Winter's Mara

who are you without your identity?
lay down, settle in your bones
let your self release above you,
a balloon you are disconnected from.
you are your body, too, what is left
when your soul leaves. feel your body
breathing, digesting, slowing,
churning, falling apart an inch at a time.

she keeps us alive, feeding us,
but in the Winter she will bleed us
and cut us down and leave us
to others who seek sustenance.
she is not concerned with
what comes after aside from
decomposition.

we break down with our
component parts. we go on to become
part of others’ cycles.

#domagick – Day 0

The most intimidating part of this remains having to find something to say everyday about what I’m doing. I’m anxious about doing this, and about doing it publicly. I already committed though, so I might as well.

To start with, here is the short daily prayer I wrote for Mara:

Good Earth, be with us
Mother Market, be with us
Lady Luck, be with us
Hearthtender, be with us
Bread-raiser, be with us
Mother of Rot, be with us
Bountiful Harvest, be with us

It’s a set of seven because she always prods me towards sevens or multiples when I’m working on things like prayer beads. Wednesday is tentatively for Ganesh and Bluebird, so we’ll see how the first day of this goes in the morning.

Meanwhile, this post from Circle Thrice turned out quite timely. Using the household as a focus seems so obvious, and yet I realize in a lot of ways I was overlooking it. While we have a kitchen shrine and offerings for the wights, a lot of my wards at the old place were physical, and it showed when we moved. I still have physical wards planned that I haven’t put up yet, and I’ll hopefully be doing that this month, too.

I started a couple of seeds in the house this week. Nothing much, just a cucumber and a tomato plant, but I wanted to start something. I bought strawberry seeds to start with the kid, too. So far she’s only focused on getting strawberry pancakes at the end but it’s a beginning.

Primary Sources

This is not a definition of “research” I usually picture, but hey ho…

I’m a big fan of synchronicity (fan being a word that in this context means “frequent target of clue-by-fours”) and rather than dive into a lot of books, I’m in large part letting Mara take the lead on where I should be going with #domagick. It’s one of those things where it’s hard to explain what I’m seeing and where I’m going because I’m aware it’ll look faintly ridiculous.

The result, though, is that my research is asking Mara to draw me to what I need to do, and then looking at that, and repeating the process as needed. Divination, meditation and listening for that little nudge are at least a change of pace from a stack of books.

I’m working on a set of daily/weekly prayers. I revamped the dollhouse altar. I’ve done some steps to make my workspace more craft-friendly and ready to go. The spine of this project is shaping up to be daily offerings that combine wardwork, relationship-building and personal shielding. I’m hoping to add a generous helping of luckbuilding and set-point-moving. (It’s really amazing how often I run into self esteem issues in protection work. It’s as if I have to remind myself that I’m worthy of asking for things and allowed to want to do better.)

I’ll be posting about the act of prayer-writing and prayer-refining, and I’m hopeful I’ll actually end up with stuff I want to post, but we’ll see.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to mention: I got accepted by Pagan Bloggers! (Dear everyone else blogging there: I apologize in advance for ruining it!) I’ll be doing a blog about building tradition and householdwork under the name October Country, because I’m still a nerd.

Getting Ahead of Myself

I spent Saturday night at the wedding of a couple I barely knew and it was glorious. It was held on a farm in the couples’ home town, in the foothills an hour outside of town. The drive took us through small towns and down two-lane highways, and the venue had an amazing view of the valley floor. Dizzyingly-tall trees surrounded the site on three sides. Two different rainbows stretched across the sky as we celebrated.

After the vows, I got to walk in the woods with my kid and my spouse. When it got dark, I sat near a fire pit with my kid in my lap, looking at the stars. It was the closest I’ve felt to Mara in months.

Despite the fact that I’m more used to seeing her in her urban guises, despite the attempt I made at gardening this summer, despite even a job in actual banking, what I needed was apparently the kind of wedding I could easily see Mara’s followers celebrating in Empty Sky: fresh flowers, a roast pig brought up by two groomsmen in the back of a pickup truck, good-natured drunk kareoke and competitive horseshoes, family and friends and sincerity and a love for the places that made you.

If I’m honest, I’ve been adrift since I went to see my grandmother, maybe for that reason. I didn’t know how to feel about really anything when I was there. I think about the me I was with my grandmother, and how that person’s gone now without me really understanding what I lost. There were places and things I loved about the place where I grew up that I’d forgotten about, and visiting was like tearing off that old scar and wondering why it’s bleeding afterward.

There are plenty of beautiful, earthy places in the metro area, but I think I needed that system shock to remind me why I feel so at home here where I am. I will always be a product of my tiny hometown, and of my family, and of the northeastern US, even if I no longer remember the person I was when I was there.

However far I may wander and however lost I might be, I always seem to come back to Mara.

Chapbook: the Merciful Earth

The Merciful Earth, a chapbook collection of some of the fiction, prayers and poems I’ve written for Mara, is now available on Amazon for $.99! This is the fulfillment of a promise I made to her three and a half years ago in exchange for her help with a major project my wife and I were working on. She has been a very kind and patient Lady while I got my head together.

Meditation Beads

Glass and metal with kyanite.
Glass and metal with kyanite.

Other Mara-related things this month included finally sitting down and doing some things I’d been planning to do for a while now, including teaching myself to do rosary-style beading. The impetus for this was finding a pair of earrings in a thrift store with coin-pendants and little birds on them, just as I was working on Bluebird’s myth. The central piece of the beadwork above, with the bird, kyanite and coin pendant, came off the earrings as-is, in fact. I had been thinking about meditation beads for a while because I’ve had good results in the past meditating Buddhist-style with a mala, chanting for Kuan Yin, and before that, saying the rosary. Repetition is good for me.

In that respect, this style of beading also turned out to be a meditative action. It’s just fiddly enough to hold my attention.

I’m not quite satisfied enough with the prayers to publish them yet, but the beaded section is simple faceted glass beads from the craft store. I know people who do gorgeous work with precious stone beads but I’m definitely not there yet. The dividers are little brass roses I reclaimed from broken thrift store jewelry. There are seven sets of three beads, seven being the number Mara indicated to use. Eventually I would like to do a longer one but I want to work that out beforehand. This is kind of a rough draft.

Old Paths, New Footsteps in the Earth

Things have been interesting in my head lately. One of the things I’d been circling around for months now is the question of how to relate to Mara in a purely fictional recon context. I’ve spent years researching, syncretising, justifying and generally legitimizing my relationship with her by drawing proper-looking dotted lines from one idea to another. I took the first tentative steps last year in seeing the other gods in their own light, but I thought to myself, I know Mara. I don’t need to stress about Mara.

Stress brought me back around, though. Last winter, in a bout of compulsive decluttering, I finally admitted that Mara’s altar wasn’t working for me anymore. It was set up under the same principles it had always held, but it no longer made me feel her presence when I looked at it. I played with it intermittently for days trying to figure out what was wrong. I ended up stripping away almost all of the decor on the altar. When it clicked, my understanding shifted… and it shifted away from the historical Mara.

Committing to fictional recon means committing to seeing the gods and powers as they exist in the fictional universe as fully legitimate, regardless their existence in extant lore. I have spent so much time trying to find the historic Mara that I’ve come close to losing track of my own experience of the goddess I work with.

The problem was that I didn’t listen. I didn’t think. I didn’t write. So it took me ages to work through seeing Mara as a goddess with different forms and faces and names and epithets, and then as summer came around I completely dismantled my altar because the baby was climbing up the bookshelf I had it on. I asked Mara to tell me what she wanted and I ended up with an altar that was unlike anything I’d given her before. Small shelves on the wall, centered around a figurine I’d picked up for Mara at the thrift store more than a year before, feel relevant and present. They recall the large, sprawling altars I used to keep years ago, without taking up a wall’s worth of furniture. They feel right, for now.

While I started this 30 Days of Devotion-type exercise purely as an offering to Mara, it has also turned out to be a gift to myself. I have learned a great deal about Mara, her worship, and the other spirits she is associated with. Spirits like Bluebird and Vala have been in the corners of my awareness for years without me knowing what I should do with them. (Bluebird has been in my life since I was in high school; it’s about time I figured out how to work with her.)

I have some non-fictional thoughts I’m probably going to post about over the next couple of days, and I certainly plan to continue writing, but honestly writing something from dictation every day has been exhausting even though some of them were very lightly dictated.

Petition

“How much is enough?”

“I don’t know.” She put another candle holder on the altar and lit another tea light. “Let’s try this for now.”

He nodded. “Okay. Candles. Incense. Coins. Now the petition, love.”

She bowed her head, determined. “Dear Mara, I know you look over a great many people, for a great many reasons. My spouses and I, we reach out to you for your blessing. I want to carry a child, but fertility treatments are expensive and we only have enough saved for one try. Please make this possible, and I will sing your praises every day for an entire month.”

He patted her back as she relaxed. “You did good.”

“I hope I did good enough.”

“Well, we’ll see soon.”

The Spring Festival

Ausrine swallowed hard as she watched the festival procession go by. At home, she knew, they would be celebrating the early spring by praising Mara’s lifegiving aspects and begging her wintery face to turn away for another year. Somehow out here it had become something altogether different.

“Then the Mariam throws the ice witch in the fire,” her host was explaining, “though I heard in some places they throw her in a river. It’s said that allows spring to come for another year. Do you suppose it was originally about your Mara?”

She knew what the woman meant; she wanted to know if the Mariam’s role had originally been played by the spirit. But all Ausrine could see when she watched was that the spirit that had saved her life was being mocked and burnt.

“At home,” she began, and then she looked around and lowered her voice, for it was still dangerous even with the army moved west, “at home we celebrate the thaw, and offer the first flowers to Mara.”

“Is there an ice witch?”

“Mara is…” Ausrine took a deep breath. “You have this romantic ideal of what the gods are, of what it meant to live here and belong to this land and to its spirits. But the spirits we know, and that you knew, were not so simple as you want them to be. So I will tell you how the new year is welcomed in the spring.”

Her voice had grown loud again, despite her best efforts, and some of the other people in the crowd were turning to look at her and listen.

“In the summer Mara is the giving earth, generous and fertile, good to plow and good to rest on. But the earth is all things in all seasons, and after we harvest the last of her gifts she grows lonely and empty. We keep our stores full and our hearthfires warm to remind ourselves that the Mara of the Summer is always watching over us.

“But the earth is not here for our pleasure, and in the winter Mara takes down her plaited hair and sheds her cloth garments. She runs wild in furs, or even naked in the snows, as it pleases her. Even the Sun flees from her in fear, and by the Longest Night we must remind the Sun to return with our bonfires. In winter Mara reminds us that she is not ours, but that we are hers, to do with as she will. Sometimes that means we don’t see the spring, but eventually everyone will have a last winter.

“When we die we go into the earth. She welcomes us there. She takes our bodies apart as hers was taken apart once, and she does us the honor of making our bodies part of her.

“But in the spring, when the ground thaws and with it her heart, when the flowers begin to push through like hope, we celebrate that we are still here, and we remind Mara that we are grateful for all she gives us, and bid her to wash the blood from her face and plait her hair again and be the fertile fields once more. We light fires to welcome her in from the cold, and we feast to show her how well we have portioned out the gifts she gave us last year, and we tell stories of her blessings and make offerings that the hospitality will beg reciprocation from her. And she comes back to us, our Daughter of the Earth, and we open the markets in the spring in her name. But she was the icy face of the frozen earth too.”

Ausrine shook her head, feeling as if she were waking from a trance. She looked around, seeing the size of the crowd she’d attracted. Some of them were interested, but some were angry. Her host’s face was ashen.

“We should go,” her host said, and Ausrine followed quickly out of the mass of people.