Saturday, December 20, 2014

Yuletide Story

For more than a decade in the ‘80’s and nineties, I lived in a tiny studio over an old carriage house at the rear of a lot in North Berkeley. It was probably one of the oldest structures in Berkeley, older than the large house in front, which had also been divided into apartments. At a later time, long after the incident that I am about to relate, I even explored the possibility of having this little carriage house declared a historical landmark in order to prevent its demolition to make way for overpriced condos. This endeavor floundered for lack of sufficient documentation, and so I eventually had to move, but that is beyond the scope of this story.

The old carriage house had been erected with a steep, sloping roof, a rarity in California, perhaps by some recent pioneer from the East who had not yet thought through the architectural implications of the snowless Bay Area climate. My apartment nestled snugly under the roof, above a somewhat larger apartment that had been made from the original carriage house downstairs.

The yard was heavily wooded and overgrown; someone in the past had made careful and even magical planting choices: a hawthorn tree, rosemary grown to large bushes as it will in the California climate, a large stand of rue. The rent was laughably cheap, following a tacit Bay Area rental tradition that the tenant’s expenses can remain low as long as the owner’s expenses are virtually nil. A rickety outside staircase led from the ground to my door, passing over the door to the apartment below. At the top of the stairs was a tiny porch overgrown by the branches of an acacia tree, and my own door, a junkyard salvage item with a glass window.

I lived alone, as I have for years. I am a sound sleeper and, I should mention, a vivid dreamer. As a child, I was often confused about what had happened in my dreams and what had really taken place. As I grew up I learned gradually to sort my dreams out from my waking reality, but even as an adult I can sometimes identify a memory as a dream only because it is something improbable that seems to have happened while I was asleep.

It is also worth mentioning that the East Bay is demographically diverse and complex, perhaps more so than any place in the world. The cultural mix is rich and exciting, the crime rate is high, neighborhoods can change suddenly in character as you cross a large thoroughfare or a set of tracks, or for no apparent reason at all. My own neighborhood, as a friend once said, seemed “equally divided between the people trying to overthrow the government by force and violence and the people just searching for the perfect croissant,” with violent crime and drug-dealing to the south and west and the increasingly elegant homes of croissant-eaters mounting the hills above us to the east.

So in this apartment, in this city, very late on the night of the winter solstice, came a knock on my door. The room was long and narrow, and sitting up in my bed at one end I had a good view through the glass of the door. A young black man, handsome, lean and loose-limbed, stood looking at me. Unaccountably lacking in fear or hesitation, I got up, went to the door and opened it.

He apologized for bothering me so late at night; his accent was from somewhere in the Caribbean.  He held the street address of our little complex, 1315 Henry Street, scribbled on the back of an envelope. “Do you know Vanessa?” he asked. “I’m looking for Vanessa.”

I couldn’t help him. I knew everyone in the complex by the name, none of them Vanessa.

He seemed disappointed, and shrugged. Then his face lit up with amusement, and he pointed to the door. “Look, you forgot your keys,” he said. I looked and there indeed were my keys, dangling from the keyhole outside the door. A little uncomfortable for the first time, I took the keys and closed the door. The young man rattled down the stairs. I glanced at the clock beside my bed—it was a little past three—and lay down to sleep.

The next morning I thought over the oddness of this event—my mysterious lack of fear, the discovery of the keys, and dismissed the memory as a dream.

Later that day, returning  from work, I ran into my downstairs neighbor. Peter was a wispy shadow of a man who lived on disability for some reason. I never knew the details. He and I had a cordial acquaintance based mostly on feeding each other’s cats when we left town. “Do you know anybody named Vanessa?” he asked. It was eerie to hear the name again so soon after the dream. I shook my head. “Guy was here about three in the morning,” he said, “looking for somebody named Vanessa. Jamaican, maybe.”

So it was not a dream. I performed the internal mental acrobatics required to reclassify the incident of the previous night as real, noticing how much more peculiar it appeared when recalled in that light.

But then, a year later, the story grew stranger still.

It was again around the time of the winter solstice. Peter had left town for the holidays, and his apartment downstairs was empty. Again, late at night, I was roused from sleep by a knock at the door, and a “hello.” In an instant, from that single word, I recognized the voice and the accent. My body froze in shock, fearful not of the young man himself but of the surreal nature of the unfolding events. “Yes?” I responded, not looking, not moving, not wanting to see the face that I knew was waiting on the other side of the glass.

“Do you remember me?” He called. “I was here last year. I was looking for Vanessa, but I didn’t find her.” He paused, and added, as if to jog my memory.  “But I found your keys.”

“I remember,” I called to him. “But I’m not going to open the door this time. This is just too weird.”

He laughed. “Well, Merry Christmas, then,” he said. He rattled down the stairs with the same sound that I remembered from year before, and was gone.

When I felt sure he was gone, something made me get up to look for my keys. They were in my handbag, where they belonged. I went back to sleep.

Long after, I told this story to someone I knew who was versed in the religions of the African diaspora. “Eshu, Papa Legba,” my friend murmured knowingly. “The Yoruba god Ellegua. He is all over the New World, by different names. The messenger of the Gods.  He’s a bit of a trickster, but he opens the way.”

I have long meant to weave this incident into some longer tale, a deep and important tale about the old Gods, and an opening of a way. But perhaps the true story is simple, and needs to go no further than this; a young man from the Islands had the wrong address, and lost a woman named Vanessa.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Lammas Queen

Come to me now, in the first hour of harvest,
Hour of falling wind and sun,
And the sweet rushing in of the salt sea tide.
Now I am fruit, moist and heavy before it falls.
Mine is the milk that lets down and flows
To the sound of a hungry cry.
I claim the first fruit of your labor,
And return to you from my golden store,
The fruit of your labors in seasons past.
I bare my breast and the world spills forth;
Joy and loss and flame and shadow.
Drink and be whole, so the joy will last.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lammas Tide


This, like the planting time from Eostara to Beltane, is a period of intense hard work. It is a time when work comes to fruition, and the rewards of past work can be reaped. There will, however, be a lot to do to accomplish this, and it may feel as though the time is too short. It is a time of intense activity, both work and play.

The Mother at this time is at the height of Her power, her breasts flowing with milk at the very sound of a child's cry. Honor Her with works of healing and compassion, and by with a portion of each thing you earn or reap. The Mother of All Living tells us that she demands no sacrifice. She tells us this because she needs make no such demand; a portion of every labor and every love returns to Her by the law of Nature. When that return is brought to Her consciously and with gratitude, she rewards Her children by opening to them the storehouse of Her wisdom;  the truth which lies there is our own, which She has saved for us from our gifts of past seasons. Thus at this season we eat new fruit and old meat, new achievements and old wisdom.

Love and labor are one in the Mother at this season. Seek to perform all your work with love, and work to sustain your love for others.

 Like the Planting Time this is a season which, in the old days, required the give-and-take of community effort, as large teams harvested one farm after another. Look carefully at the patterns of reciprocity in your relationships with those love and care about, ask yourself whether they are balanced and fair, and what you can do to improve their equilibrium.

Try to float to the surface of the Tide, to take a long and broad view of things so as to maintain your perspective. Take time from your full and busy days to study and contemplate the huge expanses of space and time--the shape and time of the Universe, karma, your past lives. 

This is the most productive Tide for trance divination, for traveling in trance and dream the roads that lead to the future and the past.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Midsummer: The Air Tide Ebbs

 Image from

Midsummer marks the time when the air tide turns and begins to ebb. The air tide began to flow at Beltane. The season past has been one of change; things have been in transition, and there has been an element of chance in everything as some seedlings took root and others were stillborn.  With the turning of the air tide, the season of ripening begins.  Now we know which of the seeds of time have taken root and will grow.  It is a time for dedication, patience and awareness.  The work of the coming season will be watering and weeding, watching and protecting that which has taken root.

The turning of this tide is best observed in a circle of stones made in the old manner, out of doors, when the sun is high in the sky.

Take with you a stone to establish you’re altar, and a little water or oil to use for anointing.  Find a clear place in the sunlight.

Lay out a Circle by marking the four directions with stones around your central altar stone. As you do so, invite Spirits from the four directions to guard your Circle.

Welcome the God as King of high summer; as you invoke Him, feel the Sun enter you through the crown of your head, crowning the God within you.

Speak to the God who is both within you and in the sky above, voicing your intentions for the coming season.

Using the oil anoint both feet, saying, “Let my feet go in Your ways.”  
Anoint both hands saying, “Let my hands do Your work.”
Anoint your third eye, saying, “Let me see the way before me.”

Sit or kneel in silent meditation for awhile.

Give thanks to the God and the Guardians.

Open the Circle by walking widdershins (counter-clockwise), and kicking the stones outwards.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How remarkable that the Moon at rising can take you unawares.

At first, you do not recognize her, improbably large, a little misshapen from the effects of the atmosphere at the horizon, so often some unexpected color, or even an appearance of translucence like lantern paper lit from behind.

For just a moment, you do not realize what you are seeing, but then of course you do, and there is a moment of embarrassment--that after a lifetime of moonrises and poetry, you still were not prepared.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sun Moon

(Image from

Sun Moon, Dyad Moon, are names for the Full Moon that falls in Gemini. (Incidentally, the "moon falling in Gemini" is a different matter from the Moon being "in Gemini" in an astrological chart. When I talk about the Full Moon that falls in Gemini, I mean the Full Moon that falls sometime from May 21 to June 21.) The Dyad Moon will be full on Thursday, June 12 on the west coast of the U.S., Friday the 13th on the east coast.

At this time of year, chances are good of seeing the full moon and the setting sun in the sky at the same time.

The Dyad moon a time when opposites attract; magically good for working on relationships. 

It's a time when differences can turn from a liability to an asset. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Beltane to Midsummer: The Growing Time

Beltane is one of the two hinges of the year that herald dramatic changes in energy and conditions.

The crops are sown, and now the fragile seedlings must take root and grow. The fields must be weeded and watered, relatively light work if diligently done. But now, the outcome of the past season's sowing depends on the vagaries of chance; the weather, the whims of marauding birds, forest creatures, otherworld spirits.

The veils between the worlds that opened at Beltane still remain thin. Connections are loose. All things are possible. The Lady and Lord, wholly absorbed with each other, leave their children to shift for themselves.

The time is more auspicious for divining than for sorcery. The lot-casting methods--the runes, Tarot, geomancy, the I Ching--will be the most effective ones.