Home. We don't really know how we feel about it. We may reject the place that raised us and seek to escape its troubling pull. Or we may long for an idealized home and set out to find it. But home is something you can neither escape nor find in its perfection. Rather, “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” (Robert Frost) We can't avoid the imperfection inherent in living with those we haven't chosen. And even those we choose can disappoint us, and we them.
In ancient Greece, home and family of origin were highly valued, whether or not they answered all one’s needs. Hestia, goddess of hearth and home, stood for “family values”: sticking together despite differences, the better to obtain safety and abundance. Hestia herself sat silent by the hearth, without a story or an image to her name, as anonymous and faithful as Greek wives were meant to be.
In an earlier piece I urged my readers to accept our ultimately homeless state. I said there was no place of certainty and belonging to be had, no resting place for the part of us that seeks perfect security and reassurance. And it’s true that homes of all types fail to meet the high bar we set for them, hungry as we are to be loved completely, sheltered by both human connection and spiritual conviction.
And yet, and yet...we don’t cease to long, and I am a respecter of longing. As much as we roam like Hermes, eager to be free of bounds and boundaries, keeping company with those who don’t play by the rules (for Hermes was the god of thieves and liars), there is always that thread that ties us to an imagined or remembered version of home. There is always that tug on the heart that asks us to make home, come home, find home.
So what are we to do with that?
Turn home again of course, and take another look. As T.S. Eliot said, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Hermes crosses boundaries, cheats and lies, but he also protects both traveller and homebody, guarding the crossroads and the threshold. It is he who guides the dead, leads the traveller home, and then stands to guard the door. For he too feels the call to return.
In Greek thought, Hestia has no image, no story, only her steadfast, silent presence. She cannot be defined, but rests at the centre of every home, every community, honoured in the fire that transforms the raw into the cooked, the cold into the warm, the dangerous darkness into the safe space where the wanderer must be invited to rest. Hers is the first morsel of every meal, the first libation of every public sacrifice. She is the basis, the center, but she is also undefined, mysterious. She is flame, which is not a thing but a process—the process of transformation and ceaseless change inherent in all things, the burning emptiness at the core of our experience. She is the silence that listens to all the thoughts and the space that holds all the memories, our witness and anchor. To come home to her, all we have to do is give in to what we are: formless, shifting, flame in the wind. Alone, unique—the same as everyone else.
How ironic that it is our willingness to wander and to burn, to die and be reborn, that leads us to the safety and support we so crave. How strange that it is our fellowship in suffering and impermanence that forges our connection with others. We are all drawn to circle round the flame, brothers and sisters coming home to the enigma of our true nature. We may wander, we may roam, but we never leave behind the longing that unites us all. And that is home.
* The Fields first appeared in the print Winter 2014 issue of Plant Healer Magazine
“The morning air was like a new dress. That made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road and walked on, picking flowers and making a bouquet… From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
“Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.”
― Willa Cather
It’s early morning. The sun has not yet ascended. I am in the field – a field of my own imagination and freedom. The night has meaning that I am not obliged to compose. The night is a terrible myth only the healing fields can erase. My siblings are asleep. My mother is nowhere. I don’t know her and she left years ago. My father is at work. I am only 16, but I know how to run a house. I know how to evade misery and I know how to dream.
The horses in the field are aware of my escape. They are sleepy with my visions. I come here to talk to them, to tell them how a girl will one day live in France. I am a wanderer, but I am always married to these woods, to the pond, to the strange flight of swallows and the pervasive faces of Black-Eyed Susans that lean in and surround my victim heart. They tell me I can bend in this. They tell me that the harshness of being alive will scatter my song into fields I can never dream of knowing. The Queen Anne’s lace agrees. She knows I look west – how can I not? The setting sun means that this day is over, and I wanted only just to get through the day then. I wanted the pull of tides and the warmth of the dry earth to tell me that it will be over… soon.
At night the sound of bullfrogs in unison keep me company – the earth’s drums. Fireflies light their way through paths of dogwood, sassafras, and walnut trees. Black walnuts, I will learn, are bitter but make wonderful stain for the bodies of guns and the hair of bold girls who hate their golden locks. All autumn I will watch the men of my family boil up the walnuts over an open fire, then use the stain on their muzzleloaders. It’s deer season. The trees are in full fall plumage and the odor of fireplaces and errant embers blankets the terrain. The fields are aglow with gold and bronze –between the black dots of cattle, the wheat and grasses burn across the landscape and rise into the outline of crows and trees, the somber shades of a darkening season.
The family, the home, doesn’t control everything that happens in childhood. I, being the oldest of so many children, never felt contained by the rooms and routines of the domestic life. I felt alone among my childhood walls. In the fields, I was with the world. The sun’s gracious warmth and the nocturnal ballads of screech owls and cicadas filled my young life with a social song of otherworldly friendship – of love that would not come with high price and cold reality.
During the summer months, I would climb over limestone boulders to swim in abandoned quarries filled with years of rain. There was a danger in those stones I knew in every step – the boys who would circle around us girls, staring at our breasts, groping for pleasure in the moonlight of expectation and longing. A fox sprite, I would scramble across each boulder, half-clothed, ignoring the admonitions of danger – the very real causalities of abandoned places where several wanton youth perished or injured themselves with a false step or an ill calculated dive. Still, I would not fear stone as I would fear the circling of humans, the risk of love.
Summers were spent on horseback, exploring the woods that surrounded the 40 acres of farmland I grew up within. My friends and I would spend hours lounging on the mossy earth, making pinwheels from the flowers of the giant tulip trees that lined the yard. Abandoned houses stood exposed in their brick and stone secrets where we found incredible gifts of the past: old school books, clothes, rotting trunks, fabric, discarded chairs…. Climbing the rotten steps and inching our way between holes in floorboards, we asked the Ouija board about our future. Would there be love? Would there be children? Even in asking, I knew I did not belong to the stories of these girls, my then friends. I knew the woods spoke to me of something else – and named me what I could not name myself.
Like a bell jar over these scenes, I uncover the sensory memory – this place belongs to me just as I remain there. I have trouble remembering the names of schools, teachers, and old friends. I cannot tell you one fond memory of high school, but I can walk you through every branch, every cornfield, and every sinkhole with its murky mystery with impeccable clarity – the use of every sense, the body-knowledge of a wolf.
As a child, I waited in fields for some salvation from the human world. As a child, I thought little of erroneous pop culture myths and urban pressures. I knew only these fields that carried a song across veins of stream beds. I collected arrowheads among clay and sandstone alcoves, high above rivers. There were ancient others who understood the seasons and gave voice to the living world. I longed to know these people. I dreamed they would come and find me, waiting there among the eroding banks.
There is something innately spiritual and mythical about land and water, plant and sky. The earth asks us to both dig deep into our roots and find peace but also to explore the limits of life on the surface – to know that life is harsh and lovely, unfair yet fully present. There is very little within me that did not directly grow from the pleasure of place. As the fog of violence entered in, I managed to remain truly connected to hope. Survival was all around me. The young of other species were not spared. They adapted or died. I took this lesson in and held on, used my wits, and stayed rooted in the brutal beauty of life.
I was a girl of fields. I was a girl forced to become a woman too soon. Yet I remember being in those apple orchards with the bees looming between my footsteps. I remember picking rhubarb for cobblers; hiding between grapevines to jump out and scare my brother… these were the memories that formed my identity.
If my writing has some greater purpose or some message to share, I want it to be with the desperate child who has no wild ally, the lost one who has no land to adore. This is one who – unless artificially protected – will not adapt and therefore stands a greater chance of passing the violent lineage on through commerce, procreation, and self-abasement. This is the dominance of a hopeless world of acquisition and subterfuge. This is the one who comes to a visual feast of delight with no eyes.
The last time I visited the hillsides and fields of Southern Indiana, I spent some time at the grave sites of my ancestors. The church cemetery, I couldn’t even begin to show you where it is on a map. I only know how to get there by the blood pulse of who I am, instinct. This is a resting place of farm families and Depression era babies, of Welsh and French miners. The place is thick with ferns and Virginia pines. Everything is tinged with moisture and I am still in love with the smell of damp earth, something my Southwestern home has never been able to provide.
Across from the cemetery, there is a field that has been used by farmers for several generations. Not one building has stood on that soil. I have my sleeping bag and a telescope. Under the barbed wire I slip and find a good place to bed down for the night. Already, the cold has settled in and the cicadas have descended. Grasshoppers share the warmth of my bag – the sky above: blackness and stars. Who can say what home truly is, what defines the domestic? Is it the family, children? Is it a house we work hard to buy? Or a lover to bring us into our own senses through touch and giving?
In these fields I was alone, but I was home. I did not care to run or spoil the moment with worries about my life. It did not occur to me to want to be protected, or in dreams of France or some other country. I nestled into my bag – where the girl met the hold of the earth – and slept like someone who has found genuine belonging.
So I had a half written post about using magic, specifically a magic spell to find a home, using a combination of Kiwiana, and perhaps other more ‘traditional’ magical stuff, but I stalled and have only written about one object, the 21st Key Mirror, a Kiwiana staple for 21st gifts, generally given to you by your family. It has strong significance of love, family and independence, which is for most of us, what we are looking for when finding a new home, rather than just a place to live. I was also going to include things like tiki’s, and teapots, but in actually that was nothing like what I actually did.
What I did looked nothing like the spells in books or described in blogs, I did not wait for the waning/waxing dark moon, or other significant timing, I did not purchase a Mirror Key or make one myself, in fact I didn't really use any of the Kiwiana objects that I had been contemplating. I also didn't set up an altar, with the correct red blue orange candles, and matching altar cloths, even though I do love my altars, and have quite the collection of wonderful altar cloths, I didn't’t call on any specific deities who help with such things... What I ended up doing looked nothing like ‘magic’ spell work, that you read about so often in those instructional spell books, actually what I did I have never really found in any book or blogs. What I did looked like me walking into town one morning.
I took the day of work for my birthday this year, I haven’t had much time off, over the last year, so I decided to take two days of for my birthday, Thursday and Friday whoot. So when I woke up that morning, I didn’t actually know that I was going to be working and act of magic for finding a house, but for me this is generally how it happens. When I need something or if something needs doing, I just do it, I don’t wait for the right time or day or moon cycle. Instead I get an urge, message, prod, err a thing, which is actually difficult to describe, not just because it is often different, while also the same, or how else would I know, but because this is always difficult to put into words, as it is not until after I have acted that I generally understand what I did and how it all worked. Anyway when this thing *waves hands* happens I know that it is time to work, and so, I do. On my birthday morning I didn’t know that I would be doing this working, I had not even told my flatmates that I would be moving out soon, at that stage.. I think by the end of the day I did, tell my flatmates that I was planning on moving out.
After several cups of tea, morning showers, and a present of a Firefly DVD I was of out the house and walking down the path into town. I have walked to work or caught train and or buses for most of my working life, and use this time to contemplate things. For me this commute is like between times, between my time and work time, and I am either going to or coming home from, so it is transitory in nature to. I am often in a daze, or if you like trance like state, as I contemplate my morning, or think about things I have been reading about, dreams I have had, or I talk with the spirits and ancestors of place. It is as I have come to realise, a party of my daily practice. On that day I was actually thinking about how to write a blog post on how to find a house using kiwiana as spell components, but it was all seeming a bit flat, somewhat contrived, sure I could use a mirrored key but would that actually work for me? Then I happen to look down and on the path in front of me was a small nest that had fallen out of the above tree during the spring wind storm we had been having the previous few days. Spring for us here in Wellington, New Zealand is often rainy and strong winds as the Winter Southerly and the Warm Spring Northerly vie for airspace, the weather is very changeable and often wet and windy. I then picked up the little nest and gently tipped out the little bit of bird poop, and carried on down the path. This had triggered me into a light trance so as I was taking the next few steps I became a lot more aware of my surroundings. That urge, message, prod, that thing that has no words but translates into ‘time to do work’ had happened, and while now looking back and trying to describe it, I can see when that happened, when it was happening, I probably would not of been able to tell you. But I do know that from experience if someone disturbs me during this time I am often dazed, and it can take some time to figure out what happened?
After a few steps further down the hill and at the beginning of the stairs, of one of the oldest pathways here in Wellington, I spotted a rusty twist of 8 gauge wire, (No 8 fencing wire) which I also picked up, and no sooner had I done that then I spied a rusty nail, both of which I placed in the same hand that I was carrying the nest, not in the nest but more under it. As I neared the bottom of the first set of stairs, I glanced down and found a plated length of synthetic hair, someone's hair extension had fallen out while they walked up or down the path. I picked that up and looked at it in my hands for a while, then carefully, the thoughtfully, placed it around my fingers in of the hand where I carried all the other objects.
I now had a handful of randomly found objects that were becoming more magical the more I focused on them with intent. The intent of finding a home, a place where I felt safe and at home. Each found object now that I think about it has significance of its own, they all have meaning, a nest that feels safe that is protected by iron, a place where I feel at home and can let my metaphorical hair down, you get the picture right? These objects where not planned, but because I was aware of my surroundings I could recognise the objects that would be needed.
However I didn't want to take these objects to the place I was moving out of, as that would set the intention wrong, plus I was on my way to purchase a new sewing machine, so I ended up popping in at the place where I work, with a handful of strange objects, and placing them in a box, much to the amusement of my work colleges. As the weeks passed I added to this box of strange objects. I found the shell of a blue egg, that was no longer in use and added it, I also kept the kettle my mother gave me for my birthday for my new home, and the pink salt lamp, that I had brought with my new home I mind, and occasionally when I was staying late at work I would take the nest out of the box and sit it next to the lamp.
And then when the time was right, after one false start, I went and looked at a place, and it is home.
Also Blessed Beltane to those in the southern hemisphere, And Happy Samhain, to those in the northern hemisphere, life and death, betwixt and between.. quite magical really! ♥