Forgotten Harvest Herbal Tea
1 part hibiscus flowers
2 parts lemon grass
3 parts raspberry leaf
Let steep for twenty minutes. It’s a very refreshing blend when served ice cold to help you get through summer days.
1 part hibiscus flowers
2 parts lemon grass
3 parts raspberry leaf
Let steep for twenty minutes. It’s a very refreshing blend when served ice cold to help you get through summer days.
1 teaspoon China tea
3 teaspoons young fresh bee balm leaves
Infuse for 5 minutes in 2 cups boiling water and strain before drinking.
2 cups mint (peppermint or spearmint or 1 cup each)
1/2 cup marjoram
1/3 cup whole savory leaves
1/4 cup lavender flowers
Mix thoroughly and store in tightly covered container. To use, steep one teaspoon per cup of briskly boiling water for 10 minutes or so to taste.
Mix six parts peppermint
One part each sage and rosemary
Mix equal parts of:
Need an idea for your garden? Don’t want the same old pansies and marigolds this year? Here’s some ideas for making your garden a more gothic place…
Gardening for the Fey
Let’s get one thing straight here: Fairies are not cute. Shakespeare made them seem cute, and Disney finished off the job (sorry, Heather, but it’s true). The fey are capricious, mischievous, arrogant, menacing and sometimes downright evil and dangerous to humans. The fey include elves, fairies, gnomes, trolls, goblins and a host of other supernatural beings who are somewhere “between men and angels.” Almost all of these beings have a very close connection to nature.
Rosemary: Sicilians thought that this was a favorite plant of the fairies and that young fairies would take the form of snakes and lie amongst the branches, and the baby fairies would sleep in the flowers.
Ragwort: Also known as St. John’s wort, this plant has a strong connection with the fey. In Ireland, it’s called fairy’s horse, since supposedly fairies would ride through the air on it. Leprechauns are supposed to have buried their treasure underneath the roots of this plant. And on the Isle of Man, there is the belief that if you stepped upon a ragwort plant on St. John’s Eve (Midsummer Eve) after sunset, a fairy horse would spring up out of the earth and carry you off until sunrise, at which time it would leave you wherever you happened to be.
Elder: Almost all trees are home to some sort of elven kind, including elm, oak, willow, yew, fir, holly and so on. However, elder trees have the highest elf population. The Elder Mother who dwells within the tree is very protective of her domain, and it is taboo to cut part of the tree without asking her permission first. Stories tell of the Elder Mother tormenting children who were in cradles of elderwood (which had not been asked for) by pulling them by the legs. The chant for asking permission is:
“Old Woman, Old Woman, Give me some of your wood And when I am dead I’ll give you some of mine.”
And if you stand under an elder tree at midnight on Midsummer Eve in Denmark, you will see Toly, the King of the Elves, go by.
Oak: In Germany, this is the fairies’ favorite dwelling place, and they are especially fond of dancing around it.
Barley: A common grain, but one of the main foods of the fairy. Fairies would often borrow oatmeal from storehouses and return a double measure of barley as repayment.
Silverweed: Also known as silver cinquefoil, the roots of this plant were another of the fairies’ favorite foods, which they called brisgein. However, it likes to grow in marshy areas, so cultivating it might be a problem.
Heather: This is another of the fairies’ favorite foods.
Wild thyme: Another herb that was thought to be home to fairies, since they liked the aromatic flowers and spent their leisure time among them. If you picked the flowers from a patch of wild thyme where the little folk did live and placed them on your eyes, you would be able to see the fey.
Cowslip: This flower is also known as fairy cups in Lincolnshire and was often a hiding place for frightened fairies. At dawn, as the light shines on the dewdrops, the fairies “hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.”
Ferns: This plant was guarded by Oberon on Midsummer Night, since this is when the fern would flower – a beautiful sapphire blue – and Oberon wanted to prevent mortals from obtaining the fern seed. If you managed to collect it despite him, you would be under the protection of spirits, and while you carried the seed it would render you invisible.
Clover: Finding a four-leaved clover grants you a wish and gives you the power to see the fairies dancing in their fairy rings. This is also the main ingredient of fairy ointment, which gives you the power to penetrate the fairies’ glamour and see them as they truly are. Be careful, though: If you unknowingly carry a four-leaved clover (in a bundle of grass), the fairies have the power to enchant you.
Foxglove: The flowers serve as petticoats for the fairies, and in Ireland they serve as fairies’ gloves. Also, flowers are used as thimbles when fairies mend their clothing.
Furze bushes: The cobwebs collected on their branches are used to make fairies’ mantles.
Stichwort: In Devonshire, people do not pick this for fear they be “pixy led.” Held in special honor by fairies.
Strawberries: In Bavaria, fairies are very fond of strawberries and peasants will tie a basket of strawberries between cows’ horns to assure an abundance of milk.
Rose: In Germany and Scandinavia, this plant is under special protection of dwarfs and elves, both who are ruled by King Laurin, Lord of the Rose Garden.
Cabbage stalks: Also serve as transportation for fairies, who ride these like horses.
Cuscuta Epithymum: In Jersey, known as “fairies’ hair.”
Peziza Coccinea: Used for fairies’ hats.
Elecampane: In Denmark, this is known as “elf-dock.”
Toadstools: These are thought to be “stylized pixy stools” and in the north of Wales are called “fairy tables.”
Pyrus Japonica: Used as kindling for fairy fires.
Tulips: Flowers are used as cradles for fairy children.
Wood anemone: Shelters fairies in wet weather.
Wood sorrel: From Wales, its white flowers are known as “fairy bells” and are used to summon fairies to their reveries.
Mallow: The fruit of this plant is called “fairy cheeses” in the North of England.
Nightwort: Evil elves prepare poison in this plant. It is also one of the sacred plants of the Dutch Alven, along with elf-leaf, which they watered and strengthened against the coming day. The Alven would sicken or kill people or cattle that touched the plants.
Globe flower: Also called the “troll flower.”
Hawthorn: In Brittany and Ireland, also called “fairy thorn,” this tree is the trysting place of fairies. To pick a branch or leaf from a hawthorn is to court the displeasure of the fairies.
Wormwood: This is “Dian’s bud,” which Oberon used to remove the enchantment from Titania. Wormwood is also protection against the Rusalky of Russia, who will tickle you to death if they find you in the woods without some of this in your pockets.
Flax: The flowers are not only protection against sorcery but also are beloved of Queen Hulda, who leads a procession through the valley between Kroppbuhl and Unterlassen while the flax is blooming. Fairy-flax is used by the fairies to weave all their linen. Poludnitsa, the Noon Woman, interrogates women she finds in the flax fields at noon, to make sure they know how to cultivate and spin flax. If they answer incorrectly, she kills them.
To prepare a sleeping place for Queen Titania, you should plant these flowers:
“Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine, There sleeps Titania sometime of the night Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”
Any fruit out of season or remaining after the harvest is the property of the fairies. In the West of England, strays are left to assure fairy goodwill. Fairies, like witches, don’t like yellow flowers and will go out of their way to avoid them.
Many thanks to my gothic garden researcher, Anagram…..
Ritual Death: The Adonis Garden
Adonis was worshipped as a god of vegetation, or at least a god associated with vegetation, in the Hellenic world. (I won’t discuss the radically differing viewpoints on this.) Adonis was born of Myrrha, the myrrh tree, seduced both Persephone and Aphrodite with his androgynous charm and died young, killed by his ineptitude in a boar hunt, and his body was found in a bed of lettuce. Some tales even have Aphrodite hiding him in that bed of lettuce.
Devotees of his cult, mostly concubines and courtesans, would grow on their rooftops a garden with fast-sprouting plants in baskets and small pots, which surrounded a statue of the god. The plants were always lettuce, barley, wheat and fennel. The rites of Adonia were performed in the middle of the summer, during the time when the sun was at its hottest, so these plants quickly sent up tender young shoots and just as quickly withered in the heat from the sun. They were allowed to grow for only eight days, after which the dry, withering sprouts were throw into the sea, along with an image of the god.
Lettuce, in particular, seems to have a lot of associations with death and sterility in the minds of the Greeks. Of course, it was in a lettuce bed where Adonis met his fate. The Greeks considered lettuce a “wet” plant, and this wet nature suggested to them bogs and decaying corpses. In fact, in one of his comedies, Euboulos wrote, “Lettuce is a food for corpses.”
The Somber Garden
This is the original theme that gave me the idea for Gothic Gardening and will obviously discuss black (or near-black, since in nature black is a fairly rare color) plants. It seems that about once a month on rec.gardens someone asks the question “Are there any black flowers I can grow?” This list is not all-inclusive, but it’s as complete as possible.
Note: I’ve included many plants in this list that I have no earthly idea of where to find them.
Roses: I’m sorry to say, there’s just no such thing as a black rose. I could probably write an entire column on near-black roses alone, since this seems to be the black flower everyone wants (but not me… I’d rather have true-black tulips). “Taboo” claims to be the nearest yet, but I found the flowers to be fairly red. The Taboo rose came from Germany, which does earn it some goth points, but it’s still not dark enough for me. In Germany, it’s known as Barkarole. The experts on rec.gardens.roses recently discussed the question of black roses, and the list of cultivars I have is derived mainly from them. I haven’t personally seen many of these roses, so I can’t vouch for just how dark they are, and I am most certainly not a rose expert….
(Note: Many people have e-mailed me to tell me many of these roses are nowhere near black. Caveat emptor.)
Hollyhocks: Found labeled as Althaea rosea nigra, A. nigra or “The Watchman,” these are single saucer-shaped blooms that are a deep, chocolate maroon. This was grown by Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if he was secretly a goth….
Snapdragon: The “Black Prince” cultivar has foliage that is dark green with dark reddish maroon overlay. When it flowers, the blooms are very dark, velvety crimson.
Gladiolus: Cultivars I’ve seen listed that all seem to be dark black-red, rather than a true black, are “Morocco,” “Black Stallion,” “Black Swan,” and “Bewitched.”
Canna lily: The “Black Knight” canna lily doesn’t look that dark to me. It’s supposed to be deep red with burgundy foliage.
Sunflowers: There isn’t any such thing as a black sunflower, but there are several options for dark colored ones… which are a dramatic change from the big, bright yellow ones people are used to. Deep-hued “Evening Sun” sunflowers have deep, rich, earthen tones (mahogany-red, rusty bronze, deep gold, burgundy and bicolored combinations all with dark center disks). Two other dark cultivars I’ve seen are “Floristan” and “Velvet Queen.”
Salvia: Andean Silverleaf or Peruvian Sage, Salvia discolor, has spikes of dark purple-black flowers and silvery foliage. The scent is a combination of fruit, eucalyptus and resin.
Tulips: “Queen of Night” dwarf tulips are a deep velvety maroon, as is “Black Diamond.” Supposedly, when tulip breeding was an art several centuries ago, there were black tulips. This is the closest I’ve seen commercially available. There’s also a “Black” Parrot tulip, which is deep purple and has “whipped” petals, and a “Black Hero” double tulip, which is derived from “Queen of Night” and has flowers resembling a peony. I’ve also seen a listing for the “Black Swan Tulip,” Tulipa gesneriana, but I don’t know how black it is, or if you can buy it.
Bachelor’s Buttons: Also know as cornflowers, there is a deep maroon variety, known as “Black Ball” or “Black Boy.”
Columbine: Aquilegia vulgaris has a deep maroon and white spurred variety, which is known as “Magpie” or “William Guiness.” A. atrata is the black columbine and has purple-black flowers. A. viridiflora has jade green and black flowers.
Cosmos: The chocolate cosmos has burgundy-black flowers and a slight chocolate scent.
Kangaroo paws: This flower is native to Australia. The black kangaroo paw has flowers and stems that are covered by black hairs – the green barely peeks through.
Fritillaria: F. camschatcensis, also known as the black rice root lily, black lily, chocolate lily, or Black Sarana, has bell-like flowers that are ruby-black. F. davisii has deep-green bell flowers that are heavily tessellated with purplish-brown so they appear black. F. persica has spikes of very dark plum flowers.
Daylilies: The darkest daylily cultivar I’ve seen is “Smoking Gun,” which is a maroon-brown-black color with yellow star points. There are lots deep red-black and purple-black daylilies, including “Eleventh Hour,” “Night Raider,” “Cairo Night,” “Vintage Bordeaux,” “Dominic,” “Ed Murray,” “Khans Knight,” “Midnight Magic,” “Night Wings,” “Super Babe” and “Troubled Waters.”
Scabiosa: Also known as the pincushion flower, the “Satchmo” variety is a deep maroon. These are excellent cut flowers.
Hyacinth: “Distinction” isn’t that close to black but is deep cherry with a maroonish-black stripe down the center of each petal. Simply gorgeous.
Dianthus: Dianthus includes pinks, carnations and sweet william. Dianthus nigricans has very dark flowers, and there is a cultivar known as “King of Black,” which I haven’t seen, but I suspect is dark. There is also a cultivar that is deep purple-black with white edging, which I’ve seen named “Velvet and Lace” or “Black and White Minstrel.” I’ve seen mention of a black carnation, but the closest I’ve found is a deep crimson variety, “Douglas Phu.” Sweet william, Dianthus barbatus, has a variety called “Sooty,” which is near black and has green-black leaves.
Dahlia: The pompom form of this flower has several deep purple-black varieties available, including “Glenplace,” “Moorplace,” and “Black Tuber.”
Nemophilia: This is a very short plant with penny sized blooms. “Penny Black” has flowers black flowers edged with white, and “Freckles” has white flowers covered with tiny black spots.
Poppy: The peony-flowered poppy has a black cultivar, sometimes listed as “Black Cloud.” These are a deep purple-black.
Iris: Unlike other flowers, black varieties seem to plentiful in the iris family. Bearded iris varieties include “Superstition,” “Study in Black,” “Licorice Stick,” “Swazi Princess,” “Night Ruler,” “Hello Darkness,” “Paint It Black,” “Night Owl,” “Black Tie Affair,” and “Before the Storm.” There’s the “Black Gamecock” Louisiana iris. And the Chinese iris, Iris chrysographes, has a black, non-frilly flower.
Butterfly Bush: The “Black Knight” cultivar has blue-black flowers.
Hellebores: Hellebores are one of those flowers that have a range of colors from white to near-black. They are prized by many because they are in bloom in late winter, when not much else is growing, let alone blooming. The H. orientalis hybrid “Atrorubens” is fairly easy to find and has plum colored flowers. However, there are blacker varieties out there; they’re just more difficult to find. Some blackish-purple strains I’ve seen listed include “Alberich,” “Andromeda,” “Ballard’s Black,” “Black Knight,” “Castor,” “Pollux” and “Sorcerer.” “Nigricans” is indigo blue-black, and “Philip Ballard” is a very dark blue-black. I’ve also seen some stunning pictures of H. torquatus, which grows wild in (the former) Yugoslavia. The flower color is variable, with dark plum, violet-black, grey (!), and green inside/black outside all seen. This is often the species used to hybridize H. orientalis to get the darker colored flowers.
Geraneum: Geraneum phaeum has very dark purple flowers. It was once known as Mourning Widow because its flowers are so dark.
Sweet Peas: Grown for the blooms, not a vegetable. “Pageantry” is a beautiful deep red-purple. Sweet peas are found most commonly in mixes, though, and almost all the mixes will include a deep maroon or deep purple one.
Primrose: There are very deep purple primroses that look almost black available at most nurseries. There is also a gold-laced primrose, “Black and Gold,” which has a yellow eye at the center of the flower, nearly black petals and a rim of yellow on each petal (the “lacing”). There are show auriculas that have white centers and black petals, although the color of the petals is obscured by either a grey-green or green color, so that there’s only a ring of black around the center.
Heather: The darkest colored heather I’ve seen mentioned is a cultivar of Erica cinerea known as “Velvet Night.” The blooms are supposed to be purple-black.
Rudbeckia: An unusual daisy, “Green Wizard” has only green sepals (no petals), and a prominent black cone. Very odd.
Viola or pansy: Violas and pansies are not the same flowers but are often listed interchangeably. The black pansy really looks black, although you can see the slightest hint or purple around the yellow eye. I’ve seen it listed as “Bowles Black,” “Black Prince,” “Molly Sanderson,” and “Black Magic.”
The Gothic Gardening “Black Thumb” award goes to Clive Lundquist for sending all of the following suggestions for black flowers:
Clover: Black four-leaf clover, Trifolium repens “Purpurascens,” is actually chocolate brown with light green edges.
Tiarella: False Miterwort has a new cultivar known as “Inkblot,” which has glossy leaves that are green on the edges, but blackish in the center. It has light pink flowers in the spring (cut ’em off!).
Heuchera: The “Pewter Moon” variety of this plant has purplish black leaves with a silver gloss.
Pussy willow: The black pussy willow comes from Japan. The catkins are so dark that they appear black against the red twigs.
Black Mondo Grass: Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” is not actually a grass (it’s really a member of the lily family). It has purple-black leaves and small pink flowers that are followed by glossy black berries.
Bamboo: Phylostachys nigra has pitch black stems. Warning: Bamboo is usually invasive. Grow it in a pot.
Ornamental Sweet Potato: Ipomoea batatas “Blackie” has black leaves and stems.
Taro: The “Jet Black” ornamental taro is actually deep burgundy.
Fountain grass: Black fountain grass, Pennisetum alope “Moudry,” has ribbon foliage with ebony seed plumes. P. staceum “Rubrum” has bronze-purple leaves and flower spikes.
Smoke Bush: The “Royal Purple” cultivar has foliage that opens red but matures to a deep purple. The flowers are feathery purple plumes.
Carpet Bugle: Ajuga “Royalty” has midnight purple leaves. This is used as a ground cover and can be walked on!
Ornamental Pepper: Capsicum annuum “Black Prince” has black-purple foliage. The young fruit is red but turns black as it matures.
Durum (ornamental wheat): “Black Bearded” durum has cream-colored heads that splay out into 4- to 6-inch stiff bristles, which turn dark black when mature. “Black Eagle” has glumes that are partially black and continue onto the awns.
Broomcorn (sorghum): Two varieties are of interest: “Black Kafir” has black club-shaped heads. “Black Amber” has amber seeds covered with a shiny black coating.
Oats: Yet another ornamental grain, the “French Black” cultivar has jet black heads. All of the ornamental grains work well for unusual flower arrangements.
Everyone knows eggplants are nearly black, but here are a few unusual black vegetables….
Tomato: “Black Krim,” “Black Prince” and “Southern Nights” are all varieties that produce black tomatoes, which are really a dark brown-red or garnet. All of these varieties are heirlooms from Russia. The reason these tomatoes are black is that they retain their green pigment even as they develop the red pigment… other tomatoes lose the green.
Lettuce: The “Ibis Hybrid” variety is such a dark red that it appears black. Another “greens” alternative is Tatsoi, which is an oriental green with black-green spoon shaped leaves.
Bell pepper: There are chocolate peppers, which are really dark brown, but closer to black is the “Purple Beauty” cultivar, which as you may have guessed is very dark purple.
Black Spanish radish: One of the oldest of heirloom vegetables, black Spanish radish has been cultivated since the sixteenth century. The skin of the roots is deep, deep, purple, almost black, with white flesh. Of course, you can’t see the roots while it’s growing, but you could always prepare a gothic salad of black lettuce, black tomato, black bell pepper and black radish.
Black Aztec corn: A sweet corn that should be eaten when the kernels are white but will turn black when fully mature. This was apparently the first corn noted by the Europeans in 1493.
Basil: This is an herb, not a vegetable. The “Dark Opal” variety has very dark purple leaves. It is excellent for flavoring vinegars and oils.
Snap Beans: The “Royal Burgundy” or “Purple Tepee” varieties have beans that are almost black – but unfortunately turn green when cooked.
Fruit: This is a fairly common province of black in nature, including black cherries, black raspberries, blackberries and black plums. These are all really common, so look them up yourself.
The Night Garden
Since you gothy types rarely seen the light of day, what good does a garden do you? Well, here is the answer: a garden that consists of night-fragrant or night-blooming plants. Of course, you can’t really see that black garden at night. The key color here is white. White glows in moonlight. And there are several varieties of plants that bloom exclusively at night, or whose flowers may be open during the day but don’t release their scent until the evening.
Evening primrose: “These soft-scented flowers have four satiny heart-shaped petals that come together forming 2-inch open cups with frilly long stamens. When they open in the evening, the blossoms are a soft clear white that gradually fades into pink as the flowers mature. Their luscious scent reminds us of a cross between honeysuckle and lemon custard. The flowers open every evening throughout summer until first frost.”
Sweet-scented nicotiana: These nicotianas (yes, that’s the tobacco plant) have creamy-white tubular flowers borne in graceful sprays on softly draping branches. The 2- to 3-inch trumpet-shaped blossoms are closed in the daytime, but in the late afternoon and evening they fill the air with a jasmine-like scent.
Moonflowers: These 6-inch trumpet flowers unfurl in slow motion every night just at sunset. Pure white with faint green tracings, the blossoms are very fragrant all evening. By noon, the flowers dwindle and close and are barely seen in the dense foliage.
“Midnight Candy” night phlox: “These tidy upright plants bear umbrella-like clusters of small, delicate phlox-like flowers. The insides of the petals are pure white, and the outsides are a satiny maroon with a hint of white where petals overlap. During the day, the flowers are tightly closed, just showing a hint of color. As dusk comes on, there is a magic moment when they open like a display of little firework stars, releasing a delicious almond/ honey/vanilla-like fragrance that wafts throughout the garden.”
Angel’s Trumpet: Datura meteloides has 6-inch white trumpet flowers that open at night and remain open well into the following day. This flower is a favorite subject of Georgia O’Keefe. This was also used by California Indians as a narcotic for the youth to seek their visions and be initiated into society. Warning: poisonous. Don’t eat it to get a high.
Evening stock: Many-branched 1½-foot plants have grey-green leaves and 1-inch star-shaped flowers of very pale violet. The blooms are closed tightly all day but open at dusk to pour out a fantastic spicy fragrance.
Nottingham catchfly, night-flowering catchfly and white campion: These are all members of the genus Silene, which also has several day-blooming members. These plants have sticky stems, hence the name “catchfly.” The odor of the Nottingham catchfly is described as sweet and reminiscent of hyacinths, and its flowers open on three successive nights before withering.
Bouncing Bet (also known as soapwort): With either pink or white blossoms, this plant fills the night with sweet perfume. Also used to make detergent – hence the soapwort moniker.
Four o’Clocks: In late afternoon, Mirabilis jalapa’s 2-inch trumpet-shaped flowers unfurl, releasing a rich jasmine-like perfume. These plants, with blooms in pink, rose, white, orange and yellow, are very easy to grow and fast growing. They’re also known as “Marvel of Peru.”
August lily (fragrant Hosta): The leaves are about six inches long and four inches wide, with eight pairs of impressed veins. The white, waxy, trumpet-shaped flowers appear on 30-inch scapes, and each is five inches long and three inches wide. The scent is of pure honey.
Vesper iris: A native of Mongolia, the sweetly fragrant flowers are a dull greenish white spotted with brownish purple or reddish purple with white splotches. Like many iris blossoms, they become spirally twisted after flowering.
There are also about 50 different cultivars of daylilies that bloom at night. Some of my favorites are called “After the Fall” (tangerine and copper blend with yellow halo), “Jewel of Hearts” (dark red flowers with a red-black center), “Moon Frolic” (near white), “Toltec Sundial” (fragrant sunshine yellow) and “Witches Dance” (dark red with a green throat).
Many plants will have flowers open during the day, but they don’t release their scent until evening.
Perfumed fairy lily: Chlidanthus fragrans has a rich lily fragrance at night. Three or four yellow, funnel-shaped flowers are carried on stems up to a foot high.
Night gladiolus: Gladiolus tristus has creamy yellow blossoms that are intensely fragrant at night with a spicy-sweet perfume, and the unusual leaves look like a pinwheel cut in half.
Tuberose: Victorians loved this sweet and heady (almost overpowering) fragrance. The flowers are waxy white and two inches long.
Carolina jessamine (also known as evening trumpet flower): The evergreen leaves surround sweetly fragrant, bell-shaped flowers of bright yellow that are particularly sweet as evening approaches. This grows wild in the South.
Finally, some suggestions for plants that don’t necessarily bloom only at night or release fragrance then but which have white blooms to glow in moonlight:
And for a note of interest: silver thyme, “Alba” eggplant (egg-shaped fruits of glistening white), “Casper” or “Boo” white pumpkins and Fraxinella (the gas plant: at night, if you hold a match to the plant, either the plant glows with a blue flame – that doesn’t harm it – or the flowers burn with an orange flame and release the smell of lemon into the air).
The perfect accessory for any night garden, besides some lovely gargoyles, would be a moondial.
There are many, many more plants that can be included in the night garden. If you want more information, I suggest either The Evening Garden by Peter Loewer, or Evening Gardens by Cathy Barash, both written exclusively about gardening for the evening and night hours.
I remember the wet air indoors heavy as a hot towel, the cool gray stone on the terrace outside, the lawn not yet browned by the summer heat stretching out past a pair of tall wild cherry trees to the back field. On the left were low shrubs; on the right were roses. Beyond the lawn, the field fell gently down a long hill past the woods to a fence far in the distance. It was dusk, and deer had come out of the woods into the field, as usual.
It was quiet, if you didn’t count the crickets. Something winked down by the trees – the first firefly. A moment later, there were two more. Twenty minutes later, it was almost dark, except for thousands of tiny lights as far as the eye could see, flashing and disappearing, flashing again.
We had caught the lightning bugs a hundred times, watched their thoraxes glow. It was still magic to a child when the field danced with their fire. Down at the edge of the woods, honey locust trees were in flower. Their scent mingled with the smell of the honeysuckle that choked them and drifted on the still air while the moon hung heavy in the sky. Along the hedgerows, normal locust trees sprang up like weeds, with heavy thorns like briars. The honey locusts, by contrast, had beautiful spines three or four inches long, deep black at the base and lighter at the tips, needle sharp. They grew out in bristles of fifteen or twenty spikes, eight or ten inches tall – these weren’t climbing trees.
New Jersey is the Garden State. If you drive out of New York City through the Lincoln Tunnel onto the Jersey Turnpike, you pass the wetlands, a vast area of marsh covered with cattails. For many years when I was a child, the industries would dump their chemicals in it openly, cheerful bright red, orange, yellow and green piles surrounded by colored water and death. Now the piles are hidden. In the center of the wetlands rises a new mountain, literally. You only see how big it is when you realize that the tiny dots moving up its slope are garbage trucks.
Next, you drive past Newark, a vast city of slums. You hear about the tenements and street violence of New York, but from Newark, which is uniformly worse, comes silence. I remember riding the train past mile upon mile of decrepit brick buildings, windows open in the brutal summer heat of midday, in the booming ’60s. On the fire escapes facing the tracks sat listless crowds of men and women with empty faces, not talking, not drinking, just watching the trains go by. I still remember their faces. The Garden State.
South of Newark, in the neighborhood of Elizabeth, you pass one of the great industrial gardens of the world. Oil refineries sprout like mechanical cancers on the flat plain, twisted, intricate and beautiful. Their stacks still throw out lurid jets of fire against the night sky as they flame off volatile gases. Things have gotten more sophisticated since I was a child. You can drive by now without gagging at a smell of burning tires mixed with rot from the slaughterhouses, but Elizabeth still has one of the highest cancer rates in the country. And you should see the sunsets.
How can I describe New Brunswick, farther south? It makes Tacoma seem cheerful and prosperous. And in the middle of the state, not far from Philadelphia, there is Trenton, the old industrial center of New Jersey. In Trenton, a famous railroad bridge proclaims the motto of this city of discouragement: “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.”
The cities were imposed on the land a generation or two before my time. They seem so old and ruined, I never realized how recently they took their present form, until I spoke to a neighbor of mine in the Hudson Valley. Her father had owned a dairy farm in the Bronx, and she showed me pictures of her childhood. She remembered riding into Manhattan with her dad on a horse-drawn milk truck at 4 in the morning to make the rounds with him. The old photographs showed wooden fences, fields, cows, in the Bronx, within living memory.
I grew up out in the country about 15 miles north of Trenton. When my parents bought the place just after World War II, no one else wanted a house four whole miles south of Princeton, deep in the countryside. Nobody but farmers lived that far out in the sticks. It was, in fact, an old farm.
Central New Jersey is a delta, a flat plain built up from millions of years of Delaware River silt. The soil is incredibly fertile. The water table runs close to the surface, readily accessible for use or poison. The climate is cold in winter, unbearably hot and humid in the summer. It’s perfect growing land. New Jersey is called the Garden State because for a couple of hundred years, its truck farms grew some of the best fruit and vegetables in the nation, for the big cities of New York and Philadelphia.
When I was a child, there were nothing but working farms for miles around. When my brother and I wanted to go fishing as little kids, we would store up our energy and slog across the humid fields with our poles. We’d push endlessly through dense alfalfa, cross under the barbed wire into the neighbor’s corn field beyond, negotiate the shady alleys in the corn for perhaps half a mile until we came to the cow pasture on the other side. Avoiding the herd, we’d make our way across to a little creek and follow it along, fishing the deep pools, occasionally bringing home a catfish or two with a couple of perch. All we could see in every direction was fields. There were no roads.
All that has changed, of course. By the time I went away to college in the late ’60s, the last working farm had given out. A few years later, a mall arose where unbearably succulent strawberries had grown. All across the fields of central New Jersey, tens of thousands of cookie cutter houses sprang up, along with roads and parking lots, air conditioners and the perennial summer power brown-outs.
You can find plenty of ugly housing developments around Seattle, but nothing compares to the horrors of New Jersey. Along the Jersey Turnpike, developers built miles of hideous boxes so precisely identical that their owners had to paint them garish colors simply in order to find the right house.
These were changes brought about by humans, by human culture, politics and economics, but they took place in the context of the land. From what I remember from my childhood, the land of central New Jersey has power that seemed to shape its very desecration.
I’ve never encountered land so powerfully fertile, and sad at the same time. There was something melancholy even about the fields, but especially about the woods. The woods near us were all recent second growth, and the trees were stunted at around 25 feet by the riot of competing vegetation. Honeysuckle and poison ivy vines climbed every trunk. The soil was so rich, I even remember the poison ivy vines growing up in hairy free-standing trees, thick as my leg and six or eight feet tall. Luckily, I could touch them without effect.
At ground level, thickets of briars rose to heights of 10 or 15 feet and covered acres. These briars made the blackberries in the Northwest seem benign. Their thorns were large curved shiny claws that slid into you and broke off, leaving what looked like a scab on your leg or arm. When you picked at the pain, the claw would slip out of your flesh on your fingernail, releasing blood. The thickets sheltered rabbits and foxes and every kind of small animal. If children were careful, they could find their way deep into the thickets on narrow trails leading to countless dens where deer slept during the day.
I loved our woods. They were mysterious, keeping more secrets in an acre than the great forests have in a hundred. Between the wars, a farmer had run hogs in one part of them, and there was a den deep in a thicket where we found their bones, thick, long, heavy and gray, covered with patches of bright green moss. Another time we found the skull of a buck, its antlers tangled in the branches of a tree.
There were marshy areas, with swamp cabbage and sickly smells. At the edges of the fields, milkweed waved its inviting fleshy stems and delectable poisonous purple berries. Young soldiers with wooden swords sometimes marched against the milkweed armies, leaving carnage in their wake that dripped pasty white blood.
The land was friendly to us, but it was sad. Its frantic fertility had a feeling of alienation, of stillbirth. Nothing ever reached full growth.
Gradually, I realized that this had not always been so. Every once in a while, in the middle of New Jersey fields, you would come on a great old oak tree that had been spared when the land was cleared in the eighteenth century. These trees had trunks six feet across, and giant branches. They were old, full of a different life. A very few patches of old-growth forest also remained, with trees of unimaginable size and age, larger than the great old elms that lined the Princeton streets. The floor of the old-growth forests was relatively bare, covered with delicate ground-cover rather than the embattled jungle I was used to.
When this land was cleared a century or two ago, an older order must have died. Its remnants in the great old trees hint to me its power. No one remembers it, no one recorded it, no one mourns it, but its loss changed everything. Without it, the fecundity of the land wells up in a riot of growth that lacks balance and gives me a feeling of melancholy impotence.
Most people are not affected by such feelings, of course. Or are they? The growth of so-called civilization in New Jersey has exactly that same tone of formless, febrile melancholy. The industrial sickness, the poisoning of the land, the housing jungle are all different expressions of the feeling my woods had. In New Jersey it is as if we humans, having killed something we didn’t understand, became caught in the cycle of decay we unknowingly began. We may have started the disruption, but it now infects us. Yes, we poisoned the air and water, but we go on breathing and drinking. Are we in control here? I doubt it.
The Adirondack Mountains
When you think of New York State, you probably think of New York City, Long Island, maybe Albany, Buffalo or even Ithaca. You probably don’t think offhand of wilderness. But the Adirondack mountain range in northeastern New York covers half a billion acres of what used to be called the Great North Woods, still a vast tract of unspoiled forest.
From a Western perspective, these are strange mountains. In the Northwest, we’re used to the Cascades, formed 2 or 3 million years ago, like the Alps. The Rockies rose earlier, maybe 50 million years ago, twice as long ago as the Himalayas. The Adirondacks, on the other hand, are ruins of the Laurentian Shield, the primal crust of the continent. Instead of dramatic peaks thrust up recently, the Adirondacks are the worn foundations of a range far taller a billion years ago than the Himalayas are today.
Adirondack country typically looks more like rolling foothills than mountains. Broad-hipped, contemplative peaks 4000 to 5000 feet high are scattered sparsely among long ridges uniformly clothed in unbroken forest.
The land is not untouched by man. Loggers rolled through 150 years ago and cut most of the old softwoods, the spruce and pine, leaving the hardwoods standing, maple and birch. As a result, the forests are now mostly deciduous, except in the high places. Generations of hunters, trappers, fisherman, boaters and every other kind of tourist have also wandered by, killing wildlife, enjoying the natural peace and beauty. Acid rain now threatens to exterminate fish in thousands of lakes and ponds across the area.
It isn’t easy land for humans. Aside from taking care of tourists and summer folk, there’s very little work for the people who live there. In winter, the snow is seldom less than three feet deep, and often twice that. Subzero winds cut across flawless skies. Although the land harbors no poisonous plants or reptiles, in late spring clouds of small black flies rise from the woods and fall on unprotected skin. People or dogs not coated with thick layers of insect repellent swell up and even fall sick from hundreds upon hundreds of bites. All through the summer, one wave of hungry insects succeeds another: black flies, no-see-ums, mosquitoes, blue-bottles, deer flies.
All the same, the land is strong, gentle, deep; benign in its indifference. I have never felt so embraced by the spirits of the place as I have in the Adirondack woods. It’s like standing in a grove of old-growth fir and cedar in the Northwest where the trees rise almost endlessly above you, and at their feet, tiny, you sense centuries of sunlight and rain in their memories. In the Adirondacks, the feeling is less dramatic and more pervasive, like something breathing so quietly that you can’t quite hear it, a subtle, unidentifiable fragrance that places your life and death in a context of beauty.
It doesn’t seem ancient, or even old. It is as specific as a single tiny flower, a chipmunk’s life, a small cloud that passes over the sun and moves on. Only when you listen to it for a time, walking in silence among the trees, do you realize that the song of the land has a shifting changeless quality, like eternity or the gaps between galaxies.
Even if you fear the fey, don’t you yearn for their music? In the Great North Woods, whether you live or die, waste or prosper, thrive or sicken, the land embraces you and fills your dance, if you listen, with subtle, ancient songs.
Above the Snoqualmie Valley
We blight the countryside, we humans, for diverse and wonderful reasons. All across the Pacific Northwest these days, you can see vast clearcuts posted with signs that read, “This Devastation Supported by Timber Dollars.” Our proud and patriotic lumberjacks are happily selling our forests’ hearts to the Far East, to buy more beer from Milwaukee. It’s a positive balance of trade.
No one is much upset, including the environmentalists, because forests are a renewable resource. As long as we can put some limits on the current frenzy, lumberjacks will become extinct before many other species. There will simply be no more trees to cut. Timber prices will go through the ceiling, people will learn to build with other materials, and then, after 40 or 50 years, new forests will be ready to harvest on the once-naked hills. Big timber companies won’t go out of business; they’re looking forward to skyrocketing prices. In the meantime, they’re making plenty of money selling huge old trees to Japan, and our boys with chainsaws can still buy beer.
That’s not quite the whole story, of course. A timber crop is renewable, but trees 1000 years old are not. I live on land that Weyerhaeuser clear-cut in 1979. The woods have definitely come back. Some of the fast-growing firs are now over 20 feet tall. The deer don’t seem to mind. The mountain beaver thrive, and there’s a bear that still lives down the hill. Recovery is happening.
But how about the fey, the spirits of the land? I bought the place five years ago for the acres of woods and the sense of magick they gave me. At first, though, particularly at the top of our hill, I kept getting a feeling of anger and brooding. The big old stumps had a bitter air of reproach. I wondered if our promontory, with its panoramic view of the south Snoqualmie Valley, hadn’t once been a place sacred to native people. Sometimes in the dark night, I heard songs in my dreams, chanting grief and protection.
The new-growth trees crowding each other at the brink of the hill seemed to have an almost ominous look in places. The edge of the yard felt like a border between hostile territories. The forest was beginning to hem us in.
I went out and walked in the trees and spoke with them, I suppose, or tried to. I bought a chainsaw and cut them back, opening up the view again, leaving one tree in 20 standing near the top. I promised that tall firs would line the ridge as they used to, with room to breathe between them. The trees listened and missed me when they fell.
It was a beginning, but not enough. With the help of friends, we laid a small stone terrace out at the very end of our promontory beside a holly tree, planted roses and grapes, sage, echinacea, thyme, wormwood and motherwort, lilac and foxglove. We made a stone bench for humans and a small altar for the fey, and in the yard laid a circle of stones. We gave our respect there, alone, together, and in coven.
With each ritual gesture, each genuine effort to align ourselves with the land, the feeling of the place changed. Ferns grew up where the earth had been bare before. Native foxglove joined the foxglove we had planted. A madrona tree rooted by our fence. The breeze that whispered through the trees was no longer angry, though it still seems sad to me at times.
I am just a sentimentalist, of course. Who cares what devastation man creates? We’re just another natural disaster, like fire, flood or molten rock. Still, it seems to me we can hear the music if we listen. Perhaps we need to be a little more sentimental, a little less pragmatic, and listen to what we hear so clearly, even if we think it isn’t there.
We’re not alone here, for good or ill.
When I undertook the writing of this article, I didn’t want it to be a technical treatise on industrial processes or a political rant about environmental laws and regulations.
The feeling of wonder is a doorway to the elemental power that we utilize in magic. In order to gain an impression of this feeling, think back to childhood. Remember when you looked up at the clouds, or how you felt when you saw a shooting star, or really looked at a brilliant sunset. This sensation is the feeling of wonder. To recall this feeling is to make yourself open to the essential environmental energies that surround us. I feel that to lose touch with the earthly energies is to “take a vacation” from being alive. So many things influence us to disregard the expressions of the Goddess in this world.
It takes a conscious effort to regain this wonder-full perspective.
Yesterday I saw the crocuses had emerged from their winter sleep and had flowered in a purple greeting to the Spring. This then was my inspiration. All of us, as pagans, have a need to continually refresh the sense of wonder that comes from our recognition of the seasons, of natural phenomenon, and of those expressions of the Goddess that present themselves to us. This is of especial importance to those of us who live in the city. Our power, our magic, are expressions of Earthly energy, and need to be recognized and regenerated.
The First Peoples of this land knew the importance of renewing their connection with the Mother Earth at every opportunity. Why? Because their Shamans knew that the Earth, Fire, Water and Air were the sources of spirit power that the people drew upon, and needed to be replenished by ritual and sacrifice.
I’m not suggesting cutting or burning your household pets, but to emphasize the importance of recognizing and replenishing the sources of your personal power. I cannot recommend strongly enough the importance of regaining the energy, the wonder of feeling the connection with the Earth. The textbook definition of ecology is the study of the connectedness of all living things and their environments. These things that are living include the Earth herself.
Other than during ritual, when was the last time you did an Earth or element feeling meditation? It is my opinion that we who “walk between the worlds” owe a special debt to Gaia, or the Goddess, or whichever manifestation of the Great Mother Earth presents herself to you.
Consider the law of threefold return, and what you may do for the healing of the planet. Volunteer for an environmental clean-up or a reforestation project. Help restore a salmon stream, or devote some time to distributing literature for a good environmental cause. These are things which can be done on the material plane. Probably the most important thing you can do is include the conscious effort toward healing the Planet in all your rituals. Make time to experience the joy and wonder of those things as simple as the opening of a Spring flower, or the colors of a sunrise or sunset.
These things are the roots, branches and fruit of our spirituality. To lose touch with them is to lose the reason for our being.
Our power, our magic (again, my opinion) lies in the ability to come into contact with these wonder-full energies and utilize them in accordance with our will. The success of these utilizations depends upon their effect upon the natural world…in all its dimensional forms.
I will share one of my favorite meditations for connection to the essential energies: Imagine yourself lying on a raft with your eyes closed. The air is warm and the sun is shining. You begin to float downstream, with the water lapping at the raft. With your eyes still closed, you see the sun dappled by the tree branches overhead. You smell the trees, and the water plants, and the warm day. Your attention focuses upon the water sound: gentle, lapping and flowing around you. The water is all around you, and you feel it within you, pumping and flowing as blood. The smell of all the plants around you enter your senses, and you breathe deeply. Each breath suggests a gift, a blessing of life. The breath, the air, the smells are enveloping and enrapturing to you.
The raft passes from beneath the trees, and you feel the warm sun upon your face. Feel the fiery sun giving energy to you and to all living things the rays fall upon. You can almost feel your hair growing, plant-like in the sun. Your face feels radiant, as the sun beats down. There is an awareness that this gift will also burn and consume you with passionate, wonder-full heat.
The raft has come to rest in a small pool, out of the stream’s main flow. Reaching out, you touch the bank and sink your hand into the cool mud. It feels slimy and refreshing both. You open your eyes, and look at the handful of wet earth you hold. The prehistoric fishes and amphibians crawled out onto just such mud as this a billion years ago. Are we still so different? It is time to return to yourself in the here and now. Be aware though, that this place of wonder is one that is within each of us, just as assuredly as each of the elements are part of us.
Water appears in pagan rituals as one of the four magickal elements, associated in some traditions with the West, the autumnal equinox and sunset. Its colors are blues and greens; it corresponds to the magickal power to dare and to the Tarot suit of cups. At Imbolc, this series began with a meditation on fire; water comes next as we travel deosil around the circle.
From water, traditionally associated with emotion, you get the emotional flow so required in ritual. To me, water also connects with the liquid state of matter, as air corresponds to the gaseous state, earth to the solid state, and fire to the process of changing state. I think, however, it’s important not only to learn traditional or other elemental associations but also to discover and understand our own elemental associations, to have our own personal relationship with each element. To know water better, we can meditate upon it.
To use the following meditation on water, either record it on tape and play it back or have someone read it to you. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Before starting, find a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed; take the phone off the hook and if necessary shut the door on your pets. If you’re prone to falling asleep during meditation, perform this meditation sitting up; if you have problems relaxing, stretch out on a bed, couch or the floor.
Relax. Deeply relax, and take a few deep breaths. In, out; in, out. Feel your body, wiggle your fingers, your toes, your nose, your hips and arms; roll your head. Feel where your body ends and what’s around you begins: the air around you, the surface underneath you. Be here now, present in your body, in the present moment. Begin to release the cares of your day and week, and be completely here in the present moment.
Throughout this meditation, you will have a complete, deep experience, and you will remember everything you sense and learn. If you need to return, you can always do so. You can recall yourself to the physical world by moving your fingers and toes. You will be utterly safe and protected throughout.
Continue to relax and to breathe deeply, and in your center, a little below and behind your navel, feel a drop of water. It starts as a tiny drop and grows to a puddle, perfectly warm and contained, filling the center of your body comfortably.
This pool of water flows outward, into your body, pouring down into your pelvis, your genitals, your legs and feet; flowing upward filling your torso, your chest and shoulders, your neck, your head. It fills your body, easing tension as it does, relaxing and calming you. The elemental water fills you completely.
Now the water overflows downward from your body, safely and comfortably. It soaks through the floor and the concrete under the building, downward through the moist, cold earth. The flow from your center joins an underground stream in the stony rock below the soil and plunges into bedrock deep beneath the earth.
Let the elemental water pour down in a cascade from your center and make a connection to the Earth, to the heart of Earth. Feel the water flow out as a waterfall and connect to the flowing, liquid heart of the Mother. (Pause briefly.)
Let the waterfall wash away old anger, guilt, fear, sadness into the Earth, safely giving this energy to the Earth. Feel the water wash away all the negative energy into the Earth. (Pause briefly.)
Now feel the elemental water burst up again from the earth with joy, rushing effortlessly up through the rock, past the downward flow that still continues. The liquid energy from the Mother fills you completely, healing and cleansing you. (Pause briefly.)
Then the liquid earth energy bubbles out the top of your head, upward like a fountain through the air of the room, through the ceiling, through the roof into the outside air. It kisses the tree branches and bursts into the sky, scattering drops and mist.
In the sky, feel this liquid force connect to and absorb the energies of the Sky-Father, the starlight and the cool energy of the sun and moon. Connect to the cool, clear energy of the sky. (Pause briefly.)
The liquid energy condenses as rain and tumbles down onto your forehead, your shoulders, all over your body. Feel the raindrops soaking through your skin and into you, bringing with them the sky energy. Feel the cool, clear sky energy fill you, cleansing and healing. (Pause briefly.)
Feel the life water passing through you, downward and upward, drawing upward warm earth energy, carrying downward cool liquid sky-energy. Bring the liquid energies of earth and sky together in your center and mingle them gently and thoroughly, mix them completely and smoothly. Let the combined energy spread into the whole of your body, healing you, dissolving and washing away any remaining trouble or pain into the earth. (Pause for some time.)
Now imagine yourself standing in a meadow, under the night sky. The stars are out, and a few clouds, lit by a crescent moon. It’s summertime, and the meadow smells sweet, like newly cut grass. Feel the cool night breeze on your body and face. Against your ankles you feel dew on the grass, and in the distance you hear the sound of waves.
Look around a bit; see where you are. Know that throughout this meditation, you will remember everything important to you.
You see before you a gravel path, stones pale and a little phosphorescent in the moonlight. You begin to walk down the path, slowly; it slopes gently down a hill. Before you and to either side stand tall grasses that rustle in the wind, and a few gnarled trees. You hear more strongly the sound of waves, and smell the salt of the ocean in the breeze.
The path goes under a row of trees whose limbs have tangled together above you, twisting to grasp each other, casting darkness onto the path. The air is close here and a little warmer. Despite the deeper darkness, you feel utterly safe and calm. Through the tangled branches you see one star in the silver-lit sky above you, twinkling.
You come out from under the dark trees and see you are at the top of a beach, in the solid sand amid a scattering of beach grass. You go forward, down the beach, breathing deeply in the salt air. Ahead of you the night sky lies calm above a quiet ocean. The crescent moon scatters a path of light along the peaceful flat water, which moves gently. Waves, lips of water, cast gently upon the beach, each leaving a rim of foam shining in the moonlight. You walk forward down the shifting sand to the very edge of the wet sand. It is high tide.
You squat and put your hands in the ocean water. It feels cool and soothing. It laps onto your feet, a little cold, but you don’t mind.
You stand and see down the beach there’s a pool formed where a stream runs into the ocean, just a few feet above the waves’ edge. You walk to the pool, sit on its bank. You hear the rushing of the stream down the rocks to the pool; you hear the lapping surf, the steady breathing of the sea. The water in the pool is perfectly clean and transparent, but deeper than you expected, deep and wide enough to swim in freely. The cool, clear water moves gently, a current within it flowing to the sea.
As you look at the pool, raindrops begin to patter on its surface. Feel the light drops tap your skin, cool. Sense what it is to be rain. (Pause briefly.)
You study the water in the pool, lowering your thought into the cool, clean water. Dip your hands in the water, feel its coolness gentle on your hands and arms. Lift water to your lips and taste it; perceive it with all your senses. (Pause briefly.)
As you study the water, you notice it has associations for you. Let these come up freely. (Pause for some time.) You will remember all parts of your experience you want to remember.
What emotions do you have for water? (Pause briefly.)
Do images or symbols or words float up through the water? (Pause for some time.)
You continue to study the water, seeing it, sensing its feel, its taste, its sounds. You sense now that the water is asking you to come still closer. In utter confidence and safety, you lower yourself completely into the water, over your head. You find you are warm and breathing easily and safely underwater. You stand on the bottom of the pool at its deepest point, calm and invigorated. You become one with the water. Be the water; see how that feels. (Pause briefly.)
Feel each particle of the water. (Pause briefly.) Feel the whole water. (Pause for some time.)
You ask the water what it is, what its nature is, and the water replies. (Pause briefly.)
The water may have something else to communicate to you, about yourself or work or life. (Pause briefly.) It may have something to communicate about the world at large. (Pause for some time.)
Now you look out from the deep pool, out through its mouth to the great ocean beyond. You swim effortlessly into the unknown ocean, deep with life. Greet the ocean; descend into it. (Pause for some time.)
Now return again out of the water. You’re able to walk easily out onto the beach, and you find your clothes perfectly dry. Separate into yourself sensing the water, keeping everything you need from the experience, remembering everything. You feel cleansed and invigorated.
Now say good-bye to the pool, the ocean and the rain. Thank them for their presence and the insight they have conveyed and for allowing you to become water. (Pause briefly.)
Now turn and take the path back across the beach to the trees. You walk under the dark trees, the branches tangled above you, feel the warmth of the enclosed space. You walk back out again, up the gravel path through the grasses, smelling the salt of the ocean, feeling the night breeze gentle on your skin. You return to the meadow where you started, under the moonlit sky.
You begin once more to feel your body. You are coming up from trance, remembering everything that has happened to you, retaining everything that was important that you learned from the water, feeling warm and relaxed yet energetic. Feel your body; wiggle your fingers and toes. Be present here and now. Feel the air above and the surface below you. You will remember everything you want to remember. Breathe deeply, and open your eyes.
Much more than earth, fire or air, the healing aspects of water are easy for me to identify with, maybe partly because I am a double water sign — Pisces sun with Cancer rising. I seem to think about water most of the time. It seems I am either washing myself, my hands or face, or drinking or sitting in it. I am very much attuned to the properties of water, and I find that if I stray very far away from a large body of water, I am unhappy and I just don’t feel right.
Even if you don’t have signs in water, as a human being you’re naturally attuned to water, because the great majority of your body is made of it. In a way, water is the easiest element for us to connect with, because we can easily submerge ourselves in it, unlike in fire or earth. When we do immerse ourselves in water, we’re usually conscious of doing so, unlike our experience of immersing in air.
Following is a quick cleansing meditation that makes use of this natural connection to water and that is designed to be used in the shower.
If you are one of those people who can’t seem to find the time to meditate, or if you ever need a psychic cleanup in a hurry, this meditation might be perfect for you. It takes only a very few minutes once you get the process memorized. It really works and can be very helpful, and it is easy to do every day as a part of your normal routine, since most of us shower or bathe every day (or at least I hope we do). I do it every day, all the time — no matter where I am.
This meditation involves cleansing and running energy through your body while in the process of cleansing your body by taking a shower. I make use of the actual physicality of washing in the shower and the motion of the water as a focus for the cleansing and healing meditation.
The first few times, try it when you are not too rushed, so you have time to get a feel for how it works for you.
First, get into the shower and do what ever you need to do that may take some attention to detail, such as washing your hair or shaving. Then do your usual grounding and centering. Next, visualize yourself standing in the middle of a wonderful, warm, healing waterfall, golden sun radiant on you, mist glistening up brilliant rainbows and water gently cascading down around and over you. Visualize the water delicately caressing every part of your body with cleansing, nurturing energy.
Smell the warmth of the water as it runs in rivulets over your body. Imagine you are in a tropical paradise, a magickal place that you have come for healing your body and spirit. Hear the sounds of the water rushing over you.
Contemplate your day and week and anything seemingly important that has happened during them. Feel throughout your body and notice if there are any places that your energy feels “stuck” or heavy. Think about your physical body and how it has been feeling. Search with your awareness your whole body: your bones, muscles, nerves, skin and organs. Notice any place that seems to need attention. Use your perception to observe anything that seems out of place or wrong to you.
I also like to take this time to look and feel for energy “cords” connecting me to other people. Cords are energetic connections to people and energies that I am not responsible for and don’t need to carry around. They look like literal cords, or sometimes more like cables, between us and those we come into contact with, especially loved ones, friends, co-workers and yes, even enemies!
When you get a sense of what energies you might want to disperse, then work on dispersing them by beginning to propel the energy around and through you. Dissipate it by gathering it and sending it washing down your body with the water into the drain. Imagine or picture it being cleansed from you — your energy body then transparent, shining pure and clear.
Think about being cleansed of all of the anger, resentment and negativity that has been thrown at you or that you have picked up from other people or situations and that you have carried around. These energies can cause disease and stress. Anger, resentment and negativity all may harm you if you don’t dissipate and neutralize them from time to time.
Understand that by cleaning your body and using your sponge and soap and at the same time imagining “cleaning” your body and energy, that you “scrub” yourself clean, both body and aura. Then ground out the energy with the water.
After you have finished cleansing, see the water flowing completely through you — healing and nurturing all the parts of yourself, body, soul, mind, heart and spirit.
I have found that if I miss my “shower meditation,” I do not feel grounded and I have trouble concentrating and focusing on the matters at hand. I sometimes have physical symptoms and just don’t feel good if I miss my water meditation. Try it, see how it works for you and adapt it if you need to.
by Freya Ray
Whether it’s three months past the handfasting or twelve years past the wedding, there comes a point in the lives of many pagan couples when it’s time to give it up already. You’ve tried everything you can think of to save the relationship, you’ve both been depressed for far too long, you’ve flailed around and dragged half your friends inside your mess and none of it has done any good.
Then a moment of clarity descends. This relationship is not going to be fixed by couples counseling, karmic clearing rituals, better feng shui or some new sexual interests. You’ve had it, or they’ve had it. Someone has made a simple, clear decision that it’s over.
The absolute first thing you need to do is find some alone time to cry and rage and feel sorry for yourself. If you’re still in shock and it hasn’t hit you yet, you’ve got two options. One is to soldier on like an automaton, waiting for the freight train of your feelings to come around a corner and flatten you. The other is to create enough alone time with no distractions when you can invite your feelings to come up to the surface so you can deal with them. It’s a personal choice. Some people need to get things handled before they break down. Just make sure you create time to fall apart at some point.
The emotional basket-case period will vary in length, depending on the relationship, how long you were together, how shocking the end of it was to you, how much control you had in the decision, how badly you were done wrong or how guilty you feel for doing wrong and how much you still love your soon-to-be-ex-partner. However long it’s going to take you to get over it, you still need to find a clear moment in which to make some triage decisions.
When you get to a good break point in your weeping and wailing, dry your eyes, take a long walk and come back to get settled in a quiet, meditative place. What you need to do now is try to project yourself forward. Right at this moment, you’re feeling a whole host of conflicting things, or even worse, one overriding, immense emotion. These feelings are going to control the actions you take in the next few hours and weeks if you don’t make some higher-level decisions.
Setting aside the emotional crap you’re going to be wading through for a while, ask yourself the question, “What kind of relationship do I truly want to have with this person a year from now?” Sit with that until it’s clear to you. Are you “doner than done,” and you’ll never want to see your ex’s face again once you get his or her crap out of your house? Are you going to want to have a caring friendship? Are you still hoping you can get back together and work things out?
Now you have a vision, a dream. The next question is even more important. “How likely is my soon-to-be-ex-partner going to be to participate in this vision of mine?”
Be honest with yourself. At this point, if you’re calling this a divorce, you’ve been together long enough to have seen this person’s shit. Let me tell you, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, he or she is not going to become a nicer or better person during the breakup. It’s never happened. Not once. So if you know he has a tendency to shut down emotionally, or she’s not in touch with any of her exes, or he lies sometimes, or whatever, that trait is going to be worse from here on out than it was when she was still trying to impress you on some level.
This estimation of what’s possible reuqires taking this into account. You take your optimism, your spiritual idealism and then you temper it with a healthy dose of realistic pessimism. It’s okay to gamble on a long shot. Just know you’re doing it. If you want to be friends, and he’s never remained on speaking terms with anyone he’s ever dated, you’ve got a very slim chance of pulling it off. Any effort you expend that direction needs to be effort you can give freely, even if nothing comes back from it.
Actually, that’s a pretty good rule for wherever you want to end up. A breakup is about sorting out stuff, including energy, so that everyone walks away (hopefully!) with what is her own. Don’t keep giving him energy you’re going to need. Give her what you can spare, and let her carry herself the rest of the time.
But I jump ahead. Right now, you’re figuring out what your intent is, your goal. You might even write this down, because I guarantee you that your resolve will be tested.
Quite often, I decide that I am absolutely, given the slightest opening, going to have a nice, friendly, flirtatious, comfortable friendship with an ex. Unless he’s done me country-song wrong, in which case I pick another intention. But if the breakup was due to a more blameless sort of incompatibility, I really want to remain friends with someone I’m no longer dating or living with.
This requires stubbornness after I’ve ended the relationship. Ego is hurt, feelings are hurt, he doesn’t want to see me because he still wants me, he doesn’t want to be near me because he doesn’t still want me, whatever. I have to remain unruffled by attempts to push me away. If I get defensive and hurt, then we’re having drama, and it’s not bringing us closer to being friends. If I wait it out, processing my own hurt on my own time, and holding a friendly open space for him whenever he’s ready to step into it, I’ve got a shot at finding a friend in a few months.
In order to be patient, when he’s saying offensive things or seducing a twit in front of my face, I need to have a clear intention. This anchors me, so my efforts remain in line with the results I wish to produce.
No matter how hurt you are right now, there will be results you will wish to have produced, a few months or a couple years from now. Be clear about them so you don’t slash and burn while you’re upset.
Okay, so you know what you want, you know how likely you are to get it, and you’ve formulated a clear statement of intention. Now you need a plan that’s in line with your intention.
If your intent is to never speak to her again, well, start protecting yourself. I’m sure you have good reason not to want her as a friend, and that means you don’t trust her to make decisions in your best interest during the separation. Don’t be cruel or unfair, but don’t leave all your money in a joint checking account either. Make the material plane decisions as quickly as possible. And be prepared to chew off at least a few toes in order to get yourself free of the trap. Act decisively.
If your intent is to remain friends, start acting like it now. At least when you’re with the new ex. When you’re with your friends, vent all you like. But when together with your ex-partner, be friendly, work toward compromise and offer some peace-treaty gifts. Give her a shared item she enjoys, or even an item of yours she enjoys. Offer to help him move. Call mutual friends and let them know about the breakup, and ask them to provide emotional support to your ex-partner, who really needs it right now. Act like a friend.
If your intent is to get back together, work toward that. Suggest a separation rather than a final decision. Suggest counseling for the both of you. Start counseling yourself. Suggest you pay for him to go to Peru and hang out at a spa getting therapy every day until he feels better about life. If none of these overtures meet with a receptive welcome, consider revising your intention. Your partner might not be open at all to trying it again. But if you’re still intent on your long shot, keep treating this person with love. Wait patiently, periodically testing the waters, seeing if a door opens. Do your emotional work to process the separation and deal with your feelings, so that if that door does open you don’t walk through it saying, “And how dare you shut me out of our own home!” or words to that effect.
Now let’s talk about the energetic and spiritual work that needs to be done with each of our three breakup plans. Any couple is bound by a whole mess of connections, at various chakras and in various stages of health. During a breakup, you need to decide which ones you sever and which you leave in place.
The hostile divorce is the easiest one to handle. Energetically, you slash and burn. Visualize the cords between you and your partner. Visualize a pair of scissors or a knife. Midway between the two of you, cut through the cords. Let her energy go boinging back to her, while yours rebounds inside your own energy body. Do a vacuum maneuver, where you suck up any stray energy that belongs rightfully to you. Do an expulsion, where you send back to him any energy that rightfully belongs to him. Make it clean, decisive and karmically correct.
You might need to repeat this maneuver, as sometimes it will take several separation ceremonies to clear the crud between you and the ex. Enmeshment can go very deep, because of an intense or long relationship this life, past life entanglements, karmic obligations or perfectly matched-up psychological and emotional wounds.
You might discover you’re uncomfortable keeping all your energy for yourself, that your habits of taking care of this person extend to a constant energetic feed heading their direction. You might discover you’ve been receiving a constant energetic feed from your ex, and by cutting the ties you feel depleted, adrift. Either way, it’s better to wallow through the withdrawal period than it is to allow the messy connections to remain in place. Cut the cords.
You should also have some kind of ritual where you release this person from your life, and release each other from any further karmic obligations toward each other. Burn stuff that reminds you of the relationship, chant your intention to be finished, move, something. What you do doesn’t matter, as long as you do it with intent. Use some external event to symbolize the end. Past here, we are no longer partners. In the hostile divorce, you do this ritual by yourself, and she does whatever she does on her own, and you start learning not to care what’s going on with her.
Take some time to put up protection. Surround yourself with white light, get a restraining order, change the locks, put up a send-back spell, whatever feels appropriate for the situation.
Be decisive, get it over with. It is done, it is done, it is done.
A friendly divorce is handled a bit differently. Energetically, you don’t want to cut all the cords in an indiscriminate knife-slash. You wish to leave some of them in place, and cut or diminish others. Visualize the connections between you, and ask which ones are appropriate for the relationship you wish to have now. Leave those, and cut the others. You might leave a strong connection at the heart and decide to sever the rest at least temporarily, allowing the ones that need to be there for your friendship to grow back. You might suck all the sexual energy back into your root and navel, leaving the rest of it alone. You might figure your partner has done enough slashing of connections already in his anger, and not do any more separating, instead feeding energy into a strong, clear, loving line between you.
Trust your intuition to guide you. Remain true to your intent. If you wish to be friends, and you or she are not equipped for casual sexual relationships, than no matter how juicy and delicious the sexual energy is between you, you need to let it go. If the spiritual bond was what drew you together, and on the material plane you drove each other nuts, perhaps you will choose to snip the crown connection for a while, to find out what sorts of connections are possible for you as friends when you’re not blinded by white light.
If your ex is amenable, it can be nice to have a closing ritual together. Plan a symbolic way to officially release the partnership relationship between you. Plan it together, enact it together and then invoke your mutual intention for friendship. If you have a partner you can do this with, you are truly blessed. Treasure that friendship.
For the still-hanging-on divorce, well, the energetic work you’re going to want to do and the energetic work you should do are probably going to be two different things. Your instinctive urge will be to cling with all your might, leaving all connections in place, tugging on them as hard as you can and sending your ex tons of energy as you think about him all the time. Don’t do that.
Basically, you need to clean up whatever the mess was that caused you two to separate or divorce. This means letting go of the icky-sticky codependent connections and doing your own personal work so you’re ready for a healthier relationship. The good news is that whether you and your ex get back together or not, you need to do this work. The bad news is that you will have no guarantees of getting her back after your interior makeover, even if you’re still convinced she’s your soulmate.
Force yourself. Visualize the connections, and be very honest about which ones are healthy and which ones are enmeshed. Have a ritual where you release the karmic obligations between you, where you release the unhealthy habit patterns between you, where you release any connections that are no longer appropriate between you.
Do this right. Be open to the possibility that the two of you really are done. If you find Spirit is telling you to let it all go, let it all go. Sometimes the phoenix cannot rise until things have burned themselves fully down to ash. Whether the phoenix will be a relationship with the same person or a new one, you need to let go.
With any luck, whichever type of divorce you’re going through, cleaning up the energetic and spiritual connections will take you further along the path of healing from the loss. Be gentle with yourself as you get used to life on your own again. Do your own work, and then, when it’s time, believe in a new beginning.
Springtime always follows the winter. Always.
by Kevin Filan
All is on earth. Nothing is in the sky. Nothing was made in the sky. No one needs to speak to the sky. Instead of talking about the sky, talk instead of the earth. André Pierre
In most religions, devotees talk to the divine; in Vodou the divine talks to its devotees. Vodou is a very concrete school of mysticism. The lwa (spirits served in Vodou) are not part of some ineffable astral choir detached from reality; to their followers, they are as real as the local greengrocer or the noisy neighbor who lives down the hall. Vodouisants (devotees of Vodou, also known as serviteurs) come to their spirits with worldly concerns — difficulties in romance, financial needs, health problems — and ask for their intervention. In return, they provide the lwa with food, housing, gifts and, via the mechanism of possession, their own bodies. Many Vodouisants will show their love for the spirit in a time-honored fashion: by taking wedding vows in the ceremony of the maryaj lwa.
To understand Haitian Vodou, one must understand Haiti, and to understand Haiti, one must understand Haitian history. If Vodou is a mirror of Haitian culture, Haitian culture is a mirror of colonial St. Dominique. A study of the maryaj lwa — and of marriage in Haitian culture — can help to illuminate many of the ways in which a century of slavery, followed by two centuries of poverty and oppression, has shaped every aspect of Haitian life.
Bay kou bliye pote mak sonje (He who strikes the blow forgets; he who bears the bruises remembers.) Haitian Proverb
Among the various African tribes whose members came in chains to the New World, there were many different conjugal relationships. Some tribes were polygamous, while others were monogamous. Brideswealth marriages, cross-cousin marriages, slave marriages, secondary marriages and ritual marriages could all be found in Central and West Africa. Few of these customs had meaning in the harsh conditions of St. Dominique. Family relationships were regularly torn apart at auctions, while plantation owners who wanted to sleep with an attractive slave woman rarely considered their own marital vows, never mind those of their “property.” Slave owners forbade anything that smacked of African “heathenism” and “voodooism,” and brutally punished any slaves who were caught preserving their native traditions. Nor would the customs of any one tribe necessarily be reflected in the customs of another. To minimize the risk of organized uprisings, it was common practice to keep slaves from different groups together on a plantation; Africans separated by language and by ethnic identity were considered less likely to band together than Africans from the same region or tribe.
Flung together in this hellhole, the slaves were forced to recreate their ancestral religious traditions with whatever was at hand. A ceremonial reglamen developed to honor each of the ancestral nachons (nations or tribes) in order. Roman Catholicism, the religion of the French colonial masters, would also come to play an especially important role in Vodou. Africans had never been afraid to incorporate the deities of neighboring tribes. Obviously the French gods were powerful: They kept their White followers in wealth and gave them mastery over the black slaves. And so the slaves appropriated many of the symbols and practices of Catholicism into their own religious melange, including the sacrament of marriage.
Even after a bloody decade-long revolution, and the 1804 establishment of the Free Black Republic of Haiti, the influence of Catholicism and European culture did not fade away. The ruling blans (whites) were largely replaced by gens du coleur, free blacks and mullatos who were known for being “more French than the French.” They identified African culture with ignorance and inferiority: Indeed, many gens du coleur had themselves been slaveholders before the Revolution. Free Haitian society quickly became stratified between a dark-skinned poor majority and a light-skinned wealthy minority ruling class, a situation that has persisted to this day. European customs and religious practices were identified with wealth and prestige– and, inevitably, power.
The sacred obligations of marriage are but Iittle regarded in [Haiti]; the two sexes live in a state of concubinage; and, according to M. de la Croix, many irregular unions have taken place. Niles’ Weekly Register, Baltimore, Nov. 25, 1820.
For most Haitians, a civil or religious marriage is a luxury. The most common relationship among peasants and the urban lower class is plasaj or common-law marriage. Haitians typically refer to any woman who lives with a man, keeps house for him and bears his children as a “wife.” The husband and wife often make explicit agreements about their economic relationship at the beginning of a plasaj. These agreements typically require the husband to cultivate at least one plot of land for the wife and to provide her with a house. Women perform most household tasks, though men often do heavy chores like gathering firewood. These unions are distinguished from vivavek or tizammi relationships, sexual affairs that carry less responsibility and are less stable than a plasaj.
Among the Haitian elite, civil and religious marriages were the norm; the “best” families could trace legally married ancestors to the nineteenth century. Legal marriages were seen as more prestigious than plasaj, but they were not necessarily more stable or productive, nor were they necessarily monogamous. In fact, legally married men are often more economically stable than men in plasaj relationships, and so it is easier for them to separate from their wives or to enter into extramarital relationships. While Haitian women are expected to maintain sexual fidelity to their husbands, whether or not they are legally married or in a plasaj relationship, Haitian men are more free to pursue polygamous relationships. Polygamy among Haitian men is not so much a sign of virility as of social and economic success: few Haitian men can afford to keep more than one family.
Danto, she says to me “You have a choice: Be with me, mon amour or I’m not responsible for what will happen to you.” I could die, you know, anything could happen. Georges René, husband of Ezili Danto
When the lwa possess bystanders at a ceremony, they will frequently offer advice and blessings — and make demands in return. Often their demands will include a request for marriage. The coquettish Erzulie Freda, lwa of love, beauty and luxury, often proposes to several men when she arrives at a ceremony, while the rum-swilling warrior lwa Ogou is known for his love of the ladies and often asks for their hands in marriage when he comes. Frequently these proposals are met with reluctance. A maryaj lwa is at least as expensive as a civil or religious marriage, and may cost several years in savings. In lieu of a marriage, a Vodouisant might offer to buy the proposing lwa a gift or to make some sacrifice that is less costly and onerous. Sometimes the lwa will be satisfied with these counteroffers; as spirits residing in an impoverished land, they have long since learned to accept what is available to them. At other times they will insist on the maryaj. Vodouisants who continue to ignore these demands will often discover their luck turning for the worse, as the spurned lwa brings them misfortune and sickness. Sometimes the lwa will even punish the Vodouisant’s partner, making him or her ill until such time as the marriage demands are met.
When the Vodouisant decides (or is persuaded) to marry the lwa, a ceremony is held. The space is prepared by the Priye Gineh, a lengthy ceremonial salute in which the lwa are honored alongside God, Jesus, the Virgin and various saints. A table is set up for the spirits who are going to be married. Cakes are prepared in their favorite colors (pink for Freda, red and blue for Danto, etc.). Their favorite offerings are placed on the table, alongside offerings for other lwa who might show up at the ceremony to give their blessings. The ceremonial clothing or objects of the brides or grooms will be close at hand. The human bride or groom, meanwhile, will be dressed in his or her finest clothing, as befits such a solemn ceremony.
After the Priye, the houngan or mambo (Priest or Priestess) in charge will begin calling the various lwa. Starting with Papa Legba, the gatekeeper who “opens the door” for the other lwa, s/he will salute the spirits in the order of the reglaman. At the appropriate time, the bride/groom spirits will possess one of the participants. That chwal (“horse”) will be dressed in the clothing of the lwa — a straw hat and bag for agricultural lwa Zaka, a denim dress for Ezili Danto, etc. Then s/he will be seated before the table beside the serviteur s/he is marrying. A pret savanne (literally “bush priest”) will recite the Catholic marriage ceremony; the lwa and the serviteur pledge fidelity to each other. The serviteur’s rings are “passed through fire” — incense smoke, really — and then the lwa places the ring on the serviteur’s finger.
This ritual is repeated for each lwa whom the serviteur is going to marry. Only rarely does one marry a single lwa: usually it is necessary to marry two or three so that their energies will be balanced. A woman who marries Ogou will also marry Damballah, the Great White Serpent, and Zaka: It is believed that Damballah will “cool” Ogou’s hot, intense energy while Zaka will help to “ground” it. And any man who marries Freda must marry her hardworking peasant sister Ezili Danto, and vice versa: the acrimony between these two women is legendary in Vodou and it is believed that marrying only one will cause the other to become enraged with jealousy. (Polygamy is also the rule among the lwa themselves: Erzulie Freda is “wife” to Damballah, Ogou and the sea king Met Agwe, while even Ogou has to wear the rings of both Freda and Ezili Danto.)
The serviteur is now married to the lwa. S/he will be expected to set aside at least one night per month — and perhaps as many as three nights a week — during which s/he will not have sexual relations with anyone else. During that time many spouses of the lwa will sleep alone in a bed that they have specially prepared for the occasion. They may wrap their heads with a cloth in their spouse’s color, and will almost certainly wear their wedding rings. On that evening they are frequently visited by their husbands/wives in dreams that may have sexual content or which may involve more platonic counsel and advice.
While most wealthy planters in St. Dominique were having sexual relations with one or more of their slaves, few would admit to this publicly. They might grant favored status to those women and their offspring, but always in private. The whole process became an open secret, one of those things that everyone knew but no one discussed. Among Haiti’s wealthy, the same could be said of Vodou. Rather than holding public fetes in their homes, or attending ceremonies, wealthy Haitians might honor the lwa privately through a maryaj lwa performed in their homes. This allows them to serve the lwa discreetly. By setting aside days for the lwa and maintaining an inconspicuous shrine, they can gain the spirit’s continued protection and blessings without incurring the social stigma that open service to the lwa would bring. If poor Haitians marry the lwa, rich Haitians take them as concubines.
Entering the Vodou is like choosing a whole new family. Choosing a family is rightfully a serious undertaking. Houngan Aboudja
The maryaj lwa ceremony is not only costly; it also involves considerable responsibility. Violating your wedding vows is seen as extremely dangerous. Edeline St.-Amand, a Haitian Mambo living in Brooklyn, tells the story of a man who married Erzulie Freda, then had relations with another woman on the day set aside for Freda. “He says his nature is gone,” Mambo Edeline explains. “I try to call Freda for him so he can say he’s sorry. For three hours I try to call Freda, but Freda won’t come. Finally I call Brav (Brav Ghede, a dead spirit with whom Edeline works frequently). Brav come and he say `Freda don’t want to talk to you.’ He beg Brav, tell her I’m sorry, tell her I’m sorry. Finally Brav tells him, `Okay. Freda say you got to go to Mass every day for 21 days, then you need to throw a big party for Freda. Then maybe she think about forgiving you.”
Whether rich or poor, Vodouisants see the maryaj lwa as both a sign of devotion and a guarantee of success. The Vodouisant throws a party for the lwa and sets aside special days for the spirit’s honor. In exchange, s/he expects the lwa to provide support and protection. The maryaj lwa, like marriage and conjugal relationships, is as much a promise of mutual support as a sign of undying love. Kathleen Latzoni, an American woman who recently married Ogou, Damballah and Zaka, says that her maryaj had a pronounced positive effect on her life. “I’ve become much more productive at work; and while I still have a demanding job, I feel that things around the office have started to run more smoothly. I also feel less anxious and better able to cope with whatever life throws my way — no matter what happens, I’ve got somebody (or three somebodies!) on my side.” For Latzoni, the Maryaj also served as a community-building experience. “Even though my cultural background is very different from most of the Vodouisants I know in Brooklyn, I feel more bonded to them now, as if this shared experience gives us something in common.”
Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, Donald J. Cosentino, Editor. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995. p. xxiii.
For an excellent and extensive study of the interplay between African religions and Catholicism in Haiti, see Leslie G. Desmangles, Faces of the Gods: Voodoo and Roman Catholicism in Haiti. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).
Haitian Women’s Role in Sexual Decision-Making: The Gap Between AIDS Knowledge and Behavior Change (II. Presentation of Findings), available at http://www.fhi.org/en/RH/Pubs/booksReports/haitiwom/haitpres.htm
Cosentino, p. 292.
Conversation with Mambo Edeline St.-Amand, February 2003.
 Conversation with Kathleen Latzoni, October 2003.
by L. Lisa Lawrence
The scent of blooming flowers fills the air as warm gentle breezes caress her face. As she gazes around the circle, she sees the loving faces of her family, friends and circle members smiling with approval. After sipping mead from the same chalice, she and her groom receive a blessing and together they jump the broomstick, symbolizing their moving forward into their new life together. Then they share a passionate kiss while everyone cheers. As the couple head off to a special place created in the woods just for them to consummate their vows, the guests feast, joke and marvel at how perfectly everything went and how the Goddess blessed them with glorious, sunny weather for their Beltaine nuptials.
In the real world, more often it goes like this:
It’s pouring cold, freezing, horizontal rain, even though the forecast called for dry weather with sun breaks. Her family and covenmates are inside the circle, and members of the groom’s family (those who didn’t refuse to show up at all) are standing on the outskirts. Some are uncomfortable; others are downright disapproving, especially after seeing that strangely dressed man with the sword that they just know is used for ritual sacrifice. Some are still appalled at the fact that the “marriage” is only for a year and a day and can be renewed and formalized with all the legalities (or not) next year. She’s just discovered that the material she made her gown from is transparent when wet, guests are shivering, and the wind keeps blowing the candles out.
This second scenario demonstrates how mixed faith handfastings often turn out, but it doesn’t even begin to describe the controversy and stress involved in the planning that leads up to the event. One of my more memorable events as clergy involved a bride-to-be calling me three days before the wedding in tears, relating the tale of how she’s not sure she wants to marry the “worst man in the world” because his parents badgered him into putting the word God (and we’re not talking about one that wears horns) into the wedding vows.
Maggie came from a pagan family but didn’t want any religion at all in the wedding. Mark agreed to a nonreligious ceremony with pagan elements at the time the wedding was planned but caved in to pressure from his fundamentalist Christian parents at the last minute. Neither of them was willing to budge on their position.
I told Maggie, “You two can use different words. He can say `God,’ and you can say `community.'”
She stopped crying and said, “Really? We can do that?”
“Yes, dear, you can,” I replied calmly. “It’s your wedding, and you don’t have to say anything that you don’t want to.” Mark agreed and the wedding was back on. This was a warning, however, that once both families got together, things could get ugly.
What do you do when the bride comes from a nice pagan family and the groom’s parents are fundamentalist Christians? Aside from eloping, it’s not easy. Weddings are stressful in and of themselves, but when one side of the family has a deep rooted fear of the faith of the other, things need to be handled delicately.
Even for couples who share a spiritual path or philosophy, bringing two families together can be a disaster waiting to happen. I jokingly say that my specialty is the Dharma and Greg wedding, in which the spiritual paths, life experiences and values of each family appear to be diametrically opposed, and the in-laws have nothing in common and may even dislike, fear and mistrust each other. For those who aren’t familiar with the television show Dharma and Greg, it features an unlikely couple who got married after only knowing each other a few hours. She is a New Age Buddhist with pagan tendencies whose parents are hippies, and he is an attorney from a wealthy, conservative, uptight family. It makes good television for a reason, because nothing is ever going to run smoothly when two families like this are brought together.
There are several ways to approach the mixed faith handfasting, once you have gotten over the urge to avoid the whole potential fiasco by eloping:
When planning a handfasting of the last type, one of the first things I try to do is to find out what word the couple wants to use (or not use) for deity or greater power. It’s amazing the number of couples who agree on everything but this, so it’s best to get it out of the way. Many words can be used if a couple wishes to avoid religious arguments or offending anyone: Great Spirit, Great Mystery, Universe and Community are just a few examples. For those who wish to appease religious family members, “Mother-Father God” is often less threatening than “Goddess.” In Maggie and Mark’s wedding, they each used a word that was comfortable for them.
The next thing I ask the couple to think about is what elements of the ceremony are most important to them. There are many elements that can be included in a mixed faith ceremony, including binding the hands, exchanging rings, lighting a unity candle, sharing wine, mead or juice from a chalice and jumping a broomstick or bonfire — walking around the fire rather than jumping is recommended if the bride is wearing a long dress with a train.
Most of these elements can be explained as an “ancient tradition” from whatever part of the world the family is from. If any of us goes back far enough into our ancestry, we can find a pagan tradition to cite. For families of Celtic descent, there is always movie Braveheart, in which Mel Gibson and his bride had their hands bound together by a priest in front of a Celtic cross. If you need to, invoke Mel and say, “That’s the way Braveheart did it.”
Another good way to explain pagan elements is to say that they are Native American-styled. It’s funny, but for some people an action is threatening if a white person does it, but if it’s from another culture, it’s okay, especially if they’ve seen Dances With Wolves or other similar movies that show the beauty and spirituality of other cultures. Many fabulous earth-centered prayers and blessings are attributed to Native American cultures and can fit quite nicely into pagan or mixed faith weddings. Two important things to remember if you are borrowing something from another culture are not to claim the element as your own and to be respectful of it.
Once we get past the parts that are easy to explain or pass off as something other than overtly pagan, some others need to be considered. Most people are perfectly willing to stand in a circle and may even think it’s charming. But truly casting a circle may require some creativity. No matter what tradition the bride and groom may share, it’s likely that there are those who would be uncomfortable with a member of the wedding party walking around with an athamé to cast the circle (to them, it’s not a sacred tool, it’s a big scary dagger). A circle can be cast by spreading rose petals, corn meal or any other organic material. If the family that might be uncomfortable is from a Catholic background, all you need is some incense and candles and the circle can be cast by ritual procession.
The use of quarter altars and the calling of directions can often avoid threatening even the most conservative grandparents if you do it correctly. Having a woman in a flowing gown hold up a seashell towards the Puget Sound and wish the couple “all the blessings and bounty of the sea” is going to go over better with someone’s Southern Baptist grandmother than invoking the “guardians of the watchtowers of the west.” In one handfasting ceremony I facilitated, the couple went to each of the four directions, where a friend or family member stood and read something written to help guide them in their married life. The elements were there, but not overtly.
Believe it or not, even in this day and age, some people expect a “minister” to be a middle-aged or older male, not a couple or a woman. At Maggie and Mark’s wedding, people who thought I was a guest were laughing and joking with me before the final run-through. When I was introduced as the “minister,” more than one person was visibly shocked. As I stood there with my long red hair, long black robe (which didn’t look like the one the minister in the Methodist church I grew up in wore) and tree-of-life necklace, which I thought was conservative enough for this wedding, I wondered if they could tell what I was.
While the bride’s family and I stood there holding our breath, waiting for her to finish her thought, one woman began, “But you look so…” She finished: “…young to be a minister.” I laughed and sighed with relief. I had just turned 39 at the time and to be considered too young to perform a wedding was quite a compliment. Once she was assured that I was legally ordained and had done this many times before, everything was fine.
If their families are very fundamentalist, some couples will choose to veil the pagan aspects of the ceremony as much as possible to avoid any discomfort. Others will turn the event into a chance to educate the nonpagans in the group. If the pagan elements are very open, it’s a good idea for the couple to provide a small, printed guide that explains how and why things will be happening a certain way, such as: “We will be casting a circle to create sacred space.” “We will call upon the blessings and lessons of the four directions.” “We will be calling upon the masculine and feminine aspect of the divine to bless this union.” A little education goes a long way. If you think a specific family member might have difficulty, this guide can be mailed to them ahead of time with an invitation to call if they have any questions or concerns. The idea is to try to make everyone as comfortable as possible before the ceremony starts.
Making the guests physically comfortable is important as well. Make certain that chairs are available to elderly or disabled guests. If quarter altars are to be used, a chair can be placed on both sides of each altar. This not only provides seating that doesn’t impede ritual movement but can keep candles and other ritual tools from getting knocked off the altar. If you are holding an indoor ceremony and want to use sage instead of light incense, it is a good idea to check to see if any of the guests have allergies so that you don’t trigger an asthma attack.
Maggie and Mark’s ceremony concluded with them walking around the bonfire “in an ancient Celtic tradition symbolizing their leaving one life and entering into their new one together.” One of the older, conservative relatives came up to me afterward and said, “That was one of the most beautiful, meaningful weddings I’ve ever attended,” completely clueless to the fact that she had just participated in a pagan ritual performed by a witch. As the woman walked away, one of the bridesmaids winked at me knowingly, her pentacle barely peeking out from the neckline of her dress.
Both families were happy, and no one who would have been offended was any the wiser. The rain that fell before the wedding had moved on, and we marveled at how perfect the day was as we watched bubbles the guests had blown to celebrate the event float toward a spectacular sunset.
by Paul Stephens
So you’ve decided to get married. Everyone is congratulating you and offering you best wishes. You are going to be busy picking colors and people to wear them, finding flowers and someone to arrange and deliver them.
I hate to ask, but have you asked your priest or priestess if they are available on your happy day? Have you written the ceremony? Do you even know what kind of ceremony you would like to have? Did you know that most priests and priestesses would require that they see you and your mate-to-be for at least three premarital evaluation sessions to see if they will perform the ceremony? There is always so much to think about with a wedding or handfasting that you might well have assumed that this friend of yours would have nothing better to do than to spend the weekend before your ceremony and the day of your ceremony with you and all your family and friends.
Before you start off on the wrong foot, let’s do a little time travel and look at how you should go about arranging your pagan wedding or handfasting. As soon as you confirm that you will be married, six to nine months before the ceremony but before selecting a particular date, get together with your priestess or priest — or, better, both — and find out what their calendars have open. They are busy people who teach classes, run meeting groups and manage circles, groves or covens. Often, they also attend meetings with various groups to organize multifaith gatherings — and, unbelievably, they need time for themselves. Unless you have a very understanding group and a tolerant priest or priestess, you can forget sabbat rituals for your wedding day.
Once the four of you have set the date, you can schedule the evaluation sessions that most pagan priestesses and priests require before officiating the ceremony. You can discuss who will write the ceremony and resolve yourself to writing at least part of it. Where will it be? Outside weddings are always so nice — unless it rains. Be sure to plan alternatives, or plan for the worse and expect the best.
Speaking of the worst, I am reminded of a priestess who was involved in an accident a week before she was to perform a wedding. It is a good idea to have an alternate officiant so that the wedding can go on even if the worst should happen.
The priest or priestess will supply some ritual tools and weapons, but you will be required to supply some materials as well, so now is a good time to make that list. The plans thus far will take place before we tell Mom or call that nice lady who makes your robes. It might even happen before you pick the colors.
After spending the better part of a day with your officiant, you can begin thinking about the invitations, colors, wedding party and assistants. You can begin writing the ceremony first draft. You can begin making all the arrangements for flowers, tables, chairs, portable gazebos, music, gowns or robes and the caterers. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep, because until after the ceremony, you will have precious little time for sleep. You are the ones who have given yourselves plenty of time. You have six to nine months before your wedding.