Proteus

Today is Mardi Gras and unfortunately, it is a very dreary, rainy, wet Mardi Gras. While Kenny and I wait to see if the rain will let up a bit so that we can proceed on our usual jaunt through the Quarter, I thought I would share some pictures of my favorite parade this year.

Usually Muses is my favorite parade. It is one of the only, all female krewes to ride the Uptown parade route. (The Uptown parade route is the main one. My house also happens to be right on it). This year, Muses wasn’t as great. This was probably due to the drunken parents we were standing with that kept forcing their children over and under the rest of us to get throws. So…for the first time in three years, I did not get the coveted Muses shoe. (I wrote a guest blog for Kenny last year about Muses, which you can find here. I got some great pictures last year!)

My friends and I at Muses this year.

My friends and I at Muses this year.

So I was surprised when Proteus ended up being my favorite this year. Proteus and Orpheus role on Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and are usually mostly attended by locals. All of the super-krewes, like Bacchus which had Hugh Laurie as the Grand Marshall this year, role the weekend before Mardi Gras. Kenny had a gig in Florida over the weekend, so we actually escaped the crowds and the lack of parking to go to West Palm Beach, which was very nice. But we were both very happy to get back home and jump back into our local Mardi Gras activities.

(The beach, however, was perfect!)

(The beach, however, was perfect!)

Proteus roles before Orpheus and usually I really go for Orpheus. Their floats are famous for using lights and they have a lot of big names. In the past I’ve gotten beads from Mariska Hargitay and Harry Connick Jr. This year they had Quentin Tarantino and James Roday of Psych.

Orpheus' famous Trojan Horse float.

Orpheus’ famous Trojan Horse float.

Quentin Tarantino in Orpheus.

Quentin Tarantino in Orpheus. (I ran into QT in a bar one night. We think he meant to go to the Phoenix, a bar known for it’s super risque Bounce nights. Instead he ended up at the St. Roch, a traveling kid hangout which also has a bounce night. I didn’t even realize who it was at first because he had some chick bent over the bar, making out, all night long. He finally came up for air and I realized who I was standing next to. Only in NOLA….)

James Roday, who was just as cute in person as he is on TV!

James Roday, who was just as cute in person as he is on TV!

But this year, Proteus really stole the show. Their floats were gorgeous, their riders were happy and excited and I was thrilled by their theme, which was “Ancient Elements of Alchemy.”

An important aspect of the very Catholic Mardi Gras is Paganism. Revelers become Pagan once more during Mardi Gras so that they can have something to repent for during Lent. Both Proteus and Orpheus (whose theme was “The Enchanted Land”) were very Pagan this year.

Proteus is the second oldest krewe in New Orleans. It started in 1882 and the krewe says of itself:

The Identity of the King of Proteus is never revealed to the public. His Parade float is a giant Seashell and very march part of the New Orleans Carnival scene for generations.

Proteus did not parade from 1993 – 1999 but returned to parading on Lundi Gras (The Monday before Mardi Gras Day, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday) in 2000. The Parade of The Krewe of Proteus Follows the Traditional Uptown or St. Charles Route ending on Canal Street. The actual Krewe of Proteus parade floats are still using the original chassis from the early 1880’s.

The Mythical Proteus
The son of Poseidon in the Olympian theology ( Homer,Odyssey iv. 432), or of Nereus and Doris, or of Oceanus and a Naiad, and was made the herdsman of Poseidon’s seals, the great bull seal at the center of the harem. He can foretell the future, but, in a mytheme familiar from several cultures, will change his shape to avoid having to; he will answer only to someone who is capable of capturing him. From this feature of Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”: “Protean” has positive connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability.

Proteus is also known as a shape shifter and can assume the guise of anyone or anything he so chooses. When held fast despite his struggles, he will assume his usual form of an old man and tell the future.
The so-called Old Man of the Sea, is a prophetic sea divinity, son of either Poseidon or Oceanus. He usually stays on the Island of Pharos, near Egypt, where he herds the seals of Poseidon. He will foretell the future to those who can seize him, but when caught he rapidly assumes all possible varying forms to avoid prophesying.

Proteus [PROH-tee-us], like all six of Neptune’s newly discovered small satellites, is one of the darkest objects in the solar system — “as dark as soot” is not too strong of a description. Discovered by Stephen Synnott, Like Saturn’s satellite, Phoebe, it reflects only 6 percent of the sunlight that strikes it. Proteus is about 400 kilometers (250 miles) in diameter, larger than Nereid. It wasn’t discovered from Earth because it is so close to Neptune that it is lost in the glare of reflected sunlight. Proteus circles Neptune at a distance of about 92,800 kilometers (57,700 miles) above the cloud tops, and completes one orbit in 26 hours, 54 minutes. Scientists say it is about as large as a satellite can be without being pulled into a spherical shape by its own gravity. Proteus is irregularly shaped and shows no sign of any geological modification. It circles the planet in the same direction as Neptune rotates, and remains close to Neptune’s equatorial plane.

Anyway, here are a bunch of the pictures that Kenny took during the parade. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!!!

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(This float was titled "The Great Work")

(This float was titled “The Great Work”)

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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!

1780816_10152163175796075_1934217514_n(I’m in the tiny print on the bottom!)

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!)

517SyMt+FRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I will also be performing with Kenny during his concert, Saturday night at 9 in Club Max.

(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!

Pagans and Abortion

For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade I wrote a blog for Witches and Pagans about my own experience with abortion.

T. Thorn Coyle said it much more eloquently than I did. She said, “Death and life are inextricably intertwined. To deny a woman’s power over the workings of her own body is to deny her right to foster life itself.”

I am rabidly pro-choice. If you choose to have an abortion, at any stage, for any reason, that is your right. No ifs or buts.

The Pagan community is full of empowered women. But no woman can be empowered when she doesn’t have the right to choose what happens to her body. Being forced to bring a child into this world against one’s wishes is not something anyone should have to go through.

When I see people’s reactions to that original blog, I am profoundly saddened by the same sense of shame and ignorance from our community that you can find in any middle-American Bible Belt town.

We are a community that embraces all forms of love and intimacy. Why are we scared of discussing the validity of abortion?

It’s so important to tell our stories and experiences when it comes to this topic.

When I went to Planned Parenthood, I had to walk through protestors who called me horrible things. I had to be admitted through a locked entryway. I had to talk to a nurse behind bullet proof glass and I couldn’t take anyone back with me, when it came my turn to talk to the doctor, for the safety of the doctors and nurses in the clinic.

Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures there is and yet I was unable to have my abortion in a safe and comfortable environment with the care and support I deserved in a world of modern medicine.

I am not a Christian who believes that abortion will send me to Hell. I am a Pagan woman who knows that I have sovereignty over my entire self.

How can we empower women and not allow them to make this most basic, fundamental decision? I am worried that the Pagan community is losing sight of one of the most important aspects of what we are, a community of powerful women.

I recently had an experience at a local Pagan campground. I ran into a nineteen year old who was incredulous that I, who am almost thirty, didn’t have any children. She had two children, both of whom had already been taken by the state because she couldn’t support them. If this had been someone not raised in Paganism, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But she had been raised Pagan and she was just like every other uneducated, Christian girl I grew up with. When did we start forgetting to teach our daughters about how to care for themselves and their families? Was it when we asked that modestly be a value in our community?

I’ve seen a lot of arguments that state that abortion is against the Wiccan Rede. This infuriates me. The long term harm on a woman who is forced to carry a child to term that she can’t or doesn’t want to care for is much greater than the choice to rid your body of a clump of cells. The consequences of bringing a baby into the world that isn’t wanted has an effect on more than the mother who is forced to do so as well. Want to see the threefold law in effect? Then force that sort of pain into the world.

Our society already has unwanted babies it can’t care for. If you tell me adoption is a great option, I would ask, when did you last adopt a child? If you feel abortion is wrong, yet you do not help in caring for unwanted children, you are a hypocrite.

My only regret? Not being able to find Pagan resources that helped me deal with my anger and grief at having to make that decision.

I created my own ritual for healing that I did without any guidance.

I know of only one Pagan book that discusses abortion, and it was written by someone I don’t trust.

Where is our discussion of abortion in Paganism? Where are our resources? Why are we willing to ignore yet another part of the possibility of a woman’s reproductive life. We have maiden, mother, crone. We have menstrual rituals, birthing rituals, croning rituals: where are our rituals to deal with this choice?

Reading back through this, I know I sound I angry. Well, I am angry.

Angry that this sort of conservatism is encroaching on a community that treasures women’s lives.

The cycles of life and death are sacred. That cycle is reenacted through women’s wombs every month. Abortion is as much a part of that cycle as either pregnancy or bleeding.

I refuse to keep quiet about this particular topic. I refused to be ashamed of making the choice that was right for me. I refuse to give in to those who continue to try and entrap women by controlling their bodies. This is a choice that other woman out there go through everyday.

Abortion is a choice that everyone deserves to be able to have.

I’ll echo T. Thorn once again, because as always, she says it better.

I honor the cycles of life. I honor the cycles of death. I honor my power, as a priestess, to hold out a hand to both. I clasp those hands, bringing life and death together.

I am a priestess who balances life and death together continuously. I celebrate my ability to do so and to accept the pain and fear of hard choices in all aspects of life. Maybe if I do it, someone else won’t have to. Maybe by suffering and offering up my own pain, I can relieve some else’s.

Women’s rights are a battle we are far from winning, but maybe by speaking up and speaking out against the ignorance of others, we will get just a few inches closer.

And I celebrate other women who have made the same choice in the face of overwhelming fear and shame.

I celebrate those fierce warrior woman who stood up in the past to gain us the rights we currently have. I celebrate those women who continue to fight today to maintain them. I celebrate those who have had the courage to walk through the same protestors that I did.

As a priestess, as an independent woman, as a girl who grew up knowing that my choices defined the very core that makes up “me,” I refuse to give in to fear and hate. To do so goes against everything I believe in and everything I stand for.

You don’t have to approve of my own choice, but I would fight for you to be able to make a different one.

Choice is power. Choice is freedom. Choice is ownership over the self.

Without choice, we are nothing.

A Visit to Carlsbad

My partner and I are currently in Los Angeles for the holidays. Since I have never gotten to see the Southwest, we decided to make our vacation into a road trip and drive from New Orleans the fifteen hundred miles to L.A. While our list of things to see has been fairly large, the one place I demanded we stop was the Carlsbad Caverns.

Caves have always been considered sacred places of mystery for as long as humans have decided to take the risk of entering them. They have offered both shelter and danger to the earliest humans and remain places of exploration and fascination.

It’s easy to see why caves seemed to be entrances to the Underworld and places where Gods, spirits and monsters walk. My own experience in Carlsbad didn’t convince me that the ancients weren’t onto something. I thought you might enjoy some of the pictures I took and I highly recommend that if you have the chance to go, you do.

The desert itself is amazing, especially to someone who lives in the swamp. Prickly pear cactus covered the mountains around the caverns.

The desert itself is amazing, especially to someone who lives in the swamp. Prickly pear cactus covered the mountains around the caverns.

 

The caves as you start to enter them. You climb up the mountain and than start the long pathway down. The bottom of the paths are 750 feet below the surface, the depth of a 75 story building.

The caves as you start to enter them. You climb up the mountain and than start the long pathway down. The bottom of the paths are 750 feet below the surface, the depth of a 75 story building.

 

Stalactites on the roof.

Stalactites on the roof.

 

Water erodes the earth within and without the caves. This type of erosion is one of the many reasons the caverns exist.

Water erodes the earth within and without the caves. This type of erosion is one of the many reasons the caverns exist.

 

The view of the cave entrance from inside the cave. It took us about 2 hours to reach the Big Room at the bottom and that is still only the tip of the iceberg that is the Carlsbad Caverns. There are miles of cave beyond that.

The view of the cave entrance from inside the cave. It took us about 2 hours to reach the Big Room at the bottom and that is still only the tip of the iceberg that is the Carlsbad Caverns. There are miles of cave beyond that.

 

Formations like his are found throughout. They are both beautiful and slightly eery.

Formations like his are found throughout. They are both beautiful and slightly eery.

 

These are whale's teeth, just one of the many formations found far below the earth's surface.

These are whale’s teeth, just one of the many formations found far below the earth’s surface.

 

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This is in the Big Room. The Rock of Ages was massive.

This is in the Big Room. The Rock of Ages was massive.

 

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I’ll leave you with the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, a God well known for his use of caves.

IV. TO HERMES (582 lines)

(ll. 1-29) Muse, sing of Hermes, the son of Zeus and Maia, lord of Cyllene and Arcadia rich in flocks, the luck-bringing messenger of the immortals whom Maia bare, the rich-tressed nymph, when she was joined in love with Zeus, — a shy goddess, for she avoided the company of the blessed gods, and lived within a deep, shady cave. There the son of Cronos used to lie with the rich-tressed nymph, unseen by deathless gods and mortal

men, at dead of night while sweet sleep should hold white-armed Hera fast. And when the purpose of great Zeus was fixed in heaven, she was delivered and a notable thing was come to pass. For then she bare a son, of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods. Born with the dawning, at mid-day he played on the lyre, and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo on the fourth day of the month; for on that day queenly Maia bare him. So soon as he had leaped from his mother’s heavenly womb, he lay not long waiting in his holy cradle, but he sprang up and sought the oxen of Apollo. But as he stepped over the threshold of the high-roofed cave, he found a tortoise there and gained endless delight. For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. When be saw it, the luck- bringing son of Zeus laughed and said:(ll. 30-38) `An omen of great luck for me so soon! I do not slight it. Hail, comrade of the feast, lovely in shape, sounding at the dance! With joy I meet you! Where got you that rich gaud for covering, that spangled shell — a tortoise living in the mountains? But I will take and carry you within: you shall help me and I will do you no disgrace, though first of all you must profit me. It is better to be at home: harm may come out of doors. Living, you shall be a spell against mischievous witchcraft (13); but if you die, then you shall make sweetest song.

(ll. 39-61) Thus speaking, he took up the tortoise in both hands and went back into the house carrying his charming toy. Then he cut off its limbs and scooped out the marrow of the mountain- tortoise with a scoop of grey iron. As a swift thought darts through the heart of a man when thronging cares haunt him, or as bright glances flash from the eye, so glorious Hermes planned both thought and deed at once. He cut stalks of reed to measure and fixed them, fastening their ends across the back and through the shell of the tortoise, and then stretched ox hide all over it by his skill. Also he put in the horns and fitted a cross-piece upon the two of them, and stretched seven strings of sheep-gut. But when he had made it he proved each string in turn with the key, as he held the lovely thing. At the touch of his hand it sounded marvellously; and, as he tried it, the god sang sweet random snatches, even as youths bandy taunts at festivals. He sang of Zeus the son of Cronos and neat-shod Maia, the converse which they had before in the comradeship of love, telling all the glorious tale of his own begetting. He celebrated, too, the handmaids of the nymph, and her bright home, and the tripods all about the house, and the abundant cauldrons.

(ll. 62-67) But while he was singing of all these, his heart was bent on other matters. And he took the hollow lyre and laid it in his sacred cradle, and sprang from the sweet-smelling hall to a watch-place, pondering sheet trickery in his heart — deeds such as knavish folk pursue in the dark night-time; for he longed to taste flesh.

(ll. 68-86) The Sun was going down beneath the earth towards Ocean with his horses and chariot when Hermes came hurrying to the shadowy mountains of Pieria, where the divine cattle of the blessed gods had their steads and grazed the pleasant, unmown meadows. Of these the Son of Maia, the sharp-eyed slayer of Argus then cut off from the herd fifty loud-lowing kine, and drove them straggling-wise across a sandy place, turning their hoof-prints aside. Also, he bethought him of a crafty ruse and reversed the marks of their hoofs, making the front behind and the hind before, while he himself walked the other way (14). Then he wove sandals with wicker-work by the sand of the sea, wonderful things, unthought of, unimagined; for he mixed together tamarisk and myrtle-twigs, fastening together an armful of their fresh, young wood, and tied them, leaves and all securely under his feet as light sandals. The brushwood the glorious Slayer of Argus plucked in Pieria as he was preparing for his journey, making shift (15) as one making haste for a long journey.

(ll. 87-89) But an old man tilling his flowering vineyard saw him as he was hurrying down the plain through grassy Onchestus. So the Son of Maia began and said to him:

(ll. 90-93) `Old man, digging about your vines with bowed shoulders, surely you shall have much wine when all these bear fruit, if you obey me and strictly remember not to have seen what you have seen, and not to have heard what you have heard, and to keep silent when nothing of your own is harmed.’

(ll. 94-114) When he had said this much, he hurried the strong cattle on together: through many shadowy mountains and echoing gorges and flowery plains glorious Hermes drove them. And now the divine night, his dark ally, was mostly passed, and dawn that sets folk to work was quickly coming on, while bright Selene, daughter of the lord Pallas, Megamedes’ son, had just climbed her watch-post, when the strong Son of Zeus drove the wide-browed cattle of Phoebus Apollo to the river Alpheus. And they came unwearied to the high-roofed byres and the drinking-troughs that were before the noble meadow. Then, after he had well-fed the loud-bellowing cattle with fodder and driven them into the byre, close-packed and chewing lotus and began to seek the art of fire.

He chose a stout laurel branch and trimmed it with the knife…. ((LACUNA)) (16) ….held firmly in his hand: and the hot smoke rose up. For it was Hermes who first invented fire-sticks and fire. Next he took many dried sticks and piled them thick and plenty in a sunken trench: and flame began to glow, spreading afar the blast of fierce-burning fire.

(ll. 115-137) And while the strength of glorious Hephaestus was beginning to kindle the fire, he dragged out two lowing, horned cows close to the fire; for great strength was with him. He threw them both panting upon their backs on the ground, and rolled them on their sides, bending their necks over (17), and pierced their vital chord. Then he went on from task to task: first he cut up the rich, fatted meat, and pierced it with wooden spits, and roasted flesh and the honourable chine and the paunch full of dark blood all together. He laid them there upon the ground, and spread out the hides on a rugged rock: and so they are still there many ages afterwards, a long, long time after all this, and are continually (18). Next glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, flat stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honourable. Then glorious Hermes longed for the sacrificial meat, for the sweet savour wearied him, god though he was; nevertheless his proud heart was not prevailed upon to devour the flesh, although he greatly desired (19). But he put away the fat and all the flesh in the high- roofed byre, placing them high up to be a token of his youthful theft. And after that he gathered dry sticks and utterly destroyed with fire all the hoofs and all the heads.

(ll. 138-154) And when the god had duly finished all, he threw his sandals into deep-eddying Alpheus, and quenched the embers, covering the black ashes with sand, and so spent the night while Selene’s soft light shone down. Then the god went straight back again at dawn to the bright crests of Cyllene, and no one met him on the long journey either of the blessed gods or mortal men, nor did any dog bark. And luck-bringing Hermes, the son of Zeus, passed edgeways through the key-hole of the hall like the autumn breeze, even as mist: straight through the cave he went and came to the rich inner chamber, walking softly, and making no noise as one might upon the floor. Then glorious Hermes went hurriedly to his cradle, wrapping his swaddling clothes about his shoulders as though he were a feeble babe, and lay playing with the covering about his knees; but at his left hand he kept close his sweet lyre.

(ll. 155-161) But the god did not pass unseen by the goddess his mother; but she said to him: `How now, you rogue! Whence come you back so at night-time, you that wear shamelessness as a garment? And now I surely believe the son of Leto will soon have you forth out of doors with unbreakable cords about your ribs, or you will live a rogue’s life in the glens robbing by whiles. Go to, then; your father got you to be a great worry to mortal men and deathless gods.’

(ll. 162-181) Then Hermes answered her with crafty words: `Mother, why do you seek to frighten me like a feeble child whose heart knows few words of blame, a fearful babe that fears its mother’s scolding? Nay, but I will try whatever plan is best, and so feed myself and you continually. We will not be content to remain here, as you bid, alone of all the gods unfee’d with offerings and prayers. Better to live in fellowship with the deathless gods continually, rich, wealthy, and enjoying stories of grain, than to sit always in a gloomy cave: and, as regards honour, I too will enter upon the rite that Apollo has. If my father will not give it to me, I will seek — and I am able — to be a prince of robbers. And if Leto’s most glorious son shall seek me out, I think another and a greater loss will befall him. For I will go to Pytho to break into his great house, and will plunder therefrom splendid tripods, and cauldrons, and gold, and plenty of bright iron, and much apparel; and you shall see it if you will.’

(ll. 182-189) With such words they spoke together, the son of Zeus who holds the aegis, and the lady Maia. Now Eros the early born was rising from deep-flowing Ocean, bringing light to men, when Apollo, as he went, came to Onchestus, the lovely grove and sacred place of the loud-roaring Holder of the Earth. There he found an old man grazing his beast along the pathway from his court-yard fence, and the all-glorious Son of Leto began and said to him.

(ll. 190-200) `Old man, weeder (20) of grassy Onchestus, I am come here from Pieria seeking cattle, cows all of them, all with curving horns, from my herd. The black bull was grazing alone away from the rest, but fierce-eyed hounds followed the cows, four of them, all of one mind, like men. These were left behind, the dogs and the bull — which is great marvel; but the cows strayed out of the soft meadow, away from the pasture when the sun was just going down. Now tell me this, old man born long ago: have you seen one passing along behind those cows?’

(ll. 201-211) Then the old man answered him and said: `My son, it is hard to tell all that one’s eyes see; for many wayfarers pass to and fro this way, some bent on much evil, and some on good: it is difficult to know each one. However, I was digging about my plot of vineyard all day long until the sun went down, and I thought, good sir, but I do not know for certain, that I marked a child, whoever the child was, that followed long-horned cattle — an infant who had a staff and kept walking from side to side: he was driving them backwards way, with their heads toward him.’

(ll. 212-218) So said the old man. And when Apollo heard this report, he went yet more quickly on his way, and presently, seeing a long-winged bird, he knew at once by that omen that thief was the child of Zeus the son of Cronos. So the lord Apollo, son of Zeus, hurried on to goodly Pylos seeking his shambling oxen, and he had his broad shoulders covered with a dark cloud. But when the Far-Shooter perceived the tracks, he cried:

(ll. 219-226) `Oh, oh! Truly this is a great marvel that my eyes behold! These are indeed the tracks of straight-horned oxen, but they are turned backwards towards the flowery meadow. But these others are not the footprints of man or woman or grey wolves or bears or lions, nor do I think they are the tracks of a rough- maned Centaur — whoever it be that with swift feet makes such monstrous footprints; wonderful are the tracks on this side of the way, but yet more wonderfully are those on that.’

(ll. 227-234) When he had so said, the lord Apollo, the Son of Zeus hastened on and came to the forest-clad mountain of Cyllene and the deep-shadowed cave in the rock where the divine nymph brought forth the child of Zeus who is the son of Cronos. A sweet odour spread over the lovely hill, and many thin-shanked sheep were grazing on the grass. Then far-shooting Apollo himself stepped down in haste over the stone threshold into the dusky cave.

(ll. 235-253) Now when the Son of Zeus and Maia saw Apollo in a rage about his cattle, he snuggled down in his fragrant swaddling-clothes; and as wood-ash covers over the deep embers of tree-stumps, so Hermes cuddled himself up when he saw the Far- Shooter. He squeezed head and hands and feet together in a small space, like a new born child seeking sweet sleep, though in truth he was wide awake, and he kept his lyre under his armpit. But the Son of Leto was aware and failed not to perceive the beautiful mountain-nymph and her dear son, albeit a little child and swathed so craftily. He peered in ever corner of the great dwelling and, taking a bright key, he opened three closets full of nectar and lovely ambrosia. And much gold and silver was stored in them, and many garments of the nymph, some purple and some silvery white, such as are kept in the sacred houses of the blessed gods. Then, after the Son of Leto had searched out the recesses of the great house, he spake to glorious Hermes:

(ll. 254-259) `Child, lying in the cradle, make haste and tell me of my cattle, or we two will soon fall out angrily. For I will take and cast you into dusty Tartarus and awful hopeless darkness, and neither your mother nor your father shall free you or bring you up again to the light, but you will wander under the earth and be the leader amongst little folk.’ (21)

(ll. 260-277) Then Hermes answered him with crafty words: `Son of Leto, what harsh words are these you have spoken? And is it cattle of the field you are come here to seek? I have not seen them: I have not heard of them: no one has told me of them. I cannot give news of them, nor win the reward for news. Am I like a cattle-liter, a stalwart person? This is no task for me: rather I care for other things: I care for sleep, and milk of my mother’s breast, and wrappings round my shoulders, and warm baths. Let no one hear the cause of this dispute; for this would be a great marvel indeed among the deathless gods, that a child newly born should pass in through the forepart of the house with cattle of the field: herein you speak extravagantly. I was born yesterday, and my feet are soft and the ground beneath is rough; nevertheless, if you will have it so, I will swear a great oath by my father’s head and vow that neither am I guilty myself, neither have I seen any other who stole your cows — whatever cows may be; for I know them only by hearsay.’

(ll. 278-280) So, then, said Hermes, shooting quick glances from his eyes: and he kept raising his brows and looking this way and that, whistling long and listening to Apollo’s story as to an idle tale.

(ll. 281-292) But far-working Apollo laughed softly and said to him: `O rogue, deceiver, crafty in heart, you talk so innocently that I most surely believe that you have broken into many a well- built house and stripped more than one poor wretch bare this night (22), gathering his goods together all over the house without noise. You will plague many a lonely herdsman in mountain glades, when you come on herds and thick-fleeced sheep, and have a hankering after flesh. But come now, if you would not sleep your last and latest sleep, get out of your cradle, you comrade of dark night. Surely hereafter this shall be your title amongst the deathless gods, to be called the prince of robbers continually.’

(ll. 293-300) So said Phoebus Apollo, and took the child and began to carry him. But at that moment the strong Slayer of Argus had his plan, and, while Apollo held him in his hands, sent forth an omen, a hard-worked belly-serf, a rude messenger, and sneezed directly after. And when Apollo heard it, he dropped glorious Hermes out of his hands on the ground: then sitting down before him, though he was eager to go on his way, he spoke mockingly to Hermes:

(ll. 301-303) `Fear not, little swaddling baby, son of Zeus and Maia. I shall find the strong cattle presently by these omens, and you shall lead the way.’

(ll. 304-306) When Apollo had so said, Cyllenian Hermes sprang up quickly, starting in haste. With both hands he pushed up to his ears the covering that he had wrapped about his shoulders, and said:

(ll. 307-312) `Where are you carrying me, Far-Worker, hastiest of all the gods? Is it because of your cattle that you are so angry and harass me? O dear, would that all the sort of oxen might perish; for it is not I who stole your cows, nor did I see another steal them — whatever cows may be, and of that I have only heard report. Nay, give right and take it before Zeus, the Son of Cronos.’

(ll. 313-326) So Hermes the shepherd and Leto’s glorious son kept stubbornly disputing each article of their quarrel: Apollo, speaking truly…. ((LACUNA)) ….not fairly sought to seize glorious Hermes because of the cows; but he, the Cyllenian, tried to deceive the God of the Silver Bow with tricks and cunning words. But when, though he had many wiles, he found the other had as many shifts, he began to walk across the sand, himself in front, while the Son of Zeus and Leto came behind. Soon they came, these lovely children of Zeus, to the top of fragrant Olympus, to their father, the Son of Cronos; for there were the scales of judgement set for them both.

There was an assembly on snowy Olympus, and the immortals who perish not were gathering after the hour of gold-throned Dawn.

(ll. 327-329) Then Hermes and Apollo of the Silver Bow stood at the knees of Zeus: and Zeus who thunders on high spoke to his glorious son and asked him:

(ll. 330-332) `Phoebus, whence come you driving this great spoil, a child new born that has the look of a herald? This is a weighty matter that is come before the council of the gods.’

(ll. 333-364) Then the lord, far-working Apollo, answered him: `O my father, you shall soon hear no triffling tale though you reproach me that I alone am fond of spoil. Here is a child, a burgling robber, whom I found after a long journey in the hills of Cyllene: for my part I have never seen one so pert either among the gods or all men that catch folk unawares throughout the world. He strole away my cows from their meadow and drove them off in the evening along the shore of the loud-roaring sea, making straight for Pylos. There were double tracks, and wonderful they were, such as one might marvel at, the doing of a clever sprite; for as for the cows, the dark dust kept and showed their footprints leading towards the flowery meadow; but he himself — bewildering creature — crossed the sandy ground outside the path, not on his feet nor yet on his hands; but, furnished with some other means he trudged his way — wonder of wonders! — as though one walked on slender oak-trees. Now while he followed the cattle across sandy ground, all the tracks showed quite clearly in the dust; but when he had finished the long way across the sand, presently the cows’ track and his own could not be traced over the hard ground. But a mortal man noticed him as he drove the wide-browed kine straight towards Pylos. And as soon as he had shut them up quietly, and had gone home by crafty turns and twists, he lay down in his cradle in the gloom of a dim cave, as still as dark night, so that not even an eagle keenly gazing would have spied him. Much he rubbed his eyes with his hands as he prepared falsehood, and himself straightway said roundly: “I have not seen them: I have not heard of them: no man has told me of them. I could not tell you of them, nor win the reward of telling.”‘

(ll. 365-367) When he had so spoken, Phoebus Apollo sat down. But Hermes on his part answered and said, pointing at the Son of Cronos, the lord of all the gods:

(ll. 368-386) `Zeus, my father, indeed I will speak truth to you; for I am truthful and I cannot tell a lie. He came to our house to-day looking for his shambling cows, as the sun was newly rising. He brought no witnesses with him nor any of the blessed gods who had seen the theft, but with great violence ordered me to confess, threatening much to throw me into wide Tartarus. For he has the rich bloom of glorious youth, while I was born but yesterday — as he too knows — nor am I like a cattle-lifter, a sturdy fellow. Believe my tale (for you claim to be my own father), that I did not drive his cows to my house — so may I prosper — nor crossed the threshold: this I say truly. I reverence Helios greatly and the other gods, and you I love and him I dread. You yourself know that I am not guilty: and I will swear a great oath upon it: — No! by these rich-decked porticoes of the gods. And some day I will punish him, strong as he is, for this pitiless inquisition; but now do you help the younger.’

(ll. 387-396) So spake the Cyllenian, the Slayer of Argus, while he kept shooting sidelong glances and kept his swaddling-clothes upon his arm, and did not cast them away. But Zeus laughed out loud to see his evil-plotting child well and cunningly denying guilt about the cattle. And he bade them both to be of one mind and search for the cattle, and guiding Hermes to lead the way and, without mischievousness of heart, to show the place where now he had hidden the strong cattle. Then the Son of Cronos bowed his head: and goodly Hermes obeyed him; for the will of Zeus who holds the aegis easily prevailed with him.

(ll. 397-404) Then the two all-glorious children of Zeus hastened both to sandy Pylos, and reached the ford of Alpheus, and came to the fields and the high-roofed byre where the beasts were cherished at night-time. Now while Hermes went to the cave in the rock and began to drive out the strong cattle, the son of Leto, looking aside, saw the cowhides on the sheer rock. And he asked glorious Hermes at once:

(ll. 405-408) `How were you able, you crafty rogue, to flay two cows, new-born and babyish as you are? For my part, I dread the strength that will be yours: there is no need you should keep growing long, Cyllenian, son of Maia!’

(ll. 409-414) So saying, Apollo twisted strong withes with his hands meaning to bind Hermes with firm bands; but the bands would not hold him, and the withes of osier fell far from him and began to grow at once from the ground beneath their feet in that very place. And intertwining with one another, they quickly grew and covered all the wild-roving cattle by the will of thievish Hermes, so that Apollo was astonished as he gazed.

(ll. 414-435) Then the strong slayer of Argus looked furtively upon the ground with eyes flashing fire…. desiring to hide…. ((LACUNA)) ….Very easily he softened the son of all-glorious Leto as he would, stern though the Far-shooter was. He took the lyre upon his left arm and tried each string in turn with the key, so that it sounded awesomely at his touch. And Phoebus Apollo laughed for joy; for the sweet throb of the marvellous music went to his heart, and a soft longing took hold on his soul as he listened. Then the son of Maia, harping sweetly upon his lyre, took courage and stood at the left hand of Phoebus Apollo; and soon, while he played shrilly on his lyre, he lifted up his voice and sang, and lovely was the sound of his voice that followed. He sang the story of the deathless gods and of the dark earth, how at the first they came to be, and how each one received his portion. First among the gods he honoured Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, in his song; for the son of Maia was of her following. And next the goodly son of Zeus hymned the rest of the immortals according to their order in age, and told how each was born, mentioning all in order as he struck the lyre upon his arm. But Apollo was seized with a longing not to be allayed, and he opened his mouth and spoke winged words to Hermes:

(ll. 436-462) `Slayer of oxen, trickster, busy one, comrade of the feast, this song of yours is worth fifty cows, and I believe that presently we shall settle our quarrel peacefully. But come now, tell me this, resourceful son of Maia: has this marvellous thing been with you from your birth, or did some god or mortal man give it you — a noble gift — and teach you heavenly song? For wonderful is this new-uttered sound I hear, the like of which I vow that no man nor god dwelling on Olympus ever yet has known but you, O thievish son of Maia. What skill is this? What song for desperate cares? What way of song? For verily here are three things to hand all at once from which to choose, — mirth, and love, and sweet sleep. And though I am a follower of the Olympian Muses who love dances and the bright path of song — the full-toned chant and ravishing thrill of flutes — yet I never cared for any of those feats of skill at young men’s revels, as I do now for this: I am filled with wonder, O son of Zeus, at your sweet playing. But now, since you, though little, have such glorious skill, sit down, dear boy, and respect the words of your elders. For now you shall have renown among the deathless gods, you and your mother also. This I will declare to you exactly: by this shaft of cornel wood I will surely make you a leader renowned among the deathless gods, and fortunate, and will give you glorious gifts and will not deceive you from first to last.’

(ll. 463-495) Then Hermes answered him with artful words: `You question me carefully, O Far-worker; yet I am not jealous that you should enter upon my art: this day you shall know it. For I seek to be friendly with you both in thought and word. Now you well know all things in your heart, since you sit foremost among the deathless gods, O son of Zeus, and are goodly and strong. And wise Zeus loves you as all right is, and has given you splendid gifts. And they say that from the utterance of Zeus you have learned both the honours due to the gods, O Far-worker, and oracles from Zeus, even all his ordinances. Of all these I myself have already learned that you have great wealth. Now, you are free to learn whatever you please; but since, as it seems, your heart is so strongly set on playing the lyre, chant, and play upon it, and give yourself to merriment, taking this as a gift from me, and do you, my friend, bestow glory on me. Sing well with this clear-voiced companion in your hands; for you are skilled in good, well-ordered utterance. From now on bring it confidently to the rich feast and lovely dance and glorious revel, a joy by night and by day. Whoso with wit and wisdom enquires of it cunningly, him it teaches through its sound all manner of things that delight the mind, being easily played with gentle familiarities, for it abhors toilsome drudgery; but whoso in ignorance enquires of it violently, to him it chatters mere vanity and foolishness. But you are able to learn whatever you please. So then, I will give you this lyre, glorious son of Zeus, while I for my part will graze down with wild-roving cattle the pastures on hill and horse-feeding plain: so shall the cows covered by the bulls calve abundantly both males and females. And now there is no need for you, bargainer though you are, to be furiously angry.’

(ll. 496-502) When Hermes had said this, he held out the lyre: and Phoebus Apollo took it, and readily put his shining whip in Hermes’ hand, and ordained him keeper of herds. The son of Maia received it joyfully, while the glorious son of Leto, the lord far-working Apollo, took the lyre upon his left arm and tried each string with the key. Awesomely it sounded at the touch of the god, while he sang sweetly to its note.

(ll. 503-512) Afterwards they two, the all-glorious sons of Zeus turned the cows back towards the sacred meadow, but themselves hastened back to snowy Olympus, delighting in the lyre. Then wise Zeus was glad and made them both friends. And Hermes loved the son of Leto continually, even as he does now, when he had given the lyre as token to the Far-shooter, who played it skilfully, holding it upon his arm. But for himself Hermes found out another cunning art and made himself the pipes whose sound is heard afar.

(ll. 513-520) Then the son of Leto said to Hermes: `Son of Maia, guide and cunning one, I fear you may steal form me the lyre and my curved bow together; for you have an office from Zeus, to establish deeds of barter amongst men throughout the fruitful earth. Now if you would only swear me the great oath of the gods, either by nodding your head, or by the potent water of Styx, you would do all that can please and ease my heart.’

(ll. 521-549) Then Maia’s son nodded his head and promised that he would never steal anything of all the Far-shooter possessed, and would never go near his strong house; but Apollo, son of Leto, swore to be fellow and friend to Hermes, vowing that he would love no other among the immortals, neither god nor man sprung from Zeus, better than Hermes: and the Father sent forth an eagle in confirmation. And Apollo sware also: `Verily I will make you only to be an omen for the immortals and all alike, trusted and honoured by my heart. Moreover, I will give you a splendid staff of riches and wealth: it is of gold, with three branches, and will keep you scatheless, accomplishing every task, whether of words or deeds that are good, which I claim to know through the utterance of Zeus. But as for sooth-saying, noble, heaven-born child, of which you ask, it is not lawful for you to learn it, nor for any other of the deathless gods: only the mind of Zeus knows that. I am pledged and have vowed and sworn a strong oath that no other of the eternal gods save I should know the wise-hearted counsel of Zeus. And do not you, my brother, bearer of the golden wand, bid me tell those decrees which all- seeing Zeus intends. As for men, I will harm one and profit another, sorely perplexing the tribes of unenviable men. Whosoever shall come guided by the call and flight of birds of sure omen, that man shall have advantage through my voice, and I will not deceive him. But whoso shall trust to idly-chattering birds and shall seek to invoke my prophetic art contrary to my will, and to understand more than the eternal gods, I declare that he shall come on an idle journey; yet his gifts I would take.

(ll. 550-568) `But I will tell you another thing, Son of all- glorious Maia and Zeus who holds the aegis, luck-bringing genius of the gods. There are certain holy ones, sisters born — three virgins (23) gifted with wings: their heads are besprinkled with white meal, and they dwell under a ridge of Parnassus. These are teachers of divination apart from me, the art which I practised while yet a boy following herds, though my father paid no heed to it. From their home they fly now here, now there, feeding on honey-comb and bringing all things to pass. And when they are inspired through eating yellow honey, they are willing to speak truth; but if they be deprived of the gods’ sweet food, then they speak falsely, as they swarm in and out together. These, then, I give you; enquire of them strictly and delight your heart: and if you should teach any mortal so to do, often will he hear your response — if he have good fortune. Take these, Son of Maia, and tend the wild roving, horned oxen and horses and patient mules.’

(ll. 568a-573) So he spake. And from heaven father Zeus himself gave confirmation to his words, and commanded that glorious Hermes should be lord over all birds of omen and grim-eyed lions, and boars with gleaming tusks, and over dogs and all flocks that the wide earth nourishes, and over all sheep; also that he only should be the appointed messenger to Hades, who, though he takes no gift, shall give him no mean prize.

(ll. 574-578) Thus the lord Apollo showed his kindness for the Son of Maia by all manner of friendship: and the Son of Cronos gave him grace besides. He consorts with all mortals and immortals: a little he profits, but continually throughout the dark night he cozens the tribes of mortal men.

(ll. 579-580) And so, farewell, Son of Zeus and Maia; but I will remember you and another song also.

~Translation by Evelyn-White (public domain)

PSC: LOW-RES PROOF REQ? = 0

 

 

*All pictures were taken by me, please do not use without permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Yuletide Hobby Horse

This post was written for my Witches and Pagans blog A Pyrate’s Perspective, but apparently my blog is currently broken. While they work to fix it, I’m going to go ahead and post this here.

Blessed Yule a little early!

Say, old man, your horse will die,

And I say so and I hope so,

And if he dies I’ll sell his skin,

Poor old horse.

The Hobby Horse. Oss Ol Oss, as they say in Britain and elsewhere. You may be familiar with the May Day Hobby Horse from watching The Wicker Man. Yes, that Hobby Horse. From England to Wales, from Sweden to Norway, the Hobby Horse is meant to bring good luck and fertility to those who are visited by it. Many of these traditions happen around Yule and the New Year.

It is Yule in Britain: the Hobby Horse is brought to each house in a village by young men singing and dancing, in a tradition similar to Wassailing. The tradition is different everywhere you go, but a horse’s head is usually fashioned out of wood (and sometimes from an actual horse’s skull!) and placed on top of a pole. The jaws can usually move and are snapped by the man who carries the pole and who is traditionally hidden under a sheet. The whole hobby horse is bedecked with ribbons and flowers and whatever traditional decorations used in each locale. This hobby horse is then taken around the village to promote luck for the New Year.

1476219_10101439409633428_1892327282_nWhen the Hobby Horse is brought to a house, a contest between the Horse and the household ensues. The Horse would improvise songs, and the household would have to come up with a final verse. If the household couldn’t come up with a final verse, the Horse was allowed entrance to the house, where it would enter and chase the young women of the household. (The Horse was usually allowed to win, since its entrance into the house was considered to bring luck for the coming year). The young woman who was “caught” by the Hobby Horse, was given a seat where she could then view the dance of the young men who “killed” the horse. After the death of the horse, the horse’s head was placed in her lap. The head would then be asked questions for the coming year and the young woman (or in some cases the young man who carried the horse) would be asked questions about the coming year. The answers given were seen to be true predictions.

If kept outside, it would demand to be reshod after its death and rebirth and the singers would move to the next house.

This picture is from the article "The Mast Beast."

This picture is from the article “The Mast Beast.”

In other places, the Horse and its carriers would sing and act out “The Old Horse,” a traditional folksong about the death of the old year. “As with the wren, we take the horse’s strength to keep us going through the coming year”. * In most traditions, the young men are given a pint at each household to keep them warm and to keep the cheer going for the next house.

My favorite Hobby Horse tradition is found in Wales. The Mari Lwyd, or the Grey Horse, is often linked to the Goddess Rhiannon. In this Hobby Horse tradition, a Punch and Judy character usually travel with the horse to each house. Punch would carry a poker and be responsible for rapping on the door of each house when they got there. He would also keep time by tapping his poker on the ground while the Hobby Horse sang its songs. Judy would carry a besom and brush the outside of the house and anyone unlucky enough to get too close. Part of the back and forth of the mummers and the household would have to include the household gaining a promise that Punch and Judy would be behave when they came into the house. If the household did not get the promise, Punch would scatter the ashes of the old fire from the grate before lighting the new one and Judy would scatter them throughout the house instead of sweeping the house floors. Here it becomes obvious why a household might not want the luck of the Hobby Horse for the New Year!

In Germany, many places practice the custom of Schimmelreiter, where a Hobby Horse is lead to each household. This custom is a little tamer; the Horse promises luck in exchange for food and is usually seen to be a symbol of Odin’s horse, Sleipnir. The white horse is seen in many German and Norse traditions.

Another of these is the Dalecarlian or Dala Horse from Sweden. The story goes that soldiers who came to stay in the region of Dalarna during the campaigns of Charles XII first carved the horses for their host’s children as a thank you. These horses bring good luck to the household. I recently came across a beautiful modern retelling of the luck of the Dala Horse, which you can find here.

One custom found throughout the world is the hobby horse made on old sailing ships. When a ship left port, the sailors would fashion a wooden horse that after 30 days would be sacrificed to the sea. This symbolized the sailor’s freedom from the land and the freedom that the sea gave them. This is from the Celtic traditions of the horse representing the sovereignty of the land. By casting off the horse, they were casting off the laws of their nation and embracing the wildness of the ocean. It also signaled the sailors’ first pay period.

The Norse tradition of the Joulupukki is also tied to the Hobby Horse tradition. The Norse Yule Goat is a straw figure carried to each house, or a man who dresses up as a goat, who begs for leftover food. The Joulupukki is tied to Thor’s goats and the Wild Hunt led by Odin. This character is often seen as a Santa Clause character, but instead of climbing down the chimney, he knocks on the front door and asks to be let in. When he is let in he asks “Are there any well behaved children here?”

Joulupukki_Finland

The Hobby Horse is a tradition that continues to live throughout the world. It is a part of traditional Morris Dancing and local customs still seen today. If you’re out wassailing this year and have a little bit more time and creativity, create your own Hobby Horse and carry it with you. The luck of the Hobby Horse is still just as potent and wonderful as it ever was. And who couldn’t use a little bit more luck for the New Year anyway?

dala-horse-and-julbock-yule-goat

*From the article “Poor Old Horse.”

At the Hearth

I spent the afternoon cooking for my coven and for my family for the rest of the week. It made me think about the magic inherent in the act of cooking and magic that is only found in the kitchen. This reminded me of one of my favorite books. When I couldn’t find it online to share with you, I decided to read it to you. So without further ado…!

“At the Hearth” is the first chapter from the book Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food & Flavor. Laura Esquivel is probably most well known for her book Like Water for Chocolate. Her stories are imbued with magical realism and capture many beautiful truths about the world around us that very few are able to see. I often reflect on this chapter and it’s meanings on my own life. As a witch, I think I often return to the kitchen of the past generations and even though I live in the modern world, those that came before me still have a great deal to teach me about life and the Craft that I work.

Happy belated Thanksgiving all! I’m thankful to live in a world where I can openly be who I am and one in which people like this are willing to write down their thinking about the world around us.

I am also thankful for partners who are willing to help me at 1 AM create a video on software I am completely unfamiliar with. To my own masculine partner, I love you and appreciate all the wonderful things you do for me. My life is much richer for your presence in it.

The Other Thanksgiving

I wrote this post last year for Witches and Pagans, but I thought some of you might enjoy it over here and it is appropriate for the season…

 

Ah yes…Thanksgiving. That time of year in America where we stuff ourselves full of turkey deliciousness and pie, then pass out in front of a football game, while probably saying “thank you Gods” for having a few paid days off of work. Of course, this isn’t what the holiday is actually about, but, as Pagans, we’ve already had our “Hooray, we got through another harvest!” feast.

When we were children, our schools filled us with images of peaceful Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to celebrate survival together. Hand print turkeys ran rampant over our decorations and buckled shoes seem to magically appear everywhere.

b2ap3_thumbnail_turkey-images.jpg (Oh common, you can’t tell me that you still wouldn’t do this if you got the chance).

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. And in more ways than one.

As my friend Jason Mankey will tell you, Thanksgiving itself has roots in Paganism. Of course, it’s a few months late really, but then, the Pilgrims don’t seem to have been the most competent of farmers in their new homeland. (Jason puts a nicer spin on this).

We all know the story of the Puritans coming to America and nearly starving to death in Plymouth until Squanto, the interpreter, stepped in to show the Puritans how to grow crops. In thanks, everyone sat down together to feast and make merry.

As young school children, our teachers usually didn’t cover what happened later between the Puritans and the Native Americans. It wasn’t until we were older that our young hearts got to be broken when we realized that the Puritans were not quite the kindhearted farmers that we always thought them to be, when the darker aspects of this relationship were revealed.

b2ap3_thumbnail_thanksgiving_cartoon1.jpg

The Native American massacres by the Puritans have come to be fairly well known and are a hot topic of debate these days when it comes to discussing Thanksgiving. But in the midst of this well-known Thanksgiving story, massacres and all, the common record seems to gloss out another important story of early Americana Puritan history:

The history of Thomas Morton.

Who was Thomas Morton? Essentially the first British Pagan in the American colonies. Thomas Morton wanted to create a Utopian society that took the land and the “Old Ways” into consideration and integrated them with Native American practices for a new society in the New World.

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(Cheerful looking fellow, Old Thomas)

Thomas Morton was a lawyer from Devon, an area of England that was already considered to have integrated Protestantism and Catholocism into the Pagan traditions of the past. Devon had just survived the Reformation and we can probably assume that there were still a lot of ill feelings in the area over the switch to Protestantism. Devon is also known as a place where “the Old Ways”  of “Merry Old England” were maintained, despite the official religion of Christianity.

Morton came from an old Anglican family and was well known for championing the “displaced countrymen” of the day. He worked for the governor of Plymouth, who was majorly connected in the colonial trade. In 1618, Morton became one of the governor’s landsmen and oversaw the colonial interests. While Morton was probably not a huge fan of the Puritans before, sources note that this experience seemed to settle his dislike for his extremely religious neighbors.

Morton first went to America in 1622, but didn’t stay long due to the “intolerance” of the Puritans. When he returned in 1624, he settled a colony called Mare-Mount (for the land and sea) or, Merrymount, with a man called Wollaston. Morton fell out with Wollaston when he realized that Wollaston was selling indentured servants into what was essentially slavery to the Puritans. Wollaston was eventually driven out of Merrymount and Morton proposed a much more egalitarian society where people had equal interests in the colony. Morton called himself “The Host of Mare-Mount”.

Morton created peaceful ties with the local Algonquin tribes and started integrating Native beliefs and traditions into the colony. Morton also openly brought back many “Old English” traditions, one of which, was the Maypole.

As Morton himself said of the revels at Merrymount:

The Inhabitants of Pasonagessit (having translated the name of their habitation from that ancient Salvage name to Ma-reMount [MerryMount]; and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after ages) did devise amongst themselves to have it performed in a solemne manner with Revels, & merriment after the old English custorne: prepared to sett up a Maypole upon the festivall day of Philip and Jacob ; & therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beer, & provided a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that day. And because they would have it in a complete forme, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drums, guns, pistols, and other fitting instruments, for that purpose ; and there erected it with the help of Salvages, that came thether of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80 foot long, was reared up, with a pair of buckshorns nailed one, somewhat neare unto the top of it : where it stood as a faire sea marke for directions; how to finde out the way to mine Hoste of Ma-reMount.

And because it should more fully appeare to what end it was placed there, they had a poem in readiness made, which was fixed to the Maypole, to shew the new name confirmed upon that plantation; which although it were made according to the occurrents of the time, it being Enigmatically composed) puzzled the Seperatists most pitifully to expound it. . . .

The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise seperatists : that lived at new Plymouth. They termed it an Idoll; yea they called it the Calf of Horeb: and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatening to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount. . . .

There was likewise a merry song made, which (to make their Revells more fashionable) was sung with a chorus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a dance, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of the Company sung, and filled out the good liquor like gammedes and Jupiter. – Thomas Morton, Revels in New Canaan (1637)

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Needless to say, this did not go over well with the Puritans.

The Puritans eventually managed to overthrown Merrymount and to capture Morton. Morton was marooned on an island and left to starve. With help from the local natives (who were apparently amused to watch this entire drama), Morton eventually managed to escape the island and make his way back to England, where, to the consternation of the Puritans, he actually managed to win a court case against the Massachusetts Bay Colony (the power behind the Puritans), which revoked their charter.

Unfortunately Merrymount did not survive under the rule of the Puritans in Morton’s absence. Also unfortunately, the politics of the day, which had supported him (King Charles was not a fan of the Puritans), failed during the English Civil War. While Morton did manage to return to America, he was captured and put on trial as a “Royalist”. While he was never actually prosecuted, he was held in prison. He did eventually make it back to Maine, where he was sheltered and finally died in 1647.

Morton said:

This harmless mirth made by young men (that lived in hope to have wives brought over to them, that would save them a labour to make a voyage to fetch any over) was much distasted, of the precise Seperatists: that keep much ado, about the tithe of Muit [mint] and Cunmin ; troubling their braines more then reason would require about things that are indifferent: and from that time sought occasion against my honest Host of Ma-reMount to overthrow his undertakings, and to destroy his plantation quite and cleane . . .

But Thomas Morton is a rather large character to sweep so easily under the rug. We get a lot of discussion and debate over the Puritans and their interactions with their Native neighbors, but who knows about Thomas Morton?

Thomas Morton would be a great example for all of those that like to tell us that our founders were all Christian, and he would be an excellent example for religious peace and tolerance.

Can you imagine what America would have been like if Thomas Morton and his Merrymount would have survived and been used as a basis for our society?

This Thursday, while you’re eating your turkey and watching your football, remember Thomas Morton and the America that might have been. If we had had more of Morton and less of the Puritans, America would probably be a very different place.

Fairy Horses

I’m getting ready to start graduate school. I’ve been putting it off for years, but things have finally clicked into place and away I am about to go.

I received my first syllabus tonight. The first book that I have to have read (by the first class, yay grad school!) is Jane Eyre. That’s easy enough, it’s not like I haven’t already read it several times, so it will just be a matter of rereading it and giving it a more “critical” look.

One of the things I love most about this story is that Jane Eyre thinks she has a brush with a piece of folklore.

As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a “Gytrash,” which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me. It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash — a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head […], with strange pretercanine eyes […]. The horse followed, — a tall steed […]. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone […].  ~ Jane Eyre Chapter 12

Jane Eyre has an encounter with a Gytrash…at least she thinks she does. In reality, this is the scene where she meets Mr. Rochester, her mysterious employer and the hero (anti-hero possibly?), for the first time.

A lot of scholars like to use this as an example of Romanticism in Bronte’s writing. But I think that a lot of it simply has to do with the fact that the Gytrash was a piece of British folklore that most people probably still regularly had encounters with and would have talked about. People were probably warned to watch out for the Gytrash as they traveled through unfamiliar countryside

The Gytrash falls into that category of spirits that haunt lonely roads and weary travelers. Usually appearing as a horse, a dog or sometimes a mule, the Gytrash can either be helpful or harmful.

Jane Eyre is not the only famous piece of literature to depict a Gytrash. The legend of a Gytrash also shows up in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles nearly 60 years later.

There are many types of spirits like this that people would have been weary of meeting on a deserted country road. We’ve all heard of the Will-O-the-Wisp, which are present even in American folklore. The Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts is famous for sightings. They even come up in children’s movies these days!

Kelpies and Pukas are also similar to the Gytrash. These water horses can bring good or bad fortune to whoever they encounter. The Puka is known for showing up as a horse, a goat or a rabbit. It is usually associated with Samhain, since it was known for demanding an offering from the last harvested crops. Without the offering, they would cause trouble for the whole community. The Puka can also speak with a human voice and was known for trying to tempt people to come out of their houses at night. (The Puka is also a character in one of my favorite novels, Peter S. Beagle’s Tamsin. If you’re interested in British folklore this is a great book to check out).

Kelpies could appear as beautiful women who would lure men to their watery deaths. The Kelpie usually liked to eat its victims. Sometimes also appearing as a horse, it would tempt someone to get on it’s back and then ride them into a body of water where they could drown and devour their victim. One of the more famous stories of the Kelpie was about one who had convinced nine friends to get on its back. The tenth refused, but put his hand on the Kelpie’s nose. The hand became stuck there and instead of getting on the horses back as the others had done, the tenth child cut off his hand and escaped.

There are also many stories of Kelpies kidnapping women to be their wives in their watery homes which were usually at the bottom of the local loch. (As I write this, my partner is at GenCon without me. This year their guest of honor is another one of my favorite authors…Mercedes Lackey. One of Lackey’s less well-known works is The River’s Gift, a story about a Kelpie. I also recommend this book).

These types of creatures are also related to the Mari Lwyd. The Mari Lwyd or the Grey Mare is a Welsh tradition. Men would carry a horses skull (usually made out of wood or cardboard), decked out in a white sheet (that disguised the man carrying it), ribbons, and a hinged jaw that could snap at people door to door as they wassailed the new year in. Unlike England, where the focus of the wassail ritual was on the birds and the crops, the Welsh focused on the Mari Lwyd, which was a tradition that connects back to the goddess Rhiannon.

We meet Rhiannon in the Mabinogion. Rhiannon is an underworld woman who appears to the hero Pwyll on top of a fairy mound riding a horse. After they are married (which is a long story in and of itself), she is accused of eating her newborn son. In recompense she has to bear men on her back like a horse and tell them what she has done.

The penance that was put on her was as follows: she was to stay at the court of Arbeth for the duration of seven years. There was a mounting-block by the gate. She had to sit beside it every day telling anyone coming by the whole story (of those she supposed did not know it) and offering whichever guest and stranger would allow themselves to carried, to be carried on her back to the court. But only rarely did anyone allow the carrying. In this way she passed the next part of the year.

~ From the third part of the First Branch of the Mabinogion

And while Rhiannon’s son is eventually returned and all is well, it seems as though Rhiannon has to go through her own initiation to lose her underworld nature and does so in this way.

Rhiannon is also usually known for embodying an example of the idea of Celtic sovereignty. Rhiannon represents the land, Pwyll has to marry her to have the right to rule over the land. The book Women of the Celts discusses this idea at length if you’re interested in that.

Rhiannon Alan Lee Illustration, 1984

Rhiannon
Alan Lee
Illustration, 1984

In general, these horse spirits seem to be tied into the land. They either haunt travelers who are in their territory, or they are a part of the rituals of the harvest and the turning of the Wheel. Rhiannon is a goddess that is a big part of my own work. I love that the mythology of the original horse goddess still remains present in a great deal of folklore and literature. I don’t know what I would do if I were to meet a Gytrash or a Puka on the road. They are seductive creatures and even though I know better, even I might be tempted to see where one would lead me…

Other Readings:

The Great Queen and the Sovereignty of Self

Rebellion of the Queen

The Wedding of Sir Gawain & Dame Ragnell

The Celtic Goddess of Sovereignty as Warrior: Boudicca and the Death of a Druid Prince