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Ladybirch shares the healing touch

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Vermont colors influence the heart, fill the mind of artist novelist, Genie Rayner

I first ‘met’ Genie Rayner electronically, when I read her heartrending poem Paradigm Shifts on KPN, a writers’ webcommunity we both belong to. Her fierce stance through personal pain struck me most significantly:

“In the grand scheme
the little things don’t
seem to make much difference …

Just as climate change
shrinks Mother Earth,
my father’s world
shifts too
and he’s lost his little girl.

As he bends closer to the ground,
turns off more lights
as he goes more blind,
he already wears his death mask,
shrinks deep into Alzheimer’s past …

Then a long, warm fall
with hints of the shadows
of spring,
one cat makes friends
with the others,
and new times to write,
to try to sing …
these little things
make all the difference in the world …

Even if
I’m no longer
his little girl.” Paradigm Shifts by Genie Rayner, 2009

For me it gave meaning to Robert Frost’s belief that ‘a poem begins with a lump in the throat’.

I learned more as we got to know each other. You know how these web friendships take time to unfold. Before the years of caring for her dad, Bill, she seemed to me somehow like a southern swallow homing in on her northern perch: originally from New Orleans, she just kept moving north until she found Vermont — and stopped. And stayed.

‘My soul had to find Vermont before I could gain the courage to call myself an artist,’ she says.

Genie Rayner, part migrant bird, part cat-woman, wholly writer

Maybe she is part-bird. Like me, she is deeply caught up in the seasonal movement of the flying creatures, owls, cardinals, hawks; also trees, flowers, anything green; she grows an organic garden, empathizes with frogs, deer, most mammals, autumn breezes. Like me, she has more cats than most people consider ‘sensible’. I make no excuses. I like her. In her writing on her ‘other’ wordpress blog, she goes by the name of Ladybirch — it is, after all, a Birch (B)log. She is poet, novelist, freelance editor, photographer, artist, quilt-maker, chair-restorer, writing mentor and consultant. Co-founder of Rutland’s BirchDel Poets and Druidfarm Creations, she encourages all talents focused on creativity for the wellbeing of mind, body, earth and soul. You get the picture: she’s a busy woman. At the moment she’s working on a poetry chapbook — or two — a novella and, if you need your own work edited, she’s your (Magiclamp Editing) woman. In her spare time she has written her first novel, Song of the Blessing Trees published by British small press Gilead Books.

i wasn’t certain I was being very kind when I asked her to take time in her busy schedule to contribute to my little Writers’ Feature Corner, but she readily agreed. And I’m so glad I did, because she brings to this sharing of our thoughts on writing — so many authors, budding or successful, with so many points of view — a gentle wisdom and deep perspective of what it takes to extract words from the subconscious and place them one in front of the other on the printed page.

Bless you Genie for this insightful piece.

The ‘Whole’ Meaning of Writing by Genie Rayner
When you think about it, words are funny things. There are, after all, easier and quicker ways to communicate: eye contact, touch, music, visual art, dance, even silence can all speak volumes – for good or ill – if we’re aware, attuned and receptive to the possibilities waiting to be evoked.

As writers – and speakers – we know all too well that words can be awkward, slow, difficult to find. They can cause pain or distress, tears, anxiety or fear; they can wound and cause irreparable damage. On the other hand, the right word(s), written or spoken, are among the most beautiful things in the world.

At least to this writer.

As much as I love and need the other arts, as much as I use the other ways to communicate, there is nothing quite like a beautifully-turned phrase, a thoughtful way of putting words together, to inspire a sense of meaning in one’s life.

Almost everyone is familiar with the popular definition – and concept – of logos. In his book A Man’s Search for Meaning, though, Viktor Frankl digs even deeper than the usual translation of ‘word.’ From his experience in a World War II concentration camp, Frankl explains that logos actually denotes ‘meaning’ first and foremost:

Genie at a recent BirchDel Poets' gathering in Vermont

“Frankl relates how he came to discover his new school of psychotherapy … in Auschwitz where he had been interned. He tells how, with his trained clinical eye, he began to perceive that his fellow prisoners were wasting away and dying physically because… they had no ‘meaning’ to live for, so they gave up the struggle and buckled under. Very unobtrusively Frankl started to pick up meanings in the[ir] lives… in casual conversation with them; then, he began very naturally and imperceptibly to feed these same meanings back into the lives of respective prisoners. What he noticed in sheer wonder… was that these companions of his, who had practically surrendered to their fate… came suddenly alive and could go through any torture, any trial, any hardship in the camp, thanks to the meaning or meanings that had been injected back into their lives….

“So it was that Frankl discovered and later developed his logotherapy – that is, making people whole (= therapy) by giving meaning (= logos) to their lives. For the primary signification of logos is ‘meaning’; its secondary signification is ‘word.'”
Discovering Your Personal Vocation: The Search for Meaning Through the Spiritual Exercises (NY: Paulist Press, 2001, pp. 19-20), by Herbert Alphonso, SJ, quoted in Genie’s Master of Arts thesis

I think one of the reasons for this is because words – and by extension, at least for writers, the written word – connect us to one another. They can and do create relationships, sometimes when we don’t even know the other person(s). A wise woman recently wrote to me of the ‘umbilical connection’ writers have with words; that most basic relationship, then, grows and connects to untold others who read our words.

That is one of the fundamental reasons I write: relationship.

Sometimes I’m lucky – and privileged – enough to know that my words have made a positive impact on someone, and that is thrilling. Even when the impact is negative, at least I know I’ve made a connection, made someone think enough to argue with me or want to discuss something further. That, too, is exciting. I’ve done my job!

I’m also enough of a writer to fantasize about the connections some of my now-unpublished works might make after I’m dead and gone. If anyone goes through my desk drawers and the boxes under my bed, they’ll find reams of old poems, essays, jottings, story ideas, and books in various degrees of progress. Maybe that person or those persons will care enough for my efforts that s/he or they will take the time to read them. Perhaps a poem will be found at a time when it’s needed to help someone through a tough spot; perhaps one of the unfinished books will stir up enough ideas for the reader to continue it to fruition; someone might even think something is good enough to submit posthumously and it will finally get published and reach others somehow, somewhere.

But even before then, one can – and does – hope that some of the same things will happen. Some of my poetry and other writings have engendered lifelong or important relationships, just as others’ works have inspired me to contact and connect with them because of something meaningful in their words or craftsmanship.

More often, though, I have no idea how readers take my words or respond to them. Most writers don’t.

So what’s the point of writing?

I keep coming back to ‘meaning’ and relationship and connection. Perhaps the most important relationship, the most meaningful one, is that with ourselves. Though I always hope others will find some kind of meaning in my work and my words, they can’t if I don’t first. I suggest this is why blogging has become such an integral part of our recent technological lives: people need to connect with themselves and with others.

Of course, there are always pieces that will never meet other people’s eyes, heart or soul, but I still had to write them for my sake. I hope I’ve become a better human being because of the letters, poems, stories and fragments that have helped me work through trauma, crises, heartache, joy, even silliness… but they’re too personal or not developed enough ever to crawl out of the desk drawers or boxes under the bed.

Sometimes just putting words to paper – especially putting words to paper, rather than typing on a keyboard – makes that vital connection between head and heart that, I hope, results in a more developed person. Though the works themselves may not be complete, simply making the creative effort to find meaning makes me more complete. If I’m lucky, working through something by writing about it will spark insights and revelations that couldn’t have come otherwise or in quite the same way, and I am even more whole.

Righteous!

It truly is. One understanding of the word ‘righteous’ in the Bible is ‘right relationship with God.’ Though it may sound selfish and self-centered, if I can’t or don’t make that critical connection to me – to what’s going on in and with my ‘I’ (as in Martin Buber’s I and Thou) – first, then I can’t connect to God, or the Other. And I sure can’t connect to all the unknown others I hope will find meaning through my words.

It is, after all, a cooperative creative process, this ‘thing’ writers must and can do. We writers may think we’re solitary, but we’re not really. Call it spiritual, religious, holy, or any other term with which you’re comfortable, writing is a co-creative endeavor that involves many others—some known or intended and seen, some unknown and unintended – and many layers of involvement.

Just as Frankl’s spoken, and then written, words were healing – and ‘wholeing’ – for others, I think most (if not all) of us want our words to do that as well, regardless of genre or theme or plot. At least on a fundamental, intuitive level.

We strive for that connection, those relationships that complete our work – and ourselves – with our work, by our work.

With that intent, we can’t help but contribute to a better, more complete and healed world, even if it’s person by person, reader by reader. It may be a slow process, co-creating a collective world of and with meaning, but it’s worth it, in my view. Maybe it’s even better to be slow, more one-on-one. There’s an intimacy to that concept that really appeals to me.

Regardless of how long or slow writing is, how solitary or collected writers are, I suggest that we are working for and toward the umbilical relationship of wholeness with others and ourselves. That gives a meaning to my work that can be expressed only through more words.

Every time I sit down to write, I look forward to the anticipation of possibilities and connections that will emerge – for something unexpected always occurs. I always find a little more of and about me and I hope I always find a little more of and about others, the world, the human condition, God, and the mysteries of the creative process.

It doesn’t get much more meaningful than that.
©2010 Genie Rayner

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October 13, 2010 Posted by | authors, birds, culture, environment, gardening, Muse, nature, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Fire Festivals & Persistence of Pasche

Carnival in Rio before Lent

‘First come Candlemas
Syne the New Meen
The niest Tiseday efter that
Is Festern’s E’en.
That Meen oot
An’ anither at its hicht
The niest Sunday efter that
Is aye Pasche richt.’
Ancient Scots Easter calculation. Anon.

The Calendar according to the Moon was regular as clockwork. It was reliable, you could see it in the sky and you could set your life rhythms by it. The old Scots rhyme above spoken slowly will make sense even to the least son of the soil of Ultima Thule. But non-Scots may need a little help in translation.

Festern’s E’en – as Hallowe’en – was an ancient calendar fire festival celebrated, like all pre-Christian revelry, at night. And, like Hallowe’en, it still is. Only we call it by another name: Carnival.

Translated simply, it is the evening before the ‘Feast/Festival’. With a capital F, this celebration was one of the greatest fire festivals in the Celtic Year. When it became absorbed into the Christian calendar, its importance and significance to the populace was so great, that it was deemed necessary to give it a place of prominence second only to Christmas. As such it has remained. The festival that precedes Easter is throughout the world celebrated with fire and puppetry,processional and masqued balls, dance and music and food and drink.

If you ask a South American about Carnival, ‘Carnaval’ in Portuguese, he will tell you they prepare for it all year round. In some cultures it has become almost more important than Christmas – a reversion to type, backtracking to pre-Christian times.


In Brazil, it makes complete sense to hold Carnaval precisely on its February moon date in the ancient calendar because in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires it is full-blown summer. By contrast, German Fasching, held similarly in February, is pretty chilly dancing in the noctural streets of northern Hamburg!

Terence Young's 'Thunderball' James Bond in 1965


Carnival used to be held in the Bahamas in February too, when spring is at its height and the casuarinas blow carefree along Nassau Beach. But in the summer of 1965, Chubby Broccoli and Sean Connery made a James Bond film set on Paradise Island and commissioned the Carnival Committee to stage an ‘extra’ Carnival, so they could weave festive fiery scenes into ‘Thunderball’; since then Bahamian Carnival has been a summertime festival.

London's Notting Hill Carnival

Similarly, the London Carnival of Notting Hill, begun in 1964, is held on the last weekend in August. No connection to Lent or Easter any more.

But originally, before the Gregorian calendar took over calculation and reckoning by the moon in 1582, Carnival was high festive season in that ancient stream of festivities used by Man to celebrate the return of the Light to a dark winter world.

Candlemas, as I’ve mentioned before, is the first glimpse of light waxing and adding grace to the darkest days of winter. On February 2nd – or Bride’s Day, before solar months took over as calendrical norm – the measure of light from the heavens increases to such a degree that birds begin to mate, petals on spring flowers open and the Earth softens its frozen grip.

In lunar terms, the first New Moon of the second month (Gregorian) was celebrated in every northern hemisphere culture planet-wide from prehistoric times. From Buddhist to Inuit culture the return of light to nurture the earth’s crucial growing plants was a calendar custom worth celebrating.

When Christian calendar calculators were devising Roman Church high and holy days, they took care to incorporate these ancient fire rites as an integral part of Christian culture and ‘lore’. it did not do to lose a single ‘soul’ in the transition from a pre-Christian to a Christian world.

And, as it was a long-standing tradition for local people to mark ancient quarter days – the solstices and the equinoxes – with festivals of fire, it seemed right that they should transit unaltered into the Christian calendar: marked instead with candlelight inside church buildings.

Christmas was chosen at the time of (northern) winter solstice when the ‘ignorant’ (pagan) desperately needed to celebrate the return of ‘light to the world’. Christ was called the ‘Light of the World’. The Son of the Sun.

Midsummer was fully taken up with a light celebration of its own – in northern latitudes the longest days of the year brought bountiful harvest and genuine thanksgiving by a rural population for the gifts of the earth continuously provided from midsummer through to Lammas, an August ‘cross-quarter’ day. No Church overlay was necessary; nevertheless Roman Catholicism superimposed the feast of John the Baptist on midsummer’s day and frowned heavily on pagan corn dollies and such Celtic fripperies perpetuated by an agricultural society.

The Equinoxes, however, required more serious contemplation.

Most rural (so-called ignorant) converts were aware of the movement of both sun and moon. While that may appear to us today to be rather sophisticated intellectual knowledge, it was commonplace then to note changing seasons, hours of light and dark and the phases of the moon. When equinox arrived it was – in the human mind at least – a miracle that every place on earth had exactly the same number of hours of light and dark for one earth period of 24 hours. The sun rose at 6 and set at 6 on every man, woman, child and beast on earth. The phenomenon was in itself worth celebrating. In astronomical terms, the event occurs precisely at the moment the Sun (traveling along the ecliptic) appears to cross the celestial equator, and while ancient Man may not have known that added sophistication, his life was changed by its occurrence twice in every year. In addition, he celebrated the spring (cross-quarter) festivals of Wesak, Beltane, May Day, along with any events providing an excuse for Morris and maypole dancing, The Church allowed these to continue, so long as the requisite saints were also remembered and offerings given.

While Archangel Michael was given dominion over autumnal equinox, Easter was chosen as a fitting ‘high’ celebration to take over the vernal equinoctial light-and-dark balance.

What put a spanner in the works was that – late in the seventh century – when two contemporary Christian systems were running alongside in mutual cooperation, the internal systems within the Celtic and Roman Churches came to a clash; an impasse.

Venerable Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English People'

Hugely influential, powerful and wealthy King Oswiu of Northumbria had been happy to run his Christian nation along the lines of Columba’s Celtic (thirteen-month lunar) calendar issued and maintained from Iona. This Celtic doctrine conveniently recognized the King as head of religious affairs. His Anglian Queen Eanfled, a devout Roman Christian recognized not the King but the Pope as head of the Church. They might have reconciled their differences, had it not been for a calendrical anomaly which in some years had the King ordering huge feasts for Easter at exactly the moment when his Queen was still fasting in Lent. Because another such year was due to happen in AD665, with the assistance of Wilfrid, new abbot at Rippon, and recently returned from Gaul and Rome, the King called the Synod of Whitby in AD664 and led a thorough investigation into the rites and rituals of both systems. The event is described in detail by Jarrow churchman Bede (673-735) who completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in 731.

While the Synod changed lives, split families and royal houses, even intra-kingdom alliances, thereafter church festivities centred on Easter were standardized throughout the land and celebrated in accordance with Roman custom.

Easter remained the highest festival of the Christian church until the Scots Reformation when (after 1660) presbyterian austerity superimposed simplicity, reduced dogma and a return to ‘speaking to God’ directly.

For the rest of the British Isles, however, and for descendants and dependents the world over, Easter remains one of the great festivals of the Christian calendar.

Curiously, for a celebration washed, ironed and folded so neatly by successive synthesized systems – prehistoric, early-historic, pre-Christian, Celtic and Roman Christian – Easter emerges as a supreme highlight in the Church year.

Its one concession to its pagan past is that is remains to this day a date fixed according to the Moon.

And, in order not to offend other faiths which, like Anglian Eanfled, might take offence at the bulldozing approach (e.g. Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials), there is a built-in mechanism of calculation which ensures that Easter and Passover never collide and that the Christian High Festival should never occur BEFORE equinox.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, bead capital of the world

So the little rhyme above, translated, simple enough and sympathetic to Scots ears, sums up global lead-time to Pasque, Pasche, Oster/Easter, the pagan event of maiden-goddess Eostre/Ostara, the Highest Festival in the Christian Calendar: when in the High Days before the Fast of Lent, the Roman Catholic world celebrates. From Italian Carnivale to German Fasching (Fastnacht, the eve before the Fast), prelude to French Pasque, in Portuguese Carnaval and on ‘Fat Tuesday’ of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, bead-festooned feasters and revellers make merry because tomorrow their stomachs will die.

The modern gesture to Pancake or Shrove or Fat Tuesday (Festern’s E’en) is not lost on marketers for supermarket chains who do a roaring trade in maple syrup and readymix batter. It’s the ‘stock up while the going’s good’ mentality, because the body must endure the subsequent fast of Lent for a regulation 40 days. Once more the Roman Church succeeded in condensing multiple events in Christ’s life into one festival: this fast represents the period of time He spent without food while meditating in the desert.

Nowadays, nobody questions that its immediate successor in the calendar is representational of His death and resurrection, when historically the two events happened years apart. Once again, ancient symbolism is used to gloss over detail.

‘First arrives Candlemas (Feast of Bride); Then the New Moon
The following Tuesday will be ‘Fastnacht’/Fasching or Shrove Tuesday
Allow that ‘moon’ to wax and wane
And watch till the next moon is full
The Sunday thereafter will be Easter Day.’
translation by Scots descendant, non-Anon

It worked for King Oswiu in 664. I can assure you, the calculation works still!

©2010 Marian Youngblood

March 8, 2010 Posted by | ancient rites, astrology, astronomy, calendar customs, consciousness, culture, festivals, history, pre-Christian, Prehistory, ritual, seasonal | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments