Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Re-Post: "Life's So Sweet"

from January, 2014

 Ever since my last visit to New Mexico in 2012, I’ve had really strong, nostalgic feelings for the desert. That trip was healing for me in a lot of ways, giving me the chance to reconnect with family and friends, to really feel and experience the energy and magic of the landscape, and to really appreciate the land, the culture, and the people in ways I hadn’t been able during my depressing teenage years. That trip home even inspired me to write a short little article for Witches & Pagans magazine for their Element of Fire issue, and I've even begun to honor the desert in my own personal practices.  

You can’t go home again, and I’m glad. I wouldn’t want to. But I do like having home come to me, in little things like Hatch chilies, Kokopelli all over my house, and most of all, with food. Food is so tied to culture and place, and it can be hard to get good southern New Mexican style food in this area. Luckily for me, though, since my sister has been here she has made green chili stew, sopapillas, and bizcochitos. Oh yes.

Bizcochitos are the state cookie of New Mexico, and these little guys date back to the Spanish colonists of the region, hundreds of years ago. They’re made of lard and wine and anise and are really just amazing, and can be very similar to ginger snaps. My sister made them for the 2013 holiday celebrations – Yule, Solstice, Saturnalia, Christmas, New Years, etc. They’re often eaten during the Christmas season, but also popular for baptisms, funerals, and weddings.

What’s great about these little cookies is that they bring with them the magic of place. I’m not in New Mexico, but I can bring New Mexico to me. I may not be the descendant of a Spanish conquistador, but I am New Mexican, and I can share this unique culture with my North Carolina friends and family.

Some people don’t care for anise, but it really is a wonderful herb. Anise is great for the cold holiday months. It brings the properties of youth, protection, and purification. It spreads greater awareness and happiness. These are perfect for the time of the birth/rebirth of the sun/son, for shelter and security during the uncertainty of winter, and for bringing in the New Year. Anise brings with it mindfulness of flavor, of place, of being, and it is tangy and unique and sweet and joyful.

As many know, cooking and baking can be magical acts. My sister was so excited to prepare bizcochitos, and she made them with love and nostalgia, remembering her own experiences back in the desert. She was adorably eager and nervous to share these regional cookies with my friends here in North Carolina, but we figured that even if people didn’t like them, that would just mean more for us.

So even here on the cold and wet east coast, we can enjoy the taste, flavor, and memory of the desert. I was honored that my sister wanted to share these cookies with me, and we were both happy to share them with others as well.
1 ½ cup lard
1 ½ cup sugar
3 eggs
3 teaspoons anise seed
6 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup sweet white wine (plus ¼ extra if needed)
½ cup sugar + 1 tablespoon sugar
Plus plenty of cinnamon and sugar

Cream together lard and 1 ½ cup sugar. In separate bowl, beat the eggs and wine together. Add the lard and sugar and mix well. In separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry and wet mixture together. Your dough should be slightly sticky. Divide the dough into three large bowls and keep in the fridge overnight. Preheat your oven to 350. Roll the dough into little balls and roll these balls into a cinnamon and sugar mixture. Cook the little balls for 10-15 minutes in the oven. After they are done cooking, roll them again in cinnamon and sugar so you get a double coating. Enjoy!

(My sister doesn’t remember where she got this recipe. It’s written in her journal. But if you own this recipe, let me know and I’ll give you credit! Other recipes and variations can be found all over the internet, and they’re really super easy to make!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dark Moon in Scorpio - 2015

Tonight my group Gaia's Circle is gathering to observe the Dark Moon.  Tonight it is in the sign of Scorpio, transitioning over to Sagittarius.

Scorpio is a water sign, and for this ritual we are diving deep deep deep, deep into our depths.  Here in the darkness of the still, cold and silent waters, on this dark and moonless night, we are confronted with our own darkness, our own stillness, our own inner cold and chill. 

What will we find in the depths of our being?  Will we hear the temptation call of the Siren?  Will we answer?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Re-post: "Wait For Me"

Like the pages from a Bradbury short story, October sweeps in with cold wind, bright colors and the scents of damp leaves, sugar and candy. The summer has been long and hot, school and work are in full swing and the holidays are right around the corner.

This shift in seasons is called the Wheel of the Year, and as the wheel rolls from the brightness of summer to the darkness of winter, the subtle swing from October to November marks a very important holiday in the Pagan calendar.

Known to most as Halloween (or All Hallows' Eve), Samhain is a favorite holiday among many Pagans. Considered by some to be the Pagan New Year, this holiday rests between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice and is a time of letting go of the old to make room for the new.

Commonly pronounced “Sow-ehn” (though this is debatable!) the observance of this special time of year has roots in ancient Europe, particularly among Gaelic and Celtic tribes. Many modern Halloween festivities observed in the United States come from Irish settlers who brought their folk stories and traditions with them to the new world. Trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins (or other vegetables) and wearing masks and costumes all come from old Samhain customs.

While Halloween may seem spooky to some, Samhain is a time to honor the blessed dead and to pay respect to those who have passed. Many display an “ancestral altar” with photos of friends and family as well as the deceased’s favorite food and trinkets. This isn’t too unlike the Catholic Day of the Dead festivities, where households pay their own respects in a similar fashion. Some Catholics also celebrate All Souls Day and All Saints Day shortly after Halloween, too, in which the hallowed and the dead are honored in other ways.

For Halloween this year, sit quietly outside. Listen to the leaves as they fall. Hear the kids laughing as they put on costumes and eat candy. Watch a few scary movies and indulge in the shadowy, darker aspects of life. Eat some crisp apples. Think of friends and family who were loved and lost. Celebrate the “Dumb Supper” and set an empty plate out for them at dinner time.

As the wheel turns and the year is new, think about those old, harmful things that no longer serve a purpose. Dismiss them and banish them away. The winter will be hard and cold, and there’s no use in keeping useless things around. As the nights become longer, contemplate on the shadow aspects of life. The wheel turns towards the darkness at Samhain. It will turn once more at Yule and the Solstice when the world will be brighter than ever.

In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Re-post - "A King of Magic"

Re-post honoring my Blessed Dead from my Super Duper Social Worker Blog, October 2012

Here is another sad cancer story. It’s a tragedy that so many of our Blessed Dead were taken from this world because of cancer. I’d like to extend extra blessings to those who are inflicted with this disease, as well as extra support to those who love those who are inflicted with cancer.

Zach was one of the first kids to talk to me when I moved back to Montana. I was shaken and upset about moving from Washington, and had a hard time adjusting. We were a natural fit as friends – outcasts, creative, nerdy, and socially awkward.

Zach loved art, but most of all he loved music. He could play the piano beautifully, and he sang all the time. He played a song on the piano for me once, and it was so beautiful I cried. But with all of his art, he was a brilliant scientist as well. He traveled throughout the US going to conferences, schools, classes, camps and workshops. His focus was water purity, and he would have worked wonders and changed the world, if only given more time. 

Out of all of the lessons Zach taught me, it was one of magic. He loved fantasy books and was an avid reader of all genres. We’d play these elaborate fantasy games and create extraordinary worlds. To Zach, the world was magic, and magic was real. It was alive. The world was full of creativity and wonder. He had an active, lively, beautiful imagination, and he encouraged creativity in others. Because of Zach, my journey into Paganism has been easy. Like me and Zach, me and magic have been a good fit.

I wasn’t always nice to Zach. The other kids didn’t like him very much, and sometimes I’d ignore him so I could hang out with the “cool” people. I wish I hadn’t done that. He was bullied a lot in his life. He was beat up a lot, sexually assaulted, and basically tortured. Was he gay? Was he bi? It didn’t really matter. He was beautiful and full of love. 

That’s all that matters when it comes to life. Be like Zach. Be full of life. Be full of beauty. Be full of love.

I knew Zach had cancer, but he kept the severity of it from me. On the day of my wedding he sent me an email that was basically “let be your Jewish momma and spit on your on your big day. Ptt ptt ptt!” This might have been the last correspondence we ever had.

He got more and more sick, and finally it was pneumonia that killed him. When I found out I was devastated. I cried and I cried and I cried. That night, I got drunk, wore black, and danced all night at the goth club. It still makes me angry when I think about how young he was. There are so many shitty people out there. I know it’s unfair of me to say it, but why couldn’t the cancer have taken them? Why did they have to take Zach?

I cried for months after Zach died. I dreamed of him all the time. My heart was still breaking constantly. But one night, I had a dream that was unlike the others. In my dream he came to me and said “Amanda, you can’t keep on doing this. You need to stop crying.” He said “you can’t keep holding on like this. Let me go. You have my blessing. Let me go.”

And I haven’t dreamt of Zach since.

But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten. I still mourn his passing and cry when I remember he is gone. There is a hole in my heart and in my life, knowing he is not spreading his love and beauty and brilliance around the world. His photo gets a place of prominence on my ancestor's altar, with my grandmothers’ jewelry. When I encourage creativity, imagination, and magic, I do so in honor of Zach. Sometimes I still can’t imagine that he’s gone. He was so young – a brilliant scientist, an amazing artist, and a loving man. Because of Zach, magic is alive in my life.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Re-Post - "Dead on Time/Walk the Line"

Re-post from my Super Duper Social Worker blog, October 2012, honoring my Blessed Dead

Everyone used to call my Grandma Johnson “Snooks.” I don’t know where the nickname came from, but I only wish I could be so cool as to have a nickname like that. Her mother named her Norma Jean, and she was a skinny, black-haired lady who was full of piss and vinegar. I was told once that she was in an accident when she was younger, that all of her blonde hair fell out, and it all grew back black. I don’t know if this is true or not. Maybe I made it up.

She was born to a feisty Scottish woman, and she had three older sisters. Her father was an Irish ballplayer and bootlegger. She used to sell buckets of water to the gypsies who lived in the park across the street. She herself had a little bit of gypsy blood in her as well,  what I like to imagine was the blood of the Irish Travelers, but I’m not positive.

Grandma Johnson met Grandpa Johnson while on horseback. He was out riding with his best friend, a Norwegian named Johnson. Grandma was out with her best friend. The four met, paired off, fell in love, and were close for most of their lives.

Grandpa Johnson was drafted into the Army and the family moved to Hawaii. There they had my Uncle Jim, who was the apple of my Grandma’s eye. She came from a family and a generation that favored boys over girls, which seems paradoxical to me when I look at the dynamic women in her family.

The family moved back to Montana, and my mother was born. Grandma Johnson wasn’t a great mother, and Grandpa Johnson wasn’t a great father. This chapter of my family’s history is riddled with abuse, alcoholism, and poverty. But, for all of the stories of the bad things that happened, I’ve heard just as many, if not more, stories of the good things, too. It’s like that Hank Williams Jr. song, “if I get stoned and sing all night long, it's a family tradition."

Snooks struggled with alcoholism her whole life. She smoked. She had eating disorders. She wrote bad checks. She was abused by her husband. She fought (physically) with her sisters and other family members. Her son and nephews were drug addicts and brought criminals to her home on a regular basis. When she’d call us up on holidays, she was often drunk on tequila. She told us once that she loved to howl at the moon.

Grandma Johnson loved cats, even when they were mean to her. She loved her grandchildren. She loved horses and she loved Native American artifacts, jewelry, artwork, and memorabilia. I have some of her beaded earrings. I don’t know if a Native friend of hers made them, or if she crafted them herself. She liked the color pink. She loved turquoise. While I won’t wear her giant pink earrings, I love wearing her turquoise rings; big, huge, gaudy, beautiful. They’re full of luck.

She was wonderful artist who painted epic, beautiful landscapes. I used to go into her studio and look at all of the oils, paints and colors. Look and never touch. Grandpa Johnson kept her artwork around his house throughout all of my childhood, even though they divorced when I was about ten. Grandpa was abusive (and I imagine Grandma was, too) but he loved my Grandma her whole life, and he was devastated when she passed.

Grandma Johnson moved down to New Mexico and was there for a few years. This gave her enough time to reconnect with my mother, and to form a relationship with my sisters. She came to Texas for Christmas one year to celebrate with me and my then-fiancĂ©/now-husband (who she never did like). It was a great holiday, but she was diagnosed with cancer immediately after. I’ll always wonder if the trip was what made her so sick, after a six hour drive from Alamogordo to Lubbock and back again.

The cancer was pretty terrible, but she fought it the best she could. My family took care of her, and I’m so glad that they were able to spend this time together. I have guilt feelings about not being there to help out, but I’m proud of my family for being so loving and strong through those hard times.

When I was a baby and toddler, she took care of me. We were very close. She would feed me ice cream and let me play with kittens. I loved her very much. She gave me her mother’s jewelry, my Great-Grandma Lonie. The last time I saw her, her psychosis from the cancer was setting in. She was barely coherent. She was not the strong, fiery woman I knew. I’ll always regret those last moments. The women who took care of me in my infancy, I was unable to help her in her old age.

She wasn’t happy in New Mexico, and though it was a painful decision for her and for my mother and sisters, Grandma moved back to Oregon to die. She was back with her sisters, the alcoholism and drugs, but this is where she wanted to be. My mom was able to fly up there and say goodbye. When she died, her family pawned all of her belongings. I was able to get some of her jewelry, and I put this out in a bowl on my altar every year with her mother’s faux pearls, and with Grandma Val’s penguins.

When she died, I was relieved. She had been in pain and fighting for so long. I was so glad she was finally at rest. Her cancer was terrible, and it was killing my mom and sisters to be so far away from her, so helpless. Like the true cowgirl she was, Grandma Johnson never stopped fighting, though. I’m sure she’s up there Indian Wrestling angels in heaven and drinking Jesus under the table. And I’m sure that Johnny Cash, one of her favorite musicians, is singing just for her. Because she lived her life like his words – Snooks walked the line.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Re-Post: "All God's People"

Re-post from my Super Duper Social Worker blog, honoring my Blessed Dead, October 2012

Grandma Val passed away not too long ago. I don’t think she and i ever met until after Mutti and Chris got married. I remember coming home from college to visit my family over the Easter holiday, and I had Easter dinner with my newly mixed family. I had been nervous about meeting my mom’s new in-laws because as with all families, there had been some tension and I can sometimes be defensive of my mother.

Val was shy, and maybe a little introverted. She might not have been overly outgoing when I was there, but she made sure everyone was well fed, and she even surprised me with an Easter basket. This immediately made me feel like I was part of the family, even though I hadn’t lived at home for many years and even though this was the first time I had participated in a Morris/Hanson family event.

And every time I went home to New Mexico after that, we’d have Sunday dinners with Grandma Val and the family. She’d make a point to take out the good dishes, the wine glasses, always made sure that there was red wine in the house because she knew I liked it, even though she didn’t drink. Grandma Val helped my little sister plan my New Mexico wedding shower, and that meant a lot to me, too. It was a beautiful day, the food was great, and the companionship was even better.

Sometimes we’d all go out for pizza, and we’d get green chili pizza and Dr. Pepper. My all-time favorite story of Grandma Val is over pizza (with green chilies!) and she said she and Pop-Pop would buy this meal every Friday night and watch Star Trek. I said “oh, Steve and I are watching Star Trek, too. We’re on the episode when Picard does such and such.” And she looked at me and said, “No, Amanda. Star Trek. The real Star Trek, with the real Captain. The only Captain.”

The Friday night after Grandma Val passed away, we ordered pizza. I drank Dr. Pepper. We watch Star Trek. The real Star Trek. With the real Captain. 

Val had cancer, very terrible cancer. It was hard on my family when she was sick because they had just gotten over the shock of our Grandma Johnson's long fight with cancer as well. But they took care of her, sat with her until the end, and prayed for her when the local priest would not. I found out about her passing while I was at work, and after my shift I went to the Duke Chapel and spent some time in there after lighting a candle for her. Later, a bishop friend of mine performed a mass in her name, and assured me she is at rest, at peace, and at One.

I have some of her jewelery, some penguins, and a lovely mauve/purple colored ceremonial communion chalice of hers that I claimed last time I was in New Mexico.  This Samhain season I honor her by including her jewelery with that of my blood grandmothers, who get a special bowl of jewels on my altar every October.

Grandma Val was a friend to my mother, a grandmother to my sisters, and a strong matriarch to the Hanson/Morris clan. I'm sad I wasn't able to spend more time with her, but I'm glad for the time we did have. I'm thankful for her in that she took care of my family when I was not there to do it. She loved her family very much, blood and otherwise. She is an example of the saying I grew up with, "mi casa es su casa".

And after a long, extremely painful fight, I'm glad she is at rest. Blessings, love, and honor to Grandma Val!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Re-post "Heaven for Everyone"

Re-post from my Super Duper Social Worker blog, October 2012, honoring my Blessed Dead

October and November are times to honor the blessed dead, and the first Blessed One I'd like to honor is Ray Bradbury.

The first sci fi book I ever read was War of the Worlds, and the second was the Martian Chronicles. Reading these books marked a turning point in my life, and fundamentally helped to create who I am. I wrote my senior paper on Bradbury, and he came up often in college papers, too. Regretfully, I haven't read a lot of his more contemporary writings, but I've read a whole lot of his sci fi short stories.

He's one of my favorite people ever, and one of my favorite writers (the others including Neil Gaiman and Frank Herbert). Bradbury's writing is beautiful, tragic, inspiring, amazing. He crafted worlds and stories and places and things that are unforgettable. Even the most alien of his subjects is familiar. He had a gift of looking into people's hearts and writing what was to be found there.

When he died this past spring, I cried. I had had a terrible day at work. I was probably sick. I was anxious. I was depressed. It was one of those days when everything that could go wrong, went wrong. So after a terrible morning behind the bar, I sat down at my desk and read the headline.

And I cried.

And I was so angry because I was so busy and so behind that day, I couldn't properly mourn him. The tears came but I had to fight them back because how could I say "I can't go to the bank today. My favorite writer died." or "I can't go to this meeting because this author who was very old passed away."

I cried on my way home from work, and sometimes I still get teary-eyed when I think about Ray Bradbury and his passing. I have not yet properly mourned this man who was like an uncle to me - far away and distant, yes, but still influential. Still familiar.

Last October I read a lot of horror and scary literature, which included re-reading a lot of Bradbury (Something Wicked This Way Comes, The October Country, and other short stories). Nothing captures October so well as Something Wicked This Way Comes. Just open your eyes. You'll find them, the October People. They're there. Doing their October thing. They come out every year.

I found a cheap copy of The Halloween Tree, so I put away a book club read and started reading this Bradbury Classic.

Where has The Halloween Tree been all my life? Truthfully, I've been too busy reading everything else by him to find time for this one, but since it's probably the only book I'll be reading all month (despite having both Rosemary's Baby and the Stepford Wives waiting on my bookshelf) nothing could be more appropriate.

Bradbury tells the story of Halloween perfectly, with all of its myth and magic. No words of mine can do him justice, so here he goes in one particularly memorable section:

A dark creature struck the sun one dreadful blow.
The sun died. It's fires went out.
The boys ran blind in darkness.
Yeah, thought Tom, running, sure, I mean, I think, every night, the sun dies. Going to sleep, I wonder, will it come back? Tomorrow morning, will it still be dead?
The boys ran. On new pillars dead-ahead, the sun appeared again, burning out an eclipse.
Swell! thought Tom. That's it! Sunrise!
But just as quickly, the sun was murdered again. On each pillar they raced by, the sun died in autumn and was buried in cold winter. 
Middle of December, thought Tom, I often think: the sun'll never come back! Winter will go on forever! This time the sun is really dead!
But as the boys slowed at the end of the long corridor, the sun was reborn. Spring arrived with golden horns. Light filled the corridor with pure fire.
The strange God stood burning on every wall, his face a grand fire of triumph, wrapped in golden ribbons.
"Why, heck, I know who that is," panted Henry-Hank. "Saw him in a movie once with terrible Egyptian mummies!"
"Osiris!" said Tom.
"Yessss....." hissed Moundshroud's voice from the deep tombs. "Lesson Number One about Halloween. Osiris, Son of the Earth and Sky, killed each night by his brother Darkness. Osiris slain by Autumn, murdered by his own night blood.
"So it goes in every country, boys. Each has its death festival, having to do with seasons. Skulls and bones, boys, skeletons and ghosts. In Egypt, lads, see the Death of Osiris, King of the Dead. Gaze long."

So we drink a toast to you, Uncle Ray. Thank you for the books and the words and the worlds and the memories and dreams. Thank you, unendingly, for the inspiration. I always wanted to write you a letter, and I never did. I'll always regret that. Twenty years I had the chance and I never took it. So, this season, I drink to you. I write for you. I read for you.

You are among my honored dead.