Author Archives: John Halstead

About John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of Another End of the World is Possible, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which (until recently) worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also edited the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans and authored Neo-Paganism: Historical Inspiration & Contemporary Creativity. He is also a Shaper of the Earthseed community, more about which can be found at GodisChange.org.

“Call Me by My True Names” by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

 


From “The Invocation to Kali” by May Sarton

There are times when
I think only of killing
The voracious animal
who is my perpetual shame,

The violent one
Whose raging demands
Break down peace and shelter
Like a peacock’s scream.

There are times when
I think only of how to do away
With this brute power
That cannot be tamed.

I am the cage where poetry
Paces and roars. The beast
Is the god. How murder the god?
How live with the terrible god?

The Kingdom of Kali

Anguish is always there, lurking at night,
Wakes us like a scourge, the creeping sweat
As rage is remembered, self-inflicted blight.
What is it in us we have not mastered yet?

What Hell have we made of the subtle weaving
Of nerve with brain, that all centers tear?
We live in a dark complex of rage and grieving.
The machine grates, grates, whatever we are.

The kingdom of Kali is within us deep.
The built-in destroyer, the savage goddess,
Wakes in the dark and takes away our sleep.
She moves through the blood to poison gentleness.

She keeps us from being what we long to be;
Tenderness withers under her iron laws.
We may hold her like a lunatic, but it is she
Held down, who bloodies with her claws.

How then to set her free or come to terms
With the volcano itself, the fierce power
Erupting injuries, shrieking alarms?
Kali among her skulls must have her hour.

It is time for the invocation, to atone
For what we fear most and have not dared to face:
Kali, the destroyer, cannot be overthrown;
We must stay, open-eyed, in the terrible place.

Every creation is born out of the dark.
Every birth is bloody. Something gets torn.
Kali is there to do her sovereign work
Or else the living child will be stillborn.

She cannot be cast out (she is here for good)
Nor battled to the end. Who wins that war?
She cannot be forgotten, jailed, or killed.
Heaven must still be balanced against her.

Out of destruction she comes to wrest
The juice from the cactus its harsh spine,
And until she, the destroyer, has been blest,
There will be no child, no flower, and no wine.

It is time for the invocation:

Kali, be with us.
Violence, destruction, receive our homage.
Help us to bring darkness into the light,
To lift out the pain, the anger,
Where it can be seen for what it is—
The balance-wheel for our vulnerable, aching love.
Put the wild hunger where it belongs,
Within the act of creation,
Crude power that forges a balance
Between hate and love.

Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

Bear the roots in mind,
You, the dark one, Kali,
Awesome power.


“A Wild Woman is not a Girlfriend, She is a Relationship with Nature” by Alison Nappi

But can you love me in the deep? In the dark? In the thick of it?

Can you love me when I drink from the wrong bottle and slip through the crack in the floorboard?

Can you love me when I’m bigger than you, when my presence blazes like the sun does, when it hurts to look directly at me?

Can you love me then too?

Can you love me under the starry sky, shaved and smooth, my skin like liquid moonlight?

Can you love me when I am howling and furry, standing on my haunches, my lower lip stained with the blood of my last kill?

When I call down the lightening, when the sidewalks are singed by the soles of my feet, can you still love me then?

What happens when I freeze the land, and cause the dirt to harden over all the pomegranate seeds we’ve planted?

Will you trust that Spring will return?

Will you still believe me when I tell you I will become a raging river, and spill myself upon your dreams and call them to the surface of your life?

Can you trust me, even though you cannot tame me?

Can you love me, even though I am all that you fear and admire?

Will you fear my shifting shape?

Does it frighten you, when my eyes flash like your camera does?

Do you fear they will capture your soul?

Are you afraid to step into me?

Surely you have seen the jungles: meat-eating plants and flowers armed with poisonous darts.

Do not worry. They belong to me, and I have invited you here.

Stay to the path revealed in the moonlight and arrive safely to the hut of Baby Yaga: the wild old wise one… she will not lead you astray if you are pure of heart.

You cannot be with the wild one if you fear the rumbling of the ground, the roar of a cascading river, the startling clap of thunder in the sky.

If you want to be safe, go back to your tiny room: the night sky is not for you.

If you want to be torn apart: come in. Be broken open and devoured. Be set ablaze in my fire.

I will not leave you as you have come: well dressed, in finely threaded sweaters that keep out the cold.

I will leave you naked and biting. Leave you clawing at the sheets. Leave you surrounded by owls and hawks and flowers that only bloom when no one is watching.

So, come to me, and be healed in the unbearable lightness and darkness of all that you are.

There is nothing in you that can scare me. Nothing in you I will not use to make you great.

A wild woman is not a girlfriend. She is a relationship with nature. She is the source of all your primal desires, and she is the wild whipping wind that uproots the poisonous corn stalks on your neatly tilled farm.

She will plant pear trees in the wake of your disaster.

She will see to it that you shall rise again.

She is the lover that restores you to your own wild nature.

(Originally published at WriteWithSpirit.com.)

Ave Maria, by Niki Whiting

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Hail Mary! Mary, woman situated in geography, history, lineage, time, blood. Hail Theotokos! Goddess larger than one woman alone, eternal paradox, universal entity. Full of the glory of apotheosis, full of the grace of other gods’ blessings, full of Life Force. The gods are with you, even the monotheist “God” cannot deny you, for he is with you too.

Blessed are you among women. Blessed are you among the poor, the downtrodden, the Othered. Blessed are you among women who birth, who are situated in time and flesh. Blessed are you among women who grieve, whose hearts stretch across time and space, reaching out to the Mother of All. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, which is salvation, for all things from you are holy. From you all things emerge and unto you all things return.

Holy Mary, Theotokos, God-Bearer, fully realized human who bears divinity with in her, please pray for us who call to you. Pray us who struggle and suffer and call your name. Pray for us who mess up and hurt one another. Pray us who hurt. Please pray for us, for me, now and at the moment of death. Amen.

Originally published at Niki Whiting’s blog, A Witch’s Ashram.


“Lament of the Old Woman”

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by Michael Kaluta

 

(Adapted by John Halstead from “Lament of the Old Woman of Beare”, 10th c. CE, Ireland)

Ebb tide has come to me as the sea.
The sea crawls from the shore, leaving weeds like a corpse’s hair.
The sea slouches away from me, leaving me with salt on my lips.

Time was the sea brought kings as slaves to me. 
Now the sea brings only images of the drifting dead.
Women love only riches now. 
But when we lived, we loved men, 
young men whose horses galloped in the open plain, 
beating lighting from the ground.  

I loved such men.
I feasted by the light of many bright candles.  
Now I pray in the darkness of the oratory.
I drank my fill of wine and mead with kings, 
their eyes lingering on my hair.  

Now I drink the bitter dregs with shriveled hags and my hair is gray.
My skin, where glorious kings once pressed their lips, is now tight and thin.
My arms that once practiced the pleasant craft, 
caressing the bodies of comely youths, are now bony and thin.
Then I wore garments of every hue and a cloak of green.  
Now the veil that covers my hair is black and mean.

The wine thrilled me to my fingertips.  
And I stretched at the side of him who would take me briefly for his bride.  
The storms have long since reached the stone chair of the kings.  
Their tombs are old and crumbling.
The maidens rejoice when May Day comes to them.  

But I have spent the summer of my youth.  
I hold no sweet converse.  
No gelded rams are killed for my wedding feast.

What the flood-tide brings, the ebb-tide takes away.
I have known the flood and I have known the ebb.
The sun does not touch me.  
In me I feel the cold.  
But still a seed burns there.
The time is at hand that shall renew me.


Invocation of the Mother

I am the face of the Moon when it is full of light.
I am the Creator and Preserver,
Mother and Nurse,
Dea Creatrix and Dea Nutrix,
the Theotokos, the holy vessel,
the bearer of the white draft of fostering.

I have been known in other times as
Isis to the Memphites,
Gaea and Deo to the Helenes,
Danu and Brigid to the Hiberni,
and by many names which are now forgotten.

I am the fire that warms the hearth,
the goddess of the hearth and home,
the goddess of childbirth and motherhood.

I am she who lay with Iason in a thrice-plowed field.
I am she who bore Apollo under a palm tree.
I am she who nursed Horus from my own breast.
I am she who mourned for Adonis in the summer
and wept for Tammuz in the autumn.
I am she who sought for my daughter Kore in vain.
I am she who gathered the members of my husband
Osiris from the banks of the Nile.
And I am she who steered the barge of Artu to Avalon.

In the form of a woman, I am tall, and robed in green,
swelling and pregnant,
with the moon under my feet,
and a garland of stars in my hair.
In my left hand, I hold blades of corn,
and in my right, twining serpents.
But at times I take other shapes.

Some there are who have seen me
standing like a tree under heaven,
crowned with the Sun,
with my roots in the waters of the deep,
and the winds speaking in my leaves.
And from my branches
there spilled a golden dew
upon the barren earth,
and it grew green with corn.

I am the power of the gods in their seasons.
My tears are the rain, shed in pain and in laughter.
My breath is the wind, exhaled in ecstasy and in labor.
My heart is the fire that warms the hearth.
My body is the earth, thy womb and thy tomb.

Listen to the sighing of the Heavens to the Earth,
and of the Deeps to the Stars.
Hasten to me and I shall answer the Heavens
with the grain, and the wine, and the oil.

I will be thy goddess,
and thou shalt be my child.

Son/Daughter of earth,
plunge yourself into the sea of matter
that is my body,
for it cradled you long ago.
You had thought to flee from me,
to live in a world of pure thought and spirit.
But you were like to have perished of hunger,
for I am the oil for you limbs,
the blood for your veins,
the water for your soul,
the world for your mind.
The Pharisees condemn me and waste away.
Wise men say, “Matter is dead, matter is evil,”
but their words are at variance with life,
and they perish in the deserts of their minds.

My path is not knowing,
but looking,
and touching,
and loving.
And these are my words,
the words which spell your liberation:
“This is my body.”

You have called me and I am here.
You have need of me in order to grow,
and I have need of you to be made holy.
Always you have desired me without knowing it.
Always I have been drawing you to me.

Sources:
“… the white draft of fostering”: from Caitlin Matthews’ King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land: The Divine Feminine in The Mabinogion
“In the form of a woman, I am tall, and robed in green … Some there are who have seen me standing like a tree under heaven …”: from a description of the Goddess Yvanna in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion
With the moon under my feet …”: from the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of John)
“In my left hand, I hold blades of corn … I am the power of the gods in their seasons”: the theophany of Isis from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses
“My tears are the rain, shed in pain and in laughter …”: from Anne Bishop’s The Pillars of the World
“Listen to the sighing of the Heavens to the Earth”: Translation of Ugaritic myth of Ba’al in The Early History of God by Mark S. Smith
“… Hasten to me and I shall answer the Heavens …”: Translation the Book of Hosea in The Early History of God by Mark S. Smith
“Son of the Earth, plunge yourself into the sea of matter …” from Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Spiritual Power of Matter” in Hymn of the Universe
“My path is not knowing …”: from Mary Oliver’s poem “Bone”
“And these are my words, the words which spell your liberation … You have called me and I am here …”: from Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Spiritual Power of Matter” in Hymn of the Universe

A Sumerian Birth Prayer

now comes the final voyage,
the journey without.
from the center of the world,
from the land of the not-yet-born,
from the midst of the mother,
the journey begins.

the boat is full,
packed with treasure:
carnelian,
lapis lazuli,
perfume,
cedar wood.
greatest of all cargos,
full to stretching,
the child is ready.

I feel the ocean wind unfurl my sails
I stretch to heaven, stretch to earth,
my cries reach heaven, reach to earth,
I rise and fall like a roiling ocean,
I pitch and rock like a ship on the sea.

And in me the boat,
the processional boat,
the precious baby boat
continues its journey.

Open wide the great gate,
as the boat sails free to birth.
May the waters flow like rain,
may they flow like water from a pail,
may the boat find its mooring place
as it reaches the land of life.

(Note: The authenticity of this prayer has not been confirmed.)