I had a psychiatry appointment on Sunday. This happens once every six to nine months or so, and would totally unremarkable were it not for the fact that I had it it in the vestibule of The Birchmere. I’d screwed up my scheduling, and didn’t realize it before it was too late to reschedule or cancel my doctor’s appointment. Fortunately, it was telehealth, so the entire thing pretty much went like, “Hi! I’msosorryIhaveaschedulingconflictIdidn’tmeantoeverything’sgoodandalsoIincreasedmydosageofsertraline!” Fortunately, my psychiatrist saw the physical evidence of my being out of the house as an additional sign that my panic disorder was still under control, and the call didn’t need to take long.
And so, luckily, I was done with the appointment and able to dash back into my seat before Gaelic Storm took the stage.
I knew they’d be fun to see, but I had no idea just how fun. The songs, the banter between them, even the images on the screen behind the stage (especially the donkey race) — it all came together in an atmosphere of warmth, laughter, clapping, and glass-raising.
This was also the exit of their extremely talented fiddle player, Katie Grennan, and the introduction of the also very talented Natalia (or Natalya, I haven’t been able to find her full name). The band switched fiddle players in mid song, then the fiddle player switched fiddles, as smoothly as you please.
Honestly, as much as I love Gaelic Storm’s recorded songs, I was blown away listening to them live. Pretty much every band member is a multi-instrumentalist (their percussionist, Ryan Lacey, was incredible). Their whole set was energetic, and every song was filled with complex melodies that interwove even as the musicians traded one instrument for another.
Music transcends any language. Even when we were growing up and listening to Western rock bands, to this day I still don’t understand some of my favorite songs. But [through] the music, the rhythm and the tune and the way it’s delivered… It’s something special. You’re able to ‘understand’ everything because you feel it.
Gala (Galbadrakh Tsendbaatar), in an interview with Louder
I don’t remember how I first learned about The Hu. When I write or paint, I often end up putting a song on, then letting whatever algorithm is currently spying on me keep recommending things. I remember being captivated by Wolf Totem, and put their songs on heavy rotation afterward.
This past Monday, my partner and I finally got to see them in concert. It was at Warren Theater, which isn’t quite what you’d picture when you think of a metal show (think lots of seats, chandeliers, ceiling medallions, you get the picture). I thought the seats might get in the way of moving around. I did not allow them to.
The band was fantastic. The energy was contagious. The crowd was enthusiastic and friendly. (The guy sitting behind us photobombed us in a hilarious way, and I almost regret laughing so hard because the shot ended up blurry.) And the music. It’s hard to describe the fusion of traditional Mongolian instruments and throat singing with metal in a way that does it justice. I could write about it for what feels like forever, but, as the old quote goes, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
This is what modern bardic tradition should feel like. It feels like the kind of power old stories talk about when they speak of bards that could strike a person down with a verse.
I barely know a few words in Mongolian. If a song interests me, I need to look up a translation, and a romanization so I can at least try to approximate the pronunciation. It doesn’t matter, I still try. My lack of linguistic skills meant that I couldn’t know any of Jaya’s between-song banter. It didn’t matter, I cheered with my fists in the air anyway.
This was easily one of the most fun shows I’ve been to in ages. If you have the opportunity to see The Hu, take it.
Tuesday night, I had the chance to see Richard Thompson perform live. It’s a show I’ve had on my bucket list ever since I was introduced to him a few years ago — he’s an incredible guitarist, and watching him play is really an amazing experience. When I stopped being able to go out much for awhile, I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn’t get well enough to be able to see him play. I only learned about Coco Robicheaux on the day of his death, and I missed the chance to see Tom Waits (who doesn’t tour very often) perform when I lived in California; two things I consider some of the biggest missed opportunities of my life.
I think my S.O. and I were the youngest people in the audience by close to twenty or thirty years, which made me a little self-conscious when we were finding seats. (‘Scuse me, sir and/or ma’am, biker punk and tattooed millennial with a shaved head coming through.) As soon as I sat down, though, I didn’t care. I still whooped it up and applauded hard enough to jam one of my fingers.
He’d just started playing “Valerie” when we got in, which is, bar none, my favorite of his songs. It was honestly a little overwhelming — I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was going to have a panic attack for a few. I teared up at “Beeswing” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” just like I knew I would. (Lucky for me, I’d had the foresight to forego eye makeup for this exact reason.)
The songs were moving, tragic, and hilarious by turns. His voice and guitar playing were superb. His banter made the venue feel small, with the kind of warmth and humor that turns a show into an intimate gathering.
I loved every minute of it.
And then, the next day, I found out that Terry Jones had died.
He wanted to be remembered as a comedian, but I knew him best as an author long, long before I knew anything about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. When I was a kid, we had a copy of Fairy Tales. It was my favorite children’s book — as a kid, I think I learned more important morals there than almost anywhere else. Like Three Raindrops, which taught me that everyone’s grave is the same size, and there’s no point in wasting your life on comparisons. Or Jack One-Step, which taught me the value of collective bargaining. Or The Glass Cupboard, which, I’m fairly certain, is what turned me into a tiny environmentalist.
I loved Michael Foreman’s illustrations, too. To be honest, I can’t really overstate the impact they had on my imagination as a kid, or even on my artwork now. His watercolors were at once bright and soft and dreamlike, surreal and strange, occasionally with a subtly unsettling edge. They were the perfect accompaniment to stories like The Fly-By-Night and The Wonderful Cake-Horse.
I’m much older now, but the stories and illustrations still mean just as much to me.
Jones’ passed after a battle with dementia. As much as we like to think that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” there’s still a very particular kind of mourning that happens when someone passes from a brain disease. There’s the loss you experience when someone is no longer who they once were, and the final loss that comes with death. Sometimes, the hardest thing to deal with is that we might not think we feel “sad enough” when someone actually dies, because we’ve spent so long mourning the person they used to be. It’s something I experienced with my grandmother, as she declined from brain cancer. As hard as it was to handle her passing, I felt guilty for feeling relief. Not for myself — I felt relief that she was beyond the pain, confusion, and anxiety that her illness had caused her.
It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with, too. Intracranial hypertension causes brain damage, and it’s very likely that I will suffer a stroke at some point and either die, or have to fight my way back from that. Sometimes, you have to mourn for yourself. The important thing is to process this grief, then get on with the hard work of living. For Jones, that was raising awareness. For my grandparents, it was my grandfather feeding, dressing, and bathing my grandmother. For me, it’s working a little more every day to try to regain some ground before I lose more of it.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re part of an artist’s primary audience. Life’s too short to miss the concert you want to go to, or to overlook a book just because it’s intended for children. Eventually, like the Three Raindrops, we all become part of the same big, muddy puddle. Draw inspiration and spiritual nourishment anywhere you can.
“When you are writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.” ― Tom Waits
Ever use shufflemancy? It’s a type of technomancy that relies on shuffling through a collection of music. It could be an album, it could be a playlist of your favorite songs, any sufficiently large number of tunes will do.
Tom Waits has been described as a lot of things: avant-garde, gravelly, whiskey-soaked, experimental, a raconteur. John Hodgman said that “[w]e all hear our own stories in our favorite songs (that is why Tom Waits sings in werewolf language—you can pretend it is about anything you want!),” and I’m inclined to agree.
And so, I tacked together a shufflemancy playlist made up entirely of Tom Waits tracks.
It’s pretty self-explanatory. Clear your head, ask your question, hit shuffle, and listen. (Or, if you’re not using the Spotify app, shut your eyes, scroll, click, and listen.) Do any lyrics leap out at you? What impressions do you get? Let the werewolf troubadour sing(/play/beat the bathroom door with a 2×4) you a divination.
My music needs change a little from season to season. As the weather turns from snow to sun, I start seeking out bouncier, more energetic songs. If you’re like me, you might dig this collection of tunes for planting your metaphorical seeds and getting the sap running. Happy Ostara!
This week was a busy one — fortunately, I didn’t actually have to leave my apartment for most of it!
Tuesday, I got to enjoy a solo show by S.J. Tucker. It was a pay-what-you-want online concert, and honestly a lot of fun. I don’t often get to go to concerts myself (IH is murder on my desire to hear things), so it was awesome to be able to support an artist I enjoy and experience their work in a place where I knew I’d be comfortable. There’s another concert coming up on the 19th, check out S.J. Tucker’s page on Concert Window for more details.
Wednesday, I took part in a streamed blessing ritual. As a solitary practitioner, I’ve had to build my rituals around the outline given by ADF without really having a live example to draw from. I’ve developed a ritual pattern and wording that’s comfortable to me (though I would like to re-write some to make it more poetic and give it some more “flow”), but I’m still curious about how other people do their thing. The blessing ritual was a great opportunity to interact with other Pagans in a warm, friendly atmosphere — again, without having to actually go anywhere.
The ritual structure itself was familiar, aside from a few things. The person who hosted the ritual silvers their well differently from me (I use the same, purpose-dedicated silver Mercury dime each time, as opposed to using a new silver bead each time), and draws three omens instead of one.
One thing I’ve noticed about performing rituals is that I always end up very emotionally affected by the omen drawing phase. There are only a few occasions where I’ve ever gotten “bad” omens, and I could almost immediately trace them back to their causes. I talked to my S.O. about it afterward, describing how I invariably get misty-eyed when it comes time to draw the omen and see what blessings are offered.
Really, I think it amounts to the feeling of being seen.
I use the Animalis os Fortuna tarot deck for my ritual divination. It functions like a standard tarot deck, but the artwork and symbolism on the cards themselves make them open to interpretations that, to me, seem to mesh better with ritual divination than most other decks. I’m not fluent enough in runes or Ogham staves to use those yet, so, tarot it is. Since I use tarot, there are a lot of cards, and, therefore, a lot of opportunities to draw something seemingly irrelevant to my situation. This never happens.
I don’t mean in an interpretive way, either. I don’t end up with ambiguous cards that I can sort of apply to my situation if I really think about them. Whatever cards I draw are always a giant, glowing beacon pointing to whatever is on my mind, or whatever I need most. It’s a very, very validating feeling.
In the streamed ritual, the first omen drawn was kenaz. Now, kenaz and I go back about a year — to the Imbolc before this past one, actually. I hadn’t joined ADF yet, but I did decide to do a small ritual to honor Brighid. A lot of my rituals involve a trance state (something that has informed a lot of my artwork) and, during this particular one, I was shown a symbol drawn in a slab of wet clay. I didn’t recognize it, but I was intensely curious and did a lot of searching. As it turns out, it was the rune Cēn from the Anglo-Saxon futhorc: ᚳ.
Cēn (or kaunan, or kaun, or kenaz) is a torch. It’s the healing fire, and the fire of the blacksmith’s forge. It is passion, desire, vitality, and creativity. It’s one I’ve meditated on a lot in the year since, and having it come up again now was a very good feeling.
I don’t know if I’ll find a local grove with the same ritual structure and overall guiding principles as ADF, but I’m glad to have found an avenue to at least take part in rituals with others.