Sometimes you will find yourself reading something written long ago, perhaps 125 years ago, and find yourself suddenly struck by how very Pagan it is. Does that ever happen to you?
One of my favorite poets is Peggy Pond Church. She is magnificent, funny, brooding, cautious and ecstatic. Her voice changes from Cassandra to Baubo, and she is always deeply in love with the earth. I’ve loved her poetry for well over a decade, but my volume of her poetry has been packed away in a box for some time. I haven’t read her work in probably 3 years or more.
Sometimes it’s good to give poetry room to breathe so you come back to it fresh and taken with it’s beauty anew. And sometimes you find things you missed before:
The Woman Who Dwells
The woman who dwells at the place of healing by the river
sits singing and sings the shape of the gods from the four directions;
sings onto the horizon the four mountains where the gods dwell;
sings into the bare sky the small cloud moving in brightness;
sings into the bare earth the growing tip of the corn;
sings the river into a singing curve around her;
sings herself into the center of herself, alive and listening.
The woman who dwells in the place of healing by the river
stirs not from her place, goes not to the far mountains,
soars not into the high sky, enters not the deep earth;
sings as she draws into the sand the circle of healing;
sings the gods from the four directions into that circle;
sings the growing cloud into the reach of her own heart;
sings herself into the spear of the green corn growing.
Peggy Pond Church, 1939
Peggy was the daughter of a Rough Rider, born and raised in New Mexico. To my knowledge she never met Victor and Cora Anderson. She never encountered Feraferia. She was unaware of the Church of Aphrodite. I don’t have any reason to believe she was acquainted with the Golden Dawn, Thelema or the Rosicrucians. As far as I can tell, she had no knowledge of or interest in the modern Pagan movement.Yet, in the same year that Gardner was likely coalescing whatever the hell he was actually up to in England, Peggy wrote this poem. Somehow she wrote this poem, which evokes Wicca in every line and image. How astounding is that?
A lot of her poetry evokes Pagan ideas and ideals. The above poem is not one I would count among her best. Perhaps her poem about Andromeda is my favorite, or the sonnet containing the line “I am shaped upon your shape like flesh on bone.”
When I first read her I was immersing myself in a lot of Goddess literature. Her poetry didn’t strike me as unusual because it was in the same vein as everything else I was reading at the time. Now, looking at her words and conjuring her images, her landscapes, I find myself checking and double-checking the dates on her poems. 40 years before Starhawk, 30 years before Z. Budapest, 5 years before Victor Anderson met Cora, this woman was weaving very modern Pagan themes into her poetry.
Peggy didn’t identify as Pagan, and I can only guess from her writing that she was not a practicing Christian. It would be wrong to brand her as ours when she likely had no clue we existed. But it seems to me, that like Shelley and Byron, Peggy Pond Church is a Pagan caught in the twilight, that tantalizing and shadowy place between Julian and Gardner where nothing is what it seems.
The anthology I have is This Dancing Ground of Sky, and it’s available dirt cheap on Amazon Marketplace. I’d love for you to read through it and tell me what you think of it.