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August 2007

Running Late

Cicada01

This is the sole cicada I've seen all summer, despite the Great 17-Year Cicada Cycle which promised we'd be sweeping the creatures off our porches early this summer. The suburbs got hit pretty hard with the little guys, but we heard nor saw nary a one in the city.

Anyway, here is this sluggish cicada, a bit late for the party, sitting on the platform of the Brown Line stop near my house. When the train came to take me to my office downtown, about an hour ago or so, he was still there. He was probably drying out from the big storm that drenched everything in today's pre-dawn hours. I was running late myself this morning because Lugh left at about the time the storm hit for a set of shows on Mackinac Island in Michigan, and in his half-awake, thunder-and-lightning daze, he took both our sets of keys, which meant I had to find another way to lock up.

I seem to be running late with everything these days. I'm three weeks behind on a deadline here at work. I'm behind in my medicine-making lessons for Herb Dad. I'm nowhere near the level of organization and memorization I would like to be at in my clinical studies with Ima. I'm a few days late in my work for the Thirty Day Challenge. I'm behind in correspondence with some of my best friends, far-flung as they are all over the world. I haven't seen my parents in weeks, and I'm fairly certain they're not too pleased about that. I haven't savored half as many summer-season-only fruits and veggies as I should have by now. Personal projects languish. My spiritual discipline --- not so disciplined at the moment. On top of all of that, last Sunday my home computer clutched its little throat and fainted away on the desk, never to be revived again. It's been triaged with the Geek Squad and they say it won't be ready till next week. If we're lucky, we won't have lost everything.

Looks like I'm in that full unfocused late August swing! Remembering the lessons of this somewhat disorienting time of year in my Lammas post, I'll have to take care not to let this devolve into complete chaos.

Meanwhile I've been having some incredibly powerful, so-vivid-they-could-have-been-real dreams. At least some part of me is getting some (interior) work done! Last night, I survived a shipwreck in Arctic waters. If that's a reflection of my life at the moment, then hey --- things'll be just fine.

Edit: I was re-reading this post and noticed that Mr. Cicada above wasn't blessed with those creepy red eyes we associate with most cicadas. Well, further research shows that he is of the annual variety, or tibicen linnei, and this species shows up in the 'dog days' of summer -- that is, late July and August. The red-eyed critters are the 17-year type, and guess what their genus name is: magicicada! I guess it just goes to show that the insect kingdom is perfectly punctual and I'm the only one running late today. Figures.


Queen Anne's Lace

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Hey kids, click on the graphic above for a free wallpaper of the lovely daucus carota, also known as wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace. (For my less computer-savvy readers, when the larger picture comes up, right-click and choose 'Set as desktop background' or a similar option. The size is 800x600... cropped from 1200+ by Typepad; I'll work on finding a way to post the larger option.)

If this photo does not help you appreciate the exquisite fractal symmetry of the botanical world, at least meditating on the deep purple flower at the center of the umbel will help you differentiate this medicinal herb from the deadly water hemlock (which lacks such a signifier).

I've got the "Herbis" covered; for a more "Orbis" wallpaper, check out Brian's shot of two Perseid meteors taken Monday night.


Lammas and the Etiquette of Sacrifice

Bflywings

View photos from Lammas 2007 here.

Of all the major festivals, Lugh always seems to be available for this one, which may be no coincidence, as another name for Lammas is Lughnasadh.

We’d had (and continue to have) a series of daily summer storms when Lugh and I arrived at Ima’s farm early in the morning on the last Saturday of July. It is a rare and magical experience to behold the usually sandy and dry-leafy forest floor invaded overnight by the most curious creatures: mushrooms! Lugh set about pitching our tent while I explored the strange new landscape.

Here, tan mushrooms with orb-like tops that would pop open like umbrellas by day’s end.

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There, in the deep woods, a giant white flat-capped specimen emerging from the darkness around it like a phantom.

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Along the roadside, bright red and pink mushrooms (these must be tasty, because most of them were already partially eaten).

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Near the fire circle, an odd pairing of a single, truly “cute” mushroom…

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… a few yards away from a giant, bright apricot-colored chicken-of-the-woods growing so fast as to consume the grasses nearby right into its lobed flesh.

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Ima found a purple mushroom on the way to the dromenon.

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In short, the forest was suddenly full of funny, irrepressible personality. Mushrooms and fungi may be kind of alien, but there is also something very earnest in their surprise arrival and fleshy appearance. Unlike plants, which you witness in all their subtle changes as they mature from seedling to blooming adult over a season, mushrooms materialize in droves when you wake up one morning after rain. They’re just so funny. I can understand why they lend themselves so well to animation.

Suffice it to say, I am always delighted when the nature sanctuary transforms itself just in time for a weekend of ritual. It participates in setting a wonderful space for work.

Sacrifice: Quid pro quo

In short, Lammas is a festival of the first harvest, a time when we sacrifice the first and best from the fields whose fruit is the result of a season’s worth of toil.

Why do we not just gobble up the first fruits instead of making a burnt offering? Well, aside from a possible breach of good manners, the point is that we acknowledge the elements’ and the divine’s co-creation of these prized fruits of the harvest. We may have spent months planning the garden, selecting the seeds, working the ground, planting the seeds, and weeding, but nature provided the raw materials. It is a form of acknowledging that without these gifts we would have nothing to sustain us. It is a form of thanksgiving.

Another way of looking at is natural selection: we give back the seeds of the first and best of our harvest so that we may have more of the same next year.

Of course, while we do conduct these rituals and meditations on an herb farm/ nature sanctuary, which helps drive home the literal point of harvest, we are not agrarian people. If you’re a city slicker like myself, you have to concentrate on the real meaning of harvest and sacrifice.

Throughout the year, starting at Winter Solstice, when the Sun began its ascent anew, we dreamed about and eventually cultivated ideas, projects and transformations to help grow and develop ourselves. For some this might have been to become more assertive (Mars/Geburah), or more organized (Mercury/Hod), or more harmonized (Sun/Tiphareth), or more creative and sensual (Venus/Netzach), etc. (Most of us in Mystery School found a way to correlate this with the specific Tree of Life garden we tended this season.) Finding ourselves at varying levels of success come harvest time, Lammas presents us with an opportunity to give thanks for that success.

By the waning part of summer, we’ve been working on our different projects and gardens at full tilt for several months. In the hot, active, yang season it’s easy to become wrapped up in our activities and seduced by our triumphs. But it’s also a strange time; we must acknowledge that there is  still much work to do -- as much as these still long yet shrinking days will allow us -- while simultaneously discerning the destination on the horizon, which is a withdrawal back into the ground, back into ourselves. Rest is coming: sweet, deep sleep and dreams of new ways to grow. The question is, have we earned it?


What waits to devour you at the heart of the labyrinth?

Dromenonmush

Ima drew us together to tell us the story of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur. I’ll skip over the cultural context that created the myth, over Theseus’ early career and what a jerk he turned out to be. Suffice it to say, our flawed hero Theseus traveled to Crete and vowed to kill the Minotaur, the half-man/half-bull flesh-eating monster to whom men and women from Theseus' home town, Athens, were sacrificed every nine years. To accomplish his task, he’d have to find his way to the center of a vast labyrinth, kill the Minotaur, and then find his way out.

Luckily for Theseus, King Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with him on sight. (Unfortunately I have to interject here that Ariadne is technically the Minotaur’s half-sister; the Minotaur was produced by a not unimaginative bestial coupling between the Queen of Crete and a white bull originally meant to be a sacrifice for Poseidon. Ahem.) Ariadne gave Theseus a ball of yarn; she held one end and the ball unraveled it as he proceeded into the maze. After successfully slaying the Minotaur, Theseus followed the line of yarn back to Ariadne, and escaped.

The Minotaur represents the parts of ourselves that we hide so that we don’t have to look at them anymore. These are the qualities we deem inadequate or ugly or embarrassing or perhaps inauthentic. These parts we may bury or cage, or, as in the case of the unloved Minotaur, we may construct an elaborate and contrived maze to keep them from ever finding their way back to our consciousness. The downside is, the things we bury so deep always consume from within. (Like it or not, we end up having to feed the Minotaur to keep it at bay; it would be naive to think that it couldn't find its way out of the maze if it got hungry enough.)

The purpose of our Lammas work was to assess the progress of our projects and see what success we found. On the flip side, we were to travel the inner labyrinth to find the monsters we’d worked hard to forget. Objective? Purification and growth. And balance. Always balance.

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We meditatively walked our own labyrinth, the dromenon, and in the center, Hermit, a fledgling shamaness, had us lie down. She drummed as we journeyed our own inner mazes to meet the Minotaur, who would give us some idea of what was suppressed that demanded attention, be it for acceptance, excision or transformation. Her drumming functioned as the ball of yarn which would lead us back out of the maze when the time was right.

Hermit01

When we emerged from the dromenon meditation, we sat down with various craft supplies and created small representations of what we discovered on the journey.


“We can rebuild him.”

Next on the docket was the building of the Lammas wicker man. Inspired by our meditations, we each chose some part of the man to build. Apollo had the heart, Star Farmer the arms, Ima the legs, Ma’at the head, Hermit the womb and, to make it a wicker hermaphrodite, I decided to make a phallus.

At Lammas we encounter figures of sacrifice, including the Wicker Man and John Barleycorn. These figures may be ghosts of rites of human sacrifice practiced by our ancestors, but for us today they are reminders that something must die so that others may live. John Barleycorn, for example, represents the spirit of vegetation and the harvest, and the grain that must be felled so that we can make bread for sustenance.

In the case of our Wicker Man, he would provide a sort of flammable body politic, a vehicle to send the best of ourselves up in smoke as an offering and thanksgiving.

So, how did this all come together? Take me, for example:

I’ve been working the Netzach, or Venus, garden on the Tree of Life for two years, attempting to cultivate creativity, passion, sensuality, beauty, and victory over illusion. In these two years I’ve accomplished a lot toward my goal, though I admit I am far from where I would like to be. On my journey through my interior labyrinth, I found the Minotaur I must face: control. I created a little talisman representing control. Then I decided to make the wicker man’s phallus, which of course represents creativity, passion, regeneration and fertility; and is actually a reminder to me to be more receptive and less controlling of my creativity, etc.

(Gee, and here I thought the Brian May post was going to be the most personal one.)

Here’s my phallus. Note the “jade pearls” and “dragon head” (sorry, guys, just returned from a White Tigress seminar):

Phallus

I think the pièce de résistance was definitely the mushroom head. See, it all ties together -- spending the morning admiring mushrooms paid off!

Let me touch briefly on the very important concept of dis-membering and re-membering. Here we have each taken a part of the whole anatomy of our wicker man and created them individually. It is a work in reclaiming these parts of ourselves which have in some way or another been dismembered from the whole. When we bring them together, we ‘re-member’ the wicker man -- in effect “remembering” true wholeness of self. In order to “re-member,” or make whole, you must properly “remember” all the parts, what their true functions are, where they connect, how they move, etc.

For a clearer understanding of this idea, read the love story of Osiris and Isis. For an air-conditioned experience which is almost as effective, go see the Simpsons movie and pay attention to what happens to Homer on his Inuit shamanic journey.

And here is our completed wicker man:

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It’s on the small side, but, y’know, this ain’t Burning Man.

Before torching the poor fellow, we returned to the screenhouse to make corn dollies representing the best of ourselves. If (big IF) wicker men ever carried real human sacrifices, they would have been populated with the ‘best’ sacrifices, carefully prepared for the ritual. (You know, like Sergeant Howie.) The corn dollies not only acknowledge our gratitude for the best we have to offer, but perhaps more importantly, burning them in the wicker man reminds us that one should not get “stuck” in the current good fortune. You still must let go of the present, no matter how great it is, in order to live to your fullest potential. (My mind's never far from Hawaii, so an apropos metaphor here would be that any surfer will tell you that even the best waves never last.)

You can see our ‘family portrait’ of dolls in my last post, but here’s a close-up of Ma’at’s, which I especially liked. I told her it reminded me of one of the dancers from Showtime at the Apollo or Carnivale in Brazil.

Maatsdolly

Burn, baby, burn. Wicker inferno!

We put the dollies in the wicker man (guys, do you think we should name him next year, or would that be too personal for something you’re going to torch?). Lugh and I presented an offering of wild beebalm, which I appreciated as a nod to our roles in the Sacred Marriage last year. Then, we set the wicker man afire, starting with the heart (made extra effective thanks to Apollo’s fondness for gunpowder).

Wickerburn03

Lammas is a difficult festival, because, frankly, August is difficult – we are distracted by work and anticipation as the harvest reaches its fullness; we are often having to deal with scorching heat as the end of summer goes out in a blaze; we are tired and so ready to sit back at the sight of what looks to be a promising crop, and let nature take over.

But it’s not the dark of the year yet. There is still work to be done. Turn your back for a second, take anything for granted for but a moment, and you’ve opened the door to chaos. To continue the agrarian metaphor – now that the fruits of your labors are apparent -- now that the melons and squashes swell sweet under the sun and moon, you are not the only one admiring them and anticipating their harvest.

Stand guard, keep weeding out the distractions, keep nourishing with water and sunshine while we have it. Give thanks, and above all, work with nature so that it does not work against you. Rest and feasting are just around the corner.