Winter Solstice

This is an excerpt from Marzipan’s Adventures, a series of books currently being written about some chat sith dos (tufted faery cats) who live on a world halfway between the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and Tir n’an Og of Faery. This is close to the end of the second book. (No, the first one isn’t finished yet, but these things do happen when you’re doing things with either cats or faeries, and this is about both.) You may wish to know that A’ Ghrian is The Sun in English, and here it means more than just a ball of fire in the sky — it is also the spirit of the sun, a divine being. I plan to add at least one photo to this after the initial posting so check back later for the picture. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from the story, written during the most recent solstice, step by step.

by Jessica & Marzipan Macbeth

Solstice Eve

Solstice evening came early, the longest night of the year. It was cold — colder than Marzipan could ever remember. All of the villagers, all of the people from Hill House, all of the wild chattan sith dos, the cattle, the goats, even the chickens, the wild creatures, and birds — all of them stood silently on the western shore and watched A’ Ghrian falling toward the sea.

As the sun just touched the sea, Riona’s rich voice lifted in slow song — a threnody of sorrow, of deep sadness, of grief and desolation. The light, the warmth of the world was dying. Dairri’s tenor voice joined Riona’s, and soon the silver bell of Aislynn’s voice soared above them both, ringing with Ceilear’s clear soprano. Bram’s bass tones were so deep that Marzipan felt as if it vibrated in her bones. One by one, all of the others joined in, even the animals and the birds, and their voices echoed off the hills. Only Mama Isa and Gran’ma Cait were silent — but their tears were their own songs.

Marzipan felt as if something within her was breaking. She held out her arms to A’ Ghrian as she had done every morning of the year past, but this time was not to help him up, but to gently ease his going. She too sang softly, her small voice breaking, almost unheard in the many-voiced threnody, the song of farewell, of morning.  She sang of all their mornings together, of how his warmth touched her and helped her grow strong, of how generous he was with all his blessings and warmth and light through the year, of how he illumined mind and spirit as well as the world. She sang about the plants in her little garden, who loved him as she did. She sang gratitude and love that pulled at her heart as A’ Ghrian disappeared into the sea for the last time.

He would not return.

The song changed, became A’ Ghrian’s coronach, proclaiming his death, and gradually his requiem — remembering him, remembering the glory he brought in the spring, remembering the richness and abundance of summer, remembering the melancholy beauty of autumn, and the dying of the year… and now his death in the cold sea.

As the shadows deepened into night, all of the folk turned and walked with darkened eyes as the cold stars came out above them, hard and bright. They walked south, then up and across Two Bridges Road, and up the snow-covered Green Road, still singing the slow, heavy song of grief and memory. It was a long, sad walk and some of the smaller creatures needed to be carried part of the way. Sometimes one voice would ring plangently over the rest, poignant and filled with pain, and other times all would harmonize together, swelling and soaring and fading… but never quite silent.

When they reached the top of the tor, still softly singing, the Lady Riona and Lord Dairri paused at the entrance to the old stone circle, more ancient than the world itself. They stood to each side and waited until Gran’ma stepped through and went to the altar stone. She turned and lifted her hands in welcome to everyone. Next Riona and Dairri entered and they also bade welcome to the rest. In ones or twos the others followed and then they all sat on the frosty grass, except for Gran’ma who turned back to the altar fire. There wasn’t quite room for everyone in the small stone circle and some of the wilder creatures were shy about being so close to others. They huddled together just outside and looked in. Marzipan could see the light of the altar fire flickering in their eyes between the stones, and she could see the same light on Gran’ma’s face and in that glow saw how Gran’ma sometimes looked incredibly old and other times very young — and all of the ages in between.

The song continued, sometimes in one voice, sometimes in several, almost like a conversation, the stories and the memories of the year. Marzipan knew the song in her own heart and how it blended with the rest. She wanted to sit in Herself’s lap, cuddled close, but at the same time she knew this was a time for being alone and lonely in the darkest, coldest night, so she pulled her shawl around her and fluffed her fur underneath it. She was still cold — there was an inner coldness as well as an outer one that she felt as she murmured her song of farewell to her beloved friend, A’ Ghrian, who had warmly blessed her every morning, every day for most of her life.

Just before midnight, the song slowly died. The fire on the altar, which had been flickering lower and lower, went out in a puff of smoke. The wind’s whisper among the trees hushed. For a timeless moment Marzipan felt as if her heart had stopped. Stonemother’s little world was wrapped in deep silence. It seemed like a long forever time in the nadir of the night.

It might have been silent forever had there been no one there to open their hearts, but out of the darkness, Riona’s voice rose again — softly, gently, and this time in a hesitant hymn of hope. Dairri’s voice joined hers, interwoven in counterpoint, voices entwined, rising up to the scintillating stars. Other voices rang in, and it was as if the voices were dancing. The swirl and whirl of the interwoven songs, all coming out of the deep darkness, enchanted Marzipan, both made her breathless and brought her more deeply into the song. Every one sang their own hopes and dreams and wishes, no two the same, and yet they were heart and soul in harmony.

Marzipan hummed in her own purr, thinking of her own dreams. Obviously, she wished all of them joy and her own self as well. Good health to the people and the land, gladness and prosperity to all… but anyone would wish that. What did she wish? What path did she want to walk? What did she want to become?

She didn’t know. Marzipan had reached that strange age where no one quite knows what you’re going to do next, least of all yourself, and at that moment she didn’t know what she wanted, didn’t know what to do. She finally realized that going in circles in her mind wouldn’t get her anywhere, and remembering her lessons, she let her mind grow still and sink deeper and deeper into the song.

Solstice Morn

For just that deeply still moment she could hear the Oran Mor, the Great Song of Stonemother, of the stars, of everything that is — and she remembered. She remembered promising Stonemother that she would try to be the very best she could be — she might not yet know just how or what particular thing that might be, but she knew that was it  — to find the path to her very best. And for that, she would need help — the blessing of A’ Ghrian, of Stonemother, of all of the beings around her — the songs of all of them were a part of her song — and her song a part of theirs. She could feel that wish, that profound desire within her, trying to burst out in a joyous carol, to soar up to the stars and delve deep into the heart of the world. She felt as if something were swelling within her, as if she were a small balloon about to explode.

She stood up, quivering, and far too full to speak. Suddenly she leapt upon the altar where she danced the song she felt. There were no words — just her dance, and as she danced, the fire on the altar re-kindled in a burst of light. She danced in the light, like a living flame. She danced to the song the others sang, and the dance itself was her own heartsong. It felt like she danced forever.

The sky began to faintly lighten in the east, over the sea. She could feel the small presence of the new A’ Ghrian becoming stronger, becoming closer, becoming Himself, the blessing of light and warmth and growth.

Father Eagle soared over them, shouting, “He is coming! Now! He comes!

Somehow, instinctively and without thinking about how she was doing it, Marzipan wove all of the heartsongs together in her dance and entwined them with the light of the altar fire, which was the heartsong of Stonemother, and with the gentle glow in the east. Placing her feet firmly on the altar and stretching out her arms, she lifted A’ Ghrian above the horizon. It was the èirigh na grèine, the rising on the sun. He was born. He lived. He illumined Stonemother’s small world.

And Marzipan held him in her paws as she would hold a babe, a kitten, cherishing him, his tiny and fragile and newborn self.

She could feel her friends beside and behind her. She felt their eyes glowing with the new light within them, and all of them had reached as she did, lifting, holding, loving the baby A’ Ghrian — and all of them were filled with his joyous light. The song rose to a crescendo and ended on a single heartbeat — and yet it went on echoing in the hills, between the trees. Marzipan knew that it would echo there all year, shaping the dance of life in the isles.

Gran’ma stretched out her arms and Marzipan jumped into them, and threw her arms around Gran’ma’s neck and hugged her as close as she could. Riona touched her gently, and Marzipan turned and hugged her. Mama Isa watched, smiling through her drying tears, and Marzipan went into her arms and was gently hugged, then handed on to Ceilear, her very own Herself, and she nestled into her arms — safely home, secure, and almost thinking about breakfast.

Solstice Day

Slowly, smiling, each one left the circle, Dairri and Riona first through the gate, where they stopped on each side, blessing each of their folk as they came out. New sun, new day, new year, new life. Gram’ma Cait was the last out, Mama Isa holding her arm, lending strength. It was a long walk home, north on the white snow of the Green Road, westerly down to the bridge and across to the village. Marzipan got to walk part of the way with Aislynn, who was back from visiting Old Earth, and her chat sith dos, Megan, who was new to the isles. She had heard that they would be home and this would be Megan’s first Solstice on the isles.

Megan seemed a little bewildered — she had never seen so many of her people before. Most of the chattan had gone home from the tor to their own places, but Marzipan introduced her to Jake and Granny Catriona who both welcomed her, but Megan seemed very shy and hid her face in Aislynn’s skirts as she mumbled “hello”. Marzipan tried to be friendly, and was sorry when Dairri and Riona turned off for the Hill House and took Aislynn and Megan with them. She had a lot of questions about Old Earth that she would like to ask Megan. But that was all right — she’d see her later at the feast. Aislynn and Megan had come home and would be here all winter.

As they went through the village, all of the purrsons stopped at their own places except Mama Isa and Papa Davie, who had their vardo just beyond Ceilear and Marzipan’s house. They were going to have breakfast together. While Ceilear and Isa lit a new fire in the old kitchen hearth to begin breakfast and Papa Davie lit the fire in the sitting room, Marzipan went outside to visit her garden. Most of the plants were bedded down for the winter in straw, but she lifted up their straw caps so they could see the new sunlight and she told them about the death of the sun and the long night and then the birth of the new sun and the spring and summer that was coming. They seemed excited about the springtime. Then she carefully tucked them back in, and went in to have breakfast and a good nap.

Marzipan knew that later in the afternoon all of the villagers and the wild chattan sith dos and some of the others would gather in the village hall. The chickens and squirrels certainly would come too — they always came to parties for the crumbs and the singing. So did the wild birds — even the owls. The goats liked to come as well, though there were extra-delicious things in the barn for them and the cows and sheep. Goats liked to be in the middle of things.

There would be music and dancing and feasting. There would be presents, handmade gifts to each other. There would be laughter. And over all of it, there would be the warm blessing of the newborn A’ Ghrian. Marzipan thought, “He’s a little baby — he’ll go to sleep early tonight. I must be there to help tuck him in. We’ll all want to go to sleep early tonight!”

The Rite of Writing Right & The White Rose

A few days ago I went to a talk  by William Kenower at the Writers’ Workshoppe, and one of the first thing he said was that it was of primary importance to write what you truly want to write  — not to worry about the expectations of others, not to be concerned with approval, or any of that  — just to write it. And in the class I attended yesterday (also at the Writer’s Workshoppe), Midge Raymond emphasized the importance of blogging among many other useful things. This whole study thing is, for me, about being a better writer  — and indeed, being a published author at all. I know… I am published and all that, but I want to be better at it.

So here is the blog that I most want to write at this moment:

One of those odd little things that happen so often came up a few days ago. I wanted a photo of a white rose for a book cover and for a piece of stained glass in Second Life. It’s September. In Western Washington. Not a lot of roses around probably. None in my garden. The only thing I have is a miniature peach rose that hasn’t bloomed all summer.

But…

I mentioned this lack of white roses to my friend, Raine, and she too had none, had seen none, and didn’t expect to at this time of year. Yet, as we walked out to the car to go shopping, she noticed that my tiny rose was finally blooming  — one blossom only. Looking at it closely, we saw that was white and not peach. The label still says “peach” but the rose had gone for white instead.

I’m dismayed to report that my first reaction was to wonder what was wrong with it. My second was to realize that I had asked for a white rose and here it astonishingly was. My third was to silently grumble that I’d had a big, fluffy white rose in mind (though I hadn’t said so) and that this was “only” a paltry little miniature thing. And my fourth was to be ashamed of myself. Sheesh. Perhaps I need to wash my brain out with soap.

In fact, I then realized that a miniature rose was perfect for my needs — after all, both the book cover and the stained glass are for the chat sith dos, the little people, in Marzipan’s Adventures. What would they want with a rose larger than their heads to lug around?

And then I forgot to take the photo.

And now? Yes, I’m grateful for the tiny white rose, for the little bud appearing beside it, for the generosity of MamaNature, and for her delightful response to my need. You can call it a co-incidence if it makes you feel better, but to me and to many others, it’s one of the little miracles that happen often, and it is a joy to notice and be grateful for them.

#

So, that is this morning’s response to “write what you really want to say.” As Kenower promised, it made me happy to write it. He also told us to ask ourselves when we’d finished writing if we were satisfied that we’d said what we really wanted to say, our real truth, and if we’d said it accurately. I just read this over, and yes, I did and it did. And you don’t need to worry that I’m going to start doing blogs three times a day — I’ve got a bunch of other things I’d just love to write.

Yesterday I went out and lo! The tiny rose was still blooming, and thus photos were made. So, here, larger than life, is the rose and I hope you can enjoy it without the nonsense I went through about it!

A Might-As-Well-Be-White Rose
A Might-As-Well-Be-White Rose

In Praise of Chaos & Order

Many kinds of things come in polarities: cold/hot, young/old, male/female, feeling/thinking, believing/knowing, extrovert/introvert, and many others. Some of these things are either/or and some of them form a spectrum from one extreme to the other. Chaos and order form such a spectrum. From the white-hot chaos of the beginning of the universe, wherein all was potential, to the ultimate order of the heat death of the universe (assuming that either ever did or ever will happen), we see a spectrum.

I was talking with Nancy the Virgo the other day, and it became evident that her idea of a reasonable amount of order is much more orderly than mine. Mine looks like chaos to her. We are comfortable at different places on the spectrum. Then I was talking with Michael the Aries, saying that I am rather like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon strip, except that, instead of attracting dirt like Pigpen, I attract chaos. I can walk by a stack of papers two feet away and they slither down behind the desk. Michael was very sympathetic – he, too, is in a love-hate relationship with chaos.

When the chaos becomes too bad, I become dysfunctional. But when things become too orderly (true, this doesn’t happen often) or when I am in someone else’s super-orderly (by my standards) environment, I feel paralyzed and don’t know what to do until I’ve untidied things a bit. And if I can’t untidy them, I wander around picking things up and putting them down again, doing nothing useful. There has to be a little bit of chaos, maybe quite a large bit, in order for my mind and spirit to move fluidly, creatively, and to find new juxtapositions in old information, new aspects or ways of seeing the pattern. For me, and from what I hear, for many others a certain amount of chaos is an essential ingredient in the creative process.

Yet other people like to have things orderly, and to go on making them even more orderly. They like static patterns, in which there are Answers. Most of us, even we lovers of moderate chaos, are desperate for Answers. Knowing myself, I suspect that if an all-knowing God gave me Answers, I’d probably just argue about them. And I know a lot of other people who would probably do the same.

I suspect that many people were terribly relieved when scientists came up with the Chaos Theory, which, as I understand it, is that there is order in all things but it is much too complex and multidimensional for us ever to understand. This is why your blowing out of your birthday cake candles can be the ultimate prime cause of a storm months or years later in Argentina, which in turn might be in the direct line of causation for the eventual collapse of the (at present nonexistent) federal government of South America. And severe flooding in Alaska.

If things are this complicated, it is hardly surprising that we make mistakes and misjudgments. And we do all make mistakes, which we can regard as a part of our growth process. If we cannot accept this view, we miss an opportunity for creative spiritual growth. We get stuck in a sort of miniature entropic heat-death of our own, wherein we become rigid and deny free-flowing change. Instead of saying, ‘Hot damn!* I wonder where this is taking me?’ we say, ‘Why me, God? Why me?’ We are again demanding Answers – which we would almost surely argue with if we got them.

I suspect that, even when we evolve to several stages higher on the evolutionary scale than humans are, we’ll still make mistakes. This raises an interesting question: does even God/dess (the all-Oneness-that-Is) make mistakes? Or does It just approve of chaos? Because it certainly seems that every once in a while that things just don’t make sense. Is this because God/dess  (in the ultimate sense) has goofed or because It has simply stirred in a little more chaos so that extraordinary things, possibly even miracles can happen?

At just this moment in time, the balance in my home feels absolutely perfect for me. Clearly it isn’t so for the cats and they are working for more chaos. I can handle that. 😉 Do you know your own Right Balance?  Perhaps  that should be #9 in the Eight-fold Path…

* I know ‘hot damn’ is a very old-fashioned expression, but it was the only one I could think of that actually seemed appropriate.

Lineage & Hands


Megan’s Hands On My Altar Stone

Here I am this morning:
reading Mary Oliver,
having fits of ecstasy
at the beauty on the page —

and feeling that
I have wasted my life.
I am 75 and still
cannot write so exquisitely!

It’s all about seeing,
looking past the surface
into the layers of kinship
and deep story.
And yet —

Yesterday,
my granddaughter and I
sat in my garden and compared
our hands, the shapes and lines,
hers, young and smooth,
no more than a tracery of
the dominant pattern —
and mine, old and full of living,
a spider’s crazed web
between the main lines —
yet those deepest ones
forming a pattern
quite like Megan’s.

Once, many years ago,
I did that with my grandmother,
and we, too, found that our hands
were uncannily alike.

When Megan was birthing
and I was rushing
to be there to greet her,
I heard a voice say,
“She has your hands.
You women are like
pearls on a string,
and the lineage endures.”

I told Megan this yesterday. She is ten,
and her eyes grew wide as she listened,
as mine had ten years before
when I saw a line stretching
back and back into the mist
of pearls and hand prints —
healer’s hands.

So, perhaps it was
not wasted after all, this life,
but simply a pearl to be found on a string.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Buddhism on Wings

or
How I Became Kinda Buddhist

Once upon a time, many ages ago when I was in my thirties, I was walking back to my office in San Diego on a blustery spring day. Stray scraps of paper were leaping and dancing in the gusty wind. It was a game to grab them as they passed by and then tuck them neatly in the next trash can. In the distance, one, about a half of a page, lifted lightly into the air. Something about it caught me—it swooped so low and twirled so high and with such lithesome grace, never quite touching the ground or the buildings. As I continued walking, I watched it, hoping it would come close enough to catch. Its wild gyrations carried it up almost to the roof level of two-story buildings before spiraling down—and rising again. It pirouetted at roof height right across the street before diving down and back the way it had come. With a sudden reverse, it swerved toward me… and gently settled against my chest.

I stood there, stunned, for a moment as it nestled there, held close by the breeze, until I reached slowly up and peeled it carefully from my breast. The first side was blank. The other side had been written on in hard pencil, not easy to read as it flapped gently in my hand. I smoothed it against a handy wall and held it there. It was a simple list of eight concepts, each with a few words of explanation after it. They were Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

I remember that the first was “Right View. To see things as they really are. To see the true nature of all things.” I don’t remember the exact wording of the others, but as I read down through the list, I became quite excited. Here, concise and clear, was a description of the path I’d been trying to follow in my own fumbling way. It was like hearing a huge bell ring, the kind that makes your bones vibrate. For several minutes, I just stood there on the street, reverberating. Carefully, I rolled the paper and carried it to my office where I sat and just looked at it until it was almost time for the next client. I can’t say I was thinking or reading— just there, gently humming like a Tibetan bowl being rung.

My office consisted of three main rooms—the front, public room where I taught classes and met individual clients for counseling, the middle room for healing and massage, and the private back room for paperwork and writing. I took the page to the back room and pinned it to the wall above my desk so I only needed to raise my eyes to see it.

Gradually, it became a habit to look at it whenever there was an important decision to make. The checklist helped me keep on track more easily. Then it seemed obvious to begin applying it more widely. Did what I wrote, the classes I prepared, my actions and reactions concerning clients and students measure up to those standards? One of the first things learned (from a Sufi) was that “right” in this context meant “most appropriate, most loving, most healing.” It was a constant challenge, and I fell by the wayside a lot.

About a half a year or so later, a fellow teacher was in the back room as we checked through some class plans. He saw the half-sheet and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were into Buddhism.”

I didn’t know that either and told him so. He said, “But that’s the eightfold path, the core of Buddhism.”

I looked at it and shrugged. “I found this list and use it for a checklist for stuff. It’s what I’m trying to do. I didn’t realize it was Buddhist.” Though I loved and trusted the man, I didn’t feel like telling him about the paper whirling through the air and plastering itself to my heart. If that happened now, I’d think that Faery brought it to me, the spirits of the wind and air, perhaps, and would probably say so, but I was more shy about these things back then.

“I’ll bring you a book about Buddhism. You’ll like it.”

He did, and I did, and it was the first of a number of books I’ve read on Buddhism, mostly Zen, but also other branches growing from the root of the Buddha’s teachings. And I’ve also gone to a number of classes and meetings to try to learn more. Buddhism is vast. But I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist. If asked and if I have to come up with a “religion” I usually say “Zen Pagan” and leave it at that.

As far as my current practice goes, I’m human and often mess up. I’m still not perfect at those eight simple guidelines. What is “perfection” anyway? The word itself may be a kind of a trap. Eight little guidelines for living and loving, for compassion and healthy relationships with self and universe. Just eight. Amazingly difficult. Subtle, too. They sound so straightforward — and they are, but things have a tendency to complicate in human minds. We seem to have to start from simplicity, go through a great deal of complexity until our understanding expands enough to move on to a higher level of simplicity. It seems like all these lessons are quite simple once we truly get them. And it also seems that once we truly get them, a little time passes and they start complicating again… because there is yet another level to reach that we couldn’t see before we got to this one.

Somewhere along my rather vagabond way through life, the original piece of paper disappeared. I’ve read a lot since then, and applied what felt appropriate. I made and still make mistakes; hopefully, I learn from them. Things are still checked by the “right guidelines” when there is doubt. You’d be astonished at how much time I spend on some of my responses on Facebook as I work through these. Some responses take days to get past the immediate reaction and into a space of reasonable clarity and “rightness”—as best I understand it.

There may be an end to developing wisdom, but I don’t know if humans ever find it or if we have to progress far beyond the limits of the human mind before we get there. In fact, it may be that the consciousness of the entire universe isn’t there yet. I wonder what would happen if the One became fully enlightened—reaching some state we can’t even begin to imagine. What would that do to us, the tiny cells in Its being? Or does enlightenment work the other way and we small cells have to each and every one reach that ultimate Beingness before the One can?

Meanwhile, I’m still working on trying to find the heart of simplicity in the seeming tangle of complexity. We learn interesting things that way. And I watch carefully what the wind brings me.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.