I bought this charming little volume for my library today.
I spent the afternoon cooking for my coven and for my family for the rest of the week. It made me think about the magic inherent in the act of cooking and magic that is only found in the kitchen. This reminded me of one of my favorite books. When I couldn’t find it online to share with you, I decided to read it to you. So without further ado…!
“At the Hearth” is the first chapter from the book Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food & Flavor. Laura Esquivel is probably most well known for her book Like Water for Chocolate. Her stories are imbued with magical realism and capture many beautiful truths about the world around us that very few are able to see. I often reflect on this chapter and it’s meanings on my own life. As a witch, I think I often return to the kitchen of the past generations and even though I live in the modern world, those that came before me still have a great deal to teach me about life and the Craft that I work.
Happy belated Thanksgiving all! I’m thankful to live in a world where I can openly be who I am and one in which people like this are willing to write down their thinking about the world around us.
I am also thankful for partners who are willing to help me at 1 AM create a video on software I am completely unfamiliar with. To my own masculine partner, I love you and appreciate all the wonderful things you do for me. My life is much richer for your presence in it.
I wrote this post last year for Witches and Pagans, but I thought some of you might enjoy it over here and it is appropriate for the season…
Ah yes…Thanksgiving. That time of year in America where we stuff ourselves full of turkey deliciousness and pie, then pass out in front of a football game, while probably saying “thank you Gods” for having a few paid days off of work. Of course, this isn’t what the holiday is actually about, but, as Pagans, we’ve already had our “Hooray, we got through another harvest!” feast.
When we were children, our schools filled us with images of peaceful Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down to celebrate survival together. Hand print turkeys ran rampant over our decorations and buckled shoes seem to magically appear everywhere.
(Oh common, you can’t tell me that you still wouldn’t do this if you got the chance).
Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. And in more ways than one.
As my friend Jason Mankey will tell you, Thanksgiving itself has roots in Paganism. Of course, it’s a few months late really, but then, the Pilgrims don’t seem to have been the most competent of farmers in their new homeland. (Jason puts a nicer spin on this).
We all know the story of the Puritans coming to America and nearly starving to death in Plymouth until Squanto, the interpreter, stepped in to show the Puritans how to grow crops. In thanks, everyone sat down together to feast and make merry.
As young school children, our teachers usually didn’t cover what happened later between the Puritans and the Native Americans. It wasn’t until we were older that our young hearts got to be broken when we realized that the Puritans were not quite the kindhearted farmers that we always thought them to be, when the darker aspects of this relationship were revealed.
The Native American massacres by the Puritans have come to be fairly well known and are a hot topic of debate these days when it comes to discussing Thanksgiving. But in the midst of this well-known Thanksgiving story, massacres and all, the common record seems to gloss out another important story of early Americana Puritan history:
The history of Thomas Morton.
Who was Thomas Morton? Essentially the first British Pagan in the American colonies. Thomas Morton wanted to create a Utopian society that took the land and the “Old Ways” into consideration and integrated them with Native American practices for a new society in the New World.
(Cheerful looking fellow, Old Thomas)
Thomas Morton was a lawyer from Devon, an area of England that was already considered to have integrated Protestantism and Catholocism into the Pagan traditions of the past. Devon had just survived the Reformation and we can probably assume that there were still a lot of ill feelings in the area over the switch to Protestantism. Devon is also known as a place where “the Old Ways” of “Merry Old England” were maintained, despite the official religion of Christianity.
Morton came from an old Anglican family and was well known for championing the “displaced countrymen” of the day. He worked for the governor of Plymouth, who was majorly connected in the colonial trade. In 1618, Morton became one of the governor’s landsmen and oversaw the colonial interests. While Morton was probably not a huge fan of the Puritans before, sources note that this experience seemed to settle his dislike for his extremely religious neighbors.
Morton first went to America in 1622, but didn’t stay long due to the “intolerance” of the Puritans. When he returned in 1624, he settled a colony called Mare-Mount (for the land and sea) or, Merrymount, with a man called Wollaston. Morton fell out with Wollaston when he realized that Wollaston was selling indentured servants into what was essentially slavery to the Puritans. Wollaston was eventually driven out of Merrymount and Morton proposed a much more egalitarian society where people had equal interests in the colony. Morton called himself “The Host of Mare-Mount”.
Morton created peaceful ties with the local Algonquin tribes and started integrating Native beliefs and traditions into the colony. Morton also openly brought back many “Old English” traditions, one of which, was the Maypole.
As Morton himself said of the revels at Merrymount:
The Inhabitants of Pasonagessit (having translated the name of their habitation from that ancient Salvage name to Ma-reMount [MerryMount]; and being resolved to have the new name confirmed for a memorial to after ages) did devise amongst themselves to have it performed in a solemne manner with Revels, & merriment after the old English custorne: prepared to sett up a Maypole upon the festivall day of Philip and Jacob ; & therefore brewed a barrell of excellent beer, & provided a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that day. And because they would have it in a complete forme, they had prepared a song fitting to the time and present occasion. And upon Mayday they brought the Maypole to the place appointed, with drums, guns, pistols, and other fitting instruments, for that purpose ; and there erected it with the help of Salvages, that came thether of purpose to see the manner of our Revels. A goodly pine tree of 80 foot long, was reared up, with a pair of buckshorns nailed one, somewhat neare unto the top of it : where it stood as a faire sea marke for directions; how to finde out the way to mine Hoste of Ma-reMount.
And because it should more fully appeare to what end it was placed there, they had a poem in readiness made, which was fixed to the Maypole, to shew the new name confirmed upon that plantation; which although it were made according to the occurrents of the time, it being Enigmatically composed) puzzled the Seperatists most pitifully to expound it. . . .
The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise seperatists : that lived at new Plymouth. They termed it an Idoll; yea they called it the Calf of Horeb: and stood at defiance with the place, naming it Mount Dagon; threatening to make it a woefull mount and not a merry mount. . . .
There was likewise a merry song made, which (to make their Revells more fashionable) was sung with a chorus, every man bearing his part; which they performed in a dance, hand in hand about the Maypole, whiles one of the Company sung, and filled out the good liquor like gammedes and Jupiter. – Thomas Morton, Revels in New Canaan (1637)
Needless to say, this did not go over well with the Puritans.
The Puritans eventually managed to overthrown Merrymount and to capture Morton. Morton was marooned on an island and left to starve. With help from the local natives (who were apparently amused to watch this entire drama), Morton eventually managed to escape the island and make his way back to England, where, to the consternation of the Puritans, he actually managed to win a court case against the Massachusetts Bay Colony (the power behind the Puritans), which revoked their charter.
Unfortunately Merrymount did not survive under the rule of the Puritans in Morton’s absence. Also unfortunately, the politics of the day, which had supported him (King Charles was not a fan of the Puritans), failed during the English Civil War. While Morton did manage to return to America, he was captured and put on trial as a “Royalist”. While he was never actually prosecuted, he was held in prison. He did eventually make it back to Maine, where he was sheltered and finally died in 1647.
This harmless mirth made by young men (that lived in hope to have wives brought over to them, that would save them a labour to make a voyage to fetch any over) was much distasted, of the precise Seperatists: that keep much ado, about the tithe of Muit [mint] and Cunmin ; troubling their braines more then reason would require about things that are indifferent: and from that time sought occasion against my honest Host of Ma-reMount to overthrow his undertakings, and to destroy his plantation quite and cleane . . .
But Thomas Morton is a rather large character to sweep so easily under the rug. We get a lot of discussion and debate over the Puritans and their interactions with their Native neighbors, but who knows about Thomas Morton?
Thomas Morton would be a great example for all of those that like to tell us that our founders were all Christian, and he would be an excellent example for religious peace and tolerance.
Can you imagine what America would have been like if Thomas Morton and his Merrymount would have survived and been used as a basis for our society?
This Thursday, while you’re eating your turkey and watching your football, remember Thomas Morton and the America that might have been. If we had had more of Morton and less of the Puritans, America would probably be a very different place.
Meanwhile, at the library…
I had bought some comic books for one of our endowed funds. When the vendor (who also happened to be the author) sent me the items I had ordered, she also sent me some postcards advertising her website. One of them was:
Which I found to be absolutely hysterical. No one else did, but then I have a weird sense of humor.
Of course, this postcard is referencing William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience and in particular, the poem “The Tyger.”
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
This poem is talking about the beauty and the power found in the act of creation. Blake is questioning the creator’s ability to continue creating when the horrible beauty of the thing being created begins appearing. The Tiger is beautiful, it is also fierce and terrifying.
While Blake addresses the Tiger, he is clearly trying to discern who the creator is. The “primal ferocity” of the tiger shows that whoever created it is not a particularly benevolent deity. Blake openly questions whether the Christian God could have been the one to create such a being, “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?” The tiger is a reflection of it’s creator and Blake doesn’t necessarily believe that the Christian God could have made something this terrible.
This has always been one of my favorite poems and while Blake’s work focuses within Christian theology, he was one of those early existentialists who questioned how evil came into the world. This poem is wondering about how “beauty and horror” can exist side by side. To me, the Tiger is not in any way evil, since evil is not something that comes to us from the natural world. The Tiger simply embraces it’s innate power as a carnivorous hunter. Those who are weaker are forced to bow before its capabilities. This is a power in and of itself and is the horror of surviving in a hard world.
But for me, this poem also sums up the magic inherent in creation. Magic is both horrible and beautiful. In the midst of the act of the creation of anything, the thing that is created will always carry something of you, the creator, no matter what your intent in it’s creation was.
At the end of the poem, Blake asks what hammer and anvil created the tiger. I believe that this is the the forge of the gods, the place from where we occasionally find drips and drabs of their leftover power to tap into for our own workings. Blake is clearly wondering about the responsibility of creation and of the power of personal will in creating the Tiger. This is something that I, as a witch, certainly have to question before any magical working I do.
It’s often easy to forget about the power inherent in the forces we work with in Circle (or outside of it). When I step Between the Worlds and call on the spirits, the gods and the land around me to create something new, this place where the Tiger was created is what I am tapping into. The awe and the respect of the fearsomeness of this work is something that we should never lose.
As a witch, I am this dreadful hand.
It is important to never lose sight of that, but also to embrace it with every inch of our beings. It is only through doing so that we light that spark within us and add it to the spark of creation to create our own Tigers.
I don’t think that I could ever personally create something as awe inspiring as the Tiger, that is certainly the work of the gods. But the things I do create will reflect everything I am. And by casting a Circle and starting a ritual, I grasp my will to build my own forge to create something new, which are the powers that I, as a witch, lay claim to.
Blake may not have been a practitioner himself, but he certainly understood how closely the act of creating art reflected what the gods did when they created the world.
So dare to clasp deadly terrors whenever you begin something new, whether it be art or magic. Understand that being a creator of anything is a powerful responsibility. Even things manifested to exist in this physical world can at the end, possibly eat you alive.
Dia de los Muertos is a big deal to a lot of people in New Orleans. Traditionally a Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos is a Latin American celebration where people take time to remember and leave offerings to their family members. For me, this fits perfectly into Samhain. A friend and I took a pilgrimage to a grave site of someone we both had issues with. She had recently died and we realized that we needed a more formal ending to the relationship. We spent some time on the grave talking about the upset she had caused, the legacy she left behind and how we wished her a more peaceful afterlife and that we hoped she had left the burdens of life behind her. That evening, I walked in the annual Day of the Dead parade down in the Bywater. I took a lot of photos and I thought that I would share some with you. Enjoy!
Blessed Samhain and happy Dia de los Muertos everyone!!!!
*All pictures are copyrighted by me, please do not use without permission.
The article that upset me on Bust is now available online. If you wanted to read it, you can find it here.
My partner and I are avid Bust readers. Bust says that it is a magazine “With an attitude that is fierce, funny, and proud to be female, BUST provides an uncensored view on the female experience. BUST tells the truth about women’s lives and presents a female perspective on pop culture. BUSTing stereotypes about women since 1993″.
Bust comes out once ever two months, so I usually leisurely peruse through the magazine. Tonight I picked up the latest issue, the October/November 2013 issue and came across an article titled “A Broom of One’s Own”, an article about “tales from two months immersed in a world of witchcraft. By Callie Watts“.
I was pretty upset by it and actually sent them an email. Unfortunately, the article is only available to subscribers, so look for it in bookstores if you want to read it, but my response is below. I think the author showed an extreme lack of respect to anyone who is dedicated to actually learning the Craft. I was shocked by the lack of sensitivity showed towards a very female empowering religion in a magazine that prides itself on addressing women’s issues. (Yes, I’m totally that person).
For the very first time I was extremely upset by one of your articles! I was surprised by the lack of thought in the article “A Broom of One’s Own” in your Oct/Nov 2013 issue.
As a Wiccan priestess, I was dismayed by the lack of respect Callie Watts gave my religion. The idea that came across was “Oh, Wicca is so cool and easy, why wouldn’t anyone do it?!!!”.
Wicca is a path of hard work and intense study.
Watts sums Wicca up with “Wiccans follow the Wiccan Rede, which basically dictates that you can do whatever magic you want, as long as you don’t harm anyone”. The Rede is a more complex piece that involves a great deal more than that. This misunderstanding shows lack of research and implies that Wicca is a new age religion, rather than a syncretic, codified religion that takes hard work and years of study.
Watts gives many incorrect definitions as well. (A Book of Shadows is not a personal diary, it is the combination of all the work that has been passed down initiate to initiate, coven to coven over years) and showed how lightly she was taking everything she was doing.
She also ignores the fact that many are still persecuted for being practitioners and that many are still afraid to “come out of the broom closet”. These are not issues to be taken lightly and for young women who are seeking the Craft, reading a piece like this can have many long term negative consequences.
The Craft is an honorable path that should be approached with dedication to the Gods, magic, ritual, herbology, mythology, history, sacred art and environmentalism. Making light of the hard work those of us involved in the Craft do, is an insult to a community of devoted spiritual workers.
I expect better of a magazine devoted to women’s issues. Wicca is a religion of strong, empowered women (and men) who understand their abilities and duties. Making light of this path does not gives the proper message to young women about the importance of acknowledging spiritual responsibility and the role that they could play within it.