Pray to the Moon when She is round,
Luck with you will then abound,
What you seek for shall be found
On the sea or solid ground.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Transforming "Spiritual Warfare": Day 30 (Illinois)

Note: The write up that follows is epic & most disjointed. This is a result of it being written piecemeal over several weeks of relocating & then relocating once again. It is a reflection of many disparate moods, moments & distractions. Rather than attempting to wrangle it into submission, I leave it as-is -- as wild meandering train of thought, held together only by the passion that I feel for Nature, the gods & my magick. The working itself was much better behaved.

Full Moon, by Chicago artist Christy Freeman.
Full Moon, by Chicago artist Christy Freeman.
Illinois. Illumniation.

I spent my preschool years living with my parents in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I have a handful of haphazard memories from that time & place. I remember vague, faceless neighbors, a friend named Punky, block parties & the man across the street with an astronaut suit in his living room. I remember wandering too far from home, becoming hopelessly lost & I remember the rock that sailed into my forehead, leaving me with stitches & a scar on my hairline to this very day. I remember stag beetles & imaginary friends named Paul, George, Ringo & John. I can faintly recall riding the ELL to the University with my father... but among the smattering of earliest memories none are more rich or joyous as those of chasing fireflies.

The painting above is a creation of Chicago artist Christy Freeman. I was drawn to it for obvious reasons -- the fireflies, the Moon, Illinois artist… Ms. Freeman works primarily with watercolors & has an interesting eye for tone. There are more pieces along the lunar theme, as well as trees & a nice series of skulls (oh, how I love the dead things) in her online gallery & print selections. Overall, she has a pretty curious assortment of subjects, including a couple featuring the Venus de Milo & one of Erzulie Dantor, but her focus seems to be commissioned portraits of pets. What is particularly nice is that she actively donates to local pet shelters & other animal rescue organizations -- paying it forward, good girl.

Back to the fireflies. Fireflies symbolize nothing but sheer happiness & mirth to me. Three times in my life I have been touched/blessed/moved by these otherworldly friends of the fae & all three encounters left me with joyous memories. The first of course, was as a wee lass toting a mason jar in our backyard in Oak Park, Illinois. 

Fireflies... on a mushroom. (!) Found at
Fireflies... on a mushroom. (!) Found at
My second encounter with these twinkling, otherworldly emissaries was in Lehman Caves, Nevada. That sacred desertscape of my youth where the ancient & gnarled trees reign from their lofty throne held an anomalous secret: fireflies. Fireflies are not supposed to live in high desert climates, but on a summer night, in the low meadows near the campgrounds, we would find them. In disbelief, we queried the park rangers & learned that the insects had been inadvertently imported by a traveller & had set up permanent residence. A pocket of blinking bliss in the sagebrush sea. Amazing. 

I was in college when I received the blessing of the fireflies for a third & final time. Crazy in love I was; spinning, reeling, careening, love-drunk. It was a romance of the clandestine kind, the sort which demands that you & your beloved skulk off into dark corners in order to coo to one another undiscovered. He & I would drive down an unpaved country road to a marsh that bordered the Deerfield River. There we would sit & watch the most spectacular light show on Earth. One could argue it was simply an artifact of my ardor, but I have now looked at countless photos & videos of fireflies in my attempt to find anything that can even remotely imitate this memory. Not a chance. The place was one hundred percent magickal -- with or without the affaire de cœur.

In my pursuit of firefly images, I discovered a distressing fact: firefly populations are diminishing at an alarming rate just about everywhere. Why? Because, as usual, people are messing them up. Of course, the standard problem of development causing habitat loss is one reason, but the other is effing LIGHT POLLUTION. Researchers believe our lights are wreaking havoc on their flashing patterns. If you didn't know, fireflies' primary means of communication is via flashing -- it is also an essential part of their mating system. With our artificial (& I would argue, often unnecessary) lights, we are crashing their love lives & their populations.

Jacopo Tintoretto's "The Origin of the Milky Way" from the National Gallery
Jacopo Tintoretto's "The Origin of the Milky Way" *
Light pollution is one of my biggest peeves. I cannot tell you how much I look forward to getting out from under the pink glow-globe of Anchorage every winter & returning to a place where you can not only see the stars, but the Milky Way is a rich, thick swath of twinkling light, just as Rhea left it. It is so depressing to know that the Northern Lights would be visible to us in Anchorage if everyone would just turn off their damned lights for the night... What makes sense about leaving the lights on outside, all night while everyone is sleeping inside? Well, I can detect the froth forming in my mouth now, so... /rant off.

12/17 addendum to above rant: There was an absolutely beautiful story tribute to the Darkness published today at No Unsacred Place. The talented Eli Effinger-Weintraub have been weaving her wondrous tales again & this one, A Song for Dark, is the bee's knees.

Back to the fireflies (again). There's a bunch of organizations & individuals with websites dedicated to saving these gems of the night. Since I am completely off-topic now, I'll throw a few resources out into the ether in the hopes some good folks in firefly climes will take a moment to educate themselves & join the cause. First of all, there is the Boston's Museum of Science Firefly Watch, a cooperative effort with Tufts University & Fitchburg State College. They are conducting a "Citizen Science Project," collecting sighting data from people all over the U.S. -- not just Massachusetts. Then, there is this curiously empassioned attorney in Houston who has his own website dedicated to saving fireflies called Fireflies in Houston. This guy is dedicated. He has a slew of links, a list of literary references, reports by location, etc. if you are really into reading up on the topic. There's also a non-profit project called whose purpose is to educate individuals about ways in which they can help fireflies return to their local areas. Yes, total digression, but totally in the service of Mama Nature, the Earth, the gods.

Now, when I did my mycological homework for Illinois, I found the website, "a site for Illinois mushroom lovers." It is a joint project of two mycologists in Chicago & these guys have a seriously awesome array of regional information, forays, recipes, images, etc., etc., etc., for mushroom enthusiasts in the Land of Lincoln. It makes me (if only for a moment) envy the folks who live there. 

On the site, they have a feature called "What's Up" which spotlights a monthly in-season mushroom. Ah ha! The featured mushroom for October was Omphalotus illudens, the Jack O’ Lantern. If you are not familiar with this saprobe (despite all this tangential rambling, let us not forget the plan), it bears the noteworthy attribute of being bioluminescent. Bioluminescent insects + bioluminescent fungi = Illinois Illumniation. Hooray for Nature's great web of connections! 

Now, I am not certain that I have personally met these mushrooms in Alaska. It is very possible (assuming they occur there, though thus far I cannot find clear confirmation in the literature). However, the mushrooms I have seen which bear similar features, I have yet to put through proper identification. With that in mind, I will bypass sifting through thousands of my own images & borrow a truly lovely image from a French mushroom website: 

Omphalotus illudens, found at
Omphalotus illudens, found at
Of course, they are beautiful during the day too:

Omphalotus illudens, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Omphalotus illudens, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Nature's lanterns,
Shine your tiny lights.
Dispel the blinding floodlights of hatred,
Leaving us with the equilibrium of Love --
For Illumination preserves deference for the Darkness.

*Yes, I do know that the painting is depicting Hera's/Juno's version of the Milky Way story. But really, who could resist such a lovely rendition? It is a beautiful painting. Many thanks to The National Gallery for making this artwork available to us all.

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