Years ago there was an annual online poetry slam in honor of the Goddess Brighid, patron of poets. I don’t know if anyone still participates but I love the idea.
In honor of the Celtic goddess I post the work of my favorite Irish poet.
Image: Brigid by Emily Balivet
Father and Child
She hears me strike the board and say
That she is under ban
Of all good men and women,
Being mentioned with a man
That has the worst of all bad names;
And thereupon replies
That his hair is beautiful,
Cold as the March wind his eyes.
by William Butler Yeats
For the last couple of years I’ve been part of a group of amazing women. We get together somewhat regularly to brainstorm about life, our businesses, family, health, and to share laughs over a potluck lunch. This past Saturday was our most recent meeting and our first since the election. Among the many things we discussed were our concerns for the future.
Around this table were women dealing with unemployed spouses, adult children who have had their jobs go overseas, healthcare issues for ourselves and our children, the ever increasing tax burden here in New York, and all the concerns those issues bring up.
Every candidate who ran for president had a voter or a voter’s relative at this table. Some of us actively participated in the Women’s March. Some of us gave it our support in other ways and some of us didn’t.
I love these ladies. We have a wonderful, enriching time whenever we get together. We don’t all agree with each other about everything and that is never an obstacle to friendship and support.
As always the tarot cards come out when we get together. We read for each other, discuss the readings and come up with strategies for going forward and using that information. This time we decided to add a reading for the United States. We focused on the big concepts that vex most of us: the economy, our international situation, and our social situation.
We pulled three cards from The Urban Tarot. If you are friends with me on Facebook you know this is currently my deck of the month. The question was a mashup of “What can we expect from the economy?” and “What can we do to be okay in the coming economy?”
Here’s a closer look.
We were all in agreement that the Knight of Cups, called The Seducer in this deck, represented that promises made during the recent political campaigns. The candidates for president, and the local offices that were up, each promised prosperity and jobs and lower taxes and healthcare and free puppies and chocolate… basically we know they say what they feel they need to say to get elected. If you have ever had the opportunity to speak to a politician who wants your vote it is very much like speaking to a guy who is trying to get in your pants. Perfect card.
The second card is the 9 of Wands, named Fortitude in this deck. We discussed this one for a while. The figure is a postal worker and the building is the main post office building in Manhattan. The figure in the card is working hard in the cold and dark alone. He is separate from the huge bureaucracy he works for even though he wears a uniform representing them. He’s working hard. He’s standing his ground and doing his job for his own reasons. To us this represented hard work. We may feel overwhelmed and in the shadow of much larger forces beyond our control but we need to keep working and keep the focus on our reasons for that work.
The last card is The Empress. She is a happy mother feeding her baby in a sunny room. We were all relieved to see this card. The Empress is abundance and creativity. It may be that creativity will be needed to find our way forward or the solutions that present themselves from the people pulling the strings of our economy will be more creative than we have come to expect. All around this reading is hopeful.
Yes, we all bought into some sleazy lines and now have that morning after feeling but with some focused hard work and creativity we will be okay.
We then turned our attention to the international scene.
We pulled The Moon and Strength. These are both Major Arcana cards. The Major Arcana usually show up when events are of karmic importance, or related to our destiny, or lessons our soul is here to learn. These cards are for the U.S. and her foreign policy and international relations. To us they said there is a lot we haven’t seen clearly/don’t see clearly. The Moon is about illusions and how things aren’t really as they seem to be. Think of how the world looks at night when you walk around outside and the only light is from the moon. You don’t see most of what is going on around you and what you do see looks very different from how it really is in bright daylight. We expect that things will be revealed and illusions made obvious. This card also speaks of the anxiety many people are feeling regarding our place in the world and the world’s relations with us.
Strength is us getting a grip on all that anxiety and calling things as we see them. It is us standing tall and not being reactive or impulsive but operating from a place of courage and self-confidence. As a nation it is the U.S. not taking any shit. As a people it is remembering that this country is ‘We the People’ and reminding the politicians who work for us that we are paying attention, and we want the truth.
For the social situation we pulled The Emperor, 5 of Pentacles, and 6 of Wands.
The Emperor is a force to be reckoned with. He is a powerful figure who can be energetically overwhelming to those who interact with him. He knows what he wants and he’s not afraid to go get it. As soon as this card showed up we all said “Trump” and laughed because it really is a perfect card for him right now. It is important to note that this is also a Major Arcana card and to us that said he was inevitable in many ways. He is here in this place and time to bring about change as he sees it.
To see the 5 of Pentacles show up next makes a lot of sense too. It is worry and poverty and the feeling of rejection. Those feelings are what motivated many to vote for Mr. Trump in the first place and are the feelings that other people fear will be the future now that he has won.
The 6 of Wands however says that all will be well. There is victory and celebration to come. We suspect that when more time passes and the fears don’t manifest people will calm down and realize that sky is not falling and the end is not nigh.
To wrap it all up and get an outlook on what Mr. Trump’s tenure will be like we pulled one last card.
This card is usually called Judgment, in this deck it’s call The Aeon. The figure is walking along the American Immigrant Wall of Honor on Ellis Island. She is touching a name engraved there and the reflection of her ancestor is visible on the wall. The word aeon refers to an age, a period of time. Robin Scott, who created this deck used this image to show the connections through time and how life is really judged by how we live it and what we leave behind. This card speaks of the cyclical nature of life and of the things we do in that life.
That the image is from the Ellis Island museum felt very hopeful to us all regarding the hysteria around the reports of Mr. Trump’s comments about immigrants during the campaign. He will be judged on his actions not his words. The scene is quite peaceful and loving and taking place on a sunny day. That felt hopeful too.
Mr. Trump is just one of many presidents. We hope, for our own sakes, and for the United States as a whole, that he is a good president and that we will find ourselves better off in four years than we are right now.
On November 8th, like so many other people, you will go into the polling place, hold your nose, and vote for the next President of the United States. Depending on how much of a personal compromise that is, you may then wander off to the nearest bar to get okay with your choice through the aid of adult beverages. Or perhaps your self-soothing mechanisms lean more toward the blanket fort, cocoa, avoid human contact variety. Whatever you choose to do, as a concerned, informed citizen, you will exercise your right to vote and you will find a way to get okay with the outcome.
Knowing this was coming has not made it easier to accept. On the Fourth of July I set up an altar to Columbia, the personification of the American Spirit. I gave her a potted plant and faced her toward Washington, D.C. I also gave her a bowl of M&Ms thinking they were a nice representation of the people of the US. You know, the whole melting pot thing. All those candies were all different colors but basically the same inside. This did double duty as the altar is in my living room and the candy dish let it all hide in plain sight.
Within a few days the M&Ms were crawling with ants. That was distressing.
I thought about the meaning behind that while I tossed the candies into the trash. Once the candy was gone so were the ants. They didn’t go anywhere else. There weren’t any stragglers looking for other food. They were just gone. That seemed more symbolic than mundane.
Around the same time I had a conversation with my husband on a completely unrelated topic. He said, “One cockroach in a bowl of cherries ruins the cherries but one cherry in a bowl of roaches doesn’t improve the roaches.” Not a perfect analogy but insects ruining otherwise fun snacks made symbolic sense to me. I know that most people are in fact decent and capable of being wonderful. I also know that most of those M&Ms were fine but the association with the ants is what made them unacceptable.
The ants came to be an emblem of the corrosive attitudes and rhetoric surrounding this election. Their presence made me aware of the subjective perceptions we have about each other and the people vying for public office. Right then I sharpened my focus. The ritual became about an outcome that is in the best interest of the USA and no longer about my candidate winning at all. (I realize that this election has worldwide implications but family first.)
I propose a group ritual every day from October 31st to Election Day itself, November 8th. That is nine days. Care to join me?
Nine is the number of completion. There is solidity and balance to it and it’s a sacred number in many spiritual practices and faith traditions. My suggestion and personal practice this time around is informed by the Catholic practice of the Novena. This is nine days of focused prayer to either petition the Lord or express gratitude. It’s a solid practice with a long history and adapting it to you personal beliefs is simple.
I will leave the details up to you. Make this as simple or complex as you feel you need to. The objective is focused prayer/ritual/practice/meditation toward the goal of having the election outcome be in the best interest of the USA. Pick a time each day that works for you. I prefer the morning, other people I know prefer working at night. Every day, at the same time each day, light a candle and pray or perform a full sacred petitioning ritual, starting October 31st and ending on November 8th.
When Election Day comes vote however you see fit; that is the mundane action required of this ritual, but the ritual itself is not for a particular candidate to win. It’s bigger than that. There is a power in the universe that has a longer, fuller view of things than we do. Let those powers that be know we give a shit about more than our own personal choices.
The outcome may not be what you personally wanted but trust that what is for the best will come to pass and it will be easier to accept our new president.
In the 18th century it was common for European countries to use Latin names when referring to themselves and each other in formal contexts. The names were held over or at least inspired by the names used by the Roman Empire for the countries in question. (Britannia for England, Caledonia for Scotland, Gallia for France, Iberia for Spain…) Almost as a joke, in The Gentleman’s Magazine in England in the 1730s, the name Columbia was used to refer to the colonies in the New World.
By the time of the American Revolution, Columbia became a poetic name for America and was embraced by the colonists. She became a personification of the American identity and took the form of a classical goddess. Her image appeared in art and sculpture and her name was invoked in poetry. As America grew she morphed and never really settled on one image though she is always female and goddess-like in appearance. She is usually dressed in a long gown reminiscent of Classical Greek and Roman deities. Occasionally she wears a laurel wreath or a Native American headdress, and sometimes a Phrygian Cap. Her name is on universities, rivers, cities, movie companies, recording companies, ships, and a space shuttle.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s almost The United States of America’s birthday. In honor of what she was intended to stand for I created an altar to Columbia: the original American identity and the ideals of Liberty, and Freedom she personifies.
(Plus, this election cycle has already gone on too long and the worst part is that one of those horrible people will win)
This is a replica of the Statue of Freedom that stands atop the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia). 🙂 I bought this statue years ago from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society. The marble used to create her was taken from a staircase in the wing occupied by the House of Representatives. Every member of the House, between 1865 when they were installed and 1995 when they were removed, has climbed those stairs and the marble they trod has been crushed and combined with resin to make this statue. That is why I chose her for this altar. She is a physical piece of the Capitol building and the image of Columbia.
Here’s hoping she still has some juice.
I took an online class the other night with Briana Saussy about prayer and blessings. She spoke about the nature of prayer and it’s expression in the many different faiths and religions of the world. As she was speaking and explaining prayer I was remembering my own experiences and how my current expression of the practice is completely different from what I was taught as a child.
I was raised Roman Catholic. I remember being taught basic prayers as a child and having a hard time with them. I had a hard time remembering the exact wording and in religious education class, in Catholic school, that mattered as did the proper placement of commas and capitalization. I don’t know if the teachers thought it mattered or if they were mixing a grammar lesson into our religion class. What I do know is that it sent the message that there is one right way to pray and it is complicated. There was also a threat in there that doing it wrong would put you in disfavor with God.
That didn’t make any sense to me.
I exasperated more than one teacher/priest/sister with questions about prayer and God. Very few of them took the time to give me a thoughtful answer. Most of the time I was shushed or given a pat, dismissive answer that didn’t satisfy me.
“If God is the father, who is the mother?”
“If I’m a child of God why can’t I just talk to Him?”
“If God is so powerful that he created everything why is he so angry with his creation? Couldn’t He just do it over again?”
By the time I got to high school I was adept at tuning out of religion class. I knew I wasn’t going to learn anything new because the previous years had all been a rehash of each other. I also had given up any hope that my questions would be properly answered. I paid enough attention to be able to parrot back the information on a test. The rest of the time I doodled, counted ceiling tiles or watched the critters outside the classroom window.
I distinctly remember one day watching the squirrels play on the school grounds and Sister So-and-so was having us recite a particularly obsequious prayer. The tone of that prayer always annoyed me; still does. I remember thinking that it must irritate God to hear this drivel. If someone were to talk to me, ask me for something, even just to thank me and they did it in this toadying manner I would be disgusted by them. I have always wanted people to stand up in themselves, face me square on and have a respectful conversation. At the time I remember thinking I was only a fourteen year old girl, if it irritated me to be spoken to that way what must it be like to be God. What must it be like to be the creator of heaven and earth, and have people speak to you this way all the time. It felt manipulative and insincere. It felt wrong and insulting. Then and there I stopped doing it.
I played along for the rest of my school career; the grades mattered. In my private moments I had conversations with God instead of reciting rote prayers. When I was sitting in church I played along there too but I was actually meditating and observing. The ritual and space are meaningful and when I studied the practice of ritual and sacred space I learned a new appreciation for the Catholic Mass, but the experience of going to mass as a child and teen was always hollow. As I got older it became harder and harder to pretend there was anything there that connected me to the Divine. It actually interfered with my experience of God and by the time I graduated high school I understood why that was:
They had made God too small.
The God I was introduced to as a child served a purpose for the child and the Church. As I grew and matured the explanations of God did not grow and mature with me so I left them behind and sought my own answers. The God I’ve experienced since is so much bigger than I can explain and the prayers of childhood are even more woefully inadequate. During Bri’s class the other night she included my favorite quote from Kierkegaard:
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
I have found that the most profound and sincere prayer is one of gratitude. We go through life taking things for granted that are, in fact, quite miraculous. The gratitude doesn’t even need to be directed to a deity for it to transform you. It’s the mindset and practice of gratitude that does the work.
The way I recommend starting when I am asked by friends and clients is a simple walking meditation. There is no heavy preparation needed. There is no limit on the time spent doing this. It is actually a simple, straight forward activity that becomes meditative in the doing of it.
It’s walking with a purpose.
With each foot strike you alternately say “Thank” and “you”; left foot “Thank”, right foot “you” or vice versa. Do this from your car to your morning train; while walking to get the mail; while looking for groceries; while taking your dog out for a stroll. Do it deliberately as part of your daily exercise. Do it for a week and see what changes it makes for you.
May 2015 be a healthy and happy year for you.