blog description

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

Friday, March 30, 2012

No More Pennies from Heaven...

No More Pennies from Heaven...

Just this week, on the occasion of my 45th birthday, I posted on Facebook that life is short and precious, and therefore one needs to seize every opportunity to slide, glide, bounce or roll obnoxiously into cronehood. The example I used was that one should, for instance, indulge in the luxury of counting small increments of change out piece by piece at the grocery store checkout, thus holding up the entire line and thoroughly pissing the Rushy McRushsons behind one off...

And later this same week came the public announcement that Canada is discontinuing the penny! That's right, as of this autumn, 2012, the penny will be withdrawn from circulation, thus shattering my future geriatric dreams of plaguing instant gratification fiends with angst, annoyance, and grocery queue rage! How, how shall I ever become an agent of chaos now?

Plan B was to perch near the front of city buses after I am too grizzled to drive, tapping a skull-topped shaman stick on the floor and reeking of garlic and patchouli oil while muttering esoteric woids and phrases. Maybe even imitating Alice Cooper and randomly screeching, "WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!" following several hours of companionable silence. And yet all this may be thwarted, too, if shamanism, like yoga, continues along its surefire path into the cultural mainstream. Little pink-spandex-wearing shamanistas in Nikes will doubtless sprout up on every city bus in the next 20 years, shaking designer rattles and pointing out every person who has a wayward dead guy attached to them. Sigh... what's a girl to do?

Ah well, I'm sure I'll think of something. In the meantime I shall content myself with placing my bare hand on the belly of Mother Earth and reminding her that we long for spring. There's delight in that. I'm as tired of the snain as stale Twinkies in my high school lunch bag.

I go neither gently nor gracefully into Cronehood... but I go in the knowledge that pink spandex sucks. It sucks now, and it will suck in 20 years. And by the Goddess, there's some comfort in that!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rabbits Don't Lay Eggs

I’ve always wanted to come to the bottom of this particularly odd imagery which goes hand in hand with Easter. When I was little, back in the early fifties, I received an Easter basket, usually complete with a fluffy toy bunny. We had festive posters on the school room walls of cheerful rabbits carrying baskets of colored eggs.  Bunnies=Easter—that was simply how it was. Nothing to do with the awe-full Christian story of agony and resurrection, of course, but running in inexplicable tandem.
As I grew older, I became fascinated with mythology and with history. Following those tracks back to the  long ago place where they merge, I came upon a Saxon goddess named Eostre, whose arrival brought spring to the isles. Like others of her regenerative earth goddess kind, flowers sprang up where she walked.  Eggs are laid in spring, and so perhaps, I thought, the basket is actually a nest, containing eggs, and the eggs and new born rabbits and all the other creatures who begin their life cycles at this time have simply become conflated into a mash-up of imagery.
This satisfied me for a very long time, until this year, in fact, when, with input from British scholars, Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm, I think I’ve finally come to the bottom of the rabbit with the eggs conundrum.  Long ago, in England, before the Romans came, there were only “hares,” decidedly not the same animal as the smaller, “silly rabbit.” They were larger, wily relatives of the white Arctic Hare, thriving in the extensive, grazing-created grasslands of the Neolithic.  Hares do not sleep in burrows, but in “forms,” made by their neatly tucked up bodies in the long grass.  
A British bird, the lapwing, shares this habitat. She lays her eggs on the ground, like the American whippoorwill. She even does a similar “my wing is broken” routine to lead predators away from her eggs/chicks. Sometimes the lapwing makes use of a hare’s abandoned “form” for her eggs—and presto!
Ancient people saw the forms, sometimes containing the pretty speckled eggs of the lapwing, and a magical image was born. To put a cap on it, at least from any long-ago islander's point of view, both these animals belonged the earth goddess, Eostre, the sweet lady who brought fertility and flowers, so welcome after winter’s dead time.
It never ceases to amaze, what a very long time a good story can last.

--Juliet Waldron
 * From The Druid Animal Oracle

 Image from:


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Excerpt from RED MAGIC

An excerpt from my latest "drawer baby."

As Christoph prepared for his journey to Vienna, Cat was inspired to ask to come. She didn't like the idea of him traveling with the wildly enamoured Josefa, who was, in fact, being sent into service at the stone mason’s home.
She didn't like the idea of him being easily able to visit the woman who'd written the cryptic letter. There was also the anticipated discomfort of being left alone on Heldenberg. These things loomed larger than any desire to see the great capital city.
However, the suspicion-evoking reply she was given was that he had too much business to attend to and that she'd be better right where she was.
"Besides," he'd added unkindly, "as soon as you opened your mouth in front of my Viennese friends, I'd be teased about having become a nursemaid, not a husband."
"You will be alone with Josefa and then you will visit Frau Ermler." The words came blurting out. "And, even if you are telling me the truth about them, there is‑‑" and here she almost blurted out "Konstanze", but managed to change it to "those other Viennese women of yours."
" Cat! I warn you; I'm nearly dead from this unhealthy abstinence, but I shall keep my promise to you, although there are times‑‑like now‑‑when I wonder why I bother."
"Well, go on then! Tell all the heifers I say they can have you. Start with Josefa. I don't care! Why should I?"
"Your mouth, little girl! Get out of here before I take you over my knee. I'm done talking. Scat! Scat!" Scowling and looking purposeful, he strode towards her, raising a hand as if she were Furst and he intended to cuff her for the high crime of scratching the chairs.
Cat took off, beating a hasty retreat to the stables. Star, as always, welcomed with a soft whicker and the moist touch of her velvet nose.
Burying her face against the warm smell of the sorrel's neck, Cat cried a little. For the thousandth time she asked herself: why did Wili die? Her sister would have unreservedly loved this man--this wicked man--who was probably going to Vienna to see a whole crew of mistresses…
For comfort, Cat did what she always did. She saddled up and rode into the forest, cantering along a trail that led up the mountain. As she rode ever higher, the trees shrank and shriveled, as if they'd come under an evil spell. Soon, she knew, they'd disappear, and she would be on the rock-strewn high meadows. She would ride straight across to the western cattle path. Then, in waning light, she'd follow that back down to the manor.


After a glorious gallop in the cold bright sun, Cat felt better, although still melancholy.
Was it, after all, entirely reasonable to expect a man to remain faithful to a wife who wasn't really a wife? I know exactly what Papa would say!
She felt a little hungry, for it was close to supper, but she was unwilling to go back to her troubles just yet. It was a beautiful warm afternoon, a mingling ofgold, brown and rust in the forests that spread out below. The sky over her head was blue. The view of Great Heldenberg and her companions was spectacular, even if the peaks were obscured.
There'd been clouds up on the mountain all day, a gray mass which moved as if it were alive, expanding and contracting across the strange lifeless zone of rock and castle‑sized boulder that shouldered the beige, late fall meadows. She’d often seen the peaks hidden in this strange shroud.
In the stables, Cat had heard tales about these clouds. They said they sometimes came down to blanket the upper pastures for days, leaving the herders and their animals in a situation where they hardly dared take a step. Hidden within it, wolves, trusting to their noses, came from the forest and carried off unlucky strays, or, sometimes, dogs or small children. After a time, Cat slowed Star to a trot. The sun was low and she didn't want to miss the cattle path. It was dangerous to do so because of the ravine which lay about a half kilometer beyond. She had turned slightly south and had just entered one of those depressions with which the mountain was pitted, when she felt a cold wet breath on the back of her neck
In an eye blink, the world she'd been moving through, the world of valley and mountain, of brilliant colors and rosy, waning sun, disappeared. Star snorted, half-reared and then stood stock still.
They were enveloped in fog. The air inside was cold and wet and queer smelling, like the exhalation of the ancient bog they’d been skirting. Stiffling a shudder, Caterina dismounted. "Come on, girl," she said to the mare, rubbing her sweaty neck. "Maybe it will go back up the mountain again. In the meantime, we'll walk."
Holding the reins, she began to move in a direction that felt like down. Surely, if they just kept going as they had been, they'd soon hit the cattle path. "If not," she whispered, "You and I will be spending a miserable night together."
Of course, being out in the weather was the least of her worries. Cat racked her brains, trying to orient herself, trying remember the location of the huts shared by the local herders. She walked on, staring at the ground and praying not to miss the worn manured path the cattle made.
Fog poured around them like a river. Sometimes she could see a few yards ahead, sometimes she couldn't even see her feet. She hoped to keep the high meadows on her left, but the grass—when she could see it--seemed sparser.
Was she actually going back up the mountain? It was impossible to tell. Worse, she kept hearing strange sounds, a smothered wailing.
Shepherds? Or--a scouting wolf?
Fear gnawed at her. Without the sun, her sense of time seemed lost as well, and it soon seemed they’d been in the fog forever.


Star's ears pricked. Then, she reared. If Caterina hadn't had a good grasp on her bridle, she would have bolted, perhaps to break a leg or fall into the dreaded ravine.
"Whoa! Whoa! Star!" She threw her arms around the horse's neck. Clinging to the mane with all her strength, Cat desperately sought to find, somewhere in the turmoil, thoughts of calm to send.
The mare hopped from side to side, but Cat managed to hold on. At last Star stood, brown eyes rolling, nostrils quivering.
Looking around, Caterina strained to see what had so frightened the mare. As one of those intermittent breaks flowed past, it let in a rosy shaft which told of sunset. Close, in that light, she saw a familiar landmark: an ancient stone, roughly pillar shaped, perhaps eight feet tall. The shiny gray surface was covered with a moving carpet of sparkling droplets.
This pillar, she knew, sat near the herdsmen's huts, at the very upward end of the cattle path. With a chill, she realized that if she'd gone much farther, she would have ended near the awful ravine.
But--which way was down? She peered at the ground, but now her feet‑‑and everything else‑‑ disappeared again. Matching her spirits, everything turned into ghastly gray. Hoping not communicate her fear, Cat stroked Star's sweaty neck. At the same time, a long shiver coursed along her back.
What to do? Stay by the stone?
As she patted Star and wondered what to do next, a giant, a man of cloud, stepped out of that gray on gray. Water beaded his clothes, silvered his dark head and clung in beads to his flesh. Cat started, and Star reared again, nearly pulling her off her feet.
"Thank the Trinity, the Blessed Mother, and every demon on this mountain!"
The otherworldly man grabbed her horse’s reins.
“The peasants say this thing is a lodestone which keeps people from the ravine, but I never believed it 'till now."
"Christoph!" Cat had never been so glad to see anyone in her life...

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Night The Moon Sang

My husband, two little boys and I had driven 7 hours north through snow and ice from Connecticut to Maine to see his favorite cousin, Susan. She and her family were house-sitting in a large, lovely 18th Century sea-captain’s home whose sloping lawn stretched down to an inlet of the sea.
The whole world was electric blue in the twilight when we piled out of the VW and waded the last few feet of their driveway. We stomped our feet to get rid of snow in the unheated  mud room. The kitchen was wood fire piecemeal hot, and Susan was belatedly beginning to work on a sink full of dishes. The family lived for the winter in a few downstairs rooms, and kept the pipes warm for the owners, who were off sailing in the tropics, very upscale and almost unimaginable to us. Sue’s husband was a potter, and while he made beautiful things, from dinner services to exotic display pieces, they were not exactly flush with cash. Beans or spaghetti and homemade bread were probably supper that night; I don’t remember.  It was Susan’s birthday, so she’d made a delicious, heavy, scratch chocolate cake, and I’d brought up Grandma Carol’s family famous “Cowboy Cookies.”
Night grew deeper. Finally, the kid cousins were extinguished, the adults all talked out. We retired to couches and sleeping bags. It was cold as the hinges of the 9th Circle of Hell in any room not heated by a woodstove, an utterly clear, dark sky, starry night—at least, until the full moon got up over the tall black pines. Then it was like day out-of-doors, the moon balefully glittering down on those crisp, fresh pillows of snow. Susan and I had agreed to wake up later, because we’d consulted the almanac and learned that there was to be a lunar eclipse around 1 a.m. It was the night between our birthdays—mine would be tomorrow. We were a kindred pair of magical-mystery-tour women, both Pisces in the cusp, and not about to miss such a grand celestial side-show.
Exhausted from carbohydrates and driving , I’d fallen into a deep sleep, but in what seemed to be only a few minutes, I heard Susan urgently whispering.
“Juliet! Get up! Get Up!”
I sat up groggily. I could see her quite well with the moonlight pouring in the windows; it was amazingly bright.
“Get your boots and get downstairs—quick—quick--hurry!”
I did as she asked, for she sounded almost desperate, as if something was terribly wrong. Not only that, but she enforced the idea by rushing out of the room as soon as she finished speaking. I heard her feet going down the stairs rapidly. I got my boots on and followed, fast as I could. When I reached the kitchen, there she was, my coat in hand.
“Is it the eclipse? What’s up?”
“Come on—quick! You have to hear this! It’s crazy!”
I threw the coat on and followed her out the door. The first breath, as we stood on the back steps, froze my nose and made me choke. It must have been zero—or lower—outside. She gestured upward toward the moon, sailing high now over the forbidding, snow robed pines.
As we stood there, trembling, it acquired a halo of dull red as the eclipse began. The weighted branches of the pines randomly cracked. I had an odd feeling inside my head; I seemed to be looking up through water.  Next came a kind of hum, a low tone that reverberated through the scene, and then I heard sweet round tones, like a flute or an electronic instrument, ring across the sleeping, snow shrouded land and across the icy ocean at the bottom of the hill.
The veiled moon grew redder; the sweet little song repeated. Susan grabbed me by the shoulder.
“Do you hear it? Do you?”
“Yes! Yes! What on earth…?” I kept looking up and down and side to side to see if anything was different, but nothing else in this reality appeared unusual.
“Thank God!” Susan giggled. It was a beautiful melodic –and normal--sound. “I thought I’d completely lost it.”
Well, when the “singing” stopped, we went back inside and attempted to wake our respective spouses, but that was hopeless. Neither of them wanted to leave the warmth of their beds—besides, they knew that the two Pisces women were engaged in some weird, annoying folie à deux. 
Now if you are thinking about Close Encounters of the Third Kind, go right ahead.  Our brush with the other happened in 1973, four years before Spielberg’s blockbuster.  In fact, when I heard "the tones" in the movie, all the hair on the back of my neck stood straight up, as I remembered the night the moon sang to Susan and me.

~~ Juliet Waldron

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Waiting for 1940

Full disclosure: I turned 57 this month. There, I said it.
And there’s nothing like seeing that bald number in black on white in front of
your nose to give you the dreaded wake-up call that you’re a hell of a lot
closer to 60 than to 50 -- and that no amount of hydrating crèmes,
anti-cellulite wraps, Zumba classes, Brazilian waxing or other palliatives will
stop you from eventually dying.
On the actual day of my birthday, I Facebooked the snide
comment: “Live fast, die young, have a good-looking corpse. Oops, too late.”
And my handful of FB pals did the obligatory thing and wished me many happy
returns of the day.
But to be perfectly honest, ever since the odometer clicked
over to the latest number, I feel less of a connection to the life on Facebook and
more of an interest in the people I’ve gotten to know on And I’m
talking about the dead ones.
In case you haven’t had the pleasure of delving into your
past, you can’t understand how exciting it is to get a glimpse of elderly
relatives when they were legal dependents, and relatives long gone who you’ve
never even known come alive on the page. The meticulously kept U.S. Census
Bureau Records, recorded in Palmer method longhand by long-gone government-paid
scriveners, are a fairly detailed peep into the windows of the bungalows,
tenements, farmhouses and cold-water flats where our relatives once lived en famille. It’s all the thrills of a Private
Dick and a Peeping Tom combined.
And it’s gotten to be
a lot more interesting to cyberstalk and speculate on the sex lives of my
long-dead ancestors than to follow the drivel most people put up on Facebook.
Case in point: My husband’s family. What a snake pit of
intrigue, wanderlust, prodigious childbearing and probable bigamy that clan
encompasses! My forebears were your basic hoi
polloi mélange of wops and bohunks, newly arrived and crammed into Chicago
tenements or Pennsylvania coal mining town shacks; and we had our share of
miscreants -- a bootlegger uncle, a baby-daddy cousin, a great-uncle who
murdered his wife. But their exploits pale in comparison to the American Gothic
that is my husband’s family.
A tangled genetic web of Swiss, Germanic and
straight-off-the-Mayflower Anglo-Saxon (much to the chagrin of my Scots-ophile
husband, he is distantly related to Longshanks himself), the paternal side of
the family found its finest flower in my husband’s paternal grandfather, a
character named Albert.
Albert started life shortly after the Civil War in a small
Ohio farming community, one of three sons of Benonia and Marilda (that’s
another thing about genealogy – gotta love the names). Around the turn of the
last century, he was working as a bookkeeper in a sawmill (you can practically
hear the fiddle music) when he met and married Lena, his boss’s daughter. The
1910 census had the couple and their two children firmly settled in with his
father-in-law in Ohio -- although both the children’s birthplaces were listed
as Oklahoma. (I’m smelling some sort of arranged marriage here, since the girl
was sent to Kansas in 1900 to live with an uncle – a move that back in the day
signified an unplanned and unsanctioned pregnancy.)
By 1918, Albert is suddenly living in Des Plaines, Illinois,
working at an electrical supply manufacturing company, according to his World
War I draft registration card – and his wife is listed as Mary Cecilia, my
husband’s grandmother. My husband’s father was born in 1917, so it’s apparent
there was something very hinky going on with Grandpa Al.
And next thing you know, the 1920 census lists Albert as
living in Alamosa, Colorado, classified as “single,” and working as the manager
of a Western Union office.
Family lore has it that Grandpa Al skipped and never came
back, and the records prove it. He left two families without anything even
faintly resembling child support. Lena and her two children ended up living
with her elderly parents; Lena died in 1930. His other wife -- my husband’s
beloved grandma -- lived her life in Chicago as a scrappy flapper and single mother,
supporting herself and her only child as a secretary for the Archdiocese of
Albert’s brother Emery seems to have had the same traveling
bone, so to say. Like his brother, he married an Ohio girl and migrated to
Waukegan, Illinois, where in 1910 he was living with his in-laws. Listed as a “traveling
agent,” Emery traveled, all right. He was still married to Belle in 1918, when
he was working as a telegraph operator for the Chicago and Northwestern
Railroad. But by 1922, city directories show him living in Evanston, Illinois and
having ditched Belle for Blanche – the daughter of the partner in a cement
construction firm -- with whom he sired two children. (He sure must have done
some interesting commuting from 1918 to 1922.) By 1930, he and his new family
are listed as living in the swank northern Chicago suburb of Kenilworth. I don’t
know whatever happened to Belle.
The third brother, Walker, lit out for Kansas with his wife and
never looked back, eventually having what from all appearances was a normal
family life.
If these guys were alive today, their lives would make the
best reality TV show ever – the Kardashians and the Jersey Shore gang couldn’t hold
a candle to it.
If you’re not into genealogy, the year 1940 probably won’t
mean much to you, but to those of us who are tracking this ongoing soap opera, it’s
a big deal. In a few weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau data for that year will be
released, which will move them all a little closer in time to where we are now.

Although we already know what happens to everyone, the added details will only add to the intrigue. Will Albert squeeze in another wife? Will Emery and Blanche end up in a fancier house? Where will Albert's children move and who will they marry?

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Starving Time

At Jamestown, Virginia, the colonists referred to the winter of 1609-10 as the "Starving Time." According to George Percy, youngest son of the eighth Earl of Northumberland and a prominent member of the original band of Jamestown settlers, the men, women, and children resorted to eating their horses and other "beastes," then came the "doggs, Catts, ratts, and myce." Some starving colonists dug up corpses. Another man killed his pregnant wife, cut out the unborn child, and ate her. Hanged by his thumbs until he confessed, he was burned alive for the crime.

What could have caused such dire circumstances? A combination of poor planning, in-group fighting, and dependence on England and the native people, commonly referred to as the Powhatan, for supplies was largely responsible.

On June 2, 1609, nine ships sailed from England for Jamestown. In late July, a hurricane separated the Sea Venture from the rest of the fleet. The ship ran aground in Bermuda, carrying most of the colony's much needed supplies with it. The shipwrecked survivors arrived in Jamestown the following spring.

In the meantime, approximately 200 colonists were already at Jamestown and barely able to feed themselves. Suddenly, they were faced with 300 hungry newcomers. With the new Lieutenant Governor Sir Thomas Gates presumed lost at sea, factions resulted. John Smith was unwilling to relinquish his role as president, and the aristocracy thought it galling to take orders from a farmer's son.

Smith sent a number of the colonists up river to the Falls, near modern-day Richmond, to fend for themselves, as well as down river to Nansemond, before being wounded by an exploding bag of gunpowder. Severely injured, he was forced to depart for England in October 1609. Soon after, George Percy took charge and sent more colonists to a place called Point Comfort to build a fort, leaving approximately 120 colonists at Jamestown. By May 1610, only sixty survived.

According to Percy in Trewe Relacyon "some" of the colonists robbed the stores and were executed for stealing food. He also said that many were killed by Indians, and in what seems to be ironic under the circumstances, he goes on to state that many had run off to join the Powhatan, "whome we never heard of after."

Before Smith's departure, the relationship between the Powhatan and colonists had disintegrated, and many of those sent to the Falls and Nansemond were killed during engagements. Yet, the colonists at Point Comfort did not suffer from Powhatan attacks or starvation. So why did the colonists simply not join those who were thirty miles downriver at Point Comfort?

Many of the able-bodied men were already dead. About thirty "unruly youths" had sailed for England, and the same number of colonists were at Point Comfort. The weak, the sick, the old, the young, and the women were left in Jamestown. Many historians overlook this fact. Due to culture and circumstances of the time, women were unlikely to have had any hunting or soldiering skills. All but two women would have been new to Virginia's harsh climate and way of life.

At this point in colonial history, Powhatan warriors spared women and children and adopted them into their tribes. There are no records of exactly how many women were at Jamestown, but quite likely they were a large percentage of survivors during the infamous Starving Time, and it's a "what if" scene that I have incorporated into my book, The Dreaming: Walks Through Mist.

Kim Murphy