The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
—Tao Te Ching
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light
When the dark time comes, when it swallows us whole, what do we do? Do we revel in it? Or do we cower in terror?
Darkness evokes a primal fear that even the most rational adults can’t completely banish. Whether it’s the outer darkness that shrouds the world at night or the inner darkness that clouds our spirit, we’re always fighting to keep the dark at bay. With artificial lights. With bottles and pills. With platitudes and prayers. Resistance to darkness seems to stem from some potent ancestral memory encoded in our DNA.
But darkness can’t be held down for long. It presses in on us, gathering its shadows at the edges of our lamplight. It waits for its chance, for the lights to flicker, to swell up and reclaim its territory. The more we hide from darkness, the more powerful its hold on us.
Our terror of darkness runs so deep, the gods sometimes use it to threaten and punish the world. Darkness was one of the ten biblical plagues Yahweh inflicted on Egypt in attempt to free the Israelites from slavery.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days.
We’ve entered the dark time of the year—and a dark time for humanity. All the darkness we’ve denied within ourselves is rising up and staking its claim, and there’s no telling what ghouls may manifest within it. Renewed persecution, maybe. Nuclear war, maybe.
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She woke not knowing where she was, who she was, or even what she was. The only thing she could say for sure was how she was. As to that: stiff and sore.
First order of business: Open her eyes.
Her lids felt heavy and stuck together as if they’d been sewn shut. She might have lifted her hand and pried them apart—Did she have hands? She thought she did—but that required the complex act of remembering how to manipulate her fingers. Assuming she had fingers. She thought she did.
In the dark behind her eyelids, she took stock. This was what she knew: She was lying down. She was cold. And she was hungry.
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The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
I never knew you, but I cannot bear the thought of you languishing in the dark, doomed to stare forever at rotting things and the dust of what you were. Down in that stale place, beneath the clink of my shovel, you shed your cocoon of wet muscle and became something else, a luminous pearl inside a coffin shell. You were not meant to be shut away like this—forgotten, wished out of existence, too vital to look on comfortably.
Within your sockets I see the blackness of the grave, as if it leached in and took up residence after your eyelids fell away. Were I to light a candle in you, let it flicker from your hollows, it would not banish the shadows that cling there. The mysteries you have seen—you are smug with them. I cannot look away, hoping some small trace of that blackness will leap from your eyes into mine.
I run my fingers over your cool topography, your cracks and ridges, the indentations behind your jawbone. These are the silent maps of your history, your formation in layers that fused and hardened like the calcium secretions of a clam. I feel the bumps of your teeth, splayed across your face in an upward-curving row. I will not call it a smile. A smile is an act of will, requiring the manipulation of at least a dozen facial muscles. Rot has stripped your will away.
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Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, holding up all this falling.
—Rainer Maria Rilke, “Autumn”
You linger on my tongue like the tang of apples, cool and wet and utterly alive. Your colors are dazzling, but that’s not why I love you.
I love the way you rejoice in the coming death.
You drop your leaves as though they were nothing, to remind us there is joy in letting go. You expose yourself, naked to the coming destruction, and face it with anticipation rather than fear. Death is only cruel because you make it so, you whisper with the wisdom of the Crone.
Mist drapes you like sheets over unused furniture. Are you preparing for winter abandonment, or do you represent the yet-unexplored rooms of our souls into which we stumble when the veil is thin? You veil our eyes to unveil our hearts, so we may hear the questions to our answers. You remind us of the places between, where Spirit dwells. You restore our sense of mystery, keeping your secrets locked tight.
You are the moment between waking and sleeping, the last gasp before winter entombment. You draw out the energy that weaves all things together. Your scythe makes the world hum with life.
Never change, Fall, and always keep changing.
Featured image by Brandon Godfrey—Ross Bay Cemetery: Fall colors, CC BY 2.0
Greetings to you, Arianrhod, Silver-Wheel.
Greetings to you, Crown of the North.
You who deny in order to fulfill, I greet you.
You, Queen of Witches, Initiator of Bards
May I remember my times in your Caer
And embrace the Stars that wheel around you.
Featured image by Alfredo J G A Borba via Wikimedia Commons
If you linger here, transfixed by the beauty of what you see,
then you will be a captive forever.
But, if you have the strength to turn and walk out of the Spiral Castle,
then the hidden secret of House Arianrhod will be revealed to you.
—Lyn Webster Wilde, “Becoming the Enchanter”
I spent years seeking Arianrhod. Came up empty-handed more often than not. She’s an elusive goddess—a fleeting shadow in the corner of my eye, sensed rather than seen.
She dawned on me slowly, the way the first stars appear when you’re not looking. Before you know it, you’ve got a sky full of them.
She’s an enchanter, an illusionist. She hides in plain sight. A riddler, a trickster. She diverts our attention from her sleight of hand. Her bright Silver Wheel “mirrors us back to ourselves and flashes tricksy images into our mind’s eye that can easily confuse … what is real and what is not? And what is reality anyway?” says shaman and author Elen Sentier.
Arianrhod demands we master the enchanter’s art of clear sight. She tests our grasp on reality. In myth, she grants the gift of prophetic sight. In practice she drives us hone our gaze—to see through illusion and spot the hidden.
Most often when I meet her, she takes me by surprise. But I’ve gradually learned where to look for her.
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Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess,
she in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven;
whose body encircleth the Universe.
I, who am the beauty of the green earth,
and the white Moon among the stars,
and the mystery of the waters,
and the heart’s desire, call unto thy soul.
Arise and come unto me.
For I am the Soul of Nature,
who giveth life to the universe;
from me all things proceed,
and unto me must all things return;
and before my face, beloved of gods and mortals,
thine inmost divine self shall be unfolded
in the rapture of infinite joy.
Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth,
for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.
And therefore let there be beauty and strength,
power and compassion,
honour and humility,
mirth and reverence within you.
And thou who thinkest to seek for me,
know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not,
unless thou know this mystery:
that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee,
thou wilt never find it without thee.
For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning;
and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.