In my last post, "Honor for the Dead," I mentioned that this year as part of our family Samhain celebration, we crafted prayer bead bracelets to help us connect more deeply with our ancestors. A bunch of you have asked for more details on how to make prayer beads of your own, so I put together this handy-dandy step-by-step tutorial. Let's do some magic!
There is always pressure to either romanticize or demonize the past. As it recedes into the distance of memory, its complexities are all too easily lost in the mists. The veils of time fall across our vision and we glimpse only vague impressions of a landscape, a culture, a handful of faces on the edge of our perception that seem to change and fade when we turn to look again. What does it mean to part this veil, to honor the ancestors?
There is magic in good storytelling. In a world that can seem so woefully devoid of magic, we have a tendency to romanticize the writer, who is in touch with that magic in a deep, visceral way. But humans have been telling stories for as long as we've been human. Those who are lucky enough to call themselves professional writers have a particular set of skills and an admirable work ethic, but they don't hold the monopoly on good storytelling. The astrophysicist and the bank manager and the firefighter and the dairy farmer have stories of their own to tell. Storytelling at its root is a communal activity, something that can be shared by everyone. NaNoWriMo inspires us because it reminds us that storytelling is not about self-torture or perfectionism or asceticism, let alone popularity or profit. We can reclaim storytelling as basic human nature. We can recapture the creativity and imagination that is our birthright. We can push back against a society that would drain the world of its magic.
Today I have a guest post up over on Nimue Brown's ever-inspiring blog, Druid Life — Steampunk Meditation for Self-Transformation, a blending of Victorian-era esoterica and glibly modern steampunkishness inspired in part by the ancient Three Cauldrons of Poesy. The meditation (and yes, it works) is my latest contribution to the anarchic, silly, and in no way secretive Secret Order of Steampunk Druids, which coalesced sometime back in 2012 between sips of tea and chap hop battles.
Steampunk isn't going away any time soon. It speaks to a deep ambivalence that many of us hold about the modern, industrialized cultures that we live in — societies in which computer technology seems each year to get more obscure and esoteric, in which skill and creativity are treated as less important than fame and wealth, in which ecological damage and environmental destruction persist despite our vast scientific knowledge about how the ecosystems of the world work and our own role in that destruction, and in which strict gender and class norms are often subtly (or not so subtly) reinforced even in the same breath as we congratulate ourselves on our diversity and tolerance. Steampunk looks back to the historical roots of modern culture in the generations before the first world war, picking at old scars and still open wounds, exploring what went wrong and what we might have done differently. It is absolutely vital that we engage in that process, even in the face of ghosts we would rather leave undisturbed.
We turn through a world of tension and pressure, movement and poise. Cycles within cycles that turn together, their teeth in rows — the still center of being, that emptiness around which every gear circles. This is the clockwork of the universe, a shining mandala of interconnection and interrelationship. The delicacy of craftsmanship expressed through the primal forces of the elements: forged metal, fire, water, steam and space. All these have their place, turn their way, in an intricate dance with one another. The steampunk shaman knows the intricate patterns of the dancing world. Her wisdom penetrates the delicate work of friction and force, knowing exactly when to introduce the slightest pressure, and where, and how hard. No brute or bully pushing her will onto the world, she turns, she gives way, she waits in the center of stillness and open space, waits for the gears to shift into alignment. When her work is done, you might say it was all just coincidence, the wheels of fortune spinning out through inexplicable chance. This is the work of the steampunk shaman: she turns the gears of coincidence. Through creative nonaction, all action is done.
I've created many altars, shrines and ritual spaces over the years. Each expressed the unique needs and aspirations of who I was at the time of its creation, and each balanced the limits of my living space with the potential for aesthetic and spiritual engagement. For these have all been living spaces — spaces that were alive with their own energies and moods, spaces that shaped my understanding of myself and sculpted me into new forms even as I organized and cleansed and decorated and invariably made a mess of them in an ever-repeating cycle. House-hunting in Seattle has put me in mind of these many different sacred spaces, and what new altars I will craft as I make a home for myself on the shores of a new ocean. So, while I'm nursing my jet lag and scrambling to pack, I thought this week might be a good opportunity to take a look back at some of those altars of old as I dream of inspiration for new ones yet to come.