Camphor, Sun, and Tattered Wings

I usually get an hour for my lunch break. There are a million ways to spend an hour, and today I wandered down to the bay front, leisurely, taking my time. It’s hot out, but not too hot. Just enough to feel sweat down your back but not at your brow.

I approached the camphor tree, the old matriarch of the campus, singing songs I’d not sung since I took voice lessons. The vocal chords don’t stretch quiet as far as they used to. It was no matter, though, as I clambered up the smooth-barked tree to perch a bit. The gulls fleshed out my songs. The air was still, when a movement caught my eye.

Fluttering, drifting, a brown-black butterfly picked its way through the air to dance about the boughs of the camphor tree. I held out my hand, and though it floated close, it never landed on me. A band of hazy blue dusted the lower part of its wings, visible only up close, and yellow driplets spattered its wings like speckles of light. My gaze couldn’t be torn from it, until… I looked up, and the tree was filled with butterflies. Not two or three, but a dozen, maybe twenty pairs of brown-black wings trip-traipsing about, courting the branches. My world was filled with wings.

It was a slow aching thing to climb down the tree to return to work. But even as I walked back, the autumn’s rust colored dragonflies trailed in my wake.

The Queen of Winter and Withered Things

When I lived in Connecticut, I used to pretend the winter of the year before had never ended. I would sit out in the deep drifts of loose powder and mentally stitch the winters together into a coat of ice and solidity. Five a.m. would see me in the frost-bit yard in a haze of my own breath, piling twigs up as a fortress wall by the huge glacial rock out back. I’d come in at noon, chapped and red, hating the heat as it stung my hands back to life. The air was too sharp to take in by the nose, those days outside– you had to gulp it by the mouthful, and even still it cut your lungs.

What happened to that little snow queen? I think she melted away as sunny years slid by. The bite of icy air was replaced by the tangle of mangrove roots in her heart, thick clouds of mosquitoes, and summer rain saunas. She slowed to the alligator’s pace, became a swamp selkie, and forsook the glitter of the first frost. Content to bask in tannin-stained sun-soaked waters, she’s metamorphosed. I wouldn’t know her.

To Seek a Home (Part 3 of 4)

This post comes at a strange time, after a can of worms was reopened in my head by a conversation with a family member– this post wanted to be finished today.

I almost married a rabbi’s son. I almost married a rabbi’s son without converting.

You see, the boy I loved was an atheist. I seem to have this soft spot in my heart for atheists. He was also Jewish. I also have a soft spot in my heart for apparent contradictions, for answers neither yes nor no, and things which are two at once.

I remember the first dinner I had over at his parent’s house. A Friday night, Shabbat dinner. Experience is a layered thing, and this experience was like unto an onion. First, I remember Hebrew blessings and a sense of my being out of place, panicking that I did not yet know what to do with myself. Anthropology has taught me how to observe. I observed, holding still at times, watching, and asking sometimes but mostly watching. Being there. Doing. Candles and the smell of spices. Bickering back and forth through prayers, and fights over non-kosher food the next day. Rebelliousness, peace, whining, compassion, hurt, love. Though I did not know some of the daily patterns and though I did not know the meanings behind the words, there came after a time, visit after visit, when I had a sense of what belonged. A sense that I belonged. I had learned which cabinets kept the meat dishes and which ones kept the milk dishes and I learned when to lend a hand and I learned something there of warmth.

But that first dinner, and its many layers. My fiancé had told his father that I was a Pagan, and the barrage of questions that flew at my head– “So you’re a Pagan… Don’t you think that the whole survival of the fittest and live and let die philosophy is inhumane? How do you justify that and reconcile it with caring about your family?” These are the notions of a social Darwinist, not most Pagans, let alone me. People stand in relationship to one another, accountable, joyful, mournful, human. And so we talked. For hours. About religion and people and human nature. I think my former fiancé became bored. We exchanged books and thoughts. And in leaping that gap of understanding, I finally felt at home. Welcomed. And I thought to myself, “So this is what a family feels like.”

The boy I loved is no longer my fiancé. I have lost touch with his family. I think it would have been awkward had I said “hello” to them, or called once in a while, and I wouldn’t want to do that to the person I had loved so differently then. Even still, I took something away with me, this new thing, this feeling of family. Perhaps I could try out this feeling among my own blood kin. Perhaps I gained something there that my own family had never given me: acceptance of me as myself.

Because Moonstones are a Good Stone for Women

Paganism interests me on many levels. A mystiskeptic, poet, and wayward academic (oh, but to go to grad school!), the first thing I note is the symbolism in Pagan ritual. It’s a language itself, you see. Words are symbols, as most who study the humanities and social sciences are aware, having had this notion beaten into their skulls with thick heavy tomes until even the lumps are gone and the idea is one with the bone plates of the cranium. Like words, nothing in a Pagan ritual setting stands for itself alone. The metal silver is linked to the idea of water (which stands in for the concepts of emotion and intuition) and the moon (which means hidden things, intuition, and healing). Other objects with this item can temper or change or specify meanings: a pearl or a moonstone or a black ribbon can alter the notions bound up in “silver” as elegantly as any adjective can modify a noun. A ritual can read like a poem. The objects of ritual are phrases, sentences, clauses.

This is why it pleases me so, mystiskeptic, poet, and wayward academic, to fashion ritual implements. I’ve taken to shaping wands on the lathe, carefully selecting wooden words to sand down and show off the grain. I’ve taken to carefully searching out stones, like verbs, to affix to my creations. I’ve taken to embellishing them with metal and leather, prepositional pieces incidental to the whole, yet providing for naught but clarity.

Now, one has to get components for a wand somewhere. Unlike a spoken sentence, these pieces of meaning are not formed of breath. I went to purchase stones for my wand-making at a New Age-y shop down south of downtown. I was looking for moonstone to go with the melaleuca and the silver (melaleuca is part of the myrtle family, myrtles sacred to Aphrodite even as melaleucas are invasive trees in Florida, native instead to Australia; a sentence naming the moon, vanity, the ocean, love, and perhaps reconciliation from the heart), and as I was combing through the trays of stones for purchase, a sales person walked up behind me.

“Can I help you with anything?”

“I was looking for some moonstone for a wand,” I indicated that I had already discovered the location of the mineral in question.

“You know, moonstone is a very good stone for women.”

A good stone for women? Women? Only women? What of my wand?

The stone, in a ritual, can mean any of the following: the moon, one’s intuition, healing, love, a trained and focused psychic ability, any other personal meaning that one attaches to it in one’s own complex system of signs and symbols… and it’s a good stone for women? If I attribute to moonstone the idea of lies and deception because it represents the moon, and because the tarot card The Moon is said by some to hold the meaning “secret hidden things,” then it is a good stone for women? Only women are associated with healing and love and intuition, thus it is a good stone for women? The moon is associated with a goddess, and goddesses are female, so it is a good stone for women?

Or is it, perhaps, that this sales person didn’t know a thing about the art of putting a sentence together? I suspect it was this last.

Blood and Innocence

I had made a resolution to myself to update daily during the work week, but a concussion yesterday and a busy Tuesday prevented me from fulfilling this self-imposed obligation. Also, the four-part musing I had intended on religion is a heavier topic in my head than I had anticipated. I will continue this train of thought, but only once it’s ready to be continued.

Instead, a great number of things have been swirling about in the dusty cavity upstairs. Perhaps the concussion stirred up some old and familiar ideas. Perhaps my insomnia jangled them loose. I was musing late last night about the nature of this funny word, “innocence.”

Well, what does it mean, this word? The Oxford English Dictionary clamours for a say: “Freedom from sin, guilt, or moral wrong in general; the state of being untainted with, or unacquainted with, evil; moral purity.” Sin. Evil. Moral purity. Heavy heavy words, laced with religiosity and judgement, ambiguous to the core. But innocence is more than this, says the OED: “Freedom from cunning or artifice; guilelessness, artlessness, simplicity; hence, want of knowledge or sense, ignorance, silliness.” The OED also offers: “Of things: Harmlessness, innocuousness.”

Perhaps these last two definitions are the most telling. An innocent is easy to control. It seems to me that that is why innocence is so valued in children and in women. Innocence is virtuous. Innocence is ignorance. Innocence as defined here is dangerous, not innocuous.

Perhaps it is time for a new definition of innocence, then. What quality is to be preserved in children, in all people? I have only a personal answer: for me, it is a sense of wonder. Innocence, as I have understood it, is not a lack of sin or a lack of knowing pain or evil, but a sense of wonderment despite it. It’s the ability to be amazed– at science, a waterfall, human tenderness, the structure of a flower, the pleasure of sex, the sunshine, the moonlight, a fairytale, or even tenuous evidence of house brownies (curdled milk and orderly shoes are enough to satisfy this). To live with wonderment intact is the only true innocence that I’ve ever known, and every time I hear a child learn something and say “Wow…,” every time I see my friends volunteer to help at soup kitchens or battered women’s shelters, every time I see my sister smile despite all she’s been through, I know that innocence has nothing to do with the line between sin and salvation.