March 31, 2020

the rocking chair

The old man walked through the long grass, patched with furze and heather, slowly but strongly. He knew this land, all its gentle rolls and the craggy bits sloping up to a slice of sky. He was a boy in this place, and he was walking to the house where he grew up. The landscape so familiar, even after so many years away; as he walked and looked, the present scene was overlain by remembered images of the same place in different seasons, different years. It tugged at him hard, like a fish-hook in the gut. A well-set hook, yes, and now he saw the old croft as he crested a low hill, cradled in its place by the clear cold stream in which he learned to fish. Running smoothly now, but in his palimpsest memory he recalled it winter-stilled and spring-rampant too. At the yard's edge he stood a moment, letting the remembered image die away, deliberately looking hard at the house as it now was. The walls seemed sound enough, but most of the plastering had fallen away in the years of weather, revealing the grey stones that had built it. The roof was sunken in on itself, slate tiles lying here and there, and doubtless more inside. His hand touched the doorframe gently, hesitantly, as though he feared to wake some sleeping spirit within the house with human noise. His fingers slid down the frame edge, stopping when he felt an engraved area: his own name could still be read clearly there, Donnall, scratched into the wood with a pen-knife when he was about 7 years old. He breathed a bit there, one hand on the door, head bowed, wrestling with himself.

After a moment, he sighed and pushed open the door. inside it was brighter than it should have been, from the light pouring in through the holes in the roof. Only his eyes moved, taking in the empty shelves, the barren hearth, tumbled slates on the floor, a lone flowered teacup by the sink, the rusting pump handle, a tippy stack of old milk pans, dust---so much dust---the empty bedsteads, and oh, his heart---the old rocking chair. Tears brimmed, trembled, and finally spilled down his cheeks. He did not sob aloud, but his chest heaved like the ocean a few times, and he bent forward, resting his arms on his bent knees for a few minutes. Time swam around him. All the years of his boyhood crowded up until he felt nigh smothered by his own lived days, good days though they had been. Slowly he stood up again and moved about the house, tapping timbers with the fire iron, poking at cracked slates, caressing the smooth old table top, and coming to rest on the hard edge of a bed frame. He would not sit in the rocking chair, though it was the only chair left in the house. Not yet. He felt he must earn that, somehow. The house was old, and that rocking chair perhaps two hundred years younger than  the house itself; in his own memory it was always his grandmother sitting there, but of course his own mother had nestled him in her arms there for a bit, and the grandmother, and her mother, and so on, in some chair on that hearth, back into the times of vexatious kings.

After his mother had left his father, who turned out to be a shouter and worse, she brought him home to his grandmother's house. There he stayed the day she went back to fetch her things, but she never came back because his father pushed her down the loft stair, and went to prison for it. No one seemed to recall they'd had a toddler, in the turbulence of the times that was just starting, and Donnall's grandmother raised him alone, a law unto herself, and the saving of the quiet child who spoke little but watched everything. The buses still ran regularly then, but mostly they stayed on the croft. He followed his grandmother about from sun-up to sun-down, and only left when she passed away. He was 18 years old, formally unschooled though not unlettered; and he went away to work at the first of many labouring jobs, travelling a bit, and meeting a dark-eyed girl named Mairead who became his wife. They settled in a town nearer to the old coastline, where he did a bit of this and that, bringing up their son, small Donnall. They called him Donnall Beg, and Donall became known as Donnall Mor, to distinguish them. And he grew to a bonny tall lad, settled in his own work, and married a smiling young woman who gave them a grandson within a year. They were happy, and Donnall Mor had no complaints although he had worries, as did all living in the transition times, until the day Mairead fell ill---and shortly after died---of one of the new sicknesses that had been going about the world.

Domnall felt that there was a hole in the world, and it had pulled away his wife. He worried that it would pull too many others along with her. There was truth to that; many died of illness, even illness that in former times was treated easily. Some were pulled away by despair, or by simple hunger, and some by violence or accident, as came to happen to his son. The younger Donnall died senselessly when he was hit by a truck dispersing rioters, though he was not rioting himself, but only queueing to buy food when the rioters rushed past in the narrow street. Ever since his son's death, so soon after his wife's, Donnall had lost the sense of comfort and surety that he had always carried with him. Now, seeing his grandmother's rocking chair, something long asleep curled and stretched within him. It was like a talisman--lost, forgotten, then found unhoped for and unsought in a corner, as powerful as the day it was made. The old chair, dusty as it was, seemed still full of her spirit and love. Although he had no certainty when he came, now he was filled with purpose.

And he would earn that chair, he would. He came back with a tent, and a toolbox, and a few days later a well-used farm lorry chugged its way to where the old road ended and the path to the croft began. The road had been made long ago for horses and wagons, and never really paved or widened for cars, and the driver looked a little harried. The old man hailed him and came down to meet him, and together they unloaded the lumber and sundries onto the grass. The young farmer found himself a little worried at the idea of a man his grandfather's age ferrying all that heavy wood up the path on his own, and he asked the old man who was doing the work for him. Himself and no other, was the answer, but he hoped to get a bit of help with the heavy lifting.

He felt fortunate to have had the farmer's help getting the lumber. There weren't many automobiles left on the roads, other than emergency response vehicles and the bare-bones, infrequent transit coaches. All others needed a government permit for farm use or light industry or delivery of essential equipment. Which was a good thing, overall, of course; but it did mean things needed a deal of planning, especially in the hinterlands. He didn't have much cash; few people did, anymore, since the banks had failed. But the farmer had agreed to fetch and deliver his materials in exchange for two years' grazing rights on Donnall's land. Some might have thought it a steep price for an afternoon's drive, but the old man wanted to see sheep about the place again, and was content.

Bit by bit, he cleared the fallen slates from inside and outside, sorting the good ones for re-use and piling the shattered ones in the yard. He cleaned the interior thoroughly, taking great pleasure in seeing the wood gleaming clean and well oiled and waxed as his grandmother had taught him. He sanded and oiled the sink pump, and made a new cistern for it, cleanly and well-sealed in the traditional way. He mended the floor where it was water damaged, and ended up replacing nearly the whole thing, as he had expected. He had hung waterproof canvas up where the roof had holes, with new tubs beneath just to be on the safe side. He cleared and mended the privy behind the house, intending to see about fitting it with a composting septic system later. He piled stones and slates to mark out the kail-yard again, digging the old stones from the overgrown edges and stacking them tidily to make the beds hold soil properly, and made notes of seeds and plants to fetch in. He staked out and wove a wattle fence around the kail-yard, thinking ahead to the arrival of those sheep. He tended to fallen hinges, creaky windows, and popped nails. Not once in all this time did he sit in the rocking chair to rest. Instead, he brought in a pair of second-hand chairs, got in trade for his tent, and sat at the table. In a trading meet he found and polished up a little side table, a wee thing big enough for a candle and a teacup, no more, which looked much like the one that his grandmother used by her rocking chair years ago. In the long evenings, he sat outside, and spoke to passing bees. Soon, house and yard looked very ship-shape, wanting only a new roof and a good thick coat of plaster over the grey stone walls.

Donnall felt that it was time to get in the extra hands needed to tackle the roofing and the other remaining heavier work. He took the weekly coach from the nearest stop, which was a long walk from the croft. It made him ponder building a small stable and getting a horse, a nice draught cross, who might be ridden to the housing estate nearby and also pull a small wagon or cart. The small stable enlarged mentally to make space for storage of hay and said vehicle and tack. He continued to dream his croft dreams as the coach rattled toward town. Once there, he found the house belonging to his daughter-in-law Ivona and grandson Thomas, and after accepting a much-needed cup of tea, began to tell them his plan.

Since her husband had been killed during the riots back when the stores were mostly empty, when people finally lost hope that the old ways were going to be salvaged, Ivona had kept mostly to herself. She let the spare bedroom in exchange for food and other goods, and schooled her small son on her own. She'd lost all comfort in crowds and market places, and left the house as little as she could. No real schooling standards had been established after the breakdown of the old system, so she could let him sing rhymes and read fairy tales along with her and make moss gardens by the brick wall, and leave the arithmetic for later. Her eyes had a light in them not seen for several years when Donnall finished explaining that he wanted to make the croft a proper home for them, for the three of them, away from town's bad memories and with good soil and sun to grow food.

He asked her to name any young folk she knew of who were strong for working and good-hearted, willing to learn what he could teach of the older ways. His childhood, living with his grandmother who'd never made peace with a modern world, in the "unimproved" croft house she clung to despite social workers and government schemes, had given him a grounding in an ancient style of life that very few had in his generation. Now he wanted to share the knowledge with young people, reclaiming a decent life out of the wreckage of modernity. He had been told that the housing estate between the town and the croft had been refashioning itself into something betwixt the old and the new, creating a sort of community to replace the failed services and aiming for self-sustainability with communal gardens, pastures, and fields; even recruiting their best home-brewer to run a sort of pub out of one of the unoccupied homes, and working together on a curriculum and schoolrooms for the children in another. He'd gone to visit the place, and found it hopeful. But they needed help, skilled help, in learning to build and repair structures, in planning their plantings, with a thousand other things: fencing, hedging, preserving food, dairying, foraging, tending orchards, beekeeping, making and using herbal remedies, first aid, midwifery, metal-working, potting, septic systems work, water purification, fibre-crafts and sewing...

It had come to him that his childhood had given him some of the skills they needed, and he felt sure that there must be others his age, and perhaps a few younger too, who could fill in the gaps. He could teach them much on the croft, as they set right the roof under his direction, and built the farm buildings he needed alongside him. He'd put them in touch with the farmer, too, that they might learn husbandry and grain farming and hay-making in the old ways, without much machinery. Rumour was that one day, the interweb would return, once sustainability issues were worked out and technical aspects utterly reconfigured, but no one seemed to know if that would happen within the remainder of his lifetime. In its absence, he and other oldsters and any skilled folk---the original web of knowledge---would have to take its place.

The day that the roof was fully and finely repaired on the old house, extending smoothly over it and the addition on the back that nearly doubled its size, he felt a stone roll off his heart. And the day that the plastering of it was finished, and the house stood white as a winter moon, white as new milk, shining against the grass, another weight slipped from his chest. Leading his daughter-in-law and grandson into the house, he watched them closely; seeing the boy's eyes looking this way and that and finding no fault with anything he saw, and seeing the peace in the mother's eyes as she saw the new bedroom and bath in the addition, he knew that he had done right.

Donnall felt a great contentment, unknown for some years. He felt his grief for his wife and son lying quieter, as though he'd discharged some final duty to his family, although in which direction he could not say; he felt both ancestors and descendants were placated, drawn closer, linked through him and given a new beginning. He rocked gently in the old chair, soothed by the remembered soft creaking of the rockers against wood floor and hearthstone. He thought to himself, we had a hand in breaking the world, my generation; we didn't know, couldn't see, didn't listen. And so it's right that we have a hand in mending it, those of us who can look far enough back into the past to see the future. When Ivona set young Thomas in his grandfather's lap, he felt the child's heart beat under his encircling arm. There seemed almost a word spoken in its rhythm, much like the sound of their gentle rocking. It was a familiar, comforting sound, and he would carry it into his dreams at nights.







March 28, 2020

cargo cult

i will not buy my own survival
with a bundle of someone else's bones
that's the old cult,
the doomed and flailing priests' untruths,
prostrate before their unclean altar
with their unclean souls like so much smoke.
they burnt everything they touched,
shovelled the earth itself into the furnace,
stole the future from under our noses,
built a runway to nowhere,
and now they stand there, shameless,
demanding sacrifice---
loosing more lies, more smoke,
death-wrapped, death-dealing,
worse than plague,
feeding on fear. there is no hecatomb
they will not require (of others),
foul hands outstretched,
red with blood, slime green from touching money,
dripping injustice, grasping at straws
to prop up their temple.
to no avail; the earth herself moves
uneasily beneath its weight,
sucked hollow to sustain it,
and no amount of immolation
can turn aside their fall.
not a million sick grandparents,
not our children's future,
not species winking into non-existence,
nothing---nothing can save them.
they will still ask, insist, dragoon, threaten, and take,
but they are done. the temple crumbles even now.
let the flames sputter out, let the ash grow cold,
let the bones be buried.
let this long shambles be dismantled,
and build a thing of grass and trees,
the only green currency we need.










March 26, 2020

when they tell you who they are, believe them

(not a poem so much as a cri de coeur from america)



when people tell you who they are...
believe them.
so far this "government" has told us:
they don't care about education.
they don't care about women.
they don't care about refugees.
they don't care about the poor.
they don't care about qualification to hold office.
they don't care about honesty.
they don't care about facts.
they don't care about people who aren't white.
they don't care about children.
they don't care about justice.
they don't care about the earth.
they don't care about the future.
they don't care about health.
they don't care about democracy.
they don't care about the sick.
and now, they have said, in no uncertain terms,
that they don't care about the elders.
they have made it perfectly clear
that all they care about is their money and their power,
both of which have come from us.
well, i believe them.
and i believe that it's time for us to tell them
who we are:
we the people,
and take it back.





March 21, 2020

"in the midst of life, we are in death"


i have thoughts about this place in which we find ourselves...lots of thoughts. deep thoughts, hopeful thoughts, despairing thoughts, petty concerns, compassion overload that is thumping in my forehead and constricting my chest.
i have poems in progress, which will not come into focus easily.
i am keeping up with evolving information.
i am restricting my time looking at evolving information.
i am cooking, as i do daily, but with a strange fervour.
i am checking in with my parents occasionally---not so often that they think i am worried (i am), not so infrequently that they might feel taken for granted.
i am keeping in touch with people. oddly, i both want and do not want to do this.
i have placed my name on a list of people who may be called if any elderly or immune-compromised folk in the area need shopping done or other assistance.
i think of small things for the husband to do, preferably out of doors, in an attempt to help him stay sane.
i am online too much.
i am in the bathtub too long.
i am lucky: my life is not much disrupted, as chronic illness and personal preference keep me at home most of the time anyway.
i am desperate for some income, as my yoga classes all are canceled for the foreseeable time.
i am still lucky, because at least we have hubby's retirement income (though shockingly reduced since the stock market tanked), and my house is paid off.
i am waiting for test results from a rheumatology appointment a fortnight ago, wondering if my follow-up appointment to have them explained will be canceled. i feel faintly guilty for thinking about my own minor illness when others are in so much worse shape.
our government is a farce. we have senators profiteering off this disease through insider stocks trades,  whilst the toxic yam, the homunculus-in-chief,  is alternately shouting at reporters and insisting everything is tickety-boo. it's not.
our hospitals have run out of masks and face shields; they have appealed for donations of home-sewn ones whilst they re-use the few they have been issued.
shop shelves are bare. they get re-stocked overnight, and emptied again in the morning. i don't know who is eating all the food bought, as hardly anyone seems to cook anymore. perhaps the sight of bulging pantries and refrigerators is reassuring, somehow.
we are told to have cough remedy and acetaminophen on hand in case we get sick. and a thermometer. thermometers are gouge-priced on amazon.
we are told to remain at home if we get sick, unless we cannot breathe or have other complications.
we are told to get tested if we have reason to believe we have been exposed to the virus. but there are few tests to be had.
people are obsessed with hand sanitiser and cleaning wipes. they are unavailable.
people are unable to handle being at home with their own children. this seems a red flag to me that something is very, very wrong with our society.
teachers are going quietly mad attempting to provide 'distance learning' support to students who have no self-discipline and whose parents cannot or will not supervise their learning.
i spent yesterday outside on the porch; it was unseasonably warm (90F/nearly 32C), with a breeze that helped disperse the mugginess. it felt...odd. unnatural. because it is, ultimately. i was confronted with a dilemma of wanting to take refuge in nature, but finding it felt more disconcerting than comforting. then i felt churlish for wishing nature to be other than what it was.

so many thoughts. and i have read many good, often deep, articles about the current state of things, its potential impacts both positive and negative, helpful suggestions, etc. then i read this,
 https://emergencemagazine.org/story/finnegas/?fbclid=IwAR0QwS0YEMI8bf9uO29hyXlgc_peHIlDJ7VAv2fRPWAn7aremDdWE0yD82U
by paul kingsnorth, and it said everything i had been thinking and feeling inchoately. it made me cry, in that way one cries with a sort of recognition of truth that is beyond hope or despair. i felt YES. this is how i see it, this is the One True Thing we need to hear.

"in the midst of life, we are in death." truly, any given day, as we live we are also dying. everything is constantly transforming. our human culture---by which i mean both our globalised toxic western industrial culture, and all the endangered, half-forgotten individual human cultures as a whole---is dying, both because that is natural and as a result of our own actions. nature is a mirror. we need to take a good, hard look at ourselves in it.

*sorry. this is not very cheery. sometimes i am a little ray of sunshine, and sometimes i am not. mostly not. (but then you knew that already, probably...)



February 11, 2020

fat chance

i am a rubbish sleeper. i wake up a lot at night, and the random thoughts i have at such times run the gamut from the absurd to the sublime. while trying and failing to sleep recently, i had the following thought, which you can judge absurd or sublime for yourselves:

what must it have been like to live in a time when the female body was not yet subject to reconfiguring by fashion and shape-wear of any kind, when (at least as far as we know), the body was just...a body...and its ability to bring new life into the world was the subject of reverence?

and that led me into a kind of nocturnal daydream in which i inhabited this mental space---which felt very spacious indeed---imagining how things might have been in paleolithic or early neolithic times. i imagined my body was that of one of the so-called 'venus' figurines. of which so many have been found all over europe and beyond. (this wasn't difficult; i have been pregnant, and also i saw my round little grandmother in partial undress many times. if you've seen the 'venus of willendorf', you've seen my gran.) i imagined people seeing my body as powerful and helpful, as indicative of skill and health. i imagined others saying things like:

"what straight bones, and generous curves...she makes a really rich bone broth---that's why her hair is so shiny, and she and her children are all so round and strong."

"she is so wonderfully plump---i bet she is a terrific cook. i heard she was able to put weight back on so-and-so's daughter who had become so thin after her long illness."

"i hope she will teach us how to make the special porridge that is so rich and filling. her family must not suffer through the winter feeling hungry and cold all the time. and in the spring, they are still well-fleshed."

"what a good gatherer and gardener she must be! she must have such deep knowledge of the land, such culinary intelligence, to keep so healthy."

"she must be very fertile. how wonderful to have such curves, and breasts full of milk when needed. aye, she is to be envied!"

it's not that i think a woman's only or main role is to bear children. nor am i desirous of living in a time when the average woman's life was spent pregnant or nursing for the majority of her adult life. however, it was very satisfying to think of being female and not being judged negatively for one's female shape, nor constricted by garments into a fashionable form. if ancient art is anything to go by, women were depicted in their different ages and stages matter-of-factly. there does not seem to be a fetishising of youth or slenderness. if anything was prized and thought exceptionally worthy of rendering in artworks, it would seem to be the heavily pregnant or recently postpartum women, or in some cases, a body that had borne and reared many children. just imagine living in a world where a round, full body was seen as an indicator of robust health and being generally good at living!

i'm well aware that there are pitfalls in valuing fertility even in an ancient world...where fertility is highly admired, those who cannot bear children, or choose not to have them, can be stigmatised; as it was in some historical societies in which 'barren' women had to change part of their attire to reflect their lack of child-bearing, and which was a sense of some shame or lack. that is not a healthy attitude for women to exist amongst, certainly.

but it was an interesting exercise to dream into a world where a woman could be young or old, slim or plump, and have her body just be a body, and if any charge was attached to it, it was positive. so often women are made to feel as if they are taking up too much space in the world, both physically and in other ways. so often they experience their bodies mostly as a source of anxiety, or shame, or inconvenience. menstrual cycles are not generally experienced as magic or powerful in the modern world, unless we consciously re-enchant them for ourselves; pregnancy is viewed as unattractive and tedious. child-bearing and nursing competes with wage-earning, so new mothers feel they must hurry back to work and find outside care for their neonates. there is a pressure to "get back to your pre-pregnancy body", and to do it quickly. older women are enjoined to diet and exercise to combat "middle-aged spread". "thigh gaps" (unattainable for many, and unhealthy for most) are a sought-after marker of thinness. fat people are either ignored or shamed, and assumed to have little self-control. the elderly are made to feel their bodies are "ruined". we are rarely allowed to exist in our female bodies without policing them in some way. so it was incredibly refreshing and freeing to spend time in a mental space where none of that applied.

what must it have been like to come of age and live in such a way?

could we do this now?




February 3, 2020

pelican

whenever you see a lack,
a crack in the world,
a nest full of clamouring beaks
open in hunger,
you have to find your feathers
you have to grow a beak yourself.
you have to feed those nestlings
somehow, you, yourself,
even if it means you peck
with borrowed beak
at your own sore chest
and feed them your life-blood,
because that is what being alive means.
we are called to care
unstintingly for all in need,
not just our own,
those we know
or resemble most.
we have to be ready to help
without hesitation,
no holding back,
like mothers who pour out
their life into their children
that they may live and thrive and shine.
to allay hunger is holy,
the holiest of impulses,
to pull down what divides,
quench the fires that threaten,
patch, mend, give, feed,
hold, help, heal,
restore, repair,
and love.
anything less
is a betrayal of life.
only when we see in the mirror
a shifting light-dark skin,
fur-scales-feathers-hair,
root and leaf,
rain and wind,
only then do we see truly
and know ourselves
myriad, both less and greater
than we thought,
expanding into wholeness,
hearts breaking into flight
as we find our way home
together.










January 31, 2020

the name of the witch


as often happens with research, i was looking for something completely different but stumbled upon something i could not ignore...

i saw a cruciform sign labeled as the origin of the chinese character for 'witch', as it appears in the shang dynasty oracle bones and bronze inscriptions, and which must go a good bit further back in time than those. it may be one of the oldest signs/words for 'witch' anywhere, at least one of the oldest to occur with a documented continuity in its cultural and linguistic context.

the oldest word for witch (possibly) is a sign, a glyph. obviously, i can't say what word would have been used to vocalise it. some speculate that it was "wu" (and there's a wondrous, tangled etymological rabbit-hole here, which i will spare you); others, in other places, say the word "mag" was associated with this sign. (yes, mag like magus, magi, magic...) still, it wouldn't be the oldest word for witch, full stop; merely the oldest recorded chinese word-symbol for witch. and in truth, we don't know what this symbol meant to the ancients who painted it onto pots such as these; everything i say is speculative. but occurring as it did in ancient pottery (majiayao ware, 5800-4050 BP), it is a valuable, compelling glimpse into the world and thought processes of the early chinese people as they were developing signs and pictograms which eventually would evolve into their character-based script.

this sign is a simple equal-armed cross with bars at the ends of each line.


it's interesting that on these same pots where the “witch” character appears, the sorceress (original article author's word) and her familiar frog are also present in the form of the birth-giving goddess.


the article in which i found this image (and a number of others) says this about them (please excuse the awkward google translation):

"In the article "Witch" in the historical materials of the pre-Qin and Han dynasties, a comprehensive review of the "witch" pattern after the Oracle (contains "Chinese Alchemy Continuation Examination", Oriental Press, 2001 edition). It is also worth noting that the four "witch" characters on this clay pot are written above the extremities of the strange figure, and this strange figure with exaggerated genitals obviously has the meaning of reproductive witchcraft, which means that this should It is a big "witch" image, and the meaning expressed should be reproductive sorcery. In view of this special form of iconic mutual certification, they finally determined that this symbol was the earliest "witch" character in China, thus advancing the generation of the "witch" character by 1,000 years.
  In order to find more physical evidence, Wang Zhian conducted a large number of investigations in Gansu, and finally found a second such pot in Linxia, ​​Gansu. The word "witch" on it was more, and the first pot was actually unearthed. The location is roughly the same. The word "witch" on the two painted pots is not just an isolated text symbol. It is closely matched with the content of the picture. The image in the picture is a big witch communicating with heaven and earth. This "witch" is the frog god incarnation worshipped by the ancient Tatars who can withstand floods, overcome disasters, communicate with heaven and earth, attract well-being and have strong reproductive abilities. Therefore, although the word "witch" only exists in one piece, it appears in combination with the pottery painting expressing witch. We cannot regard it as a symbol of unknown meaning, but a Chinese character "witch" with a clear meaning. word. Sorcerer, big witch, in ancient times, people who are considered to be able to talk and communicate with heaven and gods, are human or animal spirits that have absorbed the spirituality of some sacred animals in nature and have supernatural divine power. Hierarchical meaning, representing the activities of witches, to report to the gods and ghosts for blessings, and convey the meaning of ghosts and gods to bless. It rested on the expectations of the ancestors at the time to live and work in peace, avoid disasters, and hope for health and happiness."

the cross is one of a number of archaic and globally represented symbols, some of which have been with us almost since we fell out of the trees and stood up on the savannahs... crosses occur in many forms, with or without adjunct graphics like dots and V-signs, all likely related, but with different emphases: 
  1. the swastika = life, life force, all that is, the endless cycles of life-death-rebirth. it is also a sun symbol, it seems, but in the sense that the sun is necessary to life, and subject to the fluctuations of life. sometimes it appears alongside pictograms of the sun, which seems to indicate the movement of the seasons that produces new life in its time.
  2. the lozenge, or diamond = a vulva sign, invoking the gate of life through which we are born. possibly related female reproductive signs include ovals or 'mandorla' shapes; 'pomegranate' shapes; and the round-with-tail shapes known as "boti", 'paisley', 'mango leaf', or 'uteri'. 
  3.  the ankh = life, life force, rebirth or immortality.
  4. the cross and related “sown field” motif of a cross (often in a circle) with or without dots or lozenges in each quadrant = fertility, specifically a field sown with seeds and perhaps encircled with protective fence. the cross-shaped division represents an orderly garden or field, prepared by human agency in cooperation with the fertile forces of nature. it shows the part of fertility that humans might control, but recognises that nature’s bigger forces of heat and moisture are needed to bring the harvest to fruition. this fenced field may be analogous to a graveyard or mound-tomb ‘seeded’ with the bodies/bones of the dead. it may also have an analogue in the round belly of a late-term pregnant woman with everted navel. in all cases, it refers to the parts of the great mysteries of life that humans may see and, to some degree, control or do their part toward invoking. thus it moves seamlessly into later religions (both pre-and post-christian) as a sign of faith or a reference to the intersection of the human and the divine. the “christian cross” and the ankh, among other symbols like the egyptian djed pillar, may represent a wish for rebirth or eternal life in an afterworld that people offered to their dead. spirit poles, ancestor markers in portable forms (doll or small idol, simple staff or cross form) or permanent and monumental forms (grave stones, stele, “baba” stones, wooden or stone crosses in various forms).
  5. the barred cross, the one used in this ancient context to mean 'witch' = the human mediator who navigates the worlds of seen and unseen phenomena, the one who speaks human wishes and needs to the ancestors and spirits of nature (or gods, if you wish), who links heaven and earth in conscious human form (as humans do generally in eastern philosophy), the one who brings wisdom or direction from the spirit world to assist humanity and maintain the fertility of the physical world. thus crosses in general are a multivalent yet consistent symbol of invoking ordered fertility. they show the conscious participation of the human in nature. they express a wish for immortality or rebirth for ourselves or our beloved dead, honour the ancestors. they symbolise the daily reborn sun, or invoke deities who die and are reborn as the sun is. they indicate, finally, our own consciousness of our mortality and our dependence upon the forces of nature for life and sustenance. 
as mentioned, crosses vary in form; they may look T shaped or cross shaped, and may have circular, oval, or triangular additions at the top (solar cross, 'celtic cross', ankh cross, roofed cross). there are crosses that have multiple smaller crosses made of their arms ("jerusalem cross" for example). there are '"hidden" crosses, such as the framework of a shaman's drum, or the "god's eyes', made by making a cross of two sticks or slats and wrapping string around and around in an over/under pattern until the arms of the cross are filled with fibre. but in the simplest analysis, cross forms sift into one of two graphic concepts: a human-like form, or a representation of fertility, either of fields or females. these are ultimately related...both indicate a place where two things come together, with humanity in the crossing place.

perhaps the swastika represents the unending, uncontrolled life force/cyclical nature; whilst the barred cross indicates the witch, the one who requests or directs certain actions and outcomes. the witch actively intercedes with or directs the activities of nature. she/he works via ritual, prayer, song/chant, dances, sacrifices, or other offerings to influence the unseen forces of nature and/or ancestors, to obtain specific outcomes for a person or a community. in the role of midwife, she assists birthing women to come through labour, hopefully surviving it and bringing a new clan member into the world.

by changing the slanted ("whirling") ends of the swastika cross to the more static barred cross, perhaps a sense of control is being communicated? the witch exerts a measure of control over natural forces. the witch is the interlocutor between the invisible realms and the visible, the living and the dead, the sprit world and the material world… so a sign meaning witch might show a meaning of 'switches'  or 'gates' on the swirling motion of life force, or a sense of boundaries at the intersecting worlds. a witch is the one who makes ‘gates’ where the visible and invisible meet, and communicates through those gates. perhaps this is also the origin of the links between words in IE cultures that have to do with weaving, going in/out, fences/gates, and witches..

i think that one original cross form was a simple imitation of human shape, perhaps in the form of a carved “spirit doll” meant to honour an ancestor or invoke a spirit, with outstretched arms and tapered base that allowed it to stand in the dirt, or a carved or painted image of this. or possibly a crosspiece of poles erected to hang ritual images, tanned animal skins, or offerings upon, for reverence and for its apotropaic or totemic qualities. another, later version was the graphic depiction of a sown field, seeded in its quadrants, the symbol of human orderly cultivation.

it’s possible that other crosses evolved from poles or gates or stone constructions erected to show the sun at certain key times of year, such that the sun seen behind a cross-piece became a sign of rebirth, of the sun itself, of immortality. threshing floors, laid out with a circular design by using a central pole and rope, were apparently used to track solar movements for calendrical purposes. often sited on level higher ground to enable wind to carry away chaff effectively, they would have been well-positioned for heavenly observations too. perhaps placing a shape like a crosspiece on top of the central pole might have allowed a precise marking of solstices or direction? 

it makes me think that perhaps the crosses with a circle around their tops mean (originally) something like 'time passing', 'seasons'---basically a graphic representation of time. the swastika or 'kolovrat' is, i believe, similar, but with an additional specific meaning of 'life forces'., which are ever-moving, ever-changing, proceeding through the seasons and through ages, for all of time. it was and is still used to invoke or denote fertility, health, protection, good fortune, and rebirth. 

the sun, rising and setting and rising again daily, was seen as part of the seasonal variation of life, and as a daily reminder of the link between life and death, of immortality. it was accepted that change, not stasis, was the order of things. sun deities died every night, to return in the morning, they waxed and waned seasonally, and often had dual or triple forms to represent their different ages. (maiden-mother-crone; the bride and the cailleach; the strong, virile sun god and the old, testy one...all around the globe, people conceived of this rhythmic alternation of deities and life forces.) the cross, linked with both the sun and its diurnal journey, and more generally with the idea of two separate planes intersecting and the magical point where they met, has been associated with death and rebirth for a very long time.

if the recently dead are ancestors, and the long-dead become family or tribal deities (which is generally accepted), there is little difference between the concepts of humans and spirits. very recently dead spirits are regarded as ghosts, and rituals are performed to keep them from staying too close to the living, to help them understand they are dead, and to assist their journey to the spirit world. if buried, a stone or other marker may be placed to facilitate finding their grave (and perhaps to keep them in it), and a settled community may enclose their graveyard or cremation site with special fencing. but once dead for  some time, these ghostly spirits become friendly ancestors; dead beyond living memory, they grow into god-like spirits, whose protection and help is sought. the dead return to the source, to the spirit world, and those left behind wish them to return to life again. they also wish for the spirits of the dead to be happy, to have what they need, and to offer protection to the living. regular rituals to show respect to the ancestors and spirits are needed; regular offerings to them ensure they are cared for and remembered. they become one with the spirits of the land and its creatures and weathers, which also must be respected and given offerings. the "big witch" depicted on the pottery giving birth is doing the biggest witchcraft of all: bringing new life into the world that would ensure the ongoing life of the family/clan/tribe and the immortality of the ancestor spirits, as well as participating in the fertility of all nature. the "big witch" is probably a goddess, a deified first ancestress who began the tribe and gives fertility and the means of life to her descendants. 

wood, bone, stone, pottery, or fibre likenesses or memorial images may be made to keep the ancestors close and happy, and provide a nexus for ritual activity, for remembrance, to wish them rebirth, to include them in the ongoing life of the clan. a simple ancestral offering site which still exists in some communities and probably goes back to the dawn of human consciousness and ritual action is a wooden post in the ground, often with a cross-piece upon which ritual cloths may be draped or tied and offerings may be placed.  in some cases the top is carved or painted with a face to indicate the deceased, and sometimes breasts or genitals are indicated. in stone or in wood (and later, metal), these ancestor/spirit world offering sites are among the most ancient memorials, building on even older use of naturally occurring stones and trees as offering and ritual sites.  

these images are the visible symbol of the intersection of heaven and earth, of the living and the dead, of the spiritual and the material worlds. when we see a spirit doll, or a clay or stone or wooden idol, or the carved or engraved or painted likeness of a person, we are seeing an ancient human concept of something visible standing for something invisible. (every time i see a child playing with a doll, i wonder how much it's just that doll play inculcates or concretises life skills/roles, and how much it may once have overlapped with honouring the dead and offering them rebirth in the family. and puppet plays may have started as rituals of ancestral communication!) when we see a cross symbol, we are seeing one of the oldest indications of human spiritual thought processes: a graphic representation of a mental concept that there are two different things or qualities that intersect or meet at some central point, and there is an ordering to it. variations on the simplest form of two intersecting lines show us refinements on this conception, shades of meaning to do with time, or power, or intention. and standing next to these most ancient indications of human thoughts and concerns we may find our unimaginably distant grandmothers and grandfathers, who began our bloodlines, and the figures of the shamans/witches who navigated the boundaries of the seen and unseen for humanity. 

there, at the centre of the cross, and at its ends, is the domain of the witch.












the rocking chair

The old man walked through the long grass, patched with furze and heather, slowly but strongly. He knew this land, all its gentle rolls and...