The Midsummer Power of St John’s Wort

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Traditionally gathered at dawn on Midsummer Day (or, perhaps, at twilight on Midsummer Eve, when the Fair Folk and Lordly Ones were said to gather on the hilltops and high places), St John’s Wort is sometimes known as St Joan’s Wort. In Germany it is called the Devil-chaser, an echo of the old learned name, Fuga Daemonum. It has also been called Goatweed, Devil’s Scourge, Witch’s Herb, and Balm of the Warrior’s Wound. The latter relates to the fact that in mediaeval times, dried St Johns Wort petals were scattered into battlefield wounds, the plant being regarded as a strong disinfectant; this practice seems to go back to antiquity. The flowers are said to attract bees, whose magic is at its most potent at this holy tide, as we have discussed in previous notes here. The blood-red color of the oil produced by the flowers is associated with Women’s Mysteries, which is perhaps unexpected in a plant so strongly associated with the height of the Solar zenith. In the teachings of the Old Religion however, such things were taken as a matter of course.

Malcolm Brown, on the site Wight Druids, gives the following rhyme, which he attributes to a 16th century manuscript source:

St. John’s wort doth charm all witches away
If gathered at midnight on the saint’s holy day.
Any devils and witches have no power to harm
Those that gather the plant for a charm:
Rub the lintels and post with that red juicy flower
No thunder nor tempest will then have the power
To hurt or hinder your houses: and bind
Round your neck a charm of similar kind.

He gives further interesting lore, such as the kenning Witches Blood for the juice or oil secreted by the leaves, and the old saying that if a formerly barren woman walked out naked to gather St John’s Wort (presumably on Midsummer Day), she would conceive within the year.  Perhaps curious is the lore that while some said the plant would drive hex-hags away because of its strong power of purity, others held that the flowers were used by witches to aid them in hearing spirits.  In a similar contrast, on the Isle of Man the belief remained that this was a sacred Faery plant; on the Isle of Wight there were similar links to the realm and presence of the Shining Ones.  But elsewhere, it was regarded as a bane and a protection against the Fair Folk.  These apparently conflicting traditions reflect the process historically by which lore was fragmented due to church teachings about magic, the Otherworld and the old ways.  Though the church sought to link all of it to the province of the Devil, in various pockets undiluted streams of lore survived, no doubt because it was connected to practices, such as the use of herbs in healing and charms, that were of real practical value in people’s daily lives.

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God Herself

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Quakoralina, the Star Goddess

A lovely black woman is waiting, waiting
In the boundless night.
A river of blackbirds are mating, mating,
In the dim starlight.

Down out of the sky they come winging, winging,
Drawn to Her black flame,
And the melody they are singing, singing,
Is Her holy name.

In the dust of Her feet are the hosts of heaven,
And Her star-sequined hair
Is crowned with a coven of six and seven
Blue suns burning there.

—Victor Anderson

The expression God Herself could be called a Faery koan.  Victor once wrote in a letter that Lilith was honored by the Harpy Coven, to which he belonged in his early life, not as “the Goddess,” but as God Herself.   This is an important distinction.  In a letter to Anaar published in the book, The Heart of the Initiate, Victor clarified:

When we say “Goddess” in my tradition, we mean God Herself, because God was first worshipped and first perceived by the ancient humans as the Great Mother, although this Great Mother has the power that we think of as male. … 

Later in the same letter, Victor taught:

We also speak of the Goddess as Kali when we say, 

Hail, Blessed Mother,
whose body is light
and whose voice is truth.
Power of darkness
and womb of light.

And we know in physics that the blacker the body, the brighter will be the light when it’s heated to incandescence. So black is power.

In one instance known to me, Victor did speak of God Herself as “our Father-Mother Spirit”:  the two expressions denote the same concept:

Our Father-Mother Spirit who dwells
In the Aka world of light above,
We call upon you, honoring and hallowing your name.

Victor Anderson, Prayer for Beginning the New Path (1972)

I like to think of blackness as pure potential.  My mind cannot conceive of a time when the separation between darkness and light had yet to exist, but I can look at the black candle which is used to represent the Star Goddess on the altar in our rites.  In that blackness, I can see a symbol of the Womb which pre-existed all.   In the way I was taught, we begin every formal rite by lighting the black candle, and chanting a prayer to Her from Whom all being flowed:  the lighting of the candle is a symbolic remembrance of  Her Pure Self becoming divided into Darkness and Light.  An instance of what Mircea Eliade called “the eternal return.”  In the Aradia text, it is said that She divided Herself  out of love.  This Creation brought forth the Lightbringer, the Consort, of Whom Victor frequently stated that He came into being not because God Herself needed Him, but because She desired Him out of Her pure lust.  It is a mythic statement of  a profound metaphysical truth, one that has found expression in recent time in some quantum physics theories I’m not even going to attempt to paraphrase.

In the way the Faery Tradition views Divinity, there is no conflict between the themes of Unity and Multiplicity–the One and the Many as it has been called in philosophy.  Just as a vast multitude may share the steps of the same Dance, so the shining infinitudes, the vast illimitable tapestry of Her creation, is united in the link all share with Her.  One of Victor’s most essential teachings is encapsulated in the statement:

God is Self, and Self is God, and God is a Person like Myself.

Again, simple words that englobe a complex and profound truth.  It is partly to be understood in terms of etheric anatomy.  You will note that the statement comes in three parts that compose a single sentence:  that represents a clue.  Victor chose words very carefully.  He valued impeccability in Craft teaching.  The spark of Divinity that is the core element of the Self, or Soul, of a living human being, is connected to the same force that brought forth the Universe in love: the Being we call God Herself.  Aleister Crowley expressed the same thought when he taught:  Every man and every woman is a star.  I also feel that Harry Hay’s vision of subject-SUBJECT consciousness, a praxis he intended to be the foundation of the Radical Faerie movement, could be said, turning around a favorite expression of Victor’s, to be taking the power of Divinity and raising it to the level of Humanity.  Think about it.

Every time I utter the phrase God Herself, I feel that I am reconfiguring my own mind to a slightly deeper, more profound level of resonance with the hidden Force that runs through every sentient being in the Universe.  Witches, like Taoists, know from experience that even rocks have consciousness.  The essence of the Work is not to understand this intellectually, but to LIVE it at a gut level of experience and epiphany.  When the fire of inner gnosis illuminates every breath, every heartbeat, every moment, everything is possible.

One of my favorite explications Victor gave of how what is commonly called Divinity suffuses all life-force is in the same letter quoted above:

So we who follow the Craft, by whatever name it is called, should be very natural in everything we do. Live a normal, wholesome life. Whatever we do, it is because God Herself needs to do it. When we make love, God needs to make love. When we eat, God needs to eat. We breathe, God needs to breathe. And we have a saying in my tradition of the Craft, which is a little tough to wrap yourself around, but it’s a very good saying: God is self, and self is God, and God is a person like myself.

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(Sheela-na-gig by Changeling)

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Hail the Midsummer Bee-Goddess

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(Art:  Bee Goddess by Q. Cassetti)

The Feast of Midsummer invariably brings to mind the mysterious and enthralling cult of the Bee Goddess, the Great Queen Bee.  So far as I am aware, the phrase “Midsummer Bee-Goddess”  first came to prominence in modern times through Robert Graves’ mystically meditative work Greek Myths. This inspired writing which should not be mistaken for a work of history or anthropology.  Graves was fascinated by the ecstatic but deadly hieros gamos (sacred marriage) enacted between the Queen and Her myriad consorts, the drone bees; the mating rite ended in the Queen consuming the drone’s genitals, the wreckage of the drone’s body tumbling back to earth and the quietus of the compost-heap from the heights of the Queen’s exalted bridal flight.  One had the sense that Graves fervently believed that the drone died with a smile on his face.  In this age of technological miracles, the bridal flight of the Queen and her mating with her drones has been filmed in intricate detail; you can watch it on Youtube.  Forget about your parents having sex; to me, this is undoubtedly a primal image.

With the dreadful spectre of colony collapse syndrome looming before us, and the very real threat of bee extinction, in this time thoughtful people have become more aware than ever before of the foundational role bees play.  Without bees, it’s questionable whether production of the world food supply would be remotely sustainable.  Paying some loving respect and care to the bees through the imagery of the ancient Bee Goddess seems even more significant today–even crucial.  Through myths, human awareness is sharpened and emotional energy is brought to the fore.

In meditating upon this theme, I wish to share some excerpts from an insight-laden essay composed by Linda Iles, a teacher and Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis, founded in the 1970s by the late Lady Olivia Forbes-Robertson. (A truly dedicated Priestess I once had the pleasure of meeting briefly, at her home in Ireland.)  “Priestesses of the Bee: the Melissae,” is an essay Linda published on the Mirror of Isis website.  Linda’s brilliantly thoughtful essay includes these very suggestive passages:

Porphyry (AD 233 to c.304) writes: “The ancients gave the name of Melissae (bees) to the priestesses of Demeter who were initiates of the chthonian goddess; the name Melitodes to Kore herself: the moon (Artemis) too, whose province it was to bring to the birth, they called Melissa…

Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921 – 1994) writes of this passage by Porphyry: “…we learn that Artemis is a bee, Melissa, and that both she and the bull belong to the moon.  Hence both are connected with the idea of a periodic regeneration.  We also learn that souls are bees and that Melissa draws souls down to be born.  The idea of a ‘life in death’ in this singularly interesting concept is expressed by the belief that the life of the bull passed into that of the bees.”… So the epithet of Bee in ancient Greece, applied not only to priestesses, prophetesses, or Goddesses like Demeter and Artemis – it was also bestowed upon poets, musicians, artists and philosophers – anyone touched in some way by divine inspiration. …

There is a group of stars, visible at this time of year (July – August) called the Beehive Cluster, whose Latin name is Praesepe, meaning “manger.” Praesepe is an ‘open cluster’ which spreads out, similar to a swarm of bees over a large area of the sky, with more than forty stars visible to the eye as a cloudy patch at night. It is located in the seasonal sign of Leo and in the constellation of the Crab (Cancer). The best way to find Praesepe – first locate the twin stars Pollux and Castor, then look left (or east) to locate Regulus. It lies between Pollux and Castor and Regulus. According to Pliny, when the stars of the manger were visible at night, it was a prediction of good weather and ease of passage.  … Recognized by the Platonists of ancient Greece as the highest point of heaven, this was the “Gate of Men” though which souls descended to earth from heaven. It is the opposite of the “Gate of the Gods” found in Capricorn, where souls of the departed ascended back to heaven.

This final paragraph is particularly interesting when we consider the relationship presented in some of the ancient lore between the Divine Twins, Castor and Polydeukes (Pollux), and the Great Mother.  It is also fascinating to consider the role of Artemis as the Great Bee, Melissa, in fostering the rebirth of souls.  The God Hermes, the Guide of Souls and Father of Wisdom, Magic and Trickery, is mentioned as well in lore given in the Homeric Hymns.  It all twines together in an intricate pattern of sacred gnosis.

On the Eve of Midsummer this year, my friends and I libated mead, a drink made from fermented honey, to Artemis and to Her Brother, Apollo.  Like the Dioskouroi, the Divine Twins, both Artemis and Apollo are Gods of Healing.  They are siblings and yet another exemplar of the Divine Twins. Artemis manifests purity and honor and opens the gate into Mystery; Apollo as the Sun God is the Sovereign of Inspiration and Prophecy.  The energies of Moon and Sun thus join together in  this holy Tide of Midsummer.  I became quite tipsy through drinking the mead, perhaps like the Delphic Priestesses of yore, and my friends and I enacted an ecstatic bee dance.  The sound of drunken buzzing and the heat of a Summer afternoon gave more than just a touch of surreal intoxication to the rite.  At this Midsummer tide, may the holy energies of Moon and Sun and the triumphant sway of Summer at its height bring blessings to all who read my words. And may the Great Bee Goddess bring healing and solace to our beleaguered, beloved Gaia. So Mote it Bee!

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(The “Epiphany scene” from a ring found at Isopata, showing a Minoan Priestess embodying a Goddess, surrounding by dancing, chanting Priestesses. Note the “Bee Priestess” motif of their clothing.)

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Mutating Bloodrose

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        Mutating Bloodrose
Spiral within spiral, fold within fold,
Never oh never may this secret be told:
Blossom of scarlet, blossom of bone
Never oh never shall it be known:
Ever a new dance, a new song ever,
In youth ever new, dance ceasing never:
Our veins are afire, our lips cry aloud,
The hosting’s aloft high over the clouds:
Spiral within spiral, secret sublime:
Endlessly whirling within this Fey rime.

Leafshimmer, Midsummer 2011

Once in a violet moon (so to speak), someone will ask why my line of the Faery Tradition is known as the Mutant Bloodrose line.  I was trained originally by Gabriel Carrillo, Founder of the Bloodrose School of Witchcraft, from which many of the curriculum-based  methods of teaching Faery derive.  When Gabriel was teaching us, he preferred to speak of our work as “the Faery Cauldron.”  It was said by Taliesin in a poem that the two words that never came forth from the Great Cauldron of Cerridwen were “be still,” so in modern terms the use of the concept of constant mutation is apt.  But Mutant really reflects lines that derive from my Oathmother, Eldri Littlewolf.  I’m sure she has her own reasons for her choice of the word.  One memory that comes to me is that a couple of times she has pointed out to me that Witches, when they are in their power and paying attention, see patterns.  It’s a significant part of what we do.  I think of a mutation as established in scientific discourse as a naturalist identifying a pattern, perhaps one that cuts against the grain.  Evolution has turned out to be a lot more complicated than we originally thought (another topic about which Eldri has spoken to me more than once), and the role of “freaks,” “monsters” and “deviants” has turned out to be more important than anyone ever guessed.  I really relate to that–as we used to say when I was a child, I dig it.

When I hear the word Mutant, I don’t think of the X-Men or anything like that.  I think of a Jon Pertwee Dr Who story I first saw sometime around 1974.  It was called “The Mutants,” and the role played by the title characters involved a rather spectacular revelation I prefer not to give away.  Later on when I read about Teilhard’s theories regarding human spiritual evolution, I thought of the imagery of “The Mutants,” even though it was a low-budget British science fiction serial (which originally hardly anyone I knew had ever heard of).  For me, these stories and films played the same role as the myths and sacred dramas did for the citizens of ancient Athens.  They were fantastic tales that had a magical resonance and revealed some hidden truths through the language of symbol and play.

The Bloodrose, of whose thorns Victor Anderson wrote with such searing poetic insight in his verses, is such a rich image, booming like a thunderclap through the firmament of my mind.  The image of an unfolding spiral rose whose swirls bring forth constant unfolding of Mystery and epiphany holds such wonder, and sums up for me what makes the Craft such a treasure of spiritual and magical exploration.  That is why I cherish the image of the Mutant Bloodrose, and why I am very proud that I am of this line.  Midsummer Blessings to all who read my words.

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The Divine Twins at Midsummer

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The dyad of the Twins leads seemingly inexorably to the formulation of trinity. Whether this be the trinity of Their parentage from the Sky Father or Great Mother, or in some other sacred triangularity, an implicit triplicity is revealed over and over again in the legends as they have been collected over the ages by scholars, storytellers, and the curious. Thus, Donald Ward reports that the Indo-Iranian, Graeco-Roman, and Baltic traditions about the Twins each present the Brothers as having a Sister, typically characterized as a solar maiden or literally daughter of the Sun: “In Greek mythology the sister of the Dioskouroi is Helen, whose very name means approximately ‘divine splendor,’ and who, according to some reports, is also known as the daughter of Helios ‘the Sun’ … .” (Ward, p. 11)

—Leafshimmer, Red and Green:  Meditations upon the Twins (in progress)

In this month of June, our swiftly tilting planet swings Her Northern Hemisphere swoopingly towards the Sun, as eager as any Groom for the embrace of his Swain.  This June of 2015 has seen an exceptional burst of Divine Gemini energy–Sun in Gemini, Mercury Retrograde in Gemini, and an amplified, even perhaps somewhat haywire, soaring of Elemental Air energy.  Communications on all levels and of all descriptions have been stunningly affected.  Conversations have assumed a sometimes feverish level of intimacy, or a spectacular degree of misfire.  Motherboards, circuit boards, and trustee boards have erupted and frazzled.  Emails have gone astray and telephone calls have rushed into the realm of stupefying cowabungatude.   It’s no wonder that this Witch feels somewhat dizzy!  Still onwards we lurch with what we hope is a stately tread, and not just another drunken stagger, towards the event of Midsummer, the Summer Solstice.

My most constant bed-friend for the past fifteen years has a lot of Gemini energy, and I, as a Leo, personally groove with the vibe.  I offer a few quotes I have assembled in an unfinished paper about the Twins for your delectation:

“Either one or both of the Divine Twins can …function separately or together like two candle flames blended into one.”–Cora Anderson, Fifty years in the Feri Tradition (1994), p. 7-8.

“According to those who have seen the Dioscuri (the Divine Gemini Twins), the only noticeable difference between them is that Polydeuces’s face bears the scars of boxing. They dress alike: each has his half egg-shell [headgear] surmounted by a star, each his spear and white horse. Some say that Poseidon gave them their horses; others, that Polydeuces’s Thessalian charger was a gift from Hermes.” Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, v. I, section 74.p.

“How the heart of the initiate thrills when the antique mysteries are written of. She or he recognizes the same great truth expressing itself in many forms, yet as one thing.” Victor Anderson, in The heart of the initiate: Feri lessons (Harpy Press, 2010), p. 42

The final lines from Victor remind us that the Gods are the mistresses/masters of the Art of Shapeshifting (and yes, gender-shifting) and the “same great truth” can be found in a seemingly endless variation of forms across many cultures and teachings.  So it is with the Divine Twins.

I first encountered the Twins as the Red Man and the Green Man, Lord of the Beasts and Suzerain of the Plant Kingdom respectively.  I saw Them as eternal Lovers in a sixty-nining  erotic sarabande of consuming and being consumed.  In the way I was taught, it was said that it is as the Red Man and Green Man that They come most strongly at this holy hour of Midsummer.  I seldom see the erotic bond between Them acknowledged directly in the lore, perhaps because of all the taboos around sex, especially between siblings (incest taboos) in all historic cultures.  On a vase from a region of Italy called Magna Graecia in ancient times, there is a painting of the Twins with the Goddess Nyx, who in some Traditions was Their Mother.   Their hands are reaching out to one another but not quite touching, in a gesture that seems  at once eloquent, longing, and profound.  I believe that in the Illiad, Helen recalls her Twin Brothers while standing on the ramparts of Troy. The Homeric narrator comments that one brother is in the Netherworld, while the other roams through the sky; by decree of Zeus, “to appease the Fates and the Gods,” they keep switching places, but are never able to meet. In this stream, They are both mortal and divine, perhaps embodying a notion of the human state as eternally caught between the forces of death and rebirth.  In other legends, we find Them appearing, sometimes as Twin Stars, and performing various miracles.  Among the common folk, they were venerated as the Greatest Gods–Saviors and Patrons of the downtrodden and despairing.   This accounts for how enormously popular Their cult was, even though the only form in which They are generally known in modern times is as the Gemini Twins.
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(Drawing of the Twins with Their Mother Nyx from a Vase by the Underworld Painter, as realized by Caroline Christian)

June, month of the Divine Twins, was named after Juno or Hera, and this accounts for why the Twins are sometimes depicted as attending Herself, the Queen of Heaven. She is the Matron of the Marriage Bed.  To this day, the month of June is favored by those who seek the rites of matrimony.  There is something mystically romantic about this month that follows the tide of Beltane and the Sacred Marriage that ushers in the Summer season.  It is obviously a mysticism deeply rooted in the physical–a specifically Pagan kind of realization, as I am very strongly reminded on this hot June evening.

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Hyacinth, Beacon of Beltane

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It has been said of old:

When whitethorn blooms at break of day,
Time it is to dance the May.

But here in New England, when I see the stately, regal, suggestively phallic plume of hyacinth in all his finery, I know that Beltane cannot be far behind.

Royal, rippling, with a heady fragrance that can make the mind reel towards strange fancies, it is easy in the present age of “Hyacinth Bouquet” to forget that Hyacinth was once a vigorously masculine name with mythic, ancient associations.  The name hyacinth comes to us from the Greeks, but the form of the name shows pre-Hellenic origins.  The youthful flower-god was connected with a Minoan origin among scholars of the early 20th century, but this theory no longer seems to carry the esteem of learned opinion.  But for the romantics among us, the image of a flame-eyed Minoan youth striding stately and solemn through the courts of Old Knossos is one that we will yield only with the greatest reluctance.  One tradition that was handed down by Pseudo-Apollodorus in antiquity had it that the beautiful Hyakinthos, whose ravishing form was like that of a young god, was loved by the mortal Thamyris, who was thus the first man known on Earth to love another male.  Because of this, Hyakinthos and the flower that bears his name became associated by the symbolist writers of the 1880s and 1890s with the forbidden raptures of male love.

The death of the fair Hyakinthos at the height of his powers, due to the jealousy of Zephyros, the West Wind, for the love the lad bore for Phoibus Apollo (for what flower loves not the sun?), enacts in mythic space and time the sacrifice of early Spring flowers to the often ruthlessly fickle weather of that “cruellest” of seasons.  Soon after, however, come the hawthorn blooms, and the lilacs with their heavy-scented boughs, and then in sweet revelry we dance to honor the May.  We go out hand in hand among the fields and lie in the sweet grass to let the earth Herself quicken with the love shared from our own loins.  So it has been since time immemorial, and so no doubt it shall be, so long as humans bear still within them some spark of rejoicing in the splendor of the renewed Earth, and the turning of Spring towards Summer.

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Spring Strathspey

Lavender_WikiDaybreak, and I wake to spring’s sweet bouquet
And the glorious day of beginning;
Myrddin is gone on his magical way,
But the Equinox Day leaves me spinning.

Gwydion Pendderwen, Spring Strathspey

I was walking through a snowy Cambridge afternoon yesterday and suddenly, came upon a bank of gentle snowdrops, their white brows drooping in pale phantasmal bloom.  My heart surged with the giddy joy of a maiden’s first sight of her bridegroom at the wedding feast.  It has been a very long, harsh, grim winter; there have been days of meeting and storytelling and singing, and nights of gathering together to share mirth and cheer. But there have also been long days and nights when going outdoors felt too forbidding due to the weather, and the fact that the snow and ice made the streets all but impassable.

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I attended a lovely Ostara rite yesterday.  This time of honoring the Spring Equinox, a moment when Darkness and Light dance shoulder to shoulder, is always such a blessing.  Even if I am unable in a given year (as was the case this time) to celebrate on the actual date of the Equinox, I am still able to tap into the energy of the moment.  There is always a re-kindling of hope at this season of the year, and often, a spark of beauty comes unbidden.

We had a beautiful green altarcloth with a floral pattern, and under it, a shimmering gold fabric to represent this time of the waxing Sun’s beginning.  A vase of daffodils offered remembrance for Kore’s return from her exultant reign in the Underworld as Persephone, Queen of the Dead.  We shared words in honor of Her Consort, Hades, the Wealthy One, from Whose hidden realm all earthly treasure and abundance ultimately issues forth.  (Think of compost in the new Spring garden.)  And there was a statue of Hermes, Guide of the Dead, Herald of Mystery, energy of a newly rampant and throbbing Phallos, quickening with the reawakening pulse of Lifeforce returning.  My friend called Him forth, evoking a newly flowering meadow with its odor of lavender and wildflowers, and the musk of the deep woods and the clean dark reek of dill.  His wisdom, compassion, and artfulness, the Holy Mystery of Hermes, guide She who was Sovereign of the Dead back to the realm of the living, to be welcomed into the arms of Her grieving Mother, Demeter, Queen of Earth’s Foison.  The Mother’s grey veils of grief are changed overnight into green glimmering bowers of joy, as the Spring flowers burst forth seemingly faster than eye can see.  Here in New England, the pageant is often dramatic, and even challenging for those with the drowsy sleep of winter still clinging to beeswinged eyelids.

We sang together of the Snake Woman shedding her skin, the Blossom Boy opening wide, the dance of the sacred Elements of Life and the turning of the Wheel; we laid a garland of consecrated flowers at the foot of the May Tree in token of our hopes for the season of returning light and warmth.  We poured a libation of mead and gave thanks for surviving another Winter.

For the Balance of the Wheel goes round and round.  So Be It.

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