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Mindful Monday: Pre-Mother’s Night

Image created by Connla Freyjason using digital elements and papers from January Gathering: A Winter’s Tale, available in our store by clicking this image (opens in new tab), as well as our upcoming Imramma. Digital painting of the Disir by Fenrir for Iaconagraphy. Poetry original, by Connla Freyjason.

That’s right: Pre-Mother’s Night!  That’s how I choose to view the American holiday of Thanksgiving, that oft-maligned feast of ultimate political incorrectness (Pilgrims and Indians, really?) that is, for most, an excuse to pig out on copious amounts of turkey and fall asleep watching football.  It is also the ultimate Kitchen Witch’s holiday, and this year, I am looking very forward to actually being in the kitchen with my favorite Kitchen Witch: my Beloved, Suzanne.

“The Kitchen Witch of it all” is in large part why I see Thanksgiving as a sort of Pre-Mother’s Night celebration.  For those unfamiliar with the Norse-derived observance of Mother’s Night, it traditionally falls on the eve before the Winter Solstice, and is more or less the “kick-off” of the Yule season (which either runs for the 12 days following December 21st, or from December 21-January 12, depending on your source material).  It is a night to toast Frigga, Frau Holda, and Freyja, and also to honor the Disir, including those female ancestors who have paved the way for us.  In other words, it is a night to thank those women (Goddesses, as well as goddesses-in-their-own-right) who were bastions of the Hearth and Home: we’re talking about more than the “glorified housewife” here, folks; we’re talking about recognizing women as the heart and soul and guardians of what it means to be us, as human beings.  Since falling in love with Suzanne a few years ago, she has taught me that the heart of Kitchen Witchery is one very simple maxim: Food is love.  If you’ve ever been blessed with eating her food, you know, as I do, that you can literally taste the love in it. And that is why Thanksgiving has become, for us, Pre-Mother’s Night: it is a time for us to begin (a bit early) to show our gratitude to the Disir, for in our house, we understand that gratitude is one of the most vital outpourings of love that anyone can give.

Subliminally, in my heart and mind, I have always understood Thanksgiving as a part of Yuletide.  While everyone else is sitting around complaining that there are already Christmas decorations available at Wal-Mart in the heart of October, I am secretly rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the Yuletide cheer I can spread throughout our humble home.  That has always been a part of me: long before I ever dreamed of becoming a chronic crafter, I was a chronic “Christmas nut”.  Even as a child, I would get very upset if my Mother didn’t put up the tree before Thanksgiving, and many was the time that I was scolded for asking out loud (in the home of someone who had not dutifully decorated pre-Thanksgiving) “why don’t they have their tree up yet, Mama?  Don’t they know it’s almost-Christmas?” Because to me, almost-Christmas was a holiday season unto itself: that quiet time before the holiday rush when people could actually contemplate and enjoy the Yuletide season.

My first year in Massachusetts, when November rolled around, I immediately began plotting almost-Christmas: “Look, Honey, we can put the tree up there, and I can do a glorious run of garland down that banister over there, and we can do another garland over the sink, maybe with peppermints? And we can cuddle on the couch and enjoy the warmth of all of it, and eat yummy things, and remind ourselves why we’re so thankful!” And she looked at me like I had lost my ever-loving mind!  “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet! We don’t decorate for Christmas until December.”  I was literally agape; I was horrified!  No almost-Christmas?  This cannot be! But there has been no almost-Christmas for four long years…..

Long before I was remotely Heidhrinn, I somehow understood that the period between Samhain (Alfablot) and the end of Yule was a season unto itself.  Samhain (Alfablot) marks the beginning of a season when the “veils are thin”:  it is understood as the beginning of the Dark Half of the Year in most Pagan circles in the northern hemisphere.  At Samhain (Alfablot) the Dead and other denizens of the Otherworld begin to more easily make their way into our mundane world.  That doesn’t end the moment you pack up your Halloween decorations; it is a phenomenon which continues through Yule, and even slightly after, until the dawn of February.  It is a time for contemplation and introspection, but also a time for gratitude, that most sincere expression of love.  And within that gratitude, we also find cause for joy: hence, Yule.

So pre-Mother’s Night may not officially be a “thing”, but it is at our house, and as we hurtle towards Thanksgiving on Thursday, here at our house, we will not only be preparing to pig out on turkey and fall asleep watching football.  We will also be lighting candles and incense on our altars, placing images of our beloved female Ancestors in a prominent place upon them, and pouring blot to Frigga and to Freyja and to the other Disir. And I will be preparing those first forays of decorating for what I once called almost-Christmas, but now understand as that solemn time of quiet gratitude and love that lays the foundation for the joy of Yule‘Tis the season!



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Becoming Real: The Healing Power of Model Horses

Trying to remember when my obsession with horses actually began is like trying to recall the moment when I realized I could talk: it’s literally impossible. There is no story of some pivotal moment when it suddenly dawned on me that “hey, I love horses”, or that horses move me like few other things can. But I do remember the Christmas that I was eight years old: Christmas, 1980. Every year, just before Christmas, my Mama would let me sit down with the Sears and Montgomery Wards Christmas Catalogs, and compose my letter to Santa. That year, on page 474 of the Montgomery Wards Wishbook, I fell in love with two Breyer horses: Morganlanz and Azteca. Both were available with tack, but never even having actually been on a horse, I gravitated towards the English tack. (I was never the “cowgirl type”.) Christmas morning, I woke up to both under the tree, as well as the English saddle and bridle. Back then, that set Santa back a whopping $18.93. In the years since, I have amassed a Breyer horse collection (that’s not counting Schleichs, Safaris, and Peter Stones!) in excess of 160 horses. I still have that original saddle and bridle I got when I was eight; in fact, I still show with it. And I still have Morganlanz and Azteca, though I show neither model (Azteca does appear in numerous pedigrees, however, under her new name, Aztec Peacock, because mine had minimal “stallion bits”, and I always played with her as a mare). And I’m still just as obsessed as when I was eight.

But why?

To even begin to answer that question, I need to ask you another question: Have you ever not felt real? I mean, have you ever looked around at your life and had to consciously ask yourself who am I, really? Have you ever looked around at your life and asked what have I actually accomplished? Or have you ever looked around at your life and wondered why all those “adult” accomplishments matter, when the really important things in life are things like loving and being loved?  If you’ve ever experienced any of those feelings, then you and I are kindred spirits.  You see, I have spent most of my forty-four years of life wondering those exact same things.  And when I get in those places—when the shadows encroach and those questions start to pull me under and I start to drown in them—model horses are what pull me out of the depths, and back out into the sun.

Those first two model horses that I received on Christmas Morning, 1980, were, in turns, Mustangs, wild on the plains, with their own stories, and show horses, performing under imaginary riders for imaginary ribbons and trophies.  At eight years old, I had no ambitions of becoming a horse collector, owning some models that are worth over $300 apiece; they were just horses, and that was all that mattered. Thirty-six years later, that really hasn’t changed. It’s their horseness that matters; not how much they might be worth on the resale market (because I’m never going to do that anyway!), or how rare they might be. Their horseness still puts me in touch with my meness; that’s what matters.

So, what do I mean by horseness and meness? How does a “horse-shaped piece of plastic” have horseness? And what the heck could that possibly do to put me in touch with my meness? What is “meness”, anyway?

Let’s start with the horseness of it all. I can remember when I was very small (we’re talking three or so) watching reruns of Mister Ed with my Mema (maybe that’s the actual spark of my horse obsession….), and for those who don’t remember that very old black and white TV show, the theme song went like this:

A horse is a horse,
Of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse, of course,
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.

Go right to the source,
And ask the horse;
He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.
He’s always on a steady course.
Talk to Mr. Ed.

People yakkety yak a streak and waste your time of day,
But Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say.

A horse is a horse,
Of course, of course,
And this one’ll talk til his voice is hoarse.
You never heard of a talking horse?
Well listen to this:

(And the horse says:) I am Mister Ed!

A horse is a horse, of course, of course: that’s the epitome of horseness. Whether they actually walk around and neigh, or whether they’re an artist’s rendition in a painting or sculpture, or whether they’re a model horse beneath a little girl’s Christmas tree on Christmas morning, a horse is a horse. The same things are communicated through the form of a horse—the shape of a horse—regardless of the medium in which that form and shape are communicated: grace, power, strength, and ultimately, trust.

You see, for all of their grace, power, and strength, horses are actually prey animals. Unlike us humans, they don’t hunt; they are the hunted. Or, at least, they are in the wild, and they were completely up until about 5,000 years ago, when humans first started developing relationships with horses, and riding them. So trust is paramount, if you’re a horse: you’ve got to trust that “thing” up there on your back, because it might eat or hurt you; you’ve got to trust those “things” that bring your food into the barn every day.

Now, I am not trying to sell you on the idea that a model horse might actually be able to feel fear, but if you’ll think about it long and hard, that element of trust is still there; that’s still a part of their horseness. The same could be said of any toy: each toy that comes into a child’s life trusts that it isn’t going to wind up being the broken toy; that the child isn’t going to damage it, but is, instead, going to gently play with it. This dramatic theme has been integral in stories about personified toys since the publishing of The Velveteen Rabbit in 1922, and runs through such popular modern classics as the Toy Story films from Disney.

Which brings me around to meness: we all come into our lives with that same toy-like trust that we are going to wind up unbroken. I don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what your backstory is, at some point in your life, you genuinely trusted that no one was going to damage you, and that you would be “gently played with”. Yet, as we go through life, we get bumped and bruised, physically and emotionally, until we wind up like the velveteen rabbit and the skin horse in that story: our fur gets loved off (or “hurt” off), we become tired and worn-out and “not much to look at”. But, as in that story, that is also the point where we become the most real. That point of realness is your meness.

By that Christmas Morning of 1980, at the ripe young age of eight, I was already very well aware of the fact that other people could hurt me; that other people could break me; that I was already a broken toy. In fact, I’ve been a broken toy since I was four years old.  It became very clear to me, very early in life, that I had precisely three things I could always count on:  my Mama, my Mema, and my model horses. (Of course, writing this later in life, I can now add quite a few people to that list of folks I can count on: you know who y’all are!)  The point is, I gained my meness at eight years old through model horses, and I’ve been trying very hard not to let go of it ever since.  They were just model horses, of course, but they were as graceful of form as I wished I was; as powerful as I rarely felt, and in the stories I told with them, as strong as I wished I could be.

As a grown woman, of course, now the only stories I really tell with them anymore are their pedigrees on my webpages and their entries on the show circuit.  As I sit and ponder that, I slowly come to understand how that reflects my meness, too; how it reflects the competitive business woman I’ve attempted to become in my adulthood, and all of the pitfalls that come along with that.  My relationship with my models has slowly slipped back into that very conundrum of not feeling real that I talked about at the beginning of this post:  all those questions of what have I actually accomplished and why do all those “adult accomplishments” really matter in the first place, when the most important things in life are things like loving and being loved.    Thanks to the current climate on the show circuit in which I participate (with newly enforced “show or you’re out” rules, and the despicable, non-compassionate people that come along with them–and, no, I don’t mean you, Cheryl or Toni or Scarlette), it is dawning on me, ever-so-slowly, that I need to change my relationship with my models, and somehow get back in touch with their horseness, before I lose my meness again, maybe this time for once and for all.

You see, I got four new models for my birthday (my birthday was in May–that’s two months ago at this point), and the two that came in boxes are still in their boxes, and the events of the past week, coupled with this being Iaconagraphy’s I Love Horses Week have made it dreadfully apparent that the reason why they’re still in their boxes is because I have absolutely zero desire to take them out.  How could that possibly be true, when I’m me? How could model horses that I loved enough to want for my birthday in the first place still be in boxes two months later?  I have absolutely zero desire to take those “beautiful creatures” out of their boxes, only to take “mechanical” photographs with them specifically for the show circuit.  I have absolutely zero desire to “pimp” them as “plastic ponies”, when what should be happening is that they come out of their boxes and become real.  So long as they stay in their boxes, they remain horses; they maintain their horseness. But I know that the instant they come out of those boxes they’re going to become something else: they’re going to become accomplishments; nothing more than show assets–because that’s the box that my relationship with my model horses has been forced into.

My entire life has become a dreadful series of deadlines and what-ifs.  Now, you might logically argue that every adult’s life is a dreadful series of deadlines and what-ifs, and you would patently not be wrong in that assessment.  But my horses have most often been the place where those two things could effectively disappear, until right now.  There was a time a few years back when the “bad crap” in my life stopped disappearing when I was “doing” model horses, too.  At that time, I completely stepped away from my model horses for about five years.  Trouble is, I completely stepped away from my meness, too.  I literally became an agoraphobe during that period in my life: I became afraid of other people. I became afraid of relationships. I became terrified of touch, or of showing emotions, or of even being around the emotions of others.  I refuse to slip back into that place.  When my model horses have become just another deadline in a long series of deadlines, plagued by the ongoing what-ifs of my disability, something needs to change, and it needs to change fast.

I need to play again.  I need to no longer have the horses that I love reduced to nothing more than a great number of horse-shaped chunks of plastic with great statistics (showstring and pedigrees) to “back them up”.  Because when they become that, I become that: I become a human being that is only as worthy as the statistics (sales, post reach, and number of newsletter subscribers) she has “backing her up”.  And then I lose my meness, and I refuse to lose that ever again.  But how does one do that, precisely? How does one play with their model horses as a grown woman, without coming across as if they’ve completely lost their ever-lovin’ mind? Or as if they are prematurely dancing with senility? One does that by coming to no longer care what people think. You can only be judged if you allow others to judge you–if you allow them inside your head, they will happily take up residence there, so the answer is simple: don’t allow them.

And that’s another key factor to horseness: horses don’t judge.  Whether they’re the living breathing types or the model variety, they don’t care about your politics, your life choices, or your fashion sense, so long as you don’t eat them or hurt them.  They just want to bring you peace; to get you to your happy place (maybe because they somehow know that if you’re in your happy place, they’ll be safe).  Once upon a time, I laid on my belly on the ground outside and took photos of my models the same way other photographers take photos of the ones that actually prance around: because I marvelled at their beauty, not because I was pondering how to best pad my showstring.  I need to get back to that.  The moments I spend outside with my models and my best friend are some of the most precious moments I spend in my life: I need more moments like those.  To heck with a showstring: it’s those moments that matter.

You’re probably not a model horse enthusiast, so you may be asking yourself at this point what any of this has to do with you; how any of this could possibly apply in your own life.  Maybe you’re not even that nuts about the living breathing variety of horse.  Then I’ll close with this question for you to ponder: what passions in your life have become nothing more than plastic deadlines, full of what-ifs, instead of the joy you once found in them?  How do you get that back?  How do you bring back your magick?

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Advent Event: Third Day of Advent: Banish Fear and Accept Joy

The third Sunday of Advent is a call to banish fear, in favor of joy.  We can’t possibly experience true joy so long as our hearts are filled with fear, nor can we experience true love, for real love banishes all fear from the heart and mind.  Banishing fear might seem like a weird topic for Christians to focus on during the Christmas season, but the shepherds mentioned in the Gospel of Luke certainly felt it, and so do all of us, on a pretty regular basis. Yet, for those shepherds to embrace the joy of the message the angels were bringing, and for us to experience true joy in our own lives, we’ve got to get rid of fear once and for all.  This is a call to joy: to being truly happy, released from all fear and excess baggage, so we can spread light not only in the world, but in our own individual lives.

Whether or not you grew up as a Christian, you’ve probably at least seen the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, where Linus tells the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2:

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.

So why were the shepherds afraid of the angels?  I mean, our modern image of an angel is usually a really good-looking dude in a white dress with a pair of big, white wings; what’s so scary about that?  Why would a dude whose job it was to fight off lions and wolves with a stick be afraid of a good-looking guy in a dress, with or without wings?  Well, the truth is, real angels aren’t cute little babies with rosey buttcheeks and tiny feathered wings, like all of those pre-Raphaelite paintings, or that one scene in Disney’s Fantasia. Real angels are a force to be reckoned with, and they look like it, most of them. The heavenly choirs of Seraphim are described in the Old Testament as fiery beings, who are six-winged and many-eyed, and the actual Cherubim (also in the Old Testament) are only vaguely humanoid at all–they are four-faced, with the feet of birds. Archangels, of course, are more “human-looking”, but even they often wield swords, and generally come accompanied by a brilliant white light and the rushing sound of many wings. Even the lower echelons of angels are warriors and messengers with great wings and a feeling of power about them. So when those shepherds looked up as the skies unfurled before them, they were struck with terror, for they knew angels for what they truly are: powerful beings that were anything but “cute and fuzzy”.

And these weren’t just any angels that were coming to deliver this news to these particular shepherds, either, this was the angel: the head honcho of all angels; the General of God’s army, and we are told:

And the angel said to them: “Fear not; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people”…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”

So, the angel was soon accompanied by the rest of an army of angels. How does one usually react when faced with an entire army of anything, whether it’s ants, zombies, or angels? Fear. Real, dyed-in-the-wool, hope you’re wearing your brown pants, fear.

But then the head-honcho angel says: “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy,” and that banished the fear those shepherds held in their hearts and minds, the same way it still does for all of us.  Joy banishes fear. Pure and simple.

What about those other things we fear? You know, those things that nobody really wants to talk about or even admit exist, like the negative entities that can sometimes come lurking around us when we allow too much negativity into our lives.  Can joy banish those, too? Believe it or not, yes, it can!

We know what fear is, but what is joy?  It is both a feeling of great happiness, and a feeling of success in doing, finding, or getting something. When we are truly happy, and feeling successful, there is no room in our hearts for fear. It’s the reason people ride roller coasters: if we weren’t happy in the first place (that’s why they’re called amusement parks, folks; they’re designed to make you happy), and we didn’t think we would feel successful after having survived something so “scary”, we would never get on a roller coaster in the first place! In reality, life is just one neverending roller coaster; unfortunately, it isn’t also located in an amusement park!

There is nothing amusing about the prospect of having our hearts broken, facing disappointments, dealing with other people’s judgments, accepting the existence of negative entities (much less facing them down), or potentially failing, yet that’s what we have to deal with, when it comes to living our lives, no matter how much of a positive attitude we adopt going into all of that.  Yet, here we all are, and we’ve got to ride this thing, like it or not.  We can ride it in fear–white-knuckled, gnashing our teeth, miserable every single step of the way–or we can ride it in joy.  That’s our choice. If we’re going to ride it the way we were put here to ride it–as luminous beings–we’ve got to make the decision for joy.

How do we make that joy decision?  A good place to start would be to follow this advice:

Celebrate [Spirit] all day, every day.  I mean, revel in [it]!  Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.  Help them to see [the Spirit in them].  Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers…before you know it, a sense of wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.   It’s wonderful what happens when [Spirit] displaces worry at the center of your life.

–Philippians 4:4-7

(Paraphrases in [] are my additions.)

When we worry, we dwell on all the negative things that could happen, instead of focusing on our faith in all the positive things that could happen, and when we do that, because we are energy, we literally draw those bad things to us.  You get what you put out, right?  So if we were putting out positivity, we would get back positive stuff, but when we worry–putting out negativity–those worries become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because they attract the negative stuff straight into our lives.  A worrying life is not a life focused on the spiritual, because it’s a life focused on shadows and darkness, rather than the light.

What good is prayer going to do us, though?  I mean, isn’t prayer something only religious people do? Look carefully at Timothy and Paul’s phrasing up there; they say: “Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers”.  Petitions are requests, like “please let this good thing happen”.  What happens if we phrase that the other way, and say “please don’t let this bad thing happen”? We get all caught up in worrying about that bad thing actually happening, right? We’re screwed from the get-go when we do that.  But when we say “please let this good thing happen”, we start to hope for that good thing, and eventually, that hope turns into faith that it will actually happen.  Praises are like compliments; it’s like saying something good about yourself or somebody else.  Praises reinforce the positive petitions: if we say something like “I’m awesome, so please let this good thing happen”, that builds both our hope and our faith.  However, if we replace those praises with curses, and say something like “I know I suck, but please let this good thing happen”, there’s not much room for hope or faith anymore, is there?  A petition plus a praise equals a prayer, whether you’re a religious person or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re religious or not; it does matter that you’re spiritual, because that’s what we were all born to be.

And that’s how Spirit can displace worry at the center of our lives: we recognize what we really are, and in acting from that place, light not only comes into our own lives, but we start to spread light into the lives of others.  There’s no room in a life like that for worry or fear.  There’s only room for sheer joy! And that joy can not only fulfill us, restoring our sense of wholeness, it can also protect us, if necessary.  Celebrate the light that’s burning in you all day, every day. I mean it–revel in it!  Make it clear to everyone (and every thing) that this is what you’re all about: you’re all about the positive; you’re all about spreading light.  Don’t fret or worry. When you feel tempted to worry, pray, through praise and positive petitions, and before you know it, you’ll find everything coming together not only for your good, but for the good of everyone around you.