Seems like all I really was doing was waiting for love

Bulkherbs2 I'm sitting on the floor in San Jose Airport, having just finished a week at my school's annual herbal seminar. This was my third and final one, and it was a stressful week of monitored herbal clinic and the usual group dynamics psychodrama exacerbated by the pressure to perform. Gratefully, I had friends around me to whom I could show my own weaknesses and for whom I hope I provided support in kind.

On the way to the airport I began a sort of free-association whine with my long-suffering buddy Pam about all my going-away angst -- a feeling of incompleteness, naive expectations that weren't met, my own foolish illusions, what in the world the future might hold, anticipating missing my friends, and wondering if I'd ever be back to this beautiful place.

"You're saying pretty much all the same things you said when we left for the airport last year," Pam pointed out. "You're pretty much in exactly the same place."

Oh fer Christ's sake. Let's hear it for progress!

I'm still processing a lot about this week, which in effect was the culmination of about three years of study at East West. But I do want to share with you the following, which is an e-mail I sent my fellow herbalist friend Tom about what happened the day I landed in California. I think it sums up the whole experience.


Hey love --

Got in this afternoon and met up with my girls. We were waiting for the last of our party and decided to go into Santa Cruz to hang out. My friend Pam had a stuffy head and lingering cough from a bug she got three weeks ago. I said "Maybe you need some Minor Bupleurum" and we thought we could stop in at Michael's clinic to buy a bottle.

I called him to alert him we might come in. He told us to come on by and sit in on him doing an intake. A chance to watch the master in action -- Hurrah!

But then his 3 p.m. canceled. So he decided to make my friend the intake and I became the student clinician. "Fine, I can handle this," I thought, mostly because I had no choice.

So he did the intake and asked a few questions, then did some acupuncture on her. How awesome it was for me to know some of the points by heart! (They were easy ones though.)

Then he had to do a phone intake and left me to come up with assessment and treatment principle.

I was a mess at first but finally came up with Six Gentlemen plus magnolia bud, platycodon and some damp-draining herbs. Pam gave fine suggestions from the slab, stuck with needles as she was and without the benefit of a book to boot -- sign of a fine herbalist.

Michael came back in after 30 min or so and asked what my result was. I started to report my assessment: "Lung Qi deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency with damp, corroborated by pulse and tongue..."...

He said, "No, you have to state your assessment in terms of her complaints, not what you THINK her TCM assessment is. It has to be 'sinus congestion due to...' or 'rundown energy due to...' etc." OK, so I tried again. He asked why I chose these patterns. I began to explain my proposed etiology, knowing her previous history of illness.

He interrupted me again and said, "Did you look in the books?" I said "Yes, but they didn't have the same patterns so I went on my own." Again I began to tell him my ideas about how she came to manifest these symptoms while he looked in the books under related patterns, which turned up the EXACT SAME ASSESSMENT as my original one.

"Lung Qi deficiency, Spleen Qi deficiency --" he began.

So I looked up at him and I said impatiently, "But Michael, I just SAID that!"

And his face fell and he said "I'm just trying to show you how to use the books; you'll need them one day, you know."

Extractpowders Not wanting to waste any more time on my impertinence, he asked me my proposed formula and I told him... he said it was perfect and what he really wanted to hear was that I'd choose to use magnolia bud in there somewhere. He un-stuck Pam and sent us off to the pharmacy to mix up powder.

My tail was between my legs as I slunk out of the treatment room.

After he finished with his next client he came out to the waiting room where we were gathered to say thank you and goodbye. He saw the pained look on my face and said:

"You did a great job. You're ready. But stop being so defensive. You don't have to be right all the time. It stands in the way of your learning.
You are a student now and you should enjoy this time of your life."

Sound familiar, Tom?



Fast forward 10 days later to today.

Feeling sad and disconnected (as well as empowered, oddly) when I got to the airport, I realized that I'd left my still-hot cappuccino at the curbside check-in when I was already halfway through the TSA line. Geez -- what else could go wrong? I threw my head back and looked at the ceiling in exasperation when some very comforting recognizable muzak came on. Huh.

A few minutes later at the newsagents I looked for the mindless comfort of non-herbal, non-medical tabloid dreck. Lugging my carry-ons, I ambled slowly to the right, scanning all the celebrity 'news' headlines I'd missed in my week of media deprivation. Then came summer hemlines, outdoor entertaining, Bob Dylan on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Before I knew it I was at paperbacks and a hefty tome jumped out at me: "The Rainbow" by D.H. Lawrence -- one of my favorite books in college and one whose passages I remembered spontaneously when I met Michael Tierra and was reminded of why I'm on this path at all.

I bought "The Rainbow." I'm going to re-read it. It's my second copy, about half the size and a quarter of the weight of the copy I bought in college almost 15 years ago. I don't think it's any accident that the Universe sends you your favorite music and literature in swift succession just when you're feeling disappointed and free-falling in a small California airport.

No need to be afraid, Ursula Brangwen. It's real love. It's real.             

How many goddesses can you find in this post?

Last night in Experiential Anatomy class, a friend I hadn't seen in years said she enjoyed my blog.

Between two schools, two nights of classes per week and two jobs, I'd almost forgotten I had a blog! So here are some short(ish) updates:

Full Circle

The friend I mention above, Beatrice, was there from the moment I set foot on this path of studying herbalism. We spent many hours in class together, camping, driving, talking, eating in those days, and she showed me much generosity, both material and intellectual.

I can still remember one night when we sat in her van outside my apartment after school one day. I was trying to figure out where I was going with my future career, hopefully, in herbalism. I said, "I want to do something in herbalism that no one's ever done before! I don't know what it is, but it has to be different."

Beatrice sighed. "Oh, that's just your ego talking. When you get older you won't be so motivated by that."

I tell you, that moment has stuck with me all these years. Any time I feel the urge to be 'different' coming from some superficial ego place, I hear those words. It's made me a better student, a better herbalist, and hopefully, a better teacher in those rare instances when I might have some wisdom to impart to others.

She finished her course of study at our school before me, and went on to develop her career. When my school decided to offer an Asian bodywork program, she decided to go for it and expand her already formidable healing toolbox. How poetic it is now that she should return just as my long butt-in-seat academic journey nears its end. It seems a very auspicious omen indeed.

Hawaii and the 'goddess'

Lugh and I went on our (so far) annual trip to Hawaii last month. It was an odd sojourn, partly because it was so uncharacteristically cold (low 70s) on Oahu. Sweater weather, really, especially at night. I'd known this was going to be a working trip before going, and that I'd likely be stuck in the hotel most of the time, but I'd have appreciated at least the option of going out and snorkeling!

The one day we really had a chance to get any swimming in, it was still cool and windy. The waves at Waimanalo beach were wild. After eating pineapple and watermelon on the sand with my friends, I stripped down to my swimsuit and made my gradual entry into the water. My friend WaiWai appeared at my side.

We talked for awhile as we watched the waves trounce other swimmers. I'm no swimmer; she, on the other hand, was on the swim team in school. We are both Aquarians -- the air sign that carries the water of enlightenment. "That's the thing," I said. "We want to be able to carry the water and control how it flows. But we aren't comfortable being swept away by it." Of course in this sense I meant water in its broader aspect as the symbol for those often uncontrollable tides of emotion and dream. I think WaiWai agreed.

She taught me to dive under the large waves that day, flattening myself to the sand as the wave rolled over me. A useful tool indeed, in and out of the water.

We also talked about the old Hawaiian man who gave her her Hawaiian name. She told me he used to rub aloe on her shoulders, telling her how good it was for her skin. I asked if perhaps he didn't also just want to touch her. She said it wasn't unlikely.

"You know what the Sanskrit is for aloe, don't you?" I asked her. She didn't. "It's kumari," I said. "Kumari means 'goddess.'" It gave a new angle to her experience. "I have a big aloe in a pot on my doorstep," she said. "Maybe you are getting this piece of information about aloe so you can connect with it and the divine feminine more," I offered.

I may have been only half right.

That evening we were scheduled to go to a concert. It had been an overcast day at the beach and I was slathered with 70-SPF sunscreen. But after a few hours of resting in my hotel room, I started to get an itchy heat rash (along with a runny nose, headache and sore throat... Wind Damp invasion alternating between Hot and Cold). I asked WaiWai to bring me a few stalks of the 'goddess' when she picked me up for the concert. I put them in the mini-fridge and we departed for the show. Returning late from the concert feeling awful and exhausted, I went straight to bed.

The next morning I slit one cool aloe stalk down the middle, giving thanks. I told Lugh about my conversation with WaiWai as he drew the demulcent side of the plant over my shoulder, back, chest and face. It seemed a holy experience somehow.

"Wow, I wish you could see this," he said, as he smoothed the plant over my back. "The red bumps are going down instantly!" I'm convinced now that the best way to use the 'goddess' plant is to have it applied by a man who thinks you are a goddess, as well!

All Work and No Play Make Herbis Orbis a Very Dull (insert Homer Simpson drooling sound here)

I'm finished with the tedium and rigors of (acupressure) point location class, but that has been replaced by the aforementioned anatomy class. Which, so far, isn't anywhere near as maddening, though the tests are still challenging. This is joined by a shiatsu class and weekly 'client' intakes.

Meanwhile, I've got my big East West seminar experience coming up in a few short weeks, for which I am woefully unprepared. Basically we'll have three days of monitored clinic 'testing' where we interview, assess and formulate herbal preparations for various patients. Having fallen behind on other deadlines for work for the school, I will not be able to cram much studying in before I find myself amidst the California redwoods once more, feeling I don't know my own butt from a hole in the ground.

"But haven't you been working in clinic for the past several months?" you may ask. Well, yes, but not with Chinese herbs or patents, which I'll need to know. Suffice it to say, I'm going to rely on the books I'll bring and hope for a talented clinic partner.

And if I don't 'pass' -- well, there's always next year.

Or clown school.

Circling Beltaine

Unbelievably, I'm staring right into the wild eyes of Mayday again, which this year I will spend with my group here in the Midwest. Sometimes I wonder if anything could top the gentle magic of my Beltaine spent last year in the redwood forest, but I have no doubt it will be wonderful in its own way. It always is.

Beltaine is that incredible time of wild blooming desire -- desire on all levels. As I approach May in a much more subdued, introspective way this year, I wonder if I am just so full of desires for all aspects of my life that I'm having trouble focusing; or if the flowers and fruits of last year's desires have depleted and exhausted me so much that I need to lie fallow for a year.

We shall see what blessings the season brings. I submit to the tide, but I acknowledge that this time around, I am not bending to the wild hunt; I am Persephone emerging from my mysterious, dark time with Hades, rushing reborn into the strong, garlanded arms of a goddess who loves me even so.

Dear God: Thank You


Today I came home to a brand new country with Barack Obama as our Commander in Chief.

I stayed up late to watch the returns last night from Cabra Castle in County Cavan, Ireland. It took a lot of self-control not to holler with joy when Obama was declared the victor -- this would have awoken the entire castle compound, nestled in a remote country area. It seems it has taken all of history to make this one wonderful moment and to produce this remarkable man. It's just the beginning, but I think it's been worth the wait. Everyone we talked to in Ireland supported Obama.

Above is a photo I snapped this afternoon at a newsagents in Dublin's airport, catching by wonderful coincidence this beautiful Irish little boy playing peek-a-boo with me.

Samhain 2008: Calling All Souls


I have spent this Samhain and the days leading up to it in Ireland, the place from whose pre-Christian traditions we take our Wheel of the Year. As I type I am riding on a coach out of Killarney to Galway (crossing the River Feale just out of County Kerry into County Limerick, to be exact).

I have a fairly good idea of what my magickal group were doing yesterday for Samhain -- a mystery play commemorating the goddess Inanna's journey to visit her dark sister Ereshkigal. stripped of her seven 'me' (hilariously called 'doodads' by Ima in her fantastic Tuesday night lecture) as she moved closer and closer to the heart of the Underworld.

Like Lammas and Autumn Equinox, the two preceding festivals on the Wheel of the Year, Samhain continues the theme of death and going downward. That is, the death of ego as well as death of body, and also the movement downward into the dark of the year, into the time of dreaming. It is generally acknowledged that this is a time of year when the 'veils between the worlds' are thinnest.

Which worlds are these? In the case of Samhain, they are the Middle World -- the world of action and mundane human existence; and the Underworld, of course -- the realm of the dead, darkness, and water and earth, elementally speaking. (Note, at Beltaine, which is opposite Samhain on the Wheel of the Year calendar, the veils are thinnest between the Middle World and the Upper World, the realm of light and air, along with its elementals and spirits, particularly what we call in Ireland the sidhe -- fair folk).

Certainly traveling through Ireland's unseasonably cold and bleak landscape -- but still green and dotted with yellow blooming gorse, fuschia, wild rose, yarrow, prehistoric stone ring forts and beehive homes, and of course, sheep -- sets an enchanting and somewhat somber atmosphere for Samhain. A fair number of trees have already lost their leaves, exposing cores wound round with ivy, and many of those deciduous trees still bearing leaves look aflame against the purple-grey clouds.

The serene but subdued scenery stands in contrast to Ireland's history; much more so than the last time I was here I have heard about the sorrows of this land, most tragic of which are of course the famine, civic unrest and oppression by the British, a sorrow that I imagine is passed on even in cellular memory from generation to generation. The sense of loss and longing is echoed through the stories of many of our tour, more than a few of whom have experienced personal tragedies and recent deaths of family members and friends.

SoulcandlesOne of the things we usually do on Samhain is to honor the dead and our ancestors. Specifically, we speak their names, in the belief that because the Wheel of the Year has brought us down into the darkness and closest to the Underworld, they can hear us, and through our spoken memory, live on.

This is only my second time to Ireland, and I don't know most of the people on this tour, brought together by my husband's music. I had planned to arrange for at least a private ritual recognition of Samhain, such an important cross-quarter point on the calendar. But one has to be sensitive about how far strangers (or friends) are willing to move outside their comfort zone.

For example, last night I was talking to a friend about Samhain and how I wished we could come together as a group to somehow acknowledge it and speak the names of our dead in this beautiful land. Not a full-blown 'ritual' by any standards, but something more formal than over a plate of fish and chips. To my surprise, this person said she didn't feel the need to do much ritual with others anymore because it had already been integrated as a part of her everyday private life. She follows an eastern path and meditates everyday. I realized that if I had been asked the same question a few years back I probably would have answered the same way.

This discussion made me consider the need for such things -- for ritual in general but for community ritual in particular. I like to think that like my friend, most of my mundane life is actually a protracted ritual, or perhaps strung together with moments of ritual and recognition of the divine throughout the day. Some might call this prayer, and that would be pretty accurate I think.

But I think that it is not always enough. Certainly for those who do not make time to create sacred space throughout the day or week or month, a gathering less formal than, say, church, could alter their view in a healing and organic way, and bring them more in tune with the natural rhythms of the year and our human life. Setting and time have everything to do with this. Recently I heard a Catholic bishop say that love and spirituality work best if they are organized, and at some level this resonates with my line of thinking.

Community ritual, even if it is as small as just two people -- gives those participants a chance to bear witness, which goes a long way toward validation of self and other. It is an opportunity for reflection as well as integration. It is a chance to bond in a uniquely human way, at the soul level.

In the case of Samhain, to share the names and stories of our deceased loved ones in community momentarily (or perhaps more than momentarily, who knows?) expands the memory of the past, strengthens our connections to it.

"Yes, I share your memory," we say.

"Yes, I share your sense of loss," we say.

"Together we help each other to see the faces of those who have left us."

And maybe above all, we say and hear, "Yes, a part of us went down with them for a time into the Underworld, an experience that has left us forever changed."

A blessed Samhain to all souls out there, above and below.

Back from Hawaii: A 40-degree difference


Just returned from a wonderful half work, half pleasure vacation in Honolulu, where I found my island ohana (family), a group of musicians and artists -- seekers all. Above is a picture of albizzia, also known as mimosa, or "the happiness tree." They bloomed under our hotel's lanai balcony toward the end of our trip. It was my first time meeting this fantastic plant, which treats depression and anxiety. Back with a full travel report and photos as soon as I recover from mild jetlag!

Elemental Divination in Glastonbury

A view of Glastonbury and Chalice Hill from atop the Tor.

It's been a too-long break here on Herbis Orbis. I have wanted so much to write, but have not had the time! I had a dream last night about my Granddad in Glastonbury, and knew that today was the day I would reflect upon my trip.
We arrived in England after an uneventful yet thoroughly pleasant flight (always the case with British Airways) and took a coach to Bristol. When we got there, what started out as a cool mist had turned into cold rain. After a mix-up with the local buses, I called Grandmum to let her know we weren't too far off. "Well welcome to this lovely English weather!" she exclaimed. She'd let us know in the weeks leading up to our arrival that the weather was quite nice, and she'd hoped it would last.
We pulled in front of the Town Hall perhaps at hour late. Lugh rang the house again, and Granddad let us know that Grandmum had just started down the hill. Soon we would be saved from the cold, dark and wet.
When we arrived at Grandmum and Granddad's place, it seemed as though we'd only just seen them a few weeks ago instead of in May of 2006. Zoe, their sweet chocolate lab, was there to greet us. We sat down to the usual cocktail hour with our wonderful hosts; out came the little glasses of sherry and a fancy tray of crisps. (I want to add here that the Brits do crisps -- that is, chips, to us Yanks -- so much better. Especially these, which were a delectable new discovery.) There hardly seemed to be any catching up to do... We just sat down as though we had never left. Granddad was in good shape -- I suppose he wouldn't mind me saying so, considering he is 92, and Grandmum spritely yet soft as ever.  Zoe... well, Zoe'd put on a few pounds. She'd become even more Granddad's girl than I thought she would when I first met her as a pup seven years ago. He fed her crisps when Grandmum wasn't looking.
They told us that a friend of theirs had just written a book on Frederick Bligh Bond, the architect and archeologist who excavated the Abbey ruins using occult methods such as automatic writing and seance. They were surprised that I knew who Bligh Bond was. We got a bit of neighborhood gossip regarding the book's release, as well as some trivia on Bond. This was the first of what turned out to be a rather Bligh Bond-themed journey.
We left our hosts -- I call them our hosts, but really, they are family -- for a pub meal at the Mitre and a look at the town center in the wet November darkness. I felt the first cold I was to feel that would largely define the trip as very, very different from my usual sojourns here in springtime. The cold was just a disguise though, for a thoroughly different Glastonbury.
The lion's head spigot at Chalice Well.

Water: The Chalice Well
The only thing we promised to bring home from this trip (and frankly, the only thing we could afford to bring home, considering the weakness of the US dollar at the moment), was water from the Chalice Well. We wanted to be sure we didn't forget and find ourselves running about frantically on the last day, so we decided to make it our first destination on our first morning in town.
A bit jet-lagged, I remember I got a a little grumpy with Lugh on the way into the Chalice Well Gardens. I can't remember exactly why, but it was probably because he was walking too fast (anyone who knows him will attest that even on pleasure trips he attacks the sidewalks, country lanes, and even rocky precipices like a mountain goat on crack). I walked straight to the Well and sat down. As usual, the keepers of the Garden had adorned the Well with flowers and berries from the gardens, and as always, she (the Well) looked beautiful. I gazed for a long time, going into meditation. Lugh sought out a secluded bench in a nearby stone grotto area. Contrary to my usual shutterbug nature, I brought out my sketchbook and pens, and began to draw the Well before me. It was the perfect meditation and the activity softened my sleep-deprived nerves. During the yang time of the year -- or at least, on all the other trips I have made to Glastonbury, which have been in May and June -- the Chalice Well Gardens have not been my absolute favorite place to visit, even though I have had at least one very powerful experience here -- one which ultimately drew me to my teacher and mentor, Ima. But on this day I listened to the water running deep inside the Well, and looked at her, really studied her for the first time, as I worked in my sketchbook. I wondered if initiations really were carried out deep inside the Well's five-sided cavern, but this thought only lasted fleetingly. I was in a receptive mood.
By the time I had completed my drawing, I had an idea. Lugh and I would pull a tarot card at each of the main sacred sites around Glastonbury, and these cards would address some aspect of our interior lives. The card each of us drew at the Chalice Well reflected our relationship to the feminine -- home, receptiveness, yin qualities -- and how we should develop this in the coming year. I walked over to where Lugh was meditating and we each drew a card. I pulled the Ten of Cups. Doesn't get much better than that! Also, it was a far cry from what I was feeling when I first entered the gardens, but a better measure of what I wanted and was feeling when I finished meditating at the Well. It was the perfect picture of what I would like to see for the both of us in 2008.

What is left of Glastonbury Abbey's transept.

Earth: The Abbey
Now, the Abbey has always been my favorite place to while away the hours in Glastonbury. It is green, and quiet, and somehow it seems warmer than other outdoor places in the town. I love walking among the ruins of the abbey itself, but to be honest I prefer to just sit on the grass or on the leftover foundations of where the cloisters used to be.  The energy of the place is quite unlike anything I've ever felt before, anywhere. Perhaps it is the imprint of the monks' devotion and prayerful routines that outlasts even the violence done there by Henry VIII and his soldiers.
We took our time walking the already familiar place, always seeing things we hadn't noticed before. The holly trees were all in bright fruit, one of the only reminders of the time of year. We found the words 'JESVS MARIA' engraved on a stone to the right of a door to the Lady Chapel -- an up til then unnoticed detail brought to our attention by Sig Lonegren (more about him later). He believes, as many do here, that the "Maria" here does not mean the Virgin. For the first time, we explored the wildlife area (badgers!) and duck pond, where a two-year-old shoved me out of the way (on an empty bridge, the place she wanted to stand was obviously the spot where I had stopped). We took a few photos and then sat in the Refectory (well, on the grass where it once was) and enjoyed the sun's warm rays.
The card drawn here would represent our relationship to spirituality. For me? Eight of cups. I have been feeling like the figure in that card for quite some time now, about my day job. It served a different me, and I do not feel bitter toward it at all; but it is time to move on, if I can just summon up the courage!
Before leaving, we stopped to look at the gargoyles around the monks' kitchen. I wanted to draw them but it had begun to get dark. We were surprised to see that four hours had passed and it was already time for dinner.

Lugh watching the sunset from Wearyall Hill.
Air: Wearyall Hill
On the night before the full moon, we decided to take a walk up to Wearyall Hill, at the other end of town from where we were staying with Grandmum and Granddad. We went up at about four in the afternoon. The sun was low and casting a golden hue along the crooked spine of the hill and its most famous resident, the Holy Thorn (pictured in the previous post). This hawthorn, fabled to be a descendant of the tree sprung from Joseph of Arimathea's staff, was bedecked as usual in colorful pilgrims' ribbons and other airy offerings, fluttering in the chilly wind. We chose a bench near Wearyall's crest and just sat there in the sunset, watching the endless parade of dogs of all sizes, bounding up the hill ahead of their owners, on their afternoon walk. All except one tiny smoke-grey terrier named Guinness, who was wearing a sweater and walked even behind his master, who continually turned back to encourage him along. I couldn't decide if he looked lost, or bewildered, or annoyed, but certainly he looked cold. I could sympathize; the day before we'd taken a day trip out to Wells and I caught such a penetrating chill in the town's famed cathedral that it took sitting a long time before the Mitre's fireplace to shake it.
Soon a huge, watery moon appeared low above the horizon and we decided to see if we could wait til after dark to see it in all its glory. The temperature was dropping rapidly and it was certainly very windy, as it often is along the ridge of Wearyall Hill. As I mentioned in a previous post, I like to imagine that a heavenly force comes down through the Tor, down its slopes, echoes down the Chalice Well and moves her Gardens, whistles through the ruined Abbey's arches, then, picking up speed, soars off the back of Wearyall, carried on the wind -- or perhaps, carrying the wind. From here we could see the whole town and directly opposite us, the Tor, with the just about full moon rising next to it; behind us was the setting sun; and down either side of the hill endless farmland and the road leading out of Glastonbury toward Bath and Wells.


A view from the crest of Wearyall. See if you can find our shadows!
I thought about Joseph of Arimathea, and decided that the Wearyall card would reflect our journey and ultimate destination -- the place where we would one day arrive, lean wearily but contentedly upon our staff, and say, "Yes. This is definitely it." For my own card, I also intended it to mean what brought me to this place -- Why always Glastonbury? We decided we'd better draw our cards before the light was gone. I drew the Magician. Interesting. Interesting and a bit intimidating!
Starlings flew in staggered groups above our heads once the sun had disappeared.The moon looked huge as it rose and the sky turned purple and mauve around it. Soon it was quite dark and the moon looked about as beautiful as ever. It was a lucky thing we didn't wait another day. This was the only clear night we'd have for the rest of the trip.

Fire: The Tor
The morning of our final full day in Glastonbury, Grandmum told us that she was walking Zoe in the countryside around the Tor and had lost sight of her ("Probably doing her usual thing, eating cow poo," Grandmum said of Zoe, who was dozing away in her bed in the kitchen). Grandmum decided to keep on walking, knowing that the dog would catch up with her once she realized she was gone. Wondering herself where Grandmum had gone, Zoe let out a bark. Grandmum turned to see "a rather miserable-looking bullock" standing not far away. Zoe's bark set off the bull, which went chasing after Zoe, who was running straight for Grandmum. The two of them charging at her, she had to quickly climb over some barbed wire into a neighboring pasture. Zoe got the picture and began to run in another direction to get the bull away from Grandmum. "Zoe saved the day!" I said over my fried eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and sausages, to which Grandmum responded that it was Zoe who started the trouble in the first place. She said she went right to the farmer's house to let him know that he had a disgruntled bull separated from the rest of the herd, being a menace on the public footpaths.
That night, the night after the full moon, I persuaded Lugh to climb the Tor once again by dark (as I did the first time I had brought him to this place, a year and a half ago). As we walked the dark lanes to the Tor, I had completely forgotten Grandmum's story... Until we arrived at the gate and saw the "front yard" of the Tor absolutely covered in cows. Well, that's an exaggeration. I should say it was netted with a loose matrix of bovines. I couldn't tell which of these were bullocks, though. I've walked naively past cows and what turned out to be bullocks in the meadows of Glastonbury before -- an action I never repeated after walking through a pasture of them in Ireland with Lugh and having him tell me to "Go quickly and quietly and don't make eye contact." Lugh, having grown up on a farm, is a person whose opinion I trust when it comes to livestock. He said that sometimes cows get spooked -- or are just plain ornery -- and may charge you.
I stood at the gate and looked at the cows. I could hear some of them breathing in the chilly night air. The moon was invisible, tucked away under clouds. It was very dark. Some rodent was squirming around noisily in the National Trust box. I wondered if there might be these terrifying nocturnal grazing cows all the way up the Tor, as they are known to be (in the daytime, at least).
"I don't think I want to go in there," I told Lugh.
"Why? They're just cows," he said. "They're probably sleeping."
"They're not sleeping, look at them!"
"Cows sleep standing up," Lugh said.
"Yes, that's where the sport of cow tipping comes from."
"Cow tipping? You flip a sleeping standing cow? Where's the sport in that?" I asked.
"It'll be fine," he said. "We won't tip any cows. Come on."
I held my breath as we walked past the scary cows. Once we were on the steps on the steep side of the Tor, all was fine (although in my paranoia I did wonder if a cow might come suddenly over the side of the hill at any moment).
TormoonWe reached the top and found that we had the Tor and its tower all to ourselves. The wind rushed through St. Michael's. We sat on one of the benches inside (there are only two, facing each other), and looked out what was left of a window, high on the wall, which was curiously and very accurately shaped like a monk. You could see his tonsure, his cingulum, and what appeared to be a lamp in his hand, much like the one the Hermit holds.
We sat for awhile. I took off my mittens and pulled out my cards. The tarot keys drawn on the Tor were to respresent our relationship to the masculine -- ambition, drive, force, and what we were to do with these. I drew the Fool. The Fool! Of course! I laughed. I could blindly step off the side of the Tor and take my chances, begin at zero, start over again. Just like the others, it was perfect.
Lugh sang a blessing in the Tower, a blessing and a prayer for Abbot Whiting, the last abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, who was drawn and quartered, and hung on the Tor. A pilgrim appeared in the doorway during the song, then left.
When we exited the tower, we again found ourselves alone on the wind-whipped hill. We started to go down when I decided I couldn't leave. I hadn't done my energy exercises on the Tor this whole trip. Lugh let me have my 20 minutes outside the tower to do my Middle Pillar and send the energy coursing through the other sacred sites.

After that we started down the hill again. We were only a few steps from the top when Lugh noticed that the clouds were beginning to part. We decided to stay put until we saw the moon.
"Ah, there she is," Lugh said after a few minutes. We could see the moon through a few streaks in the clouds. Then, enough of them parted so that we could see her whole face. And that's when something curious happened.
"Look, it's a rabbit!" I said. A hole in the clouds passing across the moon was shaped exactly like a lean, running hare!
"Well I'll be damned. That is a rabbit if ever I saw one!" said Lugh, who usually doesn't go in for my 'visions.' But this one was unmistakable. Ears, legs, tail and all.
We watched the celestial hare drift slowly across the moon, lit from the inside, as if it had swallowed the moon itself.
We discussed the omen's meaning as we descended the Tor. The first thing that came to my mind was fertility. The first that came to Lugh's was courage.
"Courage regarding cows," I joked.
I asked him if courage implied hardship. He didn't think so.

Portrait of Granddad as a schoolboy, probably about 1924.

Spirit: Home
I love Grandmum and Granddad. When I first met them in 2000, I never imagined that we would ever share such a close relationship, and I am so grateful for it now. We were able to enjoy several evenings of cocktails with them. Grandmum made us Thanksgiving dinner on that Thursday -- I think I may forego turkey for duck next year! She is such a great cook. They asked us what Thanksgiving was about. "Is it giving thanks that you were rid of us?" We explained that we do have a holiday for that, but that Thanksgiving commemorated the pilgrims' first harvest feast in what would one day become the United States.  After dinner we teamed up against the two of them for a game of parlor bagatelle, which is sort of the precursor to pinball -- spring loaded plunger, several silver balls, nails and points, but no flippers. We won by a narrow margin, if I remember correctly. We knew the competition was fierce when Granddad, whose medication dulled his digital reflexes, responded to Lugh's cheerleading with "Oh, do shut up."
We were also honored to share traditional English Sunday lunch with them and their friend, W., who was once keeper of the Chalice Well and the opposite of boring. After another of Grandmum's feasts, we left Granddad to a nap and Lugh accompanied all us girls (me, Grandmum, W. and Zoe) on a long walk over the peat marshes in a part of town we would never have otherwise seen. I got a chance to walk and talk one-on-one with W., who shared with me a little bit of her amazing romantic spiritual journey with her late husband, which took her to many places all over the world. She did mention to me that Dion Fortune, with whom I am quite fascinated, did not "do much" for her; she suggested I read Alduous Huxley's "Perennial Philosophy" and go from there. I will, but I know that I still have much to absorb from Ms. Fortune, and that my connection to her is something I will need to understand better in the future.
Away from town and marked a protected place for wildlife, the marshes were very flat and very quiet. A few "travelers" (Americans would call them Gypsies) had set up camp in a few spots. A few signs about the prehistoric life of the area were posted. It was so silent that we could hear the starlings make their sunset flight home over our heads -- a truly remarkable sound, the sound of hundreds of wings beating at once.


The trail through the peat bogs.
It is always bittersweet to say goodbye, especially to Granddad, because I have to admit that I do wonder how long it will be before I return and whether or not he will be there when I get back. He's in very good shape, without a doubt, but... well, I just feel a pain in my heart about him sometimes. When we said good night on our last day we also said goodbye to him; he said to me, "Tomorrow morning if you want to give me another hug I'll be in my bedroom" to which Grandmum said, "There will be none of that!"
As Grandmum put us on the bus before dawn the next morning, she said, "Next time you come I hope there will be three of you." Fertility and courage of the cosmic hare indeed!
Our shadow through one of the Abbey arches.

Glastonbury in the Dark of the Year
I suspected that Glastonbury and its sacred sites would be quite different from the way I experience them in the spring, and I was right. The experience this time around was indeed very inward; and if I were to attempt to put it into words, it would be that at this time of year a pilgrim does not draw energy away from places like the Tor or the Chalice Well, but rather, gives. While the weather was by no means inclement, it was hard to engage with our surroundings the way one does when the sun is out and the breezes are warm. It is no easy thing to just stand at the top of a hill and leisurely take in a view. On this trip I was often so busy pulling my collar up or my hat down or my mittens on while walking that I couldn't appreciate what was going on around me until I reached my destination. The days were short and chilly, but everything was still so green and flowers were blooming all around.
I didn't feel motivated to perform any rituals or visit out of the way places that I normally would. This trip was really more about sitting still.
It was sort of sitting still that allowed us to synchronicitously meet author and lecturer Sig Lonegren. We met the geomancer and dowser at Gigio's, an Italian restaurant in 'downtown' Glastonbury. A resident of Glastonbury for 20 years (I think I have that right!) and a British citizen, Sig is originally from our side of the pond. He overheard our accents and came over to talk to us. We talked about the history of the town, about cosmic "coincidence,"  what Sig calls "daysigns," the darker origins of common nursery rhymes, dowsing, and Druidry. He also told us about the labyrinth he helped to set up in front of St. John's Church on Magdalene Street. After some time Lugh lamented the state of the Abbey and said he wished it could be rebuilt (this was one of those many times on the trip that Bligh Bond and his work came up in conversation). Sig said that he believed the reason nothing could be done, and the reason so many things fail to gel in Glastonbury, is because of the "black magic" that had Abbot Richard Whiting executed on the Tor during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The Abbot's head was placed on a spike at the entrance to the Abbey, and parts of his body were sent to other monasteries in the surrounding lands as a warning.
The Tor had never felt a particularly tranquil place to me, but the story of Abbot Whiting's fate is some bad, bad mojo. Perhaps the monk in the window in St. Michael's Tower is Abbot Whiting, ever watchful over the Tor (and the northwest side of the town). It turns out that he was beatified in 1895 by Pope Leo XIII. Perhaps what we need to lift the curse of any "black magic" is to get him canonized. My guess is that the Cause for Sainthood of Abbot Whiting is not exactly an active one. I would also guess that any type of healing taking place in Glastonbury is more likely to be attributed to some New Age mechanism than the intercession of Blessed Whiting. His feast day is Nov. 15, which is just a few days before we arrived.
Sig gave me a present before he left the restaurant -- a simple metal pendulum. I look forward to working with it! And if I'm good, I'll keep in touch.
You may remember Antony (the Rainbow Man) from my Nov. 19 post. No sign of him, but the day before we left we looked at a shop window display of rich silks, zabutons and more brass singing bowls than you can imagine. At the center was a mannequin wearing Antony's rainbow hat and sweater, complete with matching rainbow scarf and mittens.
All in all, a wonderful, magical journey to Glastonbury as usual -- or unusual, as the case may be. I know now that I will have to see the town during winter and summer as well. In the meantime, it gives me a clear Autumn message (Autumn being the time of letting go):
To find bliss:
Let go; then,
Focus; then,

Return home.

Islands They Were


For now, just a photo from our trip to Glastonbury over the Thanksgiving holiday. This was taken the day before the full moon, from Wearyall Hill. In the foreground you see the holy thorn fabled to have sprung spontaneously from Joseph of Arimathea's staff when he plunged it into the ground upon landing at Wearyall Hill. In the midground we have the town of Glastonbury, a couple of hours or so before dinnertime; in the background, the Tor with its lonely St. Michael's tower, under a newly-risen moon. You can click on the photo for a larger version. More to come.

P.S. This is not the "Brian May-worthy full moon shot" mentioned in my recent Twitter. I'm saving that one for the full report!

Going Home


Here is a picture of Antony, also known as the Rainbow Man, whom I met in Glastonbury, England, in 2000. I saw him (hard to miss, with his ginger hair, giant boots, neon orange poncho and rainbow hat and sweater) as soon as I hopped off the bus in front of the Town Hall on Magdalena Street. The rest of my stay he always seemed to be somewhere nearby. Behind me on the High Street. Across from me on the square. Outside the gates of the Abbey. It was a little creepy, to tell the truth.

So why I decided, when I finally ran into him on my first visit to the Tor one blustery but sunny afternoon, to follow him down the side of the steep terraced hill, out of sight of the tower or either of the paths, is beyond me.

"Can I show you something?" he said.

"What are you going to show me?" I said.

"Have you seen the Egg Stone?"


"Let me show it to you."


My best friend Yaeli gave me a look as the wind whipped her bright red hair around her face. And, hand in hand with Antony, down the side of the Tor I went.

"Ah!" I exclaimed. My free hand was stung by a swipe of nettles.

We came to little sandy nook in the side of the hill from which a holy thorn grew sideways. Under the little tree was a large stone -- shaped like an egg, naturally, as Antony uncryptically described. He explained to me that it was one of the few remaining omphalos stones of the Druids, and had probably rolled down the hill -- or was pushed down by the Christians. We took a few pictures of the stone and each other.

On the way up, my other hand met the little stand of nettles.

Back at the top of the Tor, Antony lay on the ground and I took the photo you see above. He wanted to show off his tattoos. From that position he took a photo of me with St. Michael's Tower behind me.

"What is your astrological sign?" he asked.

"Aquarius," I said. Curiously, I had absolutely no distrust of this man anymore.

"Then this is your place my lady," he said. "The Tor is Aquarius too."

I would find out later that someone arranged Glastonbury on a zodiac chart, with sacred sites representing the twelve signs. It turns out that the Chalice Well and the Abbey, along with the Tor, form the phoenix which makes up the Aquarian sign.

After that afternoon on the Tor, I never saw Antony again -- either on that trip or on subsequent visits. I credit him with a kind of gentle initiation, one that would eventually lead to me 'marrying' the land some years later on a solo journey. I suppose I could have been more like Antony and graced my husband with such a lovely introduction to the magic of Glastonbury on his first visit last year... but a dark initiation fit for the warrior and prince that I believe he truly is seemed much more appropriate. Long before that visit, he saw a picture of Antony and said, "Look at his eyes. He looks like a changeling --- or one of the Tuatha dé Danann."

Perhaps. I can't say I'd be surprised. 

When I stand on the Tor, I look down at the town and feel the energy run through me, whoosh down the side of the hill, into the depths of the Chalice Well and across and through the ruined Abbey arches, before finally rushing off the flat back of Wearyall Hill and over what was once water. It will be wonderful to practice this meditation when I arrive there -- home -- tomorrow.

I can't wait to see my Avalon in its cold, late-Autumn garb. I can't wait to gaze at the full moon from sacred Glastonbury ground.

November is the month of remembrances, and I remember you, Antony.

Ramping up for el Dia de los Muertos


Once again, it's been a rather long break here on Herbis Orbis. I've been AWOL thanks to all my spare moments being devoted to preparations for Lugh's Day of the Dead show this Friday. Altar-building, sugar-skull hunting, beloved volunteer-wrangling and general art production (see this year's poster artwork above; Sharpie on drawing paper!) have all been on my Dia de los Muertos plate. On top of that we have our Mystery School Samhain celebration and ritual tonight, for which Ima asked me to bake saffron- and cinnamon-scented soul cakes and possibly reprise my role as a goddess who somehow gets trapped in the Underworld (last year I was Inanna; this year Persephone). My acting skills are flimsy at best but I go into it with gusto.

Also, I just returned from a brief trip to Columbia, Maryland, where the American Herbalists Guild held their annual symposium.  The content from such famed herbalists as David Winston, Christopher Hobbs, Bob Duggan, Simon Mills, James Duke and Candis Cantin was excellent, and I wished I could have attended all the concurrent sessions. Still, a real feeling of "tribe" eluded me, much unlike the comparatively dreamy -- in a good way -- East West seminar last spring. In an e-mail to my friend Ben, the best way I could find to describe the AHG conference experience was that "I felt like the out-of-town visitor in a Tim Burton comedy set in a Whole Foods."

A highlight of the trip was getting to spend a bewildering and yet totally satisfying less-than-ten-inconsecutive-minutes with my teacher Michael Tierra, who reminded me to go back to the Kybalion and meditate upon the hermetic Principle of Rhythm. In other words, "Stop being so damn sensitive all the time."

When I wasn't sitting in lecture or being bewildered and sensitive, I was in my hotel room with my buddy Christina, eating cold pizza and giggling over bathroom humor... which was really the perfect foil for spending eight hours surrounded by more batik-printed, patchouli-scented, vegan-thin, surprisingly touchy people than you will ever meet in a lifetime in Chicago.

More on Samhain tomorrow!

Home again, home again

Grandmum sent me the following clipping from the Daily Mail to help entice me (as if I needed enticing) to come back to Glastonbury, England for a visit. It’s a photo by John Davies:


My own personal heroine and magical forbear (she’s two generations back in my lineage), Dion Fortune, wrote in her book, “Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart,” about this peculiar and breathtaking phenomenon. I’ll have to give you a quote from Gareth Knight that paraphrases Fortune because I left my copy of her book in my room at Grandmum’s. These words were delivered at a lecture he gave last year in September and come very close to her own:

But there is one time above all others when it is well to ascend the Tor at nightfall, and that is at the full moon of the autumnal equinox, round about the Mass of St Michael . . . The nights are coming cold then, but the days are still warm with the afterglow of summer, and the cold of the darkness, chilling the warm breath of the meadows, causes a thick but shallow mist to form over the levels.

Through this the cattle wade knee-deep as in water, and trees cast shadows in the moonlight, black upon silver. As the night closes in, the mist deepens. Like a rising tide in an estuary it fills the hollows. Trees and barns slowly drown. Only the few scattered knolls like St Bride’s Beckary remain as islands in the white gloom. Gradually they too fade as the mist thickens, and Avalon is an island again.

Local folk call this shallow mist that lies upon the levels the Lake of Wonder. And then perhaps to the eyes of vision may be seen coming slowly, a black barge, rowed by a dumb man, bearing the three weeping queens who bring Arthur, wounded unto death at Lyonesse, that he may heal him of his grievous wound in the green coombs among the apple trees.

When I took Lugh there the May before last, I “initiated” him to the Isle of Avalon, the single place on this planet most dear to my heart, by running him up the Tor after dark on a moonless night. It was our first night there, and after dinner at the Mitre I suggested we ascend the ancient and foreboding hill. A combination of the dark – there are no lights on the Tor or surrounding countryside – jetlag, and fear of the unknown drove my husband up the steps, me leading, assuring him that no-one would jump out of the hedgerows or giant nettle stands. Of course, the shape of the hill is so steep someone could come up the side and you’d never see them coming, foliage or no (this happened to me once a few years ago, while I was sitting in a little tree, and the pilgrim asked me, in all seriousness, if I was a fairy).

We reached the summit and all of a sudden, there was the stark tower of St. Michael, the wind howling through it, dark, empty (thankfully) and cold. We looked upon the dark Mendip hills and the twinkling night lights of several counties. I’d enjoyed the Tor alone before, but never this late at night (and technically I wasn’t alone!). It was exhilarating, and, as this is the last defiant spot claimed by the old, dark gods – a bit scary in the dark.


We walked down the more gently sloping spine of the hill toward Chilkwell Street, through the High Street, then up Bove Town to our warm home. Grandad was leaving the next morning for Malta. He was already in bed by the time we snuck upstairs, but I wanted to be up bright and early to spend as much time with him as possible. Now he is 90, and there is no such thing as too much time. Sometimes he appears in my dreams; this worries him.

I could reminisce for many pages about my trips to Glastonbury. But new memories are soon to be created; we confirmed yesterday with Grandmum that we’ll be back this year in late November, to experience a very different personality of the landscape and all its myth-laden monuments while they darkly charge during the slumbering half of the year. It’s a bit late for the St. Michaelmas renewal of the Lake of Wonder, and too early for the blooming of the holy thorns at Yule, but . . . I’m counting the days till I’m there!