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August 2008

Wheel! Of! Fortune?

20thpath

Behold the Tree of Life, herb farm style, its sephiroth made of the lids of Ball jelly jars. The Tree's connecting paths are marked by the Tarot keys that represent them. The upside down lecturing lady in orange is Ima, of course.

See that asterisk? That's the path I'm traveling now, Key 10, Path 20, The Wheel of Fortune. Technically I just figured this out while sitting there during lecture. The revelation is no surprise. But let me tell ya, the path of the Wheel of Fortune ain't been all that pleasant.

"Pat, I'd Like to Buy a Vowel, Please: 'Y?'"

It's been 28 days -- a complete moon cycle -- since my last post. This hiatus has not been for lack of ideas, and I suppose any self-respecting blogger might say that lack of time is no fair excuse either. Well, whatever. Normally I make Twitter my repository for nebulous one-line reports from my emotional barometer, but what the heck -- I'm going to depart from my usual "Let Herbis Orbis bring you the greater magickal meaning of the season!" schtick for a change. On rare occasion, this blog can serve to give my angst its due prose.

So, I was hatching all manner of scintillating blog content for the month, after my August 1 entry on Lammas. Oh, Lammas -- you know, the fun-filled pagan festival about death and sacrifice. Lammas, that festival whose name is so close to "lame-ass."

Or in this year's case, "lambaste." Turns out, this particular Lammas was having a powerful effect on a lot of people.

Shortly after I'd written that post, a friend urgently requested that I meet with her to provide some counsel on the tough time she'd been having since the previous day. Here was this lovely, wonderfully strong woman coming to me for help -- an honor, especially for a fledgling priestess -- and what she described was nothing short of the classic 'dark night of the soul,' maybe even with a few extra imps thrown in. We talked for a long time. I think I helped her out. We bonded. I learned a few things about myself. All was good, the storm quelled for the most part.

Then another friend described the whole month of August as 'anxious,' a quality not exactly helpful while he sustained some major life changes in the past few weeks. Someone else, trying hard to make positive strides in her life, was finding herself resenting even her closest loved ones and becoming quite depressed in the process. Left and right, people were getting into accidents of varying degrees, receiving threatening phone calls, suffering some sort of humiliation, or otherwise forced suddenly (and sometimes explosively) out of comfortable old patterns.

Me? Well, I was well on my way into a fantastic August. All was going well in terms of my job(s), school, relationships, you name it. I found life to be as romantic and electric as the almost daily thunderstorms we had been receiving all summer. I was dreaming epic dreams and nurturing those dreams with poetry, music and meditation.

But then the storms stopped. And the dreams stopped. Recently, sleep itself has been hard to come by. And all that had been flowing, gushing, even, so wonderfully, began to hesitate. The flow would start and stop, then slow to a pathetic trickle. This sudden turn of events made me question myself, my relationships, my worth.

Simultaneously, my calendar filled up with work, school and social dates. House guests. Long trips. Non-negotiable obligations. Birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, shows, parties, special requests, urgent work projects, overtime. Don't get me wrong -- a lot of this was fun, and maybe in any other month I'd handle it better.

But unlike my friends and acquaintances, whose classic Lammas experiences 'dismembered' them dramatically, in the space of a day or two or three, mine dragged out (and still drags out) in fits and spasms. While my buddies got the experience equivalent to a bug whose sadistic 10-year-old captor blows them up in a microwave, I got the kid who puts the bug in a jar and comes along to scorch it with a magnifying glass every hour or so.

You see, right after the dream drought and the flooded datebook came all the subtle little niggling stuff: A misunderstanding and snarkiness with an online classmate whom I respect; long dry spells in communication with a new close friend, leading me to worry rather obsessively that I'd said something to make him take back his love; poorly interpreted communications and defensiveness between me and various authority figures; my usually dead-on Tarot spreads that seemed to go nowhere; even a clumsy little tango with some Traditional Chinese Medicine snobs.

Here's an example of this sort of star-crossed communication that's been par for the course this month -- one that's somewhat funny enough to recount without making me feel like crap:

One morning weeding with Ima in her Saturn garden went thus:

Me: "....And what's this purple plant here?"

She: "Coltsfoot."

Me: "Really? This purple one here?"

She: "Yes, it's Tussilago."

Me: "But how'd it --"

She: "Tussilago farfara."

Me: "But I've never --"

She: "Coltsfoot."

Me: "But --"

She, with the conviction of a thousand TV evangelists: "IT'S COLTSFOOT."

Oh -- here's another one that happened on Lammas itself. Enter Ima, arms full of altar materials she's just carried back from halfway across the farm:

She: "OK, I brought all the altar tools. Let's set it up."

Me: "Do you mind if we use my tools? I brought my kit."

She: "Well, where is it?"

Me: "In the car."

She (eyeing the car some yards away): "Nah, these'll be fine."

Me: "But... don't you want to use altar implements that... match?"

(A dark look flickers across Ima's normally placid face.)

She: "Sure." (Walks off to mercilessly weed some poor shade bed with unusual vigor.)

Me, to Jeff: "Wow, did I come off as snotty just then?"

Jeff: "A little."

John

"I'd Like to Try to Solve the Puzzle, Pat!"

So The Wheel of Fortune, ruled by Jupiter, is about coming to a place of abundance, expansion and movement. (Yes, you TCM nerds, just like the Wood element, which is all about the Liver's smooth spreading and flowing of Qi and Blood -- herbs for which, in the Western Culpeperian tradition, would indeed by ruled by Jupiter.) The idea of course is that you have to be able to either rise above the wheel and stay on top of it or get to its axis and be the still point around which it turns. That way, you don't get dragged up and down (through the mud!) with the wheel every time it completes a revolution.

Ups and downs. Fits and starts. Spreading and flowing. Certainly if I could just get to the center of this wheel I'd be able to look ahead and see where the hell I'm going.

See that guy up there? Doesn't he look just like Jupiter/Zeus incarnate? That's my friend John, Ima's brawnier half. (And there's Alan in the back, Hi Alan.)The picture was taken a couple of days ago at Ima's birthday dinner (her birthday is today in fact). John does indeed carry a lot of Jovial energy. Which brings me to our conversation that evening.

My husband Lugh was telling the story of how he made the decision to leave a well-paying job in marketing to become a full-time musician, about 15 years ago. He was driving along a country road when a red-tailed hawk slowly descended in front of his windshield and kept speed with the car. In its talons was some poor little rodent. Lugh and the hawk kept speed with each other for a time, and suddenly the hawk released its prey (which bounced unceremoniously off the window) and flew up and away. Lugh interpreted this to mean that he had to give up that which gave him sustenance to fly higher and follow his bliss.

Lugh: "So, basically, I made a life-altering career change because of a bird."

Me: "Wow. I wish I could get a sign like that. Struck by lightning. Thrown off my horse, that sort of thing."

John: "Really? I get those sorts of signs all the time."

Me: "I'd like to have the Universe slap me upside the head sometime. Pow!"

John: "Maybe you just have to pay closer attention."

Pfft. Closer attention? Me, to whom the Universe lately sends empty envelopes with no return address? Tattered paperbacks with no inscription? Strange unmarked packages of, like, Tupperware lids but no Tupperware?

But then, it's the same Universe who sends me grand messages via clouds and flowers. And dead rock stars! (For the past two weeks, a heavy dose of Dr. Winston O'Boogie.)

And, before they stopped, the dreams I had were more than dreams, they were travels across time and space. My problem is I was looking for more validation than just my own.

Maybe John's right. The subtler the messages get, the closer attention you have to pay, and because the signs are so personal, you have to have the courage to affirm them regardless of what anyone else thinks.

It's a tricky situation, not one for the faint of heart. People might think you're cuh-ray-zee.

So, dear late Lammas, you who slay on your own time and at your own pace, have it your way. I'm gonna stop tugging on my end. I'm getting off this Wheel; if you want me, I'll be sleeping in the back of the carriage.

Thou shalt know
Self-chosen are the woes that fall on us.
How wretched! For we see not good so near,
Nor hearken to its voice –
Few only know the Pathway of Deliverance from Ill
For Fate doth blind us all,
Who up and down,
With countless woes are carried by her wheel,
And bitter inborn strife companions us
And does us secret harm.
Provoke it not, O Humans!
But only yield, and in yielding find escape.

--- From The Golden Verses of Pythagoras


Lammas, Not "Lame-Ass"

Wickerkids
Hey, you kids get away from the wicker man! Young 'uns at Lammas 2008 on Ima's farm.

Last year at Lammas-tide, my friend Jeff turned to me as we wrapped up a weekend of group ritual, and said:

"This was a really good, satisfying Lammas celebration. Lammas with my old group was always so blah. We actually used to call it 'Lame-ass.'"

"Lame-ass"? Good lord.

Perhaps if we'd stuck to calling it by its original name, "Lughnasadh," we wouldn't run into that kind of thing.

I must confess, however, that I can see why so many people have a hard time getting into this festival the same way they would Samhain or Beltaine or either of the solstices. Lammas is even tougher to stomach than the existential questions of Summer Solstice, in some ways.

Why? Because Lammas is about sacrifice, gratitude hand-in-hand with letting go, continuing hard work, and death – and just to make the experience extra profound, you have to deal with all of these in stifling heat.

In my experience, if you approach these concepts with thoughtfulness and respect, your Lammas should be anything but lame… ass.

Sacrifice and Gratitude

Lammas may be the first harvest festival, but it has a distinct flavor of sacrifice. Needless to say, the idea of 'sacrifice' doesn't make you feel like kicking up your heels much. Indeed, Lammas is when we acknowledge the death of the god of vegetation and begin to experience noticeably shorter days.

This is a key point about Lammas: gracious sacrifice – that is, worthy sacrifice, sacrifice fueled by true gratitude – is a necessary component to our connection to the divine and our acknowledgement that we are co-creators with it.

Sacrifice, being a kind of change, is necessarily a kind of death. In short, you have to let something die away from the experience you're used to, or have even become attached to; – you have to offer it up – to show gratitude. This action makes room for more growth and honors the best of what you have reaped from this season.

The old Lammas/Lughnasadh rites put it most clearly: at harvest, the grain must die so that we can live. We cut it down, killing it, so that it may transform into bread for sustenance. Think of it as "You can't have your harvest and eat it too!" It is also at this time that you begin to save seeds of your best and strongest crops so that you can plant more of the same next spring when the cycle begins anew.

(For the sake of clarity and continuity, I should interject here that Lammas focuses more on the sacrifice; transformation is generally the domain of the next festival, Autumn Equinox.)

So once again, a review of the year is in order: Of the goals you set for yourself this year, what is finally yielding fruit? What are the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

For example, this year I set goals to lay a strong foundation for my future career in herbalism. Opportunities to do this presented themselves and I jumped at them, paving the way for countless blessings, love and friendship. I honor these by being faithful to my goals, and by reaping my blessings gratefully. However, I realize that if I become too attached to things as they are, I crowd them with my ego and insecurities, and force them to stop changing and evolving.

So I choose to take from this experience lessons for the future and, while I cherish my successes, I remain detached enough to let them die and change into something new and just as wonderful. I offer it up for sacrifice, for eventual transformation.

Already several times this year my attachment has been tested when some of my most cherished blessings have seemed to withdraw. Lammas brings this into focus and perspective. It is no mean feat to feel truly joyful and grateful as something you love moves off into the distance. But to let go of something begrudgingly is, as my Ima says, to "poison the gift."

To poison the gift makes a lousy sacrifice. And to perform a lousy sacrifice means to risk restricted blessings in the future.

And remember: the work is not yet over! This is only the beginning of the harvest. It may technically be the beginning of Autumn now, but Summer takes a long time to come to a full stop.

In honor of your accomplishments, don't let your pride and attachment to them allow them to wither on the vine. What a cruel (and frankly wasteful) fate! Instead, respectfully harvest them, save some seeds, and transform them to be of use in the coming winter months. Most importantly, give a little back to Nature, Spirit, the Divine – whatever you want to call it – in gratitude. Sacrifice makes room for more growth and more blessings. Lammas gives us the perfect opportunity to make space in our lives to grow the dreams and blessings of the dark of the year.

Oh yes, one more thing:

Llamas_by_ann_torrence

Original photo from photographer Ann Torrence's very cool blog!