6 Foundations: Altar, Grove, and Nemeton

Before I started writing on this topic, I needed to refresh my memory of exactly what a Nemeton was. I consulted Wikipedia, and found some details that changed the entire course of this entry.

 

My nom de plume is Themon, which was given to me by one of our Druidic Circle members as an anagram (of sorts) on my real surname, which is Nemeth. My grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants from Hungary — both came from Budapest. Beyond that, I know almost nothing of my father’s heritage.

When I was in graduate school, I was introduced to a Czech refugee who had just escaped from the then-Soviet country. My name was spoken as he shook my hand, and he stopped shaking it — he stood there motionless with my hand in his — and an incredulous grin spread across his face.

“Did you say … Nemet?” he asked, in disbelief. I nodded and his grin grew wider. He finished shaking my hand, and then we went in to dinner. I was very puzzled, and he later explained to me — somewhat apologetically — that “Nemet” was something Czech cab drivers would yell at each other, not in a friendly way. It was an epithet, somewhat on par with “Asshat.”

I learned still later that while it is an epithet in the Czech tongue, in Hungarian it is one of the most common surnames in the Budapest phone book, and is generally assumed to mean “German.” Ethnic identity and rivalry being what it is, it was suddenly clear how my surname could  be commonplace and respectable in one country, an epithet in another, and its meaning apply to yet a third country.

If you search Wikipedia for “nemeton,” you will immediately find reference to a particular Germanic tribe named the Nemetes, who lived in southwestern Germany near Speyer, just south of Mannheim. The article mentions as far south as Lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee, so this would have placed the Nemetes all through the Black Forest region of Germany, the setting for many of the Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

In 2002, I visited US friends who had gone to Tübingen to work for two years, and we took a road trip to the Bodensee. As we drove through the countryside on the German-Swiss border near Shaffhausen, I was nearly overwhelmed with a profound sense of … homecoming. At the time, I thought it was perhaps merely because it is very beautiful country.

Now I wonder if perhaps my ancestors once lived near the shores of the Bodensee, just south of the fabled German Black Forest.

5 Foundations: The Elements

– How many elements exist in nature?
– How many elements are involved in a short story?
– How many elements does it take to change a light bulb?

Let’s get the number of elements out of the way. The answer is, “It depends.”

If you are talking to a physicist, he’ll tell you, “Well, I’m not sure, but  somewhere upwards of three thousand.” He’s including all the stable and reasonably stable nuclides known to exist. If he includes short-lived resonance states, the number is potentially infinite.

Or, he might say, “Six,” referring to quarks.

If you are talking to a chemist, he’ll likely tell you, “Ninety-two.” Those are the chemical elements that exist in nature. We’ve also managed to create a few more, and if the predicted “island of stability” actually exists, there could be as many as one hundred twenty-six.

If you are talking to a Chinese philosopher, he’ll say, “Five.”  Earth, wood, metal, water, and fire.

A Japanese philosopher will also say “Five,” but he means earth, water, wind, fire, and “void.”

A Wiccan philosopher will say “Five,” and means earth, water, air, fire, and spirit.

A Western Renaissance philosopher would say “Four.” These are earth, water, air, and fire.

A physical chemist will look at these philosophical elements and say, “Oh, you don’t mean elements, you mean states of matter!” These are the three classical solid, liquid, and gas phases, plus (perhaps) plasma, though true plasmas don’t exist at the low temperatures of ordinary flame (which is just ordinary, if hot, gas). But again it depends, because there are at least twenty distinct states of matter, including such bizarre states as superfluidity (at very low temperatures) or degenerate matter (in the cores of collapsed stars).

It depends.

My Bardic studies revolve around the four elements of the Western alchemical tradition: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire.

Apart from all the various “qualities” that are ascribed to these elements, the path through them is interesting.

The early Christian Gnostics, for instance, began with Earth, the so-called “hylomorphic state,” into which all of us are naturally born. We are then reborn through three progressive baptisms, first by water, then by fire, and finally by air/spirit (pneuma).

The Wiccan casting of the circle runs in exactly the opposite direction: it begins with air, then proceeds through fire, water, and finally, earth.

I find this opposition fascinating. The Gnostics were trying to get away from the impurities and evil of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Their baptisms are progressively more rarified and end with pure spirit, the state of Gnosis which brings the individual into full alignment with God.

Wiccans and modern Druids, by contrast, are born into a time when most of us live in our heads to begin with, building abstract air-castles like a “career” or a “retirement plan,” in the cerebral Cartesian world of cogito (I think), ergo sum (therefore I am). The meditative progression takes us from the air realms of overmuch thought back to earth, grounding, the wisdom of our bodies.

Both directions are useful.

But I think my favorite of all is the Discordian practice of working with the cross-quarters: Dust, Hot Air, Steam, and Mud.

Hail be to Mud!

4 Foundations: The Three Realms

I learned of the Three Realms long before I encountered Druidry. As I remember, it was from Michael Harner’s book, Universal Shamanism. I’ve since read about many different traditions that have the same trinitarian division of the world.

Underworld. Mid-world. Upper world.

 


Mid-world: the spiritual side of the Mundania where we all dodge cars and jiggle the handle on the toilet. I haven’t decided if Mid-world is the most accessible, or the least accessible of the three: the correct answer is probably, “Both.” It’s so similar to Mundania, often covered by it, yet familiar and easily accessible if you make the attempt.

My initiation to the Bardic path took place in the Snowy Range in Wyoming, near where my daughter’s ashes are scattered. We’d driven up to camp early in July, just before the weekend of the Fourth, and many of the campsites were still closed and snowbound. But one of the lower sites was open.

I climbed a steep hill that rose from the parking area, where I encountered a pair of small trees that blocked my way. Two knots in the trunks gazed at me. I watched them turn to look me over. It was bizarre: they were small knots with fresh, stubby new growth, and at first I thought that bugs must have nested in the new sap behind them and caused them to move. I had no idea what bugs might do such a thing, or if it was even possible, but it was the first thought that popped into my mind. I watched them closely, and realized they weren’t really moving: it was an optical illusion caused by sun and breeze and dappled, shifting light. Then I watched them turn again. I tried to fix my eyes on them, to find some reference point that would tell me whether they were really moving, or merely seeming to move.

I failed in that effort: they did not move, but they moved. Searching. Watching. Guarding.

I asked permission to pass, and when I felt no resistance, I proceeded into a deep bowl that contained a lodgepole pine forest. Years of needlefall covered the ground in dark gray and rust. The trees stood tall, tall and thin — a high cathedral filled with muted light that slanted into the grove from the morning sky to the east.

Still. No breath of air moving. Then faintly, the soft sussuration of wind as it passed by, high above. No air stirred below, where I sat.

A sacred cathedral.

We can find these sacred, mystical places everywhere, because Mid-world is all around us. Like a Magic Eye picture, it is a matter of refocusing our eyes and our intuitions, and then it appears suddenly. It has always been there — all that changes is our awareness.


The Underworld is also easily accessible, though entry is usually more formal for me. Harner speaks of entering through holes in the earth beneath trees, or through caves.

The shift of perception is different. I often find it difficult to hold the tree steady in my mind so that I can find my way through the roots, or to imagine the cave clearly. It gets easier after that, however, because the Underworld itself has its own power and life, and builds itself around me as it draws me in.

The Underworld lives deep within our minds, in a place where language is replaced by symbols, and it can be difficult to interpret those symbols. I have encountered things that have puzzled me. Some have frightened me. But we have power there, as well, which may be the deepest danger of the Underworld. It is a place where we can do deep healing or, if we are so inclined, deep harm to ourselves.

In one of my earliest visits, I found myself in a thick forest. I carried a sword, a symbol of power, and wore a heavy ring, a symbol of authority. I heard a sharp scream in the distance, and went to investigate.

I came upon a frightened woman and a hideous beast that threatened and snapped at her. I interposed myself between her and the beast, and it backed off. Then it rushed me.

I struck it hard on the head with the pommel of my sword and danced to the side. It shook its head, then rushed me again, and again I struck it with the pommel.

You might ask why I didn’t just kill it. It is generally inadvisable to kill anything in the Underworld. It is, after all, deep within our own minds, and most things we encounter there are parts of ourselves. Killing any creature in the underworld is a bit like performing surgery on a diseased liver: you should be certain of what you are doing. This was one of my first visits, and I was not inclined to lay about with a scalpel — or a sword.

Even though I was not trying to kill the creature, I could see that I was hurting it, and thereby hurting myself. Then I remembered the ring. A magic ring, a ring of power and authority. This is my own mind, I thought. I am master here. That’s what the ring means.

So I showed the creature the ring, tamed it and bent it to my will. I made it follow me deeper into the forest, until we came to a pool filled with clear water, lit from within by an emerald green light. Green for healing. The beast and I entered the water together, and though the pool was only a few yards across, it was deep and grew broader as we descended. The creature changed. It became a beautiful woman with dark, flowing hair, and she nodded to me with a smile and swam away.

Some profound healing began within me that day. I could try to tease out the psychoanalytic or spiritual “meaning” of the symbols, but the meaning isn’t that important. What was important was the doing.


The Upper World I do not know very well.

One environ I do know a little about is where I go for musical inspiration. I have occasionally visited this place in my dreams, as I sleep. I suspect that is where I go when I am lost in the process of composing.

In one of my first dreams, I heard an organ symphony. I was somewhere toward the back-center of the orchestra, perhaps in the second fiddles, and a huge pipe organ dominated the front of the room. Because the room was layered in tiers, like a band rehearsal room — though it was more like a performance hall designed so that the audience was the orchestra — I could look down on the entire group. The music was powerful and moving, original and incredibly beautiful. Then, as the organ began an upward-moving arpeggio in thirds toward a climax, I felt myself start to wake. I tried to hang on to the music, but I only succeeded in missing the climax and triggering a repeat of the arpeggio, an octave higher. The instruments blew away like leaves in an autumn wind, the harmonies and structures evaporated like morning fog. As I opened my eyes, all I could hear was that arpeggio in the organ, climbing irrelevantly, repetitively, mechanically into a third octave. I wept — I literally wept — with frustration.

I have heard fragments of a violin concerto, in the style of Prokoffiev. A simple but moving church hymn, sung by Russian basses. Fragments of a (second) piano concerto. A clear, pure soprano solo voice singing an infinitely sad melody in duet with a French horn, above a fabric of gentle strings.

I think, when my compositions are at their very best, they contain an echo of the music that flows so effortlessly in this portion of the Upper World.

3 Foundations: Nature and Earth

Earth.
Birth. Mirth.
Mother Earth.
Infinite Worth.
Mud pies. Huck Finn.
Dirty face, blissful grin.
Time is up.
Come in, come in.
Soap and water.
Scrub. Scrub hard.
Sunday clean. Sunday best.
New shoes. Day of Rest.
Hopes and dreams.
Look forward. Look up.
Look to Heaven.
Don’t look down.


Earth?
Earth on your boots.
Earth on your hands.
Earth beneath you. Beneath you.
Feet of clay. A dirty face.
Dirty.
Look to the stars. A rising star.
Adventure! Fame!
NEW worlds! NEW life!
Where no man has gone before.
Where no one has gone before.
No one.
Emptiness. Darkness. Alone.
The stars, like dust.
Like dust.
Like dirt.
Blessed dirt.


Earth-like?
Habitable.
Air. Water. Food.
Too hot. Too cold.
Too new. Too old.
Blue-white longing.
Home. Belonging.
Return. Return.
Return.


Earth.
Green-clad mound.
Birdsong. Sound.
Tree-sibling.
Mouse nibbling.
Water. Earth.
Mud-pie. Mirth.
Day of Rest.
Mother’s Breast.
Peace.

2 Foundations: Cosmology

“In the beginning… In the beginning…”

Old lips smacked aimlessly, as if trying to taste the words that had slipped past them. Rheumy eyes darted back and forth.

“Confound it all! In the beginning…. I don’t remember any more. Don’t they teach you anything these days? What did your fathers and mothers tell you?”

bigbang“The Big Bang!” piped one small voice. “Out of nothing! Ka-BLOOIE! Then a pair o’ me-see-ums grew up into monkeys, and they turned into people.”

creationmedia-proof-of-creation-supernatural-miracles-proved-past-and-present-e9558013“No way!” piped another voice. “God made the world in seven days! An’ he made people out of mud!”

“And what about the rest of you? What did your parents tell you?”

The children shuffled their feet. “Nothing,” one of them said. “They’re too busy.”

bassett2_09fallGrizzled eyebrows rose on the high, age-spotted brow. “Too busy,” he muttered. “Too busy to tell their own children who they are. And I can’t remember….”

He lowered himself carefully to the ground. Ancient joints creaked. He gazed at the anxious, hopeful faces circled around him. His lips worked.

“I don’t remember the beginning any more. It was a long, long time ago. A long time before even my great-great-grandfather was born. But the beginning isn’t important. You can tell any story you like about the beginning. Here’s the only part you really need to know.

Every young eye was on him

“You aren’t alone. You have each other. And you have the world. The world is alive, little ones. The whole universe is alive. As alive as you are. Everything has a soul. And those souls know you, and your souls know them.

“Whatever stories you tell, don’t ever forget that the world is alive. Because if you do forget, and start to tell yourselves stories of a dead world without a soul, your souls will die, too. And then you will surely try to kill the world and everything in it.”

Ancient joints creaked again as he laboriously struggled to his feet.

“You are not alone, little ones. You are not alone. Because the universe is alive.”

1 Why Druidry?

On Saturday evening our Druidic Circle did our usual Dragonfest roundtable discussion on Druidry. One of the questions that came up was, “Why druidry?” Why not one of the other Pagan paths, like Asatru, or Wicca, or Universal Shamanism?

It’s a personal question, of course, and we went around the circle and gave our various answers. Mine is simple: Druidry — modern Druidry in the OBOD tradition — requires no vows.

I don’t do vows.

If I had to summarize the traumas of my life in a succinct phrase, it would be that my life has been a workshop in the destructive potential of vows. I’ve broken every vow I’ve ever made, for the good of everyone involved. That’s why I no longer make them.

What is a vow, really?

I’ve never heard anyone vow to take their next breath. It makes no sense to vow to die someday. No one vows to do something that they are inevitably going to do anyway. Vows are always about things you might not do, given the choice.

Nor is a vow merely a psychological affirmation to get you over a rough patch, though many people think of them that way. I once did. I thought of a marriage vow as a “promise that stays the slaying hand.” When you get furious with your wife over something stupid and want to say, “I hate you, and I want a divorce,” the promise makes you zip your lip and sleep on it. But that’s merely prudence, not a vow. A vow is something entirely different.

A vow is when you commit to serving something other than yourself even when it is not in your best interests. In fact, if you are called upon to fulfill your vow, it will NOT be in your best interests. That is precisely why you take a vow.

Consider the soldier who takes an oath (a vow) to serve country and to obey the orders of his commanding officer(s). It’s unlikely that it will serve his own best interests when he is called upon to fulfill this vow.

A marriage vow sets the marriage above the good of the individuals involved. It says that even when the marriage causes both parties to suffer, they will continue to support the marriage.

A religious vow sets the needs and strictures of the religion, and the gods it serves, above the needs of the individuals who take the vows.

All of this sounds noble and pious. But it is easy for a vow to get twisted.

A soldier’s oaths are some of the clearest, but it is easy to see where they can go horribly wrong. Consider standing behind a line of Jews who kneel before the open trench you forced them to dig at gunpoint, as your commanding officer says, “Pull the trigger. After the first few, it gets easier.”

For a more contemporary example, consider a prison full of Iraqi shopkeepers, as your commanding officer orders you to “soften them up” for questioning. It does get easier after the first few, as the photographs from Abu Ghraib so eloquently testify.

Given the nature of my life, I’m thankful that I’ve never served in the military. My karma would undoubtedly have placed me in exactly such a predicament. I’d have disobeyed orders and faced prison time and a dishonorable discharge. At least I’d like to believe I’d have had that much courage. I’m not sure I would.

Marriage vows are no different. I can see where they might have made some sense for royalty in an age of royals, since dissolving a royal marriage would likely dissolve treaties and alliances and lead to war. A king would remain wed to his queen, no matter what poison lay between them personally.

Even here, however, it can get twisted. Some royal marriages, through misjudgment or change in circumstances, cause war and civil unrest. King Edward’s marriage to the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II nearly destroyed the government. The first, infamous divorce of King Henry VIII from Catherine of Aragon revolved around her inability to bear him sons, which he believed (rightly or wrongly) necessary to secure the kingdom. Should a marriage vow really be placed above what we would now call national security?

Most of us experience marriage vows as between equals in an age of equals, not as the consummation of international treaties. I remember the words of my vow — “I do plight thee my troth.” Ancient words that once applied to dynastic nobility in a long-gone age. But I have no lands to deed to sons, nor tenant farmers who depend upon my armies for protection, nor monetary wealth to hoard and maintain, nor even an ancestral heritage — my surname is a common pejorative for “German” in my grandparents’ native tongue, and I have no information whatsoever about my father’s grandparents. The only thing bigger than myself in marriage is the abstraction called the “nuclear family,” that last stronghold of stability in the lives of children already stripped of the village and the tribe and even the extended family in our “upwardly mobile” consumer society. Nuclear stability is valuable for the children, but I can personally testify that it isn’t always served by honoring marriage vows, as can many others. And what does the vow serve once the children are grown and gone?

Religious vows abound, in overt and hidden forms. We vow submission, obedience, loyalty, renunciation of this and worship of that. In mystery religions, we vow secrecy. Franciscan monks vow poverty and chastity. We pledge our immortal souls to our gods, whether we call our gods Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, or Isis and Osiris. In traditional Wicca, I would be measured with a red cord, and the cord would be kept by the high priestess of the coven as a binding and a surety of my oaths. In Christianity, the fires of Hell await the apostate.

Religious vows, like other vows, do not serve my best interests. They serve the interests of the religious community, the priesthood, and the gods, specifically when their best interests come into conflict with my best interests. When there is conflict, I am expected to put my interests aside, on pain of severe and eternal consequence.

In a different time, a different place, this might make sense. For me to secretly practice the rites of Isis with others in Inquisition Spain (far worse, to pray to Mecca or light Shabbat candles), it would make sense to vow secrecy, even on pain of death — to protect my brothers and sisters in the faith. It was no different as a secret worshipper of the new god, Iasus, in Diocletian’s Rome.

But here and now? In a nation bound by its constitution to have no national religion, where freedom of religious practice is guaranteed by law and long custom? Where mind-control cults and looney fringe faiths crop up by the thousands, fleece people of money and property, and vanish into the night, leaving them to wander for a bit and then pledge themselves to someone or something else.

I think not.

The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids offers a more gentle practice. Let me quote from the first lesson in the Bardic course, from the initiation rite itself:

Just as in freedom you chose to enter the fellowship of the Bards, so must you know that our fellowship is one of freedom. Here there are no bindings, and as in freedom you joined this fellowship, so in freedom may you leave, should ever you, your guides or stars ordain so.

This spoke to me the first time I read it, and speaks to me still.

The Challenge

Fascinating. Over on Alison Leigh Lilly’s page is a writing challenge, 30 Days of Druidry, and without knowing about it, I found myself writing on the subject of “Why Druidry?” today — item #1 on the list.

Mathematician argues with artist.

The mathematician says that today is the 8th of August, so I should skip the first eight items and move forward from number nine, starting tomorrow. The artist tells me to start with number 1, then do odd-numbered subjects every day (skipping 13 just because), then sweep back on the even-numbered ones in reverse order.

Pagan wins over both: I’ll do neither. Today is the first day I’ve seen this, so today shall be One. Maybe I’ll write two in one day and start to catch up. Maybe I’ll take a day off and fall behind. Maybe I’ll skip topics I don’t like.

30 Days of Druidry

  1. Why Druidry?
  2. Foundations: Cosmology
  3. Foundations: Nature and Earth
  4. Foundations: The Three Realms
  5. Foundations: The Elements
  6. Foundations: Altar, Grove and Nemeton
  7. Foundations: Day-to-Day Practice
  8. Relationships: Gods/Deities and Spirit
  9. Relationships: The Ancestors
  10. Relationships: Spirits of the Land
  11. Relationships: Ritual and Worship
  12. Relationships: The Fire Festivals
  13. Relationships: The Solar Festivals
  14. Relationships: Rites of Passage
  15. Inspirations: Awen and Creativity
  16. Inspirations: Prayer and Meditation
  17. Inspirations: Storytelling and Myth
  18. Inspirations: Music, Poetry and Aesthetics
  19. Inspirations: Ethics, Virtues and Values
  20. Inspirations: Divination and Magic
  21. Inspirations: Mysticism and Philosophy
  22. Everyday Life: Druidry and Family Life
  23. Everyday Life: Druidry and Romance
  24. Everyday Life: Druidry and Work/Career
  25. Everyday Life: Conservation and Environmentalism
  26. Everyday Life: Druidry and Community
  27. Everyday Life: Peace and Social Justice
  28. Everyday Life: A Life in the Day of a Druid
  29. The Future of Druidry
  30. Advice to the Seeker

Equinox

This spring brought an exceptional equinox for us.

Our Druidic Circle decided to make a pilgrimage. We had two goals in mind, and found a third during the journey: a perfect triad.

We set out before dawn on Friday, March 18, to pick up various members of the group in Fort Collins, Timnath, and Boulder. Our goal was Eads, Colorado and the nearby Sand Creek Massacre Historical Area.

The Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864, was one of the major turning-points in the relations between the Euro-Americans expanding westward and the native tribes who already lived here. The history is well-known and unpleasant. We went because one of our group felt a powerful tug to do a rite of peacemaking with the spirits and the land, after a vision that person had experienced years before at the site of another massacre near Norman, Oklahoma.

When Marta first contacted the US Forest Service (which manages the site), they told her that the Sand Creek site was closed for the winter, but as Marta explained what we intended to do, the woman became more and more interested. She arranged to have one of their most knowledgeable rangers, Craig, open the site for us.

Craig met us at the site at 2:00 pm, as we’d arranged, and told us a great deal about the massacre — the players, the events, the Congressional investigation, the deterioration of relations between the US government and the Native Americans. Then he sent us on our way. He told us that the Native tribal leaders have done a lot to repatriate the remains found on the site, and that they hold annual ceremonies of remembrance and peace, which made us feel a lot better, knowing we were in good company — in spirit if not in the moment.

Anne, our geomancer, found a place with a strong upwelling of natural forces, and we set up there. Our rite was simple. We started by stepping away from the center to spend time meditating with the land, then returned to open our ceremony. We kept to our own rites, using our Celtic forms and European musical styles. We did share maize and tobacco with the ancestors, but also shared mead and raised bread. During the rite, within our sacred space, we spoke among ourselves of some of what we’d received during our individual meditations. Time passed magically as we sat in a place of timelessness under the afternoon sunlight as the wind hissed in the grasses about us. At last, the ranger had to call us back to the present from the top of the bluff behind us, and we quickly wrapped up and returned to Eads for the night.

On Saturday, we drove south. Our goal was Picture Canyon near Springfield, but we discovered the Ameche Japanese Interment Camp just outside Granada, CO, which was directly on our route. We stopped there and wandered the remains of the camp, then held a short, spontaneous memorial rite in the cemetery. At its peak, the site held over 7300 Japanese-Americans, most of them relocated from the west coast, making Granada the third-largest city in Colorado.

Iannin felt inspired to lead something a little different at the end of the rite. We normally hold hands and say:

Here in peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart, and hand in hand.
Come, O Spirit, all unite,
Of earth and sky, by day and night.

After we spoke this, we released hands, took a step backward, then grasped the hand of the spirit of one of the Japanese ancestors who had lived or died in this camp and repeated our verse. We took another step backward, with a Japanese spirit to one side, and a Native American spirit to the other, all joined in one circle of unity.

Afterward, we returned to the van and headed for Springfield, Picture Canyon, and Crack Cave, our other original destination.

Crack Cave is a narrow crack in the sandstone cliff within Picture Canyon, and at sunrise of every spring and fall equinox, the sunlight enters the cave and precisely illuminates certain ridges which bear vertical marks in the stone that some claim are a vowel-less form of Irish Ogham, the writing of the Celts of the British Isles of two millennia ago. The Native American tribes also used vertical marks as counters, so scholars debate the matter of who made the marks. The debate seems to center primarily around the orthodox dogma that no Europeans arrived in the Americas prior to Columbus, an orthodoxy that is now in shambles and crumbles a bit more with each new archaeological discovery. The marks could certainly have been made by Celtic/Druid explorers or traders who traveled up the Mississippi River and then the Arkansas River. Or the marks could have been made by Native Americans. Whoever made the marks, it seems clear they intended to mark the equinoctial sunrise.

The cave was closed this spring because of the white-nose fungus that is killing so many bats, so we could not join the usual tour to watch the sunrise from inside the cave. But we were able to celebrate our equinox rite outside the cave, and it was magical. This year, equinox coincided with a “super moon,” a full moon at perigee (the point of closest approach to the earth), making the moon unusually full, bright, and directly opposite the sun as seen from the earth.

We rose at 5:00 am to give us the hour and a half we needed to drive to Picture Canyon and hike to the cave. The full moon slowly sank in the west as we drove, and the entire canyon was shrouded in fog when we arrived. We joined up with Anne’s business partner, Karen, and her three boys, and the nine of us reached the cave well before sunrise. I’d brought my violin; Iannin had his guitar and Jim his drum, and we made quiet music as the sun rose. We were moved to sing many of the parts we normally speak, as the dawn light slowly burned off the morning mists and surrounded us with a pearly golden glow.

The remainder of our road trip was a lazy course through the high plains, stopping at various pictograph canyons along the way, until we reached I-25 and eventually, home.