Imbolc on Ice

Look south from Bennett Avenue, the bi-level main street of Cripple Creek, Colorado, across Poverty Gulch (once lined by the saloons and brothels of Myers Avenue), and there it sits, like the citadel of the Ice King.

At 9,494 feet (2,894 m.), the early February winds are still cutting and only the lengthening day suggests any turn toward spring. M. and I, plus my Pagan cousin and her partner, fortified ourselves with food and drink in a crowded restaurant and then zipped up all zippers and headed for the Ice Castle at our designated 6 p.m. entrance time.

The restaurant’s Facebook page said that they were so busy with Ice Castle visitors that they were not taking reservations, but we snagged a table by showing up at 4:30, ahead of the dinner rush.

This castle is a commercial venture. I had seen earlier versions in the ski town of Silverthorne in the 20-teens,and thought it would be cool-no-pun-intended to visit, but I was always on my way to or from somewhere else. Now we had our chance at Candlemas season. I like it when the Sacred Wheel matches up with popular activities, even when the coincidence is not planned.

Daytime must be different, but at night the Ice Castle hits the same sort of Underworld vibe that I get sometimes in Taos at PASEO, the fall art festival, when clumps of dark-clad people walk dim Spanish colonial streets until suddenly illuminated by the flare of a flaming gate or a giant robot or an art work projected onto high adobe walls. (See “The Robot God and the Underworld  Gate.”)

So it was sort of like that but without the writhing silent-rave dancers. There was feasting and good conversation and then a chance to stock my memory with images and sensations.

Cripple Creek is a small place, compared to its height c. 1900 when there were three railroads plus street cars and belching smokestacks. I walked Marco the dog around a little, strolling past some of the buildings I visited during a long-ago bout of ghost-hunting, back before the casinos came in. Those visits produced a little book, Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek, which in terms of copies sold is probably my biggest commercial success. Out of print now, but I see it is still on Amazon. (The photo was taken from the driveway of astrologer Linda Goodman’s house.)

Look, the Son is Rising

Upper photo: “Sonrise Hill,” Thedford, Nebraska, site of Easter sunrise worship. Lower photo: signboard at a nondenomination Protestant church in Colorado

It’s that magical time of year, when Christianity does seem to resemble a solar cult, much to the satisfaction of all the internet scholars who say that Jesus is really just the same as Osiris, Adonis, Dumuzid, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Baldur, etc.

But at the same time, if I had a dollar for everytime someone — usually a Protestant Christian minister — has made the Son/Sun pun at this time of year, I would be drinking my morning coffee in my Teton County mountain mansion with my pet wolves gamboling on the lawn.

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Ostara with the Cranes

Sandhill cranes in front, Canada geese in the rear.

I stepped outdoors on Monday, March 20, and the trees and underbrush were buzzing.  Like extra-loud bacon frying or radio static. It was all the little birds , revving up, not so so much singing just signally, that yes, the vernal equinox was here. I have never felt it so strongly on the day.

For reasons of weather

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, however, M.and I waited one more day for our Ostara pilgrimage to the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado to see the migrating sandhill cranes. (They will move on farther north, from southern Idaho into western Canada.)

Listen to them here. I love that call, especially when they pass high overhead.

There is the official Crane Festival, but it comes too early in March to fit into my growing calendar of food and wildlife-related events that match up against an  eight-station Wheel of the Year.

Great event with plenty of activities, but two weeks off the equinox.

We had some mountains to cross. I checked the Facebook page for the Secret Cut-off Road ((I love that every county has at least one road with its own Facebook page, mainly to keep users from cluttering up other groups with repetitious “How’s the pass?” questions.)) The word was, “Currently snowing but melting in, so maybe muddy.” We went for it.

I dropped into four-wheel-drive when the predicted “muddy” started; then it switched to soft, packed snow (Keep momentum!) and then then, Oh no!, there was a box truck sideways across the narrow road.

But I swung around past its bumper (no one there), cleared it, and charged up the last incline before the crest, a north-facing section that always holds snow longest, then up and over into potholed road dropping down through pasture land and coming out on US 160.

Just ninety minutes more, counting a detour around a little police action in Monte Vista that had closed the road out of town to the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge.

Taking the quickie auto tour loop out from the visitor center, we saw a flock of cranes on the ground and more overhead. From his travel crate in the back for Jeep, Marco, my Chesapeake Bay retriever, whined a few times. He could smell swamp, he could hear waterfowl — why wasn’t he being let out? Special rules today, Pup, sorry! Be patient!

Another short drive, another muddy road to a different corner of the refuge. And there they were, a huge flock, hundreds of cranes, feeding across a grassy field.

This was worth pulling out the spotting scope and tripod — crane-watchers keep their distance to avoid disturbing them. I had not felt like wrangling both the scope and the my best camera with long lenses, so I snapped some with the little Nikon point-and-shoot. That is the photo above: just a fraction of the cranes (and Canada and snow geese) in that spot.

And then back to Alamosa for supper, with toasts in rioja and a bone saved for Marco, and that feeling of having turned the wheel, of having broken out of routine into the chaotic spring weather, of having watched the world in its turnings.

The Snow Geese of Candlemas

Snow gese landing (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources).
Snow gese landing (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources).

I am all for seasonal rituals, but there is also a place for celebrating the Turning of the Wheel with your larger community, your polis, taking a local event and giving it a Pagan spin.

The solstices are easy: there is always something going on. Samhain — too many choices! But what about Imbolc/Candlemas/whatever you chose to call it?

Migrations.  Having grown up on a diet of  “Pioneer Days” and other such history-themed local celebrations, I turn in relief to those focused on the natural world. The Sandhill Crane Festival in Monte Vista, Colorado, just down the road from my birth place, would fit the bill, but it does not happen until early March — maybe that is sort of a pre-spring equinox event.

Snow goose distribution (Cornell Lab of Ornithology).

Those crazy snow geese have already started north by Candlemas, however, and the southeast Colorado town of Lamar has a High Plains Snow Geese Festival that this year fell on the 3rd-5th of February.

The red triangle is the Lamar area. Blue areas are wintering zones, yellow areas are migration zones, and orange areas are breeding grounds — way up north in the Canadian Arctic.

Flock sizes are big.

Families, bird watchers, and a variety of outdoor enthusiasts come to Lamar each February to see the arctic waterfowl as they arrive via the Western Central Flyway that includes Colorado, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. Prowers County’s scattered ponds, lakes, and reservoirs are waterfowl magnets, and the Snow Goose is no exception. In recent decades, their population has been exploding as they currently have a breeding population approaching 6 million, a sizable chunk of which migrate right through southeastern Colorado.

“45,000 geese” says the daily update on the festival map.

This year I finally drove down to Lamar with a friend and her middle school-aged son, who is volunteering at the Raptor Center. Yeah, we actually got the kid to look away from his phone and contemplate the flocks.

When it works right, just before sundown, you can sit (or lie prone) under the big praire sky and see layers of various ducks, Canada geese, and snow geese moving in different directions — it’s like looking into a giant clock with turning gears and clicking levers

Wheel of the Year? You can see it turning in the sky.

And there is of course a crafts fair and local tours for birding and yes, even some historical stuff.

Check out the photo contests. Contrary to popular opinion

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, SE Colorado is not all flat. But there is a lot of sky.

Witch Dance is a Phenomenon

“Time was,” Minnesota witch Steven Posch wrote in 2016, “here in Paganistan, the Besom Brigade used to show up at the Heart of the Beast May Day Parade, black steeple hats and all, doing our precision broom drills down the middle of Bloomington Avenue.”

A sort of drill team with witches’ brooms popped up in several places in the 2000s; Here is a grainy video from Pantheacon 2008.

I was researching something about Wicca in Germany, and up popped this Witch Dance video. Apparently the belly-dancers got involved, put some shimmy in the besom brigades’ sweeping, and now it’s an international thing. From Germany, here is the Tribal Gypsy Dance troupe:

A few years ago at Nokomis beach in Florida, some pirate flavor:

This year, the Witches of Wasburn, Wisconsin, help celebrate Zombie Days:

And this year in Frenchtown, New Jersey, a plaintive call from the bourgeois bohemians in the YouTube comments:

Hello Tricia. We checked this account but didnt see an email posted by way we could get in touch with you. That said, my husband and I live in Milford NJ. We are throwing a Christmas party and are wondering if you could teach our guests a dance. If so, please let us know your fee. You’re great at teaching groups of people and feel you would make a wonderful addition to the occasion. Please think about it.

I am all for putting your Paganism in the street (or on the beach or Salem Common) where it belongs. But Pagan studies friends

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Back for the Yule Log — Now with Goats!

The Yule goats await their big moment in the 2022 Beulah Yule Log Hunt.

After two years’ hiatus, the Yule Log was hunted again last Sunday in Beulah, Colorado, a small town in the foothills of the Wet Mountains. This hunt is a twentieth-century revival, passed (along with log splinters) from Lake Placid, New York to Palmer Lake, Colorado to Beulah, where the tradition was renewed in 1952. (Photos from 1954 and 1977 here.)

(Here’s a report of M’s and my first Yule log hunt in 2015.)

Diana Miller with a red-tailed hawk from the Raptor Center.

In the introductory program, inevitably, some local clergyman has to make the usual solsticial wordplay between Son and Sun.

That was subtly countered by  my friend Diana, local resident and director of a raptor rehabiitation center, who steps up with a red-tailed hawk on her wrist and delivers an invcation that de-centers humankind in favor of wild animals. (As she did in previous years.)

A huntsman and two companions.

After final instructions from the head huntsman (one of a dozen who serve as guides

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, referees, and whippers-in for the hunt) the hunters (mostly teens) scramble uphill into the wooded slopes of Pueblo Mountain Park.

Those of following the hunt stroll behind them, and all too soon, there is a shouting and and a trumpet blast from up the ridge.

But what is this sound? “Click click jingle jingle!”

It’s the Yule goats, harnessed to the log, instead of having it pulled down off the mountain only by the huntsmen and whoever else volunteers.

Pulled by goats. Hmm. How long before a Thor-figure joins the huntsmen?

You May Be Celebrating Ostara, But Are You Vogue-ing Ostara?

Actually, this piece comes from the well-known British HPS, author, and academic Vivianne Crowley, and it is worth reading.

On 20 March, druids, witches, and lovers of nature will gather to celebrate the spring equinox, one of the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year. For millennia, the spring equinox was celebrated across cultures as a time of fertility, creativity, and renewal. But spring celebrations are not just for people who want to greet the dawn at Stonehenge. Here are a few ideas to try out this year at home.

She has a new memoir/how-to out titled Wild Once, which is going on my To-Read list. A tip of the pointy hat to the publicist at Penguin.

Revisiting a Colorado Yule Log Hunt

The little southern Colorado town of Beulah has a traditional Yule log hunt that is almost as old as Wicca — it began in 1952.

M. and I attended with a friend and her young son in 2015, and I wrote a blog post about it, “Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule,” with lots of photos.

Then I chanced across another set of older pix on Facebook at the Beulah Historical Society’s page. Here is one from 1954 and one from 1977. Those “huntsmen” from 1977 look like they are ready to get back to their moonshine stills, but I think a couple of them worked at the steel mill down in Pueblo, a city that is a sort of mash-up of Pittsburgh and Albuqueque, although much smaller than either of those. One’s surname is either Slovenian or Czech; I had a co-worker who might have been his relative.

The 1954 Yule Log (Beulah Historical Society)
The “huntsmen” of 1977 — they direct the Yule log hunt (Beulah Historical Society).

When I watch the hunt, I think of something that the English folkorist E. C. Cawte wrote back in the 1970s. He was directing a group of schoolboys in performing a “souling play,” a traditonal entertainment from the winter in which St. George slays someone — who does not stay slain.

Huntsmen of 2015.

“The boys found the play much easier to learn and perform than others they were given . . . and the Wild Horse seemed to know, without rehearsal, exactly what he was supposed to do.”((E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.))

The kids in Beulah know it too.

This year, of course, everything fun has been cancelled, but up in Beulah, they are planning for 2021. Covid-19 should not last as long as Oliver Cromwell.

Original Beulah Yule log blog post and photos here.