Like many fiction writers, I dabble in poetry from time to time. I’m not afraid to send my poems out. Still, when one gets accepted, I am always a little surprised.
So I was more than a little surprised when not one, but three of my poems were recently published in Eccentric Orbits, Volume 2, An Anthology of Speculative Poetry. I did think those poems were pretty good, but since the anthology was described as for science fiction poetry, and these three all have mythic or metaphysical themes, I was delighted when the editor, Wendy Van Camp notified me that all three would be included.
Last month, after reading a book about quantum physics, I wrote a short poem based on an idea that popped into my head (like the collapse of a wave form, if you get my meaning).
Next thing I knew this poem had been accepted by The Lyric, “the Oldest Magazine in North America Dedicated to Traditional Poetry.” I had published a poem in The Lyric way back in 2008, but I was quite surprised they wanted this one. Especially because, unlike the three in Eccentric Orbits, this is rather a “science fiction” poem. It is called “Quantum Dream” and will be published in the Spring Issue. What a thrill.
In keeping with the poetry spirit, here is one about Beltane, the traditional day of celebration at the First of May, written by a very wonderful author named Kathryn Hinds.
The birth night of the radiant brow,
of the golden-haired boy and
the miraculous colt, the gestation
of the cut grain complete—now is time
to light the hilltop fires that call
the sun to bless the blossoming land,
the fires that call back the lost
and wandering hearts, the fires
that halo lovers’ holy bowers.
We have such faith in the fire
of love to catch and spread and blaze
beauty around our Earth.
When morning comes,
dew-washed and garlanded, we feel
in our bones the fire-heated, sun-heated
seed crowning out of the soil
and we breathe and we cry out
“Unite!” for the newborn of the Mother
sustains us, as she does, as we—
in our love, in our dance—nurture
Earth and seed: the great returning.
We ribbon the Maypole to turn
the Wheel and ourselves become
the Earth-rooted, sky-rooted,
fire-reaching, sun-reaching, uniting Tree.
We have such faith in our love.
— From Candle, Thread, & Flute Copyright 2013 by Kathryn Hinds.
The start of this month is marked by many holidays and festivities, depending on what mythology you follow or what country and century you happen to live in.
In Canada and the United States, February 2nd is of course Groundhog Day . If that rodent in Pennsylvania comes out of his hole and sees his shadow, then it’s more Winter for you.
Themes of note: Emerging from the Underworld, seeing our shadows, projecting ahead.
Some Christian churches celebrate February 2nd as Candlemas (also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.) The holy day is observed by blessing candles for the year ahead.
Themes: New light for the year ahead; purification.
It is believed that the roots of both Groundhog Day and Candlemas go back to earlier times. Way earlier times.
Candlemas has been linked with Lupercalia, a festival of purification held in mid February in ancient Rome. Lupercalia was also called dies Februatus, after the instruments of purification called februa, which gave February (Februarius) its name. The name Lupercalia, however, likely derives from lupus (wolf) and this suggests association with an even older festival celebrating wild creatures and the worship of nature gods.
Themes: purification, wild nature.
In Celtic countries, meanwhile, February 1st is celebrated as St. Brighid’s Day, which derives from an older pagan holiday known as Imbolc. This holiday (located midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox) celebrates the return of the sun with the lengthening of days. The name Imbolc may derive either from “ewes’ milk” or “budding.”
Imbolc is strongly associated with St. Brighid, as it was with her earlier incarnation as a Gaelic Goddess of the same name. To quote the Wikipedia article:
“On Imbolc Eve, Brigid was said to visit virtuous households and bless the inhabitants. As Brigid represented the light half of the year, and the power that will bring people from the dark season of winter into spring, her presence was very important at this time of year.”
Brigid’s Crosses, woven of grass or rushes, were hung over the door to welcome the goddess.
Themes: Spring, light returning from the darkness.
Imbolc is also a sacred holiday in some neopagan traditions. The coming of Spring is seen as the awakening of the Earth, the Great Goddess. Like Brigid, she comes bringing the light. Like the groundhog, she emerges from her sleep in the Underworld.
To summarize the many threads, we have traditions associated with light for the year ahead, purification, reawakening, rebirth.
On a personal level, of course, none of these come without struggle. These are all good ideas to contemplate, as we reflect on the year past and envision the year ahead.
With some of this in mind, I wrote this little poem about the holiday a while back.
Bloody footprints mar the snow,
A crust of fragile glass on the river.
But the sun is lamping our way again;
Milk for the lambs is quickening.
She appears every year around this time
From somewhere in the forest.
Some say there’s a cave at the base of the mountain,
But no one’s ever found it.
Her red hair hangs wild from too much sleep,
Her eyes half-shut, her cheeks silver.
But she’s a strong maiden, straight as a pine:
Her white cape lined in green.
Most who glimpse her through the twilight
Whirl and rush away in fear.
But if you stay and bow as she passes,
Your dreams will be more real this year.
This month we celebrate Halloween. Many people will dress up in costumes, go to parties, eat candy. Many also will celebrate the dark, mysterious, and otherwordly.
But what’s it all for? Why do we even have Halloween?
Pagan Roots and Christian Makeover
As you may know, the origins of Halloween trace back to an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain. Celebrated around November 1st, Samhain marked the completion of the harvest and the end of summer. It was also considered the boundary between the light half of the year and the dark, when the veil between this world and the Otherworld was thin. Because of this, it was a time for propitiating spirits and honoring the dead.
In Christian times, the pagan festival of Samhain evolved into our Halloween. October 31st became All Hallows Eve, also known as “All Souls Day,” and November 1st, All Hallows Day or All Saints’ Day. These days were dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and all the faithful departed. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween
The Honored Dead
In modern Wiccan traditions, Samhain is often considered the most sacred holiday. in the wheel of the year. It is a time both to mark the turning of the year and to honor our ancestors.
Many believe that our ancestors bequeathed to us more than the DNA residing in our physical bodies. There is a growing body of scientific belief (albeit controversial) that emotions and experiences can be passed down to us from our forebears. For an introduction to this topic, see this Wikipedia article on transgenerational trauma.
In any case, we can say with certainty that we are here because of the lives our ancestors lived. And, to some degree at least, their lives shaped us. If, like me, you are of a poetic turn of mind, you might even say that the spirits of our ancestors dwell in the depths of our psyches, and that they may continue to influence us in ways we are hardly aware of.
So in your celebrations this month, you might want to remember your honored dead, and contemplate how their legacies have resulted in who you are now, and how they might be influencing you still.
Abby Renshaw Meets her Dad
As a fictional illustration, here is a scene from Ghosts of Bliss Bayou. Late in the story, Abby Renshaw is undergoing a series of rituals to gain magical power. To make room for the infusions of energy, these rites require her to release her complexes and fears, which are obstacles to growth.
Here, in a psychic vision, Abby encounters the ghost of her father, who self-destructed and died when Abby was a young child.
After a while, I don’t know how long, I’m back in front of the gray fountain, leaning on my hands and knees. I stand up. Annie is gone, replaced by…
I suck in my breath. I can’t believe it.
The luminous gray ghost of my father stands before me—wide shouldered, curly haired, and with a worn, sad face.
I want to hug him, but I’m afraid he’ll vanish into nothing. Like when he died.
“Dad. I’ve missed you so much.” I’m on the verge of sobbing, and so is he.
“I know, Abby. I’m so sorry. I screwed up.”
“Why did you leave us?”
“Because I was weak. I couldn’t face living. Living is hard…but it’s even harder to be dead and have so much regret.”
I stare at him, trying not to cry.
“I know I can’t make it up to you,” he says. “But I want to give you what little help I can. It’s only this: don’t run away, like I did. Once you start running away, it gets harder and harder not to run. Pretty soon, running away becomes who you are.”
As I listen to this, I realize how desperately I’ve wanted to run away these past two days, ever since Grandma fell. I didn’t let myself think about it much, but now I do. I could call Mom tomorrow, get her to book me a flight. Leave all the terror behind. It might work…or I might go completely insane.
But there’s another way out. I could just give up, let Raspis have his way, drown myself in Bliss Bayou. The temptation is surprisingly strong—pain for a few minutes, then peace forever. Living is hard.
But it’s even harder to be dead and have so much regret.
“I understand, Dad.”
“One other thing,” he says. “Be kind to your mother. She’s a good, strong person, much better than I was. You’re sensitive like me, but you have her strength. You must thank her for that and not resent what she is.”
He’s right again. I have resented Mom for being so tough and driven, for caring more about her career than me, for leaving my senior year to go to England. I need to let that go.
“Abby,” Dad says. “I love you. It would mean so much if you could forgive me.”
I see a tear sliding down his cheek. “Yes, Daddy, I forgive you. I love you too.”
The ghost of my father steps close and wraps his arms around me. He does not feel like a ghost at all, but a solid, living man—the one I’ve loved and missed for so long.
I clutch him, shaking, until I lose all track of time, of who and where I am.
When awareness comes back, I’m lying on the floor in my bedroom. The candle and incense have gone out. My face is wet from crying.
In Abby’s case, meeting the ghost of her father helps her face her fears in preparation for the trials to come. And forgiving her father unblocks psychic energy to free her inner power.
Happy Halloween, Blessed Samhain, and may all your ghostly encounters be good ones.
While researching the Conjurer of Rhodes books, I read a lot to refresh and deepen my knowledge of the gods of ancient Greece and Egypt.
One of my favorite deities has always been the Egyptian Thoth, equated by the Greeks with Hermes. Thoth is the god of writing and magic, indeed of all the mental arts.
Thoth’s Egyptian name was Djehuty (or dhwty) meaning “He Who is Like the Ibis” (1) He is usually depicted in the form of a man with an Ibis head.
According to some sources ( 2 and 3) August 29 is the first day of the month of Thoth. This time was associated with the annual flooding of the Nile, on which the Egyptians depended to make the land fertile.
Someone once pointed out to me that on our modern calendar August 29 is directly opposite in the wheel of the year to February 29, a day which only occurs every four years. This is an odd coincidence given another myth about Thoth. In this story, he established the 365-day solar calendar.
According to the myth, the year was originally only 360 days long, and Nut (the goddess of the sky) was sterile and unable to bear children. Thoth gambled with the Moon for 1/72nd of its light and won five days to add to the year (360/72 = 5). During these five days, Nut gave birth to the next generation of gods.
Egyptian mythology has several creation myths. This seems to relate to the fact that the priesthoods in different major cities proclaimed their god as the creator. In Hermopolis, Thoth was the chief deity and the story was that he created the world by uttering a single word. Some sources say this was a primal vibration, others that it was a song. Still others claim it was the name of the primordial water goddess, Nun.
In other stories, Thoth is credited with helping steer the boat of Ra, the sun god, with helping Isis in her quest to resurrect her husband Osiris, and with assisting Horus in his battle with the evil god Set.
Thoth is also featured in the scroll known as The Papyrus of Ani, (aka, The Egyptian Book of the Dead). In the scene where the soul of the deceased is weighed by Anubis, Thoth writes down the result.
Taking all of this into account, I wrote a little ditty in appreciation of Thoth. A hip hop meter seemed appropriate.
Hip Hop Thoth
At Hermopolis town, on the Nile
They’d say Thoth made the world (with a smile)
Spoke one word with his Ibis tongue
And the world spilled out all fresh and young.
Many tough ages have come and gone,
But Thoth still sings his ibis song.
Hanging in the swamp, dressed like a bird:
At night he whispers the magic word.
Older than the Moon and older than the Sun, He’s the bird with the word and the word is “Nun.”
When Ra sails the sky, Thoth steers his boat;
When Horus fights Set, Thoth holds his coat;
When you die Anubis may weigh your soul,
But it’s Thoth who writes it all down on his scroll.
Now Thoth played dice with the Moon and he won,
And Thoth taught Isis how to con the Sun,
And when this world at last spills to its end,
Thoth might just say “Nun” again.
Older than the Moon and older than the Sun, He’s the bird with the word and the word is “Nun.”
I was at the bank today, where I met a young man teller whose name seemed to indicate a Middle Eastern heritage.
Himself: I like your green shirt: St. Paddy’s Day.
Himself: What is St. Paddy’s Day anyway?
Other teller: It’s the Saint’s day. St. Patrick.
Himself: Oh…Why does everyone drink on a saint’s day?
Me: Well, he’s the patron saint of Ireland. And when the Irish immigrants came over to America — which many, many did in the late 1800s because they were starving — they wanted to celebrate their saint’s day, and they did it with lots of drinking.
Himself: Oh. I see. Thank you for the history.
Me: I am here to educate the younger generation.
Himself: And we appreciate it.
Me: Well, some do, some don’t. But it’s all good.
Meantime, here is a picture of me posted by my Irish friend Kate. I don’t think it quite does me justice.