Friday, March 30, 2012

Gargoyles,Grotesques and Occult Art

Art is one of my first loves, particularly architecture. While we could all live fairly comfortably and reasonably in a cave or other enclosure like our primitive ancestors, we've instead chosen to embellish our homes with interesting textures and materials both inside and out. It's a wonderful, individual expression of who we are. It raises our spirits. It's entertaining and exciting to plan, design and construct our homes and other buildings in ways that are pleasing to the eye.

Gargoyle on the Palace of the Popes, Avignon, France
We make  the places we go into works of art, many times adding on cultural symbols to beautify the structures or using interesting materials. Those materials must be durable to last, yet malleable enough to express our inner fantasies.

Studying symbolism is a passion that has lead to a variety of pastimes and has broadened my appreciation of many artistic styles: I would be hard-pressed to say there is one particular style that leaves me totally cold, but I do lean toward ancient Greek and Roman, Medieval and Art Deco in my tastes. What I like at any given time depends on my mood...and my mood... and therefore my tastes... change often.

Darth Vader at National Cathedral
One of my favorite places to spend an afternoon is the National Cathedral in Washington, DC- The Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul- because the architectural styles and artwork are so diverse. A visit to the National Cathedral is a self-contained course in fine art- there are textiles, paintings, sculpture and masonry. The masonry is a favorite because my great-grandfather and some of his sons were stone masons and the medium fascinates me...but my passion is the gargoyles and grotesques that seem to leap out from everywhere.

A gargoyle is a figure containing a rain spout that protrudes out far enough from the edges of the roof to route water away from the building in order to help curb erosion. The Latin word gargula-gullet or throat-is the origin for the name of this piece. All gargoyles have either a tunnel through them or a pipe secreted away inside which terminates at the mouth of the figure, and distinguishes them from similar ornamental statuary known as grotesques. Grotesques, unlike gargoyles, are purely ornamental and non-functional. Both gargoyles and grotesques are designed to represent humans, birds and animals. Lions and dogs are the most commonly represented animals. Most animals and birds are anthropomorphized, that is, their animal and avid natures are blended into a fanciful rendering with somewhat human characteristics. It is easy to recognize a human-like smile or posture in these animals.

At the National Cathedral, there here are over a thousand grotesques. Departing from the traditional, they depict cultural images such as all the animals on Noah's Ark, to popular modern themes such as Darth Vader, Audrey the Man-eating  Plant from Little Shop of Horrors and cartoon characters. The wily troupe of masons and sculptors who are permanently assigned to the church have even included figures resembling themselves for a little twist of playfulness and irony! Cathedrals all of the world have been embellished with religious and occult figures for hundreds of years.

Apart from humans, birds and animals, there are the mythological creatures known collectively as chimera.The Chimera was originally a single mythological creature of Greek origin composed of differing animals and offering their individual characteristics such as breathing fire  In modern popular culture the word is often now  used to identify  monsters or creatures such as griffins, dragons,centaurs,cockatrices,etc. During the Medieval period a chimera was most often a synonymous representation of a demon or other type of minor devil. An excellent source of study of  these mythological creatures is  The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures bu John and Caitlin Matthews.[ ]

Chrysler Bldg.,NYC © Bettmann/Corbis photo
These fanciful creatures weren't used just for ornamentation, however. They were often used to illustrate and underscore a Biblical parable or other story for a largely illiterate  public in early times. The storyteller could point out a particular sculpture and have it visually set the tone for his story-and in turn someone present at that time would use the same sculpture to illustrate their memory of the story to yet another. In this way the great cathedrals of  Europe ( and other large buildings) became storybooks in stone.

The continuation of streamlining  architecture  saw the disappearance of fancy ornamentation until the Art Deco period. The fabulous Chrysler Building in Manhattan is a notable example of this type of style. It is a masterpiece of stunning beauty. The sixty-first story proudly displays four huge eagle head gargoyles majestically jutting out below the buildings chrome-plated sunburst crown. Even farther down are  four grotesques said to represent the hood ornament of a Plymouth automobile. The addition of these sculptures makes the Chrysler Building unique and instantly identifiable, so much so that it was featured in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters (

The addition of gargoyles in architecture has largely disappeared with the advent of modern drainage systems and technology dedicated to newer, less erosion prone building materials. Occasionally you can glimpse a stylized animal incorporated into the design of a new building (mostly as a logo or brand) but nothing like  the fearsome grotesques of a bye-gone era. The grandeur and magic of the gargoyle is yet one more thing lost to the mundane...but in the world of Light and Shadow, we remember.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

My Secret Garden

Not mine, but someday...

It's Spring, and I want to plant things. When I owned my own home I would start a variety of plants on the covered back porch and transplant them to a prepared place in the back yard where I made my garden. Before that, my grandfather had planted his garden in that spot, so after he died I took the task upon myself, with a few changes.

I double dug the entire plot, by hand. Having attended some Wes Jackson workshops in Colorado at the Windstar Foundation and being the proud owner of several Rodale books on organic gardening, I felt inspired. It was a lot of work, but I soldiered on. In the process I found some wonderful tulip bulbs and the remains of one of our many pet cats who had crossed the Rainbow Bridge long ago...I guess I shouldn't have moved that big rock after all. I reverently re-interred the bones of our ancient Siamese in a nice cigar box I found in the basement on Pop's workbench, set the rock back in place and moved on to another section of the plot...where I proceeded to disinter the bones of another cat...and what appeared to be a dog. We never had a dog who died at home. Allowing paranoia to blossom just a bit, I retreated to the house to fix myself a glass of iced tea. Maybe I should hop on the computer and check to see if we were related in any way to Stephen King since the garden had turned into Pet Semitary( ).

After mustering the strength and intestinal fortitude to dig a three foot deep trench at the back corner of the garden, I carefully removed all of the animal bones and relocated them to their new resting place. Then I made a quick trip to Home Depot for a bag of Quick Crete and some medium sized granite rocks; after two more trips I had enough rocks to build a permanent cairn which became the anchor for a low stone wall to enclose the garden turned archaeological dig. Happily, I can report there were no more remains of deceased creatures of any type found while I finished the double digging.
I bet P. Allen Smith never had this happen during any of his gardening exploits...and I hope the people I sold the house to five years later aren't reading this blog.

While I was still channeling my inner gardener, I moved my grandmother's favorite lilac bush and put in a companion bush at the other side of the opening. Two weeks later I began seeding corn and transplanting tomatoes, peppers, beans and squash. I was thrilled when it all thrived and grew and less thrilled when my work schedule changed three weeks later and the whole thing turned into an overgrown weed patch dotted with vegetables. Things began to spill over the stone wall. Maybe I the whole Pet Semitary thing wasn't so far-fetched after all....

As I mentioned, I sold the house a few years later and  moved to an apartment where I had an herb garden in the kitchen window. It wasn't the same as the one in the back yard of the house (no dead animals!) but it was enough to satisfy my urge to feel the soil between my fingers. Re-purposing a long bread basket which I lined with heavy plastic and potting soil I managed to get several crops of thyme, basil, parsley and sage before I added another pot filled with dill and some ivy, which I managed to train up a length of chicken wire nailed to the wall inside the window. On a trip to Walmart I found some painted pot-sitter birds, a turtle, a squirrel and a frog to decorate my indoor garden, which managed to expand to another planter on the windowsill in the dining room where  grew a number of other herbs, tomatoes and flowers. Smelling the damp earth in the pots helped me forget that I was living on the sixth floor of a high rise and put the fantastic Southeastern exposure and morning sunlight I received to good use.

Soon every windowsill was filled with a couple long, low planters from which plants, herbs and miniature vegetables sprouted. I used vegetable parings and eggshells to make compost tea in the blender and gave everything a shot a couple times a month. What began as an herb garden in the kitchen windowsill became a lush green oasis. Careful tending and multiple re-plantings keep every planted filled and green year-round. The few thin spots during the winter months were augmented with some artfully placed artificial flowers.

The highlight of my adventures of indoor gardening came when I managed to grow six full-sized stalks of Indian Corn in a container on the floor in a corner of my bedroom...which produced ten multicolored ears right before Autumn.  Happy? I was ecstatic! I wanted to have the Greenman over for tea.

That all came to a dramatic screeching halt when I moved to North Carolina. I was no longer in my own place, so the windowsill gardening ceased. My household has been reduced down to a single room in cramped quarters. The only thing leafy and green are a couple of dusty silk plants sitting on a bookcase. The windowsills are empty...for now. This morning  the faeries visited and I had a vision of an herb garden growing in each of the windowsills. Once again I am inspired. I know the Green man lives here too...perhaps I can entice him over for tea soon.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Folk Healing, Folk Medicine, Folk Magick

When I was in seminary studying comparative religion, I became interested in the social phenomena of folk healing. In indigenous cultures, the two seem to go hand in hand and are inseparable:  healing the body, mind and spirit are one in the same. These are tenants of  modern Holistic Medicine. Our ancestors understood this and it was simply an assumption that this was how life was.  I believe that when we explore ways of healing ourselves we in turn heal the planet.

Folk healing is based on cultural and religious methods passed through a community rather than on scientific data. It is synonymous with faith healing, where the practitioner and recipient both express a  belief in the intention of the act. So folk healing , in that way, becomes just as much an act of faith as proof of the practitioners proficiency or knowledge.(

I don't often like to make general statements about subjects when I write, but I think it's fair to state that many forms of folk healing and/or folk medicine defy logic and rational thinking...and yet they seem to undeniably work for a select segment of people while not working for others. Why? What makes the difference? The only explanation for me is that this is where belief enters.( This difference of approach is where faith is required, and magick happens, and it is how all of what I've been discussing ties together. In many cases there is no tangible proof yet there are improvements and cures which can be attributed to no other means than through the ministration of a practitioner using folk medicine or magick. When either are used to compliment standard, accepted scientific medicine, it is difficult to sort the effect any single factor had on a cure because so often they over lap. The unfortunate  truth is that when varying modalities of this sort are used simultaneously, science always wins the credit. Modern society wants to appear rational and its corporate logic has not been trained to grasp the possibility that faith and belief can yield results. It's tough to prove otherwise due to the intangibility of faith.

Complimentary alternative medicine (CAM) is dismissed as so much snake oil in some quarters of the scientific medical community in this country and health care practitioners will go to great lengths to discredit it in any form. Pagans, more than any other group, have a  experiential understanding of this. The history of the cunning folk and folk healer is one of the things we universally share when we incorporate the use of oils, herbs and conjure in our individual practice. Our traditions are richly endowed and connected this way.

While it is true that the public's primary exposure to the experience of faith healing is through stories mainly showcasing Pentecostal and other Christian forms of fundamentalism, Christianity by no means has cornered the market on the phenomena. In it's truest form, all faith healing requires is that the practitioner has confidence in his/her abilities and the recipient has unwavering belief in the skills of the practitioner, so it's fair to state here that faith healing as a form of folk medicine is a universal concept that is not limited to one religious tradition. Pagans  have been known to readily use faith healing.

Many  to whom we relate our Pagan cultural and spiritual heritage were considered healers-cunning folk- by the community. Loosely, they can be labeled as hedge witches who integrated the ancient arts of wort-cutting, oil blending, divination and conjure. The cure for some was a simple touch, a laying on of hands while more explicit forms of healing was required by others-an herbal prescriptive, some tea, a salve. Yet others required specific prayers or spell work, using an anointed candle or some type of amulet. Often it was difficult to tell the religion of the practitioner - Hoodoo and other types of folk magick blend native medicine and magick with the veneration of Christian saints, holy water blessed by a priest (Roman Catholic is preferred, although I have never had anyone tell me why it had to specifically come from a Roman Catholic Church, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the ritualistic form used rather than the denomination.), pictures, figurines and other sacramentals.( )

St. Mary is a popular patron for many-her attributes range from the Queen of Heaven to the Virgin Mother of God, and even then she does double duty as the Pagan Mother Goddess, Mari, or Feminine Divine. Co-opting may account for some of this, but the fact that she is an alpha female figure among the saints and gods has also lead to her attracting adherents. The saints have also been stand-ins for many of the loa of Voodoo in Haiti or where African slaves have settled and mingled their indigenous religions with Catholicism, and in some cases, Native American religion of the area.( But folk magick/medicine is not limited to these regions; the Brauncherei are a type of healers associated in the Old Order German or Pennsylvania Dutch communities-who has seen their colorful "hex signs" on barns? ( Appalachian Mountains have many types of faith healers, but most noteworthy are the  Granny Women. (

The list could could go on into infinity. Each region has a type of healing, folk medicine or magickal practice in place. I hope this post has inspired you to explore some of them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's Called a Uniform for a Reason!

"After facing consequences for refusing to cover or remove their crosses at work, two Christian women are taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights. A group of ministers is set to back employer regulations banning religious regalia in the workplace, arguing that wearing crosses aren't a "requirement" of the Christian faith"
Here's the link for the story:

And another :

As a paramedic, I wore a standard medium service blue shirt with navy blue pants. On that shirt were patches that identified me as a licensed EMS provider by the Department of Health in the state I worked in, and a small curved 'rocker' patch which identified me as an instructor. I wore rank insignia on my collar and epaulets. On occasion, when in full class "A" uniform I also wore a formal dress jacket and a hat. I was permitted to wear tiny gold or silver ball earrings as a female. I could have worn a simple chain necklace, but after the first time a hallucinating patient grabbed the chain and tried to choke me with it, I never wore a necklace while on duty again. HR changed later the policy and prohibited necklaces altogether. No one complained because we knew the policy was in our best interest, and we figured that none of our patients actually cared if the medic who showed up at 3 a.m. was a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, as long as that person was reasonably competent.

Later, as a minister who wore clericals,which are technically a uniform, I eschewed wearing a cross necklace as a matter of personal preference. The diocesan Bishop wore a pectoral cross, but the rank and file clergy seldom wore anything. Most of us figured there were enough crosses and other symbols emblazoned on the ritual vestments we wore during worship services, so we didn't need anything else dangling from around our necks. After all, the purpose of wearing clericals were to identify us as ordained ministers, not for individual expression: we were supposed to all be equal in the eyes of God.

The thinking behind uniforms is pretty much universally the same. If you are a flight attendant, then you wear the uniform issued by the airline so you can be recognized by passengers. As a nurse you may have a bit more choice in the pattern and design of your uniform, although some hospitals now require employees to wear a standard color by position. At any rate, you are still wearing a uniform and there is a dress code prescribed by the facility where you work, and everyone is required to comply.

This is why I am stymied by the claims being made by the two ladies mentioned in the Huffington Post story that their freedom of expression and religious rights are being violated. If I were working in such a uniformed service position I would understand why I couldn't wear a pentagram or goddess symbol, and the possibility of discrimination would never cross my mind. It's called a uniform for a reason.

Bottom line, ladies...You chose to work in public service positions. There is a uniform standard in each, and that rule is no religious emblem on display while on duty. It's not about your rights. It's about departure from the uniform standard.

Uniforms are standard for a reason-so everyone is equal in dress and appearance while serving the public in an identical capacity. You were hired as a nurse for your knowledge,or you were hired as a flight attendant for your skills, not because of the deity you worship ...So it is NOT NECESSARY for you to represent yourself as anything other than who and what you are while on duty. Your religious preference is a moot point at 35,000 feet in the air or rendering care in the ER. Your religious preference is between you and whatever deity you worship.

YOU are the ONLY person to whom this should matter....unless, of course, you are proselytizing...and the face is, that even if you never hand out a single religious tract, the mere fact you are representing yourself as a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or Pagan in public means you are seeking recognition of that by others.

While I belief that anyone should be free to wear an emblem of their chosen faith, no matter who they are and no matter what deity they worship, when you agree to take a paycheck from an employer who requires employees to wear a uniform that freedom ends for the time you are in uniform. That means no religious medals and pendants, no jewelry of any kind whatsoever- unless your employer makes the exception that is spelled out in the employees handbook. As an individual, if you actually feel you have a 'need' to wear an emblem of faith to 'remind' yourself how you should properly behave as an adherent of that faith, or to proclaim your personal relationship with G-d to the world, then it's my opinion you have a few things to work on in the areas of motivation and spiritual maturity.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish...Like Me

This week my kitchen smelled like what I imagine my Irish ancestor's homes smelled like-corned beef and cabbage, colcannon, baked root vegetables, oatcakes, soda bread and good strong tea. Incidentally, the  traditional corned beef is a gift from the Jewish butchers in New York City  to the Irish who settled in during the Great Diaspora.The usual rasher of smoked bacon available on nearly every Irish farm was far too expensive in urban New York City. Corned beef, however, was an inferior cut of meat-the grain runs every which way and it takes hours of boiling to make it palatable- but it was plentiful- and it was cheap. Years ago I felt obligated to my Hibernian roots to learn how to cook corned beef  and cabbage 'the right way', that is, as traditionally as I could and as well as I could. In the ensuing years ' the right way' has come to be defined as the way I most enjoy it, and this is how it should be for everyone.

Every year when St. Patrick's day rolls around I cringe a bit. I despise the way the Irish are portrayed in American society. The truth of who we are has been covered over by green beer, plastic shamrocks and " Kiss Me, I'm Irish" tee shirts. Sorry, but I don't want to be kissed by a stranger just because I'm Irish, and don't even get me started about green beer because I will beat you senseless with the nearest shaleighle. When it comes to the marketing of St. Patrick's Day ( and what should rightfully be called Irish Heritage Day ), I have a keen lack of humor. Not because I am a teetotaler, and it's not even that the story of the 'Saint of the Irish' is so embroidered in religious superstition and sentimentalism that the truth is lost, or that the 'wee folk' are so feckin' cute that it hurts (leprechauns being a type of trooping Fae-not known to be particularly friendly to humans, and not particularly cuddly) or anything else of the 'tis Irish, so naturally it's supposed to charm your pants off ' variety...It's the whole mythology that the  Irish people are a bunch of happy drunks. Despite the reality that the local pub is the seat of socialization in most small villages, not everyone who goes there drinks until it's time to stagger home singing Danny Boy with his/her best buddy. No doubt the working class in those places trudge off to the local tavern to hoist a few, but they also go to have a bite to eat and to spend time together. They go for the craic- (not what you're thinking!)... a Gaelic word which describes a feeling as much as a thing, craic is what happens when  the common folk get together to have fun, listen to music, catch up on local news and socialize.

Alcohol is often involved in Irish celebrations for the same reason it's employed everywhere else in the world where people want to kick back and relax, but it's not the sole reason to get together. The branding of the Irish as a bunch of helpless, hopeless drunken oafs is unfair and untrue. Marketing St. Patrick's Day- the only official day we Irish get on the calendar to celebrate our heritage-as a day of unbridled debauchery and portraying the Irish as a  bunch of sodden goofs barely unable to lift their heads off the bar is just plain wrong. It is as wrong and stupidly arrogant as stereotyping all Native Americans as Tonto, or all African Americans as watermelon eating Uncle Toms or all Italians as Mafioso. That stereotyping continues because we put up with it.

I take personal offense to this stereotype because I know who my Irish ancestors were, I know what their lives were like and they went through before they left their homeland in third class steerage for the trip across the Atlantic. They didn't want to leave Ireland- but they didn't want to starve to death, either. I know how they were treated when they arrived at Ellis Island, and how they carved out a meager living  as charwomen and day laborers. Family memorabilia from that era includes some immigration documents and a pulp paper sign from a shop window that reads, " NO NIGGERS and NO IRISH need apply". Badly faded photos from the first generation show long dead relatives in overalls, and starched maid uniforms; successive generations picture a police officer on the street, a firefighter with his team of horses, a short stocky woman with a wisp of red hair peeking out from under the cap of a graduate nurse from the New York Hospital  and a no nonsense teacher with her class in an urban schoolhouse. They did well, these people. You can see the sharpness and determination, the fire and pride of accomplishment in their eyes...the same steel blue eyes that look back at me from the bathroom mirror. I know who they are because I'm one of them...and they did not idle their lives away in a drunken stupor. We allow their dignity to be taken because we put up with it.

I have vivid memories of riding the bus to class in Manhattan one St.Patrick's Day morning before the big parade and overhearing a conversation between the bus driver and patron. The driver was saying how he hated navigating the downtown streets on St. Patrick's Day because of all the drunks, " Worse than New Year's" he said. His friend was nodding in agreement, " Yeah, damn drunken bastard Irish" he said, then, taking notice of me and my waist-length red hair, " Oh, sorry, Miss."  On the way home I stopped off at the drug store and bought a box of sable brown hair dye; I successfully snuffed my red tresses for the next three years. I even began wearing heavy foundation make-up to hide my freckles- but the steel blue blue eyes of my father's Irish ancestors continued to stare back from the mirror, and I could see the pain of their denial. I denied them because I was ashamed, and I was ashamed because I felt I wasn't good enough.

So my love/hate relationship with St. Patrick's Day continues...I'm proud to be Irish and glad we've been given our own a day  on the calendar to celebrate our heritage. I take issue with St. Patrick being selected to represent us when he wasn't even Irish ( He was, In fact, a Roman patrician, the son of a nobleman). Sts.Brigit and Columba- who are Irish-are nearly forgotten. It makes me sad that those who came by the thousands to escape poverty and hunger are honored not for their perseverance and determination, nor their contribution to building this country, but for their legendary drunkenness.

Our degradation continues....because we continue to put up with it. We happily nod and go along with the image someone else has created of us and not who we know ourselves to be. We continue to be the butt of society's jokes simply because we don't want to seem put up with it.

My question is....Why?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Folk Ways, FolkMagick: The Foxfire Books

Foxfire is the name commonly given to various species of  fungi capable of  spontaneous luminescence growing  on decaying wood in old forests and some swamps. These fungi are known to produce a phosphorescent dim green glow that can be seen in dark places on moonless nights. Other names it is known by are faerie fire and will o' the wisp. There is a scientific theory that the organic material stores light and energy-including UV rays- and are caused to glow through a chemical process combined with decomposition. Yes, it's nature magick, because even though the elements are known the process still is not fully understood and is difficult to satisfactorily explain.

Have any of you read the Foxfire Books? Foxfire was an oral history project created by Eliott Wigginton and his Rabun Gap Georgia High School class in 1966. It was a co-operative venture which had never been undertaken. The assignment was to interview the elderly residents of their nearby Appalachian community about 'the good old days'. Their intention was to document life of a bye-gone era in the mountains: there were stories about everything from making soap and apple butter to hog slaughtering, ghost stories and faith healing.  The series of books (there are over a dozen of them now)were gleaned from articles which originated in a magazine edited and published by the students.The teaching methods used by Wigginton and the magazine became so popular that when back issues were no longer available, the students began putting together the anthologies that were eventually turned into books. Foxfire featured stories about mountain folk (what those in other parts of the country, especially city dwellers would snicker at and refer to as hillbilly life). The mountain folk in Foxfire were locavores before of the term was put into general usage and before the practice became trendy. They were self-sufficient out of necessity and their pride was dignified. They managed to carve a life our of the harsh mountains in virtually unchanged from the way of their Scot-Irish and English ancestors who settled all across the Appalachian Mountains throughout several states.

That was 45 years ago. Foxfire Magazine and the Foxfire Fund still exist as a historical archive and teacher-training organization.( In 1987, the Hallmark Hall of Fame adapted a Broadway play written by Susan Cooper and the distinguished actor Hume Cronyn into a made for TV movie of the same name. The story centers around Aunt Annie Nations (played by Cronyn's real life wife, Jessica Tandy, who won both a Tony and and Emmy for her character) who must decide if she's going to abandon her generations- old family homestead in the mountains to real estate development- a very real situation which was faced by the locals interviewed by the Foxfire students and exacerbated the decline of their numbers. She has kept the memory of her dead husband Hector (played by Cronyn) alive as a spectral thought form with whom she has conversations and arguments about the decisions she faces. Her children have all moved off the mountain and established their own lives scattered about the country, but her youngest son Dillard (played by Keith Carradine on Broadway, and John Denver in the movie) comes home for a visit bringing his own problems just as his mother is considering the fate of the family legacy.(

So what does a series of books about old folks in the back woods of Appalachia  have to do with being a Pagan? Plenty! In the pages of Foxfire you will find not only fabulous history of the Celtic people in America, but a wealth of folklore from some of the best native storytellers in the country. The books all feature first person accounts of growing herbs and using them, aromatherapy, and time-honored home remedies from the people to whom they were passed through the generations-many of them root workers and cunning men and women...and there are examples of hoo doo and folk magick explained by the actual practitioners in narrative form. Reading through any of the Foxfire books gives you the feeling of being taught these things in person. If that's not enough, there are the stories of faith (healers who take up serpents and handle fire)  and the paranormal ( haints, hauntings and ghosts). It is through Foxfire that I learned to make paper and bind my own BOS and identify herbs, grasses and trees. The series  are an encyclopedia of folkways that should, in my opinion, be on the bookshelves of everyone of us next to those of Caitlin and John Matthews, Scott Cunningham and  Ray Malbrough. The only fault I can find with the series is that you have to hunt for specific information because the categories are loosely defined...but it's worth it, because they are a living connection to heritage.

In addition the Foxfire Foundation offers an excellent approach to training teachers:"...teachers will identify their existing perceptions of the relationships between teachers, learners, and the curriculum. Those perceptions will be challenged, and the teachers will begin to redefine their own teaching philosophies to include the Core Practices and merge them back into their own teaching practices". The curriculum blends well with the usual 'year and a day' training of various traditions because much of it includes not only the above mentioned subjects but nature study and environmentalism. The approach echoes that of some of our best Pagan elders in tone and material covered. Subjects covered in on site living history workshops at their museum include making buckets from berry bark, candle making and constructing your own broom making from local materials. (

I think all of us who follow a Celtic-inspired path wish there was more information on this pantheon. Ancient Celtic history was an oral tradition, much of it  lost to the ages. It is said that history is written by the victors; if that is true, then I feel we can discount much of the story of the ancient Celts. Foxfire provides us with a verifiable history of Celtic folkways from the Diaspora to the present.  You may not think that's much...but I'm willing to take it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

White Bean, Cabbage and Salmon Soup

White Bean, Cabbage and Salmon Soup

It's that time of year when the temperatures occasionally dip and things get still frosty, so I'm continuing to make soup weekly. I like soup because it has plenty of nutrients, cleans up the left-overs, and stretches the food budget. Good soup is satisfying, and it's difficult to actually make a bad batch of really have to goof things up if you do.

This soup has everything-soluble fiber,iron and Omega-3 oil, and it's filling. It's not a vegetarian recipe because it does have a bit of crumbled bacon in it for seasoning. I keep a jar of bacon grease in a jar in the back of the fridge ( a small jar goes a long way and assures that it doesn't go rancid) just for seasoning purposes. A tablespoon blended in with olive oil goes a long way and doesn't change the saturated fat content significantly in a large pot of soup. If you want a vegetarian version, you can omit the bacon/bacon grease and substitute a half envelope of  powdered ham-flavored  bullion and replace a cup of the chicken broth with it ( it's soy based, no meat). If you don't like the taste of ham, use vegetable bullion.

I always stir fry my vegetables in a little olive oil before adding to soup because it adds a rich flavor and nice color to the broth. To this particular recipe I also add a half teaspoon of rosemary, a pinch of basil, some dill weed and fresh cracked pepper. If you need any salt, I'd suggest a dash of soy sauce because it goes a long way and bumps up the flavor. I have used canned salmon (drained and picked free of the bones and skin. Makes great fertilizer-roses love it).

White Bean, Cabbage and Salmon Soup


In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, combine the beans, water, broth, garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over hight heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes, or until the beans are very tender. Remove and discard the bay leaf.
In a food processor or blender, puree the soup in batches until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the cabbage and onion. Cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes, or until lightly browned and tender. Add to the soup.
In the same skillet heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the salmon and bacon. Sprinkle with the thyme. Cook, stirring gently, for 3 minutes, or until the salmon is lightly browned and just opaque.
Gently stir the salmon mixture into the soup.
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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Exorcism and Possession

Scene from ' The Exorcist '
The movies all have the same images: swirling, mysterious fog, a lone figure in silhouette in front of a foreboding house, ready to do battle with the evil that awaits within. As the viewing public, these images have been ingrained into our subconsciousness, along with those of a little girl who's pretty face has been contorted into a hideous visage, her head spinning inhumanly 360 degrees on her shoulders and spewing green acidic vomit at a noble man of the cloth who she has bombarded with every blasphemously verbal expletive known in the English language.

Somewhere a currently-unheard-of screenwriter is sipping the dregs of a  mega-vente coffee from Starbucks, or perhaps the last few drops of something a little more potent, as he finishes the scene where the innocent child  is taken over by demons in his next celluloid opus. The writing is vivid enough for the scene to jump off the page into Technicolor. It is over-the-top and contains every deviant act our screenwriter can think of, going for the coveted 'R' rating.  It will inspire the creative juices of the director and actors will contort themselves inhumanly while shrieking and cursing in  choppy  Latin. Public Relations for the movie will 'just happen' to slip a story to the tabloids with great detail about spooky happenings occurring on the set during the filming, and perhaps one of the actors will confess to a secret religious conversion. All in all, it is sensational...because the audience doesn't simply expect to  view a movie, they want to experience it.

... And it all springs straight from the Hollywood sound stage to a theater near you. Every last bit of it.

Remember M.Scott Peck, the author of the New Age feel-good book The Road Less Traveled? Dr.Peck was at the forefront of the self-help movement and his books were adored in certain 12-Step Programs. He graduated from Harvard and trained at Case Western Reserve University as a physician, then spent 10 years in the Army as a psychiatrist prior to making a name for himself as a New York Times best-selling author. He was raised in secular home but was baptized a non-denominational Christian in his 40s after exploring Eastern religions for many years. He established himself as a credible resource with the public.His book People of the Lie: Hope for Healing Human Evil explores the concept of evil as a malignant type of self-righteousness sin which ultimately leads to the projection of evil into specifically selected individuals. While gathering material for this book, Dr. Peck became a exorcist and participated in numerous religious rites involving clients. Even more frighten than the case histories Dr. Peck cites is his apparently escalating zealotry and fundamentalism. By the end of the book this respected psychiatrist has become so obsessed with his self-perceived mission of exorcising demons in the name of his god that he has relinquished any scientific credibility.

Concerning the rites of exorcism in the Christian Church, there are three types: the binding and banishment of Satan during the Sacrament of Baptism; the simple blessing of a person or thing to protect it from negative influence; and Extreme Exorcism, which is the rite that rids persons and places of diabolical or evil possession. It is the last item mentioned that is most often portrayed by Hollywood and that which we associate with the word. ( Technically, a place is not possessed but haunted; the rite of banishment is basically the same with a few minor adjustments to the language).
The Anglican Church, of which the Protestant Episcopal Church in America is heavily influenced, provides a exorcism within the context of the Rite of Holy Baptism ( Book of Common Prayer, page 302). The Celebrant begins by asking the candidates or sponsors of a child who has not reached the age of reason- usually 12 years of age-" Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that revel against God?" After several versions of the same question, and to his or her satisfaction, the Celebrant then turns to those assembled and asks the questions over again...Just to be sure everyone is literally on the same page. The message is: No Devils allowed, and the service continues. The Lutherans aren't quite as inhospitable, as the Lutheran Book of Worship (page 123) merely requests that all present that they"... renounce forces of evil, the Devil and all his empty promises." When the ritual has been performed, the individual is anointed and "...sealed by the Holy Spirit as one of God's own". You would think this would be enough to keep any self-respecting demon at bay, but we shall later see that it is not. At least not in the Roman Catholic Church, where the Rituale Romanum dedicates the entirety of Chapter 13 to the subject of Exorcism (Does any one reading this besides me grasp the irony?  Did the church fathers mean this as an insider joke or is it just an unfortunate coincidence? Actually, it was done by design to reflect the Church's superstition surrounding the number 13 and to purposely make the subconscious association with evil. It seems the Church was concerned with marketing even then. Although the rite has fallen out of favor in many modern day churches-who mostly prefer to handle a claim of possession as a mental health issue- so much so that the Roman Catholic Church became alarmed by the recent rise in requests for exorcism and held a conference in Baltimore two years ago to address the subject (

There are two highly celebrated cases of exorcism which have garnered  public  attention and fueled its fascination with  malevolent beings which stand out to me. The the one that most easily comes to mind is The Exorcist which was translated to film from the 1971 book by William Peter Blatty; the other is  The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a 2005 release based on the case of  Anneliese Michel. Both films are quick to say they are based on actual possessions, but neither tell the entire story are a quick to ramp up the phantasmagorical factor.

From a psychological and spiritual standpoint the actual case histories on which the films are based are much more interesting than the 'movie magic' (at least to me). Take away the special effects, and you have the stories of  two very troubled young people and how the adults surrounding them turn to the religiosity of the Dark Ages to handle what is unknown to all of them.

The Exorcist
For The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty drew heavily upon a 1949 story about a young boy from suburban Washington, DC that he read about while in college and through further research contacts one of the priests involved in the event who has kept a diary of the proceedings and this becomes the basis for the book and movie. My own research into the back story took me to a riveting and richly  detailed article written by Mark Opsasnick for Strange Magazine titled The Haunted Boy of Cottage City ( In the article Opsanick does extensive footwork that leads him to the cover-up surrounding the boy's identity and details of the case by going through archived news articles and finding the house where the events purportedly took place. Predictably, a lot of the details have been covered up over the years, including that 'Robbie Doe' under went exorcisms by ministers of three different faiths-Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic- and that the rite was repeated 20 to 30 times before it took effect. Most of the religious proceedings happened in hospitals under the auspices of trained psychiatrists. Information that also came to light during Opsanick's investigation also alleged that those who knew the boy and family refereed to him as a loner who was prone to violent tantrums and cruelty toward school mates and animals. His mother and grandmother were painted as being "excessively religious" and deeply interested in Spiritualism and Ouija Boards. ( )

Mark Opsanick's article in Strange Magazine makes mention that other than the bed shaking and some spitting ( the reporter was later told by some boyhood friends of Robbie's that he was an 'accomplished spitter') nothing like the extraordinary events portrayed in The Exorcist ever took place. When pressed about the glossolalia (speaking in other than the individuals native tongue), one of the priests involved replied, " He was mimicking us." 

The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Anneliese Michel was a German teenager who had been diagnosed with Grand Mal epilepsy. Shortly thereafter she began experiencing demonic hallucinations, and hearing voices that told her she was damned. Her parents withdrew her from medical treatment. She was accused of being possessed while on a pilgrimage because she refused to drink water from a sacred spring and went out of her way to avoid a particular picture of Jesus. A local priest agreed, and this began a series of sessions of the rite of exorcism-67 in all over the course of 10 months, some lasting as long as four hours. During these sessions she would genuflect repeatedly, tear off her clothing, urinate on the floor, bark like a dog and eat flies and other insects. She spoke in an unnatural tone of voice eerily similar to the one used by Linda Blair for her character in The Exorcist. The release of the movie had caused a fearsome occult panic, and this fact left some connected to Anneliese's case to wonder if she was simply imitating dialog from the film. She began to refuse food and became emaciated and dehydrated, and combined with the stress of the sometimes twice weekly exorcisms, this is what finally killed her. Both of the exorcists involved,and her parents, were tried - and- convicted of  negligent homicide ( ).

Today, nearly anyone without any medical training who heard of Anneliese's case would suspect that she was exhibiting the symptoms of schizophrenia ( Dissociative Identity Disorder). In cases where the alter personalities have developed enough to manifest as a separate entity, nearly a quarter of them identify as demons.( There exists to a lesser extent psychoses where the feeling that one is harassed by demons is considered a fixated idea rather than DID.In it's extreme it is a hysterical trance state. It is mandated in today's seminaries that those seeking ordination take courses in psychology and sociology. A person who claims to be possessed must be evaluated by doctors to rule out a mental or physical illness. Sometimes all the minister must do is provide specialized pastoral care to help the individual back to a state of sound mind and spiritual comfort.(

Exorcism in Other Spiritual Traditions
It should be noted that exorcism is not the sole providence of the Christian Church; many indigenous religions recognize spiritual possession and consider the presence of a malevolent  spirit or demon to be the cause of  physical disease. These 'demons' often appear more often as ghosts of people wronged by the individual and the exorcism consists of making some sort of offering to satisfy the demon, who then departs on its own. This is particularly true in shamanic cultures.( ) In yet other cultures ( mostly Eastern) the possession is considered as a kind of gateway to the Other World, as when a seeker on a vision quest meets his/her spirit guide or totem animal. In Wicca, during the ritual knows as Drawing Down the Moon, the individual ( usually a High Priestess) becomes a conduit for the Goddess to speak through. The possession resolves its self after the Goddess has delivered her message. The similar ritual of Drawing Down the Sun invokes the God ( usually a High Priest) for the same purpose. (Margo Adler, Drawing Down the Moon)

The Buddhist form of exorcism employs prayer and meditation which searches for a peaceful resolution to the possession. The intention is only to mediate the situation with the possessing entity, not to bind or banish it. The aim is to make the spirit leave, and that is all. Taoists use chanting and movement to fight the demon. It is believed that since there is both good and evil equally in the world, that purity of heart and goodness alone will cause the evil spirit to leave on it's own accord.

Demonic possession is not universally accepted by all Muslims; for those who believe, there is the seen and unseen, such as the Jinn ( a form of spirit). Among those Muslims who do believe in the unseen, it is believed that everything of a paranormal nature that occurs is not related to demons. Rather, they believe that a weakness in the spiritual self is the cause of many such disturbances and the solution is to strengthen one's own belief in righteousness. For those who do believe in the possibility of demonic possession, there are specially trained healers who employ prayer and readings prescribed by the Koran to rid the individual of such influence.

As a Spiritual Director, I hold my own personal view of the subject of exorcism and possession, which has been formed over the years through study and experience. When I was first ordained I had the opinion that there were many subjects of a religious/spiritual nature I should learn more about. Seminary is meant as a training ground for the priesthood.  Much of the actual training happens as extemporaneous experience, that is to say as the opportunity presents its self. You stumble across a lot of things, and my witnessing an extreme exorcism falls under that category. I was invited to witness the rite because of my background in Jungian physiology more than my credentials as a minister. It was at once fascinating and frightening-both because of the histrionics of the subject and the fanaticism of the  exorcist. There was the expected spitting, swearing and thrashing around- the individual was restrained to the bed with padded leather straps; when he was released by hospital security on advice of the accompanying physician, he proceeded to jump up and down on the bed and sing. The exorcist, a nun who was the hospital's chief chaplain, was also a mental health nurse. She introduced a series of questions to the subject concerning his identity ( experience being that if you start the rite with the usual Get-behind-me-Satan rhetoric, and you are dealing with someone with dissociative identity disorder, it just exacerbates the problem). I personally doubted the existence of a possessing spiritual entity in this case. Shouting invectives in Latin, spitting on those in the room and urinating on the bed you are jumping on doesn't especially mean someone is  possessed. It could mean he's psychotic, having some sort of seizure, having a bad reaction to a medication-or simply be an asshole acting out and trying to see how much attention he can get from the experts. (These types of tantrums happen more often than you think). After two hours of questioning and the insertion of prayers the subject got tired, sat down and stopped shouting. I honestly don't know if he got tired of maintaining a ruse, if the psychotic episode resolved it's self, or if the supposed possessing entity figured it was getting nowhere fast and left...maybe all three.

Even though I believe this particular demoniac was a case of psychodrama, I still do believe that possession is possible. It's why I strongly hold to the old saying of ceremonial magicians, " You don't call up what you can't put down." Know who and what you're working with before you get into a cast circle with them ( or placed into a separate triangle) because not all of them are going to be white-light and full of warm fuzzies- and don't believe that you are such a great magician that your magic will protect you from everything. Believe me, it won't. Not every spirit, angel or daemon is going to be thrilled to be summoned. There are situations where it takes the will of several individuals together-who have gone through the proper preparation and purification-to set the correct harmonics to keep a particular manifestation  under control. My personal feeling is that there are entities from the lower realms of reality just looking for trouble that could be drawn to your rites like a  moth to a flame. It's one of the reasons I am an advocate for zero tolerance of the use of drugs or alcohol during ritual. Despite knowing that several Native American ceremonies do incorporate the use of hallucinogenics, not many of us are trained in their use.( I strongly eschew the use of indigenous ceremonies for ethical reasons).  Leaving yourself wide open and unprotected is just inviting disaster.

Negative thought forms aren't exactly demons, but they can manifest and react in the same way. Any form of malevolence  can turn into something malignant.  Using the theory that like attracts like, it only takes a kernel of negativity to draw enough energy to  become something so strong that it becomes bold enough to take on self-awareness or a life of its own.( Konstantinos, Nocturnicon, pg.114) Creation of something of this sort is going to take more than a simple binding and banishing to rid it. You don't want that to happen.

This blog is meant to hold only a limited discussion of exorcism and possession and is not meant as a scholarly treatise. It is meant for introductory information only as a part of the Pagan Blog Project 2012. For further reading, you can explore the subject at your local library or online.

Last year I blogged on a purported increase of demon possession in the Philippines which you might like to also read:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Earth Lights

They are called Earth Lights-mysterious points of illumination seen all over the world with the naked eye, by millions of people throughout the ages...and still there is no definitive, satisfying scientific explanation for them. So what are they? Most cases of what folks think they have seen have proven to be the reflection of train, airplane or automobile lights, or even campfires.

Brown Mountain Lights (Photo courtesy L.E.M.U.R)
What is concretely known is that true Earth Lights are something other than what  is mentioned in  folklore as  will-'o- the- wisp or foxfire, which is caused by the creation of  combining methane and phosphorous such as produced by  decaying organic material in wetlands. Swamp gas is the more familiar term used in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the United States. The accepted theory is that the gasses combine to cause a moment of spontaneous combustion-hence the burst of flickering light seen as a flame under the right conditions. While the phenomenon is more often seen over brackish water, foxfire can be seen glowing on rotting wood almost anywhere. The name for this seemingly supernatural event varies from place to place, made mysterious by folk tales and legends of the area.   'Church folk' living deep in the in the mountainous back country of the Appalachian US who tenaciously cling to the superstitions and stories of haints blend those tales with extreme Biblical fundamentalism, evangelical or Pentecostal religions and Spiritualism, and often refer to them fearfully as 'devil' lights or demons. Occult practitioners generally tend to lump any type of Earth Light or similar mystery under the the heading of  soul lights or attribute them to the Ancestors or the  Fae.

It is posited that Earth Lights are something different all together  from will-'o-the-wisps because their appearance seems to be associated historically with mountainous regions. They have been seen in Europe and Asia, far to the north in areas of Scandinavia, and in North and South America. During a visit to Australia several years ago, the indigenous people I met in the region of Uluru (Ayres Rock) called them Min Min. They said their existence stretched back to the legends of  The Dreamtime (a time of creation before history). The Aborigines tell tales of orbs of light which would suddenly appear, approach men, then disappear-only to reappear again later at a distance. They were not frightened by the Min Min and were actually a bit blase about the experience because they have accepted them into their mythology as a form of nature spirit or possibly the spirits of ancestors. To them, Earth Lights are simply another part of Nature.

The subject of Earth Lights-and any natural phenomenon with a connection to myth-is intriguing to me. I am not a scientist by a long shot, but because I am a spiritual director with training in Jungian psychology I am keenly interested in folk stories because their superstitious nature is almost always a reflection of the spiritual practice and lifestyle of the people inhabiting that particular area.When I moved to North Carolina, one of the first of its many natural wonders I heard about were the famous Brown Mountain Lights. Brown Mountain is a low-lying ridge situated on the border of Burke County, in the Pisgah National Forest and is in fact a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The area was previously inhabited by Cherokee Indians, and settlers from Scotland and Ireland whose descendants are Appalachian mountain people. Storytelling and folklore have a rich heritage which includes the usual tales of  revenuers and illegal moonshine stills, apparitions of ghostly Indian lovers, lost miners and  other things falling under the label of the paranormal including werewolves and the occasional appearance of Big Foot. It is beautifully lush and rolling green country dotted with naked granite peaks that evokes memories of the Highlands.I can see why my Scot-Irish ancestors felt at home. It is a place where the  Green Man dances and the Mother Goddess reaches up from the soil.

I did not know before I moved here that North Carolina has over 24 major energy vortexes, more than even Sedona, Arizona.( Mount Mitchell, not far  from Brown Mountain, is not only the highest mountain East of the Mississippi but it  has the distinction of being one of the largest electromagnet conduits on the planet according to author and renowned metaphysical teacher Page Bryant in her book The Spiritual Reawakening of the Great Smoky Mountains.(  Native American mythology places a Great Diva on Mount Mitchell, who insures  the protection of the area including the surrounding mountains and insures the proper function of the energy generator/ley line/conduit.( My personal experience with the vibration of Mount Mitchell is nothing short of magickal; the heady feeling of the vortex is at once disconcerting and exhilarating-not the same feeling as oxygen deprivation at all. It is clearly something else). Brown Mountain has a similar feel, but to a much lesser extent. The terrain is pockmarked with holes and underground caverns, and the feeling there is more likely produced by negative ions of running water than a vortex ( If there is a vortex, I suspect it is a very low level one).

The fabled Earth Lights of Brown Mountain are seen from just after dark right up to dawn. Reports are that they have appeared as bouncing balls of light: dancing, floating, gliding points of illumination in a rainbow of colors-blue, red, orange white and violet. Eyewitness accounts ( have been that the lights appear both singularly and in groups and can change colors as they are being viewed. They have been seen playing along the top of the ridge as well as farther down the mountain. One of the best places to view them is Wiseman’s View Overlook about five miles south of the village of Linville Falls, but they can also be clearly seen from the Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway as well (which is where I saw them).  The locals will tell you that looking for Earth Lights during the autumn months-particularly after a rain- yields the most fruitful results. The phenomenon of The Lights have been examined twice by the US Geological Survey, the US Weather Service (NOAA), and many private paranormal organizations. They were featured in a 1999 episode of the X Files television show and a National Geographic special. Author Alexander H. Key was inspired to write the children's classic Escape to Witch Mountain when he moved his family to North Carolina by the Brown Mountain Lights.

The most extensive research to date on the Brown Mountain Lights has been initiated by  paranormal expert Joshua P. Warren, the founder of the League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained phenomena Research.  L.E.M.U.R. is known worldwide as a reliable investigative source: its work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, History Channel, Travel Channel, TLC, and Sci-Fi. They were the team that filmed the Brown Mountain Lights for the National Geographic. What does the L.E.M.U.R. Team think? Joshua P. Warren has theorized that because the optimum conditions for the appearance of the Brown Mountain Lights is during the months of October and November (usually after a rain storm)they could be a form of plasma created by the intersection of  charged negative ions from water running through the vast amount of  granite, quartz and magnetite found in the layers of soil making up the mountains with carbon in the air. The L.E.M.U.R. Team experienced heightened activity on Brown Mountain under just such conditions after forest fires saturated the atmosphere with carbon. However, due to some anomaly with their Geiger counter and some other meters they could not necessarily rule out alpha, beta or gamma radiation as a source. The summary of that investigation is posted here ( ).

Joshua P. Warren's opinion generally reflects that of those who have been living  near Brown Mountain for years. Warren, born in Asheville, is quite familiar with the ghost stories and legends of North Carolina. Leading an investigation of the Brown Mountain Lights was a natural for him. We met in Asheville about 3 years ago when he spoke at a conference and I found him to be refreshingly  self-effacing. He is a level-headed, reasonable man with an interest in the paranormal since his High School days, and he has a wait and see attitude that I appreciate. He's not inclined to jump to conclusions about hauntings  and the like, and he's personally debunked some of Asheville's most revered legends with just such an attitude.

But what do I think? I think the folks around Brown Mountain are doing what people have done since the beginning for time: cloaking things of Nature in a myth that makes sense to their spiritual selves and making the unknown a little less strange and frightening. I agree with Wiccan author Scott Cunningham and others who declare the 'supernatural' is non-existent because to be supernatural something must exist outside or beyond Nature. In my humble opinion,the Brown Mountain Lights, although mysterious and still sensationally appealing to the curious, are just a benign occurrence of the natural world. I like to think of them as the Goddess' gift of fireworks and a little reminder that Nature does, indeed, extend its glories beyond the limited imagination of humans.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Godspeed, Davy Jones

Davy Jones in his later years. (AP photo)
Today I was going to write about how February 29th is one of those days out of time because of it's unique position on the calendar...But that changed when I fired up Facebook this afternoon and saw  that Davy Jones of the Monkees had passed away suddenly.

It is still a day out of time because it feels otherworldly. In fact, it feels like a world away...and it is.

A piece of my childhood died today. It's becoming the catch phrase of my Baby Boomer generation, and I'm not sure I'm all that comfortable with it. Another of my pop/rock heroes has crossed The Veil - not from a drug overdose or an accident, mind you, but from natural causes.

 Holy bat guano Batman: Davy died because it was his time. I'll admit that it took a few beats for that bit of reality to soak into my consciousnesses. Jeez, just yesterday (literally) I was watching a vintage video of  him singing Cuddly Toy on Peter Tork's Facebook fan page and wondering how the hell they ever got the double entendre in the song past the NBC censors in the 1960s ...

Aren't your childhood heroes supposed to live forever?

Evidently I'm not the only one suffering pangs of  largess over this matter; rocker Richard Marx wrote about his feelings on his blog at His feelings of loss are eerily similar.

A side from my days of pre-teen, hormone infused adulation, I have good memories of Davy Jones from seeing him perform as a solo act post-Monkees at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City when I was 20 years old ( and he was already a 'has been' at the age of 30 according to the fickle entertainment industry) and reunited with Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz (sans Mike Nesmith) as a later incarnation of the Monkees just a few years ago.

But that's not why I'm writing this.

About 20 years ago, when I was a young paramedic, I worked part time at night for a private ambulance company (on those rare occasions I wasn't working for the Philadelphia Fire Department as an EMT-P, which was my day job). Our jurisdiction stretched all the way to Devon, PA, and we made the run a couple times a week to pick up a dialysis patient and one particularly cold evening I was in dire need of a cup of something hot to warm up, so we pulled into a little roadside store. I was mumbling to myself as I looked over the selection of tea bags on the counter, and a lovely, lilting English voice said, " I'm fond of this one...try it". Turning around, I came face to face with Davy Jones' famous boyish smile...and I melted. All of a sudden I was a smitten 12 year old again who desperately wanted to be Davy's Girl. I had already done a stint as a production assistant in the music industry and was beyond being starstruck...But come on, this was Davy Jones, the guy who had basically fronted the band that was American's answer to the British invasion. It was playing in my mind like one of those quirky dream sequences from the Monkees' TV show, only it was a generation later in front of the coffee carafes at WaWa. What actually took place was a short-lived conversation about tea and horses ( He lived not far outside of Devon and bred horses, one of his many passions). It was one of several brief encounters I had with this gracious, gentle man over the years.

A fond recollection of a chance meeting that lead to bittersweet memories of  this lovely man I shared a cup of tea with in the middle of a busy convenience store who as of today is no longer with us. I am sad that a part of the goodness of my childhood has passed away with him and sad that yet another of the icons of my youth is forever gone.

Gone, but not forgotten... ever cherished...Godspeed, Davy Jones.