Fire, Fortune, and Fate

The Southern Rockies are in a drought, and fire season has come early to Hardscrabble Creek.

The alarm came on Monday, and as usual, the “fog of war” (which applies in wildland firefighting too) descended rapidly.

I am part of a little rural volunteer department — secretary of the board of directors, sometimes an engine boss, sometimes just a guy with a tool in his hand.

The computerized voice on the telephone said that there was a brush fire at the intersection of County Road ••• and Highway ••. The trouble is, the county road intersects the highway twice, about two miles apart. Which one was I going to?

Dressed in interface gear (for warmth, mainly), I called the dispatcher on my radio.[1]The trouble is, the dispatchers all live up in the county seat, and they don’t know the roads in my part of the county very well. “Upper end,” she said.

M. heard me repeat that as I went out the door. Unfortunately, she did not hear the Dispatch supervisor correct the location to “lower end” as I drove away, which meant she was panicked that the fire was upwind from our house. And although I called her ten times, once I could break away for a moment, even landline calls were not getting through due to to an overloaded network. (Thanks, Century Link.)

Two of our engines were coming, but being closer, I arrived first. Some neighbors were poking at the fire with shovels, but two houses and a detached garage were in its path. Tense voices on the radio told me of the engines’ progress — it is a three-mile pull uphill from the station, and diesels don’t warm up fast.

Send the brush truck up high to “attack from the black,” I told them, and bring the tactical tender (which pumps a lot more water) down to the county road.[2]Some people would call that a “tanker,” but out here we use Forest Service lingo: “Tankers fly, and tenders roll”

They did so, and before long, Chad D. was dragging a hose uphill toward the flaming oak brush behind the garage, two other volunteers assisting, while I started the pump and charged the line. In moments, our fortunes changed. We saved all the structures — and we looked good when “mutual aid” engines from two neighboring departments arrived twenty minutes later.

With the chief on the scene, I could call the dispatcher and say, “The incident commander is now Chief M., and his call sign is XXX.” Big relief.

The incident dragged into the night, and the waxing Moon was rising. Standing on that hillside, I could see scars from other fires. At least 33,000 acres have burned within a mile of my home since 2005.[3]That is to say, one edge of the fire was a mile away or closer.

We have been fortunate, M. and I, but there is a psychic toll. When I went home on a supper break, she was a bundle of nerves, not sure if she was supposed to evacuate (for the third time) or not.  Dog(s) . . . computers . . . favorite boots . . . we know the drill.

The Wheel of Fortune. From Two Graces Gallery, Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

On the file cabinet near my desk, attached by a magnet on its back, is this rusty sardine can-and-glitter icon of the Tarot card of the World. And on the iTunes playlist when I started writing was Dead Can Dance’s “Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to the Book” (linked at the top).

I think that song is profound in a Pagan way.

Obviously, as a Pagan I do not buy into the Heaven & Hell model of the cosmos. I was exposed to the pop-culture version of Karma a long time ago, and while I think there is something to it (“The Universe rewards a right action” — does it?), you cannot look at karma as a savings account where you deposit good deeds and withdraw good fortune.

And Fortune. Or Fate(s), if you prefer. Even the gods submit to the Fates.

Driving towards the fire, I was thinking, “Is this another big one?” No, it was not. But what about the one that will come after it?

I’m a Pagan, and there is no miraculous Savior. We go out there and do our best, but even the gods submit to Fate. Meanwhile, as one of the Old Ones said,

Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre,
mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað.

Thought must be the harder, heart the keener
Spirit shall be more — as our might lessens.[4]In a military situation, I suppose that that is what you say after you call in an air strike on your own position.

Four volunteers and a brush truck versus fire and wind. That’s my lying-awake-at-4 a.m. worry about how it goes.

O Fortuna velut luna statu variabilis,
semper crescis aut decrescis.

The Moon rises as we walk through the burnt brush, squirting embers with a hose or breaking up a smoldering stump with a pulaski tool.

How long can this life go on?

Notes

Notes
1 The trouble is, the dispatchers all live up in the county seat, and they don’t know the roads in my part of the county very well.
2 Some people would call that a “tanker,” but out here we use Forest Service lingo: “Tankers fly, and tenders roll”
3 That is to say, one edge of the fire was a mile away or closer.
4 In a military situation, I suppose that that is what you say after you call in an air strike on your own position.

A View of Hardscrabble Creek

The real Hardscrabble Creek

Last summer, when we had some flooding on Hardscrabble Creek, I sent a video to a friend in England, who replied that he had assumed that “Hardscrabble Creek” was a literary invention.

Not so. I have a simple and literal mind, I will admit that.

The green trees are ponderosa pine. But are they the scopulorum variety or brachyptera? Since I consider myself a Southwesterner residing in the former imperial province of Nuevo México, I vote for the latter. (This map supports me.)

Pentagram Pizza: The Second Generation

1. I like to point out Pagan writers who are doing more than “how-to” writing, so click over and read Kallisti’s piece on “Some Reflections on Being Second Gen Pagan/Polytheist.”

Most of the issues boil down to how different it is to grow up within something versus convert to it. Unlike many adult converts, I had to deal with religious bullying in the rural Midwest as a child.

2. Norse settlers cut down most of Iceland’s sparse woodlands. Restoring them appears to be harder than it is in other ecosystems. Note to the New York Times, “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity.

3. Last weekend M.’s and my old home of Manitou Springs held its annual coffin races. They started right after we moved away, but we met in Manitou, bought our first slightly-more-than-tiny house there, and have lots of memories.

The [Manitou Springs Heritage Center]  will be the starting point of “ghost tours” featuring “spirit guides” who will show people around town for 45 minutes, stopping at sites where actors will play out tales of the colorful past.

“Manitou was full of witchcraft,” [Jenna[ Gallas says. “Not that it is anymore, but I think people still like to believe ooky-spooky happens here, and if we’re gonna celebrate Halloween, we’re gonna do it in Manitou, where the freaks come out every day.”

What is this “was,” Ms. Gallas? Yes, we did our part in the 1980s. Rituals upstairs in the Spa Building? You bet. Rituals outdoors downtown around the mineral springs? Those too. I have to think that someone else has carried on!

4. The obligatory pre-Hallowe’en news feature, this one from the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC.

Images of witches being veiled in darkness, casting spells over cauldrons endure, but a new generation of Wiccans and witches have established growing communities in D.C. and across the country.

Yada, yada. But this good:

“[Hallowe’en is] a celebration of the witch. You can have sexy witches, you can have scary witches, but it’s still a celebration of the witch. Even if the witch isn’t shown in a positive light,” said Stephens, a 37-year-old Wiccan who also practices witchcraft.

Hey, Baby, What’s Your Sign? Want to Check Out my Van?

It is a fact in journalism that some things never get old. Stories about today’s young people are evergreen: Are they hopeless screw-ups? Do they possess a brilliant new world-saving vision? Or both? Or neither?

Live long enough, and everything recycles, like platform shoes (they were popular in the 17th century too, not that I remember that far back). Here is a piece on “Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.”

Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice.

Take out the word “app,” and that sounds like the early 1970s to me, another “tumultuous political time” (Vietnam War, resignation of President Nixon, etc.)

And speaking of the Seventies, when I knew people who did it, here is a snarky piece in the New York Post titled “Meet the pretentious millennials who romanticize living in vans.”

Twenty-four years ago, calling your car home was Plan Z. Now it’s a generation’s greatest aspiration.

Copiously illustrated with photos of beautifully restored VW campers, both air-cooled buses and water-cooled Vanagons, the article would produce a predictable result from M., who still laments that we sold the 1984 Vanagon camper that we owned from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.

“I could put it up by myself!” she would say. #Vanlife.

And so she could, but the only mechanic in Nearby Town who would work on fiddly European fuel-injection systems had been about to retire.[1]He was a treasure, though, and people knew it. I would walk into his shop, where the radio was always on the classical music station, and there would be an Aston-Martin or a Maserati. “I had no … Continue reading

So I sold the Vanagon to a guy up in Fort Collins, thanks to the Internet, and got something with four-wheel-drive. Volkswagen did make an all-wheel-drive Vanagon, the Synchro, and while fishing in the mountains last June I found a nicely restored example parked at a trailhead.

I complimented the owner on his van, and he launched into a list of all the systems on it that he had rebuilt. “You have to be a mechanic,” he said.

No, thanks. On the old VWs, maybe. Nowadays I do some work on my old Jeep CJ-5, and everything else goes to the pros.

If you hanker after an older VW bus or Vanagon, I think the the place to be is New Mexico, where both they and people who will work on them seem to end up.

And, since you asked, Gemini.

Notes

Notes
1 He was a treasure, though, and people knew it. I would walk into his shop, where the radio was always on the classical music station, and there would be an Aston-Martin or a Maserati. “I had no idea that anyone in [Blank] County owned one of these!” I would say. “Oh yeah,” he would reply.

Happy Independence Day & Blessed Be


The Stars and Stripes, a Colorado craft beer, and a Ripley’s witchcraft museum goblet. This is actually the summer solstice celebration, I reckon, delayed two weeks.

I’m kicking back after driving one of my department’s fire trucks in Nearby Town’s 4th 0f July parade. Here is a picture of one of the units pre-parade. Kids and an early Farmall Cub. You couldn’t pose that.

What Is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Maypole procession at Colorado’s Beltania festival, 2011. (Photo by Robin Vinehall.)

When it comes to large-scale ritual, the traditional Wiccan circle does not scale up well. It was made for a small-group mystery religion, where twelve or thirteen people really is the maximum.[1]OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.

That Wiccan circle, as far as I can tell, was based on the magic circle of the ceremonial magician, designed to hold one, maybe two, possibly three individuals—but usually just one. And as many teachers will tell you, the magician’s circle was supposed to give the Bad Stuff out, whereas the Witches’ circle is supposed to keep the Good Stuff in.

But like a balloon that can be inflated only so far before it pops, the magic circle seems to lose cohesion when it grows too big. Its fabric tears, and, for all I know, the Good Stuff leaks out.

It may still worth with large groups as a way for a maximum number of people to have a good look at some theatrical event happening in the center. Make a son et lumière production out of calling the Quarters—that helps when you have a large outdoor gathering.

On the negative side, I have attended large rituals where people brought folding chairs to sit in because they knew that they would wait a long time for anything to happen—for the oracular priest to make it around to where they sat, for instance. It was deathly dull.

Last month at the Heartland festival, held at a 160-acre site with a network of internal gravel roads, I saw a small procession passing ahead of one of the main evening rituals. I perked up at that, but the participants were more like camp criers: “Come to the ritual.”

No no no no no. The procession should BE the ritual—for most people. That is when you bring the gods out of the temple and take them down the street. It’s interactive, and it involves the bodies of the participants. Let everyone join in! Consider what is done in India or in Catholic countries and urban neighborhoods on certain saints’ days.[2]Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.

Instead of the procession being a warm-up act, I modestly suggested to two members of the Sacred Experience Committee (in other words, the ritual producers), it should be the Main Event. Idols! Musicians! Costumes!

If a more conventional ritual follows, that’s fine, but don’t expect everyone to come. But bring the procession past their campsite and entice them to join it because it is loud, colorful, and physical.

I remember one New Mexico festival in the late 1980s where the rituals were pretty good—maybe because the group was not too huge. But then one evening a handfasting was announced, and the campers spontaneously grabbed torches and lanterns and drums and flutes and processed behind the officiants to the site—and there was more “juice” in that procession than in the official circle-style ritual.

I’ve attended a few Pueblo Indian rituals since my dad used to drag me down to Zuni when I was three, and I have noticed something: The tribes don’t expect everyone to participate. The specialists—the appropriate religious society or priesthood—will perform both the hidden parts and the public parts—dances and so on. Many people will just be spectators. The important thing is that the ritual is performed for everyone’s benefit, whether they pay close attention or are off seated on an adobe wall eating watermelon or chatting up a potential romantic partner.

Likewise the old-time Pagans had used processions as a major large-group activity. Sometimes they ended, for example, at a sacrificial altar, and then the specialists took over. (Everyone ate later.) They did not make everyone sit in rows inside a temple—most activity took place outside the temple. Making you stand or sit around indoors while the specialists do their thing is the Christians’ mistake.[3]Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, … Continue reading

Right now, we are in the middle of summer festival season in the US and elsewhere. Tell me what you see. Are people getting away from the “Let’s just make a big ol’ circle and call the Quarters” model? There has to be something that works better.

Notes

Notes
1 OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.
2 Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.
3 Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, kneeling—in some churches, but it is not what I would call movement.

The Story of Three Athames

I have owned three athames in my life — or more precisely two athames plus a new knife that may well become one.

There is a story in here of changing Craft practice.

Actually, the first athame was simply my wooden-handled Mora hunting knife, not in the photo.[1]Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price. I cleaned the first deer that I ever killed with it, and it still rides in one of my daypacks.

1 — Then one February 28th in my mid-twenties, I went rabbit hunting on the Pike National Forest west of my home in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I know it was February 28th because that is the last day of the season, and I wanted to get out one more time.

As I recall, I saw no rabbits, but while walking through the woods I found an antler-handled knife.[2]Made in Spain by Muela. Of course I picked it up. Of course (being a relatively new Pagan) I thought it was a sign. Some god or daemon had given me a ritual knife — terrific!

I walked on — and then I found a cup — an aluminum cup of the kind that come with campware cooking sets.

“This is too much!” I thought. “Where is the pentacle?” (No need to ask about a wand; I was in the forest, after all.)

No pentacle appeared, but I felt somehow honored all the same. The gods or simply the universe had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re in.”

That knife was my athame for several years, and I will still use it sometimes; otherwise, since it takes an edge, it makes a good “white-handled knife.”

2 — But a new teacher entered my life, and he had different ideas about how magic worked. He and some engineer buddies postulated that maybe magical energies were on the electromagnetic spectrum . . . somewhere. They experimented with psionic “machines” that were said to amplify mental energies, psychic healing, fields of protection, and so on.

He suggested removing all ferrous metal from the ritual circle, and — if you were indoors — turning off the electric power for the duration.

So I had to replace the stainless steel (inox) athame. The high priest of my coven (a different person) found me a piece of very hard bronze. I took it to the HP of another coven, who was also an SCA fighter and an armorer — I would put his articulated steel gauntlets, for example, up against any from the 14th or 15th centuries.

He ground and polished this bronze billet into a full-tang leaf-shaped blade. The crystal in the hilt was my addition — it might help, who knows?

I made some other changes in my practice, becoming more aware of bodily energy flows. And I just liked the idea of bronze. Ah, the Bronze Age. Thuban was the North Star, and those were Shining Times.

Ritual. Long memories,
houses built on poles,
mountains, glaciers, trading parties
of tattooed men and women, faience beads,
packs filled with poppies, tin, and amber
threading through a pass.
Hammered bronze knives. Helen,
mixing her potions,
the blue Aegean stretching
like a storyteller’s breath.

Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Poeia, Revised and Updated:
Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft

Maybe that was not what my teacher had in mind, but it is where I drifted.

3 — Last year at Yule M. gave me a flint knife. I know where she bought it, at a trade fair in Taos, New Mexico[3]Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post, and it was made just down the road by Charlie Acuña of The Stone Edge (say it). For three months it has been sitting on my desk while I think about it.

But where has my practice been heading? More and more to the local level. I have written a little about paying attention to Tlaloc, our regional god of the hydrological cycle, for example. I’ve been working with volunteer crews to clear fallen logs and other debris from Hardscrabble Creek, before the run-off from a large burn scar upstream causes flooding in our communities, which gives me plenty of time to think about the spirit of the creek while adjusting the saw chain tension.

Am I moving backwards from the Bronze Age now? It’s all just dreams and talking to the plants and animals. Doing certain feral things. Letting so much fall away.

Notes

Notes
1 Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price.
2 Made in Spain by Muela.
3 Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post

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

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.