This is the first part of a five part series on the places I’ve found the gods. You might find them here, too, or maybe not. I don’t know. But it’s where I’ve seen them, felt them, heard them, and found my entire being shaken by their existence. They’re other places too, of course. And I’ll admit–I don’t know if they show up because we look for them, or if we look for them because they’re about to show up.
While Trying to Go To A Shrine
I’m walking home from work. It’s a bit chill, early March in Seattle, that city blessed of so much rain that only a writer can really endure its winters without complaining, the sky so close to the earth. People talk of blue skies as if “blue” means clear; sodden from the perpetual dripping of rain from that city’s cavernous ceiling, I knew deeply that “grey” is composed of every blue.
Trudging, actually, up the tree-flanked streets. To climb those hills without faltering, you must step as if on stairs. Wearing boots helps, though not to keep out the puddles, only to tone the calves upon those ascents. I guess you could maybe drive, but cars are for people who don’t like streets or trees and so must zoom past them quickly to get away from them.
It is nothing to sit on a stone bench in the rain in such a city, if you’ve been there long enough. This was my intention, white benches describing part of the circle-shrine where I and others sometimes prayed. It was to the Mother of God, and she seemed sometimes almost to intercede for us for other gods, though I think this was only my hope, not the truth. I tried to walk to the shrine, and suddenly felt a hard push stop me.
I tried again, and the push was harder. A third time, and I gave up (I used to give up easily, I remember). And then a voice, the sort somewhere between the ears and the head, “tonight you meet another god.”
While On The Isle of Ravens and Alder
I’m with my best friend, the man who taught me to feed the crows. He moved three blocks from my house so we never needed to walk very far for tea, and the walk between us was littered with crow feathers. He’s in Wales now, which is too long of a walk for tea.
We’re camping in a rainforest. If you’ve not been to the Northwest, you may be thinking “jungle.” That’s not where we were, because neither of us like the heat. We were in the Hoh.
Sometimes ancient things are beautiful, and sometimes they are terrifying. Sometimes in Berlin and Strasbourg I would walk home from bars rather drunk and suddenly turn a cobbled-corner and see a 900 year old Cathedral and shout “older than shit!” at it because it was beautiful and terrifying. The Hoh Rainforest is like this.
We’re camped near the river, which is also very old and very beautiful and extremely cold, and there’s an island out there that you can get to by fording across or by a fallen tree. I’ve got no balance to speak of, either on river rocks or fallen trees, so such quandries terrify me more than old cathedrals and ancient Spruce.
I got across. I’m not sure why I took off my clothes, except that they were probably wet. There were no other humans to see me, and I’m comfortable being nude with non-humans because they generally don’t stare too intently, but I cannot really say that I’m certain the ravens which circled weren’t watching.
I played my wooden recorder, first to the river, then the island, then the circling ravens and then the vast assemblage of Red Alder which seemed to crowd the banks of the river. And I was playing to someone else, but wasn’t sure he liked that sort of thing, but then I realized he did.
Afterwards, I wandered around the trails through caverns of moss and trees older than cathedrals holding an elk tooth in my hand. I smeared salmonberries on the elk tooth, because it seemed like the right thing to do. And then I found myself in a grove of Alder, and they seemed to crowd around me, and they gave me something to take with me.
Not until the journey back to Seattle from the rainforest did I read that Bran is a god of Alder, and I’d forgotten what islands mean to him.
Where Men Play By Water and Willow
It’s Lugnasadh. I’m grumpy. I’d tried to get four other gay druids together for a ritual and failed. It hasn’t nothing to do with us being gay, but it amuses me that we all were.
So instead I’m sitting on a peninsula near an abandoned off-ramp on Lake Washington. It’s marshy and post-apocalyptic and serene except I forgot that it’s near a popular gay cruising spot. Gay men often like to have sex in really sacred places (in fact, if you’re looking for land spirits, such places are a great place to start), and I’m sitting in a circle of willow hoping that I can be invisible, and hoping that no-one would try to pick-up the grizzled witchy-looking guy with all the candles and incense and feathers and books amongst the willows.
It’s not going well. A man has just walked through my circle and I want to rip him apart, but he’s actually really nice and besides I’d just asked for a guide for this gate and he doesn’t seem to be trying to cruise me. He apologizes, and goes off and sits with his book looking out on the water, and then suddenly gets up, returns to the edge of my circle, and tells me a story.
“In two weeks,” he says, “I’ll have been married 25 years. My wife is taking me to a small island in Alaska where we first met.” And he’s got tears in his eyes, happy tears, and he’s so in love it almost hurts to look at because I’m not in love at the moment, and so I don’t know why I’m doing this but I hand him a raven feather and say, “hey. When you go to that island, leave this feather there. It’s a good thing to do.” And he thanks me, like I’ve just blessed his marriage, and assures me he will and then the visions start flooding in and all I can see is what Bran’s trying to show me.
You can stand on top of a mountain in Bretagne and see him, and also see the small chapel where he’s around like crazy, especially in the black-and-crimson woodwork, and I don’t know why those are his colors. But that’s Europe, and that’s also a far walk for tea, like Wales, where he was worshiped.
You can meet him in dreams, especially when you’re standing at gates. Or at the base of a tower in a park where you’re about to play recorder and then an empty crow’s egg falls on you. I think if you feed the crows or ravens, you might get a slightly better glimpse. You can cross a river to an island which is also a gay cruising spot on the Willamette with your really cool female friend who’s writing a story and then, on your way back to the shore, have your guide who doesn’t know anything of the gods suggest you “lay yourself down across the river and let her walk across you.”
Or you can be standing outside work on a break, thinking about how you’re gonna write something about Bran, and then a crow feather falls at your feet, and all the crows cackle and laugh and wheel around you as you bike home. And laugh a bit when you get off your bike to look at this really strange and particularly beautiful spot along the creek and finally notice you’re in front of a very old Alder.
Stand at the base of stone towers, or be really quiet in a stand of alders, or feed the crows and watch them dance, or ford a stream to an island, or give a feather to someone in love and call out to him. Just keep in mind that your call might actually be your reply.
P.S. I’m half-way to my fundraising goal for the Polytheist Leadership Conference. Can you help? Thanks, and be well!