Last weekend I was standing up by our lake watching the late afternoon sun go down, touching all the trees with gold. The wind was strong, rocking the branches and ruffling the surface of the lake with waves. The trees are just beginning to turn here - we are far enough south that color is only just starting to show in the leaves whereas many other places are at their peak of color, or even past it. And the sky is now that incredible blue of Autumn, unmatched by any other time of year.
So, as I stood out there, just reveling in the beauty around me, a thing happened that raised the hair on the back of my neck. I heard a flute playing...not a recording, or the radio, but unmistakably being played live. The music was haunting, in a soft dancing, lilting minor key and there was no way to get a fix on it, with the wind pouring down the lake. The music lurked, and haunted, faded away and then rose again, tossed to all the compass points by the wind. Standing there at the water, with the sun and the wind and the soft eerie flute , there was only one thought in my mind - chapter seven of The Wind in the Willows; "The Piper at the Gates Of Dawn." (and any of you who have never read it, go here, now, and do so - just chapter 7.
http://www.cleavebooks.co.uk/grol/grahame/wind07.htm ) It was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced. The flute music finally faded away, and did not return. I shook my self out of the trance of the moment, feeling like Mole and Rat did on the river... when Mole says
Cernunnos, the Celtic horned deity associated with stags, and animals and
the harvest, I was rambling around on the internet looking at images of them. One such search took me to a site with the sculpture of Pan with his pipes, and I did a double take - it was the same one, it looked like, as the one on our altar. The sculptor, by the way, is Oberon Zell. Then I really did a double take - I stared at the picture, because between the goat feet of Pan in the statue is a little baby otter...the scene from Wind in the Willows! I bolted up off the bed, crossed to the altar, picked up the actual statue, which has long been one of my favorites and was stunned to see that, yes there WAS the baby otter. It actually was meant to be the Pan from the story - and that chapter was pivotal in my childhood, my first realization of Deity in that form and my understanding of a wider spirituality. (I may have been about 7 when I read the book - yes, I was precocious.)
I stood almost speechless, gazing at the little baby otter nestled between the hooves of Pan at the base of the statue. My childhood image of magic and life then, in my hands now - and this is incredibly significant folks, because on Friday, October the 30th, next week I am getting my Third Degree as a Wiccan/Pagan priest. (those of you who are wondering , wait, when did the Second Degree happen, it slid by in the scramble of the past year, acknowledging that yes, I am at a Second Degree and have been one for some time.) And on the altar of my Third Degree ceremony will be this statue. I already knew it was going to be on the altar, before I realized it's connection to my childhood and "The Wind in the Willows." I do not understand HOW I missed the fact that the otter was at the base there, given how many times I have pored over the statue, except that maybe I was meant to suddenly see it now at this most significant of times. It was one of those moments that totally takes your breath away...the interweaving of the past with the present, that phenomenological, experiential moment of gestalt, of seeing the whole, and seeing it fit together so that you see everything as it's meant to be.
So, I am getting ready for the ceremony now. It falls at Samhain, Halloween...an appropriate time for a priest of the Lord of the Harvest to be initiated. I am rounding up significant items to go on the altar, or be in circle with me, as I have been instructed to. (And the individuals who are running this circle are plotting with malice and aforethought too...I have no idea what they have planned, but it's evidently going to be fairly impressive!) Obviously the little Pan is going on the altar. And my favorite statue of the Goddess - the Morrigan - a warrior Goddess....other usual stuff; the runes I made, my athame, my sword, the other sword (I like swords! So sue me! LOL!), my staff and so forth.
My staff by the way is about the coolest staff you will have ever seen. Its about 4 feet long, almost perfectly straight, and smooth, no bark on it, except for an interesting pattern all over it, from top to bottom. Here's the story - it was picked up, as is, untouched and unshaped by man, on the shore by a beavers dam. The pattern comes from them shaping it as they worked the wood to build the dam, it was totally all done by the beavers! Every now and then I kind of get tempted to decorate it, add a leather grip, and so forth. But I doubt seriously that I ever will...it should remain as it was found...shaped by the nature of the beavers who created it.
Also on the altar will be a painting of Christ, done in the style of the old Russian Icons. It was painted for me by my friend Skeptic and I treasure it. Why is a picture of Jesus going on my Third degree pagan altar???
Because for me there is NO difference between being a Christian in the priesthood of believers and being a 3rd Degree pagan priest. The Green Man, the Lord of the Harvest and the Dance, the God of the woodlands, protector, savior of the helpless, the little Otter asleep at his feet, the dying god of hundreds of myths and stories, who gives his life in autumn that spring may rise again, Christ dying on the tree and rising to life, bringing with His self sacrifice balance to the world again, it is all one. It is all One. And as a priest of both or either, I am called to manifest my God to the world - to protect, to honor life, to sacrifice, to live, to be the Fool in the Journey, to Love, and be in Love with Life.
I am also putting my favorite stuffed animal on the altar too. It is a much loved stuffed Tigger, not the Disney Tigger, but one made to resemble the Tigger of the original A. A. Milne illustrations of the Winnie the Pooh stories. He was given to me when I was six years old...which would be 42 years ago.
Anyway, Tigger is much loved, his fur is worn thin, and he is missing an eye. You see, he's Real. (and if you haven't read "The Velvet Rabbit", go here: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html ) Tigger will be in the Circle because that honors the child I was, who caught in a blinding moment the meaning in the heart of the world, bent over a children's book all those years ago and realized that it was the same thing I heard at church - that we love and are loved.
Maybe my copy of Wind in the Willows should come too.