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December 2014




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Dec. 22nd, 2014


Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Quartet concert Dec 20th UU church of Silver Spring - Review

A great night.  Jennifer Cutting's usual mix of humor, folk song, antiquarian curiosities and pagan themed compositions all were present.  Lisa Moscatiello's stunning low alto soared in both English and French.  Steven Wynick's Greenman and parts of Song of Solstice had a thundering ye olde England Drive.  And Andrew Dodd, Scottish fiddler extraordinare shown with the sweetest bow I've heard in a long time.  An extra treat was a small professional level choir and rock band made up of church members. Jennifer almost never gets to hear her compositions as she composed them due to folk music economics so this was a near unique experience.  The choir, which is always good was really on.  As for the rock band, there was a last minute substitution of an electric guitar player.  Steve Wilmarth had forty-minutes to learn two solos,  Jennifer's instructions had been, "Scorch the paint off the walls!"  which he managed twice.
I have to say the real theme of the concert was unbridled happiness.  The crowd was happy and sang loud and strong on every chorus.  The choir and rock band were happy to be working with such great music and with such a professional band leader. The quartet was happy to really hear some of their tunes as they were meant to be played and to be paying to a completely packed and higly enthusiastic house (had to add two rows of seats).  I was happy, because it had been my idea 14 months ago and it achieved musically more than I could have hoped for.  A great night for sure and now I want to find a way to do it again.

Dec. 18th, 2014

maple snow

Song of Solstice Concert less than two days and counting - Huzzah!

It's been a year since the idea first flitted across my consciousness and unlike most of my mental ramblings, this one is becoming a reality.  The Unitarian-Universalist Church of Silver Spring is hosting Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Quartet for our winter music residency.  Extra musicians have been lined up for the electric parts and a small choral group from our choir will join Jennifer for songs that have choiry parts.  Concert is this Saturday night at 7:30 and doors open at 6:30.  Tickets are cheaper in advance:-)

Jennifer will also be with us for Sunday services doing traditional solsticy music from the Songs of Solstice CD  along with the aurally stunning, Song for the Night Sea Voyage from the CD of the same name.   I get to do a reading of a winter solstice poem I wrote some time ago.  I've come to appreciate the Rev. Dr. Leon Dunkley as we worked collaboratively to find a way to make the solstice alive and meaningful for a mostly non-spiritual congregation.  Sunday services are at 9:30 and 11:30.

Nov. 20th, 2014

sven berlin

Sven Berlin - Gypsies Dancing (1956) - New Forest

This painting completely captured my imagination.  Read below to see why.

Some words about why I"ve come across this.Collapse )The scene is the Workmen's Pub at Christmas Time.  In many ways it was a rough crowd as a barfight had already occurred.   But here are Sven Berlin's words about the painting quoted in Strewing the Pateran, by John Pateman.
“. . .  out of playing the bones and spoons while the wild old men did extraordinary tap dances with fantastic vigour,  as though animated separately with strings, out of the sudden laughter or wailing from grief released in drink (for the Gypsies do not talk of their dead – they walk at their elbows) out of all this I made paintings with a new vitality  from the source of things, involving once more the human drama with the mysteries of invention from the darkness of the mind.  In the dust there was still gold.” 

Sep. 3rd, 2014


School Daze

I've signed to audit two upper level courses at the University of Maryland this semester - Gypsy Culture and Old Norse.  Gypsy culture will be an enjoyable breeze as the prof is a chill old hand deeply into all aspects of gypsy culture.  Old Norse will kick my butt, no two ways about it, but it is an opportunity that I can't pass up.  In addition to impressing the heathens, I may even be able to read an Icelandic newspaper when I'm done:-)

Jun. 23rd, 2014


The Curse of Chalion and The Paladin of Souls

Most fantasy writing is cotton candy, sweet and predictable.  The worst is cotton candy with non-digestible fillers.  Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion duology is neither but reflecting on what it is not is inadequate.  Both books fit into that rare category of fantasy based on spiritual fact.  There are others of course.  Robert Holdstock's Ryhope Wood and Celtika series both come to mind immediately.  It is entirely clear from interviews and the books' radiant power that Holdstock drew directly from experience.  And so it is with McMaster, but differently.  I won't go into the plot except to say that both of her books are well written and plotted, as one might expect of Nebula and Mythopoeic Society award winners. What is interesting to me is the fully formed polytheistic religious system and some of the best writing on the direct experience of Deity that I've encountered.

The religious system is Quintarian.  There are five deities: the Father; the Mother;  the Son; the Daughter; and the Bastard.  Pretty standard until the last eh?  The first four have their seasons in order:  Winter; Summer; Autumn; and Spring.  The Bastard has a day but is ever present.  The creation myth begins with a World Soul that creates the Father and Mother so that it can apprehend itself.  And from their love flow the Son and the Daughter.  The Bastard has, as you might expect, an interesting parentage.  A reclaimed demon and the Mother produce the Bastard though the mechanics are somewhat in theological doubt.

Death customs support much of the plot.  At death, holy animals of each of the deities approach the corpse and one will stay with it to indicate that the god or goddess has accepted the soul.  Usually it is simple, the Father accept the fathers, the Mother accepts the mothers, the Son the unmarried males and the Daughter the unmarried females.  The Bastard accepts all others although it is possible, through a thoroughly messed up life, to be unaccepted and go on to a a slowly diminishing discarnate existence. What is clear through death customs and the cycle of festivals is that religious life is vibrant and Deity is real in the hearts of the people although outside of death ritual Deity rarely touches daily life.

That touch is made manifest in the chief protagonists of both novels.  In The Curse of Chalion, the hero Cazaril's life is sustained directly by the Daughter in a condition of Sainthood, the direct presence of Deity in the world.  He opens himself to be a cup for the gods in willing surrender, the cup perhaps related to Celtic three cauldron tradition.  Surrender must be willing because Deity has no direct power in the world.  In this there is a sympathy with R. J. Stewart's work wherein he states that there are things we cannot do that the fey can and things that the fey cannot do that we can.  Deity searches for a vessel to undo the Curse and Cazaril is the unwilling and mostly unhappy victim.  How that victomhood evolves into awe and poetry is masterfully prosecuted.

Ista, the heroine of The Paladin of Souls, is twice sainted first by the Mother, leading to disaster, and then by the Bastard (and briefly by the Father in a sidejob).  Her prayers to the Bastard are highly inventive curses from the heart.  And yet, in the end, there is that same surrender and being filled with Deity's purpose.

Throughout this, there is no inflation of ego, no power for power's sake although magic does happen.  Rather, neither Cazaril nor Ista want anything to do with Deity as it has lead them mostly to pain until the end of both books. The world of Chalion requires a willing partnership between Deity and human or it fails. That partnership, while a hard and uncertain road, leads to spiritual fulfillment beyond any personal power.  May it be so!

If you don't get to the books, the wikipedia article on the religion of Chalion is quite thorough.  Obviously others have been touched by these works.

May. 19th, 2014

green tara

The Immodesty Rail

I don't generally refer other blogs.  However, this series by Hannah Ettinger on growing up in the Purity Culture is just astonishing.  Lengthy, but worth every minute spent.  Note, it comes up in reverse order so scroll to the bottom.  Also, not all posts are tagged so also look at the tag marriage.

Mar. 1st, 2014

maple snow

Remembering my father

My father has been dead for thirty years now.  We buried him on a winter day in the cemetary where so many of my ancestors lay.  In typical fashion, my mother got one of the free bronze veteran's markers for his grave. I'll replace that with a proper stone when she's gone.

Harry Miley was forced to retire early.  He had been a construction carpenter and strongly built.  His heart, though, was damaged from a case of disseminated strep AKA scarlet fever when he was a child.  It did not help that he had the same disease as an adult and tried to go to work anyway.  Missing work was not something one did, especially when construction shut down for the winter.

He was an intelligent man. His IQ was 121, same as mine and my son's.  He did not finish the 9th grade for a number of reasons.  His father was a raging alcoholic, they were dirt poor, and reading between the lines he probably had the same written language deficits that both my son and I had.  We had a chance to overcome and compensate and he really did not.  He did finish a GED in his 60's and even took a college English course at a community college.

He was a kind man who wanted a few simple things in life after he retired, some of which he achieved and some he did not.  I have a slow smoldering anger for the things he could not achieve that mostly gets vented in my politics.

I'm  now older than he was when he died.  I wish that he could have met his grandson.  He'd be bewildered by him, but love him none the less.

Jan. 13th, 2014


Lavandyss and Ralph Vaughan Williams

Hearing a piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams in church yesterday brought me back to a long standing puzzle.  One of the true strangenesses of Robert Holdstock's Lavondyss is that the aged Ralph Vaughan Williams is a character.  The composer, probably best known for The Lark Ascending, has a set of intense dialogs with the main character of the novel, a girl named Tallis.

There are lots of interesting external connections.  One of the other beloved RVM compositions is A Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.  The subtitle of Lavondyss is Journey into an Unknown Region which is similar in title to a reworking of a Walt Whitman poem Darest though now O Soul into the RVM composition Toward the Unknown Region.

At first, I thought that perhaps RVM was a practitioner.  He was a close friend of Robert Graves and at the time of his death was working on an operatic mashup of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer.  Those two ballads have been noted by RJ Stewart as being initiatory in nature. But this is largely beside the point.  What I think is important in terms of our pagan history is that works like The Lark Ascending and Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis evoke the spirit of the Land itself. That is a piece of magic in and of itself and the reason, IMHO, that Holdstock tips his hat to him so directly.

Dec. 23rd, 2013


One year into retirement

A year has now gone by since I retired.  Much of the torpor has worn off.  I've picked up the mandollin again and thanks to an FB post from dulcimergoddess on making failure a friend, I haven't smashed it against the wall:-)  I've also signed up for a 400 level Chaucer course at the University of Md.  One of the perks of living in a high tax state are actual benefits.  Retirees over 60 can audit any class they're qualified for zero dollars (not counting the $75 yearly registration fee).  I'm also going to act as stage hand for my friend Tom Meylan's corporate goodness video series.  Short pearls of wisdom captured for posterity.  So far this will lead to a free lunch.

My practice goes through waves of activity.   For the most part, when I do ritual I'm resorting to some of my oldest forms - rising light below (but the OBOD version),acknowledging my own local loop of spiritual beings and the spirits of the land.  The regression seems comfortable. I'm hoping to integrate the mandolin into ritual.  It has worked in the past.  This poem came nearly complete and also with music.

Occassionally I have innovations, the latest of which was that after drawing ogam sticks for a reading I can get another level of meaning by pressing the stick to my third eye position.  And stick is both a verb and a noun here as there seems to be some sort of electromagnetic attraction for some of them not wanting to let go for over a minute. Not going to try that with huath or ceirt however.  Perhaps erynn999 will have something to say about this.

Nov. 22nd, 2013


mandolin lessons

I've been taking mandolin lessions for the past three weeks.  I've played guitar in the past, but never had a lesson and never made much progress.  The mandolin was a gift for my 55th birthday, but I never really learned how to do it and it has sat idle.  So far things are going well.  I'm getting stronger and a little more accurate with some left thumb pain.  But I'm taking it easy when it flares up and that seems to be helping.  When I not learning humility, I'm having fun:-)

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