Magickal Meanderings: Traveling the Mystical Highways of Life

Magickal Meanderings: Traveling the Mystical Highways of Life

by Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson

Over time, it has become increasingly clear to me that while we may be the ones who pack the cooler, check the tires and top off the tank, there comes a time in every trip where the best charted course goes astray. It is then that we lay the map aside and rest while Deity drives. Spectacular vistas unfold in this way, and the harvest of tales is terrific.

When I left my hometown of Peoria, Illinois, last October and headed toward Washington state, I yearned for the sequoias up the California coast. However, after several leg-cramping days on the road, motels that chomped deeply into my budget and a first taste of winter’s ice and fog and snow, I seriously considered cutting my journey short and opting for a more direct route home.

In Salt Lake City, I cursed my luck and their road construction. I-80 had abruptly ended, thanks to rerouting for the upcoming Winter Olympics, and I was forced into town. I rolled down my window at the first business I came to, a car wash, and asked two men for directions. They conferred, then one turned back to me. “If I were you, Ma’am, I’d hang a right on Redwoods Boulevard.’ A word to the Wiccan was sufficient, and I found my route again, forgoing the connection to I-90 and forging on to the trees.

One bittersweet theme that wove throughout my journey Northwest was my nightly phone call to my sister in Illinois, whose husband was dying of cancer. Hospice was involved, and his time would not be long. Just south of Eureka, California, I was tired and the gas gauge low. No motel signs in view and the prospect of sleeping in my crammed-to-capacity van looked grimmer by the moment. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small, faded sign. “Accommodations,” it read, with an arrow pointing down the road, right into the middle of nowhere. Down a dirt road, over a trestle bridge, past a winding creek I drove, astonished to find myself at the driveway of a small cluster of stone villas! The local cat ran out to brush my legs, then sped off toward the circular courtyard, where a grove of five redwoods stood sentry. That night, sad news awaited. My brother-in-law had passed away that morning. Later that night, when the stars came out, I adjourned to the courtyard alone. I lit some sage in the abalone shell decorating a white wicker table, and sent prayers in many directions. My stay at that stone villa was the least expensive night of my trip. Deity had provided, in every single way.

Bellingham has proven to be no exception to serendipity. Earlier this year, a postcard for an artist’s reception and the promise of free French food and wine coaxed me from my home. I arrived at the Jody Bergsma Gallery on King Street, where gurgling fountains and candlelight led one to the door. Inside, a visual as well as edible feast awaited. I seated myself in the loft where a musician unknown to me would soon perform.

As Christopher Bingham took the stage and launched into his first song, the lyrics dropped my jaw. “Calling up a Horned One, calling up a Green Man, we are gathering here!” Stunned, I noticed the pentacle patch sewn to his guitar strap! By the end of the first set, I had purchased a CD and become a forever Gaia Consort fan.

As a mistress of magick, here are some highway travel tips I can offer you. After checking out of your motel room and consulting your atlas, trace an imaginary pentacle over your steering column, intoning, “Spell and magick, three times three, swift, safe journeys grant to me that I might reach my destination without accident, incident or cops unless I need them.”

When freeway traffic is frozen, through unseen hazards or misfortunes up ahead, you can send positive energy to unblock the obstruction and speed you and fellow travelers on your way. To do so, wave your power hand in an undulating motion saying, “Ebb and flow…ebb and flow…swiftly, safely, on we go.” Surprisingly soon, you’re rolling right along.

In closing, let me say that while it’s good to consult your travel agent before embarking on adventures, don’t forget to pack blue protection candles or to invite the gods along. Safe journeys, good winds and Godspeed as you travel the highways of life!

Honor Our Pagan Bards

Honor Our Pagan Bards

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by Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson

I never felt the lack of a bard until the day a circle died. Across a room, 75 people clasped hands and stared at one another, uncertain how to end the wobbling, awkward affair. A roomful of pagan strangers had assembled to celebrate community diversity and had drawn lots to see which factions would write the circle casting, energy raising and declaration of intent.

No one knows what happened to the group who fumbled the ball at the end, but after a century’s pause, one lone voice reverted to the old “Isis, Astarte, Diana” chant. Somewhere in a distant glade, I heard the Goddess groan, “Oh for Persephone’s sake — reruns again!” She snatched up the remote and promptly changed the channel. A bard could have saved the day and fixed that fiasco with one chord.

When Leslie Fish, famous at pagan gatherings and filking cons (where old songs are given new lyrics), left the price tag of California and came to call the desert home, I had no idea what a jewel had landed in Arizona’s lap. The lady bard and her guitar graced many a circle, asking naught but applause and a drop to wet the whistle in exchange for her magick. Not ungratefully, but unthinkingly, few offered more. Only in my later Midwest and Northwest times, when I spoke her name and was treated to dropped jaws and intakes of awestruck breath, did I begin to have a clue.

Upon researching the role of bards throughout the ages, it becomes clear that this is a hallowed guest. The Celtic bardic tradition dates to ancient times but was most prominent in medieval and postmedieval Wales and Ireland. Many bards were resident in wealthy homes; others were itinerant. They were particularly important in Wales, where bards were often noble, and where bardic guilds were formed to set standards for writing and reciting. Repeatedly outlawed by the English, as politically inciting, the institution gradually died out.

In Ireland, the training of a bard lasted 12 years, with students undergoing a rigorous curriculum. In the initial years, the student progressed from “principle beginner” to “poet’s attendant.” By his eleventh year, he was termed “a noble stream,” because “a stream of pleasing praise issues from him, and a stream of wealth to him.” Once a bard had mastered 350 stories, he was considered a master and entitled to receive a gold branch with bells attached. When the bard strode into the hall, all were alerted to become silent and summon the help of the inner realms to inspire his poem, song or story.

The body of a bard was inviolate, even in history’s most treacherous times. As the bearer of news, bards roamed at will throughout the far reaches of the kingdom with reports of invasions and death, births and coronations, scandal, triumph and deceit. Bards were deemed to be prophets and emissaries of the Divine, able to bless and curse with a stanza of three lines. Because of the level of autonomy and impunity granted to bards, they often became the voice of the people, whose tongues had to remain silent to keep lives, lands and families together.

Do we as pagans perceive them as filling those same roles today? Yes, indeed! Leslie Fish’s most famous magickal trilogy of songs, formulated specifically to end a prolonged drought, brought down a deluge from the skies. Beginning with a tune called “Out on Thunderbird Road,” which acknowledged the dry, parched ground, she then shifted into a more up-tempo, beseeching number which musically pleaded, “More, more, more… we need more!” Her rousing finale is a hymn to Thor, entitled “White Man’s Rain Chant,” which exhorts the god to “draw the drops of the sky together, break the back of burning wither.” Works like the weather charm it is! Yet, the lady bard can curse as well as cure. No one has ever heard Leslie, an impressive, steely eyed figure with coal-black hair and a knife in her boot, launch into a chorus of “The Oathbreaker Song” without a shuddered sigh of relief that the words weren’t intended for them!

As for historians, we are fortunate as pagans to have such standards to incorporate into our rituals as “The Burning Times,” best arranged by Todd Alan and The Quest. The changing values and chafing repression of our society is brought to the musical fore by Gaia Consort, whose anthem, “Cry Freedom” on their new CD Silent Voices is a reaction to the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative. Hence the razor-edged line, “They try to hold us back with reins of holy smoke, but I am here to say we will not bear the yoke!” In his CD liner notes, Gaia Consort member Christopher Bingham writes that he feels many pagans are in a state of complacency, with their noses stuck too far into their Tarot cards to perceive what is happening in the world around them. Someone needs to sound the wake-up call; enter the bard.

At those circles blessed with a bard, rituals flow, segues are apparent, and some kick-butt energy gets raised. Bards have an innate knack for weaving people together. At a Yule celebration in Bellingham, Washington, I fretted as the talking stick was passed and the full spectrum from serious believers to scoffers and gawkers became apparent. Then our friend Dougal picked up his guitar and passed out lyrics to a Dar Williams song, “The Christians and the Pagans,” about “finding peace and common ground the best that they were able.” Suddenly his strings were not the only thing in tune. As one body, hands reached for red taper candles and lit the wishing wreath. Common good and camaraderie prevailed.

Is there a blessing for a guesting bard? None that I have ever come across; therefore, one needs to be created. One might propose the following festive inclusion. Prior to the bard’s entry into the hall, two garlanded, gaily adorned sweepers come with sprigs of laurel, rosemary and pine (honor, remembrance and renewal) signaling the people that “Music comes! The heart string hums! The good bard comes!”

Enter a third attendant with sistrum or cluster of bells, who announces, “Hark, they ring! Rejoice and sing! Each shining thing the good bard brings! He/She comes!”

A low, draped table should be set aside, near the comfortable seat of honor to which the bard is led. As the preliminary feast begins, food is brought to the bard first by one who says, “Play for us, and touch our souls. Be sustenance, uplift, console. As your music feeds our spirits, may this meal lend strength to your body, good bard.”

Drink is next poured for the bard, with this blessing: “We bless each note that from you pours. Your tales are ours, our love is yours.”

As the last song is sung and the music fades, a purse is given to the bard that each in attendance has had occasion to grace with what monetary gifts may be made. The gifting words spoken are “With gold and silver and precious things, an offering for your blessed strings. As every chord rang bold and true, good bard, we praise and honor you!”

Let us, as pagans, restore our bards to the esteemed position that from antiquity has been theirs. No longer an ill-paid afterthought, but our voice, our magick and our hearts.