Respect For The Performer

A busker suspended in a collage of Renaissance Faire Images
A busker suspended in a collage of Renaissance Faire Images

We spent a lot of time last weekend looking at our old photos of Faire, and topped it off with videos on YouTube. The videos in particular reminded me of the shape of the illusion we all created. While it is true that LHC made the playground, we made the Faire.

Over my desk there’s a collage of images. They cover much more than Faire. In the center is a woman made of branches, her heart of fire green in her breast and her face uplifted to the sky among her leaves. An enhanced computer image of Long Meg, with all her cup-and-ring decorations towers over her, scarred by the passage of time and floating in a black background. My backpack, outer clothing and bodhran case are grouped around a tree on the shore of Llyn Tegid, in Wales, but the image I look to now is of myself, bodhran in hand, in leine and wool bonnet in Witches Wood, at Black Point.

Back then things were far from perfect, but I walked into another time and place every morning. My bodhran and basket were on my back and the day was there for the living. I started my journey as a matter of fact, the same way I started my day at Dickens, with a cup of Chai at the Mullah’s and conversation with good friends. Kenny Millikan might regale us with the tale of the Dawn Haggis, a creature we could only glimpse in his words. He had a jar of soft sculpture backsides, which he swore were pixie butts. The Pixie would take up the story at this point, telling us how they fell off in the fall, and that each Pixie had a special dance that sent them flying.

We carried stories like this into the streets and told them to Travellers. Some embellished them further or spun off wild tales of their own. There were a pair of Celts who came to Faire every year and found me busking on the streets. They would persuade me to take a trip to an alestand with them, and we would roar through the Faire. I would drop off after a while to play another set, and let them continue their colorful ramble through the playground they visited once a year. You may remember them, or you may not, for they were an ornament to the time and place we all created together, and while they were the very picture of uproarious revellers, they never, to my knowledge, caused a problem. Would they be welcome today? I don’t know. They chose their level of participation, and had complete freedom on the day per year they chose. They would not have been out of place backstage, though of course they were never seen there. Some lines, it has been made quite clear to me, are not to be crossed.

As a busker, I walked until I was tired, kept my tankard full of water when I played–both singer and bodhran found song a thirsty business–and told tales in rhyme to the beat of the drum. I stopped when asked, as some of the vendors would want me to grace the area around their booths with my music, and also when the Faire beckoned. While I had specific places I favored for a set, I was not in any one of them for longer than an hour or so. I made it a point to never repeat a song within a set lest I cease to please and begin to grate on those whose trade kept them in one place.

To me, that endless round through the streets is now missing. Every nook and cranny is filled with a booth or a stage, and there is nowhere to stop without stepping on the perfectly timed shows. Performers run from one to another, rarely stopping to play in streets too small to build a world in! We are watched, and our flaws marked. While there do of course have to be certain standards, we are no longer trusted to want to uphold them, not because they render a world deeper and more colorful than the one we return to after the last chorus is sung, but because we have people working to reveal our flaws instead of praising our glories.

There are still good times to be had, and bright spots in days growing ever longer, but as a busker I have been chased from these streets. I am no longer Jeremy’s messenger, part of the web of the underworld of London. While I miss Roisin, or Lucy, as she was called in London, I take heart in the knowledge that Jeremy’s girls were only a temporary shelter for her. In the end she did manage to join her family in America where they fled from An Gorta Mor. Perhaps Lucy’s story will fork, as did Jeremy’s and Jenny’s. Perhaps not. The characters I played never were wholly confined to the Faire. They came from somewhere, and kept going after it was over. Knowing who they were and in the end where they went was a part of their living presence on the streets, and the memory they leave for me when they move on.

An Ever Narrowing Stage

A Family Outing To Renaissance Faire 1970
A Family Outing To Renaissance Faire 1968
A Family Goes to Pleasure Faire, 1968

I unearthed a lot of photos last weekend. The long look back over forty-plus years of Faire was useful. It gave me perspective on the current situation. I had forgotten just how big Faire used to be. I’m not just talking about size, though there was a lot more space, and there were a lot more of us. No, the quality of the spell we cast collectively created an energetic container that we filled with a place that never was, and always will be. Back then we were a community, trusted to play our part in the act of creation. There were fewer rules and more magic.

I was told by a dear friend “If you’re not having fun, it’s on you.” It was meant well, more the Zen master with the rod than Bill Sykes with a bludgeon, and I did try seriously to follow the core of truth in that advice. Maybe it is me. I’m older, and perhaps not as easily amused. My old friends are fewer, and there are new faces among them, but that isn’t it either. I  play on the streets, but with the determination of the lone salmon fighting its way to the source instead of the player grabbing an outstretched hand, leaping effortlessly in the dance, trusting the magic will be there to catch me. I even tried creating a new character and going back to busking to see what would happen. There are bright spots. Singing choruses in the afternoons with great and generous people in an environmental area that is open for the public to join us is tasting the past. It’s good to see the friends that are left. It is still possible to catch the edge of magic, and just for a moment lose oneself in Faire. Spirits still move between worlds. I can’t expect things to be the same as they were years ago and they shouldn’t be. Time marches on, change is part of life, but the river flows from the same source.

The magic has been squeezed into such a tiny space! The eyes are always on us. What are we wearing? What are we doing? Must be sure not to step out of line, to draw focus from a performance or break a rule. Above all, if you do, don’t get caught!  Now we sit in neat rows in  Mad Sal’s, singing along at the right times to prompt the crowd and create the proper soundscape. We take our gigs and conversations outside, the designated place for background color and noise. Living your character all day long is the exception, not the rule, and enough people drop character at the curtain to make it the boundary of the lovely illusion that is only half there as it is. We work Faire, instead of play. Disney has replaced Dickens. Our passes must be shown without exception to pass back and forth past the guards hired for the event. There is no more security and crew, people who knew us, were part of us.

Safety is an issue, I understand that. Trust has long ago been broken. Space is at a premium in a venue we have long outgrown. There have always been broken stairs and differential treatment that mirror the society we live in, but the sharp separation between customer and Faire folk was never so stark, and we looked after each other far more than we do now. The constant carding at the door and in the venue by strangers jerks us back into the present we are supposed to be casting a temporary spell on and we can’t pull the willing visitor into the dance any more.

Faire was always a dance on the edge. We played with time, with language, with the energy. It was never safe, and things have always happened that shouldn’t. Yes, it is past time to change some of those things, but never before were we ever so powerless that our only real option was to strike. We let union be, a song instead of a movement. We were a community, that family that management–for they have become management–keeps talking about.

Faire was a dance on the edge, but it wasn’t just physical. For a few short weeks we were part of another time and place, and the people who paid to get in came to taste it, and sometimes become part of it. You could get in free of charge if you did the thing Faire asked of you that day. Perhaps it was wearing a specific costume or the reciting of a Shakespeare sonnet. You played Faire and were let through the magic door to play your part. There were more participants and more room. Every inch was not sharply delineated for stage and booth and alestand. The village or London Town had twists and turns and places where magic could happen. The streets did not run in straight lines. There wasn’t a microphone to be found on the site and silence was not required at the sharp barrier where street now becomes stage. Players did not demand absolute attention because they knew how to take and hold stage, and when to release it. Our allegiance was to the illusion, not the script. Mad Sal’s roared with laughter and song, and you could play skittles inside, drink and converse in what was for a brief moment a real dockside alehouse, not a stage set with a bar outside.

Faire was always trying to rein us in, but back then they never succeeded. Danse Macabre could get away with tiptoeing across Main Stage and the players adapted instead of objected. A whole procession could disappear into a magic privy because the crew built the privies and one of them had doors on both sides. It was years ago before rented plastic boxes became the norm, before people of color were hired to clean the bathrooms and pick up the trash, no longer part of the crew, part of us. Yes, times have changed, the books balance much better than they did back then, but where is the magic that flowed like water and carried us halfway to Faerie? The ragged heroes have long disappeared around the last bend. The day has died like a rose. The Faire has come to a close.

Times change and so do we, the spirit of Faire a sleeping Beauty lying somnolent in the bed of Procrustes. Black Point has become Patterson Abbey. We are more concerned with the distance between plate and cutlery than we are with the people who spin a continuous reality out of the whole cloth of history. It is more important to have a costume, pattern carefully selected from an ever-dwindling range of years that matches the palette of the show than to wear clothes that suit our characters and their stories. We will be measured and photographed, the garb we provide at our own expense cleared in every detail before it can even be made. A tart may not wear a tattered ball gown she purchased at the old clothes market no matter how careful the research the participant has done to build the backstory. Like goes with like, the regimented sections of the stage will be respected. We will have Fagin and Oliver Twist, but Sikes must not kill Nancy. It’s a family show, after all.

First Aid For The California Fires And The Election

Stinson Beach and a Seagull Caught In Flight

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters & Visitor Center
BOULDER CREEK – AUGUST 20: A redwood tree burns near Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters & Visitor Center in Boulder Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group)

   It seems to me that this is all of a piece. Our democracy is burning, a virus is burning through the populace and the forests in California are once again a direct manifestation of the way climate change is burning our world. Siberia and Australia, the Amazon and the Arctic Circle all are going up in turn.
     No one place is more important than any other, so many places are at war, on fire, so many people are fleeing death. If you feel an affinity to a different place and a different aspect of the worldwide problem, by all means, alter this ritual to fit your circumstances, or write a new one and share it. We are all part of the same living world and we all need to work as we are called. Do the magical work as you are moved to, and then get to work on the physical plane. Donate, march, write, vote. Take someone in, hold your representatives feet to the fire until they feel it as we do. Now is the time to think of how you can become a blessed ancestor and do whatever it takes to make that vision real.
     I pulled my collection of waters from the Earth out of the fridge in creating this ritual—if you have a sacred place to gather water from, by all means do so, but you don’t need to. All water is sacred. Your tap is a manifestation of magic, the blessing of cool, clear, safe water running freely within our houses is something that has only been available to a privileged part of the population for the last century or so. Begin by seeing it for what it is. In the United States, we can all find out where our tap water comes from. Do so, and with that knowledge, begin your connection to it. Then think beyond this small planet, alone in our solar system in having liquid water in abundance on our surface. When we go to other planets, when we look across the galaxy and beyond, what is the first thing we look for? The presence of water. Water is life.
     One day, one week, one month—or until November Third. Beyond this time, if your situation requires it. This ritual was created to support the forests of California until the rain comes and the United States election is held. The forests and the systems of government throughout the world need support and cleansing as well, so the more people we have throughout the world connecting our planetary energies and landscapes together the better. If you’re on an island, the plankton themselves are a kind of forest, the corals a mineral connection to the mantle of the planet. Wherever you live, think about how you make that connection, and how your home needs to be supported right now. What kind of a network is part of your home right now that you can use to send energy to your home and beyond? Is it to be found in Land, Sea, or Sky? Animal, vegetable, mineral?
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     Wherever you are, prepare for meditation or create sacred space however you do so. When you are ready, visualize your connection to the Earth. Do you have an inner sacred place?  Perhaps you might choose a tree in that place, or you might have one you know at home, one you pass on the way to somewhere. Create one especially for this ritual if you like. The only necessity is that it be a tree or a network you can imagine becoming that creates a connection to the Earth.
     You will need a container of water, preferably one that closes. A clean glass jar works well. It does help, however, if you know where the water you are using came from. Tap water will do. All water is sacred, it is a great rarity in the universe. Our planet harbors life because it has such an abundance of liquid, free-flowing water. If you did not collect it from a local source, an ocean, spring, or lake, your water company can usually give you this information. You will not be drinking this water, you will be returning it to the earth when you conclude the ritual, so your choice need not be limited to what humans may drink.
     If you feel so inclined, create an altar with the things you find meaningful on it. Have the water you will be using for this ritual before you in a closable container that will be kept in the refrigerator for the duration of the whole spell, should you choose to perform this ritual until the November election.
     Create sacred space however you do this in your tradition. Call a deity if you feel moved to, or just become aware of the planet itself.
     Sit comfortably and look within, eyes closed or open as you choose.  Feel your body. What space does it occupy? Where does it rest? What holds you?
     Can you imagine a tree, a lake, an ocean? What would it be like to become it? Can you feel your roots going down into the ground, or your toes dissolving to join a river’s flow, part of you still, as you are a part of it? Feel your bark covering you, limbs sprouting leaves, your roots seeking moisture in the earth.
     How are you connected to the Earth? Do your roots dig deep into the Earth? Do they form a halo close to the surface, where they may create new trees, sharing the same root system? Is the connection liquid, electric? Reach for it and send your own energy in return.
     The trees are burning, neighborhoods are being coated with ash. People flee the heat, the smothering smoke in the air. They are taken in by others who live outside the danger, people and governments who have enough to share and the need to do so. Hospitality is sacred, a duty to the community.
     Can you see yourself as a tree, your limbs and leaves rising, your roots in the earth, twining with the rest of the network of life, deep underground? Down there there is water, even in the heat of a California August. As a tree, you can pull this water into your roots and share it through the network, supporting the forests on fire and the people displaced.
     Here in California, It’s only a few months till the rains come. Till the election is held. We can keep going that long. We can let our thick bark turn the heat, glow in our deep places inside with anger, with purpose, with love and support for all that lives and shares and cares.
     We can do what must be done. Through the network of the phone lines, raising our voices and defending our Post Office. We can shelter, feed and clothe those who have fled death throughout the world and have lost their jobs or are on the street during this long emergency. We can use the network of the Internet to connect teachers to students, workers to their jobs. We can stay inside, starve the virus of easy routes to use its own network, carried on the breath, in the air we all must share.
     We can do what must be done. We have enough to last till the rains come, till the election is held. We can make sure that every person has an income until the rains come and the crisis is over. Reach down and share through the roots, as far as you can imagine the gift of life going, knowing it will continue on throughout the world. Send it into the water before you cradled in your hands, or held in the mind, or however you are accustomed to doing such work. See it flowing, feel its electric hum as it flows from you and into you, as we are all part of the network. All of us together can hold out till the fog, the rain, the reckoning arrives.
     It’s only a few months. Water is deep down, as the will of each of us comes from a deep source and is strong enough to sustain us until we can feel the water from above, or make the thieves and abusers leave our Houses of Government. We are strong enough to act together and create the possibilities for our descendants that will cause them to remember us as Blessed Ancestors. See them washed out of the places that belong to We The People. See those places cleansed and inhabited by people who understand why they were put there and the trust that has been put in them.
     Send all of this, throughout the journey you make in the course of this meditation, into the water before you. Charge it with your intention, your emotions, your hopes and your intention. Embody it with the world you want to see.
     When you feel the exchange is complete, for now, slowly bring yourself back along the paths you have traveled and into your body as tree, coral, mycelium or whatever form you have assumed. Take your time, come back completely. Feel your human self, fingers and toes and the metronome of your breath. When you are ready, open your eyes. Ground yourself, eat something, have a glass of water.
Put the jar in a place at a temperature that will keep it from growing anything you don’t want it to. A refrigerator works well—but do as you are moved to. Perhaps you need to draw fresh water for each session of this magic, and return it each time to its source.
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When you choose to finish this work, choose a place where you can return the water to the Earth. If you got it from a specific place, you have the option of taking it full circle. A city park, a river, the ocean work well, as does simply spilling it on the living earth. Offer the water back to the world and send the work off with it.
Please share this ritual, it was written as an offering. All I ask is that you don’t claim it as your own. Keep the gift moving. When I come up with a chant, I’ll post it here, so feel free to link back to this post.
CauldronLake

Peace Begins With Me

Awen made of rocks from Llyn Tegid and yew from Sussex
     The pandemic has changed us, and whether we know it or not, there is no going back to the way things were.
     Our divisions have been laid bare. Perhaps we need to realize our interdependence rather than insist on a fantasy of independence that ignores all the things we depend on to pursue it, from the people, unsung and poorly paid, who sell us groceries, work the land, and slaughter the animals, to the nurses and health care workers, also compensated far below their worth, to the people who hold the reins of power, the ones who need to learn what sharing really is.
     Right now, our world is a chessboard, thrown skyward. Who knows where the pieces will land, and in what order? When all is in flux, it’s time for magic, and then to roll up our sleeves and make what we see real.
So every morning I light a candle to Brighid.
I sing to her, a song of my own crafting:

and ask:

“Lady of Healing
Please throw your Cloak of Healing over the Earth.
Help us to remember our kinship with all beings.
Help us learn to live in peace with all beings,
from the microbes to the stars.”
     It is suicidal to declare war on the microbes, the largest kingdom on this planet.
They are us. They digest our food and return our bodies to the Earth when we die.
They are the oldest inhabitants of this planet, the ones who turn the wheel of life as we cycle from one life into the next, fed by and feeding on the life we are part of. These great cycles are what make us one.
     Every morning I call on the life force beneath and above me and say these words:
“Peace begins with me. Peace begins with all of us. Today I take that health, strength and peace that flows through me and spread it over the whole world, radiant and alive.”
     I see the Earth glowing with it, feel it flowing through me and back to its source until I can feel it rising from the ground beneath me.
     I continue:
“I now live in a world where everyone has that peace, where everyone has food, shelter, and clothing appropriate to our needs and our creeds, and above all the awareness that we are the web of life. What we do to the web we do to ourselves.”
     I send energy where it is needed, to those I know in particular who need it. And then I can do my own stretching and bending, to keep the flow of life within me strong, so I have something to share, so I can climb on my bicycle, carry heavy loads, do the work that is mine in this world.
     If we all do what we know needs to be done, we will all be healed, safe, fed, clothed and sheltered. We are all responsible because we are the ones here, now, the only ones that can respond to the world around us. We don’t get to pick and choose. Everyone is worthy, and all are needed.
      I spent the week in preparation. I will al long last be going back to work. I am apprehensive to be forced back onto public transit on a daily basis, but have no practical choice right now. A tourist attraction seems to me to be the last thing that should be opening up right now, but the dice cup is rattling and perhaps my perspective will be useful. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
     It also looks like the government here is hiring contact tracers—a badly needed step. We have both taken the training, but my partner is the one without a job and I need to keep the one I already have. I’m setting in place the ways I can help her while being out of the house again on a full time basis.  I am also making masks, in this last week I am free to do this work. I don’t know where they will be needed, but the way things are going, I think we will all be wearing them for the foreseeable future. Might as well make some attractive, well-fit ones that are as comfortable as possible. I know I want a week’s worth to make sure I have a clean one each day, and I plan to carry a few wherever I go to pass out as needed.
Every morning, I light a candle…
Candle burning in a cauldron, on an altar