Poet-Hero: Edward Carpenter (August 29, 1844 – June 28, 1929)

Today is the birthday of one of my most beloved Poet-Heroes – Edward Carpenter.  As I wrote in a previous post, Carpenter was:

“a visionary poet who was also an early activist for gay rights, women’s rights, worker’s rights, animal rights, prison reform, economic reform, and many other progressive topics that made him very much ahead of his time.  His life with his partner, George Merrill (Merrill and Carpenter lived openly as a couple for over thirty years, until Carpenter’s death), was the inspiration for E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice.  And Carpenter was certainly a pagan mystic himself, as his opinions in Pagan and Christian Creeds and numerous other works clearly show.  I believe that Carpenter’s book-length poem Towards Democracy (a conscious imitation/homage to his hero Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass), is a woefully overlooked and marginalized masterpiece of late 19th-/early 20th-century English poetry.  My pocket-sized copy from 1921 (with a battered green cover and gold lettering), has a special place on my household shrine.”

I honestly can’t understand why Carpenter’s beautiful poems aren’t more widely known.  I’ve already posted one of my favorites, “The Lake of Beauty,” (which I use for  my daily Passage Meditation) but here are two more gems:

All Night Long
by Edward Carpenter

All night long in love, in the darkness, passing through your lips, my love—
Breathing the same breath, being folded in the same sleep, losing sense of Me and Thee,
Into empyreal regions, beloved of the gods, united, we ascend together.

Then in the morning on the high hill-side in the sun, looking down upon the spires of the larches and Scotch firs,
Mortal, we tread again the earthy floor.

O Earth, the floor of heaven—
O Sun, shining aloft in the sky so pure—
O children of the sun, ye flowers and streams, and little mortals walking the earth for a time—
And we too gazing for a time, for a time, for a time, into each other’s eyes.

The Central Calm
by Edward Carpenter

Drawing back for a moment from Time, and its superficial claims and conclusions,
Realising for a moment the artistic nature of the utterance of the Universe:
That all is for expression, and that for this end commencement and finale, first evolved and latest evolved, are equally important;
That Progress is a word which may be applied to any world-movement or individual career in the same sense as it may be applied to the performance of a musical work,
Which progresses to its final chord, yet the conclusion of the whole is not in the final chord, but in that which runs beneath and inspires the entire web—in that which from first to last the whole complex succession of chords and phrases indicates:
Realising this—
Realising—thus for a moment withdrawn—that there is no need to hurry, no need to dash against the bars;
But that Time itself rushing on with amazing swiftness in its vast and endless round, with suns and systems, ages and geologic epochs, races and tribes of beings, mineral, vegetable, animal, and ethereal, circle beyond circle, infallibly fulfills and gives utterance to the glorious whole:
Like one in the calm that is the centre of a cyclone—guarded by the very tornado around—
Undisturbed, yet having access equally to every side,
I drink of the deep well of rest and joy,
And sit with all the gods in Paradise.

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Ezra Pound’s Religio or, The Child’s Guide to Knowledge

Religio
or, The Child’s Guide to Knowledge
by Ezra Pound

What is a god?
A god is an eternal state of mind.
What is a faun?
A faun is an elemental creature.
What is a nymph?
A nymph is an elemental creature.
When is a god manifest?
When the states of mind take form.
When does a man become a god?
When he enters one of these states of mind.
What is the nature of the forms whereby a god is manifest?
They are variable but retain certain distinguishing characteristics.
Are all eternal states of mind gods?
We consider them to be so.
Are all durable states of mind gods?
They are not.
By what characteristic may we know the divine forms?
By beauty.
And if the presented forms are unbeautiful?
They are demons.
If they are grotesque?
They may be well-minded genii.
What are the kinds of knowledge?
There are immediate knowledge and hearsay.
Is hearsay of any value?
Of some.
What is the greatest hearsay?
The greatest hearsay is the tradition of the gods.
Of what use is this tradition?
It tells us to be ready to look.
In what manner do gods appear?
Formed and formlessly.
To what do they appear when formed?
To the sense of vision.
And when formless?
To the sense of knowledge.
May they when formed appear to anything save the sense of vision?
We may gain a sense of their presence as if they were standing behind us.
And in this case they may possess form?
We may feel that they do possess form.
Are there names for the gods?
The gods have many names. It is by names that they are handled in the tradition.
Is there harm in using these names?
There is no harm in thinking of the gods by their names.
How should one perceive a god, by his name?
It is better to perceive a god by form, or by the sense of knowledge, and after perceiving him thus, to consider his name or to “think what god it may be.”
Do we know the number of the gods?
It would be rash to say that we do. A man should be content with a reasonable number.
What are the gods of this rite?
Apollo, and in some sense Helios, Diana in some of her phases, also the Cytherean goddess.
To what other gods is it fitting, in harmony or in adjunction with these rites, to give incense?
To Kore and to Demeter, also to lares and to oreiads and to certain elemental creatures.
How is it fitting to please these lares and other creatures?
It is fitting to please and to nourish them with flowers.
Do they have need of such nutriment?
It would be foolish to believe that they have, nevertheless it bodes well for us that they should be pleased to appear.
Are these things so in the east?
This rite is made for the West.

Saul Williams – Coded Language

I love Saul Williams. What’s not to love about a poem that pays tribute to Kali, Tara, Lilith, Helen, Siddhartha, Medusa, Isis, Shiva, Ganesha, Yemaja, Oshun, Obatala, Ogun, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lourde, Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman, Richard Wright, Jim Morrison, W.E.B. Du Bois, William Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry, Sylvia Plath, and Rumi? (And many other divine souls and divine beings.)

. . .

Light years are interchangeable with years of living in darkness
The role of darkness is not to be seen as or equated with ignorance
But with the unknown and the mysteries of the unseen . . .
– Saul Williams, from Coded Language

. . .

Here’s another version (with music by DJ Krust):

Those who burn, those still aflame and the countless unnamed
We claim the present as the pre-sent, as the hereafter

We are unraveling our navels so that we may ingest the sun
We are not afraid of the darkness, we trust that the moon shall guide us
We are determining the future at this very moment
We now know that the heart is the philosophers’ stone . . .
– Saul Williams, from Coded Language

Wise Words on The Ancestors

“The land of the living was not far removed from the ancestors. There was coming and going between them, especially at festivals and also when an old man died, because an old man was very close to the ancestors. A man’s life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and nearer to his ancestors.”
– Chinua Achebe, from Things Fall Apart

“It’s interesting–the concept of an ancestor not necessarily as a parent but as an abiding, interested, benevolent, guiding presence that is yours and is concerned about you, not quite like saints but having the same sort of access, none of which is new information.”
– Toni Morrison

“Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values.”
– Ralph Ellison

“In different hours, a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each man’s skin,—seven or eight ancestors at least, and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh

“Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.”
– James Baldwin

What I Did for Lughnasadh

Five members of our Grove gathered together last week to celebrate Lughnasadh.  We chose to assemble at the lake on top of the mountain, which is probably the highest accessible meeting place here on the island.  We were surrounded on all sides by the forest, with mountains in the distance, the beautiful lake, and the large reservoir (symbolically – the Well) which provides drinking water to half of us.

We found a circular clearing of trees, with two logs for benches.  I preceded the ritual by reading a lovely guided meditation and visualization exercise, written by Glyn Williams and available to read here (© 2000-2005 Glyn Williams). The meditation gives some background to the Lughnasadh festival, including the story of John Barleycorn. I could feel that our assembled group was connecting with the exercise, and the energy raised was quite powerful, almost tangible.

After that was finished, I led a scaled-back version of an ADF-style Celtic Lughnassadh Rite (available here), written by Ian Corrigan (the wonderful writer, blogger, and Archdruid Emeritus of the ADF).  The rite is dedicated to Lugh and Morrigan.  We made offerings of ale and water, bread and wine.  During the invocation of Morrigan a strong wind suddenly arose, and I definitely felt the powerful presence of The Great Queen.

Following the rite, we shared a lovely potluck meal, which included many fresh items from our respective gardens.  Surrounded by trees and mountains and water, nourished by good food and good fellowship, we watched the sun slowly set.  We discussed the harvest, both the literal harvest (in the case of our gardens), as well as the metaphorical harvest, which includes the next phase of a number of new projects we are either finishing or embarking upon, some of which I hope to be announcing and discussing very soon!

And that’s what I did for Lughnasadh.

My Pagan Grandma

Having just returned home from my grandmother’s funeral (which finally gave me the much-needed, and quite palpable, sense of closure I’ve been seeking for weeks), I think it’s time to start regularly blogging again.  Before I can write about anything else, though, I have to get this off my chest.  While it seems odd and unusually personal to talk about the eulogy, I need to say what I didn’t say to the rest of the family . . .

My mother and I decided to write and deliver the eulogy together, which was especially fitting since the three of us were/are so close. (A side note: my mother, grandmother and I share(d) the exact same pair of green-grey hazel eyes, with flecks of gold and blue and brown.  Chameleon eyes that change color based upon whatever we wear.  I remember the three of us once stood in front of a mirror, marveling at the fact that our eyes were completely identical, down to even the tiniest fleck of gold.  We joked about being an alternative version of The Maiden (The Youth?), The Mother, and The Crone, and eventually decided we were either the Three Graces or the Three Furies, depending upon our mood . . . and we all certainly know how to effectively lay a curse . . . but I digress.)

Anyway, when I was first writing the eulogy, I was struggling with the fact that there would be a combination of numerous fundamentalist evangelical types as well as several rather vocal atheists attending my grandmother’s funeral.  I didn’t particularly want to offend anyone (in any other context, I wouldn’t give a fuck, but I know the last thing my grandmother would have wanted would be a conflict between family members at her memorial).  I also didn’t want to make the eulogy all about me, which was especially difficult since so many of the things my grandmother and I shared were unique to us.  But with my mother’s (and my wonderful husband’s) help, I think we successfully walked the tightrope in our ability to both pay tribute to that amazing woman, as well as highlighting (or alluding to) aspects of her life that weren’t necessarily widely known.  I mentioned the Gods, I mentioned the myths, and I even re-told one of Grandma’s favorite myths – the story of Baucis and Philemon, those two generous souls loved by the Gods, two souls and two trees forever entwined.

Because the fact is, Grandma was a pagan.  She loved ancient Greece, the Greek myths, and the Greek Gods.  We talked about this subject constantly, from my earliest childhood memories to the last conversation we had a month before her death.  She visited Greece with her beloved sister, saw the temples of the Gods (including Delphi), and years later she and I poured libations of wine together over her sister’s grave.  We spoke in detail about what I would do to help her soul cross over to the Western Lands, and this conversation involved the Orphic gold tablets, Plato’s Phaedrus, and Hermes the Guide of Souls.  She was a deeply spiritual (one might even say mystical) person, and she had no interest whatsoever in contemporary monotheistic faiths.  And while I naturally didn’t broadcast this at her funeral, my Grandma did NOT like Xtianity (or for that matter, the vast majority of fundamentalist Xtians).  Much of this was for political reasons, but she also didn’t like churches, and she had a particularly strong dislike of the Xtian Bible.  I will never forget one day (over a Tarot reading I was giving her, by the way) when the topic of the Bible came up and she said to me (these are her own words):  “I tried to read that book once.  It was obviously written by humans, and it was terribly written.  I couldn’t understand most of it, and what I could understand I didn’t agree with.  What a horrible book!  You could use it to justify just about anything. And those crazy people who follow it are some of the most hateful, judgmental, ignorant, and downright violent people in history!  They read that book, they ‘get religion,’ and they turn into monsters!  They destroyed our culture [ancient Greece], and they’d love to destroy this one.  It’s just horrible . . . if those people ever take over here we’re moving back to Greece!”

That was my Grandma.  I’ve written elsewhere about her impact on my life, and there’s so much more I could say (and probably will say), but for now it’s time to turn the page.

Perhaps the best part (and by far the most surprising part) of the whole funeral experience is that two of my relatives read between the lines of what my mom and I were saying during the eulogy, and afterwards came out to me as being pagan themselves!  I thought my mom, my husband, and I were the only ones left in this family, and yet there they were. And we connected.  We compared notes on our particular pagan paths, and I was able to tell them much more about what Grandma actually believed (and in the future I eventually hope to share with them the great bulk of pagan, mythical, and supernatural family lore I’ve collected over the years).  I would never have guessed in a million years that there were other living pagans in my family, but I do know my pagan Grandma would be proud of us all, proud that we are continuing the Old Ways.

Grandma, I am now speaking directly to you:  May our souls forever be connected. May our shared love for the Greek myths and the Greek Gods be remembered. What is remembered, lives.

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