Apples & Roots-they are common enough items and yet they have a great deal of magic, mythic, and folkloric value assigned to them-for healing, hexing, blessing, and all manner of ritual & religious uses.
That is the idea behind this blog-to fuse the everyday and seemingly ordinary life with the strong currents of your soul-work, spirituality, and magic. We will talk about religion, ritual, magic, divination-and how these mythic arts feed and inspire our lives and how our lives as a result grow richer, deeper, and more purpose flled.
Babe was a small calico cat who must have been part Manx because she had no tail to speak of. Small framed, long-haired, and of an especially sweet and loving disposition, she was nevertheless a fierce, capable hunter, and like all cats that live on my parents’ 10 acre homestead, at least half wild.We noticed that she went missing in late Summer near Lammastide.
Now, this was nothing new. The cats that share our land are working cats-they do their best to keep snakes, scorpions, and rodents at bay and in return they are fed, vaccinated, and neutered or spayed so that they do not have kittens running amok. These work cats are only partially tame and like rangy adolescents they love to wonder off into the woods following their noses, whiskers, and ears to the next bounding adventure. They wind lithely between dark and peeling Cedars, scrawny yet tough Junipers, lichen and moss draped Oaks, and gracefully curved Texas Persimmons. Usually they manage to sidestep the abundant patches of Prickly Pear Cactus but every now and then they arrive on the front porch with a few long thorns embedded in their coats and skin. Our cats are allowed to range because the idea of allowing an animal to do anything sounds a bit silly and keeping ten cats from going out and exploring every nook and cranny of Texas Hill Country in a five mile radius is simply impossible.
Our cats are also excellent hunters-though not as discerning as my mother might wish-sometimes a dying baby rabbit or beautiful and eviscerated Alligator Lizard is cruelly laid down on the front step while a luminous pair of feline eyes waits patiently for praise.
So when Babe the cat went off into the woods and was not seen for a week we were aware of her absence but not overly concerned. When she was gone for a couple of weeks we started to suspect the worst. Other creatures share the land here-animals that are dangerous to even the most accomplished house cat hunter. Grey Fox, Coyote, the occasional Mountain Lion, and even a group of Raccoons can make short work of a lost cat. There was, of course, also the possibility of injury. College was about to start back up for me so I would be leaving town soon but I did want to go look for Babe before I took departed.
I walked down the sloping hill to the back of the property line where a dry creek with a magical Buckeye tree runs through a field full of long golden grass. Under the late August sun that field rang out with the fevered songs of a thousand grasshoppers. I found nothing on that walk and before long it was time to go back to school.
I came back home at Christmastime, planning to celebrate the return of the light with my family and relax after a taxing semester. I had inquired about Babe off and on-my mother had looked for her as had my dad but no one had found anything. A day or two before Solstice I went for a walk in the woods. The trees were still in leaf because South Central Texas has mild winters most of the time. I knew that they would not get naked and bare until late January if we had a typical year. The ground was soft and wet and I saw a few shriveled clumps of wild Mustang grape hanging from vines that curled licenstiously around the trees. Green Briar and scarlet Prickly Pear fruit added more color to the drab background. Accustomed to a lifetime of walking where venomous snakes make their home, I had on thick boots but nevertheless kept my eyes on the ground. Even though most snakes here are burrowed in under the ground during the cold months you cannot be careless in the woods.
If I had not been looking at the ground I probably would have missed her-Babe-in a new form and being taken into the floor of the forest she loved so well-before my eyes. Her bones were sharp ivory and almost perfectly arranged-looking as if she had simply curled up and gone to sleep. Most remarkable to me though was her soft pelt-the colors muted, but the length and thickness of the fur proudly proclaiming that this was Babe-she had stood here, died here, and would merge back into the earth right here.
To know an animal during its life-to watch it take joy and pleasure in the daily activities of being, to see it get nervous or show fear, to hold its warm body in the sun and feel its wet nose against your palm, and then to hold its light bones in your hand is a very intimate thing. The experience drives home the truth that we are born, we live and die in a seeming instant and that nature can be terribly beautiful. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in death.
In holding Babe’s bones I could not help but think of my bones and how one day they too will leach their life sustaining nutrients into the earth. I though of all of the mothers, sisters, daughters, lovers, whose skeletons have been transformed into loamy soil, graceful and reaching branch, air and sky, raindrops falling on my face.
Bone is the foundation and woman too is foundational. Mother, Goddess, soft belly and warm breath—this is our origin point. In Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves a story is told that kids growing up in the Southwest have heard in a hundred variations. The tale is about La Huesera. The woman who is a desert witch, and like a raven or coyote, scavenges the land for that which sustains and holds interest, especially bones.
For some of us there is a tendency to romanticize nature-I think we do this, and I include myself in the group, for many reasons, because we do not know better, because we feel guilt about the harm we have done, because for a long time nature and the wild have been held as ONLY dangerous, ONLY hostile, ONLY places to feel fear, and for a million reasons besides.
An encounter with Bone Woman will cure you of any tendency to romanticize. She is another incarnation of Necessity-the ancient Greek Goddess who holds all in balance, who cannot be denied. Bone Woman asks you to give over whatever you hold most dear, only to shuffle step and reveal the big joke-that it was never yours to begin with. She insists that you to go places you would normally avoid, and coaxes you to handle grisly objects with as much love and care as you would show a newborn. She warns you that while you will not be able to stop suffering that gives you no right to look away from it-that part of our work, all of us, is to stand in witness.
Bone Woman can be harsh-She is of the wild and what is wild has its own ethic and ways that sometimes feel rough on our seemingly fragile human hearts. But She is also the Deep Well—of compassion, memory, Mother Knowing, and sweet water in the desert.
Cupping Babe’s bones in my hand I felt Her presence and Her paradoxical glance-cool yet moved, tough but also infinitely tender. Her rattle beats out the sacred taboo-Life/Death/Life/Death. I heard it in my heartbeat and the wind blowing through my hair. I placed the bones back into the perfectly matted pelt, breathed a blessing over the life that was now transformed into new lives, and blessed my sister cat. Bone Woman sighed through the trees-we are all relations. All parts of Her.
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