blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Visit With the Mother

A small cabin sits on the shore of a quiet lake. It is made of wood, tightly constructed. One room, with a steeply pitched roof, it is snug and dry and comfortable. On the side facing the lake there is a roofed porch running the width of the cabin. Between the porch and the lake there is a picnic table, fire ring, and a few trees. I am stopping here for only two days, but even the shortest break from the busyness of home is a welcomed one. I quickly settle in.
I listen to rain fall all night, but I wake to sunlight and air that is fresh, even cool for August. After breakfast,  I set up a place on the porch. With the cooler in front of my chair, I am lounging in a lovely forest room. I pick up my laptop and begin writing. It is a revelation at first. I am using this tool for the first reason I had for buying it. It is a word processor. Without the distractions of an internet connection, it works amazingly well. I write long after noon. Lunch becomes dinner and after editing my work at the picnic table, I am ready for a break.
I return to my seat on the porch with a book – a Kindle in fact. These electric tools seem out of place, but they do not intrude on the silence. I am reading the second chapter when I notice movement on my left. I look over and down at the short space between the rails and the floor and there is the body of a black snake. The body is moving, and moving, and moving but there is no head or tail in sight. As the apparent length of this fellow dawns on me, a tiny head looks over the foot rail well around the corner, nearly in front of me. Its face has a very small rounded nose, tiny eyes, and a smooth line that is its mouth. My visitor looks rather friendly, as if this hesitant movement, and the pause during which we look into each other’s eyes, is a meeting of alien minds. We have the same needs: green leaves, blue sky, rippling water, and, well, we won’t dwell on food right now. But the need we are satisfying at the moment is companionship. Woman or snake – we all need someone with whom to enjoy this day, this sun, this world.
Finally, the snake sticks his tongue out at me and breaks the spell. I know the boy and girls at the next site would love to see this handsome snake, so I invite the family to cross our short divide of small hill and slender trees to get a look at a real, wild snake.  They rush over and check him out, ooh and aah at his size, and embarrass him right off into the woods. He reproaches me for a moment, heading toward my feet, reminding me that we might have been quiet friends. I hope he knows I love him but wanted to share him. Okay, I wanted to show him off. He disappears in moments.   
Days later, I will learn that in many cultures a snake is seen as our umbilical cord to the Mother. He was a messenger to me, reminding me that I am tethered to this Earth. In my mind, I thank the snake for blessing me with this message. I wish him many baby snakes and a long life.
When night falls, I light a small fire in my metal fire-ring. As I look at the light reflected on the leaves above me, I hear a plop in the water below me. Thinking I might have heard a ripple meeting the shore, I continue watching the fire and the lights reflecting on the far side of the lake.  The next watery sound I hear is definitely caused by a swimmer. I step down to the shoreline and place my hand against a tree to steady myself. I wait for a while but find myself enjoying this moment without added drama. The tree’s bark is surprisingly smooth and warm to my touch. I think of her roots, deep in the ground, drinking happily from the muddy water inches from her trunk. Some low branches brush  the surface of the lake, and I imagine all the life that might be sleeping, eating, or simply being there in the shelter of her green leaves and small stems. I share her view across the lake and I listen for anything she might like to tell me.
The idea that occurrs to me, after a motionless time, is “eternity.”  The knowledge that this tree will grow while these stars shine and this water whispers for a time I cannot measure fills me with a fullness, a roundness. I cannot describe the happiness I feel at being a small part of such a vast existence. There is comfort in seeing and being and letting it be enough of a contribution in this quadrillionth of a speck of eternity. So I tell the tree, “Thank you for this blessing.”  And I bring this interlude with me when I return to my busy life – always there, always inviting me to return. When I experience my oneness with our Mother, there is no need for anything more.

Monday, August 18, 2014


by Orb Weaver--an old friend who wishes to remain anonymous--
about the effect of daily knives in the heart

Do not go gentle into that good night…

This has been a wretched week, not just for me, but certainly for all of humanity.  Wars rage on throughout the Middle East, and thousands of Yazidi refugees perch on a mountain in Iraq, their only crime their choice of religion; the streets in Ferguson, Missouri are blazing in retaliation for yet another shooting of an unarmed young black man by a white police officer; half of the continent is flooded, the other half is in drought and/or on fire; and Robin Williams finally lost his long battle against depression and addiction.  To me, that was the worst of the lot, the rug pulled out from under one of the brightest stars in the universe in a cosmic vaudeville-like stichk, but without the laughter to break the fall. 

No one saw it coming.  Really?  I was shocked beyond speech, yet not surprised.  I have watched his manic antics for over thirty years, laughing until I could not breathe, and yet … and yet … there was something else there, something sad, something scary, that he struggled to conceal, to fight, to push under the surface.  His genius was undeniable, like others before him.  Richard Pryor.  Freddie Prinz.  Andy Kaufman.  Lenny Bruce.  John Belushi.  All of them absolutely bat-shit crazy, and Robin was their King.  Without exception, they all suffered from depression and addictions, and in the end, they all lost their battles.

Let me tell you what I know.  I know about depression.  I know about addiction.  And I know that I could never explain it completely to anyone who has not experienced it firsthand.  Knowing someone who suffers from either or both doesn’t count; not even if they are a blood relative, not your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your child.  Because all you know or see or experience is the fallout from the illness.  And that won’t explain it for you, because you’re probably tired of dealing with the family drunk or the neighbor nutbag, or your teenager who just seems to be in a rage all the time, for no good reason.  Your only question seems to be “Why?”  It’s like riding a Harley; if I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand anyway. 

I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my late ‘teens, although I know I suffered from it way before that, as far back as elementary school.  Happiness didn’t exist for me but people didn’t understand that.  I was smart, I was talented, I was a loser.  I had hints of personality disorders.  It was the ‘60s.  Enough said.

I’ve been on medication for years.  A couple of times I’ve attempted to wean myself off the antidepressants and the sleep meds, to no avail.  The affliction is truly worse than the cure; and at my age, all I want is to get through the day, and sleep through the night.  If I don’t take the meds, I crash, very quickly.  My brain chemistry goes into freefall.  I spend days in bed, in the dark.  I withdraw completely, from friends and family alike, with no explanation.  How do I explain what I don’t understand?  I cry.  Or I laugh inappropriately.  Everything in the world seems lost, without redemption, and it seems pointless to keep struggling.  I have had one very close call with suicidal ideation; I spent several hours late one night, by the water, with my .38 pressed so tightly against my forehead that the barrel left a red, circular indentation that lasted for days.  Even though it’s long gone, I can still see it when I look into the mirror.  It’s a constant reminder to me of just how bad it can get.  I believe that was a Waterloo moment for me that for some reason I was able to overcome.  I do not think about the next time.  I am a total work in progress; an hour at a time.

I have learned, through the years, that most folks consider depression a self-induced pity party, and tend to offer suggestions in the line of “Shape up,” or “Things will get better,” or, my favorite, “Count your blessings.”  I have also learned to ignore these directives, because while I believe them to be for the most part well-intentioned, they are also worthless.  If Robin Williams could not save himself, what chance have I?

And so, I compensate.  I use the good days to be creative, to try and be functional.  I read, I sew, I quilt, I listen to music.  I sit on my porch and listen to the owls and the peepers and all the things that go bump in the night.  I go sit by the ocean and pray for dolphins.  And I get by.  I wish that someone, somehow, had been able to save Robin, not by reaching out, but by reaching in. 

Forget about trees for a while; hug someone crazy instead.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. by Orb Weaver

Orb Weaver, friend and fellow feminist--aka no one's doormat--has her say.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 



In 1839 Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, French critic, journalist and novelist, became editor of Le Figaro, to which he had been a constant contributor; and he also started a monthly journal, Les Guêpes, of a keenly satirical tone, a publication which brought him the reputation of a somewhat bitter wit. His famous epigram is frequently quoted, usually translated as "the more things change, the more they stay the same," (Les Guêpes, January 1849).  The news out of Washington in the last 48 hours once again has proven that to be true.


Once again, our Supreme Court has managed to bitch-slap women back into the last century.  By finding in favor of the Plaintiff, Hobby Lobby, owned by hard-core fundamentalist Bible-thumpers (who also happen to be multi-millionaires), the Court once again failed to separate Church and State by allowing business owners whose alleged religious beliefs do not support contraception and/or freedom of choice for women to opt out of the provision of Obama Care that requires insurance coverage for birth control.  The cost of birth control pills in this country ranges from $50 to $150 a month, depending on manufacturer, dosage, etc.  In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted that "It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage." Since the majority of employees of Hobby Lobby are women, it means that these employees, already having difficulty supporting themselves (and in many cases, families) on minimum wage, will now be forced to pay for contraceptives to avoid pregnancies (and the resulting children) that they certainly cannot afford.   


Having been on the front lines in the ‘60s and ‘70s during the Women’s Rights movement, I am having trouble processing the idea that we have come full circle back to the beginning.  Worse, I fear that today’s young women do not grasp the fact that what they have always believed to be their rights, having been born after the fight, could very possibly have just taken the first backward steps to returning them to chattel property status.  Barefoot and pregnant, ladies.  And in the kitchen, not in the business world.   If you’re not outraged, you’re not  paying attention. 


And on the other side of town, President Obama issued an Executive Order to send an additional 300 troops into Iraq, bringing the total to 750.  As advisors.  And observers.  This is frighteningly similar to the first U.S. advisors sent to Viet Nam in 1959.  By 1962, the number had increased from 700 to 12,000.  We all know how that turned out.  This case is almost worse, inasmuch as we have already been there and done that, and the V.A. system is already overwhelmed by the ongoing result of a war fought for non-existent weapons of mass destruction.  The entire Middle East is in chaos, and just to add insult to injury, Israel will probably flatten the entire Gaza Strip in retaliation on Hamas for the murder of three teenagers who went missing two weeks ago.


It has occurred to me that my entire life has been lived in a state of war.  World War II was underway when I was born, and segued neatly into Korea.  The first rumblings were already being heard in Indochina as the “police action” in Korea wound down.  In 1954, and by the time the name changed (to Viet Nam, both North and South), we were once again embroiled in someone else’s business, which went on until 1975, when we left Saigon in shambles and ran for our lives.  Since then, we have rattled sabres in Grenada, Lebanon, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Libya, Panama, the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, Somalia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.  In doing so, we have killed and/or maimed hundreds of thousands of people, good and bad, innocent and guilty.  The Marines have a saying:  “Kill’em all and let God sort’em out.”  Really?   My favorite poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, had a saying of her own.  “Peace,” she wrote, “is the temporary beautiful ignorance that war somewhere progresses.”  True dat.   


The final blow to our collective moral conscience is in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, a man much maligned and terribly burdened by an office that did not realize his worth at the time.  On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed into law an Act that is still under attack from various and sundry elements at every opportunity.  Racism is as alive and well today as it was in Mississippi in 1964.  There is as much discrimination now as then; it has simply changed its methods, not its basic philosophy.  Hate crimes continue to occur, and the haters have developed various and unique means of taking away the voting rights of minorities and cloak them in the guise of defeating voting fraud.  Boss Tweed must be laughing in his grave.  Our inner cities are crumbling in crime and economic decay.  Children still go hungry.  Guns rule.


And every news program has led with the one story that seems to trump all others:  World Cup Soccer.  Priorities.  Not our strong suit.  Never was.  Never will be.  Bring on the asteroid.  We won’t see that one coming, either.










Saturday, June 21, 2014


Cover Image, Heart of the Sun by Kant, Key, et al

I’ve attended the ceremony of sunrise across many years . This year, as the solstice approached, I had a small epiphany. I’ve always identified sun gods as primarily male, from Amun-Ra to Apollo, from Mithras and Lugh and Surya. However, after a little  consideration, I realized there were plenty of goddesses identified with the star around which this watery rock—fortuitously, for all life forms, located in the just-right Goldilocks Zone--navigates every year. (Now, draw a deep breath and diagram that sentence...)

One of these sun goddesses is Sekhmet, my all-time favorite Egyptian divinity. Her name means “Power.”  The temple at Karnak, oriented toward the rise of the solstice sun, was built by the Queen-Pharaoh Hatshepsut. It was not only a shrine, but a college of surgery and medicine. Here Sekhmet, as an aspect of the goddess Mut, was worshipped. Her mate, Ptah, called the world into being with a single word, but Sekhmet is the lion mother who fiercely stands guard. A black granite statue--Heart of the Sun, Lady of Pestilence, Destroyer, Healer—still stands at Karnak. The massive head radiates an inhuman power.  

The primary story about Sekhmet concerns her rampage. Sent forth by Re, who was angered by humans continually violating the Ma'at--the Natural Order--Sekhmet cleansed the earth of evil-doers, bathing it in their blood. When it appeared her unleashed power would kill every human alive, the male gods asked her to stop, but the goddess refused. Finally, they offered her a lake of beer dyed with hematite. Taking this for yet more blood, the goddess drank deeply, and at last fell into a deep sleep.  

This tale is a thumbnail of Sekhmet's attributes. She cannot be controlled by male gods, for she is an immutable law of nature,  beyond their command. Once the divine physics that is Sekhmet is in motion, it is almost impossible to stop. Here is no god of tender love and mercy. She will take your hand and lead you into the heart of her fire, where the diseased parts will be burned away. Like the Hindu Goddess Kali, (or, to extend the metaphor, like a lioness with her prey) she will drag your sick soul/body to her lair, which is also the great cremation ground. There she may, as she choses, heal you or kill you.
 Tomorrow dawn, when I get up to see what I can see--whether golden hands of Aton appear upon the horizon or not--I shall whisper her prayer:
Sa Sekhem Sahu.
May the evil be burned away; may our unique blue planet be protected from our pride, our delusions and our current disregard.



Thursday, June 12, 2014



I live at the beach.  Well, not precisely, but within a 15 minute drive to salt water, either bay or ocean.  The Delaware coast has a lot going for it, not the least of which is no sales tax, and a definite proclivity to catering to the many needs of all us geezers who have descended into Lower Delaware in lieu of Florida.  As the old Romans would say, ceteris paribus, it’s a good place to live and/or die.  Where else do you get to witness the annual mating season of thousands of horseshoe crabs, marine arthropods, whose physical characteristics and behavior have not changed for 250 million years?  It’s a big deal.  There are festivals celebrating it.  They are probably my all-time favorite ocean creature (other than sharks, of course, and the jellyfish that light up).  I have a couple of dried ones in my collection of beach stuff ... my dad always loved them, too ... he brought a huge one back from the beach (found dead at high tide line) and hung it up in a tree in the woods near their farmhouse.  He thought that over the fall and winter the ants and other offal eaters would have their way with it, and then he could varnish it and mount it on a piece of walnut.  But when he went to check on it, it was gone.  All of it.  Not even a claw left.  Some deer hunter probably came upon it, and knew no one would believe him if he simply told the story, so ... it’s sitting in someone’s basement bar, collecting dust.
But I digress.  One thing that becomes evident when you live at the beach is that you see family more than when you didn’t live at the beach, at least in spring and summer.  It begins with Memorial Day, and continues through Labor Day.  You learn all the back roads to everywhere, and you stay off Route 1.  In order to take better advantage of the lesser populated beaches, I bought myself an old Jeep, vintage 1994, with many, many miles on her, and purchased a Delaware Beach Plate so that I can drive onto the beach, bypassing all those frazzled folks toting coolers and chairs, kids and boogie boards, umbrellas and duffel bags full of all the stuff you have to take to the beach (and rarely use).  So this past Memorial Day, when my husband’s oldest daughter (the good one) and her husband came to visit, we decided to load up the Jeep and trek to the place I go that never has more than a dozen vehicles along its entire strip.  Usually there is a good space between vehicles, and folks set up canopies and grills.  Every 4-wheeler has a flag or three flying from 12 foot poles stuck in rod holders, heralding one or another sport, and the occasional Jolly Roger.  Flags seem to be de riguer, but I haven’t got one.  Yet.   
We arrived, however, way too late ... it was (in the vernacular) asshole to elbow the whole length of the beach, one Jeep on top of another, and the sand was really deep and chewed up ... I told my Mr. Wonderful that we had to let some air out of the tires, but no ... what do I know, after all, and so ... we got stuck.  And in the process of getting unstuck, I overheated the clutch to the point that it was smoking.  And a couple of rednecks who noticed my anti-tea party bumper stickers (mainly the one that says, “I think ... therefore I do NOT belong to the Tea Party) hooted and hollered that Tea Party members would be smart enough to let the air out of their tires, to which my husband’s daughter screamed in reply, “F**k YOU, you morons!”  And then two gay guys pushed us out.  I retreated off the beach and we went home.  Lesson learned:  do NOT go to the drive-on beach on any holiday when the sun is shining.  And ALWAYS reduce the tire pressure, no matter what your spouse says. 
On Monday we went to the beach at Delaware State Park (near Dewey Beach) and spent the whole day in the sun.  It was wonderful, and a good time was had by all.  On Thursday I took the Jeep over to my pal where I bought it, and he checked out the clutch and tranny and proclaimed her fit for duty.  Whew. I was so relieved, because I was going to fix her.  No matter WHAT.  Even if it meant going on a ramen noodle diet to pay the bill. 
And oh, yes.  I’ve ordered my flags.  A large gay pride rainbow flag, and a 12-foot Tibetan prayer flag.  Maybe I’ll add a Jolly Roger, too.  That should do it. 
 ~~ Orb Weaver, First Cousin to Right-on Maud

Friday, May 30, 2014

Crone Ripples

Early spring morning; north river branch

Seeking peace; connecting with mobile river spirits
Warm sunshine, cool mist rising
Breathing in quiet beauty; listening wide and deep
Turtle -splash, water gurgling
Graceful swoop of Kingfisher
Attention captured/ seized/ devoured
Across the rippling water six tender birdlings meander
Chasing breakfast morsels
Flashing by in innocent delight
Moving as exotic river creature,
 Slipping through the fluid currents
 Dark dangers in the shadows
…. Breath catches fierce and painful
Where is their mother?
Who guards their vulnerable way?
 What protects them in their searching?
Gentle sunshine, light mist rising
Death in its cold beauty must not reach them.
 Not now.
Not here.
 Not in this perfect moment

Friday, May 23, 2014


Child with smallpox courtesy of CDC/James Hicks

Variolation is a form of inoculating a person with the smallpox virus in an effort to minimize the severity of the disease. I first became intrigued by the concept when I was watching a movie about John Adams, the second president of the United States. To my surprise, I discovered the scene depicting Abigail Adams purposely having her children infected with smallpox had really taken place. But John and Abigail Adams lived during the 18th century. What about the 17th?

The technique predates vaccination as we know it, and apparently has its origin in 8th-century India. Records indicate that China used variolation by the 10th century. In the West, Lady Mary Wortley Montague is credited for bringing it to England in 1721 after witnessing the practice being used by a doctor in Constantinople.

Again, I thought this would be a plot point that I would have to bypass since The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist is 17th-century Virginia. Then, I did a little more reading. In Massachusetts, Cotton Mather had heard about variolation from a slave in 1706. The slave, from western Africa, had been inoculated as a child which according to him was common practice there. This gave me the lead I needed as the slave would have grown up during the 17th century.

According to medical historians, variolation made its way to Egypt during the 13th century. It is unknown exactly when the form of inoculation came about in North and western Africa, but it was definitely known by the late-17th century and most likely earlier.

With this knowledge, I reasoned, why couldn't I write such a scene? The circumstances were very similar in 17th-century Virginia as Massachusetts. Because my scene takes place during mid-century, the Africans were usually indentured servants, rather than lifelong slaves, but the knowledge could have been available. Even during the 18th century in the colonies, variolation was often thought of as African black magic, therefore frequently discredited among the medical community.

The technique consists of collecting the virus with a lancet from a pustule of an infected person and transferring it under the skin in the arm or leg of the person without the disease. Unlike modern vaccination, this procedure gives the non-infected person an active case of smallpox. However, with the use of variolation, the person, hopefully, contracted a milder form.

Death resulted in 2-3% of the cases where variolation was used. Whereas, the normal fatality rate was 20-30% with much higher percentages for children and Native Americans. Most survivors were left with disfiguring scars, while blindness and limb deformities were less common complications.

The obvious disadvantage to variolation was that people infected through this method could spread the natural severe form of the virus to others. In a time before routine vaccination, the risks seemed to far outweigh the consequences.

Kim Murphy

Friday, May 16, 2014

Listen to the Trees

The concept of a divine World Tree or Tree of Life, the mythic bridge between the worlds of god and human, is entwined with the veneration of trees. As an embodiment of the universe, the roots of the World tree inhabit the underground, the deep knowledge of earth. The trunk unites the roots with the upper celestial canopy. The products given by each tree were considered a physical manifestation of divine providence.                                       C. Austin ,Footprints, Web.

A few weeks ago a television show,  on National Geographic or Nature or some channel like that,  revealed research into plant communication.  Most of it was about the scents and colors that plants use to signal pollinators or hide from enemies. But one plant actually kills a rival plant by chemistry and root aggression. It is being planted in western states to combat an invasive non-native species.

More interesting to me was the proof that trees communicate  and use the same tools to nurture their offspring.  Yes, they send extra nutrients to their baby trees. Astounding, amazing, exciting; it is like finding long-lost sisters and brothers all around me. There is a fungus that grows symbiotically with the tree’s root system. This is a pathway for transmitting energy or signals of some kind to neighboring trees. I have added tree roots to the catalog of things I love - the WHOLE tree and every part.

This makes sense to me. In grade school we learned that trees draw some of their nutrition but particularly their water from underground. What  makes even greater sense to me comes from my experiences  with “energy work.”  In classes on metaphysical practices, invariably we ground ourselves deep in the earth first. We feel ourselves pushing roots deep into the soil, the rock, the core of planet Earth. Then we lift our arms to the sky and push our hands into a sea of oxygen, vapor, star-power, so we become a conduit, a connection to the entirety of life force.

If this sounds ridiculous, laugh – please! Laughing is very good for you. If you sneer or judge, you hurt only yourself. Instead, I invite you to stand very still and see if you feel  a very subtle tingling in your hands and feet. Or take a yoga class. Do a sun salutation. You will definitely feel something amazing in the balance at your core. Or join me in sometimes hugging trees, but certainly sitting on their roots and having a conversation -- with the trees.

I have been thinking about trees a lot. Druids knew trees as holy, so I started poking around for information about them on the internet. It seems every author knows of trees that were sacred and held specific properties in the early Celtic religion. The different sites just can’t agree on all the important trees, except for three: the Oak, the Ash, and the Hawthorn. Then there is the Alder, the Elder, Apple trees, Rowan trees!  I could spend days reading websites that have zodiacs, symbolic meanings, fairy lore and spells associated with trees. One time of the year bring Holly in, but get it out of the house before Candlemas! Planting a hawthorn by your door will protect your house from evil – but don’t let its nasty little fairies inside. One site gives symbolic information for 20 species of trees or shrubs. Stones actually replaced particularly sacred trees according to one source. All of them discuss the Ogham alphabet, which is attributed to symbols for specific trees. An entire history of Celtic civilization is written in trees!  

Finally, there is Yggdrasil. The World Tree. So far I have found three individuals willing to admit the name is Norse, but there is one legend of a comparable tree in Celtic belief. It is the symbol of the unity around us, a bridge between the worlds, or the sun salutation of these other living beings, our companions – the trees. 

 I was unable to find information about the artist who created this. I apologize to him or her and welcome a correction.