Praises to Brigid

Once upon a time, there was LiveJournal.*  I haven’t posted there for over a year, but I was digging through my account and found this (from twelve years ago, almost exactly:

Because I have dreamed of beauty

Sing within me, oh perilous Muse,
Bright mistress of my soul’s fire;
Your mantle lies still swirled around
This world- warp and weft embedded,
Emblazoned in the lines of light,
Dragon-fire in the deeps of the land.
Untie that knot of memory, return,
Descend in imbas into my secret self;
Set your flame within my head
That I may frame, focus it in words,
Blaze it in beauty through the land.
My heart is always home for you.

Mighty Brigid, threefold Flame, my Muse of Fire, how can I praise You enough? You are the blaze on the hillside, the whisper in the well, the shield of the house. Your spirit inside us inspires- guides the healer’s hand, the smith’s hammer, the poet’s pen. You set the cool head aflame with ideas, seeds of bright beauty that sprout and grow, entwining all the green and grey and blue of this fragile world.

Bright Arrow of Fire, Victorious and Gentle One, when have You not been near me? I have been a hawk above a cliff, a hound on the trace, a salmon in a pool. I have been father, mother, son, daughter, infant and aged, dead and alive and neither. I have made worlds, shaped them, ruined them. Above and beyond and within, You have been with me through all of it. On my left and on my right, before and behind me, above and below me, within and without me- I am always in the compass of Your glory and grace.

Thrice-shining One, Beauty of the Upper Airs, Hearthkeeper and Comforter, accept my thanks. Guide my art, grant me imbas and imagination; let me draw compassion from Your well; make me sure in the works of my hands.

Light-casting, Triumphant Brigid, mighty and gentle, nine times hail!

Essay on Brighid from the IMBAS website

 Brigid, the Energy of Creation

*It was a good place to write various things, and to communicate with friends.  But it started to wither for various reasons, and then the Russian company who bought it moved the servers to Russia, and most of my friends ditched it wholesale in the face of various (IMHO legitimate) concerns.  I haven’t deleted my account, though I haven’t posted in over a year.

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Glacier Bay

We took a trip to Alaska last month, and one of the stops was Glacier Bay National Park. It was awe-inspiring and beautiful, and the spirit of the place was very evident (even to a cement head like me).  Maybe it’s because everything is so new there- I tend to think of “natural wonders” as being impossibly ancient, but the fjords of the bay formed very recently- since the peak of the Little Ice Age in the 1700s, as a matter of fact.  There was something very raw and brash and youthful about the place.

Johns Hopkins Glacier

Crack! and rumble as we face the
Wall of ice; a woman behind me
Murmurs “white thunder”, and lightning
Ices my spine. More chunks tumble
And splash as the delayed crash follows.
Hard to find a scale to size it
Until the eye, the mind grasps
That those tiny curved dark dots
Are harbor seals, five hundred pounds
Or more, hauled out on the floes
(Oblivious to the plummet of blocks
Bigger than them). Blue glow
Shimmers in the serried spikes along the
Glacier top, and all is quiet for an
Intake of breath while our ship pivots.
Then a span of the ice-face fails
Its hold, spouts and plumes at first,
Then it all merges as the wall dissolves
At one point, fountaining high before
The roll of sound reaches us. A wave
Heaves up, spreads, touches the hull,
Rocks us gently, massive, implacable,
Before passing down the bay towards the sea.

“Fear” is the wrong word

I recently read a fascinating article on Atlas Obscura about the subject of “taboo deformation” (when we call something by a word that is not its true name).  I immediately had some issues with it.  On the surface, this doesn’t come as a great surprise- AO is a fascinating cabinet of curiosities, but the writing (and research) is uneven and not necessarily checked very well.  I signed up for an account there in order to be able to do a near-complete rewrite of the article on the Tortuguero Stela (a key piece of evidence used by promoters of the Maya 2012 phenomenon.

The article on taboo deformation doesn’t have that kind of problem, though. Instead, the author uses the word “fear” where they (in almost every case) should (also) be using “reverence”, “awe”, or even simply “respect”.

The article accurately describes the origin of humorous pseudo-expletives such as “dagnabbit”- an unwillingness to use the “true name” of something, especially while swearing. There’s a very good linguistic discussion of the process.  The author traces it back to (amongst other things) a curious phenomenon in many Western European languages- the word “bear” in English (for example) is not actually descended from the proto-Indo-European word for bear (*h₂ŕ̥tḱos, from which we get such works as “Arctic” and possibly even the name “Arthur”).  The bear is a powerful and dangerous animal, words have power, so people wanted to avoid invoking it directly.  But our of fear, or fear alone?  I think it’s more likely that this circumlocution comes from awe and reverence for something of such great elemental power.

Likewise, the substitution of (for example) “gosh” for “God” isn’t done out of fear but reverence or respect.  So is using “darn” or “dang” for “damn”- after all, damnation is a divine prerogative, and it would be disrespectful for mortals to tread in that area.  And changing “fuck” to “frick” (or my favorite, the Irish “feck“, although that one seems to be a bit more complex) or using the word “crap” instead of “shit”- that’s not fear.  That’s just skimming the edge of whatever society defines as polite language.

I think this points to an impoverishment of our language these days, probably driven by a similar poverty of the imagination.  Words like “awesome” have lost their original spiritual sense, and the idea that someone could revere and respect a powerful force of nature or the divine, as well as fearing it, just don’t seem to occur to most people, the author included.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin was one of the first writers I came across when I discovered fantasy fiction.  I found her Earthsea Trilogy fascinating in concept, absorbing in detail, captivating in character… and ultimately, disappointing in its philosophy.  Still, I hold a deep love for the second book, and the work as a whole sparked my early interest in Taoism.

She was a profound influence on modern fantasy and science fiction… John Scalzi described her as “the spiritual mother of generations of writers.”  She was an outspoken feminist and a strong believer in the moral and intellectual value of SF&F.  She believed passionately in the power of imagination to make the world a better place.

I can’t think of a more fitting epitaph for her than her own words:

“Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
Only in dying life:
Bright the hawk’s flight
On the empty sky.

—The Creation of Éa”

Magnetic Poetry

We collect fridge magnets.  Not obsessively, but occasionally… they make great compact keepsakes to bring back from our voyages, and some artists use them as a convenient medium for small pieces.

At out cabin, we have a sampling of the usual mix, plus several different “magnetic poetry” collections- including Shakespearean words and a selection of phrases from The Onion.  This has led to many odd sentences and slogans spread across the doors of the refrigerator there.

This weekend, however, something different happened.  There were three magnets- one with a Brigid symbol, one with a picture of Her, and one with a Celtic cross.  I moved them so that there was a little space cradled between them, and challenged myself to come up with something appropriate from the remaining words.  I did… and then, after pondering the result, She told me to write the rest of the poem:

My Lady’s fire can make drunk
The coolness of this world- only pour out
And see: Her well contains the flame,
Her forge flows with the inspiring drink
Of poets. Petal upon petal, Her flowered
Aspects unfold from either, both, other;
And as hearth flicker and struck spark
Flash across the earth, springs burst forth
From every hidden hollow; water, blaze,
And the hand of Art all strive, all proclaim
The power of Her name to a waiting land.

(The part up to and including “And see” are from the magnets…)

Sometimes we’re living in science fiction. Sometimes it’s more like a Borges story.

[I used to publish my non-devotional poetry on my LiveJournal account, but their recent TOS changes make me unwilling to do so.  Until I figure out whether I’m going to bother with Dreamwidth for anything other than reading others’ journals, I’m going to post it here when I feel so moved.  Honestly, since I dedicate all my poetry to Brigid, none of it is actually non-devotional…]

Inspired by this article from Atlas Obscura, I give you:

Uncharted

In some wind of internet terrain,
A program waits, patient, bits
Ticking over.  The glass turns, algorithms wake-
Random bumps appear, are eroded;
Meticulous calculations churn for
Ninety seconds (geologic ages in server time),
And maps emerge- mountains looming over valleys,
Coastlines carved in with bays and capes,
Islands jewel-scattered across oceans.
All this done in hand-drawn style,
Fantasy-labeled with names hinting of
History and deep language, fit for the
Endpapers of novels.  An atlas
Building itself from water and topography
Every hour- and the rivers always reach the sea.

Poem: Note for the journey

Note for the journey

When you are drawn down that hungry well,
That tunnel, bored through cruel stone,
And your eyes, straining through the blindfold dark,
Desperate for the least glimmer or phantasm,
Catch a firelight-flicker on the edge of sight,
Only to realize it sparks and glows, relentless
From the eternal flame that heats change’s cauldron-
Remember that the skeleton of the flower
Shall be fleshed out in petals of heart-flame,
And you shall rise from the furnace, purified,
Alchemized into the truest gold.

05/27/2007

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