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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in memory

 Monarch Butterfly

 A Ghost Story?


My friend remembers the day that they brought up the Edmund Fitzgerald's bell.

She witnessed it herself.


For her, the story immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot's unforgettable song was a personal story. Having grown up in Duluth, she remembers the terrible storm, and the terrible fear that she felt when she—she was he at the time—heard that the Fitz had gone down.

Her best friend's father worked the Lakes, and she that knew he was out at the time. When she first heard the terrible news on the radio, she immediately jumped onto her bike and rode straight to her friend's house.

Her friend was able to confirm that, no, his father was not on the Fitz and, so far as they knew, had ridden out the storm just fine, as indeed later proved to be the case.

In the welter of speculation that followed, she can remember hearing the old Great Lakes sailors who knew freighters and knew the Fitz discussing the matter. They all agreed on what had caused the wreck: the ship was too long. "She broke right in half," they said.

When, decades later, the Fitz's final resting place was located on Superior's cold floor, they were proved correct.


My friend was present, 20 years later, for the raising of the ship's bell.

“There are two things that I remember about that day,” she told me recently.

A small flotilla of private boats had gone out with the rescue ship to witness the historic event. My friend was on one of them.

When the raised bell first broke surface, it rang.

For the first time in 20 years, it rang.

Once, it rang.


We discuss the ethics of taking things from shipwrecks. We agree that, in general, one shouldn't. Wrecks belong to the sea-gods, and to the dead: they, and what they contain, should be held sacrosanct.

But those who brought up the Fitz's bell did what one should do in such circumstances: they replaced it.

A gift for a gift, the ancestors always said.


“You said you remember two things about that day,” I remind my friend. “What was the second?”

There's a pause.

“There was a butterfly on the boat that day,” she says.

We're both silent as we consider the implications of this. Superior is a huge lake, with winds to match. One just doesn't see butterflies out over Superior.

I think of all those stories that liken butterflies to souls. I think of the monarch butterflies of late Summer and early Autumn, like fluttering little pieces of Samhain come early. I think of how they return to their Wintering grounds in Mexico every year around Día de los Muertos, and are thought of by folks thereabouts as the homecoming spirits of the dead.

“Was it a monarch butterfly?” I ask after a few moments.

“Of course,” she says.


Down the long years, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, but there's just one that everyone remembers.

They remember because of the song.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    He was an amazing songwriter and singer. Such emotion.
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    It really has become a folksong in its own right: truly an impressive achievement.
  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    The first song my husband ever introduced me to was "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". RIP Gordon Lightfoot.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs


 Tales from the Pagan Resistance


In the days of the Byzantine emperors, long after most of the empire had been converted—forcibly or otherwise—one little Anatolian town held resolute to the Old Ways. Despite repeated warnings to accept baptism or suffer the consequences, the entire community stood firm.

One day imperial forces marched into the city. After the massacre, they sawed the arms and legs off every man, woman, and child, and hung the severed limbs along the streets as a warning.


 I regret to inform you that the above story is true. In Catherine Nixey's 2018 The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World, you can read similarly grim stories on virtually every page. Be warned: this is no easy read.

I have to be careful reading books about the history of what we really must call the Christianities; reading too many tends to make me morbid. I get angry; I start making stupid and thoughtless generalizations; I fall into an “us and them” mode of thinking that, down the years, I have come to eschew as ultimately counterproductive.

But we are who we are because we remember, so I read on. Many times during the reading of Nixey's engagingly-written, but devastating, history of the horror show that was 4th- and 5th-century Christianity, I've found myself laying the book down because I simply couldn't bear to read any more. Each time, though, I find myself picking up the book once again, needing to know the rest.

Let me quote from Nixey's introduction:

As Samuel Johnson...put it, pithy as ever: “The heathens were easily converted, because they had nothing to give up.”

He was wrong. Many converted happily to Christianity, it is true. But many did not. Many Romans and Greeks did not smile as they saw their religious liberties removed, their books burned, their temples destroyed, and their ancient statues shattered by thugs with hammers. This book tells their story; it is a book that unashamedly mourns the largest destruction of art that human history has ever seen. It is a book about the tragedies behind the “triumph” of Christianity (Nixey xxiv).

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Tale of Tarzan the Sled-Dog

I grew up hearing stories about my father's boyhood dog Tarzan.

Tarzan was big and black, and loved kids. Tarzan also loved to sled.

When the kids went out to sled down Pittsburgh's icy hills, Tarzan always went along. The best part was, after a ride, Tarzan was happy to pull your sled back up to the top of the hill for you.

But Tarzan was no fool. He didn't mind doing the work, but there was a price to be paid.

Tarzan wanted another ride, and he wouldn't let go of the drag rope until you let him back onto the sled.


My youngest aunt and oldest cousin were born in the same year. Those two were Tarzan's babies, and he willingly took on the role of nanny. Both of them learned to walk by holding onto Tarzan.

When they were both upstairs, Tarzan would lay at the head of the stairs, and nothing would move him. Those kids were not going to fall down the stairs, and Tarzan made sure of it.

One day my grandfather got home after a long shift at the steel mill. (He operated a crane at J & L for more than 30 years.) Tired and irritable, he trudged up the long, narrow flight of stairs, only to find the dog lying across the top, blocking the way.

“Move, Tarzan,” he said.

The dog looked at him, but didn't move.

“Dog, get out of the way,” said my grandfather.

Tarzan didn't move.

“Dammit, dog, move!” said my grandfather, and kicked him.

I can remember the look on my grandfather's face as he told this story. He was a gentle man, really, and—I think—ashamed of having lost his temper.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Altar or Alter? Censer or Censor?

Altar or alter? Censer or censor?

Pagans being people of praxis, our vocabulary generally references ritual rather than belief. When it comes to writing, though, homonymy can be problematic, and with homonyms, Spell Check can't help you.

Why should you care? Credibility. If you get the small stuff wrong, why should we trust you on the large?

Here as elsewhere, the ancestors knew what to do. With a mnemonic—what French would call an aide-memoire—you can remember anything.

Here's mine.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I agree entirely. Autocorrect is the enemy of poetry.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I find it helpful to have my Dictionary in a place where I can find it easily. Spellcheck is sometimes problematic but way better

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Mediation, Memory and Flow

The work I'm currently doing in my spiritual practice is a process of memorization. On the surface, it just seems like the memorization of words, but the words are a pathway to the deeper wordless truths that can only be experienced when you open yourself to what the words represent. What I'm really doing with the memorization is twofold.

First, I am connecting with the forces, spirits, etc., that are represented by the words. The words present a means to connect with those spirits in order to develop relationships and create associations that allow you to do deeper work with them. The words are the introduction to the spiritual current that is embodied and mediated by the spirits I'm working with.

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  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    Taylor, do you only do memorization of words that you plan on using in chants/rituals--or to also have a deeper connection/relatio
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Hi Janet, It can be for both and I've used it for both. I figure developing a chant for a spirit can just as easily be integrated
  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer says #
    Fascinating! Now, your post is called "Mediation, Memory and Flow". Is that correct...or was it supposed to be "Meditation" (as in
  • Taylor Ellwood
    Taylor Ellwood says #
    Nope the word choice of Mediation was purposeful.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
A Song for Everything

I'll tell you, those old pagans had a song for everything.


Not just holidays, not just fun. Work, too.

Rowing. Plowing. Sowing. Mowing.

Chopping wood. Cleaning. Weaving.

Hell, they even had a song for wiping your butt.

(As a matter of fact, the butt-wiping song is one that I happen to know. So does anyone that's ever raised a kid. And no, I'm not going to sing it for you.)

The worst fact of pagan history is that we've lost most of our old songs forever.

But not all of them.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks, Chris, that makes for good hearing. I might add that in the most recent edition of the coven songbook, there are nearly 70
  • Chris Sherbak
    Chris Sherbak says #
    I still lovingly cherish your Solstice songbook from Pro Dea.
Pagan News Beagle: Earthy Thursday, August 18

Is memory a reliable snapshot of the past? Can a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy be done without sacrificing jobs? And does a habitable planet orbit our nearest stellar neighbor? These questions and more are tackled in Earthy Thursday, our weekly segment on science and Earth-related news! All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!

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