Saturday, January 20, 2018

Appalachian Devil Monkeys

Mid-January in my neck of the woods leaves folks a little....well...bored. Not a lot to do in the remote area I call home when the snow comes and we're sporadically cut off from the larger community. Temporary cabin fever takes it's toll and some of us get, um, stir-crazy. Especially those with already fertile imaginations fueled by alcohol and drugs, or old-timers who believe in the abundant superstitions and legends of Appalachia.

Don't get me wrong, I love these superstitions and legends because they give color and richness to mountain life.  It just seems that at the time of year when things slow down, tales about them become more frequent, vivid, and...personal. According to several locals, an odd monkey-like creature with white fur has been peering into windows and seen in the yards of a handful of houses situated on the ridge that backs up to the deep woods. It has variously been described as standing on two feet or walking upright, covered in shaggy hair. I've listened with interest to these descriptions, abet with a raised eyebrow and more than a dose of skepticism due to the matter-of-fact way these stories are told in due course of conversations on the bus on the way to town. No one seems upset by the appearance of the creature. There have been no calls made to 911 or area Department of Wildlife Management, no descriptions of unusual tracks in the mud or snow, no odd sounds. Maybe it's just me and because I will forever be considered an outsider here, but suspect if I saw something like that looking in my kitchen window at me, I'd have a difficult time keeping my composure.

So of course, upon returning home, I started researching, and low and behold, our crypto-critter actually has a name...The Virginia Devil Monkey! Appalachian Magazine (which is a great read,by the way) did a story on it in April of 2017. Although the description varied from what I was hearing locally, I seems to be the same sort of creature [http://appalachianmagazine.com/2017/04/27/virginias-mysterious-devil-monkey-sightings/. There was an officially recorded incident of a couple being attacked in their car in 1959 near the town of  Saltville, VA. An earlier sighting in Tennessee matched what the couple saw. 

Digging deeper, I found  the creatures have not only been spotted in surrounding states, but throughout the US as far north as Alaska [http://cryptidz.wikia.com/wiki/Devil_Monkeys]. Every description includes the characteristics of a primate similar to a large baboon with powerful back legs and huge canine teeth, which can leap great distances, run fast and become aggressive if approached. These descriptions have been careful to distinguish the Devil Monkey from Bigfoot.

In fact the TV show  Animal Planet did an episode on alleged Devil Monkeys sightings in nearby West Virginia a few years back, and Strange New England did a post in 2015 citing 11 eyewitness accounts in the same incident [http://www.strange-new-england.com/2015/10/22/devil-monkey/]. In an excerpt from the book Mysterious Creatures, there was a 1973 sighting in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and another in Lake Monroe, Indiana in 2002. Clearly, something is being seen. Accounts of the sightings by named eyewitnesses seem to be sincere and genuine.

So what exactly is everyone seeing? Is it an undiscovered variety of primate living deep in the forests of Appalachia (where the majority of the sightings have occurred)?  Are our local version of the Devil Monkey descendants of feral primates which escaped from a circus, traveling zoo or even on slave ships, according to some area legends? If so, how can their being seen in far-flung places as Utah, Montana, New England and Alaska be explained? Are they some sort of  unknown hybrid cryptozoic animal related to the legendary chupacabra as some have suggested ? What do you think?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Year

Like most writers, I sometimes sit with pen poised on lined yellow pad, wondering what the subject of my next blog will be. That doesn't mean I have writer's block- to the contrary, I have five nearly-finished blogs waiting. Print journalists, poets, songwriters-no matter the medium, we all do it. There is a time when we ask, "What's next?"

Most of the time I write for myself; it's satisfying to see your own thoughts in print. But this is also the way I teach. It's the way I share in our community, which I think is important because for so long it was necessary to keep the teachings of our Craft and the practice of our spirituality under the radar. We can and should communicate with other members of the community to encourage and support one another in our personal development. It's vital to do this because critical thinking and discernment takes us out of the realm of Hollywood's projected idea of the occult, magick, spellcraft and what it is to be a Witch/Pagan. I will continue this work as long as I can, and as long as there is a place for my voice to be heard.

I have a running list of topics to write about that I am constantly adding to because I, too am a reader with a need to know. I want to hear other opinions because that helps me to hone my own, and I'm interested in what others want to write about. As an esoteric practitioner, I am a perpetual student. I'm sure many of you feel the same way, so having said that, if you have any suggestions for topics you'd like to explore, leave a comment here, or on the Facebook page, or at the email address to Broom With A View in the sidebar. I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, I'm just going to keep putting down the thoughts in my head that flow to my fingers...

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Days Outside Of Time

Christmastide-or whatever you'd rather call it- traditionally lasts 12 days and are considered by many to be days outside of time, reclaimed from the change of one calendar to another. The period encompassing Yule (Winter Solstice) to 6 January( Epiphany) has a particular vibe that has always felt other worldly to me in the same fashion as Halloween (Samhain). They are a part of the phenomena of  'thin places'-sacred space which transcends reality and time.


In the British Isles, the period from 26 December to 6 January are known as the Omen Days. There is a type of divination involved where each day is assigned to a month in calendar order, and so omens that are observed on a specific day are traditionally assigned to the corresponding month,e.g.,Day One is January, etc. The only difficulty with this is discerning the omens themselves. A disciplined and trained eye is required in the identification, but building the skill is easily achieved by a few minutes of daily practice.

Some occult practitioners use this time to make predictions for the New Year using Tarot or other oracles. Others use deep meditation to make a psychic connection. Still others- and I count myself among the latter-use intuition or a 'gut feeling' to guide them into reflections. I do most of my psychic work intuitively ( and most of which I keep to myself, because I also realize that those feelings will be colored by my own projections). Even though I have posted some predictions of my own in the past in this blog, I haven't made a habit of it because my background in psychology tells me that what is coming through is just as likely to be due to environmental influence rather than occult knowledge of the future. The eminent psychologist Carl Jung posited that the symbolism of the Tarot  “are sort of archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature.” I believe this to be so, as with all intuitive tools.

These last few days of the dying calendar year and first few days of the New Year have always felt anchor-less to me : giddy and fuzzy and a bit like walking through fog. The feeling is not as disagreeable as it sounds, but all the while still disconcerting. Perhaps it is due in part the myth and illusion attributable to Carnival, or simply the resistance to ending what is known and the uncertainty of what is new. Whatever the cause, this is not ordinary time.

Truth be known, I find most 'world predictions' to be more entertaining than anything else. Some are so obviously inevitable that they cannot miss coming true, others so vague to be applicable to a variety of situations. The ones that come out of left field are what I find so stunning and give credence to the prognosticator. Okay, so I'm a little jaded on the subject. There are a lot of fake psychics out there, and they irk me because 1.) the public tends to lump those with the genuine gift of second sight  in with them,  and 2.) they take advantage of the gullible.

It's been said that what you do at the beginning of a New Year sets the pattern for what will happen during that year. I believe this is where our urge to make New Year Resolutions originate. Sounds beneficial and positive, right? The problem is that as humans, we tend to to be more enthusiastic than realistic in our goals. We are good intentioned but miscalculate our ability and shun putting forth the effort to achieve measurable results. We are impatient and want instant satisfaction. These are somewhat immature but thoroughly human characteristics. And we all do it to a degree. At least I know I have. I am as slothful as the next person. So to combat the feeling of failure, I don't make sweeping resolutions. Instead, I start out slowly making changes and don't beat myself up if I discard something after awhile because it isn't working or doesn't feel right. I have to keep reminding myself that it's okay to do that and not feel guilty about it. Time will eventually give me something else to fill that space.

That is the beauty of having days outside of time: they turn what you believe upside down by being open to an alternate possibility. They are liminal and suspend expectation.

However you spend these days, stay mindful of their magic.











When All Is Not Merry And Bright

There are moments when all is not calm and bright at Christmas with me. There is no Silent Night. No heavenly peace. While angels may  hover about, they are invisible and soundless. " Glory to God in the Highest" are words that are foreign to my tongue. So is the "comfort and joy" of the season.

These are the occasions when the ghosts of Christmases past haunt my consciousness. Thankfully-due to the settling in of age or effective therapy ( maybe both)-they occupy less space in my head now than they have in years past...but they are still there, ready to jump out at opportune moments of idleness or weakness. Most of them are 50 years or so old but they still sadden and wound. Angry words and derogatory phrases still echo briefly from the past like random puffs of air. They pick at old scabs and bring blood to the surface. I doubt they will ever fully go away, and so I take them as a synergistic contribution to who I am as a whole. To forget and deny their existence is to dishonor the integration and growth of who I have become so many years later. It has taken literally years of discernment and examination to arrive at a place where I am comfortable with myself. And still, there are those brief flashes that disturb and rupture my contentment.

I am constantly recovering from the old wounds and perceived slights of the past. It's not that I wallow in self pity; I have chosen instead to recognize their damage and move it into a healthier perspective. Personal growth is hard work. Much of it is far from pleasurable. But I am just stubborn enough to look the bad stuff in the eye and tell it that it holds considerably less currency with me than it used to. Nowadays I defiantly reject what it whispers in my ear in the wee hours of the long night.

The best thing I can say about my past is that I survived it.

I have reclaimed the Christmas holiday for me. I have combined the myths and beloved stories into something that speaks to my spirituality and growth. Things are no longer writ in stone: they morph and change to fit my expanding understanding of what it is to be human. The Nativity stories of the many gods born at this time of year have been transcended year by year into the story of my own nativity- not as being reborn so much as honoring the place where I originate.

Scrolling through Facebook, I came upon these lovely thoughts by Mary Ann Perrone. Reading it was a 'yes' moment for me because it confirms how I feel about things at this point in my life.

Christmas at Midlife
I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.

I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task
I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.

I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.

I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.

I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.

I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.

I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.

I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.

I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.

I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I Believe.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Heard Only In Silence


"I live in the woods out of necessity. I get out of bed in the middle of the night because it is imperative that I hear the silence of the night, aloud, and with my face on the floor, say psalms, alone, in the silence of the night... The silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in the silence..."
~ Thomas Merton

I have written in this blog previously about being more sensitive and psychically aware in the middle of the night and wee hours of morning. Many of us on this path are. The Divine speaks to me more clearly in these hours, when most of the work-a-day world is sleeping. In the relative silence of that time, I am better able to observe the world around me. The other evening there were seven deer just outside my window,driven by hunger to feast on the acorns fallen from the oak not more than 10 feet from the building. In the silence I watched six of them walking about on long, graceful legs before being joined by a magnificent buck. His antler rack was so large that it cast a shadow across the ground from the street lights. We sat together in the darkness and  silence for at least a quarter hour,  connected by simply being. I consider it my Yule present from Nature.

The old saying is that "silence is golden". I say silence is a gift. It is Peace and Tranquility and the place we go inward to dream and renew our soul. While it is the place I believe we are closest to the Immanent Divine, it also the place where we meet our demons. One always seems to be in proximity
of the other, and without silence and discernment, it is difficult to know which we are dealing with, which is why examination of the self was a part of these long, dark nights for our ancestors.

The late mystic Thomas Merton speaks of the secret that is heard only in silence; to him silence was the voice of God. And despite changing definitions, I believe it still is exactly that. Silence holds space and fills it with possibilities. Silence fills that space with love and even more of what bonds us as human beings to one another and all other creatures. It is in this silence that we hear the murmurings of Earth and the crack of the spark of Life.

We no longer fear the darkness of this time of year as our ancestral tribe once did ( speaking from the First World, because this is still a very real threat in the Third World.) I believe we should listen within the silence, embrace it, and celebrate what it teaches.

And with that I wish you a Blessed Solstice wherever you are, a Joyous Yule, and a Merry Christmas- whatever speaks to your heart.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Few Words On Thanksgiving

I always say that after Halloween, it's a slippery slide into Christmas. Thanksgiving  as an individual holiday with its own characteristics, is pushed aside, or has been relegated to being the opening salvo of the Christmas season.

As a society, we've allowed the merchandisers of the big big stores to determine when and how we celebrate our holidays. We have given the power of those days set aside to celebrate our lives and the seasons over to them. ( Note to the Religious Right: If you still think there is a 'War on Christmas', this is the one to fight.Have the courage to fight this battle and leave the rest of us in peace.)

Sadly, it's become rather fashionable to disparage the Thanksgiving holiday. The exploitation of Native Americans by European settlers was and forever will remain a heinous act and a crime against humanity. But that is not the whole Thanksgiving story; it's also a day set aside in this nation for recognition of those who have tended the harvest, and the prosperity each of us have enjoyed during the year. Personally, I believe it's time to take back Thanksgiving and restore it as a day for giving thanks together, as a nation. It's a time to look back at the year and count all the little things we've survived as a society together, and to look beyond to the blessings we've received.

For me, this is a time of the year when the mind quiets. I pray more simply because taking stock of the blessings I've received during the year allows me to focus on what has mattered more sharply. It is a time of reflection as we leave the days of bounty and face the cold winter.

My best prayers are always the ones where words are not spoken and I observe the stillness. It is then when my own mind entwines with the gods and goddesses of the Divine and I simply am.

With our modern hectic lifestyle, it is difficult to set aside time to pray or meditate. May I make a suggestion? Do your prayer. Allow your intentions come out in your actions. It is an ancient concept we need to revive. If you are praying for goodness in your life, then do good. Pick up a piece of  litter or give a few coins to someone homeless ( better still, buy them coffee). If you are seeking peace in the world, then work for peace and justice. There are many things that can be done to put prayer into action.

Be grateful, and give thanks.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Safety First

Earlier this month, a man walked into a church in Sutherland, Texas with a semi-automatic rifle and killed nearly half the congregation-including children. We all saw what happened being played out over and over on TV and social media.

As Pagans, the majority of us are peace-loving and mindful. Something like that could never happen in one of our covensteads or circles, right? We ward our places of worship against evil and for the most part, we keep our whereabouts from prying public eyes. But not always. With public ritual becoming more frequent as we seek to have our traditions accepted in the religious mainstream we have become vulnerable.

But if you think something could never happen to us, you are very wrong. It can, and at some point in the future, the gods forbid, it eventually will. I say that with trepidation. I'm not trying to trying to frighten anyone or being paranoid...but I am cautious. Because during our rituals we share many of the same areas of vulnerability as any mainstream church service. Even if we keep our location a secret, if a gunman really wanted to bring havoc upon us, we would be found. Shields, wards, white light and thoughts and prayers will not keep us safe from a madman with a weapon.

So what are we to do? We begin by being alert to what is going on in our surrounding environment.
If you are setting up for a circle in a new venue, explore the area and know where all roads surrounding it lead. If ritual is to take place in a public area or park, let those in charge of  overseeing the area know when you will be there and for approximately how long ( be sure you have all the necessary permits and bring them with you). Notify park rangers or security and remind them you are there. Yes, it's a drag and I understand that it somewhat dampens spontaneity...but better to be safe.

When planning for ritual, appoint one or more persons to be an observer outside the circle so participants are not distracted. ( In some traditions, these persons are  known as a challenger and may symbolically carry a sword. The sword isn't for physical protection, because our ritual blades are not intended to taste blood. You may have to explain this to an unknowing park ranger or police officer who would (rightfully so) be freaked out by the sight of what they perceive to be a weapon.) There should also be worship assistants inside the circle who are monitoring what is taking place in regard to participants, not only to help those who may be emotionally overcome and need assistance , but to be observant of any unusual or threatening  behavior and be ready to intercede along with those watching from outside. If indoors, lock any doors not actively being used, or post greeters by them. Also, if feasible, plan an escape route ( a good point for fire safety as well). It's not just invasion to be precautionary of- there are also bomb threats and just plain harassment. The  cult of Dominionism, radical Evangelicals, and unfortunately, those in some Pagan traditions who have ties to the ideology of neo-natizism are a very real threat to 'outsider' spiritual groups. Much of their worldview supports unbridled violence against others. Keep an eye on those espousing these beliefs in your area.

Part of the responsibility of your council is for the health and safety of individual members and planning for emergencies.  As much as we don't want to think about an attack on our sacred space, we live in troubling times and should take pains to be informed and cautious. It is to our benefit to at least touch on the subject and perhaps make a plan. There are links below which are informative and adaptable to any religious tradition.

Be Well and Be Blessed.


https://www.dhs.gov/see-something-say-something
(www.dhs.gov/hometown-security
https://www.fema.gov/faith-resources

http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/8520/churches-and-gun-violence-7-practical-preparation-tips