Blodeuwedd and Personal Agency

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Blodeuwedd by my SO

I work quite a lot with the goddess Blodeuwedd. If you’re not familiar with this Welsh goddess, she appears to us in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology. I’ve written about her here in other contexts, but a student recently asked me: “Why Blodeuwedd?”.  Blodeuwedd’s tale is not exactly happy or inspiring on the surface. My student asked, what was it about Blodeuwedd that drew me in?

The story goes that Blodeuwedd was created by the Gods Math and Gwydion from the flowers of the forest. The god Lleu has been rejected by his mother Arianrhod, who has refused to give him a name, weapons or to allow him to marry a human woman. Gwydion gets around these issues by tricking Arianrhod into naming Lleu and giving Lleu weapons, but to make sure Lleu can marry, Gwydion, with the help of Math, has to go a step further.

So they create a beautiful woman out of flowers (and as I have posited before), possibly from the spirit of a white Underworld goddess (death). Math and Gwydion arrogantly assume that this non-human woman that they’ve created will do as she’s told. And in the beginning, she does. She marries Lleu and for a while they are happy.

But, Lleu eventually goes off on a hunt and Blodeuwedd meets the hunter Gronw. The two conspire to kill Lleu, who can only be killed in very specific, very weird, way.

Blodeuwedd gets Lleu to tell her, and then show her, how he can be killed. To, you know, make sure it never happens, because she’s sooooo worried. As Lleu demonstrates how he might be killed, Gronw kills him, using goat, water, a house, and most pointedly, a spear. Blodeuwedd and Gronw walk happily off into the sunset.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Lleu being a god, isn’t actually dead, but transformed. Gwydion tromps off into the forest and eventually finds Lleu as an Eagle sitting up high in an oak tree. Through a lot of magical singing and poetry, Gwydion gets Lleu down from the tree and transforms him back into a man (or at least an anthromorph).

Lleu returns home, challenges and defeats Gronw, and Blodeuwedd ends up changed into

an owl, flying off into the forest. Some stories say that Lleu turns Blodeuwedd into an owl for her treachery, others say that it’s Gwydion that changes her. Still others say that Blodeuwedd changes herself into the Owl. Either way, Blodeuwedd goes from a flower, fertility goddess of the Spring/Summer, to a goddess of death and omens of the Autumn/Winter. In Welsh, the name Blodeuwedd literally means flower face, which is the word for owl. She is not one or the other, she is both and was always meant to be both. (Again, when you “create” someone out of flowers, using the spirit of death, what do you expect?)

So yes…not exactly a pleasant tale. Blodeuwedd has been represented by some as the ultimate victim. In her novelization of the Mabinogion, Evangeline Walton goes as far as to blame Her for the existence of rape! So, my student saw only what she perceived as treachery and subjugation.

What is so easy to forget, especially when reading this story through the translations of Christian monks, is that Blodeuwedd is not just some woman, she is a Goddess.

Blodeuwedd makes her own choices, with a full understanding of what she is setting in motion. She is the Goddess who moves the wheel of the year and it is through her actions and choices that this cycle continues.

When looked at objectively, this is an allegory for the agricultural cycle. Blodeuwedd spends time journeying back and fourth between the Upperworld and the Underworld. Lleu is the young sun god that blesses the fields. Gronw is the old stag of winter. The young god and the old god must fight it out every year, the young god dying at Litha, the old god winning at Yule. We see this throughout most European mythology.

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The Forming of Blodeuwedd by my SO

It is so easy to try to make Blodeuwedd into nothing more than a victim and to refuse to allow her agency over her own story. She is trapped between all of these men and her choice of Gronw is nothing but a selfish betrayal of her “husband.”

But Blodeuwedd is not a victim. She makes choices for herself. She does not simply stay married to Lleu because she is told to. She meets Gronw and knows that she belongs with him.

She is also not forced into marrying Lleu, though that certainly seems to be the intent of Math and Gwydion. Hey, let’s face it, Lleu is a hot young sun God: who wouldn’t want some of that? But to think that a Goddess couldn’t have refused to play along is sort of ridiculous. We all know that Math and Gwydion’s arrogance is what has gotten them into this mess to begin with, and they have both made decisions already that are, let’s face it, pretty stupid. They have already pissed off other powerful goddesses. Blodeuwedd chooses to marry Lleu, and then she chooses to get rid of him for someone else.

Blodeuwedd is not human. She has her own power and her own magic.

In the end, it all comes down to her actions and her choices to drive the tale and the events. Just like Persephone chose to eat those pomegranate seeds in Hades, Blodeuwedd chooses to take an Underworld lover.

When a Goddess ‘chooses’ you, you can feel it. Blodeuwedd definitely chose me. But while Blodeuwedd definitely chose me to be one of hers, I also heartily accepted Blodeuwedd as a patroness. Her choice, her decision, to do what is right for her, is so powerful. Her choices literally drive the seasons, the crops and the fertility of the world around us. She does not choose to make other people happy, she does not exist within social expectations. She is a goddess and she does what she needs to do for herself. It is her control over her choices that allows the world to flourish. She knows that her power, which is greater than that of either Gwydion, Math, Lleu or Gronw, is what truly matters in order for the world to cycle naturally. And how could I not be drawn by that power? She is the ultimate feminine choice. Her actions are not to make other people happy, but to what is right for herself. And I hope in this world, I can emulate her by living truthfully for myself in the same way. The choices I make are for me, not because someone tells me to make them. Blodeuwedd seeks happiness, and while that doesn’t always quite work out the way we might want it to, that is also life.

I am where I am today because of her. In looking back over the last few years, I know I was

chosen specifically to hold this place right here, right now because she saw as much in me as I see in her. The choices I have made definitely do not please other people. I have been vilified and many have tried to take my own personal agency away from me by making me into nothing more than a victim who obviously can’t choose for herself.

But just like Blodeuwedd, I am not a victim. I am a powerful, independent woman who stands by her own choices and by those she chooses to support. Are there consequences to that? Of course. But my truth is what drives me. You don’t have to agree with me, like me, or support me. You don’t matter in the sphere of the choices I make for myself and my family.

I too chose Gronw over Lleu, and I have never, not once in the midst of everything, regretted that.

And this is what Blodeuwedd teaches us. Our choices drive the world we exist in. Just because other people have influence on our lives or occasionally force us into doing things that we don’t want to do, doesn’t mean that we are beholden to acting the way others try to make us or expect us to act.

Blodeuwedd represents the ultimate female agency and choice.

So is this a story of victim-hood and subjugation? I don’t see it that way. I see Blodeuwedd doing what every person should do. She ignores the mantle of civilized expectations and makes choices that will fulfill her role and life. I proudly serve Her and hope that my own actions mirror hers.

I do not accept the role that others give me, and that is why I will walk away at the end of the day. If you can accept your power to make your own choices, you’ve already won and no one can take that from you.

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Goddess Secrets, by me!

Happy New Year!

My New Year’s Eve was a little more exciting this year than usual.

My friend was 40 weeks pregnant and I had decided to spend the week following Solstice and Christmas with her as she waited.

She was originally due on the 29th, but the 29th came and went and nothing happened. I went with her to a sonogram appointment on the 30th and we spent the day walking around various stores. She was going stir crazy at home and so we decided that running errands would keep her occupied and moving. Her partner had to work, so she and I ventured out into the wide world and Did Things.

We came home and had a nice dinner. The whole house sat down to play a game of Scrabble. My friend’s partner had come home and passed out after a long day of work and had sort of woken up when we decided to go get ice cream. And that’s when my friend’s water broke.

After a little bit of…is that what we think it is…?!!! And some phone calls to the midwife and the doctor, we piled into the car and drove to the hospital.

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The Zen birthing suite had a Chakra crystal positioned over the bed.

Her sister’s boyfriend and I were sitting in the waiting room while they took her back for the doctor’s initial check. He’s known my friend for a little longer than I have. As we sat there, anxiously waiting, I looked over at him and asked him if all those years ago he would have ever pictured himself sitting in that waiting room, dating her little sister and having her as such a huge part of his life?  He had to laugh as he gave an emphatic “No.”

I met my friend twelve years ago as a college freshman. I took an Intro to Women’s Studies class during my first summer in school. I was painfully shy back then. I would sneak into classes and do my best to hide, hoping not to be noticed. I remember the first day of class doing just that. As I sat in the back, this large, vibrant Valkyrie walked through the door and seemed to suck all the light out of the room. She was tall, had a mohawk and wore outfits that I couldn’t have come up with in my wildest dreams. She always had an opinion and was never afraid to speak up. I was fascinated and smitten and a little bit afraid all at the same time. And thus did I get a glimpse of what the future had in store for me.

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Twelve years ago I wouldn’t have ever pictured myself sitting in that waiting room either.

So many things have changed over the last twelve years. We were all different people back then and yet, here we were.

The next twelve hours passed in a misery of contractions and annoying nurses who didn’t seem able to leave well enough alone. And finally, they had to make the decision to do a C-section.

We all piled back into the waiting room and kept waiting. It was a busy night and there were three other families holding similar vigils. We shared stories and reminisced about both my friend and her partner and how far we had all come: through hard times, through good times.

My friend’s baby girl was born later that evening and I finally drove home after 36 hours without sleep, in time to kiss my own partner at midnight before passing out.

The next day I was sitting there, holding that teeny tiny perfect little thing that my friends had created together and I was overwhelmed. It reminded me that life keeps going. No matter what you’re dealing with or going through, there are still new babies being born. Sometimes it’s downright obnoxious how life just refuses to stop and pause for our own battles and upsets. She reminded me that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there is still joy and beauty out there to be had.

So I’ll take her entry into the world as an omen for my New Year. How can any year be bad after such a start? And I somehow doubt that there will be any other New Year’s Eves that will be quite as exciting in my future.

Happy New Year!

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Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic

She neither prays to Gods Above nor begs divine

aid with suppliant hymn, nor does she know prophetic

entrails. Decking altars with flames funereal gives her

joy — so does incense filched from pyres already kindled.

The Gods Above grant her every evil the moment

she invokes Them — They fear to hear her second prayer.

~ description of Erichtho from Lucan’s Pharsalia, Book 6, lines 523-528 from Jane Wilson Joyce’s translation

The last few months I haven’t put a great deal into writing here because I have been so focused on finishing my thesis for my M.A.

It focuses on the classical witch Erichtho and her appearance in one of John Marston’s plays. I fell in love with the witch Erichtho in an independent study on the witch in literature last year.

It is finally officially done and published! If you’re curious, you can find it here: http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020/

I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope I can keep working on this fascinating, powerful witch figure.

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia - From the British Museum Online Collection

Sextus, (the Son of Pompey), applying to Erictho, to know the fate of the Battle of Pharsalia – From the British Museum Online Collection

Abstract:

Since classical times, the witch has remained an eerie, powerful and foreboding figure in literature and drama. Often beautiful and alluring, like Circe, and just as often terrifying and aged, like Shakespeare’s Wyrd Sisters, the witch lives ever just outside the margins of polite society. In John Marston’s Sophonisba, or The Wonder of Women the witch’s ability to persuade through the use of language is Marston’s commentary on the power of poetry, theater and women’s speech in early modern Britain. Erichtho is the ultimate example of a terrifying woman who uses linguistic persuasion to change the course of nations. Throughout the play, the use of speech draws reader’s attention to the role of the mouth as an orifice of persuasion and to the power of speech. It is through Erichtho’s mouth that Marston truly highlights the power of subversive speech and the effects it has on its intended audience.

DeVoe, Lauren E., “Erichtho’s Mouth: Persuasive Speaking, Sexuality and Magic” (2015). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2020. http://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/2020

Proteus and Orpheus 2015

Muses may be my favorite parade, but I think that Proteus and Orpheus have some of the most beautiful floats. They’re always a little bit Pagan themed as well. I loved this year’s Proteus floats and while I didn’t stay through most of Orpheus due to the rain, their floats are still pretty spectacular as well…

Proteus always starts out with…well, Proteus. Proteus is the Old Man of the Sea, said to be ever changing and therefore able to tell the future.

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IMG_0555IMG_0564I loved the elephant in this one…

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Instead of the usual knights, Orpheus has charioteers.

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*All Photography copyright Lauren DeVoe, please don’t use without permission

Krewe of Muses 2015

It is that time of year once again and Mardi Gras is literally right around the corner. I actually managed to drag myself out to the Muses parade last night.

Muses has always been my favorite parade. I think it embodies the best parts of local Mardi Gras and while more and more tourists are coming to it, it’s still largely a local crowd. A lot of kids, a lot of great costumes and the Krewe of Muses always does a lot of great things for their community. And they always have the best throws.

My camera and I had a fight throughout the night. It has been awhile since I’ve done any photography, but I got a few good ones that I thought I would share. While I did not get a shoe this year, I was not disappointed by the parade.

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This lady had a truly impressive sign and was ready before the parade started rolling.

The beginning...

The beginning…

The Shriners always lead it off.

The Shriners always lead it off.

This year, the NOLA roller derby girls were the first line of the parade after the Shriners. The Big Easy Rollergirls were a lot of fun!

4 5 6 7 8The beautiful lit up butterflies came next and the official Muses front float.

9 10Next came the Muses Head Shoe and the Honorary Muse of the year. This year it was Sue Zemanick, the executive chef at local Gautreau’s.

This shoe is always very cool.

This shoe is always very cool.

The floats were great this year, though that certainly wasn’t a surprise. The Bathing Muses always start them off and the amazing (and my absolute favorite float ever) the Sirens always finishes them off. This year the riders were as sassy and excited to be out as ever!

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The Bathing Muses

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This was one of my favorite shots of the night. She is holding two shoes, one of which was made to look like the infamous Leg Lamp from The Christmas Story!

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The Shoe! People go nuts over these! Each shoe is handmade and each rider only has a few of them to give out. Outside of the Zulu coconut throw, these are probably the most prized throws of local Mardi Gras.

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Big Throw! This rider was hanging off the side of the float to catch the attention of a friend in the crowd.

13 14 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 25 27 28 29 30 32 35 36 41 42 50 51 The Sirens float is my favorite.  54 55Here is an article about the float with some more pictures. One of my favorite descriptions of New Orleans is from this article:

“The city of New Orleans is a very, very seductive place,” said Gisleson over the racket of power saws and spray-paint compressors. “It’s a place where the humidity almost has a personality, where letters open themselves and candles melt without being lit. We wanted to take that whole idea of seduction that is inherent in the Sirens (mythological creatures who lured sailors to their doom) and set it in our hometown.”

This float has over 200 lbs of glitter incorporated into it and it always comes at the end of the parade. When Muses was forming, they originally considered calling themselves Sirens instead. In mythology though, the Muses defeated the Sirens in a singing contest, so the all female krewe decided to go with Muses. To honor the Sirens though, they put them at the end of the parade, right in front of the fire trucks that always bring up the end of a parade and that blare their sirens loudly.

The Circus Arts kids were out and I caught this guy balancing his unicycle on his chin. They are always a fun edition to the parade.

26The Rolling Elvi were out. This is a fun subkrewe that allows everyone to go full out with Elvis! Clockwork Elvis, a popular local band that mashes Elvis and Clockwork Orange, performed with them.

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Throughout the rest of the parade were a lot of crazy fabulous people…

The Noisician Coalition is always a fun jumble of noise and costumes.

The Noisician Coalition is always a fun jumble of noise and costumes.

The Bearded Oysters are always amongst my favorites as well. Katrina Brees started this subkrewe and also created the amazing bikes below. Katrina created the I Heart Louisiana group, which works hard to get krewes to throw environmentally friendly throws.

39 40 43 44This guy was playing with a local band that floated past…

45I always enjoy seeing the Laissez Boys too…

46The NOLA Organ Grinders

47And Bate Bunda too!

48 49 52 53While the ending of the parade was bittersweet for me this year, it is definitely one you should get to and check out. Muses is a great time and just keeps getting better and better as the years go by.

*All photos copyright by Lauren DeVoe. Please do not use without permission!

Belief, American Gods and Me

Neil Gaiman starts out his novel American Gods with a “Caveat, and Warning for Travelers” which ends with: “Furthermore, it goes without saying that all the people, living, dead and otherwise, in this story are fictional or used in a fictional context.Only the Gods are real”.

When you read his introduction for the tenth anniversary edition, he talks about how he had just moved to America and wanted to write a novel that captured all the parts of America that he found fascinating, most of which are never seen on film. He traveled while he was writing the novel and explored the back roads and the places he thought his main character Shadow would go.

He follows his “Caveat” with an epigraph:

One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember the fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greek-Americans the vrykolakas, but only in relation to events remembered in the Old Country. When once I asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said “They’re scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far,” pointing out that Christ and the apostles never came to America.

-Richard Dorson, “A Theory for American Folklore,”
American Folklore and the Historian
(University of Chicago Press, 1971)

Whenever we open ritual in my tradition, we start by welcoming “the spirits of this land,” even though I don’t know these spirits and I will be calling on the Gods and element that I work with, its always important to acknowledge the fact that I am doing ritual in a place where I don’t necessarily belong. It would be rude of me as a priestess to forget that the religion I practice does not belong to this particular place. My Gods are mostly British and Celtic, they certainly did not originate in the swamps of southern Louisiana and one always has to assume that they may not interact with the spirits here very well. After all, my Gods don’t belong here. American Gods touches on the very heart of this topic. I’ve always founds American Gods to be more than an exploration of America. Gaiman pulls apart religion and the idea of belief and places it in a modern context that I think we rarely get the pleasure of seeing put down in words. American Gods is not an easy read, just as America is not always an easy place to understand, but it’s a novel where I find something new and wonderful every time I pick it up.

In the last year, I’ve had to examine my own thoughts and ideas about belief in a very different way than ever before. As my community failed me entirely in the midst of one of the most horrendous personal situations you can imagine, I’ve had to really examine both my practice and place in the Craft.

I have been very grateful to find that through everything I’ve been confronted with and continue to be confronted with, my belief has remained one of the few strong pillars of my life. My community, my tradition, my friends, my acquaintances may have failed me, but the Gods never left me.

Whenever someone new approaches me about Wicca and the tradition I practice, I break down the practice and the training process, explain what we do and that the point of functioning within a tradition is all about teaching. I often get asked “but yeah, what are you actually doing in ritual?”. It’s at this point that I tell them that perhaps like or unlike many other traditions or practices, the main role of my ritual is worship. I worship deity while in Circle. I may do magic, I may create spells, but at the end of the day, ritual for me is about worship. When I train students, it is to train them as priests and priestesses who are in service to the Gods. I always tell them that I can teach them everything except belief. If you don’t believe in the Gods then there is nothing I can do to help you learn that and we are not the place for you.

You either believe or you don’t.

Belief is a tricky thing. Recently, a friend of mine who has been exploring Wicca, was confronted by her father about her exploration of Wicca and the insanity of believing in anything Wicca teaches. He used a blog I wrote about the service of invocation to browbeat her about how horrible religion is and how he assumed that drugs were involved. (It’s sort of hysterically funny, whatever else might be said about my household, we are a sober household. We may be monsters, but we’ll eat you while daintily sipping iced tea).

From the outside, invocation might look pretty outlandish. I could also sit here and draw parallels to the practices in many other religions that are similar to invocation or I could talk about it as a rational exploration of a deep meditative state that allows you to examine your innermost subconscious. But at the end of the day, for me, I believe that when I invoke Goddess, she is the one speaking through me.

Religion can be a terrible thing. So can belief. I left a religion that I felt was abusive and controlling. I get where my friend’s father was coming from and why he is worried. As Pagans, most of us who are out have probably had to confront family members about our belief at one point or another. My own father used to ask me about who would I be calling on when I was in the metaphorical foxhole. Jesus or my Gods? Believing that my belief couldn’t possibly hold up in a horrible situation. I can quite honestly say at this point that my faith did not fail me and as I’ve found myself in this metaphorical foxhole this year, my Gods have stayed with me throughout.

I think one of the important parts of my service to the gods as a Wiccan Priestess who is “out of the broom closet” is the ability to talk openly about being Wiccan. I am not some learned Elder who knows a lot, but I do think that being able to speak openly about Paganism is an important service to the Craft. If I can vocalize an issue as a student walking this path that someone else can’t openly ask about, then I think I have helped. I have the ability to speak and I think that therefore it is my duty to do so. I can question, discuss, and examine this somewhat crazy seeming practice that I am a part of. I am not afraid that my family will find out, they already know. My coworkers are aware that I’m a witch. My neighbors have seen me walking about in my robe and have probably heard the chanting coming from our temple room. In this, I think part of my service is to speak.

In the past I have always had something to say. Whether you agree with me or not may be another matter entirely. This past year, I have lost the words. Someone very dear to me has been held up as an example of everything horrible and wrong in the Pagan community, and I have been called a monster for knowing the actual situation and continuing to believe in him.

So, in order to try to get back into writing about the things I find important, I am going to start rereading American Gods and picking apart all the things that stand out to me throughout. I am not going to say that I will do so many chapters a month or set a schedule, I am just going to write about it as it pleases me and hope that it helps me to get going again. Life does have an unfortunate habit of continuing, even when we wish it wouldn’t, and after a certain point, there is only so much you can do. The beautiful thing about a blog is that no one other than the writer ever actually has to read it. And besides, as much as many may want it, I am not done yet.

“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.
“Fuck you,” said the raven.”
~ Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Photo taken by me while visiting the Painted Desert. Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Photo taken by me while visiting the Painted Desert. Copyright Lauren DeVoe

An Unplanned Visit to the Underworld

Yule seems to have become a time for caves in my family. This year we stopped at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky on our way to my family’s house for the holidays. In a 7 mile radius, there are 400 miles of a intense multi-layer cave system, which has been occupied for over 4000 years. Ancient peoples sheltered there twelve miles inside the caves (imagine exploring those caves without electricity to help guide you!). Mammoth cave is also one of the oldest continued attractions in America, with a varied history that is fascinating in and of itself. It’s a pretty amazing experience and I thought you might enjoy some of the pictures I took. I definitely recommend stopping and enjoying Mammoth Cave. There are tons of trails to hike and unlike Carlsbad, Mammoth has bats all year round! Yay Bats!

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The Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave

 

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And who knew! But apparently you can also fine the River Styx there! I guess it makes sense, but I certainly didn’t expect to run into the Styx in Kentucky!

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I just can’t seem to help wandering off into the Underworld…

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IMG_0350The River Styx’s exit from the cave system…IMG_0351The River Styx empties out into the Green River.

IMG_0359All along the river, White River Birches grow…

IMG_0356The Kentucky hills and forests are always beautiful.

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IMG_0332And I found a troll home!

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Of course, maybe I was the only one home…

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