Happy Thanksgiving from Myth & Moor

Old Oak

Each year I post my "Prayer of Gratitude" on Thanksgiving Day . . . and this year I need the reminder of all I am thankful for more than most. A member of my American family has died, a close relative I grew up with as a sister, and whose sudden loss has come as a shock. There has been so much loss for so many people over the past pandemic year, and to any of you who are also struggling right now (and aren't we all, in one way or another?) I send love and solidarity. One of the many things I am grateful for is the Mythic Arts community, and for your kind support of Myth & Moor even during those times when life takes me out of the studio and away from blogging here. I will be back. I'm longing to resume our conversations about books and myth and art.

For all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving: the hound and I wish you a warm and wonderful holiday. 

Hound and oak

A Prayer of Gratitude

Wind and water, feather and stone, green grass, white cloud, black fur, red tongue, the panting of the the breath and the pounding of the heart and the winding of the path we’re traveling on, these are the things I’m grateful for, 

Up Nattadon Hill

this hill, these prints of hoof and paw, of fairy footsteps in mud and moss, for the hard climb up and the bounding back down,

Down Nattadon Hill

for labor, for ease, for persistence, for joy, for all these things and more besides: for birds and bees and beetles and brambles and the last blackberries in bracken and thorn, for the scent of time and the taste of age, and the brittle brown leaves snapping underfoot, for the spirits that dance in mist and smoke and the ancestors in our blood and bones, for the mystery that some call God but that I call rain and thistle and fossil and crow, 

Hound in bracken

and love, of course, I am thankful for love, and light, laughter, delight, desire, 

Pony on the hill

but also for loss and grief (those patient teachers), dark nights, new moons, bright stars,

Faery food

for sleep, for dreams, for waking at the witching hour in a bed that’s safe and warm, for the ticking of the clock, and the creaking of the walls, and the hush that comes just before the dawn, and my dear one’s breath rising and falling and a little dog snoring by the kitchen hearth, and the house that holds us, the life that molds us, the children, the friends, the neighbors, the village, the hill that shelters us in its palm and the land that roots us in place and time, for all this and more I am awestruck, I am dumbstruck, I am grateful, and I am giving thanks.

In the valley that holds our village

Tilly, 2021


The secular sacred

Herring Gulls by Ekaterina Bee

From Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore

"This is a story a friend gave to me. I am giving it to you.

"There was a man who searched and searched for the sacred in nature -- in the forest, at the beach -- and sure enough: one day as he was walking along the coast, he heard a voice, loud and clear.

" 'Stand here,' it said, 'and God will speak to you.'

"The man stood. What else could he do? What would you have done? He stood for a very long time, shifting his weight from one leg to another. His back stiffened up. A flock of brants flew down the trough between the breakers. The wind came up and died back. The tide flowed in. He zipped his jacket and unzipped it, zipped it again as the sun went down and gulls cried out and flew to their roosts. He shivered in fog that came with the night, and finally he went home.

''Realm of the Seychelles'' by Thomas Peschak

Weddell seals by Laurent Ballesta

"I'm not sure what he hoped to hear. The sound of the wind bringing rain, the rattle of surf-driven stones -- these didn't tell him what he needed to know? That he is alive in this place, at this time, alive in the midst of all this life. That he is aware in the midst of all that is mysterious, every fact that might have been and yet is. Stinging sand, the storm-driven waves, the swirling gulls --they are all cause for surprise and celebration.

Sperm whales in Sri Lanka by Tony Wu

Night of the Turtles by Ingo Arndt

"Instead of standing still and waiting for instructions, what if he had laid his back in the midst of the mussels, laid there with barnacles poking his scalp, felt -- in the hollow echo chamber of his ribs -- the breakers pound against rock, listened to the shouts of faraway children and the pop of sand fleas next to his ear, as all the while tide crept in around him and surf exploded closer and closer to his brain?

"Then what would he have heard?

Female humpback whale  by Wade Hughes

"I don't want to say he would have heard the voice of God.

"I want to say he would have heard -- really heard, maybe for the first time -- the squeak of mussels, the smash of surf, the peeping of sandpipers. Maybe a fish crow cawing or a chainsaw cutting cedar drifted in on storms.

"And I want to say this is enough. I want to say that this is astonishing enough -- the actual Earth, the extraordinary fact of the ticking, smashing, singing, whistling, peeping Earth -- to make me feel I live in a sacred place and time.

"I want to say there is a secular sacred, that this phrase, paradoxical as it seems, makes good and profound and important sense.

Nesting leatherback turtle by Brian Skerry

"Here is what I believe: that the natural world -- the stuff of our lives, the world we plod through, hardly hearing, the world we burn and poke and stuff and conquer and irradiate -- that THIS WORLD (not another world on another plane) is irreplaceable, astonshing, contingent, eternal and changing, beautiful and fearsome, beyond human understanding, worthy of reverence and awe, worthy of celebration and attention.

"If the good English word for this combination of qualities is 'sacred,' then so be it. Even if we don't believe in God, we walk out the door on a sacred morning and lift our eyes to the sacred rain and are called to remember our sacred obligations of care and celebration.

65

"And what's more, the natural world is sacred and 'sacred' describes the natural world; there are not two worlds but one, and it is magnificent and mysterious enough to shake us to the core; if this is so, then we -- you and I and the man on the beach -- are called to live our lives gladly. We are called to live lives of gratitude, joy, and caring, profoundly moved by the bare fact that we live in the time of the singing of birds."

Great Crested Grebes by Knut Erik Alnæs (Norway)

If we allow for the concept of the "secular sacred," then I suppose that Wild Comfort is one of my sacred texts -- along with books by Barry Lopez, Terry Tempest Williams, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Patricia McKillip, John Crowley, Jane Yolen, Lloyd Alexander, David Abram, Lewis Hyde, Kathleen Jamie, Martin Shaw and so many others. They honor the mystery. Restore my sense of wonder. Remind me to be astonished by the world, and call me to gratitude and joy.

Spanwing brook trout David Herasimtschuk

Pictures: The glorious photographs above were exhibited at The Museum of Natural History in London in the spring of 2016. They are identified & credited in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) All rights reserved by the MNH and the photographers.

Words: The passage above is from "The Time of the Singing of the Birds," published in Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpeter Books, 2010); all rights reserved by the author.


On the shores of mystery

The Little Mermaid illustrated by Edmund Dulac

From Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore:

"Some people suggest that science is the enemy of the sacred. This puzzles me. I suppose the argument is that the more we understand or think we understand, the smaller the realm of mystery becomes; under the hot light of scientific knowledge, the sacred warps and shrinks, like Styrofoam in flames. But this argument won't work because mystery is infinite, the only natural resource that humans can't exhaust in this giant fire sale we call an economy.

"The physicist Chet Raymo thinks of scientific understanding as an island in a sea of mystery. The larger the island, the longer its coastline -- that area where the deep sea of what we don't understand slaps and smacks at the edge of what we think we know, a rich place of bright water and dark, fecund smell.

The Little Mermaid by Edmund Dulac

The Little Mermaid illustrated by Helen Stratton

"If so, then this is our work in the world: to pull on rubber boots and stand in this lively, dangerous water, bracing against the slapping waves, one foot on stone, another on sand. When one foot slips and the other sinks, to hop awkwardly to keep from filling our boots. To laugh, to point, and sometimes to let this surging, light-flecked mystery wash into us and knock us to our knees, while we sing songs of celebration through our own three short nights, our voices thin in the darkness."

Me & Tilly on the Devon coast

Sea Maidens by Evelyn de Morgan

Words: The passage above is from Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpeter Books, 2010). The poem in the picture captions is from Red Bird by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2009). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: Two paintings for Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); a drawing for "The Little Mermaid" by Helen Stratton (1867-1961); Tilly & me on the Devon coast, pre-pandemic; and "Sea Maidens" by Evelyn de Morgan (1855-1919).


Daily grace

Bumblehill courtyard

In addition to "telling the holy" (as we were speaking about yesterday), I strive to "practice the holy" as well by living a life filled with rituals, large and small, that connect me to the land I live on and those I share it with -- expressing daily affinity and appreciation for it all. In her beautiful essay "Daily Grace," a discussion of rituals worldwide, cultural and ecological philosopher Jay Griffiths writes:

"No culture and few individuals live without ritual. There are the inaugurations of presidents, student graduations, the rituals of temples, mosques and synagogues, Christmas lights or Easter’s ritual opening of the doorway of spring. While large, public rituals might be vulnerable to commercialisation, tedium or cynicism, they can also be freighted with significance, and shine with what Émile Durkheim in 1912 called the ‘collective effervescence’ of ritual, a shared grandeur beyond the individual.

"For Indigenous Australians, ritual sings the natural world into continued life, in a diffuse and enspirited relationship between the Dreamtime ‘past’ and the present. The Dreamtime surrounds the present, having created the landscape and order of the world, giving meaning and profundity to life and reflecting cosmic order, while rituals of the ‘ordinary’ present, in turn, sustain the ‘extraordinary’ Dreamtime order. In Bali, the ferocious flamboyance of the traditional cremation of a king unbuckled a terrible divinity from the very clouds: arrows that turn into flowers, coffins shaped like lions, snakes of cloth, doves flying from the foreheads of women committing ritual suicide. In his book Negara (1980), the cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes the lexicon of sensuous symbols in Balinese ritual, including carvings, flowers, dances, melodies, gestures, chants and masks, writing that the state rituals of classical Bali were ‘metaphysical theatre: theatre designed to express…the ultimate nature of reality and…by presenting it, to make it happen’.

Lady of Bumblehill statue by Wendy Froud

"Yet ritual is also alive in the slightest of phrases: a ‘thank you’ that enhances gratitude; a ghost of a god in ‘goodbye’ (god be with you); the grace spoken before eating. It is there in the little personal talismans touched a certain way for luck, because sometimes that one lucky strike of chance – before a journey, competition or meeting – is what ritual seeks to shelter, cradling the match to an Olympian flame. Given half a chance, habits seem to want to augment themselves into ritual: embellish a habit with attention, stylise it slightly, and it will elbow its way into the domain of rites, until even a cup of tea can be ceremonious.

Words in the wild

Milk for the faeries

"Tiny, everyday rituals are a hand-crafted prayer to domestic order, beckoning the divine to step inside a moment. In Bali, the making of the canang sari offerings is done individually but its effect is a collective efflorescence. Canang means a basket of flowers, while sari means essence, and what is essential, I was told, is the right intent, a kind of purity, paying heed to the scripture of the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna describes what god requires of an offering: ‘Whosoever offers to me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, that offering of love, of the pure heart I accept.’ As in so many small rituals in so many cultures, an elemental grammar of nature is used: flowers suggest earth, candles suggest fire, then a little holy or purifying water, and the air is made visible by incense, with the ethereal element of prayer."

Wildflowers and Coyote in the kitchen window

Kitchen window

Like Griffiths, I find great meaning in personal rituals, both domestic and wild. When life is hard -- whether it's a personal hardship or the collective hardship of a global pandemic -- the quiet beauty of daily ritual helps to center me within my own life, stripping away the swirl of fearful thoughts that might otherwise overwhelm me. I often think of these words by author Italo Calvino, who'd lived a harrowing life as an Italian Resistance fighter during World War II:

"Seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

Ritual, for me, is "not inferno," and I give it all the space I can.

Cedar and sage

Drumming springtime in

In our modern, increasingly secular world we need ritual now more then ever, says Griffiths:

"Through the unregulated, unjust and unmetered use of resources, we have collectively created a cosmic disorder, and arguably the loss of ritual thinking is part of the reason. Some scholars argue that the loss of effective rituals leads to destructive behaviours, while the anthropologist Roy Rappaport in the 1990s called for a collective responsibility to ecological order, vitalised by ritualisation.

"To me, the most eloquent example of this is demonstrated by the Shinto priests at Lake Suwa in Japan who ritually recorded the lake’s freezing. As it froze, ridges of ice were formed and, when the world is viewed with twice-sight and nothing is only what it seems, the ice-ridges were seen as the footsteps of the gods. For 255 years, there were only three years when the lake did not freeze. Then between 2005 to 2014, there were five years when the lake didn’t freeze. Since 2013, it has frozen over just once, suggesting a terrifying planetary disorder. Confucius considered that ritual propriety guides humanity into authentic goodness (ren). ‘If for a single day one were able to return to the observance of ritual propriety, the whole empire would defer to ren.’

"The sweet paradox of small daily rituals is that the ordinary is intensified into the sacred through the numinousness of the absolutely commonplace, an illustration of immanent divinity, demonstrating that all it takes to find cascades of enchantment is a tender attention in which the natural living world is blessed by the psyche, and the psyche by the natural world."

Tilly below the cloutie tree

Clouties

Or as the German philosopher Meister Eckhart wrote: "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough."

Lighting the fire

Fire and ceremony

Feather on moss

Words: The passage quoted above is from "Daily Grace" by Jay Griffiths (Aeon Magazine, January 31, 2019). I recommend reading the full essay here; and please consider supporting Griffiths' extraordinary work via her Patreon page. The poem in the picture captions is from Even in Quiet Places by William Stafford (Confluence Press, 2010). All rights reserved by the authors.

Pictures: The statue in our courtyard is by Wendy Froud. The drum was made by Munro Sickafoose, back in our Arizona days. The tree tied with rags is the local cloutie tree; to read more about clouties, go here. The pictures of me and Howard were taken last autumn before our annual hand-fasting ritual.