Thursday, January 27, 2011

Her Own Square

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?" -- Oscar Wilde

Sage words indeed! Be warned, ye men of the Earth: do not treat your wife as if she were a perfectly normal person. For if you think she is normal, that means you think she's pretty much just like everyone else; and if that's true, then why oh why did you marry her? You might just as well have set your sights on the woman down the street, or the pretty girl at the grocery store, or just someone at random. You might, indeed, have set your sights a bit higher. Why did you settle for a perfectly normal person?

In fact most women are normal. That's what normal means. But Alison... well, anyone who knows Alison at all knows she's anything but a perfectly normal human being. The word normal comes from Latin and referred to a carpenter's square: a normal thing is one that stood at the correct angle, conforming to the rule. Alison, of course, conforms to no rules. She has her own religion, her own politics, her own art and writing, her own goals and dreams — there is not anything about her that she has not thought about, weighed, and consciously chosen. And she chooses what she chooses regardless of whether it stands at the "correct" angle to the carpenter's square used by normal people.

Actually I lied: she has rules, of course. In fact, she has her very own carpenter's square in her heart, branded there, I think, by the goddess Bridget herself. (It would be appropriate, since Bridget is a goddess of crafts and artisans.) She holds up the world to it to see whether it's square, and when it's not, she lets us know, eloquently and vehemently.

She also holds Bridget's square up to herself. She has no harsher critic than her own standards (and that's saying something). And if she doesn't stand true, she beats and hammers herself until she does.

So I cannot treat this woman as if she were a perfectly normal human being; she simply isn't one. Instead I treat her like the perfectly odd human being she is. I try to help heal the hurts she feels from standing straight in a crooked world. I try to lend a hand as she tells her truth to those that will hear. I try to give her the gentleness and forgiveness she does not give herself.

And so, perhaps, if Wilde is right, there is a chance she will be happy with me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Our wedding is all about the edge — the edge of our new life together, the edge of conventional religion and ceremony, and of course the edge of the ocean. I thought it might be fun to look deeper into this word edge and see what it's all about.

It's one of those words that goes all the way back to Proto Indo European, to the tribe of horse-herders and farmers who lived on the edge of Europe, Asia, and India. They had a word ak, meaning "sharp" or "pointed", used to speak of weapons, corners, edges, and even tastes and smells (it's related to acrid). When the word descended into Proto Germanic, it became agjo, keeping these same meanings (related to German Eck, "corner"). Then in Old English it became ecg, pronounced much like the modern word egg, meaning "corner, edge, point" and also "sword". It was not uncommon in Old English to speak of ecgplega "edge play" for swordplay, or ecghete "edge hate" for battle. The verb egg as in "to egg someone on" is from this word. But after Middle English, ecg shifted in pronunciation, spellings, and meaning, losing some of its pointedness and corneredness, and gaining associations with fringes, cliffs, and thresholds — becoming edge.

Spiritually, the word indicates an approach to a place of decision and judgement. The edge is not just where something stops and something else begins; it is a place one moves toward, leaving behind what is familiar, and a place where one must make a choice, and proceed mindfully and consciously. Standing here, one is not contained in one world or the other, but poised -- to jump, leap, or step carefully. Or maybe even move the edge.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Welcome to the Sun" (Anonymous)

Into the Sun

Welcome to the Sun

Welcome to you, sun of the season's turning,
In your circuit of the high heavens;
Strong are your steps on the unfurled heights,
Glad Mother are you to the constellations.

You sink down into the ocean of want,
Without defeat, without scathe;
You rise up on the peaceful wave
Like a queen in her maidenhood's flower.

An anonymous poem, 19th century,
from The Book of Celtic Verse: A Treasury of Poetry, Dreams & Visions (edited by John Matthews).

In honor of Brigid, Celtic goddess of fire and inspiration, as part of the Sixth Annual Brigid Poetry Festival.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jumping Off a Bridge: Wise Advice

There are so many odd little things on the internet that start jumping out at you when you get engaged — so many things that seem suddenly relevant, or amusingly familiar. And since I'm sure you've already started to think that this blog is All AliAndJeff All The Time, I thought maybe I'd start a new category to share some of those weird little things here with you. You know, just for kicks. And because I have a sense of humor about stuff (honest, I do), I thought I'd call this new category, "Jumping Off a Bridge."

(See how clever it is? A bridge as that expanse that connects, crossing a threshold... Plus, remember when your mother used to say, "If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?" I thought about naming the category, "Hey, look! Other people also get married!" But it just didn't have the same ring to it.)

(Ha. "Ring" — get it?)

(Rumors of my sense of humor may have been slightly exaggerated. Slightly.)

So to kick start this new category, I thought I'd share an amusing little bit of advice from one of my favorite Pagan bloggers, Anne Hill. In her recent post, "How Nora Ephron Ruined My Life," Anne reminisces about adolescent days and her first discovery of the wild world of bold, quirky, feminist writers. But the bridge-jumping comes near the end, when she paraphrases and updates Ephron's wise advice:

"Never marry anyone you wouldn't want to be divorced from."

Anne bemoans not having benefitted from this advice earlier, but I for one count myself lucky for having read it just in time! I've had the privilege of seeing divorced-Jeff firsthand. I've watched him cope — with compromise, understanding and seemingly unending patience — with the many difficulties that come with trying to handle a sticky situation, made stickier by young children (and I don't just mean that figuratively). He copes so well, he's copacetic. I think I can safely say I wouldn't mind being divorced to this man.

But not half as much as I want to be married to him.

But there I go making it about AliAndJeff again! So here's another idea: in addition to news and bits of internet flotsam, I want to invite our friends, family and readers to share their own stories about weddings and marriage. So send an email our way:
wedding.on.the.edge [at] gmail [dot] com

Need a prompt? Here's one: What advice have you learned in recent years that you wish you'd known as a fiancé(e) or newly wed?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Engagement Ring

The Engagement Ring
Two Outta Three Rating:

I'm so glad that Jeff finally shared the story of his proposal on the summit of Mount Acadia in the stunning national park of the same name off the coast of Maine during our family vacation last August! Because that means that now I can finally write that post I've been dying to write. You know the one. The one that starts, "And I said, 'yes'!" and ends with "And that is why my engagement ring has to be the most thoughtful, amazing and meaningful gift ever. EVER."

I am about as far as you can get from a girly-girl jewelry nut. I've been wearing the same silver stud earrings since high school (not that you can tell through the tarnish), and I have exactly one necklace that I wear regularly, day or night (my golden Brigid's Cross). I've shuddered and sneered at women who proudly announce their opinion that an engagement ring should cost at least two month's worth of the would-be suitor's salary if it's supposed to mean anything. How shallow and silly. Plus, I'm a Gemini — I tend to wave my hands around a lot and bash whatever rings I try to wear into misshapen lumps.

But I have to admit, I am thrilled with my engagement ring. Thrilled, and honored. I can't help but feel cherished and blessed when I gaze at its warm, rose glow on my finger or feel the soft strength of its interior encircling me. It has to be the most thoughtful, amazing and— but I'm getting ahead of myself!

The Story Before the Story

The Engagement Ring And I said, "Yes! Let's do it! Let's actually get married!" But this was back in February, soon after Valentine's Day. The anniversary of our first date was coming up soon, the first time we met in person after corresponding online for more than three years. We were caught in a whirlwind of warm-fuzzy reminisces of romance in the midst of gray winter doldrums. I honestly can't remember who suggested it first, but suddenly it was a real possibility. We were actually going to get married.

Not as romantic sounding as a proposal, I guess. These days, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of couples decide to get married this way. They talk, they joke, they make overtures. And somewhere along the way, they decide if it's feasible, if it's smart, if it's the next step they really want to take. And only then do they start saving for a ring. That's what we did, anyway. We started saving money, and I started day-dreaming about engagement rings. Because I still wanted a story to tell, and time in which to tell it. I wanted Jeff to do some soul-searching in the meantime and be sure it was what he wanted. He'd been down this road once before, after all, though this time there was no impending third party tipping the scales. So at first, it was just day-dreaming during dreary end-of-winter months, thinking about what kind of ring I might want, and what kind of wedding I might want, and what kind of marriage I might want. I knew they weren't going to be your average run-of-the-mill deal, at least that much was certain.

So we looked around, and talked, thought about when it might be a good time to get married, and how long before that would be a good time to "get engaged." The proposal itself was a rite of passage, and I knew I wanted a year of fiancée-hood to prepare and plan for a wedding. So we worked our way backwards and penciled in the possibilities. And then, I found the perfect ring on the perfect website. Custom made, a dream of eco-friendly, Pagan-friendly, budget-friendly awesomeness. So we set to work saving, got in touch with the makers, and half a year later, there we were, on top of Mount Acadia, with sun and sea air and tears in our happy, shining eyes.

For Love of the Earth

The Engagement RingThis engagement ring hits all three of our Two Outta Three criteria: it is eco-friendly, Pagan-friendly and, well, despite being the most expensive thing I've ever put on my body, it's pretty gosh-darn budget-friendly, too, all things considered.

And yes, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you: it's made of wood!

So before I get into my little spaztastic rant about the Pagan symbolism of this gorgeous little piece, I want to take a moment to thank Nicola and David Finch of Touch Wood Rings. A couple living simply and sustainably in British Columbia, they thrive solely on solar power and naturally-fallen wood on their fifty acres of land up in the blessed wilds of Canada. David crafts rings from wood harvested sustainably from their own property, gathered by family living nearby, or collected from scrap wood that would otherwise find its way into a landfill (check out the Warmth of Wood blog for more pictures of his beautiful work). These artists take seriously their commitment to "right livelihood." On their webpage, they write:
We do our utmost to cause no harm to people or the environment. We certainly have no illusions that our wooden rings will change the world, but each wood ring we make means perhaps, that a little less gold or another diamond is not mined. David uses such a tiny bit of wood to create a ring that we couldn't use up a tree in a lifetime of making wooden rings. We are always striving to lighten the load on our planet.
Jeff and I are proud to support (and brag about) independent artisans like David and Nicola, whose lives are devoted to creating things of beauty born of their love of the earth and each other. In an age when blood diamonds and dirty gold desecrate the land and exploit the resources of the earth as well as the people who share it with us, my heart breaks with gratitude to know that there are people out there doing such blessed and important work. Thank you, David and Nicola!

Beyond the earth-friendly source of its raw materials, and the creative and independent source of its craftsmanship, this engagement ring also embodies a great deal of meaning and symbolism. Crafted of beautiful rosewood with a light oak interior, a band of crushed turquoise and jade runs through it. Each of these has a special significance to the relationship that Jeff and I share, as well as the marriage that we hope to create together.

The Sacredness of Trees

Being Druids, Jeff and I are unabashedly tree-huggers. So the fact that this ring is crafted of wood is itself of great spiritual significance to us. We honor trees as ancient beings of wisdom, as bridges between the realms of land, sea and sky. Reaching ever deeper with their roots to touch dark waters at their source, while striving ever higher with their outstretched limbs to catch the sweet sunlight as it falls, trees can teach us about patience, endurance, receptivity, ancestry, hope, renewal and connection.

The Engagement RingThe oak tree is especially sacred to the Druids, whose very name connects them with the great tree as a symbol of wisdom, truth, strength, stability, and a doorway between the worlds. A beneficent and holy tree to the ancient Celts, it was a fitting choice for the inner lining of the engagement ring: a symbol of a sure foundation rooted in trust and truth, balanced between the worlds while also acting as a doorway, a threshold into a new life.

To balance the light, masculine energies of the oak, we chose the dark, feminine (but fiery) rosewood for the exterior of the ring. A tree of strong associations with passion, love and romance, rosewood echoes the themes of our engagement — a prelude to our more formal commitment in marriage, the energies of rosewood celebrate the beauty and passion of our relationship, as well as its more playful aspects (while grounding that sense of fun and humor without it giving way to frivolous or callous triviality).

Where Jeff proposed to me — on the summit of Mount Acadia — we were surrounded by scraggly oaks and flourishing pines, graced all around us with the golden humming of honey bees and the buzzing of blue-green dragonflies dancing in the sun.

The Silent Lives of Stones

Jeff and I also honor the Earth, and the ancient bones of the earth giving structure and form to this landscape that we love. Stones have always been symbols of commitment and enduring relationship — they hold in their smoothed or jagged surfaces the memories of millennia, of the winds, rains and glaciers that wore away the rocks in the dance of erosion, of the forces arising from the earth herself jostling and shifting in earthquakes. Crystals embody in a very literal way some of the basic structures of form, mirroring the patterns of atoms bonded to atoms, acting as conduits and conductors. Crystals even play a role in everyday life, making LCD ("liquid crystal displays") possible in everything from laptops to mood rings. So naturally, we wanted to include stone in the engagement ring.

The Engagement RingI knew right away that I wanted to incorporate two stones in the band: one to honor my past as an important part of who I'd become, and one to symbolize the new future I was hoping to create with Jeff. For the first, I decided to include a stone from a Valentine's Day love spell I'd performed nearly five years earlier — a spell that, I had long assumed, had failed — and had re-consecrated the Valentine's Day just before meeting Jeff in person for the first time. It was a small piece of tumbled, dark green stone, most likely jade, which I had chosen for its resonance with energies of peace, harmony, healing, balancing and good luck. Jade has long been considered a lucky stone, as well as a stone connected with love and prosperity. In ancient China, a butterfly carved from jade was worn as a love charm. And though I didn't know it then, jade was also the mystical birthstone of March, the month when Jeff and I first met and finally began our romantic relationship.

For the second stone, Jeff and I decided to go together to our local New Age gift shop, where they had a large display of stones and crystals. Eventually, we chose a small piece of turquoise. Known in some cultures as a "sky stone" or "stone of heaven," turquoise is a stone of power and blessing, with strong ties to the western plains in this country where Native American Indians still craft it into beautiful jewelry. This made it particularly meaningful for Jeff, who has deep emotional connections to that land and its indigenous peoples. A symbol of generosity and affection, it has also been associated with love and marital harmony, as well as the joys of music, celebration and a happy home.

With these two stones, I performed a small cleansing and blessing, before Jeff packed them carefully and mailed them off to Canada where they would be carefully ground down and blended to create the band encircling the engagement ring. When Jeff asked me to marry him, we stood together on the summit of Mount Acadia, a rounded top of smooth, pink granite speckled with the green and blue lichens that thrived in the fresh, clean air.

Afterwards, we hiked back down that great mountain, following the winding wooded path over tree roots and boulders, following the stream that murmured over its rusty-red bed until it found its wandering way all the way down to its cascading outlet into the sound far below. The morning was bright and glorious, the water a blazing blue rivaled only by the sky. There on the shore, on the threshold between land, sea and sky, we paused for a little while, enjoying the sound of ocean water lapping gently against the rocky shore, the tangled growth of the seaweed rustling and swaying with each movement. The tiny snails making their way through a great big world so much grander and more beautiful than they could ever imagine. I think I have never felt more a kin of the snails — life sometimes moving so slowly, so delicately over the great landscape of Spirit and love.

The warmth of wood and stone on my finger, the love and gratitude in my heart for a man who will share his life with me, and allow me to share mine with him, as we celebrate and honor this lovely-crazy world we live in. Who is just a little bit weird, and a little bit nerdy, and a little bit perfect.

The Engagement Ring

And that is why my engagement ring has to be the most thoughtful, amazing and meaningful gift ever.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shaffer & Lilly


While Alison's father's family is primarily Irish, most people named Shaffer in the United States are of German descent. Shaffer usually comes from German Schaefer "shepherd" or Schaffer "steward" or "baliff". Because Pennsylvania has such a large population from Germany, more Shaffers are found there than anywhere else. While it's possible that, in Alison's case, Shaffer is actually from an Irish name, I could not find any matches.

If the name is from Schaefer, it literally means "sheeper" (cognate with English sheep.) Sheep is one of those words found only in Germanic languages, with an unknown origin; it may have meant "something protected". If it is from Schaffer it literally means "shaper" (cognate with English shape), and goes back to Proto Indo European skepr, "cutter, carver, creator".

Spiritually, Shaffer begins with a shielding, protective energy, which is broken open and releases into freedom and motion.


The name has several potential origins, all of which may be partly true.

One theory, which I heard from others in my family when I was young, is that the name came from Lille, a city in northern France (originally called L'Isle, "the island", since it was built on a hill in the midst of a marsh). Around 900 AD, Lille and other areas in northern France were invaded by Vikings, who pillaged the area and then conquered and settled it. In 1066, the lords of Lille most likely joined William of Normandy in his invasion of England, and were given lands there as a reward. The English version of the French name Lille would have been Lilly. However, I have some doubt that this origin is true, since it happens that in 1066 the town was referred to in a charter as "Isla" (medieval Latin for "island"). This may just be because the charter was written in Latin; but to me it seems doubtful that in 1066 the name of the city had already been shortened to Lille. Any lords from there would not have anglicized the name as "Lilly".

But the name Lilly is found in two main areas in England: Berkshire and Hertfordshire. The Berkshire Lillys take their name from Old English Lillingleah, meaning "Lilla's glade". (The name "Lilla" was a personal name in Old English; it may mean "little". A glade is a woodland clearing.) The Hertfordshire Lillys are derived from Old English Linleah, "flax-glade". (Note that the word leah, "glade", is the origin and meaning of Alison's middle name, Leigh.)

In any case, however much I might wish it, the surname Lilly does not seem to be historically related to the flower name lily. That name goes back to Greek leirion, possibly borrowed from Egyptian word for the plant, hlile.

The name is full of L's, a sound of light and fluidity, as well as the notions of volume and depth. The initial 'i' sound indicates stasis, ice, stillness; the release into the second 'i' is high, tense energy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Proposal: Hearing a Bear, Bearing a Ring

In early August I went with Ali’s family to Acadia National Park, Maine. Acadia is an important place for her family: they’ve visited it every year for close to a decade, and have gotten to know its nooks and crannies. Ali was excited to show me her favorite walks and hikes, the best little shops and restaurants, and so on. I was a bit distracted because of the engagement ring I had stashed away in my luggage.

Don’t get me wrong: I was excited to be going, and all that. I felt a bit honored, in fact, to be invited along on the family vacation. And Ali already knew all about the ring, and had a hand in choosing the maker, design, and so on (though she hadn’t yet seen it). But still… having something that small and that precious on your person… it tends to concentrate the mind.

So at the earliest opportunity, I decided to divest myself of it. On the morning of the second day, as Ali and I prepared to a hike by ourselves up Mt. Acadia itself, I stashed the ring in my pocket.

The climb wasn’t long or arduous, but I was still recovering from breaking my foot back in February, and was glad to take a bit of a slower pace. The morning was bright and clear and cool, and the mountain slopes were decked with pine and oak and beech, and the trail was littered with great stones carelessly dropped by the glaciers during their hasty exit twenty thousand years earlier. There were no bugs, which made me wonder if we were really in New England, or in some liminal Platonic New England shorn of its earthly imperfections.

At one point the path clambered right up a wall of rock — not too bad, but steep enough to require care. As we approached the top I heard some kind of animal thumping and crashing below us. I turned and looked down, and saw nothing; but the sunlight was bright enough, and the dappled shadows dark enough, that anything could have been hiding down there. Something in the back of my brain whispered bear. It had been a noise characteristic of them. But supposedly the bears avoid Acadia during the summer, because it is so crowded.

In any case we climbed on up, and as we neared the top the beeches disappeared, leaving evergreens and stunted oaks that looked more like bushes. The ground was a mix of bare granite and pine needles. At last we rounded a bend and could look out over the Somes Sound (which has been called the only fjord in America), and see Mt. Acadia’s neighbors: Mt. Saint Sauveur, Mt. Beech, Mt. Norumbega… We could even see Northeast Harbor, the Cranberry Islands, and glimpse the sea. The sun was shining like a thousand prides of lions.

So I turned to Alison and tore my heart out and handed it to her, and I said a few words that didn’t make much sense, and cried some; and she was very gracious about it and even cried a little too (to save me from embarrassment, I’m sure). And when she’d (amazingly) agreed to be my wife, I said “I got you a little something,” and reached in my pocket, and the ring was thankfully still there, and I handed it to her, and it was beautiful, like a waterfall in the mountains, like a ship on the ocean, like her.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Water and Rust

Photographs I took one late afternoon during our trip to the Outer Banks earlier this month. An alternate title for this Glimpse of the Edge post might have been, "In which Ali reveals her obsession with beach fences."

Beach Fence Posts in Later Afternoon

Seriously, though, do you ever get hooked on a particular subject and feel the desperate urge to take a thousand pictures of it? Just me?

Beach Fence Posts in Later Afternoon Beach Fence Posts in Later Afternoon

Anyway, I think maybe it's the water and rust theme reasserting itself again. There's something about weathered metal grown rough with age and exposure, against the clean, clear blues of the ocean and sky. Not to mention the striped shadow play, the tension of captivity and the frustration of erosion contrasted with the exhilaration of freedom and flight....

Beach Fence Posts in Later Afternoon

Or.... maybe I just think they're pretty.

Friday, January 14, 2011

These Three Things: Themes for a Druid Wedding

So what can you expect from a Pagan-friendly, fringe faith wedding? Well, to get a taste for our faith, first check out my article, "Discovering Druidry," and Jeff's article from several years ago, "The Essence of Druidism" (and if you have time, his follow-up, "Impact of Druidism on Everyday Life"). Go ahead — hop on over real quick and take a look.

Back already? Good! You may notice right away the common theme in each of these articles: the sacredness of triplicity. We Druids have a tendency to think in threes. The three realms of land, sea and sky, the three guardians of the threshold (fire, water and tree), the three roles of Singer, Seer, and Sage (or Bard, Ovate and Druid), the three elements of calas, gwyar and nwyfre (or form, flow and force)... the list goes on. (Okay, the tendency to over-alliterate is all me, you can't blame Druidry for that.) In keeping with this convenient (if slightly obsessive-compulsive) pattern, allow me to introduce three themes that will guide Jeff and I as we plan our Druid wedding.

Three Realms SpiralEdges, Horizons, Thresholds

In Druidry, we celebrate the three realms of land, sea and sky. These are both literal spaces in the physical world, and metaphors for the spiritual realms in which we dwell and move and live. Each of these realms also has an "element" or aspect that resonates with it: calas (Welsh for "stone"), gwyar ("blood") and nwyfre ("heaven"). I have come to understand these elements as expressions of Spirit through form, physical manifestation and limit, through flow, movement and exchange, and through force, energy and light.

Each of these ways of being in the world give us insight into and experience of the sacred, and each also gives rise to the others. The limitations of form mean that the world is filled not with some homogenous fudge, but with myriad particulars and unique individual beings. As these individuals interact, bumping up against each others' boundaries and their own limits, they stir movement and initiate exchange, an on-going give and take. And these relationships and exchanges, all this movement and change, generates energy just as naturally as the wind turns a turbine or the river powers a mill. Thus, in Druidry, we have everywhere the natural emergence of cycles. The turning of the earth and its seasons dance through the three realms of land, sea and sky, bringing new expression and experience to Spirit in the three elements of form, flow and force. The four classical elements — earth, air, fire and water — provide ancient Greek philosophy with a stable, four cornerstone foundation. But in the Celtic-influenced religion of Druidry, the three realms and their three elements are dynamic and interactive, one moving into and giving rise to the other in unending cycles and spirals.

So when we talk about edges, horizons and thresholds in Druidry, we do not mean these in a linear sense, nailed down to a one-way path of progress from a fast-forgotten starting point towards an idealized end. We are ever cycling and spiraling through our lives, and yesterday's certainties and assumptions can become tomorrow's epiphanies and surprises. Our horizons surround us on all sides, and the past holds as much mystery for us as the future or, for that matter, the present. We're not in it for the step-by-step life-plan: get a job, get a spouse, get kids, get the promotion, retire happy, rent a yacht. Let's face it, we've already missed the boat on that plan anyway (no pun intended!). Yet Jeff and I want our wedding to be about thresholds and horizons, and the mysteries and magic that lie just beyond the edges of our vision, in the liminal spaces where we can't quite see. We have these kinds of spaces in our own hearts and minds as well, where imagination, intellect and instinct play out the spiral dance of the three realms. This is one central theme for our wedding, then: the horizon as an invitation to exploration, instead of merely something to be conquered and then left behind. The threshold as the moment when we step into adventure, again and again, as we learn the together-dance of marriage.

Balance, Harmony, Beauty

Yin Yang LilyDark and light, yin and yang, night and day, life and death, activity and receptivity, male and female — in Druidry, as in many religions all over the world, we honor the numerous dualities and dichotomies in life. Yet we also acknowledge that these pairings are often simply ways of thinking and explaining the world to each other. They are not necessarily hard-and-fast rules about reality itself. There is the twilight of dawn and dusk between the darkness of night and the brightness of day. There are the stars scattered in the blackest sky, some larger than our own sun though far distant, and the moon as a silver mirror weaving and circling earth and sun alike. Death is a doorway to life and renewal, and decay is just another kind of growth. Even the duality of male and female is and very well should be challenged in our modern society, giving way to the complexity and ambiguity of gender and relationship, transcending antiquated cultural stereotypes and opening to a greater, more authentic kind of freedom.

When we talk in Druidry about seeking balance, we do not mean a strict tit-for-tat reckoning of positives and negatives, wins and losses, punishments and rewards evening the score. What we mean is something far more intuitive and difficult to pin down. Every duality gives way to triplicity, the triad, the mystery of the third. Once again, it is in the dynamic interrelationship and exchange that balance can be found. A better word for this balance, then, is harmony — the harmony of a melody that moves, meandering its way through the notes of a scale, and the harmony of many melodies coalescing into chords. An even better word for this is beauty.

So although Jeff identifies as "male" and I identify as "female" in both the biological and socio-cultural sense, within each of us we carry the mystery of the third — the seed of strangeness and difference, the glimpse of the Other resting in our own hearts. We carry this seed with gratitude as a gift to one another, and to our larger community. In Asian spiritual traditions, this concept is commonly depicted by the yin-yang symbol, dark spiraling into light, a seed of the other in each. The unofficial symbol that we've adopted for our wedding is the yin-yang lily, the blossom that grows out of this dance of change, exchange and engagement with the mystery and tension of duality. The lily is the Mystery that blooms out of a marriage of difference, and the expression of Spirit at the core of harmonious relationship. It is a reminder that balance must be sought in the service of beauty. We want our wedding to reflect this beauty, and to acknowledge the mystery at the center our relationship with each other and with the world around us.

The One, The Many, Relationship

A wedding is, naturally, about relationship. You might even say relationship is the reason for the whole shebang. But while it's easy to focus on the relationship between lucky groom and blushing bride as they become husband and wife, Druidry reminds us that there are many other relationships at work which deserve acknowledgement and gratitude during a wedding. The role of the community of friends and relatives is paramount, providing a supportive foundation and welcoming social space in which the couple can step into life as a newly created family of their own. Beyond this living community, however, is the community of the beloved dead — those ancestors of blood, land and spirit who helped to shape our physical selves, to cultivate the land on which we live and to create the culture that we will inherit and influence in our turn. Broaden our focus again, and we discover the thriving, sustaining community of the natural world and the Earth herself with her self-giving fecundity and life-giving resources. The land on which we dwell is one we share with countless other beings, flora and fauna, bacteria and bugs, even the mountains and rivers and patterns of weather and wind.

TresAll of this is echoed in the pantheon of gods and spirits that, as polytheistic Druids, Jeff and I work with, worship and love. Spirits of place and beings of the land, the trees with their ancient presence, the ocean with its depth and majesty, the resonating celestial soul of the sun, moon and stars, the Shining Ones of the hills and forests, of tradition, myth and folklore. And, too, the gods of creativity and culture, guardians and guides who have touched our lives with their wisdom and inspiration — the piercing gaze of Odin, the wild fruitfulness of Cernunnos, the youthful brilliance of Apollo, the poetry of Brigid Star-Fire with her hot springs and her forge of transformation. Yet suffused through all of these, giving life and meaning and relationship and presence, is what we might call "Spirit." More often, in Druidry, we call it the Song of the World, of which every soul-song — from the smallest beetle to the oldest oak, from the mischievous little folk to the gods themselves, and every human animal that ever lived — is a intimate part.

The Song of the World and the soul-songs of its beings — the One, and the Many. It should come as no surprise that there exists in Druidry a tension between these, which each Druid reconciles differently. As Pagan Druids, Jeff and I find our focus drawn to the myriad expressions of this unifying Spirit, making itself known through the gods and spirits of the land, as well as through other human beings, plants and animals that share this planet with us. We celebrate that diversity and the uniqueness of individuality, the freedom and beauty it makes possible and even the struggles and sorrows that sometimes result. Other Druids, some Buddhist Druids and Christian Druids, find themselves drawn to Spirit primarily through monotheism or nontheism, seeking the unity that underlies all of these relationships and beings, and calling it God, Anatma or the Ground of Being. But always, there remains this mystery, the relationship between the Many and the One.

In our wedding, Jeff and I see this mystery of relationship reflected in our promise to honor each other's uniqueness and individuality as well as our union. In other traditions, the exchange of rings or the lighting of a unity candle* might represent the blending and merging of two distinct beings into a single one — yet, in Druidry, we acknowledge that this is only part of the story. When mentioning this to my mother recently, she told me something I hadn't known about my parents' wedding. During their ceremony, after exchanging their vows and lighting the unity candle, they left the two smaller candles burning as well, a symbol of their individuality shining even within their new marriage. And so, three candles flickered together on the altar.

With a wedding on the beach gently tussled by an ocean breeze, it's unlikely that Jeff and I will be incorporating any candle lighting into our ceremony. But the symbolism of the triple flame will find other expressions, a reminder of that dynamic and beautiful relationship between union and uniqueness, between the Many and the One. As Pagan Druids seeking to honor our families and friends, our ancestors, our land and our gods, we want our wedding to celebrate the beginning of our marriage as a partnership supported by the myriad individuals and relationships that have guided and sustained us thus far, and to ground our union in that greater sense of Spirit, the Song of the World.

*An interesting note: It seems no one is quite sure where the unity candle wedding custom comes from, though it became popular mainly in the United States starting anywhere from forty to seventy years ago. Some Catholic Churches refuse to incorporate the ceremony into the traditional wedding mass because of suspicions that it may have originally been adapted from the Wiccan Handfasting ceremony. So there you are! Bet you didn't know you've probably already been to a Pagan-influenced wedding!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

OBX Wedding Expo SWAG!

As Michael Scott can tell you, SWAG stands for "Stuff we all get!" And it's one of the perks of any expo or convention. Of course, I am not exactly pro pamphlets-you-just-end-up-throwing-out-anyway, far from it! But the amount of information available all in one place — not to mention free samples of yummy food stuffs and more free pens than you could possibly dream — plus being able to interact face-to-face with potential vendors... I have to admit, it was very productive, and more than a little inspiring.

So here's a little taste of Wedding Expo weirdness, spread out on the kitchen table of our hotel suite:

OBX Wedding Expo SWAG

OBX Wedding Expo SWAG

OBX Wedding Expo ProgramOBX Wedding Expo SWAGYou think that's bad? This is nothing! Over breakfast the morning of the Wedding Expo, we very carefully went through the program page by page and highlighted only those vendors and booths we needed or wanted to check out. We'd already nailed down a venue and officiant, and we were well on our way to securing contracts with a photographer and caterer. So what we were primarily looking for by this point were: flowers, cakes, seating and sound equipment rentals, and maybe a DJ or musician, depending on how the budget was looking. Of course, we were going to swing by and sample the food and desserts folks had set out — but we were happy to pass those pamphlets by.

In the end, we did a pretty good job at only taking what we needed. Business cards, pricing sheets and, best of all, reusable treats like tote bags, pens, a wall calendar, music sample CDs, postcards, drinking glasses and an eco-friendly aluminum water bottle. Yeah, okay, and there were some scented candles and chocolate treats in there, too.

All in all, I'd say the OBX Wedding Expo was a big success! Now my task for today is to sit down with all this SWAG and try to sort it into reasonable, organized piles for follow-up.

OBX Wedding Expo SWAG

Wish me luck!

"White Flowers" (Mary Oliver)


White Flowers

Last night
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don't know
how it happened—
I don't know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn't rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers

— Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems: Volume One

Sunday, January 09, 2011

OBX Expo Adventures

Hey there folks. I'm writing a quick note to tell you all how awesome things are going down here in the Outer Banks as Ali and I get ready for the wedding. We're here for just a few days, putting in the cornerstones: catering, photography, the beach house, the local guest accommodations, the wedding expo...

It's been fantastic, frankly. We left Pittsburgh in the middle of a snowstorm, but the sun was out by the time we were in Maryland, and things just got warmer and sunnier as we went south. It's January, so even the Outer Banks aren't exactly balmy, but we can get to the car without getting frostbitten; and we've had some nice walks on the beach. The seagulls look rather silly with their feathers puffed up to keep themselves warm. The sky and water here are magnificent at sunset, especially on the sound side — the sound gets choppy and glows with reflected light, as if the setting sun were shining up through the water.

On Friday we met with our photographer, who really does astounding work for a very reasonable price. He makes everything available digitally and releases copyright, so we will have access to our pictures indefinitely. He was super nice and genuinely seems excited to have a chance to do a pagan wedding.

On Saturday we visited the beach house we're renting, taking pictures and getting a sense of the space and accommodations, and found pretty much everything to our liking. As we were leaving, we got a dusting of snow (!) but it soon cleared up again. Later we dropped by a few hotels in the area to work on lining up blocks of rooms for guests. We were feeling extremely productive!

We even met up with our caterer, who impressed us immediately by giving us our price estimate on a recycled piece of paper. They are even more obsessed than we are about eco-friendliness, and their representative was very understanding about our need to handle various dietary restrictions and stay in budget.

One thing we did not ask the caterer about was dolphin. Ali and I are primarily vegetarian, with some fish thrown in occasionally, but when we saw they had dolphin as one of the menu options, we were aghast. I guess it's some kind of delicacy, but for us eating dolphin is right up there with eating, I don't know, babies or something. We don't hold it against them, and it won't keep us from using them as a caterer, but it gave us pause.

It also led to me coming up with a horrible, horrible joke. Here's how it goes.

A man decided he wanted to throw a dinner party, and he wanted to serve his guests dolphin. He went to the local fishmongers and asked to buy some dolphin meat. The fishmonger, who was a man proud of his wares, took him into a huge freezer, where he showed him shelves and shelves of dolphin meat.

The man said, "Give me some from the top shelf."

"The top shelf? Why?"

The man replied gravely, "I want to serve a higher porpoise."

Friday, January 07, 2011

Autumn in the Outer Banks

Right now, Jeff and I are down in the Outer Banks for a long weekend to visit the OBX Wedding Association's Wedding Expo, check out our venue in person and interview with some of our potential vendors!

There will definitely be photos to come (and stories to tell of our adventures), but for now, I thought I'd take you back in time to that then-mysterious journey we took this past September, the Big Fall Wedding Tour 2010. As you all know by now, we're having a beach wedding in my favorite childhood vacation spot: the lovely Outer Banks of North Carolina. Of course, back then this was strictly top-secret classified information, so as not to spoil the surprise of the Save the Dates. Sure, it was kind of an open secret on my side of the family, where folks have been planning days off and rental house reservations for months now — but in theory, anyway, TOP SECRET.

Now the cat's out of the bag, the pelican's on the move (and the sand dollars are slipping down the dunes of our savings and into the ocean of wedding expenses, to take a metaphor too far). So now, of course, I can share with you some pictures of our trip this past fall without giving anything away!

Want to know what our wedding in September is going to be like? Enjoy these glimpses of the edge....

Dune and Sky
Dune and Sky

Between the Dunes
Between the Dunes

Leaving Dock
Leaving the Docks

It's a buoy!
It's a Buoy!
Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Water and Rust
Water and Rust

A Full Moon Rises
A Full Moon Rises

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year Musings

Ever since we officially set the date, Jeff and I have gotten into the habit of saying things like, "You know, next year at this time — we'll be married." All during the winter holiday season, we kept smiling gently at each other, nudging each other once in a while, whispering, "Next year at this time...."

And now, the calendars and clocks have all turned over, and suddenly we've gone from 'getting married next year' to 'getting married this year'! Only eight months, two weeks and one day to go... And still so much to do!

In many ways, I've gotten out of the habit of celebrating the secular new year. For Druids and many other Pagans, Samhain (pronounced sow'-en) marks the beginning of the new year, or at least the end of the old. According to its folk etymology, the name "Samhain" comes from the words for "summer's end." As the final harvest festival, it marks the change from the light half of the year to the dark half, and a crossing over into some of the hardest, harshest months. Celtic-inspired Pagans sometimes imagine the traditional Wheel of the Year as a torc instead, with Samhain marking the beginning of a kind of "no-time" that lasts until the rebirth of the sun on the winter solstice. As the days darken, the land slips into hibernation, lying dormant beneath the cold winds. Even the winter solstice itself sees only the first glimpse of new hope, the lengthening nights slowing to a stop, losing their momentum as the sun seems to pause on its journey along the horizon — yet it will still be several days before it begins its journey of return, several weeks before the now lengthening days are noticeable, and a couple months before the first real stirrings of spring are felt in the old body of the earth.

Where does the secular New Year of the calendar fit into all of this? Well, it's something that the larger culture celebrates, and for that reason it has some weight to it. It's also, in some ways, just an extension of the winter solstice celebrations. If the winter solstice is the first invisible stirrings of rebirth in the celestial realm of the sun, then the days surrounding Christmas and New Year's — with their songs and crowds and warm fires and bright lights and delicious food — is our first stubborn push back towards the light, back towards life and laughter and love. I can get on board with that! On the other hand, Jeff and I aren't exactly "party" people, and usually by the time New Year's rolls around, we're exhausted and quite ready to slip back into that warm, little space of our own, our den of hibernation that we've created to weather the winter months. I can't remember the last time I celebrated a New Year's in the traditional way, with a big party, champagne and fireworks (honestly, I'm not sure I've ever celebrated New Year's with champagne, though I think a few years ago I did wind up in a bar with my best friend sharing a Woodchuck hard cider on New Year's Eve).

This year, Jeff and I managed to stay awake until midnight, mostly because I was engaged in a quiet ritual of dedication and thanks to my gods, followed by a lengthy divination reading that took hours to interpret. We were deep in conversation about astrological houses and what the tarot cards indicated we could expect from 2011 when I heard what I thought at first to be distant thunder rolling over the hills. I only realized they were fireworks when Jeff glanced up at the clock and said, "Happy New Year, darling." "Oh!" I said, "Happy New Year! So.... what does The Star in the Sixth House mean again?"

This time next year, we'll be married. Sometimes, moments of change slip by practically unnoticed. I wonder what it will be like to be a wife, and I find it hard to imagine things will be all that different. Sure, I'll have a ring, and a way cooler name with lots of alliteration in it, and a promise from the man I love to stick around and grow old with me. But I have most of those things already. When I think about what it will be like "next year at this time," what I mostly think about is how I won't have a wedding to plan. The ceremony will be behind us, the vows will have been made, the family will have been fed and entertained and will, hopefully, have fond memories to look back on.

But having the wedding behind us will itself be a change, and one that may have the same kind of subtle effect that we find in the winter solstice — it is a beginning before a beginning. The vows of a wedding ceremony don't suddenly transform two individuals into a coherent married unit. Marriage is an on-going project, a commitment that is renewed every day and that grows and changes slowly as life rolls on, trundling over obstacles and gathering the momentum of memory and cherished times shared together. But the wedding itself is a promise — like the rebirth of that tiny seed of sun in the dim winter sky, a wedding only hints at what's to come. It is the moment when all the hope and blessings of family and community become crystalized in a rite of passage, passed on to a new generation to be carried forward. The cycle begins again. And maybe nothing seems different at first.

So what will it be like, next year at this time, to be a married couple? Even with the help of my tarot cards, I can't exactly predict the future. But I imagine that, in our married life as in the life of the land, this time next year will be a time of celebration and warm, blazing light despite the darkness and cold outside. The first steps towards a new season of spring, cultivation and harvest — the first steps as a married couple into the future that is waiting for us, carrying the seed of our promise as a gift to one another.