Oh, if my spirit may foretell
Or earlier impart,
It is because I always dwell
With morning in my heart.
from “The Seer” (1897) by George William Russell
Greetings, best beloveds, from the battened down hatches of the fiercely-wild, glacial moonscape urban midwest. Yes, you may have heard, the snowpocalypse doom-train is speeding over us in the form of a massive, razor-toothed blizzard. We here at PG headquarters have been busy the past couple days steeling ourselves for the week – we’re stocked up on potatoes and coffee, and we’ve started to pray to the phlegmatic radiator with renewed vigor. I say Hail to Dame Winter, Mother Darkness and Howling Night! That Ancient, Terrible and Shrieking Lady is having her say, and how.
Still…still…beneath it all, Imbolc rises. More a dream even than a whisper at the moment, but still, beneath the rock the fist of winter yields and the moss begins to breathe. The conspiracy of spring begins to hum. And while the storm rages and the white bees sizzle through the aching air, through it that Most Holy and Beloved Smithwoman walks, with her hair as red as burning coals, leaving behind her the bloom of starlit white flowers and poetry in her footprints…morning in her heart. Hail Bright Prophet!
Snow has always made me think of magic. When I was a child, I was sure that the physical manifestation of raw, untamed magic must at the very least look a lot like the sparkle of snow under lamplight. And while I’m sure that animated moving pictures showing small winged peoples shaking sparkly dust over things had something to do with this, it is a notion that’s stayed with me nonetheless, and in the pursuit of an organic, natural religion steeped in the holy earth, I still feel fairly confident in declaring snow as incarnate magic, real and present – solid and not-solid, ephemeral and yet heavy, both whisper and roar simultaneously. Beauty and terror – a great ghost walking.
Indeed, it should come as no surprise to learn that I am fairly certain that beauty and magic are one and the same.
Of course, I am not a philosopher, so the arcane twistings and turnings of aesthetics are sometimes lost on me, and if I am so bold as to say that magic and aesthetics are one and the same, bear in mind that this is only the barest hint of a personal theory. Certainly I can say that I believe wholeheartedly that aesthetic is critical to the execution of effective magical practice, and that a rite that fails to pay attention to the importance of aesthetics (whether simple or complex), to Deep Beauty, simply fails. The pursuit of beauty is the pursuit of joy, of emotional authenticity.
Yet it is still a difficult beauty rises in the final months of winter, when it seems the snow becomes angry and the wind is unforgiving – Winter grips the earth with Her iron hands and refuses to relent. Those of us who live where the weather comes howling may despair at the unbelievability of the coming spring. Will it ever be light again, will color again bloom in the grass…will the wildflowers that seem a flight of human fiction open again along the roadsides and in the fields. Yes, we forget. A season of fragile faith.
by Matthew Arnold
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; — on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægæan, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The sea of faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitute, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Yet the Mama is Beautiful. Always. Joyce Kornblatt, in a recent article in Parabola magazine, comments that “beauty and brokenness live in intimate relationship,” that the one not only exists by the other, but in fact exists because of the other, and vice versa. So it is that in addition to that fragile despairing and the ruin of winter, we find hope. The hope for a sky that rains roses.
by George Eliot
You love the roses – so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet: and it would be
Like sleeping and yet waking, all at once.
The question of course being: would we want that? A valley filled with roses? Or is the sublime vision of such an exquisite event dependent on the fact that roses instead wither and die, that the snow walks, that death comes, that things break…that we break.
Not really a new set of thoughts, I’m aware. But if we’re all so wise to the relationship of brokenness to beauty and of harsh wind to hope, why do we need reminding so often? Every spring I think “I want this forever.” Every fall I struggle against the sweeping dark. I ask questions and receive no answers.
So this is what poetry is for.
by Pablo Neruda
You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving there with
his golden feet?
I reply, the ocean knows this.
You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent
bell? What is it waiting for?
I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.
You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?
Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.
You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing
how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.
You enquire about the kingfisher’s feathers,
which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?
Or you’ve found in the cards a new question touching on
the crystal architecture
of the sea anemone, and you’ll deal that to me now?
You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean
The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?
The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out
in the deep places like a thread in the water?
I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its
is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,
and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the
hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light
and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall
from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.
I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead
of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,
of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes
on the timid globe of an orange.
I walked around as you do, investigating
the endless star,
and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,
the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.
The intrepid spouse and I will bundle ourselves up sometime in the next day or so and take a short walk through the wind and snow and feel its roughness against our faces. For now, the wind wrecks itself against the glass and the brick, and my world this night is small – the flotsam of my life laid out in tumbles of books, paints, keys, pens…the occasional cult object. I pray in the darkness for the coming sun. We are so amazing. We are so complex. Fragile, remarkable, and strange. Weather and rhythm, jokes and sad songs. All.
I say Hail to that Dark Winter but wish all the same for Spring. I sing the seed beneath the earth, wishing for light.
by Mary Oliver
Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shaking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.
May the blessings of Imbolc remain a light in your heart, best beloveds. Grok poetry. Grok light and moss and snow and dreaming. Grok Earth. Grok Earth.
Pray without ceasing.