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Friday, August 29, 2014

Novels, Sequels, and Looking Back

So I'm working on the sequel to the novel I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo, and I'm having as much fun with it as I did with the first one. Something I did to help stay motivated during NaNoWriMo last year was to post word counts and little summaries of plots points or how the writing was going every day. I'm doing it again for the new book on facebook but I thought it would be fun to post the recap of all the posts from the first one, Murder Between the Worlds. It's an interesting look back at the process I went through while I was writing and also some fun hints about the way the story developed:

7,101 words- And the plot thickens.
I seriously doubt this thing will be done at 50,000 words; I'm almost 1/7th of the way to that and no where near out of the basic intro stuff...I'd guesstimate maybe 70,000 or 80,000 words in the end...

12, 623- ....and its just starting to get interesting

14,739- I have totally jacked up my protagonists day. Don't judge me! Also this book officially needs a warning for graphic content.

17,882- My protagonists day has not improved and the plot is even thicker.

19020 words- Thanks to my awesome friend Tricia for reading the draft and suggested some changes I have to add some more early stuff, but it was great criticism.

22,347- Someone's running out of time - I feel so Joss Whedon-ish

24,767- My protagonists day has improved and romance is in the air, but someone else is definitely about to end up on the wrong side of a sharp knife....

26,580 words-  6 rough chapters, 45 standard pages - plenty of room for fleshing things out later on
lots of dialogue today and some important character back-story....

30,085 words - My protagonist is about to find out that things can get a lot worse...and there's a love triangle even I wasn't expecting that is definitely going to complicate things.

33,439 words- my protagonist has made a significant breakthrough, clue-wise. Unfortunately someone close to her made the mistake of trusting the wrong person and was rewarded with a knife (or two) in the back....

37,006 words- Death has caused someone to seek solace in another's arms, which is bound to agitate my unintended love triangle. Someone else might have a chance for unexpected redemption - the question is, does he want to be redeemed?

40, 088 words- Some relationships are starting to fracture under the strain of the recent murder, while others are strengthened. My protagonist has made a major breakthrough, which is turning out to be a double edge sword, and little does she know the worst is yet to come...there's another knife waiting in the dark and this time its hitting very close to home indeed...

42,778 words- A minor clue has been slipped in with the bigger one and my protagonist is on the cusp of a major breakthrough- but the killer is about to throw out a big red herring to try to get the investigators off his trail...we'll have to see who falls for it
Also, I apparently really love writing dialogue - who knew?

45,177 words- My protagonist has realized that knowing as much as she does is putting her in danger. Those around her who need her help to solve this mystery are trying to protect her but it may not be enough.
Also there's a kelpie, because why not?

52, 228 words- my protagonist made a huge breakthrough in understanding why the killer is killing, and then made a very hard decision; she also seems to have uncovered an unexpected ability, but unless she learns how to use it, it could be more of a weakness than a strength. Unfortunately for her the killer has struck again close to home, trying to throw the investigators off his track, and he may have found some new allies.

55049 words- my protagonist has gone to the borders of Fairy seeking answers, and met the an important person there. Soon though its back to reality and there's bad news waiting for her there...

59, 281 words- my protagonist is taking the latest death very badly. The killer has set his sights on her as the biggest risk to his plans, but she may be too blinded by grief to see the danger, and the investigation is in chaos as the police argue over the false clues...

62,736 words- my protagonist has decided to be proactive and try to actively seek the killer out, rather than wait around to be killed, but this might not be the best idea. The investigators have divided and the official search for justice is stalling as everyone fights among themselves, which might also place my protagonist in more danger.

69, 736 - my protagonist found the last major clue, but no one has been able to put the cryptic pieces together yet. The other side of the love triangle chose the worst possible moment to start fighting for the girl, but he may have waited too long - when everyone's guard was down my protagonist ended up in the killer's hands. He's got a fate worse than death in store for her unless she can find a way to use her new ability to call for help, and even then - will help arrive in time?

73,387 words- denouement ~ finis opus
Sorry guys can't say anything else or I'll give away the ending
I suspect with editing and some added description and dialogue it'll pass 75,000...

83,421 - final word count

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Morrigan, War, and a guest blog on Patheos

 Yesterday I wrote a guest blog for Raise the Horns on Patheos titled The Morrigan, War, & How We See Our Gods. It looks at the more difficult aspects of the Morrigan's mythology and character and why it's important, in my opinion, to face those things in her we fear or are disturbed by instead of turning away from them or trying to minimize them. It also touches on the equally challenging subject of the value of war in the quest for peace. Click over and give it a read if you're interested.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

the Story of the Sword

 "Fergus dixit ’ ‘Fó fer fris tibther manip sceó mera mórgnímo merthar airbiur mo chlaidib mache mind mosdísem calga de Galión gáir..."

"Fergus said: ‘By the point of my sword, halidom of Macha, swiftly shall we wreak vengeance on swords following on a cry (for help)..."
-Tain Bo Cuailgne

Macha's sword, my ritual blade

  I have long known that I needed to find a bronze sword for ritual use, but I never felt a huge need to get it done, just a general sense that eventually it would be needed. Late last year that sense started to become more urgent, and I realized why after finding out that I had to have a sword for a ritual I had volunteered to participate in at a retreat. I cannot work with iron so finding a bronze blade became a top priority...and so this is the story of Macha's sword and how I came into possession of it. 
   I knew that the only realistic option would be to commission the sword and several people recommended that I check out Neil Burridge's site *. His selection is good and the quality was vouched for by multiple people so I decided to email him. Because he offers replicas of blades found in Britain and I was looking for an Irish blade I requested the closest sword in style to what I wanted. I was pleasantly surprised when the sword maker contacted me and opened a dialogue offering an opportunity for me to explain exactly what I was looking for, and even more pleasantly surprised when he offered another option, a slight variation on one of his stock swords. This blade was very similar, he said, to an archaeological find from the Nooan area of Inchiquin in Ireland and he provided a link with some information. The find was associated with Lake Inchiquin, itself a place rich in fairy lore, and I was pretty quickly won over to the idea. 
  This all occurred around Imbolc this year and I knew I needed to get the blade within a few months; however I was forewarned that the actual forging might take some time. Things proceeded faster than expected though and I was contacted again on the 14th of that same month and told that the blade had been cast. That day Cornwall, where the sword was being made, was experiencing severe storms similar to what we in the United States would call a hurricane and it was in the midst of this storm and its immediate aftermath that the sword was made. It seemed entirely appropriate that this sword, intended to be dedicated to Macha, was born in a storm with all that energy around it. 
   It also came about that the sword was blessed at a holy well in Cornwall**, the Madron Well. Triple blessed, actually, being taken to a clootie tree at the site as well as laid on the stones of the well itself and dipped in the waters. I felt extremely lucky and honored that this was able to be done for the blade, but somehow also not surprised; at this point it was clear that the sword wasn't an ordinary commissioned piece. It had a spirit of its own already and a sacredness to it.
the sword at Madron Well, photo courtesy of Neil Burridge
  After being forged, hilted and blessed it was duly packaged and began its journey across the pond. This was a rather nerve wracking process, as it ended up being held in customs for several weeks, and the idea of it being lost in transit was rather appalling as it could never have truly been replaced. But finally a few days shy of the spring equinox it arrived safely. (I'll add here - if you ever order a sword from over-seas anticipate it being held in customs and be prepared for a longer wait time. Expecting the delay won't make it any less stressful, but at least you'll know it takes longer than usual)

   The blade was blessed here and dedicated to Macha on the equinox. It traveled with me to the Morrigan Retreat this past June and played its part in a ritual for Her - and truly has proved to be a sacred thing of Hers. It rests near Her statue and devotional items on my altar now, until it is needed again. 
  My next project is to make a scabbard for it, with appropriate bronze age style decorations.

* I can't recommend Neil highly enough. His work is amazing and more than worth the cost. 

** this is another story, but not properly mine to tell. I will say that the sword seems to have  a bit of its own agency...even before I got it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Morrigan's Call: A Retreat Dedicated to the Great Queen

    I spent the last weekend at Temenos retreat center in Massachusetts, participating in a spiritual retreat dedicated to the Morrigan. The retreat itself ran from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, but a lot was packed into that short amount of time. There were workshops, rituals each day, and a concert by Jenna Greene. We set up a temple in a screened in space at the top of a hill, and our temple had altars for an Dagda, Badb, Macha, Anu, Nuada, and the land spirits, as well as a large main Morrigu altar.
the main Morrigan altar

   I traveled up with my friend Melody. We arrived Friday afternoon and were directed to our cabin by Stephanie, who was organizing things. Temenos is off the grid so there is no cell phone reception, no electricity, and no plumbing. Our cabin, which we shared with two other amazing women, was beautiful; I could easily see myself living in that cabin year round. There was a kerosene lamp for light at night and a woodstove for heat, although we never needed to use the latter.

our cabin
 After unpacking and a quick side trip to the temple space to drop off some altar items, we hiked the half mile or so to the main lodge  over the dirt trail with its roots and stones and undulating rise and fall, watching carefully to avoid stepping on the little salamanders we'd been warned would be out and about. The main lodge was like a large version of our cabin but with a kitchen and limited running water; the water at Temenos is mineral water laced with iron, magnesium, and sulfur so there was also an abundance of bottled water around. Most people were staying at the lodge so on Friday afternoon it was a hub of activity as people arrived and settled in.
   Eventually, when it seemed that everyone who was coming had gotten there, we all processed up to the temple space - and I mean up, up a winding, steep, rocky path that I jokingly called a goat trail - to bless the space and invite in the different Powers. Blessing the space was a special experience, and I am glad I got to be part of it. The altars were a joint effort, created by people who brought different items to add, but the end result was cohesive and beautiful.
   At this point, if memory serves there was a break for dinner and then those of us participating in the first night's ritual headed down to the ritual space to get ready. Stephanie and Mayra Rickey had designed the rituals together and several of us had volunteered to help out by taking parts in them. This first one invoked Badb as the Washer at the Ford and was focused on cleansing and releasing the past. I cannot possibly do justice to the ritual by describing it in words; it was intensely moving and powerful and I truly believe that She was present with us and that we each got what we needed from the experience.
  After ritual, as the moon rose and the sunlight faded to darkness, we made our way back to the lodge and Stephanie and I taught our workshops. Her's was an introduction to the Morrigan and mine was about the Morrigan in the Invasion myths and what we could learn about Them and how They related to other Gods in those stories.

    Saturday morning started early, as we all woke up just after 6 a.m.; nonetheless we were slow getting going out of the cabin. The four of us spent a couple hours talking, reflecting on the first day, getting to know each other, and generally socializing in the cabin.
the view from our cabin
As the sun climbed higher though I finally had to excuse myself to go to the temple for my morning devotionals before breakfast. Morning devotional prayers are a daily practice I find deeply fulfilling and which I always find some way to do, although its much better to have a dedicated temple space to do them in. I went up, prayed, introduced myself to the local land spirits and daoine sidhe before heading down to the lodge looking for something to eat. The atmosphere in the lodge was open and friendly, with people hanging out and chatting in small groups. I made my way to the kitchen where one of my cabin-mates, the amazing Natalie, was cooking and I quickly acquired some pancakes. It was wonderful to stand and eat and get to know my fellow retreat members, especially talking with people that were from very different places that I had an unbelievable amount in common with.
   There were some great workshops Saturday, including a class by Stephanie on Babd, one by Ed Rickey on the warrior mindset, and one by Michelle Skye on connecting to Macha. All of them provided insight and moments to connect to the Goddess in profound ways. I taught one on honoring the Morrigan in difficult times as well. And in between there was lunch and labyrinth walking and more socializing.
   The highlight of Saturday for me was a ritual devoted to Macha, who of course I am dedicated to. The ritual was designed as a challenge, to confront people and ask them what was worth fighting for. I had the role of Macha of the Battlefield and the job of challenging each participant with my sword during the center of the ritual. I consider it a very great honor to have been able to do this as part of my service to Her and I hope that I did that job well. The ritual itself I cannot describe, but I will say that it was one of the most intensely spiritual experiences of my life.
  Afterwards the group headed back to the lodge for dinner and I and a couple others went up to the temple space. Honoring Macha is an honor to do, but it is not always easy nor simple, and certainly not always what I expect it to be. I let go of one of my greatest fears this weekend and embraced an aspect of service I have always balked at doing, always pulled back from. I let go of my fear and faced my own challenge, my own question of what was worth fighting for, and set my feet on a path that I cannot turn back from now. Because there is dedication in word and there is dedication in deed...
    After temple we went down to the lodge with everyone else and ate and enjoyed Jenna Greene's concert. I have heard Jenna many times but it is always a treat to listen to her play her harp and sing, especially this time with Brian Duguay joining in - they duet beautifully. It seemed like such a perfect ending to a day that was both intense and moving, although in fairness my day ended not with gentle music but with a rather amusing trek through the dark, following a flashlight beam and my intrepid cabin-mate Ivy with my other cabin-mates trailing behind. There was a certain symmetry in the day ending as it did, with music and song and fellowship followed by a challenging journey on a rough and unpredictable path through the tenebrous woods.

   The morning of the final day dawned bright and hot. Morning devotionals were followed by breakfast and socializing, very much like the day before, the routine already feeling comfortable and normal. It quickly became clear that the original schedule for the day was going to have to be rearranged to accommodate several unplanned for situations that had arisen, but the entire group rolled with it in a marvelously convivial fashion. We moved the final ritual, a blessing dedicated to Anu, up and shifted the workshops back, moved the location of the ritual closer to the lodge to accommodate some mobility issues and worked in a small mini-ritual before hand to include a couple people who had missed the first two rituals but wanted to come to the final one. I reprised my role as Macha in the mini-ritual and participated in the Anu ritual as Anu of the sidhe, handing out the blessed tokens. The energy of this final ritual was calm and solid - I felt like a standing stone through most of it - and entirely perfect to end the retreat with.
  After the final ritual we had a raffle to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, with lots of great items going to support the cause. Then Michelle did a workshop on bird omens, I taught one on Morrigan and the Fair Folk, which ended up more as a class on the Fair Folk with some discussion of how that relates to the Irish Gods (and apologies for my atrocious accent in Irish to the lovely girl from Roscommon), and Natalie did a crafting workshop. And then it was a rush to pack and head off the site to get home....


    People came to this retreat from as far away as Canada and Florida, from California and Virginia. People came representing many different pagan paths and belief systems. Women and men, old and young, different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, different education and life experience backgrounds, different beliefs and approaches - a diverse group of people, all coming together for one purpose, to honor the Great Queen. Without melodrama, without interpersonal conflict or ego, without tension between the many, many different people's differences. We came together to honor Her, and we did; in word, and song, in ritual, and prayer, in communion with each other and by sharing our experiences and insights with each other. And it was an awesome and amazing thing to experience.   

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Random Morrigan Shenanigans

 Recently a new book was released: By Blood, Bone, and Blade, a tribute to the Morrigan. This is an interesting work with an assortment of material from many different contributors and like all anthologies some of the material is really good and some is less so. I personally have an essay and several prayers in the book.
  On another Morrigan related note I will be at a Morrigan Retreat in Massachusetts this weekend teaching workshops, helping with rituals, and generally honoring the Great Queens. I'm excited for this opportunity to honor Her/Them and to spend time with other people who honor Her. My workshops look at the Morrignae in the Lebor Gabala Erenn and what that tells us about Them, the Morrigan as a goddess for difficult times, and the Morrigan in relation to the daoine sidhe.
  When I get back I'll share my experiences here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wellspring 2014

 I returned home yesterday from my first national festival, Wellspring, an event put on by ADF.  This is ADF's 30th year, and although I've been a member since 2001 I've never attended an ADF gathering before. This year though I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a few workshops at Wellspring and after discussing the logistics with my Kindred sister, decided that it would be fun to go and bring the kids. I put in proposals for a selection of workshops and was set to do three: honoring the Other Crowd as a modern pagan, living Celtic Reconstructionism, and the Hidden Folk in Norse and Irish culture.
Thor shrine in the Runestead

   There was some point then were putting 5 children ages 10 through 1 in a car together for close to 9 hours was a good idea. In retrospect I don't know when that point was, but we did it, and after an epic drive through the night to avoid holiday traffic we arrived at Brushwood. We chose a campsite located strategically close to the bathrooms (5 small children, remember?) and also on the fringe where crying baby at 6 am was less likely to bother people.
  There were a couple downsides to the weekend. We had been warned to be prepared for cold weather; we failed to anticipate it getting down to the mid-40's (Fahrenheit) at night and so did not have enough blankets. The kids were okay, of course, but the adults did not sleep well - and teaching workshops on little sleep makes for interesting times. I may have done an impression of Fonzie from Happy Days in one workshop. We also forgot to pack our bottled water so its safe to say dehydration was an issue.
  That aside I can honestly say Wellspring was an amazing experience. Brushwood itself is a wonderful place with a permanent nemeton and runestead where people can go to worship. I attended a moving Morrigu devotional at the nemeton the first day; during a portion of the ceremony where personal omens were being taken the temperature suddenly plunged so that our breath was a visible plume in the air and then just as suddenly warmed again. Every morning we would walk to these sacred places with the children to do our devotional prayers, which was powerful not only for my friend and I but also for the children.
My oldest daughter especially found the experience to be profound, as there was a small shrine to Brighid she went and prayed at every morning. She feels a strong connection to Brighid, which was made stronger by this devotional practice. I suspect she's trying to think of how to make something like this at home now.
Brighid's shrine
 Speaking of children - Wellspring had a great kids program with lots of fun activities. We'd been a little worried about keeping the kids occupied and happy, but they all enjoyed themselves - enough that they are asking to go back.
   There was a potluck dinner the second night we were there and I have to say I have never had so much fun at a potluck before, even if I was wrestling tired kids most of the time. The food was great, the company was great - Stone Creed Grove kindly invited our rolling circus to sit with them - and the atmosphere overall was convivial. And after dinner the Dragon Ritual Drummers performed, which was amazing to listen to - even from a quarter mile away, in a tent, with a sleeping infant.
  I saw an old friend and was able to spend a little bit of time with her, met several people in real life that I had previously only known online, and made several new friends over the course of the weekend. I think my workshops went well, and I enjoyed the ritual I was able to attend. I certainly wish I'd had more time to spend talking with people but overall I think Wellspring was a successful experience for us, and I came home feeling physically tired but spiritually revived.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Interfaith and Workshop plans

  Today's blog will be a brief one, as my daughter has a same day surgery procedure tomorrow and I have a lot to do today, but I read an interesting blog by Jason Mankey discussing his views on interfaith work which he ended by saying that he prefers to focus on building within the pagan community rather than working on interfaith outside it.
  By definition interfaith work is rooted in looking for common ground between diverse religions. Ideally it goes beyond tolerance and nurtures acceptance and the acknowledgement of commonalities. For my own part I think understanding and tolerance are the first step we need to achieve before we start working on anything more grand. With so much work left to do in even getting people to understand what reconstructionism really is, I worry about putting the cart before the horse by emphasizing the common ground we share with other groups.
  Interfaith of all sorts is a something I find to be very important, not only so I can learn about other traditions but so I can give a voice to mine. I see interfaith work as a chance to educate others about my beliefs and traditions, whether those others are monotheists or other pagans. The goal of education is simply to spread sound information to dispel the fear and mistrust that comes from ignorance. Whether people like what I do, or agree with it, is inconsequential to me if they can come to a place of understanding and tolerance similar to what I have for them. And I think that interfaith work, sharing what I really do and why, is essential to the long term success of the both my own community and a wider, diverse pagan community.
   For reconstructionists, especially, I think its vital for us to get out there and have a voice. We are a minority within the minority, often misunderstood, maligned, and mocked, and that will only change if we actively work to change it.  Ignorance doesn't go away on it's own; ignorance must be changed through action, both the effort of the speaker to teach and the listener to learn. If we don't make that effort, if we don't try, and just remain within our own insular communities then nothing changes. As part of that we also have to work on being more tolerant of those we disagree with.
  As a follower of the traditional views about fairies, that viewpoint deserves equal time and respect too. Without a voice the old understandings are lost under the crush of new opinions and trends. And while it may be much easier to be silent, it is ultimately far more expensive.
  In the spirit of this, and more widely of my intent to serve my Gods and spirits, I am going to be fairly busy this year at events and conferences. I'm speaking at Connecticut Pagan Pride's Beltane event in April, at ADF's Wellspring event in May, a Morrigan retreat in Massachusetts in June, Connecticut's Pagan Pride Day in September and  the Changing Times Changing Worlds conference in November. I'm excited to have so many opportunities to meet people and talk about things I'm passionate about.