagination. Somewhere I have pictures of 8 year old me dressed up as Carmen for Halloween. Looking back on it, I’m not sure Carmen was quite the appropriate persona for an 8 year old to try and embody, but… Carmen opened the door to the wonderful world of opera for me ever after.

Strangely enough, New Orleans does not seem to have a lot of opera, even though it was the first place in America to have one! This year there are only two being shown here. (And sadly enough, the first one is happening while Kenny and I are at Pantheacon next week. Come out and say hi!) So…I’m really glad that the AMC movie theaters are presenting The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. If you’re an opera fan and aren’t familiar with this series, you’re missing out. AMC streams the New York Metropolitan Opera live during one of their performances and then presents an encore two weeks later. You get a front row seat for some of the most beautifully put together operas in the world.

This week, they presented Dvorak’s Rusalka. This is one of my favorite operas, which has one of my favorite arias. Renee Fleming, who considers “Song to the Moon” to be one of her signature arias, performs the lead character, Rusalka. (This is also a fitting topic for the Olympics this week).

Mesiku na nebi hlubokem
Svetlo tve daleko vidi,
Po svete bloudis sirokem,
Divas se v pribytky lidi.
Mesicku, postuj chvili
reckni mi, kde je muj mily
Rekni mu, stribmy mesicku,
me ze jej objima rame,
aby si alespon chvilicku
vzpomenul ve sneni na mne.
Zasvet mu do daleka,
rekni mu, rekni m kdo tu nan ceka!
O mneli duse lidska sni,
at’se tou vzpominkou vzbudi!
Mesicku, nezhasni, nezhasni!

Moon, high and deep in the sky
Your light sees far,
You travel around the wide world,
and see into people’s homes.
Moon, stand still a while
and tell me where is my dear.
Tell him, silvery moon,
that I am embracing him.
For at least momentarily
let him recall of dreaming of me.
Illuminate him far away,
and tell him, tell him who is waiting for him!
If his human soul is in fact dreaming of me,
may the memory awaken him!
Moonlight, don’t disappear, disappear!

Not only is this a beautiful invocation of the Moon, but I love the story and the explanation of the Rusalka in the opera.

In traditional fairy lore, the Rusalka is a Russian fairy who lures young men to their deaths in ponds and streams. She is very similar to Jenny Greenteeth and the Lorelei. The Rusalka lives at the bottom of waterways and comes out at night to dance on the shores. If she saw a handsome man, she would capture him with her beauty and song and lure him to a watery grave.

In Russian myth, the Rusalka is the spirit of a woman who died young, usually from suicide or during a pregnancy. The great grief that caused the death ensured the young woman’s spirit would linger.

Rusalkas don’t just lure young men to an early grave, they also bless the surrounding fields with abundance and fertility. In many ways, the Rusalka are very similar to the mermaids of Western European lore. They like to sit in trees or on docks and sing music, siren like, calling men to their doom.

In June, the Rusalka are supposedly at their most dangerous. They come out of their waters and dance and swing through birch (a tree that banishes evil and builds courage) and willow (a tree of enchantment and music that is often seen as a tree for female rites of passage) trees. Many women go out during Rusal’naia and leave offerings to appease the Rusalka and also set out protective charms to ward them off. No one swims during this week, just in case… People also do a ritual with a birch tree, where a tree is brought in from the forest and is seen to represent the vegetative power of the land. Young women dance and sing around the birch, making it promises for the coming year. At the end of the week, the semik as it is called, is drowned, to ensure that the land will have enough water throughout the rest of the year.

The Rusalkas are a particularly femininely inspired spirit.

In the opera, Rusalka falls in love with a human prince who hunts around her lake. She goes to her father, a water-goblin and begs him to tell her how she can be with the prince. Even though he warns her that it’s a bad idea, he sends her to the witch Ježibaba, who can turn her into a human woman. Ježibaba warns Rusalka that if she becomes human, she will lose the ability to speak (gee, where have we heard this story before?) and if the prince betrays her, both she and the prince will be damned. Rusalka drinks the potion that Ježibaba has given her and the Prince finds her and takes her home with him.

The Prince plans the wedding, but many people in his household suspect witchcraft and treat Rusalka badly. A foreign princess comes to the wedding and slowly lures the prince away. When it looks like the prince will choose Rusalka over her, the foreign princess curses them and the prince finally rejects Rusalka. Rusalka flees back to her father and the foreign princess scorns the prince. Ježibaba tells Rusalka that if she kills the prince, she can save herself, but Rusalka refuses, throwing the dagger that Ježibaba has given her into the lake. Her grief and rage turn her into a spirit of death, and Rusalka begins haunting the lake. The Prince comes to the lake searching for Rusalka. He begs her to kiss him, even though he knows that it means his death. He dies and Rusalka’s father comments “All sacrifices are futile.” Rusalka thanks the dead prince for allowing her to experience human love. She returns to the lake, forever after an evil fairy.

I think the moral of the story is that love changes us and not always for the better. It’s a force that can have long lasting consequences. So love well and be faithful, otherwise you might end up as an evil fairy in a dreary lake forever luring young men off to die and seriously, who wants that?

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