All Their Voices

Words and thoughts in devotion to the Divine


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The Pythia Speaks

I sit where you bade me, Lord,

feeling the vapors caress me

feeling myself lift like the coils of smoke around me

feeling you slide your hand into my soul

like a puppeteer’s hand inside the puppet,

and I hear your voice.

 

It comes out of my mouth

answering the questions

of the ones who stand before me

as I sit shrouded in darkness.

I can see the worry on their faces that they try to hide,

here in this cave sacred to you–

the tripod in its place,

the scent of the mountain underneath me in my nostrils

and I give myself over wholly to you,

not knowing the words that emerge from my lips

before the moment that they do.

 

It is not my voice but your voice

not my words but your words

not my sight but your sight

and in all things, my lord,

I am only your servant, your tool,

and overjoyed to be able to do

this task for you.

 

Delphian, Manticus,

may I always hear Your voice

whether I gape my jaws to speak to others

or listen for You only for myself;

may I never cease to listen

may I always wait,

yearning,

heart pounding,

breathless,

for the least of Your words

is as gold and rubies to me,

and Your trust in me to do Your will

the greatest treasure of all.


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Reasons

You think by now I would have given up

in my attempts to keep you from

swallowing up my life;

it’s not a fight I can win, I know that –

but some mulishly stubborn part of me

still insists it has free will

(a concept I should have accepted as absurd

when I left Catholicism) –

and can tell You ‘no’.

 

Ludicrous, really.

 

In the end, it always comes down to

whose will is greater, which of us is more stubborn,

and we both know the answer to that

(and the answer is not ‘me’).

 

Nevertheless, I persist:

not wanting to watch You whittle away at

the list of things I enjoy,

the list of things that have nothing to do with You,

turning it into a list of things

I am allowed to partake in.

 

Your commands have already started

to abridge my diet,

taking away small consolations I could manage in my poverty.

Nor is that all; You challenge me,

Standing behind me to push me into bravery,

shoving me outside my comfort zone,

because the outcome will be better for me in the end,

no matter how much these things terrify me in the now.

 

I watched You dismantle my marriage,

though I didn’t know that’s what was happening then,

and I understand it now with the perspective of time–

whatever good things I might have

thought about my husband at that point,

I can see in hindsight were illusion,

and had turned me into something

small and stunted and afraid to test boundaries,

and I am so much stronger now.

 

That doesn’t mean I am whole, of course;

I know that I can’t make myself believe

what I need to believe to be fixed

–that I have worth, that I am loved–

I don’t know how deep the damage goes,

I only know it is the product of a lifetime

of people telling me that I was inept, useless,

incapable of doing things that even children could do,

that I was not good enough to be what they wanted,

that I had no worth in the eyes of anyone at all.

 

Which brings me to the question that still lingers,

almost ten years after You claimed me as Yours:

 

Why?

 

Why would You want to own something like me?

So flawed, so limited, so weak?

The pat answer, the easy answer, the one I have heard most often,

the answer that numerous friends tell me,

is that You needed another skald,

and I do confess, without any false modesty,

to some skill with words–

maybe my only skill.

 

But that feels disingenuous, and incomplete,

And even if it turns out to be true,

I don’t think it’s the whole truth;

Then again, I understand these days, after

being Yours for some time,

that it’s likely I may never know the whole truth,

just as I may never know the whole You;

You have so many faces, so many names,

You are—if not infinite—then certainly, obviously greater

than any mere mortal could be,

and I find I am accepting of that,

which is as it should be when dealing with gods.

 

That doesn’t mean I don’t still wonder, of course,

but just as I will never know

what a sunset looks like on Jupiter,

and can live without that knowledge,

I don’t need to know why You picked me–

it would be nice to know, reassuring, calming,

and it would answer a question I’ve had for years,

but I can live without that answer;

even if I had it,

I might not be able to make myself believe it,

because that is the nature of the damage that is my soul:

it is enough to know, in the end,

only that You did choose me,

and that has to be good enough for me.


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Sacrifice

There was never any doubt.

No chain smithed by mortal man would hold the eternal hunger,

And so — as so many times before — we turned to the dwarves

For the fetter to bind that malicious maw.

They crafted it out of six impossible things,

And told us: It will hold.

We knew Fenris could not snap this bond.

 

But so did He.

 

And so the Ravener asked:

By what token am I to trust in this game–

That, once bound, you will free me?

 

All of us, Aesir and Vanir, knew without speaking that,

Once our word was given, we would have to break it.

He could not be freed.

And I could see in their eyes that none of them–

Not the one-eyed wanderer,

Not the red-bearded thunderer,

Not the lord of the fertile fields,

Not the keen-eyed far-seer–

Would do so.

 

No, there was never any doubt.

In my mind, there was only certainty:

I do this thing because it must be done.

I do this thing because the Hunger must be bound.

I do this thing because there is no one else to do it.

 

Without hesitation, I told the baleful beast:

I, Tyr, will place my hand between your jaws.

If you are not freed when the game of binding is ended,

Then my oath is broken,

And my hand is forfeit.

 

He accepted this, for were not my unbroken word

And my good right hand — my sword-hand —

Ample token of trust?

 

I thrust my sword-hand between the beast’s slavering jaws,

Felt those fangs — black with the rotting shreds

Of a thousand good warriors’ hearts — close about the bones of my wrist.

 

And so they bound him: with woman’s beard

And mountain’s roots; with cat’s footfall

And bird’s spittle; with bear’s sinews

And the breath of a fish —

Knowing beyond a doubt that it would hold.

 

And so did he.

 

I do this thing that must be done:

Let all men know by the hand I will lose that

          Tyr broke his oath.

I do this thing that must be done:

Let all men know by the hand I will lose that

          Tyr cared enough to make the sacrifice that had to be made.

I do this thing that must be done:

Let all men know by the hand I will lose that

          only by Tyr’s will was the wolf bound.

 

I stared into the wolf’s wild and wicked eyes as his fangs

passed through the flesh and bone of my wrist, slamming shut with a ghastly clash.

 

All the world could see the wolf’s woe: I had won.

 

I, oath-broken.

I, the sacrifice.

I, wolf’s bane.

 

The wolf howled in impotent rage and grief.

And I — bloody, broken, but not beaten — smiled.


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For the Kybele of Ordu, Recently Uncovered

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waiting in the darkness

waiting

broken beauty buried

hidden and forgotten

but you are still there

all this time, still there,

just waiting for them to lift the stone

that sealed the temple

(tomb)

when the foreigners came

smashing you down with their empire

slaughtering your people

 

your marble is dirty

and cracked

and parts of you are missing

but you are no less lovely

for all that

and no less powerful, either

one look from that fierce gaze

enough to turn someone else to stone

just like you

and the hand that lays open on your lap

could just as easily bereave

as exalt

 

Kybele, Kybele,

they prayed to you for prosperity, fertility

they begged for your blessings

and though those who once called your name with joy

are gone now,

you will find no shortage of those

all too willing

to take their place


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The Land Wights Do Not Like Your Fourth of July Fireworks

(Note: this is a repost of a guest blog post I wrote for another pagan blog back in 2013. I used to repost that link every year around this time, but when I went to do so this year, the site was down. So I am posting it here instead.)

 

Wisdom is something that comes very slowly to humans, as a rule, and this is all the more obvious in connection with the environment. By and large, the majority of humanity sees the world, its resources, and attendant living plants and animals as a resource to be exploited rather than our partners and roommates on the planet. When it comes to wisdom, one of the maxims that we accept theoretically but have trouble applying practically is “Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should do it.”

This week in the United States saw the celebration of the country’s Independence Day, where we ritualize the anniversary of gaining our freedom from the country that formerly claimed possession of this corner of the world, as well as the unjust ruler of that country. Independence is a fine thing, when celebrated thoughtfully and appropriately. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, there is very little thought of independence, or of our ancestors who fought to achieve our freedom from England. Instead, Independence Day has devolved into another sort of celebration entirely, which we call the “Fourth of July”, and all too often, we celebrate it in ways that have nothing to do with wisdom.

The state where I live, Indiana, is known mostly as a rural area, part of the country’s heartland and breadbasket, where food is raised — both plant and animal — to help feed us. The jobs from those industries help support many fine people. And the land that raises that food, both on a large and small scale, is home to many spirits, equally large and small, who are far more intimately bound up with the land than we are with our celebrations.

Indiana also happens to be one of the states where it is legal for anyone over the age of 18 to buy and set off fireworks. There is a fairly large cottage industry set up in my part of the state (and others, too, I imagine), with a number of franchises setting up shops to sell a huge variety of firecrackers, sparklers, fireworks, and similar entertainments at various locations. Many of these shops are set up right next to the off-ramps of the interstates where buyers come from Illinois, where fireworks are illegal to purchase.

Fireworks are one of those inventions that started with components found in nature — sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (or, as the last two are most commonly found in nature, burnt wood and bat guano) — that were combined in a specific proportion by humans to create something utterly outside of nature. The earliest known historical mention of gunpowder is in an 11th century Chinese text (although they were believed to use it as far back as the 7th century), and the Chinese used it for both fireworks and weaponry. Its use spread across the world until there are very few places these days where one can’t find it used for either purpose.

Our use of fireworks in the United States dates back before the War of Independence itself; the use of them to celebrate the Fourth of July dates back to the very first Independence Day in 1777.

And that’s how long we’ve been poisoning the land, its attendant creatures and plants, and the spirits of the land, with the debris from our pretty light shows.

Entirely aside from the human injuries caused every year by fireworks (of which there were several awful examples this year, most notably the incident in Simi Valley, California), it’s long been established that the larger physical debris from fireworks — cardboard tubes and end caps, bamboo sticks, leftover wires from sparklers — can hurt or even kill animals via ingestion and accident. This harm doesn’t stop with birds or fish, but spreads throughout the ecosystem of a surrounding area, including not just wild animals but outdoor companion animals and livestock such as cattle, swine, horses, sheep, and goats, as well.

But the damage from those pretty lights doesn’t stop there. Whenever a firework bursts — whether it’s Joe Average’s Roman candle or the larger 1.3G fireworks that cities use to put on their long Fourth of July celebrations — it releases a bouquet of chemicals and smoke into the air as it ignites and burns. The smoke is bad enough, and has been known to measurably increase particulate air pollution with the residue of the spent gunpowder, but such blasts also contribute to other pollutants entering the air, water, and land. The pretty colors seen in most fireworks are created by adding heavy metal particulates such as copper (blue), barium (greens), lithium and strontium (reds), and yellows (sodium) to the gunpowder in the rockets. These chemicals, which generally enter the atmosphere at low levels (in most cases, much lower than airplanes are cleared to fly at), can contribute to asthma and other respiratory illnesses in humans. The effects of the chemicals on animals is not well-documented, but it would seem likely to have just as severe an effect on them — or possibly worse.

Nor is that damage restricted to animals, or solely to inhaled particulate. After every Fourth of July, I usually spend two weeks picking fireworks debris out of my many gardens. The plastic, which is non-biodegradable, is bad enough, but easy to pick up; the cardboard fragments from tubes and end caps is worse; being in close proximity to the gunpowder and chemicals, they are usually liberally coated with residue, which washes into the soil when any water — be it rain or from watering the garden — hits it. The cardboard, if left uncollected, eventually breaks down and joins the soil, carrying a large dose of residue impregnated into its bulk into the soil with it.

Airborne residue also drifts down in the wake of the fireworks explosions to cover every plant, clogging the openings on top of the leaves, called stoma, which the plant needs to take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. Without those openings, gas exchange in the plants lags and slows, and may be stop entirely, killing the plants, if most or all of the plant’s stomates are completely clogged. Although the stomates of some plants are on the undersides, rather than the tops, of the leaves, and some plants — mostly aquatic ones — lack stomates at all, windborne residue can coat the undersides of leaves as well, and poison the water where aquatic plants dwell, being drawn up into the plants’ cellular structures by their roots.

It is not unthinkable to believe that what affects living plants and animals (and people, as we are just as much a part of our ecosystem as they are) affects the spirits of the land, as well. Whether you call them totems, wights, dryads and nymphs, or aos sí, the land’s spirits must feel the pain we cause to its living inhabitants in much the same way a mother feels the pain that harms her children. The idea that garbage in any form damages the land itself on a spiritual level is not a new one, but it is easier to overlook the damage done by something “pretty” than it is to ignore a huge pile of plastic water bottles and aluminum beer cans at the beach, or discarded fast-food garbage, or the hulks of rusting, abandoned cars. There are ways to celebrate Independence Day that don’t involve doing damage to the natural world around us, nor needlessly spend large amounts of money that could be put to better use trying to help save the environment rather than destroy it, and pagans, who claim to revere the land and esteem their connections with it, should be seeking out those ways rather than using fireworks or supporting fireworks shows. Planting trees, picking up garbage, or donating to environmental causes on the Fourth are all ways of showing one’s pride in one’s country, and the sacrifices our ancestors made to earn our freedom, than defiling the land that they fought for.

And the spirits of the land would doubtlessly agree.


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For the Hávamál, Verse 75

This morning I found a stag beetle on the sidewalk,

Turned over on his back, pawing endlessly

At the sky to turn back over;

I found a piece of grass and let him clamp on to it,

Carried him over to the nearest lawn and let him go

So no bird would eat him, so no foot would come crashing down

To stomp out the life of the ‘ugly bug’.

 

This morning I told an old woman I passed

That the skirt she was wearing—

A constellation of sunrise hues, flowing like silk to her ankles—

Was beautiful;

Her entire face lit up, far more than a smile,

And I wondered how long it had been

Since anyone told her anything of the sort.

 

This morning I saw a cat in the road,

Run over, pulp, recognizable only by

One ginger ear sticking up jauntily out of the mess,

And I cried to see it, sobbed the rest of the way to work,

Wondering what child would soon be missing their beloved pet.

 

This morning I found a nickel in the grass near a street crossing;

I thanked my gods for the gift,

Because every bit, no matter how tiny,

Is more than I had before,

And it never pays to turn up your nose at the gifts of the gods,

Because then they may not give you any ever again.

 

Most of my deeds are done in private;

I do not do good for the praise I gain from others,

But only because it is good to do good,

And ill to do ill,

And there need be no other reason.

But I do occasionally wonder—

 

Who will know my name when I am gone?

What part of me will—after death—live on?


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Wildfire

[for Brigid]

 

Some think of you as gentle. As meek. As ‘safe’.

 

As if.

 

I venerate you as wise, and strong, and mighty,

but never do I make the mistake of thinking

that I own you.

 

Threefold lady–ladies three–

at first glance, yes, your domains would seem

the most benevolent of wisdoms:

 

Healing, poetry, smithcraft.

 

Oh, yes, these things can be kind:

Medicine to mend an illness or cast a broken limb;

Sweet verses to woo in love or comfort in pain;

The creation of beautiful jewelry or hardworking tools.

 

But at the root of all these things is fire,

and fire doesn’t have to mind what mere mortals want.

 

Sometimes healing is amputation of a limb too rotten to be saved;

sometimes it is a fever, scorching, draining,

that only leaves wellness in its wake when it has passed.

Sometimes healing requires medicines that cause as much sickness

as that they would remove, or radiation that removes a tumor

but leaves the rest of the body wracked with weakness and pain.

 

Poetry, it must be remembered, is not just pretty verses meant to entertain;

the filidh of Ireland were satirists, dispensing justice,

weaving words together that were the ruin of kings and warriors,

tearing lives apart to bring about justice,

and sometimes, driving men to their deaths.

 

Smithcraft is not merely pretty collars of gems to hang about the throat of a loved one,

or tools to till the ground or mend a roof.

Smiths created weapons of war, spear-heads, daggers, swords,

meant for no other purpose but to tear open soft human bodies

and spill blood in rivers and oceans, leaving behind

carrion for the ravens to feast upon.

 

They see your flame and they think they can control it,

and while it is true mankind has learned to harness fire

to warm their homes and cook their meals,

all too often it gets away from them;

all too often it rages through forests and homes,

a fury of cinders and winds hot enough to bake the blood in their veins,

one of the primal elements of creation,

and any man who thinks he can control your fire

–control you–

is a fool who deserves to be burnt to the bone for his arrogance,

and left as ashes to fertilize the land

for the crops of one

with more sense than he had.