Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter solstice

Imagine if all of the countries and peoples of the world today could believe in one common theme - that the days get shorter, and then, just when you can't imagine it, they start to lengthen again. Renewal of the light. Here are some of the ancient solstice holidays celebrated at one time, all around the world.

The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshipers sacrifice white female animals, and thread the meat onto sticks which they bend into rings and tie with bright ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again.

The Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun was a religious ceremony of the Inca Empire in honor of the sun god Inti. It also marked the winter solstice and a new year in the Andes of the Southern Hemisphere. One ceremony performed by the Inca priests was the tying of the sun. In Machu Picchu there is still a large column of stone called an Intihuatana, meaning "hitching post of the sun" or literally for tying the sun. The ceremony to tie the sun to the stone was to prevent the sun from escaping. The Spanish conquest, never finding Machu Picchu, destroyed all the other intihuatana, extinguishing the sun tying practice. The Catholic Church managed to suppress all Inti festivals and ceremonies by 1572.
Karachun, Korochun or Kračún was a Slavic holiday similar to Halloween as a day when the Black God and other evil spirits were most potent. It was celebrated by Slavs on the longest night of the year. On this night, Hors, symbolising the old sun, becomes smaller as the days become shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, and dies on December 22nd, the December solstice. He is said to be defeated by the dark and evil powers of the Black God. In honour of Hors, the Slavs danced a ritual chain-dance which was called the horo. Traditional chain-dancing in Bulgaria is still called horo. In Russia and Ukraine, it is known as khorovod. On December 23rd Hors is resurrected and becomes the new sun, Koleda.

Lucia Happens on December 13, what is supposed to be the longest night of the year. A young girl or woman is chosen to portray Lucia wearing a white robe and a red sash representing blood. She wears a crown of wreath with candles and hands out treats to children. She is the one who brings the sun back and chases away winter. The chosen Lucia goes to elderly homes and hospitals very often, singing songs and glowing with candles. Very often Lucia is held at a church where many woman and men dress in white and sing. However it is only Lucia who wears the crown while others hold candles. The boys are dressed as 'Star boys' and wear pointed hats.

The Maruaroa o Takurua is seen by the New Zealand Maori as the middle of the winter season. It follows directly after the rise of Matariki (Pleiades) which marked the beginning of the New Year and was said to be when the Sun turned from his northern journey with his winter-bride Takurua (the star Sirius) and began his journey back to his Summer-bride Hineraumati.

In 12th century Russia, the eastern Slavs worshiped the winter mother goddess, Rozhnitsa, offering bloodless sacrifices like honey, bread and cheese. Bright colored winter embroideries depicting the antlered goddess were made to honor the Feast of Rozhanitsa in late December. And white, deer-shaped cookies were given as lucky gifts.

Soyalangwul is the winter solstice ceremony of the Zuni and the Hopitu Shinumu, "The Peaceful Ones," also known as the Hopi. It is held on December 21, the shortest day of the year. The main purpose of the ritual is to ceremonially bring the sun back from its long winter slumber. It also marks the beginning of another cycle of the Wheel of the Year, and is a time for purification.
In ancient Latvia, Ziemassvētki, meaning winter festival, was celebrated on December 21 as one of the two most important holidays, the other being Jāņi. Ziemassvētki celebrated the birth of Dievs, the highest god of Latvian mythology. The two weeks before Ziemassvetki are called Veļu laiks, the "season of ghosts." During the festival, candles were lit for Dieviņš and a fire kept burning until the end, when its extinguishing signaled an end to the unhappiness of the previous year. During the ensuing feast, a space at the table was reserved for Ghosts, who was said to arrive on a sleigh. During the feast, carolers (Budeļi) went door to door singing songs and eating from many different houses. The holiday was later adapted by Christians in the middle ages.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I found this short story between some pages of a dream journal that I kept in 1981. I had typed this story. On a typewriter. Talk about time travel!

At the signal of the latch clicking and a breeze mixing the stale office air with a sudden whiff of outside, I gladly lifted my head from the pile of papers to be filed, and glanced at the woman who pushed open the door. She was neat and brown in a vested suit, with the inevitable business case and crisp walk. She looked around for someone in charge, and after giving her a smile and the polite interval of attention, I returned to the alphabet and file drawer, trying not to look responsible. The head secretary stepped forward. It was a typical scene in the office, but not always was the customer a handsome woman who looked so competent. My attention strayed to her as the business transaction began. I had ascertained that her face was unfamiliar to me, but there was something about this woman that made me lose my place in the file. i tried hard to place exactly who she reminded me of, but I knew no one with that golden brown hair color, and the way she carried herself was very unique. She had a familiar air, the way her eyes seemed to catch every detail caused a bell to ring in some dusty corner of my brain. I was growing rather curious. Was this some kind of deja-vu; the more I looked a her, the more certain I became that I knew her, yet for what reasons I couldn't pinpoint. Well, I couldn't stare all day - she was beginning to feel my eyes on her, and glance dartingly in my direction.

There was nothing to do but get back to work, I was behind as it was. and had a pile of things to run on the copy machine, too. She was delegated to a salesperson and left the outer office. A quarter of an hour later found me shuffling my originals and warming up the machine. Hearing a soft tread behind me, I looked around to see her jerking her head down quickly and perusing a company magazine. She had been studying me! Now that she was close, I could feel a field of almost electric energy exuding from her and holding my attention. I couldn't concentrate on my trivial task. It was as thought some inner mechanism tracker her path around the room behind me. her steps circled until they prudently stopped, and she made a little rush over to where I stood. "Who are you?" she huskily breathed. "Have you ever seen me before?" I dumbly shook my head and felt overpowered by her energy at such close range. There was a long silence as we stared unabashedly into one another's eyes. There was something going on in my head that I can barely explain. It was as if all my though processes were abruptly turned off- the memories, the sensations, the calculation of reality - all was silenced. From somewhere else, although I guess it must have been from my brain, a story began to weave itself. not a memory, in the usual sense, though it was names and images and thought, just like a slow recollection. This entity was "informing" me very faintly of things unknown until now. Set off by this woman's presence, a new part of my mind was shifted into gear, and the parts I'd used til then were stunned at the innovation.

There was no way I could assume she was having a similar experience, and no way to describe to this complete stranger my reaction to her. But she spoke first, grasping my arm as she stuttered, "We- we were together once - do you remember it?" "I don't know you but something in me is recognizing you - when were we together?" "It's the same with me - almost as though we have shared some distant past. I think we could draw it out if we try - just looking at you and talking wih you seems to remind me of a thousand things." She was filled with excitement, and still gripped my forearm. I didn't find it difficult to speak to her, but I felt so confused with the flood of new sensations that I hardly could form an answer. "I..I..guess.. it was long ago.. Could it be another life? I've thought about that but I never know one could be so clearly revealed. Could that be it?" "I'm nearly certain - my mind is filled with images of a kind of camp - a primitive existence - women sitting around fires, in front of huts-" Her eyes still riveted to mine, she added, "Don't look so frightened, Lyana." I jumped back at the shock of hearing the name. It wasn't my own, but the sound of it matched the memories coming out of nowhere. "That's not my name." I was frightened. "It's what I remember," she tried to sooth me, and reached for my arm again. "Yes - it is familiar," I admitted. "Look, this is too much for me to take in right now. Can't we talk this over later?" "Where can we meet tonight? When do you get off work?" In her competent way, she quickly took my phone number and address, told me she'd stop by tonight or call if she couldn't and turned to leave. It wasn't easy to look away from the face. Our eyes were meant to be staring at each other - or so it felt. The strange memory was being warmed by her presence. "Don't worry, Lyana, I'll see you tonight. Let's try to straighten out these new stories and share them later."

Stunned, I watched her leave. Somehow the day stumbled to a close. I was nearly useless to anyone in my stupor of new ideas and the search for some kind of explanation. In the quiet of the car during the drive home, I reviewed my life and tried to arrange my most recent history as I knew it, in order to force my brain to organize itself. I had always felt I had been born somewhere in a realm of reality outside of the world most people see. There was something eerie about the way I managed to deal with the world as if I saw it from other angles. It had been pointed out to me increasingly throughout the years or else I might not have been aware that my consciousness was anything but similar to every one else's. A knowledge of what to expect had toned down my temperament - where there might have been misunderstanding, there was acceptance on my part, when outrages could be counted on, I was placid. It is not the same as being easy-going and having a sympathetic personality. I am blessed, or plagued, as you might judge it, with a personality that can assess a situation with a kind of certainty and play along, assuming the correct behavior that fits in best with the assessment. I had always been vaguely aware that I hadn't learned this ability - that rather, somewhere in the scheme of things, I had a given talent of adaptation. even as a child I felt I was only acting out a role expected by my contemporaries. I felt years older, and never seemed to age within myself. I could count up my various signs of maturation and match them with the expected behavior of my age group, yet there was underneath all of that a timelessness and a distaste for the "immature" behavior that my outer self displayed. This resulted in my blocking most of my childhood from memory - none of it seemed worthwhile at the time, and I merely regarded it as something to pass through and be forgotten. The closer I grew to adulthood, the more I could assess the reasons for my hatred of childhood and my insatiable urge to have it over and done with.

At last reaching an age where I could make decisions and move freely for myself, I felt more than ever in touch with this outer reality, this strange ability to know yet not to know, to have learned without having studied or experienced. And again and again I found myself in situations very familiar: in deja-vus too real to dismiss as mental fabrications or dream memories. I began to read about reincarnation and wondered if I had found a clue at last to the mysterious inner self that was so much wiser than I - or rather than this earthly I.

My mentor at that time had been a wonderful woman, fifty years older than I, who is fascinated with every form of self revelation. She encouraged me to search within myself for answers to the world's mysteries. She isn't in the role of being a teacher, she has the ability to push in the right direction needed at the moment, either intellectually or emotionally. She led me to my study of reincarnation and subsequently to a discovery of a religion meaningful to me. Unfortunately, we no longer lived in the proximity, or I could have seen her for advice on the startling revelatory experience I had just had. On second thought, though, perhaps her reply would be simply a recognition that something had happened, and she would let me take it from there. I was afraid of the unknown ahead of me and behind me.

The sound of gravel crunching under my tires brought me to the realization that I had arrived home: I had driven automatically, barely noting my whereabouts. Still in a trance-like state, I checked the mailbox, took in the paper, and straightened up the mess my cat, Luna, had spent the day arranging. No sooner had I thrown my clothes off and joined Luna, stretching wearily confused, in my sotest and largest easy chair, the knock jarred the purring silence. "Who is it?" I knew. "I could say it's Martha, but you know me as Naomi." Wrapping myself in the afghan, I rushed to the door - her voice made my spine jingle with electricity. Her name fit my new consciousness and released images. They poured out of the secret chamber that held the past - or was it the past? The door flew open and her face and strong body crossed my threshold. She was flowing in a golden shirt and warm brown pants, big and comfortable. I shivered at the sight and from the breeze that accompanied her. "Sorry, I haven't had time to change yet." "that's ok, stay comfy, we have a lot of talking to do."

So I fell back into my chair enclosed in the crocheted blanket, and stared at her for a long time, letting my mind free itself and take me on that journey it was desiring. "What an amazing coincidence that we should meet again like we did. I wonder if this sort of thing happens to lots of people, but they cover it up for fear they are crazy." "Maybe we are crazy.. what exactly is happening? Can we be sure we are experiencing the same thing?" So we decided to take turns, to carefully plot out the stories our minds had released, to fill in the blanks, to discover lost identities, to pick up where we left off, to rekindle (rekindle? what had there been?) our bond.. And we talked all night.

And as the windowsill dust began to glisten and Luna gave up her alternate pacing and purring for a long sleep, and the cars and trucks began to pass on the street, we stood as one and went into the dark curtained empty bedroom, fell onto the bed in a long warm kiss that made me feel I had been interrupted in an embrace years ago, and was finally satisfying what had begun. Our bodies fit like old lovers. The afghan lay on the living room floor, and later in the morning, Luna moved from it to lay upon our entwining legs. Laughter and muffled purrs.

Monday, March 14, 2011


The photos and stories and videos from New Zealand, and now Japan, are heart-stopping. Perhaps we live in a time when the earth has had enough of us. She shudders and knocks some of us off her crust. She sloshes an a few thousand more are cleared away. The radioactive materials that have been painfully extracted from her heart could be swallowed up and buried again.

These troublesome and destructive creatures known as humans will some day be eradicated. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

30 images

Day 1 - A picture of yourself.

Day 2 - A picture of you and a person you used to be close with.

Day 3 - A picture of the cast from your favorite show. Portlandia - a new favorite.

Day 4 - A picture of something you wish you could forget.

Day 5 - A picture of your favorite memory.

Day 6 - A picture of a person you'd love to trade places with for a day.

Day 7 - A picture of your most treasured item.

Day 8 - A picture that makes you laugh.

Day 9 - A picture of the person who has gotten you through the most.

Day 10 - A picture of the person you do the silliest things with.

Day 11 - A picture of something you hate.

Day 12 - A picture of something you love.

Day 13 - A picture of your favorite band or artist.

Day 14 - A picture of someone you could never imagine your life without.

Day 15 - A picture of something you want to do before you die.

Day 16 - A picture of someone who inspires you.

Day 17 - A picture of something that has made a huge impact on your life recently.

Day 18 - A picture of your biggest insecurity.

Day 19 - A picture of you when you were little.

Day 20 - A picture of somewhere you'd love to travel.

Day 21 - A picture of your favorite night.

Day 22 - A picture of something you wish you were better at.

Day 23 - A picture of your favorite book.

Day 24 - A picture of something you wish you could change.

Day 25 - A picture of your favorite day.

Day 26 - A picture of something that means a lot to you.

Day 27 - A picture of yourself and a family member.

Day 28 - A picture of something you're afraid of.

Day 29 - A picture that can always make you smile.

Day 30 - A picture of someone you miss

Anyone Can Sing

Anyone Can Sing

Anyone can sing. You just open your mouth,
and give shape to a sound. Anyone can sing.
What is harder, is to proclaim the soul,
to initiate a wild and necessary deepening:
to give the voice broad, sonorous wings
of solitude, grief, and celebration,
to fill the body with the echoes of voices
lost long ago to bravery, and silence,
to prise the reluctant heart wide open,
to witness defeat, to suffer contempt,
to shrink, lose face, go down in ignominy,
to retreat to the last dark hiding-place
where the tattered remnants of your pride
still gather themselves around your nakedness,
to know these rags as your only protection
and yet still open - to face the possibility
that your innermost core may hold nothing at all,
and to sing from that - to fill the void
with every hurt, every harm, every hard-won joy
that staves off death yet honours its coming,
to sing both full and utterly empty,
alone and conjoined, exiled and at home,
to sing what people feel most keenly
yet never acknowledge until you sing it.
Anyone can sing. Yes. Anyone can sing.

~ William Ayot ~

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Finding a place

I'm from a very, very small town in a cold, cloudy part of Western New York State. The only gay person I knew of, growing up in the 60s, was the developmentally disabled gentleman who hung out downtown and carried a purse. And Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly, and maybe Rose Marie on the Dick Van Dyke show.

People didn't leave our town. They grew up and moved down the street from their parent's house. I was different, I spent my whole childhood fantasizing that I would become a world traveler, and live in different places every year. I wanted to be someplace else. When I started dating, one boy after the other turned out to be gay. I went away to college and got involved in feminist activism. I met women in the consciousness raising groups who had short hair and wore plaid shirts. I had never seen anyone like that before. They were not at all like Rose Marie. They were much, much better.

I brought my first serious girlfriend home during a school break. My mother cried and cried, and my father told me that I had to change what he called "my lifestyle", because my mother was having a nervous breakdown. My mother had told me once that gay people are born that way. But she didn't believe that I had been born "that way". They believed I had made a choice, probably because I had become a feminist.

I escaped that place and moved to Japan. I continued my world travelling, for several years, until I came to San Francisco, in 1979. The town was filled with women wearing short hair and plaid shirts, and trim handsome men in moustaches and boots. Every week, there were feminist meetings and marches. The sky was blue and the world was beautiful. There, I met a woman who spoke my language, and we fell in love. This year, she and I will celebrate 28 years together. My place is by her side, and we travel the world together.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Be obstreperous!

This motto was espoused by our dear friend Charlie Halloran, and I'm not sure where he picked it up. But it is fine advice, and I'm glad I inherited it from him. It means "noisily and stubbornly defiant", and although that definition sounds sort of bad, I feel the rebellion in the word has a playful quality. I think of a canvasser on the corner, bouncing and shouting and calling attention to himself. I think of lustful arguments about politics and religion where the parties switch sides mid-stream, just for the fun of it. I see rambuctious youths carrying signs of protest and chanting slogans all day long.

The point of the playfulness is so you never cross the line from ostreperousness to violence or hate.

Monday, January 24, 2011


My vision is poor. I am severly nearsighted and, without lenses, see the world as a cottony mass of color and smudged patterns. Perhaps this is why mosaics appeal to me. When I see an image that has been broken into pieces, I have a physical, joyful, reaction. These broken images work in reverse - the closer you are, the harder it is to see the whole image. As you back away, the image forms and looks more and more like reality.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hokitika, New Zealand

I once spent an afternoon in Hokitika, New Zealand, and I can't seem to get this place out of my head. It's a little community of about 3,000 people, located on the west coast of the south island. The Tasman Sea stretches bluely into the distance from the wide beach. A large meandering river forms its southern boundary, and there is farm land to the north. A tiny airstrip is on the rise just outside of town. The town itself is made up of a grid of 5 blocks by 12 blocks.

To my mind, this little town is the place where I would live in as if in a fairy tale. I would be an artist, making iconic pieces using drift wood and home-spun yarn. I would stop for tea everyday and would collect string and colored ribbon. I'd be the old lady in boots and overalls who'd give the kids penny candy and never miss a political meeting, where I'd rant about ecology and water. I'd have a lot of cats and an old dog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Yesterday was Martin Luther King's birthday, and I saw many references here and there to the famous "I Have A Dream" speech. It made me think about dreaming, and what how dreams hold such power for inspiration and for motivation.

I wonder if Dr. King ever really had a dream, during his sleep, about a world where former slaves and former slave owners sat down at the same table, where black and white children were holding hands in Alabama? If he had that dream, did he wake up smiling and groggy, and then tell Coretta about it? Did he mention it to others at the breakfast table? Did the images from his dream keep tugging at his conscious mind as he sat down to write the speech?

This eloquent speech is so beautiful to read. Look at this part:
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.
 This advice was directed toward those struggling against racial injustice in the 60s. However, don't you wish someone today was warning people to keep their protest from turning violent? We could use some of that rhetoric as tempers flair on both sides of the political spectrum, after the shootings in Arizona.

I can dream.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Citrus season

We have a navel orange tree and a lemon tree in our backyard. The lemons are "Portugese Lemons", or so we've been told. They are thick-skinned and quite sweet, as lemons go. They look a bit like Meyer lemons but they taste different. Every year, I pick bags and bags of lemons to give to friends. Many drop off the tree and rot. Some stay there on the branches (just out of reach) for a year or more, getting big as grapefruit. When a recipe calls for lemon, I gleefully pick one or two .. but trying to use them up is a futile exercise. They just grow like crazy.

The orange tree is further back in the yard and I have ignored it for nearly a decade. The oranges are large and juicy but not very sweet. This year, the peach tree that used to hog the sunlight from the orange tree has diminished a bit, and the orange tree is booming. New fruit, hard and green, is ripening fast. The older oranges pull the branches down with their golden weight.

I don't want to pick all the fruit off the trees, because I want to be able to pick a lemon or orange whenever I need one, but I want the fruit to be sweet and I don't want to overburden the tree with excess baggage. We have been picking, and picking, and picking. We pile them into the wheelbarrow and put them in front of the house, with a sign that says, "Free Lemons and Oranges - Help Yourself!". People stop their cars and send their kids out to gather a bunch. Many neighbors have been thanking us, including the postal carrier, who loves the lemons.