Monday, December 21, 2009

Traditional Yuletide Food and Drink

(Image from

Blessings of the Solstice to you all! I have been somewhat remiss in posting to this blog in recent months and I hope to be back here more often from here on in.

This Yuletide, I've been reading a fascinating book written in 1973 by Tristram Potter Coffin called An Illustrated Book of Christmas Folklore. It's well written and very well researched. It covers the history of the holiday from its humble beginnings (yes it mentions Mithras, the Celts and the ancient Romans!) and looks at many customs and traditions regarding foods, agriculture, greenery and rituals and celebrations.

It's particularly fascinating to read about the customs of decorating with trees and greenery, as holly, ivy and mistletoe all have specific folkore attached to them. Yule was time of welcoming back the sun, of course, but also a time to celebrate life, abundance, and fertility in the dark time of the year. Today's customs of celebratory eating, drinking and gift-giving are based in the countryside traditions of people of all social classes sharing their wealth with servants, peasants and all their neighbors. Hence the many traditional songs wherein people appear to be asking for coins, food or drink, and offering a blessing in return.

Of course, one well-loved dish is the boar's head, prepared in Merrie Olde England in a very labored manner. It even has its own song, sung when the dish is brought to table! When prehistoric wild boars became extinct, the dish started to fall out of favor but is apparently still served at one of Oxford's college every year, complete with ritual procession and singing of "The Boar's Head Carol":

"The Boar's Head in hand bear I,
bedecked with bays and rosemarye!

The Boar's Head as I understand,
is the rarest dish in all the land!"

And so on, with a stentorious chorus in Latin.

Not sure where one would get a boar's head these days, but I recently saw a post on the Garden Rant blog about a New York state pig farmer who raises pigs in a humane and natural way, so that is a good place to start. I am always happy to see farmers raising their meat for slaughter in a humane fashion, and think we should all support them when we can.

I also enjoyed reading about the origins of wassailing, and wrote a post about it last year here. The apple orchards were an important source of food and drink to agrarian cultures in the British Isles and Europe, so it is not surprising they were included in the rituals of blessing at Yuletide.

Apparently there is a real rising interest in this custom today, as seen in this article from The Wild Hunt blog last year, and from the looks of events like this one at an orchard and winery in Wisconsin. Wassailing has a long tradition in England, where it's traditional to do it on Twelfth Night.
(Painting by Henry Justice Ford, "The Sun Hero Guards the Apples of the Sun" from
American pagans seem to enjoy making it part of their Yule traditions. I'd certainly love to see this tradition on the rise in the United States, as more and more people plant backyard orchards and try to support local farms. It seems to me a most pagan custom, and surely one that will insure a fruitful yield, if you believe that talking to plants helps them grow better (and I do).

This chant is sung at the "Wassailing the Apple Trees" event in Carhampton, Somerset:

"Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bloom well
So merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagsful
And a little heap under the stairs,
Hip, Hip, Hooray!"

How could the orchard not be heavy with fragrant, juicy fruit after being thus blessed?
(Painting by William Holman Hunt, "Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides" from

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cider Renaissance in New England

This story on National Public Radio explores the growing and exciting hard cider industry in the New England States. Cider and apple fans in the Northeast have already been able to attend workshops on cider making, cider tastings and dinners featuring hard cider at the annual Cider Days festival in western Massachusetts.

So, is hard cider brewing poised to be the microbrewing of the new millennium? Please let it be so. This blog seems to be forging ahead with plenty of great information and anecdotes. American apple growers, who used to be able to sell their drop apples for cider making, now have to deal with the fact that cheaper Chinese imports are now the main source of cider apples in the United States. So some orchards are feeling the pinch from this lack of livelihood.

Hard ciders are best made from flavorful apples high in acid. These varieties are often unsuitable for fresh eating or baking. The antique varieties have delightful old world names like Ashmead's Kernel, Roxbury Russet (which originated in the Boston area), Muscadet de Dieppe, Newtown Pippin, Sweet Coppin, Harry Masters Jersey, Tremblett Bitter, Kingston Black, Hudson's Golden Gem, Brown Snout, and Foxwhelp. There are a number of tree nurseries that specialize in such antique cider apple varieties, including the Raintree Nursery, Trees of Antiquity, the the Greenmantle Nursery,and Burntridge Nursery.

So get out there and support hard cider brewers! Remember, they keep orchard businesses thriving.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Poem for Samhain

This poem was writen on the plane from Amsterdam to Boston, after a weekend spent in Leiden for a conference. It was a wonderful weekend, with a very small group of scholars (thirty or so) giving talks in one room (on The Erotic in English Poetry), and we even had a terrific evening of poetry and song. Great food, beautiful city, made some new friends and had one of the best Samhains I have ever had, despite not formally celebrating the holiday. The capital city of Holland is both very ancient and very modern: at night, through my window open to the street below, I only heard footsteps, bicycles, occasional hoofbeats and the occasional soft voice or click of a lighter. Very civilized and peaceful. I can't wait to go back.

Transplendent We

It's deceptive, this light at Hallows.
A mask of wind and water, spinning, sparkling,
like silver spokes, or falling leaves, or candy floss,
or false conviviality, too-fast friends.
As the river curves to meet us, we shamble along,
soaked with mist, parched for ale,
like troubadours, or troubled ghosts,
on our way to a midnight market,
there to choose cakes and berries from the goblin stalls,
in the shadow of forbidden castles and glowing maples,
the walkways bright as coins beneath our feet.

Here where the sloping banks converge,
the trees lean in, as if to kiss,
thorned and black on the right, airy and golden on the left,
Bacchus, Hecate, Apollo, Aphrodite,
nuzzling, glancing approval as we invent words
to mark this season of harvest.
No yellow moon, no sheaves of wheat, no bawdy lyric,
but ploughshares swinging,
hoofed beasts clocking over wet grey streets to sleep in tranquil barns.

The red blush creeping up your throat surprises us all,
like brazen hollyhocks that suddenly realize
they've reached the second floor.
Dizzy with drink and drunk on autumn's ether,
we find the otherworld we've sought all evening.
Its hollow hills ring, empty as dessicated bulbs,
yet bright with color, flowing with nectar,
its great halls lit with rustic lanterns,
candles set in carved-out turnips, meant to keep spirits at bay,
and yet soon the very air is keening.
The sky is slowly tinted green.
Our tongues are slippery with juice.
The clock strikes three, three times,
and we are younger than we were.

I started to like you, your small hands like Proustian sweets.
I started to like you, you and your words like dark abundant rain,
poppyseeds poured out on cobblestones.
Simple folk we, laughing long songs like books of fruited verse.
There where the cats consider the canal,
the moon at last emerges, and we become
more and more unfashionable by the minute.
I conjure a forest from a single tree:
like ardent sloths, we hold fast to its mutant trunk,
hard, rough, pulsing with faint heat.
It multiplies into a fairy-tale wood, varied as Paradise,
thick with English bluebells and rhetorical mushrooms;
it smells of sex and stagnant water,
hashish, leafmold, bile and burnt sugar, rotting velvet,
and tobacco that ought to be Turkish.

We could be anywhere: a Holland of the Mind,
or drowned Ys, forgotten Brittany,
a temple of jewels in Morocco,
a chalk hillside hewn by pagan muralists,
a Danish bog stuffed with dead druids,
a green field in America,
Constantinople, Brigadoon,
or a fragrant churchyard that beckons in dreams,
like mementos from a love lost in war-time,
coal-dust in your hair, violets in your pocket.

The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, tonight.
And if we walk now to the marketplace
(we fancy it built of fog and fireflies)
the goblins will smile, cry hail and welcome!
They nod their heads, stroke our hair, grasp our fingers,
whisper, yes, the veil grows thin, grows thin.
They hand us three lengths of shimmering cloth,
dyed the colour of winter plums, smelling of old roses.
We give them all the gold we have.
We wrap ourselves in purple.
We wake, and seven days have passed, or seven years.
Our fingers are torn, stained red with fruit.
Our lips are bruised, and taste of truth.
I touch your mouth, and it is the sun.

Leiden, Samhain, 2006

This poem was first published in Goblin Fruit Autumn 2007.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Poetic thoughts for September's New Moon

(Photo taken by me at Brushwood Folkore Center in Sherman, NY in September 2008)

September, like the advent of school, seems to arrive determined to educate us in the ways of deja vu and that most human emotion of melancholy. The days and nights struggle for balance as the equinox approaches: between light and dark, cold and warmth, color and sere greyness. I crave words that will make sense of it all and often find myself scribbling bits of verse or seeking out obscure and near-forgotten prose and poems. John Updike, one of my favorite writers, was my thoughts this week when a New England friend mentioned that her close friend is his daughter. Reading The Widows of Eastwick a few months ago, not knowing Updike was struggling with cancer, I found myself thinking more than once that this might be his last novel, and it was.

Updike studied to be a painter before he became a writer, and his novels and other writings overflow with stunning, thoughtful imagery. Like this short piece, called "September."

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

Wordsworth also wrote a poem called "September":

Departing summer hath assumed
An aspect tenderly illumed,
The gentlest look of spring;
That calls from yonder leafy shade
Unfaded, yet prepared to fade,
A timely carolling.

And this piece by Thomas Parsons captures the unique happy melancholy of the month:

Sorrow and scarlet leaf,
Sad thoughts and sunny weather.
Ah me, this glory and this grief
Agree not well together!

- "A Song For September"

And these endlessly evocative words that I was compelled to sing one morning this week to greet the blue-gold day:

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain so yellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a young and a callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember
Then follow...

- Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt

Want to read more? Check out one of my favorite websites for quotes about nature and the seasons.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer hiatus end at last!

Hello friends.

It's been a few weeks since I last posted in this blog, and mostly this is due to haveing been away for much of July at the Brushwood Folklore Center, and then being busy or beaten down by ennui since my return! Ennui may be too strong a word; I had a bit of post-festival, post-camping depression, which was not helped by the solid week of rain that occurred when we got home, after having already lived through a solid week of rain before that. Yes, Starwood was wet, horribly so. I may yet post a review of it and of Sirius Rising on Witchvox, so stay tuned...I did get some lovely photos!

Just to let you about a couple of things I'm up to...

I'm organizing a Samhain/Hallowe'en/Hallows ball/dance/costume party (it will have a definitive name soon, promise!) this fall, hoping for October 24th, in Albany. I haven't reserved the space yet but am hoping it will take place at the Woman's Club of Albany, who have a gorgeous Edwardian mansion on Madison Avenue, complete with a ballroom, verandah, fireplace and beautiful furnishings. I've created a new blog for the event and for what I hope will be future events...

I've been wanting to get some sort of pagan events happening in this area, mainly because there is so little going on here. The two main local groups seem to have a bit of a witch war going on, and the city itself doesn't seem to have any centrally-located events happening, not after the demise of one space in my neighborhood. And many of the local pagans seem to live outside the city and don't have much reason to come in. Well, I have been trying to work on that. I started a Pagan Night Out a few months ago, and it's been relatively successful. I've also created a blog for that as well, to keep folks informed of any events.

And finally, my friend Byron Ballard and I have created a new blog that may speak to many of you: Pagan Foodies! Hope you'll visit us there and share your own thoughts, experiences, cravings and recipes!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wife Swap seeking Pagan or Wiccan families

I received the following email this week:


I hope you are doing well! I am a casting producer for ABC's "Wife Swap" and we
are looking to feature a Wiccan or Pagan family on the show. If you are
interested or know someone that might be interested in the following
opportunity, I'd love to hear from you. Please review the announcement below for
more info :)

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and I look forward to hearing
from you!


Jessica Jorgensen
Casting Associate Producer
100 6th Avenue, 3rd floor, Suite 3-29
NY, NY 10013
P: 646.747.7947

So, there you have it, If you or someone you know is interested in this opportunity, feel free to forward this contact information to them. I've seen at least one episode of this with a pagan family and it was fascinating, to say the least.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blessings of the New Moon and Solstice

It's been hard to connect with the solstice energy to an extent, because it's been so cloudy and rainy for weeks now. I haven't posted here much lately, but have been doing a lot of online writing in various other places. My dear friend Hannah came to visit for the weekend, and we got lots of work done on our four different book proposals. We also had a wee solstice toast in the backyard with some nice rose wine and lit a candle and left some wee glasses of wine for the fey folk.

The new moon energy does feel palpable today. We sent off our proposal to a publisher on solstice day and that seemed a powerful day to start a new venture. Now I'm trying to think of something I can do to celebrate this new moon. It's in Cancer, and that always means food preparation to me. I made a great dinner of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and green salad, and baked a batch of brownies that I'll be selling at the farmer's market tomorrow. Tomorrow morning I'l make cookies and cupcakes for the market.

Maybe it's time to search for some freelance writing gigs online and send off some queries. The new moon is good for new ventures. Oh, and for fasting! But I may be too late for that today after that filling dinner.

Hope everyone has had a powerful solstice and new moon week. Oh, and a Happy Father's day. That is still sad to me since losing my dad three years ago.I like to think he's there, still enjoying the change of seasons and the food and garden traditions he loved so much. My love of these ways helps him live on in me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Apple Blossom Day!

From the UK, the Wildlife Volunteers Blog reports on a delightful day long event at the King's Lane Community Orchard, in celebration of the orchard in blossom, with music, games and traditional spring festivities. The BBC filmed the event as part of a program known as "Homes Under the Hammer!" which follows properties in danger of being developed. The community orchard has been opened as open public space and the community will be holding this event every year for the foreseeable future. Well done! This should ideally have been included in the Festival of the Tress, except that the event had not happened yet!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Festival of The Trees! Flowering and Blossoming Trees Edition

(my own photo from Brushwood, May 2008)

Today, May 1st, I celebrate the festival of Beltane, an ancient holiday originating in Europe. Its name means "fires of Bel" who is a sun god. We welcome the return of the sun's heat and light, reflected in the many blossoms and flowers around us. I am happy to say I am headed to my summer camping spot, the Brushwood Folklore Center, later today, to get my camp set up for summer and celebrate the holiday with friends, with a maypole, a bonfire, feasting and fun! (photo by Peg, 2008)

Beltane was originally a fertility festival, and what better inspiration for love and romance than a trees festooned in delicate, fragrant blossoms? These lovers in Kashmir, India have the right idea:
(originally at

Brushwood is blessed with many wild apple trees, and they all blossom in spring, with that fleeting, heavenly scent that simply can't be bottled and is all the more precious for being so temporary. (more beautiful Brushwood apple blossoms captured by me!)

I hope you will be able to see a blossoming orchard in your area this spring; it's always a heartening and magical sight to me. I saw hundreds upon hundreds of blossoming old apple trees as I was riding through the Hudson River Valley earlier today. Here closer to home, of course, are the wondrous orchards of Indian Ladders. The owner is planning to offer some heirloom varieties this year, like Fameuse, Old Smokehouse, and Chenango Strawberry, in addition to their bounty of Yellow Delicious, Jonathan, Empire, Mcintosh, Mutsu, and others.
(photo taken in spring 2007)

My partner and I ordered an heirloom apple tree (Summer Rose) from the mail order grower Trees of Antiquity that has been planted at Brushwood this month, near the spot where we got married last summer. We look forward to seeing that apple tree grow and blossom in many springs to come.

(another one I took in 2008)

To begin, we acknowledge the passing of winter. It was a long, cold one, followed here in the Northeast by several recents days in the high 80s and 90s, very unusual for April! Fortunately, though some gardens have seen their flowers get a bit crisp in the sun, the blossoming deciduous trees are right on schedule and lighting up the parks, mountains and forests with their graceful sprays of pink, white, yellow and purple.

This is a fascinating piece on conifers: the great giants that rule the winter landscape with green. They bless us with color until spring's blossoms invigorate the landscape with subtle and then brighter and brighter color. More conifers are featured here in the Walking Prescott blog. Evergreen trees give us a much needed reminder of vibrant life in the plant world while we wait for the ice and snow and freezing temperatures to leave us for another year.

Despite being welcome, spring briefly brought somewhat unwelcome surprises in the form of high temperatures, setting records in many areas. The local blog Cold Climate Gardening looks at the statistical information that reminds us climate change is an ongoing issue.

From Brambleberries in the Rain, one of the prettiest blogs in my blogroll, here is a lovely early spring nature walk including colorful flowering trees (one of them is pictured above).

This is a fascinating article on the evolution of aphids, and research done on apple trees, at the Agricultural Biodiversity blog.

From Riverside Rambles, some beautiful images of flowering trees!

From Rock Paper Lizard some finches frolic amid blossoms!

The Via Negativa blog has this unusual and excellent post combining blossoming tree imagery and a poem called "In Shadblow Time."

This recent post from osage + orange outlines the plight of the disappearing Ghost Oaks of Chicago.

Yearning for more exotic locales? Travelogged features this tour of the hanging bridges of Costa Rica. This adorable photo was taken in Kasmir, India in March:

(originally appeared at

From southern England, Somerset Seasons offers a quick, excited peek at flowering trees and shrubs in a Dorset garden. This blog post explores flowering trees in autumn in Lima, from Gunnar Engblom. And below is a stunning photo taken this March in Iran:


I wish you all a colorful, sensuous, fragrant and colorful spring!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Busy and travelling!

I returned from New Orleans last week and feel like it's been hard getting caught up on everything. I have posted some photos on Facebook, but here is one, taken at Marie Laveau's tomb.

We had a wonderful time seeing the city, and made some good contacts with publishers and other academics at the Popular Culture conference. But the event was so big we didn't feel badly about missing much of it; besides with such good weather, who wouldn't be tempted outdoors? We ate lots of good food, visited the Voodoo Temple and chatted with Priestess Miriam, visited the Garden District and basically had a wonderful time. Then came back to cold windy weather in Boston!

Spring has finally arrived in the Northeast, however. I've been working in the garden, trying to get caught up on everything. Just finished a book editing project and now on to other writing activities. I hope to keep this blog up a bit better now that I'm around again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Excalibur or Mists of Avalon fans?

Hello, friends. I've been very busy and not posting to this blog very often.

I am off to New Orleans this week to present a paper at the Popular Culture Association annual conference. My talk is on the influence the film Excalibur and the novel The Mists of Avalon have had on the contemporary pagan community. I'd absolutely love to hear any anecdotes from any of you who care to weigh in. This research will go beyond this paper and be applied towards two books I am working on.

I am particularly interested in any references to these works in rituals or other magical events, or the way they may have inspired your own or others' personal beliefs or practices. Cheesy as well as profound anecdotes welcome!

Post here or email me at I appreciate any responses.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A great herbal resource

I found this blog recently and am very impressed. The author also owns and runs a mail order business crafting herbal incenses and oils and supplying all kinds of raw materials; the website is here. Big plus: he works and lives in my hometown of Elmira, New York!

So if you're like me and enjoy an old-fashioned and very artful approach to herbal magic, check out Alchemy Works. This makes me want to go back to my hobby of crafting herbal incenses, which I did well before the age of the internet took over!

(Image from the Flickr stream of HaggisVitae)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spring is Autumn is Spring

I remember once when my high school teacher made fun of us on a chilly autumn day for complaining about how cold it was. It was maybe 50 degrees. She said this was the exact same temperature it would be in spring on the first day when we declared it to be spring, and we'd be ripping our sweaters and saying "Oh, It's so warm!"

I wonder if she knew that one day throughout the Northeast United States people would think that flip flops were appropriate footwear all year 'round?

Today's massive snowstorm makes me think that we (and by 'we' I mean those of us who live in parts of the world with clear and dramatic separations of seasons) approach spring in the same way we do autumn, but in reverse. In autumn, we understand that snow and ice and cold temperatures are a sign we're meant to hunker down indoors, prepare our homes for the inevitability of being snowed in or unwilling to venture out in the cold, and get used to taking extra precautions when traveling. We know we'll eat more, to keep warm, and probably put on weight, as our ancestors did. We buy a lot of potatoes. We might get sad or tired from lack of sunlight. We swathe ourselves in wool and polypropylene. We hibernate, like bears. We watch the squirrels and birds and deer forage, and toss them some bags of seed. We also become used to a mostly colorless landscape, and the loss of the smells of the plant world as the trees, shrubs and flowers die or go dormant. The color goes out of our lives.

In spring, these expectations reverse. We expect rising temperatures, we know we'll become more active outdoors. Going from one place to another doesn't require as much forethought. We dress in lighter, more colorful clothing, in celebration of the arrival of buds and blossoms and blooms. We eat lighter foods, and our clothes fit the way we want them to again. We make fiddlehead soup. We're assailed by smells: rain, mud, rising sap, flower nectar, baby animals and insects. Like honeybees knowing it's time to pollinate, we flutter here and there, attracted by colors and shapes and feelings we thought we'd forgotten. Spring fever, they call it, but it's really more of a temperate, uplifting feeling than a heated delirium. We're not drunk or dizzy; we're just aware again.

From here on, or for a few months at least, we know it will grow warmer, brighter, more fragrant and colorful, until that bright shining day of late summer when, in the glimmering dusk, we begin to notice the first fading shades of green that announce the season's dying fall, escorting us slowly but surely to autumn's brown and gold, and the thoughtful sere scape of winter, once more.

(photo by Joan Z. Rough)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dreaming of a home orchard?

I certainly am! Fortunately for us city dwellers, dwarf fruit trees are all the rage now. These trees not only don't grow as tall as standard ones, they tend to bear fruit at a younger age, too. Less waiting, more munching!

Check out the Garden Web forum for a discussion of recommended fruit tree vendors. Also, Trees of Antiquity specializes in heirloom fruit trees. And here are some top UK suppliers for you Brits.

(image form Gene's Backyard Orchard--go Gene!)

Monday, February 16, 2009

This seems like a good idea.

This website offers a novel service: a place to share with close friends and keep track of who borrowed what from you. Let's face it, most of us don't lend out books or DVDs often because we have all experienced not getting these items back from well-meaning friends. But wouldn't it be nice to be able to share big-ticket items like specialty garden equipment or a pasta maker or the newest hardcover best-seller or that full series DVD collection to people we trust to take care of them and return them? Families with kids can also share toys and games, maybe even Halloween costumes. And how many times a year do any of us use a carpet shampooer? But it's useful if you have carpeting, and sharing is cheaper than renting one every time.

I am thinking of things we might find useful on occasion but don't have space to store, either; like a power washer before painting the house. Or a canning pot for putting up tomatoes in the fall.

I am all about reducing, reusing and recycling. seems to be a good way to create an organized system for sharing stuff with friends. So check it out!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Age of Aquarius last!

This article is one of many that announce the alignment of Jupiter and Mars this morning. Yes, folks, on this Valentine's Day, "Love will steer the stars" from this point onward.

The song "Aquarius" from the groundbreaking "tribal love rock musical" Hair was a catchy invocation of this celestial phenomenon. The "dawning" of the Age of Aquarius is certainly the appropriate way to put it: the new astrological age, like the ones that came before. We are leaving the Age of Pisces, dominated by Christianity (ever wonder why Christ is symbolized by a fish?) and entering the sign of The Water Bearer, which is meant to signify a time of social upheaval and potential for positive change, a time of enlightenment and personal freedom.

"Harmony and understanding,
sympathy and trust abounding,
no more falsehoods or derisions,
golden living dreams of visions,
mystic crystal revelation,
and the mind's true liberation!"

Some analysts believe the true age will not begin until 2600 AD, when the Vernal Equinox moves into the constellation of Aquarius. But today's alignment signals that we are well on our way for the New Age that will last roughly two millennia. And we thought New Age was a fad of the 1980s! That was just a warm-up, witchlings. Let's see if we can work some serious magic for change now. And be sure to get your tickets for the new production of Hair in New York this spring!

(Image from

Sunday, February 8, 2009

CSI: Bio-diesel and tree-huggers named "Silver"

This week's forthcoming new episode of CSI (entitled "Deep Fried and Minty Fresh") features shenanigans at a fast food restaurant that includes theft of large drums of cooking oil. Cue the investigation of a local bio-diesel co-operative, where a loopy tree-hugger who calls herself "Silver" works. The video preview can be found online here.

So...we've seen plenty of pagans portrayed in ridiculous ways on prime time TV; it appears now they're going after environmental activists, too. Watch for Silver to say we all need to care for Mother Earth. Amen, sister! But do you have to act so flakey when you say it? And why is she called "Silver"? Is this meant to be a wee slight against neo-paganism's most famous author of that name, Silver Ravenwolf?

No wonder global warming is simultaneously melting and freezing the planet (it does both, you know; climate change is about intensification of weather patterns, not just overall warming). People seeing these sorts of portrayals are very likely going to become convinced that giving a crap about Planet Earth is for geeks and weirdos.

ETA: The bio-diesel angle was interesting. A couple of "hippies" (why do people call modern-day environmentalists by this quaint archaic name, I wonder?) steal barrels of leftover cooking oil from restaurants, process it into bio-diesel and then return the containers. But one of the barrels turns out to contain a dead body. (well, that's recycling too, kind of) It might have been interesting to explore these characters further, especially since they were prominently featured in the preview. But the show basically treated them as fringe types who literally live on the edge of the "normal" community.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blessings of Imbolc

With this winter having been an especially brutal one in some areas, I think it is safe to say we all could use a festival to remind us that spring is, if not just around the corner, at least not too far in the distant future. Cue Imbolc.

Some pagans refer to this as the Feast of Februa, or the Feast of Brigid, or Candlemas, or Imbolc, Imbolg or Oimelc. For some history and folklore related to this festiva, see my classic Witches' Voice article "You Call it Groundhog Day, We Call it Imbolc".

I have never quite understood why so many pagans want to associate this holiday with Brigid; I have nothing against her, she's a lovely goddess, inspiring and calming. My own coven celebrates Candlemas, or the Feast of Februa, and the ritual is focused on Pan, including ritualized scourging (shades of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival celebrated closer to Valentine's Day). For those who refer to the holiday as Imbolc or Oimelc (literally "in the belly" or "ewe's milk" depending on your source), it makes perfect sense to forge (no pun intended) a connection to the female goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. But I like the idea of a focus on a male god figure, especially one associated with sexuality and the forest.

The former is more of an indoor archetype, the latter outdoors, if that makes sense. The threshold, the door allowing us to shut the cold out or brave the biting winds, is a liminal place. This feeling of being on the brink is a powerful catalyst for many of us, urging engagement with new projects, or a return to old ones that haven't been fleshed out yet. Mercury's retrograde periods in winter allow a perfect opportunity to return to unfinished work. We dig in, hibernate, reflect, craft, repair. Brigid approves, this stoking of fires as intellectual as it is visceral. But so does Pan, his jollity a balm on grey days, wafting Arcadian breezes into our winter dreams.

So, too is the groundhog myth a liminal one. He is lifted from his burrow to divine the weather, blinking and wriggling, perhaps squinting in the sun or indifferently sniffing at the cloud cover. Then he is returned to his cozy winter abode. We accept his pronouncement, and return ourselves to wait out winter, industrious or lazy in our habits, hopeful or stymied in our daydreaming, brazen or apathetic in our socializing, chipper or aggravated while doing our outdoor errands. Now is the time for crockpot meals, novels, television reruns, hot toddies, and maybe some snowshoeing.

The snowdrops are imminent, the daffodils will shadow the snow with gold sooner than we may think possible. Time now for planning, plodding, pot roast, and making the best of it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

This Week's "23" Headline

The number of deaths so far in the winter storms sweeping the country is, yes, 23.

More can be found here.

More 23 News from December: blogged here.

And a link to more 23 info is here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Soon on ABC: The Witches of Eastwick! reports that ABC is developing the John Updike novel (or, more likely, the schlocky film somewhat based on it) for television, with Maggie Friedman of Dawson's Creek as head writer.

My main problem with the film is that, first of all, the main characters were made far more glamorous than their portrayal in the novel. Sukie, Jane and Alexandra were played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon and Cher, respectively. This took away from the significant issues of competition and sexual viability these women-approaching-middle-age were feeling. Alex was meant to be considerably overweight, for example, and, in the novel, envied Jane's and Sukie's thinness. The competition among them was so fierce, in fact, that the three witches decide to create a spell to kill a young woman who steals the object of their affection from them (Daryl Van Horne, played with delicious devilry by Jack Nicholson). That's the other very omportant plot point left out: the decision to perform an act of magic that amounts to murder. The sequel novel, The Widows of Eastwick, begins with the idea that the guilt over this murder (performed fifteen years earlier) is still very much alive in Alexandra, at least (I have only read 22 pages or so).

Why can't Hollywood engage a complex, realistic novel in a complex, realistic way?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Next Week on NCIS: Satanists!

The previews for next week's new episode of NCIS show an episode dealing with satanism and the occult, complete with one victim who has a huge pentagram tattooed on his back. Because this show is both smart and funny, I hope they'll deal with this topic in a less offensive way than The Mentalist did last week. Check out the controversy over that on the Wild Hunt Blog.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A delicious future

A very cool celebration of Obama's candidacy, rendered in cake and frosting!!!

A Day to Remember

It has been a surreal day, ablaze in the cold crystal light of winter. Words invoking strength, hope, caution, determination, wisdom, passion, patience, faith, compassion poured forth from the many speeches at the inauguration ceremonies, many from our new President.

How long has it been since so many of us have felt hope and optimism about being Americans? A very long time, my friends. May we go forward towards the difficult days ahead with courage and faith and the willingness to dig in our heels and do our best to survive and prevail and show compassion to those who are worse off than ourselves.

May the pagan community, many of whom supported and voted for our new President, gaze forward into the future and adopt the same spirit of powerful transformation and courage to change what needs changing. So mote it be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Orchard revives Wassailing, suffers theft

I first found this story on Wren's Nest at Witchvox: An orchard in Hull, UK revives pagan tradition of wassailing.

Turns out the orchard suffered the theft of valuable gardening equipment and are accepting donations via tree sponsorship. I am going to call them and see if there is any possibility they might have a Paypal address for donations for any Americans who want t o help out. Or, UK'ers can call them directly. To sponsor a tree, call Yvette Grindley on (01482) 503577 or chairman Arthur Wilson on (01482) 561616.

More soon...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bay Area Orchard fans...

There is a workshop coming up for people interested in growing fruit trees in the city. Put on by Garden for the Environment, "I Heart Fruit Trees" is scheduled for Valentine's Day and promises to offer tips on growing apple, pear and plum trees. And it's only ten bucks! This organization sounds wonderful. They have other great workshops on offer, including making herbal medicines for winter. Let us know if you intend to go! (thanks to for the story, and the lovely pear tree image originally appeared on the Greenwalks blog.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wassail, Wassail the new year

Chas over at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek shared this link with me from the Hereford Times on January wassailing customs. The article comments on the growing popularity of cider helping to keep this ancient custom alive. Apple growing the world over is enjoying increasing interest because of cider-based events like Cider Days and even the humble little Harvest Moon festival I organized at Brushwood Folklore Center this past autumn, where we pressed fresh cider from the wild apples that grow abundantly all over the property.

England of course has a rich history of customs celebrating harvest and propitiating nature spirits of fields and orchards. I've tasted some wonderful regional ciders in England, from the sweet pear cider made by Brothers in Shepton Mallet (near Glastonbury) to the sublime, dry Kingfisher made in Norfolk, and the excellent Special Reserve cider made by Samuel Smith's and served on tap at the Chandos Pub in London's Trafalgar Square. May American cider brewers one day approach England's diversity and quality of cider.

I remember wassailing the orchard trees out at Mike and Penny Novak's farm one Yule. It's a lovely tradition. I also enjoy the songs associated with wassailing sun during Yuletide. The Gloucestershuire Wassail describes the blessing of livestock with cups of cider tossed in their faces:

"And here is to Cherry and to his right cheek; May Yule bring our master a good piece of beef!" The winter solstice as it was observed during the agrarian era was a time to share food abundantly with all in the community; singing by peasants was rewarded with comestibles from the "big house" during the days of feudal farming.

I served hot mulled cider at our Yuletide Open House this past weekend. A number of people who arrived, having come in from the cold, said no when asked if they wanted a drink, but when I mentioned there was hot cider on the stove they all changed their minds immediately!

Wassail, wassail, 2009. We drink to thee.