Some Notes on Imbolc

Newborn lamb in a stable
  • Imbolc means “in milk,” or “in the belly.”
  • The Wheel of the Year turns to Imbolc on February 2.
  • If it is warm and sunny on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks. If it is cold and cloudy on this day, it will be cold for six more weeks.
  • Lambing season starts in February.
  • A shepherd’s hut is a tiny house on wheels.
  • At Imbolc, the shepherd is the trusted servant of the sheep. The lamb lies in the belly of the Great Mother. It emerges into darkness.
  • Shepherds wait in their tiny houses, they shiver and they stoke the fire.
  • They keep vigil with the ewes. They usher the lamb out into the cold.
  • Many cultures kill and eat a lamb in the spring. Easter happens near Ostara, when the sun shines merciless over the thawing ground.
  • Imbolc happens in darkness.
  • At the monastery, we would sing “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us.”
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Annie Finch, Author of Spells: New and Selected Poems

Detail of the cover of Spells: New and Selected Poems, by Annie Finch
Photograph of poet Annie Finch and her cat Merlin
Annie Finch, author of Spells, and her cat Merlin

Fearless in its lyricism and expansive in its range, Annie Finch’s work spans four decades and encompasses eight books of poetry, a translation, and numerous anthologies, plays, libretti, and books and essays on poetics. The more I researched her, the more I wondered how our paths had never crossed before. Neither the poetry world nor the pagan world is all that large, and the overlap between them—pagans writing poetry with the depth and seriousness she brings to it—is even smaller. “As a Wiccan,” Finch writes in the foreword to Spells: New and Selected Poems, “I write poems as incantations to strengthen our connections to each other, to the passage of time, and to the sacred cycles of nature.” Her celebrations of the turning wheel of the year and her goddess invocations connect us with age-old traditions but root us in the present day with economic and unsentimental language. Consider these lines from “A Seed for Spring Equinox:” Continue reading “Annie Finch, Author of Spells: New and Selected Poems”

(In)Gratitude on Thanksgiving

All the FeelingsI recently heard a historian giving an interview about the original Thanksgiving. She pointed out that what made the English colonists so thankful was the awful year that had come before. The Pilgrims hadn’t meant to settle on a rocky coastline with poor soil and long, frigid winters. They’d been heading to Virginia but got blown off course and landed on Cape Cod in desperation. That first winter, they lost a huge chunk of their numbers to famine and illness. Native Americans in the area had also been decimated by a smallpox epidemic. If it weren’t for assistance from Squanto and treaties with other members of the Wampanoag, the Pilgrims would have been no more than a footnote in the history books.

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On Samhain and Being a Bad Witch

Photograph of a jack-o-lantern with leaves and berries. Credit:

Think of the year as a wheel. Then divide that wheel at the Solstices and Equinoxes. Then divide it again between each of those days. That is the wheel of the year, and those eight holidays are the days when Wiccans mark the turning of the wheel. We call those days Sabbats, or the Sun Holidays. Samhain and Beltane are the two biggest deals in the Wiccan calendar. Many witches also observe the phases of the moons, or the Esbats. They’re important too, but I’m not going to talk about them right now. I’m going to talk about Samhain and why I am a bad witch.

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Trigger Warning: Jesus is Lord, Francis is Pope

Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States raised a lot of complicated feelings for me. On the one hand, I’m glad he walks the walk of his namesake. In the other hand, it’s far too little and far too late; nothing he does or says in his tenure as Pope is likely to repair the damage of my Catholic upbringing. Continue reading “Trigger Warning: Jesus is Lord, Francis is Pope”

Review of Mark of Voodoo, by Sharon Caulder

Cover image of Mark of Voodoo by Sharon CaulderThere are a lot of books on the market about pagan and neo-pagan traditions like Wicca and Asatruar. There’s a smaller number of books about Afro-Carribean syncretic religions like Santeria, Voodoo, and Candomble. This is the only book I’ve come across that is the personal story of a voodoo priestess’s own reclamation of her heritage. It’s fascinating for a variety of reasons. Caulder’s personal story is wrenching and compelling, her description of her trip to Benin to rediscover her Voodoo roots is fascinating as travel writing and cultural comparison, and her account of the cultural differences between African Americans and native Africans is eye-opening. It’s also a good foil to the many myths and misconceptions that surround a religious tradition that, like any religion, has the potential for both good and evil.

Garden of Images – Women's Circle Seaside Retreat Mandala

I drew this mandala during a seaside retreat with the Women’s Sacred Circle in Maine this September. We were there during the autumn equinox (Mabon in the Wiccan calendar) and it was a pretty magical weekend. The last morning I was there, I took my final swim of the season. The water was so cold I got pins and needles, but it was worth it.

Scan of a mandala drawn at a retreat with the women's sacred circle
Women’s Circle Retreat at Ferry Beach, Maine, September 2014

One Year After the Boston Marathon Bombing

Image of military vehicles in Boston in the aftermath of the 2013 marathon bombing.
Photo credit: Jeff Cutler (Flickr Creative Commons)

Ever since moving to Boston in 1999, I’ve been keenly aware of the ways in which I am separate from the city’s mainstream culture. As a queer woman, as a poet, as a [insert any one of a variety of labels that apply to me], I’m used to feeling different, apart, separate. About this time last year though, an odd thing happened.

In the hours and the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, I began to feel like I was part of a unified whole. That the Boston portrayed in the national press, the Boston of skinny white women sporting Tiffany bracelets in the Back Bay, the Boston of drunken Red Sox fans on the Green Line, the Boston of disaffected immigrants in search of a reason for living — that all of these Bostons — was also the Boston that I know: the Boston of slam poets congregating at the Cantab in Cambridge, the Boston of nerds in black turtlenecks eating sushi and joking about obscure internet memes, the Boston of queers congregating in living rooms and church basements, the Boston of police brutality and entrenched segregation.

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Cranky List / Gratitude List

Things that make me cranky:

  • waking up feeling worse than when I went to bed
  • trading one set of medication side effects for another
  • feeling my body getting heavier and older
  • expecting to be able to exercise the way I used to when I was 25 and at the peak of training
  • days when the only thing I seem fit to do is putter around the house and take in a matinee
  • Boston’s schizophrenic spring weather
  • focusing on my own needs and the ways they’re not being met
  • getting away from support systems that help me feel connected
  • pollyanna-ish spiritual literature that tells me to just focus on the positive! and everything will be fine!
  • focusing on the things that make me cranky, especially when they’re things I can’t control

Things that make me happy:

  • posting cranky status updates on Facebook (and the one or two people who say they can identify)
  • comparing the treatments available today to what people used to endure 50-60 years ago
  • considering advances in genetic research that may make it easier for doctors to pinpoint which kinds of medication will be most effective for individuals with my illness
  • friends and mentors who can say the sorts of things that snap me out of negative thinking and help me focus on what will work
  • reconnecting with support systems that remind me I am part of beloved community
  • focusing on how I can be of service instead of on what I can get — or what I think I SHOULD be getting
  • remembering that work is a wonderful opportunity to be of service
  • making moderate progress while conserving energy — sometimes this is better than exhausting myself by FIXING ALL THE THINGS
  • identifying small, achievable tasks toward a larger goal — and checking them off a task list
  • putting stickers next to completed items on my task lists
  • remembering that all things pass — even the line in the Post Office on a Saturday afternoon
  • moderate exercise
  • intense exercise (in moderation)
  • dancing at weddings
  • professional massages
  • hot tubs and steam rooms
  • inexpensive (and free) self-care, like a spa day at home
  • vanilla-scented bubble bath
  • taking myself on an artist date
  • reading 101 artist date ideas
  • the unwinding feeling that comes with relaxation — in all kinds of ways, expected and unexpected. Sometimes in meditation, sometimes when I’m laying in a big bed all by myself, sometimes when I’m in a field of grass in warm weather, sometimes when I’m sitting with a cup of tea and looking at the trees as the sky fades from blue to darker blue.
  • the first time in 2014 that I smell rain on unfrozen soil