Saying No and Saying Yes

Catherynne Valente went back to Fairyland in the wake of the election. “The first magic anyone learns is saying No,” purred the Leopard of Little Breezes. “It’s how you know a baby is starting to turn into a person. They run around saying no all day, throwing their magic at everything to see what it’ll stick to. And if they say No loud enough, and often enough, and to the right person, strange things will happen. The nasty supper is taken away. The light is left on at night instead of turned out. The toy comes out of the shop window. It is such old magic, such basic magic, that most folk don’t even know it’s magic anymore.” "But we…we must say Yes to each other. We must say Yes to the needful, to the suffering, to the lonely, to those the Marquess punishes for saying No to her. We must band together, back to back, and say Yes to everyone who lost today, for we are all family now, and our loss is our new last name." The Leopard of Little Breezes is wise. (For those who don't know, Valente wrote the Fairyland books, beginning with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. The Green Wind, the Leopard of Little Breezes, and A-Through-L are all characters from those books. They're just waiting for a new protagonist to come along, is all.)...

Depth of Praise

Terrence P Ward, founder of The Wild Hunt and all around Good People, has published his first book, a devotional to Poseidon! Depth of Praise explores many of the aspects and epithets of Poseison through praise and poetry. I haven't read it yet -- it's only just going out to the Kickstarter patrons -- but I look forward to it. TPW is an excellent writer, and this is sure to be a beautiful book, especially with its five illustrations....

When August Comes Around

Aaaand it's back. August. The month I hate the most, which is also the month most sacred to my goddess. Whee! Last week was hot, hot enough that I was unwell, and much hotter in the house that outside (as it always is; we have big west-facing windows and little ability to get a cross-breeze going, resulting in the house becoming a greenhouse). But overall, it's been a fairly pleasant summer, weather-wise. The June Gloom continued through most of July, and over the weekend it cooled back off. It was 55F when I left the house this morning! Woo! This August I will once again be honoring Hekate by reading, watching and listening to ghost stories and horror tales. For reading, first I'm finishing up my current book, The Burning City by Alaya Dawn Johnson, which has a bunch of death spirits running around. Then on to the ghost stories! I have two megapacks of ghost stories to pick from, plus Ghosts by Gaslight, ed Jack Dann and Nick Gevers, which is steampunk ghost stories, and This House is Haunted by John Boyne. (ETA: Also, Irish Ghost Tales by Tony Locke.) For viewing, the list includes The Babadook, The Shrine, The Witch, Horns, and The Possession (wow, lots of definite articles). Also giving Stranger Things a try, which may or may not count as horror, depending on who you ask. And for listening, well, I've already been enjoying the No Sleep Podcast, which is a podcast of horror stories from Reddit. (Not horror stories about Reddit, of which there are many, but horror stories posted to Reddit.) This year there's less of a ghost theme and more of a scary-stuff theme, but I think that's suitable....

Tom Bombadil and Goldberry

I'm listening to Tolkien on audiobook to fall asleep just now, and bits of it are tickling my fancy especially. I know a lot of people don't like the interlude in The Lord of the Rings with Tom Bombadil and his wife Goldberry. And, in truth, it seems a little out of place in the book. And yet the episode places the Shire and the West more firmly in the context of the broader mythology of Middle Earth, with its strange pockets and odd ends, rather than floating tetherless without any mythology, or with only the high stories of the Elves to anchor it. I've always loved old Tom, with his battered hat, blue coat, and yellow boots, and lovely Goldberry, whatever anyone else may say of them. Tom Bombadil is an odd figure. Oldest and Fatherless, he's called. He comes into few tales because, though very powerful, his adventures are highly localized, and much smaller than the grand epics of the Elves. Yet he is older than they are, the first to walk in the world, child of the earth itself. Goldberry, too, has her power. She is the daughter of the river itself, of Withywindle, a tributary of the mighty Anduin in the end. In Hellenic terms, Bombadil would be a Titan, a child of Ge but not Ouranos, and Goldberry a nymph. Strong and ancient they stand, guardians of their territory, place spirits with their own boundaries that they themselves have set. They are not a part of the family of the Valar, not servants of Iluvatar or among the host of the Ainur, nor of the Istari or any other group. They creatures of the earth and the water, they don't come from outside space and time. They are not there to be worshiped, and care nothing for that. Instead, they are content to guard their lands and tend its inhabitants, and to make friends with those worthy of their friendship. They are of the world as well as in it, concrete and walking lesser gods, who have not fled, nor do they hold that this is a fallen and sorrowful age. They are joyful regardless, and merrier than the Elves, who are a merry folk. (Don't get me started on the way the movies spoiled the Elves by making them too serious.) Tom and Goldberry would be at home at one of Dionysos' revels, providing honeycomb and yellow cream and white bread and butter to anyone who came near them, singing songs loudly and lustily. For Tom as for Orpheus, the trees bend as they are asked, and beasts of field and sky draw near. For Goldberry, all the creatures of the water attend. Truly, is it any wonder I like them?...

The Thessaly books, art, and excellence

I've just finished The Philosopher Kings, the second book of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton. (The first was The Just City.) They are excellent books, and I recommend them highly, even if I disagree with a number of theological points. Apollo, who is a major viewpoint character in both books (there's a third, Necessity, coming out next year, which, given the ending of TPK, I shall be fascinated to read), has always been a difficult god for me. These books frame him in a new light, one I rather like, although it has little to nothing to do with the way I honor him in my practice. It does, at least, remind me again that my gods are not what Slacktivites call tri-omni: omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. This means that they do not know or understand all things at all times, although they can understand anything, and that it is therefore possible for them to make errors, to do things they regret, and to later come to understand better. So I'm feeling better about Apollo just now. I suppose it would be good to give a precis of the premise of the books for those unfamiliar with them. In The Just City, Athene collects three hundred adult speakers of Classical Greek from three thousand years of history, all people who prayed to her to be allowed to help create Plato's Republic. Those three hundred adults then collected ten thousand ten year olds from slave markets, and attempted to raise them on Platonic principles. Now, since Plato only ever intended his Republic to be a thought experiment, and honestly he didn't necessarily understand people all that well, this doesn't go quite as planned. Apollo, attempting to understand why Daphne would rather be a tree than his lover, decides to incarnate as a mortal in this experimental city, in order to better understand the concepts of volition (of which consent is a prominent part) and equal significance (that every person is a full person, important to themselves and to others). Two of the great themes of the books are the importance of art and of excellence. The latter is straight from Plato, who used the word arete. For many years, this was translated into English as "virtue", probably because it went through the Latin virtus, from which it derives. Alas, "virtue" is painted with Christian connotations of things like kindness and generosity and piety, which is not actually what either the Greek or the Latin mean (and they mean somewhat different things from each other). So now it's usually translated instead as "excellence", which is at least closer to what Plato meant. For a proper exploration of that, read Plato and some commentaries on his work. It's rather beyond me. Both art and excellence are words that are so freighted with meaning that I've wanted to distance myself from them for years. Art by snotty art student types who either degrade things they disapprove of as not-art or who take the opposite route and are willing to call anything art if you can put together a moderately convincing argument that it is, including "installation art" that consists of nothing but scattered trash. And if that's what they're into, fine, good for them, either set of them. But don't get any of it on me. So for years I refused to call anything I did art. I finally found a definition of art I liked for my own work and my own way of experiencing art in KJ Bishop's book The Etched City: Art is the conscious creation of numinous phenomena. If you experience the numinous while creating it, and the work causes others to experience the numinous, however they experience that, then that's art. So to the snotty art students, who never consider the reactions of others, something that does not cause them to experience the numinous is not art (and maybe they need to work on understanding equal significance and the experience of others, but they still get to experience art the way they do), but something that does, is, even if it's a signed urinal as a commentary on art itself. They can have fun with that. Neither of those does much for me, either discounting others' experiences of art or those installation pieces, or indeed a lot of popularly acclaimed art from all through history. (Minoan geometrics do nothing for me, for instance, and neither do the Dutch masters.) But making everyday items beautiful does move me, does bring me numinous experiences, though many people deride that as craft, but did not necessarily find the numinous in my own creative works that others wanted to call art. So for many years, I decided it was easier not to argue, and simply sided with craft, and let artists look...