One Imbolc, former pagan blogger Teo Bishop wrote about creating community poetry for use in liturgy based on the starting line, "I keep vigil to the fire in my heart." As someone who frequently experiences spontaneous poetry in the sacred spot in the woods behind my house, an experience I refer to as theapoetics, I was instantly captivated by this idea. Imbolc has a natural connection to the cycles of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding and the fire in my own heart burns brightly for these pivotal life experiences. So, I went down to the woods, opened my mouth and this is what emerged…
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
Welcome to the 2014 edition of BookMusings' Literary Discoveries! *insert much tooting of horns and throwing of confetti here* Looking back over my LibraryThing account and my postings here on PaganSquare, as well as at Eternal Haunted Summer, this has been quite a year for good literature. Not only did I find many new books and series to enjoy, and recommend to others, but I discovered entirely new authors....
Although I had not formalized a patronage relationship with Odin on the day I had intended to (see post The Day I Swore Myself to Freya), I received poetic inspiration from him. Some of the poems I wrote definitely felt like me writing them, that is, I was doing the work of writing. Others felt like I was just taking dictation. Some poems were in the heathen style, some modern, and some were ‘filk,’ which was the word among science fiction and fantasy fans for folk music related to the genres. It was my hand on the pen when the poem about the goddess Skadhi came into the world, but I've always felt that it was Odin who wrote it.
A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:
“At an Asatru festival I sang my filk version of a Canadian folksong by the campfire, and Vampyre Mike, the lead singer from the band who played acoustic pagan songs at the Festivals and hard rock in the mundane world, liked “Bajor’s Privateers” so much he sang it over and over for the rest of the festival. His lady Pasha called to me, “You’ve created a monster!”
Bajor's Privateers was one of the songs I felt that I had actually written myself, although there might have been a touch of inspiration as well. It was a conscious parody of the folk song Barrett's Privateers, and I definitely worked at writing it. The poem Skadhi: Water Cycle was one of the ones I felt that Odin had written and I just noted it down. At this point in my personal journey, in the early 1990s, I was learning the bersarkr tradition (see post The Berserker Trance.) I was working with both animal spirits and with Odin and Freya. As I learned to open and close the door in my mind to admit Odin for the bersarkr trance, I grew closer to him and received more poetic inspiration. This is the way of the warrior-poet.
I received an invitation from Paul Edwin Zimmer to read at the Bardic Circle at Greyhaven. I had published some of his poetry in Berserkrgangr Magazine. I published that magazine mostly for the nonfiction, as a way for bersarkrs and others of similar traditions to connect and share information, but it was also a literary magazine, with fiction, poetry, and art. I published some of my own poetry in my magazine, and he must have liked it. We became colleagues and friends of the sort who gave each other our poetry chapbooks.
There were other heathens at the Greyhaven Bardic Circle, some of whom I recognized from the heathen festivals I had attended. Diana Paxson played the harp. I debuted my poem Skadi: Water Cycle at Greyhaven, and Diana liked it. It was an emotional high point for me for my poem to be appreciated by established authors.
Of course, I felt that it was really Odin's poem, not mine. I had heard it in my sleep, woken up and written it down. I wondered, how can I take credit for what felt like taking dictation, not creating? Eventually I realized that it was not just my hand on the pen, it was my mind that Odin put this poem in. It was my effort and self-sacrifice that allowed me to open the door in my mind and let him in. (And the sacrifice to study the bersarkr tradition was hideous; more on that in my next post.) So yes, it is my poem, just like any other gift belongs to me once I've been given it, whether it is a poem from Odin or the flesh with which I receive it and write it down, flesh that began as part of my parents, flesh grown by the gifts of the earth through food and water and air, flesh that therefore also comes ultimately from the gods of nature, and yet is my flesh, my body, which I own entire. Everything I have comes ultimately from the gods, and yet is mine: my poem, my body, my breath, my mind, my soul, my life. I would not tolerate anyone trying to take my body or my life or my breath; I would fight. Even though my body is made by eating food, and food comes from the blessings of the gods, it is still my body; my art and writing and song come from the gods, too, but they are mine. Therefore, my poem:
Skadi: Water Cycle
by Erin Lale
Skadi scried the sky one day.
Blue was Baldur's beckoning eye,
Yellow as yew-wood the young god's hair,
The clouds that covered the coming sun.
All the east was ought but gold,
Blue below, the boss-shield snow,
Was Skadi. Sky-scattered clouds
Burned as beauty blazed forth
Down the deep snow-drowned ravines,
White-hot, whelming, whispering secrets.
She melted, and mickle and mild she found him.
So fair his fire she fain would go,
To marry the man, from her mountain home.
He unfroze the ice of her eyrie white,
Meltwater he made her, merry on stones,
Leaping laughing to the land below:
The gardened game-field the gods had made,
Where spirits spent in sport were happy.
A new game now, to net a husband,
Devised they very valiantly.
So fair of foot he fooled the snowmaid,
Niord named, not Baldur,
The gods' game gave to her.
The sun she sought, the sea she found.
To the ocean the icequeen overland went,
Merged at the margin of her married estate
With the salty sea as the sun looked on.
Her tears tended trees of kelp.
With watery waves wove she by day,
Niord's net-knotting daughters.
With women wily washed she by night,
Niord's nine naughty daughters.
Roamed with Ran to rend a dragon,
Long laughed loud jeers
At mighty men their maids never
Would welcome warm and winningly home.
She tried to tear her tears away
In making men meet their deaths,
A special sport a sport to forget,
From Baldur's bright beauty hiding.
But said she, "Sundered from the sun forever?
No more!" As mist, from her marriage-bed
At Ran's rim, she rose and flew,
Glad of a gull's gift of flight,
For Baldur abandoned the briny sea,
For Baldur broke in breakers white,
For Baldur bent her body up,
Climbing coastal cliffs as fog,
Sailed from sea to sundrenched air.
Yet the young god yearned she for
Too high held his head so bright
For a foamy flying maid.
Just one jutting jewelled place,
In all the upper air was there
Could Skadi skiff with skill and luck,
As crystal cloud keeping whole,
On land to lie and live all winter,
On rock and rowan resting, as ice
Spread, for spring to spring her up,
Waiting wan and wantingly.
The craigs and cliffs, kestrel-perches,
The spire-spears, sprite's castles,
The groves of granite growing high,
The meager meadows, less milch than stone,
The piney peaks she pined for strong,
Where first she felt the fiery sun,
Where last she lived a life of joy,
The much-missed mountains of home.
This poem, along with other poetry and art, is available in the poetry chapbook Renaissance Woman. Link:
She waits beneath
Monster is just the word you use
when you imagine yourself singular
searching out the silver bullets
wandering graveyards, interrogating ghosts;
monster is just the word you use
when you still feel you're imaginary
and you're checking every closet
dragging yourself under every bed.
Monster is just the word you use
when you fear your own appetites
out there wandering the forest
begging mercy of lesser beasts.
“Oh,” the girl said, shaking her head. “Don’t be so simple. People adore monsters. They fill their songs and stories with them. They define themselves in relation to them. You know what a monster is, young shade? Power. Power and choice. Monsters make choices. Monsters shape the world. Monsters force us to become stronger, smarter, better. They sift the weak from the strong and provide a forge for the steeling of souls. Even as we curse monsters, we admire them. Seek to become them, in some ways.” Her eyes became distant. “There are far, far worse things to be than a monster.” ~ Jim Butcher, Ghost Story
Apologies, but I do not have a blog post for you today.
Instead, I have poetry.
Lately, I have been interested in exploring the idea that some of us have inside of us a monstrous part, a piece that isn't easy to look at or talk about, a piece that is there to do what needs to be done even if what needs to be done is ugly or inhuman. This part of the self could be seen as a more damaged version of the anti-hero. My husband calls it the Necessary Monster.
Tiny flowers of summer
Waving colorful flags
of the season’s surrender
against a backdrop of dry leaves
Lifting tender, hopeful
parched but promising
a last hurrah
a final fling
a tiny majesty
Spots of glorious color
on dry ground
Proof of life’s own love affair with itself.