In prehistoric times, early man was bowled over by natural events: rain, thunder, lightning, the violent shaking and moving of the ground, mountains spewing deathly hot lava, the glow of the moon, the burning heat of the sun, the twinkling of the stars. Our human brain searched for an answer, and the conclusion was that it all must be caused by something greater than ourselves – this, of course, sprouted the earliest seeds of religion. This theory is certainly reflected in faery lore. In the beautiful sloping hills of Connemara in Ireland, for example, faeries were believed to have been just as beautiful, peaceful, and pleasant as the world around them. But in the Scottish Highlands, with their dark, brooding mountains and eerie highland lakes, villagers warned of deadly water-kelpies and spirit characters that packed a bit more punch.
― Signe Pike, Faery Tale: One Woman’s Search for Enchantment in a Modern World
See Janus comes, Germanicus, the herald of a lucky year to thee, and in my song takes precedence.
Two-headed Janus, opener of the softly gliding year, thou who alone of the celestials dost behold thy back, O come propitious to the chiefs whose toil ensures peace to the fruitful earth, peace to the sea. And come propitious to thy senators and to the people of Quirinus, and by thy nod unbar the temples white.
A happy morning dawns. Fair speech, fair thoughts I crave! Now must good words be spoken on a good day. Let ears be rid of suits, and banish mad disputes forthwith! Thou rancorous tongue, adjourn thy wagging! Dost mark how the sky sparkles with fragrant fires, and how Cilician saffron crackles on the kindled hearths? The flame with its own splendour beats upon the temples’ gold roof. In spotless garments the procession wends to the Tarpeian towers; the people wear the colour of festal day; and now new rods of office lead the way, new purple gleams, and a new weight is felt by the far-sewn ivory chair.
Heifers, unbroken to the yoke, offer their necks to the axe, heifers that cropped the sward on the true Faliscan plains. When from his citadel Jupiter looks abroad on the whole globe, naught but the Roman empire meets his eye.
Hail, happy day! and evermore return still happier, day worthy to be kept holy by a people the masters of the world.
But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double-shape? for Greece hath no divinity like thee. The reason, too, unfold why alone of all the heavenly one thou doest see both back and front.
While thus I mused, the tablets in my hand, methought the house grew brighter than it was before. Then of a sudden sacred Janus, in his two-headed shape, offered his double visage to my wondering eyes. A terror seized me, I felt my hair stiffen with fear, and with a sudden chill my bosom froze.
He, holding in his right hand his staff and in his left the key, to me these accents uttered from his front mouth: “Dismiss thy fear, thy answer take, laborious singer of the days, and mark my words. The ancients called me Chaos, for a being from of old am I; observe the long, long ages of which my song shall tell. Yon lucid air and the three others bodies, fire, water, earth, were huddled all in one. When once, through the discord of its elements, the mass parted, dissolved, and went in diverse ways to seek new homes, flame sought the height, air filled the nearer space, while earth and sea sank in the middle deep. ‘Twas then that I, till that time a mere ball, a shapeless lump, assumed the face and members of a god.
“And even now, small index of my erst chaotic state, my front and back look just the same. Now hear the other reason for the shape you ask about, that you may know it and my office too. Whate’er you see anywhere – sky, sea, clouds, earth – all things are closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of this vast universe is in my hands alone, and none but me may rule the wheeling pole.”
“When I choose to send forth peace from tranquil halls, she freely walks the ways unhindered. But with blood and slaughter the whole world would welter, did not the bars unbending hold the barricadoed wars. I sit at heaven’s gate with the gentle Hours; my office regulates the goings and the comings of Jupiter himself. Hence Janus is my name; but when the priest offers me a barley cake and spelt mingled with salt, you would laugh to hear the names he gives me, for on his sacrificial lips I’m now Patulcius and now Clusius called. Thus rude antiquity made shift to work my changing functions with the change of name. ”
“My business I have told. Now learn the reason for my shape, though already you perceive it in part. Every door has two fronts, this way and that, whereof one faces the people and the other the house-god; and just as your human porter, seated at the threshold of the house-door, sees who goes out and in, so I, the porter of the heavenly court, behold at once both East and West. Thou seest Hecate’s faces turned in three directions that she may guard the crossroads where they branch three several ways; and lest I should lose time by twisting my neck, I am free to look both ways without budging.”
(emphasis mine) excerpt from Ovid, Fasti, 63-144, tr. James Frasier, 1931 (Kindle version)
(Ovid’s Fasti is also available to read online at theoi.com)
Keeper of Records, I adore you.
Mistress of the House of Books, I adore you.
Scribe of Pharaohs, I adore you.
Recorder of Glory, I adore you.
She who measures foundations, I adore you.
Lover of knowledge, I adore you.
Wife of Thoth*, I adore you.
Mother of the Golden Horus**, I adore you.
Patron of Writers, I adore you.
Lady of the writings in the House of Life, I adore you.
Recorder of Time, I adore you.
Counter of Days, I adore you.
Patron of foreigners, I adore you.
She who was born before the Sun, I adore you.
Lady of hieroglyphics, I adore you.
Patron of Surveyors, Beloved of Architects, I adore you.
Original One, I adore you.
Lady of Lists, Counter of People, I adore you.
Bearer of the light of Gnosis, I adore you.
She who opens the door after death, I adore you.
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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Judyth Hill, written the day after 9/11
…not sure when/where I found this one, but its been written in my personal grimoire for some time now
Something we all need a reminder in…
Aisling looked around at what was left of the tiny village, everywhere around her the building’s roofs smoked. Household goods were strewn over the landscape. People lay where they had been slain. The marks of the weapons clear to be seen. There was nothing here for a healer to do.
She looked at the other druids around her. Some were in tears, some were in shock, some were angry. Aisling wasn’t sure how she felt, numb?
In the middle of the night a young boy had come yelling into the Druid village about the sea raiders that had come to his village up the coast to the north. The Chief Druid had quickly roused all the people old enough to help and they had come as fast as their ponies would go but it wasn’t in time. It looked like the boy was the last one left from his village.
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by Anna Akhmatova*
I taught myself to live simply and wisely,
to look at the sky and pray to God,
and to wander long before evening
to tire my superfluous worries.
When the burdocks rustle in the ravine
and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops
I compose happy verses
about life’s decay, decay and beauty.
I come back. The fluffy cat
licks my palm, purrs so sweetly
and the fire flares bright
on the saw-mill turret by the lake.
Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof
occasionally breaks the silence.
If you knock on my door
I may not even hear.
*If I were to name the greatest poets in the world, at the top of the list I would put Anna Akhmatova. I first read her poem Requiem (which made me cry) in an anthology of women’s poetry in the 8th grade…my mom was working on her master’s degree, and I would wander the library at the university while she did research.
Anna Akhmatova chose to remain in Russia when many of her contemporaries were leaving, standing witness to the atrocitites of the Soviet regime. Her poetry is a reflection of that time…the good and the bad, the simple and the simply tragic. This poem, is among my favorites of hers. And I think, perfect for this time of the year…