The Old Ones Built Wisely

equinox sunset

The Sun sets in Equinox Notch, one day before the actual spring equinox.

My house comes with its own solar calendar, sort of. I discovered when M. and I moved here in the 1990s that the equinoctial sunset occurs in a notch formed by the ridge to the west, as viewed from the front porch.

Surely the ancient builders planned this!

Actually, the “ancient builder” was Alan Cook, a minister in the “New Church  (General Convention),” one of the Swedenborgian denominations, who lived from 1893–1984.  He was active as a minister in the 1920s, then came to Colorado to manage a summer resort in Green Mountain Falls, west of Colorado Springs. No longer a minister with a congregation, he still held some Sunday services for the tourists and wrote in a typically Swedenborgian style, which is big on correspondences between the visible world and the Unseen World.

Mountains, as we know, signify exalted states of affection. And God’s love is the most high and exalted of which we know.

Pagan me says no, the natural world was not put here only to provide a moral lesson to us humans, although I can still feel some affinity with a man who wrote,

But the man of spiritual mind should discern the far greater wealth which lies beyond mere nature [sic] and the commercial worth of rock — he may know their soul, and, in a measure at least, he will be able to share that wealth.1)Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

I found a photo of Alan Cook with some other books and materials stored in a crawlspace, and it hangs on the Wall of Ancestors in my study — which was his study too. We do not share theologies, but I like to think he approves the room being filled with a desk and bookcases once again.

Happy Ostara!

Notes   [ + ]

1. Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

Remembering Ed Steinbrecher and His Esoteric School

Ed Steinbrecher (1980s?)

Looking for something in the bedroom Craft/astrology/Tarot/magick bookshelves this morning, I ran across a copy of Edwin Steinbrecher’s The Guide Meditation. (It’s still available from Samuel Weiser and it’s good.)

I checked with Dr. Google and discovered that Steinbrecher, an astrologer and occult teacher, had passed away in 2002 — here is an obituary from the Los Angeles Times. 

What the obituary does not say is that in between founding his DOME (Dei Omnes Munda Edunt) astrology and meditation center in Santa Fe in 1973 and moving to Los Angeles in 1984, he and co-founder/partner David Benge lived in Colorado Springs for a time.

Imagine a typical 1970s split-level house, with what would be the living room and dining room filled with bookcases — and all the books organized by zodiacal sign, so that gardening, for instance, would be in the Virgo section. So much more mystical than my habit of putting, say, all the books on Colorado and New Mexico history together! (What Sun sign would encompass them?)

M. and I attended various talks and workshops at the DOME house. Ed was passionate about astrology, and this was the time in my life when I was deepest into it. Later, under pressure of graduate school, etc., I decided that something had to give, and that something was astrology, so I stopped doing people’s charts — these days, I might manage to check my transits once in a while. The last astrology lecture I heard was by Liz Greene (who is one of the best Jungian astrologers) in 2004.

But his Inner Guide Meditation system has a Tarot connection, and that is drawing me back to it. It will be intriguing to re-read the book.

Links that Start in Bristol

¶ Professor Ronald Hutton talks about his career and admits — in public — that writing The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft actually harmed it for a time. “Reframing Modern Paganism” in Pagan Dawn magazine.

Heat Street, a political news site, notes the growth of Paganism in the U.S. Army. It’s relatively snark-free coverage, with mention of the ground-breaking Sacred Well Congregation.

¶ If you want to “dream the dark,” do it in Westcliffe, Colorado. Click the link for the short video.

Not Dead and the House Is Still Standing

william-f-schmalsle

Great-great-uncle Fred,
a dapper Old West sportin’ gent.

Sorry about the lack of content. Everything went topsy-turvy on the 17th and is just now returning to normal, or to a “new normal.”

I left home on the 11th for a trip to eastern North Dakota to go grouse hunting with an old friend who himself was facing heart surgery on the 24th. It’s a thousand-mile drive each way, but I have done it for seven of the last eight years. Lots of restful prairie driving (perfect for audiobooks!), and I can chose a route where the biggest city I go through is Pierre, South Dakota.

This year I tacked on a day and drove via Miles City, Montana, a place that I had never visited but where a number of my paternal grandmother’s relatives lived—her uncles and brothers.

I wanted to see sites associated with my great-great-uncle, whose résumé in the 1870s and 1880s apparently included civilian Army scout, buffalo hunter, saloon-keeper, occasional deputy sheriff, and landlord of and probably silent partner in a couple of  “boarding houses” for young ladies. My cousins and I are trying to sort it out. (He ended up peacefully retired in Pasadena and left my grandmother a nice inheritance from the money he made “in real estate.”) There is a street named after him, a minor street in a residential area.

nd-badlands

Entering North Dakota from Montana on I-94.

I bought a bottle of Montana whiskey to toast Uncle Fred.  Another day’s drive east brought me to a little town dominated by grain elevators, where my old friend G. fetched up about 14 years ago.

We had a couple of days together; then on Monday the 17th my phone woke me with an emergency call. My little rural fire department was being called (at 6:30 a.m.) to assist with a “100-acre grass fire.” The location was roughly west from my house, conditions were dry, and a strong west wind was blowing, I knew. My guts turned to water.

More calls followed. The fire was blowing up: 9,000 acres. 10,000 acres.1)4046 ha. I could not reach M. at first, but eventually she called (after I was already packed and on the road south) to say she was preparing to leave for a motel in a nearby town as soon as the sheriff’s deputies said she had to go right now. I did not try to reach anyone on the fire department, just texted the chief and told him that I was two days away but on the move. I told M. to pack my wildland fire gear: “Just grab everything yellow.”

What do you do magically in such a case? Something sprang spontaneously to my mind as I drove — a giant Smokey Bear, skycraper-size, standing with shovel at the ready at a key road junction.

That sounds sort of comic book-ish, but it works for me. When I learned something about ceremonial magic in my twenties, I realized that my first (and to that time, only) experience of “assuming the god form” was as a 9- or 10-year-old  wearing the Smokey Bear costume on the Forest Service float during parades in Rapid City, SD.

Smokey was created by a commercial artists, but what the heck, he is a demi-god by now. At least to me.

Magical work should be reinforced by material-plane work. The worst of the fire was over by the time I got home, but I still put in a day and a half on an engine crew, plus another day doing engine maintenance etc. at the fire house

The station also functioned as a disaster-assistance center, with various agencies setting up help centers there. In such cases, you are always overwhelmed with donated food. So I took a platter of two-day-old barbequed pork up to the wildlife rehabilitation center that I frequently mention on the other blog.

They have a couple of bear cubs that they are fattening ahead of an early-winter release. The BBQ was a welcome high-calorie treat.

“Thank you!” said the woman who runs it.

“Not me,” I said. “Thank Smokey.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. 4046 ha

Normal for Glastonbury, Normal for Boulder

I love snarky local blogs. Unfortunately, the one for my little mountain county seems mostly devoted these days to attacking one county commissioner candidate, so I will spare you that.

But thanks to a Facebook friend, I was introduced to Normal for Glastonbury, which contains such nuggets as these about the most esoteric town in England, contributed by its readers:

Lisa: ‘Get off my fucking leyline!’ a hedge monkey once shouted at the custodian of the White Spring.

Sophie: “Yesterday, whilst on the top floor of the bus returning to Glastonbury from Bristol I overheard two young men, talking excitedly about visiting Glastonbury for the first time. One French guy explained that he had a calling to go to Glastonbury because people there believe in dragons, as he did himself and in fact he always travels with his dragon. When the other man asked where his dragon was the French man explained that his dragon was riding on the roof of the bus.”

Vijay ” I have a boyfriend in the seventh dimension”

Sam: “I was stood outside St Dunstan’s house on the pavement. Woman walks up and, looking concerned asks “Can you tell me where something normal is?”. I paused and asked whatever did she mean ‘normal’? She said “Something like .. well – an Italian restaurant”. I pointed across the street to point out we had (at that time) two – there and there. She looked relieved, thanked me and walk away. It left me wondering .. why is an Italian restaurant in Glastonbury ‘normal’ and what had led to her concern?”

That comment about getting off the ley line1)Is ley line one word or two? reminded me of another blog, one devoted to conversations overheard in the too-hip university city of Boulder, Colorado, once famous for its population of Buddhist converts.2)Sedona, Arizona might be a better parallel for Glastonbury, however. (They’re still there, but Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is long gone.) Mirroring a more hipster/New Agey-vibe, it’s called Stay Out of My Namaste Space.

Some samples:

“I do yoga at the Y. They do a poor people’s scholarship which is great ‘cause I look poor on paper.”

“I was thinking about it today and I haven’t been in Europe in 2 whole years.”

“The Universe has blessed me with the opportunity to be unconnected from my smartphone.”

“I swear to God, I was the only person on this earth who thought Iceland was cool before everyone else did. I’ve literally been obsessing over Iceland for twenty years.”

“We ended up naming him Jeffrey. I wanted to name him Stannis but my psychic didn’t think that was a good idea.”

Who’s delivering the snark in your town?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Is ley line one word or two?
2. Sedona, Arizona might be a better parallel for Glastonbury, however.

Celebrating Spring, Red Rocks, and Wine

Bennett Price

Bennett Price, founder of DeBeque Canyon winery in Palisade, Colo,, samples a cask with a wine thief.

I look outside today and see a white landscape, with light snow falling and a couple of hungry humingbirds huddled on the sugar-water feeder like barflies staring into their whiskey glasses.

Yes, it’s a typical May Day in the Colorado foothills. Is any surprise that Colorado’s biggest public Beltane festival does not occur until the 19th–22nd of May? They tried at first to do it on the “correct” date, but they learned their lesson.

Next weekend is the 76th Music and Blossom Festival in the southern Colorado town of Cañon City, not too far from me. Everyone knows, as a friend said last week, that “Blossom Weekend will be either snowing or a hundred degrees.” He forgot to mention the time in the 1990s when a hailstorm hit the parade.

But attending would be a way to “let the polis support your Paganism,” a theme that I have played with here and here this year.

So I will back up to the spring equinox, whose theme is usually “Let’s thaw out a little before the snow returns.” Some years that means a run to the desert, such as Canyonlands National Park. This year, it was Colorado National Monument. Red rock and sunshine, that’s the thing. Yay, Wingate Formation!

And wine. The vineyards were leafing, barely, whenM. and I dropped in at a couple of favorite Western Slope wineries in early April, of which our most favorite is DeBeque Canyon. (Yes, like the organizers of Beltania, we postponed the date a little.)

The trend today is for wineries to become venues. I think of one winery in Sonoma that I visited as a hitchhiking college student in the 1970s, on my way from Portland to San Francisco. I remembered it as a collection of sheds and little barefoot girls in cotton dresses running in the dust — my friend and I bought a jug of “Dago red” and took it up to the ruined hot springs that Lake Sonoma later drowned.

I returned to the same winery in 2007. Unrecognizable. There was an art gallery, meeting, space, an elegant tasting room that looked like a hotel bar . . . all glassed-in and air-conditioned. Other wineries compete with gardens and fountains and views — that is happening in Colorado too.

Not at DeBeque Canyon, not yet. You bump over the railroad tracks in Palisade to a collection of industrial metal buildings. There is Bennett Price, the owner, behind a simple counter pouring excellent wines for tasting, and telling stories of the industry’s beginnings in the 1970s. He seems to know everyone in the trade from Denver to San Francisco.

Slightly buzzed, we cross the parking lot in the strong spring sun, arms full of bottles. Yes, spring will be returning even to our foothills home. But first the spring snows will arrive to saturate the land.

Gentrifying the Mansion of Decrees

First & Broadmoor

Photo: Colorado Springs Gazette

Back in the 1980s, heyday of The Menance of Cults, the Church Universal and Triumphant (formerly Summit Lighthouse, grandchild of the “I Am” movement, great-great grandchild of Theosophy—one of many), was in the second tier, behind the Moonies, Scientology, and the Hare Krishnas (ISKCON).

Its leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009) took control after the death of her husband, Mark Prophet (1918–1973). To the church, he did not die but became an Ascended Master. It always amused me that they claimed a previous incarnation for him as Sir Launcelot, whom I had thought was a fictional character. For the full list, see link.

Around the time of Mark’s . . . passing . . . Summit Lighthouse, as it was then known, acquired this 1930s mansion in a ritzy part of Colorado Springs near the Broadmoor Hotel.1)British readers are permitted a brief titter at that name, but in Colorado Springs it has been a luxury resort since the 1880s.

I remember stopping by in about 1975 with a New-Agey friend from college who had heard about Summit Lighthouse—we chatted with some members, looked at some of the public rooms, picked up some brochures.

Not long after our visit, the group changed its name and moved to property north of Yellowstone National Park,2)They bought 12,000 acres and named it the Royal Teton Ranch. where they started stockpiling weapons and supplies and preparing for the apocalypse. Yeah, that again.

They spent hours chanting magical affirmations — “decrees” in CUT-speak — with a strong flavor of American nationalism.3)If Dion Fortune could organized magical workings against Nazi Germany, why couldn’t CUT support the Reagan Administration? Who says occultists cannot be political? They probably took credit for President Reagan surviving John Hinckley’s attempt to kill him — or maybe they gave all credit to the Ascended Master St. Germain, who was Their Guy.

In about 1981, when I was a young newspaper reporter, I was contacted by a woman who had been Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s personal secretary until she quit and/or was forced out. She unburdened herself, and I built a news feature around that. I found writing about “cults” to be quite absorbing — there were some others also — and eventually I made the decision to go to graduate school and study new religious movements.

Meanwhile, the big house at First and Broadmoor apparently went downhill. It backs onto the hotel’s tennis courts, near its carriage-and-vintage car museum, and now the hotel wants to buy it and turn it into guest suites.

Planning a big wedding? For only a projected $8,500 a night, you can put the whole family there.

(The other weird thing was that in some photos, ECP looked a bit like my mother. If my mother had been an alternative-religion leader, she definitely would have been working positive magic for President Reagan. But in her cosmos, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer already covered that, with its standard prayer for “The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and all others in authority.)

Notes   [ + ]

1. British readers are permitted a brief titter at that name, but in Colorado Springs it has been a luxury resort since the 1880s.
2. They bought 12,000 acres and named it the Royal Teton Ranch.
3. If Dion Fortune could organized magical workings against Nazi Germany, why couldn’t CUT support the Reagan Administration? Who says occultists cannot be political?

The Eagles of Candlemas, continued

Diana Miller, director of the Raptor Center in Pueblo

Raptor center director Diana Miller with a female golden eagle.

The first part is here.

As I wrote earlier this week, M. and I celebrated Candlemas by going to Eagle Days down at the state park by Pueblo Reservoir.  (Chamber of Commerce types want you to say “Lake Pueblo.”)

Scheduling a festival around raptors is a little iffy; you can expect sandhill cranes, for instance, to show up on time for their festival, but eagles?

So the director of the local raptor-rehabilitation center and her volunteers always show up with plenty of “education birds,” those being birds whose injuries or some cases habituation to humans keeps them from being released into the wild.

M. and I are volunteers too, in that our work as “wildlife transporters” for Colorado Parks & Wildlife often means bringing in hawks, owls, and vultures to the center. Once in a while, we get to release one as our reward. (The survival rate for injured raptors, unfortunately, is not too high.)

We caught part of the U.S. Air Force Academy falconers’ demonstration, an Indian pow-wow dance group’s eagle dance, looked at the birds. We had seen one golden eagle on the drive to the lake, and Diana said a certain spot farther down the Arkansas River might have some bald eagles, but I had another plan that had worked before, which involved driving upstream, into the state wildlife area, and then hiking with spotting scope and tripod to an overlook.

There, at the edge of the ice (the lake being half-frozen), was a black dot, which at 20x quickly resolved into a bald eagle, just hanging out.

It was not my spirit bird, nor did it bring me a message. It was just an eagle doing eagle stuff, another inhabitant of the upper Arkansas River.

It’s funny how we have to have a special day, with costumes, handouts, museum exhibits, captive birds, pizza, and cookies just to celebrate letting the wild be wild (and the wheel of the year), but that is how we roll. And if it build connections, I am all for it.

I care less and less for fancy metaphysics, dazzling Neoplatonic pyramids, recycled Theosophy, and all of that. I like my Paganism close to the ground. I know that that puts me at odds with all the One God/One Prophet/One Book people out there as well, but I gave up on monotheism many decades ago because it never told me how to live alongside the eagle.

The Eagles of Candlemas

pueblo eagle daysPaganism is not the religion of the polis, but the polis (loosely defined) can support your Paganism.

For the last two days, my Facebook feed has been filling up with people posting electronic clip art to the theme of “Happy Bridget / Imbolc / Candlemas.”

Me, I spent three hours today enjoying quality time with my snowblower, clearing out a foot of Happy Candlemas that fell in the past two days.  (That’s my long wooded driveway, plus the one up to the guest cabin, plus an elderly neighbor’s driveway, in time for him to drive off to lunch at the senior center — he does have a 4WD pickup.)

I normally think of Candlemas as an “inner” holiday, compared to Yule. It marks what is usually my most productive writing time of the year. But I also like the idea of tying the quarter and cross-quarter days to events that somehow connect to the natural world, like the Chile & Frijoles Festival at the autumn equinox or the Yule log hunt.

I brought up this topic a year ago, but I did not make a suggestion for Imbolc, which occurs at 9:30 a.m. GMT on the 4th of February this year (check your dates here.)

Yet it was looking me in the face — and I had attended before: Eagle Days, this coming weekend! Except that bird plays havoc with the traditional esoteric astrological arrangement: Beltane, 15° Taurus (St. Luke-bull); Lammas, 15° Leo (St. Mark-lion); Samhain, 15° Scorpio (St. John-eagle); Candlemas, 15° Aquarius (St. Matthew-man).

Well, you can’t have everything. I have a blog post planned about the silliness of trying to jam Paganish stuff into neat categorial schemes.

The old Jeep CJ-5 celebrates Candlemas.

The old Jeep CJ-5 celebrates Candlemas.

Here on the Eastern Slope of the Rocky Mountains, we say a verse that contains ancient wisdom:

Winter in the spring,
Summer in the fall,
Fall in the winter,
And no spring at all.

So by that bit of local knowledge, this is the beginning of snow season. I don’t know how you work a fire festival into that, except that it is nice to have the increasing sunshine to melt April blizzards. Maybe the fire is in the head.

Have the wintering bald eagles arrived at Pueblo Reservoir? I really should pack up the spotting scope and go see. Happy Candlemas, eagles.

Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lodge invokes both Heorot and a parish church.

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the mountain park lodge invokes both Heorot 1)Hrothgar’s famous mead hall in “Beowulf” and a parish church.

We Pagans may think that we “own” Hallowe’en, but we are own some ground at Christmas time — or Yuletide, if you prefer. Today M. and I drove 15 miles over twisty mountain gravel roads to a little town that celebrates a Yule log hunt.

This tradition dates to 1952, so it is about as old as Wicca. And it was passed on through a lineage: people here were given a splinter of another Colorado town’s Yule log in order to inaugurate their own. That town, in turn, received its splinter in 1933 from the Adirondacks resort town of Lake Placid, New York, where a Yule log ceremony was created afresh in 1911.

Recreating ancient tradition: it is all right out of Ronald Hutton’s Stations of the Sun.

A local Protestant minister, an old man with a booming preaching voice, invoked a father god whose radiance shines down. “Ave Sol Invictus,” I thought, considering that the minister stood in front of a wreath-decorated blazing fireplace, no Christian symbolism in sight.

Maybe this was his non-sectarian mode of public speaking, but he talked about this “sacred valley” and the “sacred season” and invoked the ancestors. I felt right at home.

And then our friend, the director of a nearby raptor rehabilitation center, brought in a peregrine falcon while her associate carried a barred owl — and they invoked the birds!

“Owl . . . give us your secret knowledge . . . .” and so on.

“This is getting better,” I thought.

And the little choir sang the Boar’s Head Carol while an admittedly faux boar’s head was carried through the hall. (Memories of my undergraduate years!)

Then we moved outside, and things became a little more primal. The huntsmen in their short green capes gathered around . . .

The huntsmen (green capes) address the crowd before a trumpet sounds the Call.

The huntsmen (green capes) address the crowd before a trumpet sounds the Call.

Is there something sinister about that rope?

Is there something sinister about that rope?

The hunt for the Yule log takes place in a mountain park; the huntsmen describe the general area, and then the crowd takes off.

“They haven’t found the log yet,” says a man into his cellphone half a mile from the lodge, while three boys of 14 years or so dispute with one another: “It was over here last year.” “No, it was across the road.”

“You guys don’t know it,” I think, “but you are making memories that very few of your contemporaries will share.”

The ancient sequence is repeated. People (kids in the lead) spread out into the woods.

Then there is yelling in the distance. It becomes more organized: a ritual cry.

And that is followed by the processing of the prize back to the lodge.

 

The hunters move out into the woods.

The hunters move out into the woods.

kids on log-sm

That rope? It pulls the Yule log, and the little kids ride.

sawing the log sm

The girl who found the log must suddenly master a whippy old-style crosscut saw as it is cut into two pieces: one to burn and one to save.

interviewing taylor sm

And she must pass another ordeal — an interview from a TV reporter. “How did it feel?”i

And there is more caroling, cookies and hot drinks, and a closing prayer which M. and I slipped away from, thinking of the miles of snowy road and the dog left at home.

It’s truly Yuletide now. And I am bringing down my own logs, but they are to be split and burned as winter closes in.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hrothgar’s famous mead hall in “Beowulf”