An October Poem

Now that we’re in the approach to Samhain, I wanted to share a poem I wrote soon after joining the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids in 2005. Those that know me have likely heard or read it before, but I share it again for those that haven’t. It was inspired by those wheat braids we start to see popping up this time of year, but also by the sense of loss this season may symbolize.

/|\ Mike

My Lover’s Braid

The Goddess stands before me, alone
Her once long hair above the shoulder shorn
Her arms crossed tight against the coming cold
In her sad smile and meek eyes is our story told

Under the Sun, beside the Wind, passed she and I
Streams sang a joyous song, clouds danced the sky
Our feet firmly pressed down on the Earth, roots and stone
And in this peaceful place we chose to build our home

Never feeling alone while in each other’s sight
We ignored daylight fading as we approached the night
Beside the River of Life, no one can keep the pace
Even though we walked together, still one must lose the race

Now I stand alone in the fields, cold wind against my back
The wheat is short and stubbly, the sky above fades black
The setting Sun her beautiful face, even though she couldn’t stay
I will never feel alone so long as I hold my Lover’s braid

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Autumnal Journey

The first day of September roughly lined up with a full moon this year, meaning the weather shifted to something cooler while the calendar starting putting thoughts of Fall in our heads. It won’t be long before we’re gazing at colourful foliage or walking the ocean shore with a sweater wrapped tightly around us. For now I content myself watching long reaching shadows in the slow twilight of evening, and reflecting on symbolism of the season.

There are many joyful reasons to choose to celebrate life as a spiritual person. If you’re one of us, you might feel like your rose-coloured glasses tint the world in sacred energy. It can give hope and lend optimism, and arrange thoughts in an attitude of gratitude. Speaking for myself, I love the shore by it’s own merits but also feel connected to a larger and ancient world when I stand in the ocean – and also wonder who or what is out there throwing those waves at me. So long as we remain grounded while we open our senses to this other world, it enhances our lives and brings happiness and perhaps camaraderie with others that share part of our world view.

The other side to this coin, however, is when we look to our spirituality not as an optional enhancement but as a much needed source of strength. In tarot we might say that the Death card deals with transition or that the Tower suggests a collapse down to the foundation. The depth or intensity of that transition or breakdown, however, can vary considerably. One transition might take a week, or the collapse of a tower might take months to begin to rebuild; in other situations, they could be years or even a lifetime. This, I believe, is a situation where experience teaches in a way that books, peers, and reflection simply can’t.

In modern Paganism, we often associate the shortening days of Autumn with a transition from an outer focus to inner reflection. If the Summer Solstice symbolizes getting out into the world, and the Winter Solstice a time where we snuggle into a warm blanket, the Autumnal Equinox in the time when we transition between the two. It can also represent going through difficult times, as we battle inner turmoil, doubts, or demons. This symbolic decent into darkness is made easier with the promise of another Summer Solstice to come – a light at the end of the tunnel.

Many Pagans are familiar with this waning half of the year, and the ideas of sacrifice or transitioning through darkness – but it’s theoretical, or limited by their own life experience. When we find ourselves someplace new that might be dark or overwhelming, it can be frightening and easy to feel alone. Over and over I hear Pagans share that they have experienced very intense hardship and that others don’t understand the depths of it. Friends express compassion and concern – which is wonderful – but in the end, we can still feel alone. This is a time where our faith in our symbolism is put to the test.

We talk about the waxing and waning of energies in many different ways. We watch the seasons and the length and warmth of days shifting between the Summer and Winter solstices. If we stand by the shore, we can see the tide rolling in then pulling away. Every day the Sun rises, reaches it’s peak, and sets. We aren’t worried that Summer won’t eventually break through, or the ocean won’t return, or the Sun won’t rise again. We share myths or enact dramas to explain or encourage it, but these are largely symbolic words and actions to reassure our minds and spirits. I think it’s an important thing to try to hold on to these beliefs when we feel ourselves lost in dark depths – it will get better.

Along with waxing and waning energies, some Pagans talk a lot about cycles. Each day is a cycle, each passage of seasons, or the life of a person. For many of us, what follows is a belief that these cycles repeat. Even in a non-religious context, people say, “History repeats itself”. When I have gone through my own difficult times, I found comfort knowing that what I was going through was not new. There is literally nothing that can happen to me that hasn’t been happening to people for thousands of years. When I place myself in that stream of humanity, I feel a little less alone. In my darkest times, it was a sense of connection that gave me hope.

These are only a couple of ways my Pagan spirituality has helped me through some difficult times. I think a group of people could sit and discuss it over tea for hours and come up with enough to fill a book. It’s one of those things where you reap the benefits of what you have sown. We need to build up our faith in these ideas during the good times, so they are there for us in the difficult ones.

the Eternal Sacred Shore

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on ocean shore, just as before
waves wash worries away from me
soul’s shackles drop, time seems to stop
as ocean sounds sets spirits free

 

It was the summer of 1989 that I met my future wife, and it was that same summer that she introduced me to places of natural beauty that in time would become sacred to me. I wasn’t a Pagan at the time, and in fact I didn’t even know modern Paganism existed. We spent that summer travelling to the Hopewell Rocks, Cape Enrage, and Fundy National Park on sunny days IMG_0158and rain filled days alike. We would find ourselves a large rock to sit on, or a thick patch of green grass, and spend hours taking in the beauty and wonder. It’s now 26 years later (and 20 years of marriage later), and we still visit those same magical places.

 

We recently visited Cape Enrage, including (for anyone that’s been there) the upper area with the lighthouse and lightkeeper’s home. There is a long flight of stairs bolted in to a rocky crevasse leading down to the ocean shore. At high tide the water laps against the cement block used as a final step; at low tide it’s a long muddy walk if you want to reach the water. The Bay of Fundy is known for having the highest tides in the world, and it’s IMG_0148amazing the difference a few hours can make to which shoreline you see stretching before you. In the same way I am grateful to live in a province with four distinct seasons, I realize I am fortunate to take a short drive and witness the timeless power of the ocean.

As I sat next to that dark Atlantic Ocean coastline, listening to waves crash rhythmically against the rocky shore, it occurred to me that part of the sacred power of the ocean is it’s apparent effortlessness. It isn’t a breeze that we hear in the trees and feel brushing against us as it builds into a gust of wind. Ocean waves don’t feel as though they have a wind up period to me, but rather are more a pressure release valve for distant deep ocean currents. I am keenly aware that the waves pushed on before I arrived, continue after I leave, and are going still strong in the moments anyone reads these lines.

I’m am always relaxed and energized visiting the ocean, and it’s something else that is effortless. It doesn’t require ritual or visualization – it just happens. The sound of the waves and the smell of the ocean soothes me. Seagulls crying overhead or shore birds singing are comforting reminders of where I am. When the wind blows, it takes from me any sense of time outside the present moment. When I allow these things to overwhelm me, I am in an eternal moment that I return to with every visit and which has been shared by all those that find the sacred at the shore.

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Summer Solstice at the Peak

There are very few bare hilltops in the small Atlantic Canadian town where I live. I am grateful for the trees that make our little suburbia of Riverview, New Brunswick, a green place – and the colourful Autumn foliage is always spectacular. My challenge as a Pagan, though, is occasionally wanting to watch the sunrise or sunset but having few lines of sight to the horizon. There are places outside of town with fantastic views – especially at the rocky ocean shoreline – but this Summer Solstice I have to work. Fortunately, I may have found a new sacred place closer to home.

IMG_0001Our town promotes itself as “A great place to grow”, and it’s easy to believe with the money and effort dedicated to family events. One recent project was the building of a sled hill, which was a fun addition for a town where most hills lead to the river or a road. Trees were cleared on a flat lot and dirt was piled high. The surrounding park is decorated with cut slabs of stone and native trees. The hill has slopes of varying steepness, covered this time of year in patchy grass and newly planted  trees. There is also an oval skating rink beside it (a ring of dirt in June), separated from the hill with more trees. I’m happy to say I’ve read there are plans to expand and develop the park for year round use. Most happily for me: a quick visit to the hilltop weeks before the solstice showed views of the horizon.

IMG_0007A short and winding trail along one slope leads to the top of the hill. Slowly making the climb in the pre-dawn of the Summer Solstice, it had the feel to me of a sacred procession in the early morning twilight. In my mind, I imagine it a distant echo of hillside pilgrimages to ancient sacred places. I was walking the symbolic footprints of my ancestors who – for thousands of years – found (or built) vantage points to view the solstice sunrise. I was also aware that only four hours earlier, Pagans in the UK with similar intentions to my own had walked up a longer hillside to the majestic Glastonbury Tor. I felt a humble kinship with them as I walked my own short, gently sloped rock strewn path.

The transition of Winter Wonderland Park to year round use is still in the early stages, so the top of the hill is largely dirt, rocks, and thickets of overgrown grass. That didn’t matter, though, because my eyes were now above the tree tops.

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Low cloud cover early that morning meant we didn’t have a clear view of the golden ball of the sun rising above the horizon. There were expectations of rain later in the day, and the old folk saying held true: “Red sky at night: sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning: sailor’s takeIMG_0074 warning”. We saw the sun peek between red streaked clouds, rising towards lighter clouds and blue sky above. It’s ascension was heralded by a crescendo of bird songs, along with occasional declaration from ducks in a nearby marsh. The pre-dawn stillness and cool fresh air of the waning twilight helped set the stage to transform the daily sunrise into a sacred experience.

An hour or so later we were back home for a pancake breakfast (and a nap) before starting work. Reflecting on the experience and location, I have to wonder if Winter Wonderland Park will become a sacred place to me. I can easily imagine frequenting it on the equinoxes and solstices, then returning home for a hearty breakfast before seeing where the rest of the day leads. After all, as Pagans in the New World we have to find our own sacred places and build them up in our own ways. We enjoy celebrating our sacred times in nature when we can, and a beautiful park with a grass and tree covered hilltop that is also conveniently located could be a blessing.

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Giants Lie

The giant rose from giant’s bones
Pushing from the earth shaking with mirth
As hillsides fell around his feet
 
He’d lain for years with hidden fears
A hammer might fall with a hero’s call
And he might never rise again
 
The coast was clear he’d no more fear
He’ll lumber West with a jolly jest
And join his boulder tossing kin
 
Memories were far of times of war
The Earth now made, conflicts could fade
To unexpected outbursts of flame and flood
 
A time would come when Tree is done
Giants will roam and make Earth their home
The flood of fire will cover all
 
Mankind will hide against darkness tide
Swallowed Moon will come too soon
They’ll wish they’d respected Giant’s taunts
 
The greatest joke on common folk
Is thinking giant’s wrath is in the past
And letting sneaking giants lie