I shall set free my hair and wear a fawn skin

This is my piece which appeared in Crossing the River: An Anthology In Honor of Sacred Journeys. I wanted to give it a while after the book came out before I published it here, but here it is at last. This is the dead time, the mad time, the empty time, the parched time. The time when my own mind turns against me, and all I want a deep dark cave with a trickle from one of the great rivers at the back of it, or the sweet release of shedding everything of the daily world to run wild in the night. In Greece, the dead time, the time when nothing grows and Persephone reigns beside her husband in Erebos, is the summer. Grain is planted when the autumn rains begin, and harvested in the spring when the rising heat turns the barley heads to gold. The idea of her time in the Underworld being winter didn't come about until people in more northerly climes began telling the story, because of course for them, winter was the dead time. I grew up in Florida, where summers were either hot and very dry, with wildfires and smoke and the parching sun; or hot and wet, with mosquitoes, sometimes disease-bearing, breeding in the stinking standing water, and hurricanes. As a child, of course, either sort of summer just meant not going to school and splashing under the sprinkler, in somebody's pool, or in the ocean. The only difference was how much sunscreen versus how much bug repellent, how much smoke versus how much wind. But as I got older, summers got worse and worse. I have bipolar disorder. High school was when it started getting serious, although I wouldn't be diagnosed until college. And that's when summers started to get bad. I spent as much time as possible hiding from the sun, staying in the air conditioning, swimming only at night. And year by year, it got worse, until I spent five or six months a year desperately depressed, feeling stretched thin and dried out. (In Florida, summer runs May through October.) Somewhere in there, as I become more deeply involved in the worship of Hekate, I discovered that summer was the time when nothing grew in Greece… and suddenly, things made much more sense to me. I had never even put it together before, that summers were so bad, that the heat and the light were doing this to me, that this happened every year. August was always the worst, when it got so bad that everything had an unreal, dream-like quality, a play watched in a cloudy mirror, everything at two removes and out of reach. As I came to terms with my bipolar, I also began to worship Dionysos as god of divine madness. It helped me come to terms with it, not only that it would always be a part of my life, but that I needed to treat it. Divine madness, I came to learn, must be sacred in the most etymologically literal sense: it must be set aside, it must be something taken out of the daily world, like the space within a Circle. I could not live there all the time, and I could not let it rule my life, not if I had ways to control it. I moved away from Florida, to Seattle, where summer retreated to less time and less heat, and I could set aside the madness more cleanly. There's more light, and my sleep cycle flips around almost completely, and for days on end I curl up in my light-blocked, air-conditioned bedroom, leaving it only when I must. But those days are fewer, and the span in which they happen is narrower. In the dog days of summer comes Hekate's time, and then sometimes I spend days in a light trance, where everything has more meaning, and every choice leaves ripples. I walk her white roads under the sun, and her silver roads under the moon, and her secret roads when the moon shines not at all, and while all of that is often true in my service to her, August is when I am most aware of it, that I am hers. But Dionysos remains, and as I study him more, I understand better his connection to Persephone and the seasonal cycle, and I make ritual sense of my disorder. And the journey he sets me on, that he invites me to join him on, is very different. Dionysos has always been connected to Persephone, although today, as most people reduce the myths and the old stories to those found in Hamilton and Bullfinch, we have lost much of that connection. It's still there, though, if you go back to original sources. Once, there were two Dionysoi, and the...

The Little Dance Your Body Does

I’m still working on getting a regular rhythm down for yoga, but I am getting in at least one full session with the video a week, and am trying to integrate the 20-minute warmup from the video more often. It’s not only less time to set aside, but I can do it and go straight to bed, where the full hour and a quarter (which includes both centering and meditation) gives me a burst of energy and must be done a couple of hours before I go to bed, and I have to have a fairly solid meal afterwards, too. I have a hard time breaking myself away from whatever I’m doing, partly because depression lends itself to inertia and partly because the things I’m usually doing have few natural stopping points. But yoga feels really really good to me. Megan, the teacher on the video, talks about “the little dance your body does” to stay in a pose that requires balance. The small twitches, sways, and corrections necessary to hold those poses, like table balance and tree pose. Over time, my core muscles and others will strengthen from that, but the balance is always dynamic and always includes some motion, even if it’s not necessarily visible to anyone watching. Or not as visible as it is with a beginner. That little dance, that dynamic tension and balance, that push and pull, is meaningful to me symbolically as well as physically. Last week, I spent a day on the Deuces in my lateral tarot study, and that balance and tension is a part of those cards. It’s also a part of keeping one’s life in balance — a balance I’ve never been very good at, and it’s all the more meaningful to me for that. In high school, the students who had been previously tracked into “gifted” classes suddenly just had seminars ever couple of months. The teacher who gave them was the wife of the man who had taught history in junior high to many of us, and she knew who we were and had heard many stories about us. Her first seminar, she tried to teach us juggling, as a metaphor for how difficult it might be for us to keep everything going now. It was one of those “foolproof” methods that supposedly anyone could learn, and it all started with learning to drop the ball — or, since this was Florida, a piece of citrus fruit; with my little hands, a lemon — in just the right way. And I couldn’t do it. I could not get over the basic must not drop things impulse in order to let that damn lemon fall out of my hand. And so I could not learn to juggle. The teacher just could not get over it. I was the only person she had ever met who could not learn to drop a piece of fruit competently. The next day, by chance, she visited her husband’s class, and my brother was in it. She told him, “Your sister is the only person I have ever met who could not learn to juggle. At all.” And he just went, “Yep, that’s my sister.” I laughed that night when he told me, too. But that’s an accurate extension of the metaphor. I am not good at juggling many things in my life, not good at finding a good balance, although I work at it. I tend to throw myself into one thing to the exclusion of others. Either I work full time and more, and that’s nearly all I do, or I’m very social, and that’s nearly all I do, or I’m home and depressed and barely go out or see anyone, or whatever. Running the restaurant, which consumed everything and left an enormous hole in me when it closed, was only the most extreme example of this. It’s not good for me, but it’s what I tend to do. I struggle against it as much as I can, but it’s very tiring for me. That’s not all the “little dance” means to me. According to Euripides and other sources, the first Maenads, the first women who followed Dionysos and performed the ecstatic Bacchic rites, came out of India with him, where he had been exiled for a time (and where he eventually went back, and conquered some people, and built a bridge, and other things). When he came back to Magna Graeca, the area over which the Greek culture extended, through not only Greece but also Turkey and a number of places between and around, they were the ones who taught the mysteries and the sacred dances to the Hellenic women who came to...