Winter Fire

Fire Goddess who speaks

in tongues of ancient ancestors,

we jump within

your folds of life

bearing your heat

out onto the ice

and dark and night.

We hold you deep within

the winter of our journey

this journey you put

us upon before we

could speak or walk

or be whatever the spark

you placed within us

became.

Fire Goddess who speaks

a blazing inferno

sustain us as we walk

out onto the ice where

we carry your words

of hope and peace

deep within this Solstice night.winter fire 1

 

Dirty Feet

Anyone who gardens in the north knows that this is the season for dirty feet. It doesn’t seem to matter if you go barefoot, wear shoes, sneakers, or mud boots; somehow the dirt from the garden finds its way to your feet. I’ve tried tucking my jeans into the boots, wearing them on the outside of the boots, even going so far as putting a rubber band at the hem of the jeans around the boot. No matter what I do at the end of the day my feet still look like someone has dumped dirt into my boot and rubbed it into my skin.
I blame the garden gnomes.
I saw a garden gnome some years ago. Not one of those statues of garden gnomes you see all over the place, which I believe give them a good laugh. No, this was a real, honest to goodness gnome. Did you know that what people think is a pointy hat on their heads is actually the shape of their heads? Yup, that’s what I saw.
It was a one moonlit summer night when he appeared in my flower garden. He stood about three feet tall and just stared at me as I stared back at him. I got the feeling he was just as surprised to see me as I was him. It was difficult to make out colors due to the blue cast the moon gave everything but I did notice that he was not wearing clothes and he was a bit hairy all over. And, like I said, there was no hat on his head, just that domed point with long, dark hair cascading from it. His facial features were quite flat, eyes that slanted toward pointed ears held close to his head, a wide nose with flaring nostrils and full lips below a large mustache that hung well past his chin and his skin appeared greenish-blue in the summer moon light.
The night I saw the gnome I was wearing my wellies due to a resent downpour which made the garden wet and muddy. When the gnome disappeared – and I mean disappeared, he just seemed to sink down into the earth on the spot he was standing – I finished the ritual I had been doing when he first appeared then I went back inside. As is customary in many pagan paths, I had bathed before doing my ritual so imagine my shock when I removed my wellies and found mud caked on the top of my feet and between my toes. That was the first time I made the connection between dirty feet and gnomes.
That was the only time, so far, that I’ve seen a gnome but I know they’re out there in my garden just beneath the surface. I know they are waiting for me every time I go out to weed or water, gather or plant. They are just waiting to use their own little brand of earth magic to somehow put dirt into my boots. Sometimes I make their job easier by wearing sandals or simply walking around the garden barefoot, letting the dirt toss up onto my feet, squish between my toes. I can almost see them smiling knowing I have gotten their message to not forget what is responsible for making my garden grow.
Now when I take my boots off and knock the dirt out of them heading for the bathtub to wash my dirty feet, I think of that gnome staring at me in the moonlight and smile.

 

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No Shadows

They were lost and alone with no shadows to guide their way, no sense of direction only the wind and rain. The sky had been grey for days on end and at night there was darkness so thick they huddled in a hollow tree with their eyes closed in order to glimpse a little light. They wandered in the rain seeking any glimmer of light; a candle flame, a little camp fire, a glow worm or firefly. But the rain was so steady it put out all the fires and the cold was so harsh the tiny light-bearers stayed underground. Without light there were no shadows, without shadows there was no direction and so they stumbled in circles from one hollow tree to the next.
The children listened to the stories of the elders who spoke of a time in the past when the sun and moon had grown tired of all the complaints of the people and so refused to guide them until they stopped their grumbling, fretting and whining and once again found their joy. The elders warned the people that this had come upon them for the same reason and encouraged them to be brave and find something to be joyful about else their days of wandering with no shadows would continue.
The people grew sad many succumbing to tears which only aided the task of the rain and the sobbing at night frightened the children to tears as well. All hope seemed lost as the people pressed close in a mass of anguish and despair within the damp void of a large tree.
Then one darkest empty night the people were awakened by the sound of a reed flute and the tapping of a small drum that pulled them all up from their fitful sleep. The darkness was so dense they had to rely on the sound of the music to guide them. And so holding onto each other they ventured out into the cold dark rain in search of the sweet sound. As they drew closer to it some of the people began to smile others to hum along with the notes that filled the night air. Some even found they had not forgotten how to dance, the soles of their feet itching to step to the beat of the tiny drum. By the time they reached the source of the music all their sobbing had ceased. Most of them had smiles on their faces and the tiniest glimmer of dawn lay flat against the rain soaked sky. They gathered around a piper and drummer who sat upon a wet mound of green moss playing the most joyous music any of the people had ever heard. Before long they were all dancing and singing, laughing in spite of the rain and dark grey that filled the sky above them.
The elders smiled at one another as one of them slipped a silver coin into each of the pockets of the musicians, then moved toward their people to join in the celebration as a tiny sliver of golden light could be seen on the eastern horizon.

 

tree 1

The Return of The Muse

He climbs the hill behind her house wondering if it can be true. Did he really hear her voice, the voice he knew so well from so long ago? Her song fills the air around him, blue and misty like the twilight that he pushes through on his way back into her life, a life she pushed him out of when her fears became too real, when she convinced herself she wasn’t good enough. Then when death came knocking, knocking so hard it broke down the door and she was never the same after that, no amount of prodding or cajoling could convince her otherwise. She simply put away her brushes and her paper, rolled up the unfinished canvases, closed the pan of watercolors, tucked her guitars and drums in the closet behind the winter coats. She was finished. He was abandoned to wander the green lands where they use to meet, where he whispered in her ear of the beauty she could create with her mind, her heart, her hands. He could still feel the hole it left inside her, see the hollowness in her eyes that only knew how to weep after that, could not see any of the beauty they use to, only the fear and the grief – only the emptiness in her heart where love had once lived.
His hands dig into the soft cool earth as he climbs the last few feet out of the ravine. Then he sees her. She is sitting in the flowers singing so softly he knows he is the only one who can hear her. He knows he is the only one she wanted to hear her. So he sits down beside her, fills in the words she can’t think of, touches a few notes she hasn’t thought of, fills her head with all the lost days between them, whispers his joy to be back in her thoughts again, back in her life.
Colors of dawn and summer wrap around them shielding them from the past and a life that could have been. Her music is golden yellow with wings taking it up into the early morning sky, a song of renewal. She is the phoenix and he the ashes. They soar into the rest of her life and neither of them cares anymore if anyone notices their creations. They have the trees for their museum, the birds for their audience. The wind applauses a standing ovation.
He follows her inside happy just to be floating next to her again, filling the hole in her heart, drying the stale tears that have left stains on her cheeks. A whisper, a touch, a breath of midnight blue and she pulls out her brushes, dusts off the yellowed paper, smoothes color and life across its surface. When she is finished he looks down at the image, she whispers and he hears,”For you my beloved Muse – for you.” And glowing off the paper he recognizes the face he has seen reflected in pools of water, off dragonfly wings and her glistening eyes. He sees himself. He sees her muse. And she picks up a river cane flute she has made with her own hands and plays for him.Tam Lin's Son

The Fine Print – a faerie tale

Sylvia had always heard that calling a faerie lover would end in disaster but that had never stopped her from wanting one. She read everything she could get her hands on to try and find a loophole, something that would give her a glimmer of hope. Maybe there was a faerie man out there somewhere who didn’t play by the rules, one who could love a human and not leave her crazy, blind or dead when it was over. Or maybe there was a spell she could cast that would make her impervious to the consequences of loving a faerie.

 
Now as she looked at the ancient book she’d found in an old book shop that glimmer of hope poked a hole through the impossible shining down on the words that just might make it happen. The book was handmade, tied together with leather thongs that threatened to crumble every time she turned a page. Dust puffed out between the pages and she had to squint to make out the small, delicate script but there it was; the spell she’d been looking for. It was simple. So simple she was having trouble believing it would work but the writer had attested to its efficacy by gluing to the page a fine glistening hair said to belong to her beloved. It was wound into a spiral, silvery white with just a hint of green and looked to be at least two feet long.

 
After reading the spell she sat staring at the hair, the urge to touch it bordering on need. It took her more than an hour to make up her mind, alternately pacing the room then sitting to stare at it some more before finally giving in. Sylvia took a deep breath, closed her eyes briefly then gingerly let the tip of her finger alight upon the glinting hair. An immediate warmth spread from her finger all the way up to her elbow before she pulled her hand away. Three times she touched it with the same reaction each time but after the third time the hair on the page flashed a soft, pulsing green light like a firefly. In that moment the decision was made.

 
The forest was dark and still the night of the warm new moon in August. With just a candle to light her way Sylvia slowly stepped along the familiar trail, crickets singing their chorus, a cacophony of sound that drowned out the sound of her footsteps and breath as she stumbled along. At the huge ancient oak tree she placed the candle on the ground, plucked a single strand of hair from her head then placed it at the foot of the tree. She hugged the tree, kissed the bark, and then closing her eyes said the three simple words from the spell book and waited.

 
The same warmth she had felt from the faerie hair began spreading through her starting at her feet then climbing up her entire body until she was so warm the desire to free herself from the cotton dress she wore became a priority. But she knew from reading the author’s account in the book that continuing to hug the tree was essential to completing the spell. So she hugged, clinging to the rough surface like a life boat in the sea, sweat pouring down her face, between her breasts, behind her knees.

 
Just when she thought she couldn’t stand the heat anymore a low voice whispered in her ear, “Here, let me help you with that”, and the dress slipped from her body like melting butter. She looked up. The tree was gone and in its place stood a tall, glowing man more beautiful than anything she’d ever seen. His skin was a warm coffee and cream brown that contrasted dramatically with his extremely long silvery green hair. The only piece of clothing he wore was a suede breach clout and a single silver chain dangling from one of his pointy ears that brushed his shoulder as he dipped his head down to kiss Sylvia’s trembling lips. She felt the waves of heat from his kiss all the way to her toes, a gasp escaping her open mouth when he finally pulled his head back. His lips turned up in a warm smile as a quiet laugh sounding like the rustling of leaves slipped from between his star-white teeth. Taking her hand, his green firefly eyes flashing into hers he breathed, “Shall we walk?”

 
Her candle flickered and went out.

 
The only light in the woods came from the dryad’s body which glowed a pale green casting ghostly tree shadows as they walked. He led her to a hollow where the moss was so thick she sunk into it up to her ankles. It was there they made love, the kind only angels whisper of when clouds cover the moon and rain threatens.

 
Sylvia woke by the ancient oak, her head pillowed on her crumpled dress, a golden sky predicting a glorious sunrise. She dressed, picked up the cold candle and trudged back to her house, where she fell into a deep sleep. When she woke at sunset she saw something glinting on her window sill – a long silver-green hair was coiled neatly on the beam glinting in the purple of dusk.

 
For days Sylvia felt lost like part of her was missing. She kept forgetting things, simple things like brushing her hair in the morning or turning out the lights before going to bed. Then a longing set in, a deep velvet hunger for something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Chocolate became her best friend and ice cream was the only thing that stilled the heat that rose into her throat every night at moonrise.

 
Days, weeks, months poured out of her life until it was August again and the new moon found her at the ancient oak once more. But the words didn’t work this time and the night grew darker while she hugged the tree watering its bark with her tears.

 

After dragging her weary body back home in the morning rain Sylvia found the old book of spells tucked behind the bread box in her neglected kitchen as she waited for her toast to pop. After spreading chocolate frosting on her toast she took the book to the table and opened its crumbling pages to the spell. She looked at the two strands of hair glued to the bottom of the page, the longing clutching at her heart like tiny fingers begging for air. Then she noticed some diminutive words just below them, so small she had to get a magnifying glass to read them. There in the grey light of a drizzly August morning Sylvia read the fine print:

 
This only works once so enjoy it while you can.

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Aunt Krampus

When I was a child my family would travel to the north country in December to visit my mother’s family. We always stayed with my Aunt Raina who lived across the road from a railroad track in an old farmhouse at the edge of her village. Aunt Raina cleaned houses for a living and so was not very wealthy but she was one of the most generous people I have ever known. She bought me my first guitar, took in orphaned children and would go out of her way to help anyone in need if she had the means. I loved her like a second mother.

There were always fresh cookies baking when we arrived, the air filled with the scent of cinnamon and cloves, honey and raisins. Big thick molasses cookies and tiny butter morsels filled her small kitchen where we feasted on tea, laughter, cookies and tears of joy.

One night the year I turned eight Aunt Raina asked if I would like to take a walk and surprise someone. I loved walking in the snow, loved surprises even more so of course I said yes.

“For this surprise we have to wear costumes,” she announced with a grin and a twinkle in her eye. “This one’s for you.”

She handed me a wool suit the color of dark moss with spots of black woven through then a hat with bells on its long pointy end, brown fur tucked into its opening. The costume fit perfectly as if it were made for me which, knowing my aunt’s sewing skills, it may have been.

We walked silently up the road in the cold wintry twilight of an early northern December, inky clouds spilling over dark purple sky, snow softly crunching under our boots.

“Where is your costume, Aunt Raina?” I couldn’t hold in the question any longer.

Here I was decked out in elfin finery, Aunt Raina’s glitter sparkling on my pink nose and cheeks, a foot long leather strap of huge jingle bells hanging from my green woolen mittens and she looked like she always did; nothing out of the ordinary.

She winked, took my hand glancing toward the darkening sky, “There’s magic in the air tonight. That’s all the costume I need.”

Just as the first star was visible we came to a small house where a candle flickered in a side window. We walked toward it.

“When I squeeze your hand ring the bells till I squeeze it again,” Aunt Raina whispered.

I nodded, excitement climbing into my throat making speech impossible.

We arrived at the window as Aunt Raina squeezed my mitten clad hand signaling my other hand to start shaking the strap of bells.

The bottom of the window was at my eye level so I could see inside the house as soon as the candle was removed from the sill. On the other side of the pane the face of a child appeared with the hand of an adult resting on his shoulder. He looked to be around six or seven years old and when he spotted me he smiled but then his face went cold and white as he looked up at my aunt. At that moment she squeezed my hand again stopping the ringing of the bells. Fear was now very evident on the child’s face. I had to look up to see what was scaring the kid in the window. Surely it wasn’t the face of my lovely aunt whom I cherished.

Surely it wasn’t the same Aunt Raina I had walked to the house with!

Standing next to me still holding my hand was what I could only describe in my child’s mind as a devil. My dear aunt had sprouted the horns of a large goat and the furry face to match them. Her eyes were a glowing orange, and I do mean glowing, like a fire raged within them. All this was frightening enough but then I noticed her mouth had grown a set of sharp pointed teeth between which dangled a long red tongue!

I started to pull away from her grip on my hand when her usual gentle voice whispered to me, “Don’t be afraid, my dear, this scary surprise is not meant for you but for the naughty little boy in the window.”

A calm came over me then. Turning back to the boy at the window, his eyes wide and full of fear I felt the magic Aunt Raina had spoken of earlier. Magic that could turn my sweet aunt into a fearful monster. Magic meant to scare the naughty out of a bad little kid. She squeezed my hand and I smiled, bells jingling as the child turned, crying, running from the window, the candle returned to its sill.

By the time we reached the road Aunt Raina was back to herself and we laughed and talked under the starry sky, our breath like smoke rising to their light.

Aunt Raina told me the boy in the window had been stealing from his mother’s change jar.

“He needed a good scare and Krampus specializes in good scares.”

“Who’s Krampus?” I asked

She smiled down at me squeezing my hand.

“Just ring the bells, dear, and hope you never have to find out.”

 

candle

 

The Little Whistling Man

A hollow tree grows tall and crooked at the bottom of the hill just beyond the stone wall behind my house. Sometimes when the sun is just about to set I go walking past it and find a spot to sit in the tall grass. From there I can watch that hollow in that tall crooked tree without being seen. I have been doing this ever since the day I saw a little man all dressed in brown with horns coming out his fuzzy hair and glittery golden wings coming out his back. The sun had just set when I saw him come out of the hollow of the tree and stretch, raising his hands toward the tree tops. Then he started to whistle a strange little tune while he walked off into the woods.

Now I go down there as often as I can in hopes of seeing him again. I cannot get that tune he whistled out of my head nor the sight of the evening sky glistening off his wings as he walked out of sight.

I have never seen him since but sometimes in the evening, just after the birds have ceased their song and the last glow of day retreats behind the horizon, if I listen very intently, I can hear the sound of a strange little tune whistling in the trees…and then it is gone. Then I get up and walk past the hollow tree, up the hill and over the stone wall then back to my house. There I wait with a tune in my head and the memory of golden wings. There I wait till the sun is ready to set again.

Dunvegan tree

Mrs. Claus

Santa & Elf“Mrs. Claus is an elf and I can prove it”, she said.

The old woman looked at me with a sparkle in her chocolate brown eyes that had me wondering if she was serious or just trying to get my attention. Well, she had my attention already, she needn’t bother with that one so I decided to take her seriously.

She continued rummaging through boxes as she explained how she could prove such a thing.

“It was many years ago when I was just a young girl, too old for toys but too young for boys.” She winked at me and held up a small doll with black woolen hair matted from years of being crushed in a box under heavier objects.

“Or at least that’s what me mum thought.” Another wink and a thickening of her Irish accent led me to believe she was about to delve deeper into her past which had to be a very, very long time ago judging from her ancient face and gnarled hands. She handed me the doll telling me to hold it and not let go until she was finished with her story.

She continued her rummaging as she told me her tale.

“It was spring of the year that I turned fourteen when they moved into the old stone cottage down the road from me house. Everyone thought the old place would cave in soon if someone didn’t take it on. They said it was one of the last buildings left from the old days, said it was built when folks still gathered at the stones and wells on the sacred nights when the moon was their only light. Stories were told of strange lights coming from within the old cottage on the solstices and most everyone kept a wide berth when passing by the place. But I had seen those lights so I knew they were more than just stories. I knew that these people that moved into the cottage either didn’t know its reputation or didn’t care. I knew I had to get to know them.

I was a very brave child. Mum would disagree calling me reckless and impulsive. I would go exploring when she thought I was weeding the garden or tending the chickens…or sleeping. That’s how I came to see those lights I spoke of. And that’s how I came to meet Mrs. Vinclaus.

Her and her husband, Kris, spoke with an accent but I never could tell where they were from and they always simply pointed north or changed the subject when asked. They had what they called ‘extended family’ living with them which consisted of about ten men and women who seemed to me to be more like servants or employees than family. They were always doing something, mostly making things like furniture or clothing or toys when they weren‘t working on the cottage. One of them made the doll you are holding. But the most curious thing about them was how they dressed. Always in green, except for Kris, and always with hats that covered their ears. Even Mrs. Vinclaus wore hats that always covered her ears. But after visiting with them on many occasions Mrs. Vinclaus told me to call her Anna, which she pronounced like Awnay and she took her hat off to reveal perfectly pointed ears sticking out from her long raven black hair. I let out a little gasp but then smiled into her emerald green eyes.

“Go ahead,” she said with a grin,” Touch them.” And I did. And they were real!

After that She started telling me stories about their northern home and why they were living in the old cottage in Ireland for a time. She said the cottage had called out to them, that it needed to be repaired before it was lost forever. That particular cottage had been home to her ancestors for many years before her people had been driven out of Ireland. When I asked what she meant by driven out she just sighed, something she did whenever I touched on a subject she’d rather not discuss.

One cold winter evening after me parents were asleep I walked up the road to visit the Vinclause’s and bring them a gift of apple tarts I had made for them. It was the night of winter solstice and I knew it was special for them so I wanted to show me love with this gift. When I got there a celebration was going on in the garden behind the cottage. A big fire had been lit and Anna and Kris and all their extended family were roasting things over it, singing lovely but strange songs and making all kinds of merry. I had never seen anything like this before. There was a warm glow surrounding the whole garden and little sparks of green and blue lights kept flitting around my head. I joined the festivities and had my first taste of mead, sweet, golden and warm. Some of the family played fiddles, flutes and drums and the rest of us danced. They knew all the old Irish jigs and reels and a lot of tunes I’d never heard before. A few other people from the area were in attendance as well but the Vinclause family still out numbered us locals.

Sometime before dawn the festivities took on a slower pace with soft, sad songs being sung in both the old language and one I didn’t recognize. Light snow was falling and Kris, in his red festival clothes, was sitting on a huge old tree stump, Anna, in her velvet greens was on his lap, both smiling and swaying to the beautiful music when a garish flash of light enveloped them. At first I thought it was some supernatural light of some kind but then it instantly became quiet. The music stopped as did all conversation and all eyes were drawn toward the place where the flash had originated and a man stood with one of those new machines called a camera. Everyone seemed to be in shock for a few moments then all hell broke loose. The man was pounced upon by most of the family and a few of the locals. The camera was confiscated and the man driven out into the breaking dawn screaming like a banshee.

Kris was given the camera and in turn he handed it to his wife. “You know what to do with this, my dear”, he said.

Anna walked over to me and gave me the camera. She looked into my confused eyes and told me that only the most innocent of them could possess such a thing that could prove who they really are. She trusted me to keep their secret and only tell those who believed or needed to believe.”

“You need to believe”, she said.

“By the first of the new year they were gone leaving behind only the lovely now renovated stone cottage and this doll.” She touched the doll’s raven black hair with one of her crooked fingers.

“This note was attached to it.”

She handed me an old yellowed, crumbling piece of paper with the most beautiful fancy handwriting that read:

Whomever holds this doll that looks like me shall have my blessing of a long life filled with the wonder of magic.

Loving Blessings,

Anna

Then the old woman reached into another box. As a slow satisfied smile spread across her face she pulled out a photo and held it to her chest.

“This is what’s left of the photo the man took at the celebration”, she said handing it to me. “At some point I cut away all the background that had completely faded away and painted a new one and glued them onto it.”

I looked in astonishment at the photo not just because it was clear proof of Kris and Anna’s existence, but because it was in color!

“Yes”, she chuckled,“ It seems magic was afoot that night inside that old contraption.”

I’d like to say it was the old photo that helped me believe but in the end it was the doll that accomplished the feat. When I touched its pointed ears and looked into its emerald eyes a strange tingling went up my arm and into my heart settling there like warm honey and since that day, just as Anna promised, there has been the wonder of magic filling my life. An innocent kind of wonder that is had naturally by children but seldom by adults. I have seen the lights in the woods and talked to faeries and they let me paint their portraits. And every Winter Solstice I light a fire in the back garden and call to Kris and Anna and their family with thanks for all they have given me. Then I sing and old song and dance an old jig and raise a cup of cheer to them for through that small toy they have given back the childish wonder I’d lost along life’s difficult journey.

May you find that wonder again as well.