Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

The Faery Ride

Forget the hearth,
Forget the roof,
Set the wheel aside:
Leave your weaving,
Warp and woof,
Steal out to us this Samhain-Tide.

Steal out to us, our tossing hair
Sets sun and moon and stars aflare.
The racing winds are hounds beside
The cloud-maned horses that we ride.
Come ride with us, have heart to dare
The plunging steed; the steeps of air;
The swirling, high, tumultuous flight,
The aery hooves — this Samhain night!

-Ella Young

These our actors
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

-From The Tempest, William Shakespeare

It is remarkable that the gypsies regard the witch as utterly horrible, diabolical and damnable. She is with them simply a woman who has gained supernatural power, which she uses for good or misuses for evil according to her disposition.

-From Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune-Telling, Charles Godfrey Leland

In memory of my grandmother, beloved Mama Kitty, who was called Gypsy.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Remembering Isis

It was a quiet morning at work one day in 1994 when I got a call from a colleague with news from across campus.

"I've rescued a litter of kittens from under our building," she said. "There's only one left; do you know anyone who wants a kitten?"

I hesitated for a minute. My husband had threatened to leave if I brought home any more animals.

"I don't," I answered, truthfully. But then, already knowing the answer, I asked, "What color is the kitten?"

Sure enough, the kitten was black.

I have an overarching fondness for black animals. My favorite pet of all time, George (the cat you see in my picture on this blog's profile page) had died in 1989, and since then I hadn't had another all-black cat.

And this rescued kitten was most certainly all black. She was also incredibly tiny. When I held her, she fit in the palm of my hand. My heart melted.

She went back with me to my office for the rest of the day, then straight to the vet's so she could be ruled out for diseases before being taken home to meet my other animals.

I called Forrest when I got back to my desk. I held the kitten in one hand, the phone in the other. "A kitten needs our help," I told him.

"All right, but I'm leaving," was his reply.

Later on, he told me that his co-workers gave him some grief for his unyielding stance. "How could you be so mean?" they asked. To which he replied, "Do you think anything I say will affect whether she brings this kitten home or not?"

We named her Isis. I was doing a lot of reading at the time about the re-awakening of female/goddess energy, so Isis seemed a good pick for the name of a magical, mystical kitty.

Her tininess and inexperience with the world were remarkable. Because I knew small kittens need to eat frequently, I'd put her at her food dish whenever I got up at night to use the bathroom. From this, she learned that Human Getting Up = Trip to Food Bowl, so even long after she was grown, when I'd get up, she'd get up and run to the bowl. I'm sure these nocturnal trips over the years added to her soft, feminine kitty curves.

I also had to teach her how to use the litter box, but I will spare readers that particular part of the story.

Where Myrtle had a most definite, strong-girl-cat personality, Isis was a quieter soul. She was content to stay in the background and let other cats take center stage, but over time she developed her own center-stage act. Not wanting to deprive her of the attention claimed by our other pets, we created a ritual that we called "Worshiping the Goddess" that involved picking Isis up and loving up on her until the purrs became deafening. She ate up this affection, and we were happy to give it.

One year I sent the picture of her, above, to a pen pal from a Buddhist discussion list. I hadn't gotten to know him very well, but it was Halloween and it seemed like a good time to share a picture of a black cat. "What a magnificent cat," he wrote back. Yes, she was.

Isis and Myrtle became good friends. I thought this was unusual for girl cats who weren't litter mates, but they'd hang out together, eat together, and curl up and sleep together. Many cool or downright cold nights, they'd join me in bed for a cuddlefest.

Isis died last July 31, a victim of lymphoma. My Buddhist calendar said that was Guru Rinpoche's birthday--a day set aside to honor Padmasambhava, who is credited with firmly establishing the practice of Buddhism in Tibet and whose energy is, even today, said to be responsible for establishing Buddhism in the wild borderlands where there are beings who are difficult to tame.

Isis wasn't difficult to tame, but she is difficult to miss. I miss her every day. She and Myrtle are buried together--in death as they were in life--near the Buddha statue in our front yard.

So at Halloween, traditionally a time for honoring those whose lives were lost in the past year, it seems fitting to post this tribute to her. She was much loved, and gave much love in return.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bat Pumpkin

My love of Halloween earned me the distinction of being picked to carve our department's entry into the annual pumpkin contest at the place where I work.

Of course, the only pumpkin I have ever carved has a lopsided grin with triangles for eyes and nose, so I turned to Forrest for his artistic help.

Inspired by our recent trip to see the big fruit bats at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, I suggested a bat theme.

The result is shown above. I am awestruck.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mummy

This is the scroll of Thoth
Herein are set down the magic words
by which Isis raised Osiris
from the dead.

Oh! Amon-Ra — oh! God of Gods —
Death is but the doorway to new life —
We live today —
we shall live again —
in many forms shall we return —
Oh, mighty one.

So begins my favorite movie, The Mummy, made in 1932 and starring Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

Why is this old black-and-white film my favorite? Long before I "discovered" there was a place called Tibet, I was fascinated by the art and culture of ancient Egypt. The Mummy is set entirely in Egypt, and its plot themes—a love that lasts for centuries, reincarnation, the occult sciences, good versus evil, the power of the old gods—are themes to which I have always resonated strongly.

What's not to like about a visually stunning film that opens at an archeological dig and introduces us to an honest-to-goodness scary monster, then understates the horror and invites us to use our imaginations to supply some of the chills?

The opening sequence is one of the two best openers I've ever seen in a horror film (the other being the graveyard sequence in Night of the Living Dead). An archeologist and a master of the occult sciences realize they have unearthed a weird mummy and discovered a box containing the Scroll of Thoth, with the spell that enabled Isis to raise Osiris from the dead; they make the mistake of leaving a curious assistant alone with the box. Bramwell Fletcher, who played the assistant, should have won an Oscar for his rendering of the line, "He went for a little should have seen his face!"

There are more great lines throughout. "I regret I am too occupied to accept invitations." "Had to! Science, you know!" "No man has ever suffered for woman as you have suffered for me." And more.

I've had Universal's Legacy collection of Mummy movies for a while, but tonight was the first time I'd watched some of the bonus material, in which film historians and children of some of the people involved with the film talk about the making of the movie and the personalities involved.

Out of all the actors, it's Zita Johann who fascinates me the most. Evidently she was a student of the occult who prayed before her performances. She was a well-known Broadway stage actress who disliked Hollywood, but she certainly made a great film when she made The Mummy. I would love to know more about her spiritual path, and her body of work, but couldn't find any evidence of a biography other than some meager information on the internet.

In a kind of cosmic coincidence, the introduction to the supplemental movie material was filmed at a theater where my husband used to work as a projectionist—the Vista, on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He had some great things to say about working there late at night, with spooky shadows being cast by passing cars. Wasn't the Vista rumored to be haunted? Perhaps he'll post a comment and clue us in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Previous Life as a Witch

When the king's men
killed my husband
I went back
to the cottage
far in the forest
took my black cat
the tortoiseshell
what I could carry
on my back

left towns & cities,
company of others

threw it all
over for
blankets of moss and leaves
wildflower perfume
walls of oak and vine
meadow windows
onto ceilings
of stars

gathered weeds for food
bathed in sacred springs
learned the cries of crows,
the courses of rivers
heard the earth speaking

watched the year wheel
beneath the Seven Sisters
while sun and moon
spun storms, breezes,
summer's hazy heat
and clarity of autumn,

learned the herbs
and how to use them
how to kill and
how to heal

midwifed the birthing
and the dying—
human and animal,
flower and tree
worked magic under full moons
and dreamed the future in the dark

danced the summer in
through fires at Bealtaine
called the dead
at Hallowe'en

came to see it all
as cosmic holy pulse—
how shapes, like universes,
shift and dance through time
came to see
even "time"
as fallacy


all the same

towards enlightenment

under whirling stars
to come back


to help

-by A Word Witch
copyright c. 1996


I'm not much into past lives; though I believe we have all lived them, I think what's more important is what we do right here, right now. However, I was gifted with this poem back in the 1990s. It came from somewhere, not sure where. I count it as the one clear vision of a past life that I've ever had. Waverly Fitzgerald, then-editor of The Beltane Papers, kindly agreed to publish it in issue #11, Samhain 1996.


“Hi,” said the fruit bat with great pride,

“My wings are nearly six feet wide!

I eat soft fruit, I’m glad to tell,

I find it with my sense of smell.”

“Hi,” said the little bat with great glee,

“Blind as a bat does not mean me.

I see quite well; I’ve got great sight

When I go hunting every night.”

“Bye,” said the bat, “I’m going home.

It’s not too far from where I roam.

A cave, beneath a roof, a tree,

Protecting all my friends and me.”

Forrest and I took a pre-Halloween trip to the annual open house at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, an international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting biological diversity through the conservation of fruit bats. We found the poem, above, on a message board outside the room where the educational programs were being held.

It was impossible to get a good picture of these giants of the bat world through the mesh of their cages, but I did spot this one batty fellow (above), who seemed to be having a good time even though he wasn't eating any fruit.

Ferals' Progress, Part 6 (Bookends)

Here are littermates Baybee and Grover (left to right), proving that ferals CAN become happy housecats. Looks to me like they each need a nap.

It only took them 5 years to decide it was okay to come in the house and hang out with the humans.

Beautyberry in Prime, Closeup

"I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille."

Beautyberry in Prime, Purple

The beautyberries have been in their prime now for several weeks, but a 6-days-a-week work schedule and other writing priorities have delayed this posting.

I think our bluebirds had been nibbling on the berries even before I took this picture, but it will give you an idea of how beautiful one of my favorite fall foliage plants looks this time of year.

Remember, you can click on the picture for a better view. I will post a closeup next.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Ghosts Converse

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
'For beauty,' I replied.
'And I for truth, — the two are one;
We brethren are,' he said.

And so, as kinsmen met at night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

-Emily Dickinson

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Ashes of me,
Whirl in the fires I may not name.
Lick, lovely flame!

Will the fagot not burn?
Throw on the tired broom
Stabled till in my room.

I have ridden wide and well.
Shall I say with whom?
(Stop the town bell!)

Listen now,
Listen if you dare:
I have lain with hope
Under the dreadful bough,
I have suckled Judas' rope
As it swung in the air —

Go find the silver pieces in the moon.
I hid them there.

-Leonora Speyer

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Halloween Tree!

True confession from A Word Witch: Halloween is my favorite holiday. Has been, all my life. So I was thrilled to get home from work today to find something I've always wanted—a Halloween tree!

Forrest used an old fake Christmas tree we got from my mom right after my dad passed away. I actually prefer to have a real live tree at Christmastime--because I love having tree smell permeate the house--but we used this little fake tree for quite a few years until we could once again afford to get a "real" Christmas tree.

And now, the little fake tree is helping us get ready for my favorite day of the year!

When I was about 14, my parents and grandmother and I took a trip to Washington, D.C., and New England. Along the way, we visited various historic houses. I think it was at Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee in Virginia (my mom was a huge fan of Lee's), where I saw this old English poem on a souvenir, and memorized it immediately because it struck some kind of chord:

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, good Lord deliver us."

Stay tuned for more about ghoulies, ghosties, and beasties.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Remembering Myrtle

She was just a small kitten when I first saw her, somewhere between cute-kitten stage and gangly-teenage-kitten stage. She was wet, and cold, and hungry, and there was something wrong with her tail; it was not a Manx tail, but shorter and stubbier than it should have been, like she had had an accident and lost about 2/3 of it, or someone had cut it off—maybe that was why she was wandering around at Dudley Farm on cane grinding day in early December 1996, wet and cold and hungry and miserable.

Someone came up to the park service information table where I was working. “I heard you rescue cats,” he said.

“No!” I thought I gave an emphatic reply. At home, I was overloaded with cats—or so I thought.

But one glimpse of the tiny, wet, cold, hungry, black and white tuxedo girl cat was enough to soften me up. I took off the purple cotton cap I was wearing (yes, it does get cold enough in Florida that we need winter clothes sometimes) and put the small cat inside the hat, and hugged her to warm her up. She snuggled close, shivering hard, and purred real loud.

Another Dudley Farm supporter wound up taking her to the vet down the road, where I arranged to pick her up after her initial physical exam. The vet called me the next day. “How many people did this cat have contact with at your event?” she asked.


“Because she has mange.”

The kitten got her initial mange treatment at the vet’s. When I went to pick her up, she was brought out to me by a very muscular young man who had a lot of tattoos up and down his arms. He was not the kind of guy I would have pegged to work as a vet’s assistant, but he was very gentle and affectionate with the kitten.

“Are you going to keep her?” he asked. “Because I’ve kind of fallen in love with her. She’s real good, and just sits real still in her mange bath.”

By that time I, too, was attached. I took her home and because she had to be separated from our other cats until her mange treatments were finished, she lived for a while on our small, enclosed back porch. My husband and I would pet her with gloves on, so as not to spread any stray mange mites to the other kitties, and she would stand on top of the water heater and run at our faces—we called it “rushing our faces”—when we went to visit and pet her.

A couple of weeks later—mange treatments complete—she moved inside the house. I started calling her Myrtle, in honor of Miss Myrtle Dudley, who willed her antebellum farm to the State of Florida so it could remain intact as a state historic site.

One day we were sitting at the dining room table and Myrtle was sitting on Forrest’s lap, being petted. There was still some debate about whether we should try to find a home for her. She looked up at him with her tiny face and shot him what can only be described as a love beam.

“Honey,” he said, beaming back at her, “you just won the home lotto.”

Myrtle and all our other animals had the benefit of a wonderful blessing a little over a year ago when our local dharma group hosted Khenpo Ugyen Tenzin on his first visit to our area. “Many cats,” Khenpo-la commented, the first morning he was here. “After breakfast, all animals in one place, and I give blessing,” he offered.

So we gathered everyone on the back porch, where Khenpo-la chanted many different mantras, for a long time, and went around and blew gently into the faces of those animals that would let him get close.

Khenpo-la looked at Forrest and me afterwards, and moved his hands to indicate “all these animals.”

“Next time, a better birth,” he said. I took this to mean what we in Buddhism refer to as a precious human birth, in which we can meet our dharma teachers and engage in dharma practice.

Myrtle passed away yesterday, right before halftime of the Florida-LSU game. She had breast cancer surgery over a year ago, but the disease came back, metastasized, and claimed her during breast cancer awareness month.

In between that December day in ’96 and yesterday, there were almost 13 years of love, cuddling, and play—often punctuated by kitty calls of “look what I’ve got” as Myrt walked around the house carrying various-colored versions of Kitten Little, her favorite catnip toy. She always seemed to want kittens; I think, now, we should have let her have just one litter because if she could have nursed, maybe she wouldn’t have caught the cancer that killed her. But of course, we’ll never know.

We played the CD of Liberation Through Hearing fairly constantly as Myrtle neared the end. Forrest and I were both with her when she died, and both present at graveside when we buried her this morning.

Rest in peace, Little One. We will meet again, and this particular cycle of suffering has ended, now, for you. May your next birth be a fortunate one, in which you meet your teacher sooner rather than later.

May all beings have happiness, and the causes of happiness. May all beings—even cats!—be freed from the sufferings of samsara.

P.S. Many thanks to the members of Gainesville Karma Thegsum Choling, who dedicated the merit of their practices this morning to Myrtle (among others).

P.P.S. My vet tells me that "...there is not any evidence that nursing a litter protects against breast cancer in cats, and I would hate for people reading that to allow another unwanted litter into this world in order to try to protect the mother from breast cancer. We already euthanize 5,000 kittens every year in this county alone.

Pregnancy in humans does confer SOME protection, although not much. Besides, most people don't get spayed when they're teenagers, so you can't make any valid parallels to cats. Don't doubt yourself for having her spayed.

We know from many, many studies that spaying prior to the first heat is the single most important thing you can do to protect them from breast cancer. Cats and dogs spayed before the first heat have a nearly zero incidence."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Harvest Moon!

Here it is. The Harvest Moon. The full moon closest to the Fall Equinox. So beautiful! I'm going outside to enjoy it.