One of the subjects that keeps snagging my poetic attention is the landscape manuscript–how everything around us (not just the landscape) has a “text” that we might understand, if only we could read it. When I’m driving down the road and thinking about a knotty issue I am trying to resolve and I see three crows standing quietly in a winter field, or seven geese suddenly fly overhead in a raggedy V across my view, or something in the way the sun shines on the remaining leaves of that old oak seems to have a message for me–it’s as if there’s a deep text in the world that could be understood if only I knew the letters. And of course the landscape does have messages, and they can be read. It’s what farmers and meteorologists and hikers have done forever. It is what ecologists and environmentalists are doing right now, to save our lives.
And sometimes the visual and aural messages in my environment do seem to align themselves in perfect messages that feel like they’re meant for me, specifically, to read. Again, this is whimsical and playful rather than scientific. And it also captures my attention. I’m not going to make a judgement about whether or not the Holy One Herself, or the Universe, or the faeries, set up yesterday’s little alignment just so my heart could see it, but I will claim the whimsy, say that the synchronicity caught my heart, and then I will use it to construct the next steps of intuitive meaning for the shape my ponderings take in the coming days. I’d rather step into the future making meaning from the rich webs of whimsy and coincidence that surround me than refusing to gather the symbols that dance through my life and live with meaning defined only by the hardest of logic.
I was driving across the Route 30 bridge, listening to the most recent episode of “This Jungian Life” podcast, on the Trickster archetype, because my friend had recommended it to me. I was thinking about the Fool, and how I hoped that this archetype would inform my activism in the coming year, speaking truth through the lies in the way only the Fool can. The theme of the podcast suddenly turned to the way that tricksters throughout history have been challengers of suppression and repression and autocratic rule, how they act as a corrective when a person or a system becomes too rigidly rule-based and oppressive. There was a “click” in my brain at the coincidence of thought and outer message.
At that moment, my eye caught the new Sight and Sound billboard at the end of the bridge—shining purple, it advertised their upcoming production of Queen Esther, and one of my favorite Bible phrases, from the book of Esther, took up the central space in large letters: “FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.” Again, an internal click.
As I passed the billboard, a large vulture swooped low above the highway. Click.
Yes, it’s whimsy and intuition, poetry and dreaminess, rather than hard science or pure logic or cold reason. While I need the latter, while I value science and logic and reason as important mental processes, I think a world that makes meaning without the more poetic processes is bereft of the spark of spirit.
And so it is settled, this day before Epiphany. My word, my archetype, my guiding principle, for the coming year is the Fool. Sacred clown. Jester. Trickster. I’ve been considering how the Fool subverts the dominant paradigm (to use an old phrase) to speak the truth behind the lies. In a political milieu swimming in falsehoods, how does the Fool speak truth? Lear’s Fool spoke from deep love and tenderness, was not afraid to speak harsh truths right to the king’s face, and kept repeating the truth from various angles until the truth shone in.
Even the travelers whose arrival we celebrate today and tomorrow, the Wise Ones, the magi, have an element of the Fool. Magi, Mages, Magic, Image, Imagination. The truth they first told Herod was too bald, too open, too dangerous, and so, when they were presented with the deep truth of this Child, they disobeyed the king and fled home a different way, tricking the King. Still, the consequences were grave and terrible for too baldly proclaiming the truth to the king in the first place. This is lesson to be deeply conscious of to whom and how the truth is presented. The Fool must be wise.
So. The Fool. Those black vulture wings are also in my consciousness. And the echidna, a hybrid creature who survives and thrives because it is more than one thing. Those mists and rainbows, veiling and shattering, scattering light. Wading in the water: Do you want to be well? And Aslan’s words to Lucy: “Courage, Dear Heart!”
There is one more thing, a more abstract word rather than an archetype: Orenda. It comes from the Iroquoian language systems, and it refers to the spiritual power that exists in all things, the energy that we transmit between us, that we can access to change the world.
Okay, and there’s one more thing. My friends. Community. Last night’s dreams were a succession of anxiety dreams. In several scenes, I was trying to find Joss, and just couldn’t make contact. In several scenes, I had little fiddly school details to remember and take care of while I was rushing around trying to do other things. In several scenes I was in a car, constantly missing my exit, needing to turn around, but unable to get around another car or to fit my car into the space of the turn-off. Finally, standing on a sidewalk, about to throw my phone on the ground because I couldn’t get it to make a simple call to Joss, a group of my college friends walked up. Nancy took my phone and got it to dial Joss. Gloria put her hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes, and started to tell me a helpful story. The others gathered around. I could feel everyone’s presence. And I calmed down. Friends. I get by with a little help. . .
What are your messages from the coming year? What words and images coalesce for you? What synchronicities in your inner and outer landscape call to you to listen and follow?
Gratitude List: 1. Friends. How even in my dreams, my beloveds appeared to bring me peace. You. The little connections that are bigger than you know. The way the web of our connections holds us up, and holds the world. 2. The spiritual force within each one of us that enlivens and enlightens and helps us to bring change and goodness into the world. 3. Synchronicity and coincidence and making meaning where it comes. 4. Image and imagination and magic. 5. Being greeted throughout the day by cats.
I have absolutely no recollection of dreaming last night. The door between sleeping brain and waking brain is shut tightly. No narratives or images come from that world into this today.
This morning when I looked out the window at 5:35, the darkness was touched by a hint of grey. Dawn is slipping slowly and silently back the clock. Light returns.
The quotation in the image I attached above is from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Fergus and the Druid.” Fergus the King has relinquished his crown and abdicated his responsibilities as king, and he asks the Druid to teach him knowledge, to give him wisdom. Finally, after a little bit of back-and-forth, the Druid offers Fergus a bag of dreams. Though I put the words with the Fool, the Druid is much more earnest than the Fool, more shamanic, seeking wisdom in all things, pursuing knowledge. The Fool just trusts that the wisdom necessary for the moment will arrive when it comes. The Fool is both younger and older than the Druid, more foolish, and wiser.
Going back to school yesterday meant a different kind of mental focus, put me in more of a Druid zone, seeking knowledge with deep intention. But of course Teacher is an archetype of its own, the one who passes on knowledge and wisdom, seeking it like the Druid, drawing it out of the people themselves, helping them to find it. Druid, Teacher, Queen/King/Ruler, Fool: We are so many people at once, aren’t we?
On a morning when the dream-door is closed, still I carry with me the bag of dreams I have been dreaming. Today, they wrap me round as I go out again, stepping out as the Fool, the Druid, the Teacher, carrying my little bag–of dreams, of wisdom, of story. May your own dreams feed you and wrap you round.
Gratitude List: 1. Pie. Yesterday was pie day in the faculty lounge. One of my colleagues is a masterful pie-maker. Once a year, he brings eight or ten pies for us to sample. It’s the best snack day of the year, and it made yesterday a celebration instead of a foggy slog. 2. My shiny students. Many of them were as tired as I was. So many of them just want to be done with the semester already. Me, too. But there’s joy and hope and community there, too, and for some students, school is the safe place, the belonging place. I am grateful that school can be that haven for those who need it. 3. Yesterday’s chapel speaker. It was mostly a personal introduction for a member of our school community, but he was engaging and lively. He caught students’ attention on the first day back from break. He made us laugh, he made us think. 4. Resolutions and intentions. I know all the reasons to be cynical about New Year’s Resolutions, but here’s the thing. New Year’s Day can be like the moon, and I can use the gravity of this day to help boost my energy as I create an intention. I have been wanting to maintain a higher daily step-count, but I sometimes I need the extra artificial push of a New Year’s Resolution or an outside challenge to motivate me. Here’s to the attempt! 5. Dawn is inching back the clock. Day is slowly lengthening.
On this day when everyone’s attempting to solve and re-solve their solutions, to resolve their resolutions, to tend to their intentions, I’m still waiting on a word. I watch my dreams and inner questions until the shining sixth, Epiphany, until the kings come. Wise ones. Mages. The light pours in on Epiphany and wisdom comes to the house.
It doesn’t really matter which day you embark on the journey. It only matters that you take it. Today we stand with Janus in his doorway, looking back and looking forward. With the double-faced god beside us, we can simultaneously look behind to the road that has brought us here, and ahead to the road we’re soon to take.
How could I live the coming year without that knowledge of the shadow that travels behind me, the road I walked to get here, the person I have been? It’s so easy, when we turn over a new leaf marking a new season in our lives, to simply yank the leaf from its twig, but the what-will-be is built upon the what-was. The new self which is emerging only arrived at this doorway on the persistent legs of the self which brought me here.
Whether you are waiting, like me, for Wisdom to come on Epiphany, or whether you step away from the door this morning to begin the journey of the year, this is the season of the set intention, the forward-moving affirmation. This is the time of the tabula rasa, the blank page upon which you can write whatever you choose.
Do you have a resolution for the coming year? A re-solution, perhaps, to an old and persistent problem? Or perhaps you need this official moment to end a habit that has you in a rut? Or to begin a new one that will get you traveling a more liberating and exciting road than the one you’ve become accustomed to walking? Many people I know prefer to call it an intention rather than a resolution. Perhaps an unachieved intention sounds less like a broken promise than an unsolved resolution.
The road to February is littered with broken resolutions and lost intentions, with holy words discarded and new habits jettisoned as old habits creep from the undergrowth and reattach themselves. I don’t think this means we shouldn’t set intentions or resolutions. Perhaps we need to set the intention and then set a second intention: To tend the first. If I set the intention to get 7,000 steps a day, and I succeed for a week or two, but then fall away, I will have had a less sedentary week or two. That’s a good thing. The idea, then, is to come back to it. Perhaps 7,000 is too much to ask, amid all the other things I need to accomplish. So maybe I re-set my intention and say 5,000 steps a day during the weekday, and 7,000 on weekends. And I try again, with fresh will and determination. After all, February first is another new beginning.
And I think we need to take great care in the intentions we set. If I decide that I don’t like the way I look these days, so I am going to whip my body into shape by diet and exercise, that’s a punishing resolution. My body is going to rebel, and the deep-self is going to feel attacked. But the fact is that for my whole life, I have needed to keep re-setting the intention to move more, and to maintain a healthier balance of the foods I eat. I don’t believe in self-denial. I will never entirely give up chocolate or ice cream or cookies, because then I am bound for failure. But I can probably re-set some of my boundaries with the sweet things. Slow down and savor.
Now there’s a good intention for experiencing life in 2020: Slow down and savor.
In the coming year, may you be kind to yourself. May you set reasonable goals that help you meet with success and fulfillment. May you bring out the best you, informed by all the versions of yourself that you have been. May you not jettison old versions of yourself along the trail behind you, but transform yourself in ways that acknowledge all the work you’ve done to get here.
Blessing for the New Year by Beth Weaver-Kreider
May you be born fresh and shining into the new year and may the old you continue, too, a thread that ties you to past versions of your truest self, for we need to be constantly reborn while we hold a deep sense of the shape we create in the universe.
Gratitude List: 1. All the birdlife of yesterday! It felt like we were in a legend. Suddenly, after weeks of very little bird activity, there were birds everywhere: bluebirds on the wires, finches and sparrows at the feeders with juncoes and mourning doves catching the windfall below, woodpeckers rowing through the space between trees. On the road, flocks of little birds schooled from grove to grove of roadside trees. Vultures, and maybe an eagle, hung in the updrafts above the Susquehanna. And a kingfisher chattered on Fishing Creek. 2. A good, hard hike/climb on the Mason-Dixon Trail south of Long Level. The trail rises above the river on a steep rocky ridge climb, and you’re on a dragon’s back of up-jutting rocks for a quarter mile or more, the river flowing wide like a lake on your left, and Fishing Creek rushing rapidly down the steep ravine to your right. 3. The hike reminded me of the moment in Prince Caspian when the children and Trumpkin are walking along the gorge, trying to find their way, and Aslan appears to Lucy. She must make a choice to follow him rather than going the way the others are going. She knows what is right, and she must follow that way, even when the others mock her for seeing things they cannot see. Even though he doesn’t say it at that moment in that book, I still heard him say, “Courage, Dear Heart” as we picked our way along the stony pathway. I’ll take that with me into the New Year. 4. We meant to go to Infinito’s for their pizza bar for supper last night, but they had closed early for the holiday. Instead, we went next door to Asian Yummy, and it was beautiful as well as yummy. 5. Again, as I feel the sadness and loss of these long mornings for writing and thinking, I can only be grateful for the gift of them in this Time out of Time. While I have not made headway on any projects in particular, I have stretched my writing/thinking muscles on the blog, and it has been satisfying and fortifying.
May we walk in Beauty!
Last January, I had repeated visitations from kingfisher, in waking life, in dreams, in conversations, in books. I chose kingfisher as one of my symbols for the year. Yesterday, as we were finishing our hike, climbing down the ridge toward Fishing Creek, where it moves slowly in deep pools before rushing down the ravine, we heard a kingfisher chattering in the hollow, over and over again. When I got home, inspired by a friend who is writing Shadormas, I wrote this two-stanza shadorma (3/5/3/3/7/5):
Kingfisher, who visited me at the start of the year chattered farewell to the year this cold afternoon.
And vulture floated like eagle through currents o’er the ridge while last year’s waters flowed down the Susquehanna.
Dreamwork: I don’t have much to say about last night’s busy anxiety dreams. In the dream, there is some sort of educational conference going on. It is both at my school, and not at my school. I go into a room, meaning to climb the stairs and go up a few floors, but it’s kind of Escher-like in design. I climb a flight of stair, walk along a landing, and the next flight leads down again into the same room, though I don’t really remember stepping down. Someone tells me I need to find the secret door on the landing. After that it’s possible to find stairs that go up, but each leads to an identical room with the same weird stair situation.
At one point, my colleagues are walking through my bedroom, and I say, “It wouldn’t be so bad if I felt this tired at the end of the day, but I feel like this right after waking up!”
Another of my colleagues, who retired a few years ago, is there, and he has brought his pet echidna. It’s really quite curious and adorable. It keeps sort of morphing into a puppy.
Perhaps I do need to pay attention to the exhaustion bit in here, and the confusion of stairs.
As I process the dreams I have been having, I have been making and gathering symbols of my psychic flotsam of the past week or so. A couple summers ago, we went to the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I took a picture of a door handle that was a wing, and did some digital altering. This morning I happened upon it, and noticed that it resembles the black wings of the vultures in my dreams a couple nights ago:
And yesterday as I was bringing in the trash cans, I noticed a little pile of corn husks I had brought back from a walk weeks ago and left in a planter. I had intended to make a corn dolly. Yesterday, I picked them up and started to work, but suddenly what I saw in my head was a jester, a fool, rather than a pioneer woman. So this happened:
Neither corn dolly nor straw man, she is a corn jester, a jokester, a trickster. Now I need to find some really good rainbow images. Oh! We did see faint sundogs yesterday afternoon! Rainbow spots.
Last night’s dream feels more like an anxiety dream than anything, but I don’t want to discount the images. I am sitting on a table in the middle of a church basement, leading a service or meeting of people gathered in a circle around me. I have to keep turning to face people in various parts of the circle. I am talking to a woman I keep calling Bibi (which means grandmother in Swahili), honoring her for the work she’s done, noting that she deserves the break that she is taking. A young man with a scruffy beard begins to pray, and I am sort of relieved because I wasn’t sure I could make the meeting go as long as it’s supposed to. But this man starts to ramble, making l-o-n-g pauses and using lots of Father-god and Lordy phrases, and I know that we’re all getting sort of uncomfortable with this almost militant gendering of the Holy One. Finally, the pastor, who is sitting next to the man, nudges him, and he sort of comes out of his prayer trance and sits up, and it’s over.
More hints at something to do with bringing patriarchal assumptions to light. I don’t know how that might be something new for the coming year. I am really tired of battling the patriarchy, tired of sidestepping them and ignoring them and waiting for them to finish. I want to jump back to wings and fools and rainbows. Hmm. Maybe instead of battling the patriarchy, I need to be the Fool to the crumbling system in the coming year.
Oh, and there’s the Bibi, the grandmother. Maybe it’s time to let the grandmothers rest and begin taking on the work they leave behind.
What are the images and messages you are receiving? What animals are crossing your path? What is catching your eye in these days of Time Out Of Time?
Gratitude List: 1. Eating and laughing with good friends. 2. Sundogs 3. Wings 4. Making things 5. Watching and Listening
Today, some notes on the dreamwork I do during Twelvenight. I just read Caitlyn Matthews’ blog post, “The Omen Days: The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the most thorough consideration of the folklore and legend of the intercalary days (December 26 to January 6) that I have been able to find in a long time. Twenty or so years ago, I had done some reading about this season in the medieval calendar and pieced together my own practice for this period of Time out of Time. I’ve lost my original sources, so it was a delight to find her writing.
The search for omens and divination for a coming year may feel superstitious and strange to you. I think of the dreams and images that roil in my head during these days as guiding archetypes and images for the coming year. The observation of my dreams and the search for images in waking life is, for me, like being a beachcomber carefully combing the sand for anything the ocean of my psyche may toss up. Pick up a pretty shell here, a pebble there, a piece of driftwood, an oddly-shaped something of no known origin. When I lay them out on a table and examine each, some of them seem to fit into groups and categories, while others get discarded. Some I can make immediate sense of, while others I carry with me for months, loving them for their inscrutability, hoping that they’ll offer me a connection at some later point in time.
These inner labyrinths we’ve been traversing and exploring in the quiet work of Advent are also vast and unknowable oceans, tossing up bits of flotsam for us to examine. It can happen in recurrent dream messages, where the little hard-working elf of my deep self sends pictures and stories to try to get my attention. We don’t speak the same language, the deep self elf and I–she communicates in images and oblique stories that my waking self must interpret.
The same process often happens in waking-life observations and meditations. Several days ago, I wrote about the Fool, the topsy-turvy tumbler who offers true wisdom to the wise ones, often in the form of riddles. In the days since, the archetype of Fool has caught fire in my imagination, recurring to me throughout the day. I keep finding more that I want to say about the Fool. Then I read the seven little books that my family bought for me from Hedgespoken Press. One, in particular, Twilight by Jay Griffiths, is a prose-poem essay, a thoughtful meandering through the deep symbolic qualities of twilight. One of his primary images is the Trickster, the Fool. My own deep-self elf began to do a little dance. If she could speak in words, she’d be yelling, “See? See? Do you see the connections?” Instead, a deep satisfaction, a nearly audible visceral click occurs somewhere in my inner spaces. I get it, deep in my gut.
And so, for me, I think this year may have me following the path of the Fool, searching for that click again. Because my brain loves intellectual work, part of my exploration will include searching through Shakespeare for fools and fools’ talk. Because of Lear’s Fool, I trust Shakespeare on this. I might have to do some collage work or painting or doodling of fools. And when I see a representation of the Fool or the Sacred Clown or the Trickster in the mundane world, I’ll recognize her and we’ll wink at each other.
In some of the circles I work and play with, we do careful dreamwork together, telling dreams and reflecting on their symbols. One of the things we try to do is to tell the dream in present tense. It can take some work to get into that groove, but the immediacy of the present-tense telling often draws forth images and colors and general weirdness that get ignored in a past-tense telling. All storytelling is a process of choosing which details to tell and which to ignore. We try not to censor out the odd and seemingly-insignificant details in our dream-tellings. Often those deep-self elves have a purpose in the sudden shifts, when your sister is now a sparrow or you step out of bed and find yourself walking on air. In dream-tellings, the truth is often in the weird. Then when others reflect on the dream, we are careful not to baldly interpret. We rarely say, “I think your dream means. . .” More often, it’s “That red dress really catches my attention. I wonder if you have any associations with red?” Dreamwork seems to proceed best when done dreamily. Interpretation is fluid and watery, not calcified. And no one is an expert. We all have skills at noticing.
As often happens in dreams, last night’s setting was in a big rambling building. Sometimes, even though the rooms and halls are unfamiliar, my dream-mind knows exactly here I am. For years, my building dreams were located in my grandmother’s house, though not in any rooms that existed in my waking reality. School dreams have frequently recurred, as have various hotels.
Last night’s dream is in a school. I’m in the library, talking to a couple of colleagues. We are discussing giving an extension on a big paper to a student who has been sick. Students are looking for books. Out of the window, in the long straight rows of orchard trees, a vulture keeps spreading its wings wide against the green of the leaves. I can see the individual feathers and how the light shines on them. At some point in the discussion, I find that I am holding a small figurine of the bird, and my colleague says, “Oh, that’s just a crow.”
As we are leaving, important visitors come into the library, mostly men in short-sleeved button-up shirts and ties, with pens in their pockets. They look like Mennonite men from the seventies. They enter the library in two straight lines. I smile politely and edge past them. They feel like history, like people from my childhood, and so I am kind of drawn to them, but wary as well. I don’t really want them to notice me.
Yesterday, it felt somehow wrong to end the storytelling about the horrors of the day with my dream of the night before. Only a fragment, really: I am walking sock-footed up wet stairs around the outside of a big old rambling house, carrying a folding chair because I want to sit on the roof and watch a rainbow.
So, my current collection of Twelvenight deep-self flotsam for now contains a Fool, shining black wings, and a rainbow. I think the patriarchy is walking through there somewhere, too, but I will wait and see what connections that one makes. Oh, and that solemn phrase from two days back: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.” This table of gathered flotsam is going to get pretty full in the next nine nights!
What about you? What has been roiling and boiling inside you in these last days and weeks? What does the dreaming season have to tell you?
Gratitude List: 1. I can feel the light returning. 2. While I’ve been grateful for deep sleep, last night’s troubled sleep offered me more memorable dreaming to work with. 3. The seven little books that my family bought me for Christmas from Hedgespoken Press. Seven Doors in an Unyielding Stone is the name of the series. I love the writers: Terri Windling, Rima Staines, Tom Hirons, Jay Griffiths and more. I love the feel of them in my hands. They’re little and thin. I love the design, the font, the paper choice. I have been mulling and muddling self-publishing some more of my poetry for several years now, and this design is so compelling and enchanting, I might let it inspire me to next steps with that work. 4. This lo-o-o-ong break. Do you know what it feels like to breathe deeply and satisfyingly after you’ve recovered from the panting of a long walk or run? That. 5. Messages from that deep-self elf: dreams, contemplations, messages, archetypes, images, flashes of color. Psychic flotsam. The poetry of the deep inner realms. 6. Bonus: There are now 1000 condors! I can distinctly remember when there were fewer that 25, and I think there were only 8 in the wild!
One thing about the Fool. The Fool somersaults and tumbles, one minute leaping high, and then pratfalling underneath the table the very next. The Fool shows us our up-and-down-selves, our extremes, our fluctuations, our truth. The Fool may tell jokes, but in the next breath comes a story to break your heart and tear you open.
In the Christian tradition, the holy blessed silence and the ringing song, the quiet candlelight, and the stories of shepherds and magi, are followed by a story so terrible we can hardly encompass it. We want to look away. Please, let me get back to finishing the Christmas cookies and playing that funny new game. Let me get back to gazing at the twinkling tree with a cat on my lap and that new book in hand. But this story will not be ignored.
I am leading worship in church this Sunday, and even the lectionary can’t make up its mind. We begin with the Hallelujahs! All creation celebrates the coming of the Child of Promise! Holy, holy, holy.
Then we enter the doorway of the Gospel reading and everything changes. An angry king, desperate to hold onto his own power, hears of the birth of a new king and orders a genocide of baby boys. Our hearts read this part fast, and rush with the Holy Family through dark of night, across a border to a safer land. We turn our faces away from the carnage they have left behind. We cannot bear to look. Yet even as we approach the border to safety with the vulnerable Mary-Joseph-Jesus, we hear Rachel wailing in the distance behind us.
Through the long hallways of space and time, we can still hear her howling her grief-rage, her despair. Whenever atrocities occur, Rachel’s voice from Ramah, from Bethlehem, rises, howling despair through the hollow places in our bones.
Herod’s men have ridden throughout history, committing unmentionable atrocities in every land. Men’s histories speak of strategy and honor in war, omitting the rape of women and children, the murder of the innocents. Even today, textbooks in the United States tell children that slavery, while not a good thing, was a dreamy transaction that protected and provided for the enslaved, making little or no mention of the inhuman atrocities committed by the powerful against the powerless. Their history books tell of brave frontier communities battling fierce Native warriors, forgetting that it was the Europeans doing the invading, committing genocide against the communities that thrived here before them.
On this day in 1763, the Paxtang Boys mounted their horses for a second time, to finish the terrible job they began on the 14th of the month when they wiped out everyone–mostly elderly people and children–in the last village of Conestoga people in Lancaster County. On this day, while the people of Lancaster City were at holiday concerts and parties, the Paxtang Boys rode into Lancaster, bribed or threatened the jail-keeper (unless he was in league with them), and savagely murdered the remaining villagers–children, elders, and others who were being kept in the poorhouse for their own safety. Rachel’s voice sounded through the halls of history, for there was no one left of the Conestogas to howl and wail. The genocide was complete.
They were completely and utterly defenceless. They were scalped and dismembered. Their names were Kyunqueagoah, Koweenassee, Tenseedaagua, Kanianguas, Saquies-hat-tuh, Chee-na-wen, Quaachow, Shae-e-kah, Tong-quas, Ex-undas, Hy-ye-naes, Ko-qoa-e-un-quas, Karen-do-nah, and Canu-kie-sung.
Herod’s soldiers, and the slave-owners, and the Paxtang Boys all continued to live respectable lives in their communities, powerful and dignified. Rachel’s life, and her sisters’ lives down throughout history, have been inexorably altered, marked by the horrors of the brutality committed by “respectable law-abiding” citizens.
And today? Where are Herod’s men enforcing Herod’s lust for power against the powerless? Where are the Paxtang Boys, claiming to keep their communities safe from the Other, instead committing atrocities against the Other? They won’t look like wild and raging desperadoes. They’ll be cloaked in the garb of respectability and community sanction.
Can you hear Rachel weeping? Can you hear her howls rending the air? She is inconsolable.
Can we welcome the holy child of light and promise, and turn our faces away from children torn from their parents and placed in cages? Can we gaze on the graceful face of Mary and ignore the wailing of her sister Rachel, her sisters Maria and Raquel and Isabella and Jimena?
The song is sort of like the Christmas version of Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Will it ever end? It goes on and on, repeating the lists of ducks and swans and rings and dancers and servants until you just want the song to be done already! And it’s always on, in a thousand versions, all during the holiday season. But does anyone really know much about the Twelve Days of Christmas?
Like so many of our modern syncretistic celebrations, the Twelve Days of Christmas is a mishmash that holds within it the tradition of Catholic and Orthodox days of feasting and/or fasting and pagan mysticism and revelling, in this case Yuletide and Saturnalia. Shakespeare used this period as the setting for his play Twelfth Night, in which people take on different identities, and things are never as they seem.
These are the High Holy Days, Time Between Time, another period in which to meditate on the coming of the Light. These are also the days of the Lord of Misrule, when a young person or a peasant would perform the duties of the Lord of the Castle for this season, usually ordering wild parties and feasting and dancing. The Fool is ascendant, and the King takes orders. Having just finished a study of King Lear, I am pondering the strange wisdom of the Fool these days, and the foolishness of kings. No, I’m not making a political jab here. This is more inward, more mystical. We each have our own Ego-Ruler who sits on a golden throne and arranges things as they ought to be in order to maintain meaning and order. We also have an inner Child-Fool, who wants to set things tumbling, to play, to shift the patterns of inner law and order.
Have you ever noticed how much our modern depiction of Santa’s elves and their hats resemble to old Medieval fools and their foolscape? I have a slowly-growing theory that the Fool/Clown is so crucial to our human sense of equilibrium, and that this ancient western Medieval character of the Fool so satisfyingly fulfilled that role, that we have maintained the Fool in the character of Santa’s elves.
The “elf” hat my brother gave me for Christmas twenty years ago would look perfectly reasonable on Lear’s Fool. And here’s another thing: One of our favorite family Christmas movies is Elf. What is Will Ferrell’s Buddy if not the quintessential Fool? He doesn’t fit in “polite” society. He doesn’t know how to behave. He’s embarrassing and childlike. And he’s the wisest person in the story. The father kept trying to order things in his fashion, kept trying to maintain meaning in the only way he knew how: making money and having corporate power creates a safe social order. But Buddy came into his realm and, in that utterly cringey moment, sang, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” And the world began to topple.
This is a season when we recognize that the social order is not cast in stone, that kings fall and fools rise. Buddy the Elf gets a cynical city to believe in Santa Claus. The Fool leads the mad King through the storm and the fens. And, in the story that Christians are celebrating, a tiny baby turns the world upside-down. The child of a poor and insignificant family on the far-flung edge of the empire comes to upset the social and religious order.
Jesus is the Fool. He wanders, he questions, he turns everything upside-down, he tells his listeners, over and over: “You have heard it said, but. . .” This Holy Fool disobeys the law and order that have been set up by the people in power to maintain the power structures. Perhaps some of the struggle that Christianity faces today is that we keep wanting to make him the King. We want the seeming sense of the powerful ruler, and we eschew the seeming foolishness of the Fool. But in truth, the Kings are all mad and the Fool has wisdom to offer, if only we will hear.
His mother knew, didn’t she, when she spoke her prophecy poem while he somersaulted in her womb. He fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away. He will cast down the rulers from their thrones and raise up the lowly. Amen, Hallelujah. Here comes the Holiest of Fools.
Dreamwork: If we keep up the labyrinth metaphor, these are the days of the walk out of the labyrinth–having considered what we lay down and let go on the inward journey, we now look at what we pick up for the coming year. I use Twelvenight for dreamwork. It’s more live Sixteennight for me actually, because I start really paying attention at Solstice. I mine my dreams for words and images that will accompany me into the coming year. I let the Fool of my dream-brain inform the Queen of my waking brain, offering up seemingly disjointed and disconnected ideas and words and pictures to break down the logical-intellectual meanings my day-brain has created.
This year, the valerian in the medicine I took to fend off that cold seems to have kept me sleeping well for days after. I have been sleeping deeply and satisfyingly in the last couple of days. This means I am not remembering much in the way of dreams. But this morning I woke up with this somewhat grammatically-challenged phrase in my head: “There’s more than two ways to think about it.”
My day-brain is a little offended. Duh! I’ve done that one already. I’ve meditated on both/and as a solution to either/or thinking. I’ve read everything by Richard Rohr on non-dual thinking. This is one of my core concepts. But the Fool wants me to learn it again, so who I am to fight it? More than two ways. . .
Gratitude List: 1. Fools and foolishness 2. Wisdom from unexpected places 3. b n v <–Sachs wrote that when he walked across my keyboard. Yes, Fuzzy Friend, I am grateful, so grateful, for the cats and for kitty kisses. 4. Chocolate 5. Days warm enough for me to take a walk.
For several years, I’ve been practicing a spiritual discipline that I think of as non-defensiveness. I am not even sure when I first began it. It sounds vaguely Buddhist or Gandhian, and I’m certain those are influences, but I can’t really define where or how I began it as a spiritual discipline. Lately, I’m becoming uncomfortable with the term because it feels so non, so negativizing. And as I try to expand my ability to stay in touch with my feelings, something about the word feels too cold and calculating, too harshly reasonable, too solidly logical.
I think of rage and fury and defensiveness as the vanguard emotions, the frontier responses. They’re out there on the front lines, fighting it out. When I feel attacked, I practice dropping down below the fray, finding the steady place beneath the wild turmoil of the fighting plain (plane). And I have been getting better at that, good at taking that breath, realizing that my instinct is to dash in with my own verbal bombs, and instead dropping down. That dropping down, sinking to center, settling in–that’s the non-defensive posture that I have been learning to take.
I think, however, that there’s a danger of being non-defensively defensive, of sinking into that posture while wearing a mask of cold, hard, untouchable reason. It feels safe to step out of the fray and begin to take apart the arguments with logic. This is the King’s response–to break it down with the force of mind, the sword of reason. It’s not a bad stance, but it needs to be paired with the Queen’s shrewd eye for the inner world, her awareness of the secrets hidden in the chalice, the grail. If I don’t acknowledge my emotions while I drop down, I fail to find the true spiritual depth I’m seeking by not getting sucked into the skirmish.
It’s only by fully acknowledging the feelings that the skirmish brings up within me that I can truly grow from a non-defensive posture. Otherwise, I am just a Tin Man. While I breathe and drop down, I want to tell myself the story of my feelings: I feel hurt; I feel attacked and stalked; this wounds me.
Last spring, in Dr. Amanda Kemp’s course/workshop on Holding Space for Transformation, her emphasis on recognizing and acknowledging your feelings as you interrupt your defensive responses in the heat of the moment really spoke to me. When I mask my inner work with reason, I leave the feelings untended, and the wounds fester underneath my chain mail and my suit of armor.
And, to continue the martial metaphor, it isn’t that I never get into the battle. In these times, I believe that it is of utmost importance that people of conscience stand as a unified and powerful force against the powers that threaten to destroy the earth and the children, that silence the voices of the vulnerable, that exclude and marginalize difference and otherness. But I will not be effective in the big things if I spend my energy skirmishing, if I let myself get distracted from the big story by the little attacks in my individual story. And this big story needs us to be fully-realized humans who are capable workers in the realms of both reason and emotion. So the challenge, in the small skirmishes, is to drop down, but also to feel.
(I acknowledge that the archetypes of King and Queen are deeply gendered. I also find that they’re part of the language of the deep group conscious of my particular cultural background. Certainly, as a woman, I am more than the box that the Queen sits in, and I am more also than the King-Queen binary. I think that the fluid and ungendered realm of the Fool is where we will all be more free, but that’s for another day’s ruminations.)
Gratitude List: 1. Teachers who help me on the path toward wholeness. Thank you. 2. Time off, time out, time between time. 3. Three cats. I think a three-cat house is just about perfect for me. 4. How sleep tosses up bones for the dog of the brain to chew on. 5. That scarlet cardinal shining out in the gray of the morning.
Today’s Prompt is to write a “good for nothing” poem:
Good for Nothing
by Beth Weaver-Kreider
This poem has not practiced its lines,
it hasn’t memorized the tricky bits,
it doesn’t know the plot shifts.
This poem might be good for something,
but more likely it’s a time-waster.
More likely, it’s just addlepated.
This poem knows it isn’t going anywhere.
It knows it’s got a short shelf life,
so it will just take this country minute
to saunter into the middle of the room
and bow, and tell the only story it knows:
about the poem that has not practiced its lines.
“When Tolkien needed someone to place in the face of the great rising evil in his story, he chose the small ones. You and I are the small ones, friends. Let’s join hands and stand together. Let’s work together, speak together, sing and whisper and shout together.” —EWK
“We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.” —Terence McKenna
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” —Audre Lorde
“Don’t operate out of fear, operate out of hope. Because with hope, everything is possible.” —Winona LaDuke
Our deepest fears are like dragons
guarding our deepest treasure.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
by Barbara Crooker
Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.
“Look at everything
as though you were seeing it
either for the first or last time.
Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”
Gratitude List: 1. Synchronicity
3. The bravado of the Fool
4. The wildness of crows
5. Reminders to be true to myself