Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Divination 101: Reflections on Harrys introduction to fortune-telling

Who wants to look at this stuff all wet and smooshy at the bottom of a cup?

Tea leaves are not easy to read. Trelawney should have started with something basic. Tea leaves are not basic. 

I can (but don't, so please, don't ask!) read pretty much anything: cards, palms, fire, moles, dreams, handwriting, wax...I used to love it, until I started worrying about my soul. Tea leaves - not so much. I think it's because they're soggy. I hate soggy things. I love tea, but staring at the sodden leaves at the bottom of my cup is completely unattractive. Soggy things are gross. So I was all in sympathy with Harry & Co. when they have to start their Divination journey reading tea leaves. Ugh. My inner-eye drowns just thinking about it.

* * * *   * * * *


Fortune telling with turkish coffee
 lukum (turkish delight) 
coffee-reading..I'd almost be willing to try!
Trelawney is a delightful fraud though. I love watching her work! I remember once coming across a book of divination almost completely focused on 'faking it' (because sometimes you're having a Hermione sort of day).. I wonder if Rowling has seen the same book. Trelawney hits every point - I can't help but be impressed with her presentation. All the same.. I can see the 'truth' in Harry's cup..he does have an enemy, he will be attacked, and if you avoid to horrifically dramatic death-omen, well..the whole 'dog' image is...[Spoiler] know..applicable. Death omens are not a good choice - unless you're not really interested in accuracy. Because death images in Divination rarely relate to actual death.  All the same..I'd love to get my hands on a book like What to do When You Know the Worst is Coming.. sensational and fear-inducing as I'm sure it is. (Thanks for bring that book up, Christie!) I kind of love that Trelawney probably knows this, but can't help going for effect over any sort of reliability or educational effectiveness. She's much more interested in putting on a show than in actually informing her students - it's the sort of teacher I'd probably be..which is fun to imagine.

Her showiness is a good reason to start with tea leaves..since most of her students are pretty much guaranteed to see nothing more that clumps of soggy leaves..but the cups and saucers give her props to wave about, the steam and hot tea aid in relaxation..and who knows what's actually in the tea!!

* * * *  * * * *

Overall, Rowling's treatment is so very affectionate. Hermione is the harshest critic of the art, and she's obviously lacking a sense of humor - due perhaps to her overloaded schedule and her obvious need to succeed at everything..poor Hermione, if she could just learn divination, maybe she'd be able to look ahead at her tests and comfort herself a  bit. She needs comforting..or at least a couple beers (oh, wait, she's 13..just one then!). It's nice to know the flakes of the world (Trelawney, Lavender, Parvati)  show up alongside the Type - A, rationalists in the wizarding world as well as the real world. And really, there's no better place to reveal them than in the Divination tower.. Flakes of all types love divination  - until you tell them the cute-guy-from-Whole-Foods won't actually be marrying them in the next few months - and Hermione or McGonagall  types loathe it..even when it's dead on. Jenna mentions that in this first class there is "a clear refutation of the idea that there's anything in the standard charlatanry primarily associated with ..fortune-telling" but reminds us that "we're not through with Divination yet." ..Not through yet...a fun thought to hold on to against the lurking Dementors and the haunting 'Grim'.

So..What do you think of Rowling's introduction to divination? Fair, fun, likely to lead teens toward the tarot-card section of Barnes & Noble?  

dementor kisses
found on pinterest & love it

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Aesthetics versus Athletics (or Don’t Hate on the Pretty Boys): A guest post from Seth

My husband was willing to write a guest post on men and's something we've talked about often. I hope you appreciate his perspective as much as I do!

There’s a mens conference coming up this month in Portland. I seriously debated going but not only is it a bit out of my price range, the discussion about “true masculinity” or “authentic manhood” or “men coming together as men” (an actual quote from the radio spot touting said conference) is beginning to bore me. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a worthwhile topic (depending on how you phrase it) but its gotten to the point where the same things are said over and over again. Blogs, radio shows, books, articles - all of them seem to have the same theory about men; we need to be challenged, we need adventure, we need permission to be real men. Sports and business-oriented analogies abound, exhortations are given to call each other on and fight the dragon and fellowship (yes, as a verb), and after a few self-gender-deprecating jokes about not being able to multi-task (like women) or fix things around the house (for women) or being a practice round for God’s masterpiece (women) we are sent off, refreshed and ready to face the world of man-haters. And I find myself appalled at the complete lack of substance. Because there’s one thing I’ve never heard mentioned in all the talks on masculinity or read about in any of the articles on manhood; and that thing is Beauty. Sure, there’s the whole “a beauty worth fighting for” concept where apparently my whole worth as a person is reduced to how well I defend someone else (not to mention what this says about her), and I seem to recall being told over and over again how lucky I should feel that such a dazzling and beautiful creature as woman should ever deign to look at the clod-hopping, troglodytic, dunce that is me. But never once have I heard someone mention the presence and importance of beauty in a man’s life apart from woman; as an aspect of his life that is not dependent on someone else but rather exists within and around him, and calls him up into itself to find God.
The whole concept that a man might not only respond to beauty and wish to create beauty but actually be beautiful is apparently uncomfortable for the average American Catholic male. Or at least the ones in a position to talk about such things from a public platform. But why should that be? How is it such a leap from saying that God created a the heavens as beautiful, created the world as beautiful, created the plants and animals as beautiful, and created woman as beautiful to saying that man must also (as a part of that creation) be beautiful? It would seem the height of egoism to state that he was created outside of all this beauty, to be the only thing in God’s mind that is both good but ugly and that everything beautiful was made so that he could enjoy it without being a part of it. God Himself is beautiful, how can man, made in His image and likeness, not be? Yes, it is true that God is also a warrior, a priest, a lion, a thief in the night (we’re going to leave the mother hen image aside for right now but trust me, I’m aware of it). But one thing He is not is compartmentalized. So while men are called to be brave, holy, fierce, and cunning we are also called to be icons, windows of His grace and beauty to the world.
And speaking of icons - how is it that the only masculine activities I hear mentioned by the experts are “active” in every sense of the word: football (soccer apparently being too cordial, rugby too European), hunting, fishing, hiking, and the ultimate, whitewater rafting. But never music, dance, art, literature, drama, or any of the more “refined” subjects. Mechanics are manly, painters are not. We’re reminded how much Blessed Pope John Paul II enjoyed skiing and celebrating Mass on mountaintops, not so advertised is his philosophy of acting or his letter to artists (which, contrary to popular man-opinion, is not the same as Mulieris dignitatum). We appreciate the magnificence and majesty of Church architecture and art but never look to the artists themselves - Bernini, Michaelangelo, Raphael, El Greco, Andrei Rublev, and hosts of other men have contributed untold riches to the world of aesthetics, it is difficult to comprehend how they could all be somehow inferior to a kick-boxing champion or NBA player just because they dedicated their lives to art instead of sports. Mozart, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Haydn, Bach, Evelyn Waugh (yes,a guy), Francis Thompson, St. Luke, St. Augustine, Giotto, Claude McKay, Baryshnikov, … it’s not that every man on this list is somehow the perfect epitome of masculinity (or virtue) but that they were all men giving their lives to the pursuit of beauty. And I think one would be hard-pressed to say that any failings in their lives were somehow linked to their endeavors and that if only they had become CEOs or wildlife rangers all would have been well.

King David sang, played the lyre, danced for God, and was described as a ruddy and handsome youth. He also slew Goliath and ruled a nation. He wrote the psalms. He massacred the Philistines. He fell and repented and prayed and was forgiven. He clearly had a sensitivity to beauty and it’s importance to our existence. And from his line came the Christ, the Savior, God-made-Man. Truly, in the words of Fyodor Dostoevsky, “beauty will save the world.”

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Reflections: Notes from Meditations on the Tarot

The Magician 

The Anonymous author of Meditations on the Tarot is not writing a book on divination. This is not a book for the reader of the cards, and the reflections are only on the major arcana. It is a book which uses the images of the cards to bring us into a deeper relationship to the world of symbol and faith. 'A journey into  Christian Hermeticism' - the author calls it, and what is Christian Hermeticism but a journey itself, an ever growing relationship.

In the first card, we're invited to meet Symbolism itself in the form of the Magician, who like symbols themselves "conceal and reveal their sense at one and the same time."

The magician is linked by the author to "the rapport of personal effort and of spiritual reality" - the card that opens the door to understanding the others. 

                          Learn at first concentration without effort; transform work into play;
                          make every yoke you have accepted easy and every burden that you 
                          carry light!

Seen that way, it's obvious we need a magician of some sort - we need to bend the exterior life to reflect the will, shape it, as a magician does. It is not an easy task though, each person has a burden which seems impossibly heavy; but Christ has called us to do the same, with his own magic lifting the yoke until it is easy to bear. The key our anonymous friend gives is in disinterested concentration - focusing not on the burden, but on the One who makes burden's light and there, concentrating 'without effort' on the absorbing beauty of Christ, our work becomes the serious, joyful play of the child.

I'm finding as I read these reflections, that I love the quiet of them, the abundant symbolism, and the different and completely non-divinatory view of the cards. It's a way of looking at them I'd never really explored before, and it's a blessing to have the chance now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dementors: Harry Potter Book Club

This week we’re focusing a bit on Dementors:

"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soulless and evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

“That's bad enough, but it gets worse. The primary danger of the dementor is the Dementor's Kiss—in which the dementor clamps its mouth over a human's and sucks out the soul, leaving the body alive, but presumably vegetative. The soul ceases to exist.” ~ Jenna

The dementors are an amazing idea. Creepy, swooping, demonic beings of darkness and filth, they are the perfect horror element - tailored to the individual and apparently indestructible. I love their role in this book - to drive Harry into a deeper confrontation with his traumatic past. But the dementors fail in one essential and deeply troubling sense. The ‘dementor’s kiss’ steals the soul of the victim. My frustration with this all-too-powerful ability of evil is that the soul is then reduced to merely a thing - something that can be taken away through no fault of the individual..and I can’t help but be disturbed by such a view of the person. Our souls are not attachments to our person, they are a part of us, and the idea that they can be lost completely merely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time is problematic for the characters and the world overall. It is similar to the sense we get from the books and from the interviews that Voldemort is evil by nature, that he’s never had the ability or opportunity to love and grow in goodness. Evil, we seem to be being told by Rowling, is a specter in the night, waiting to absorb us into itself unless we are powerful enough to deflect it - power, talent, and learning are the keys in this case, not goodness and love. I wish Rowling had given another option, a way of deflecting the dementors that was less learned and more a part of the goodness of the person - if, for example, Neville had been less affected and more dismissive toward them because of his purity of heart and loving character, while Harry’s tendency to rage gave them an ‘in’ to his deeper fears..Or if the dementors could feed on the terrors of everyone equally, but would be unable to suck up the soul of the innocent (cough. SPOILER. Cough)

But Rowling doesn’t give this ‘out’ and while I’m grateful that she realizes and portrays some fates as being worse than death, I wish she’d considered the implications of the free and unfettered taking of a soul. As it stands, her souls seem lacking. I wish I could clarify in my mind exactly what this means for the ‘theology’ of the Series, but all of that is still sort of in flux. The creatures themselves are fantastic, but the failing is so frustratingly complete.

Now there is an explanation from Rowling herself on the subject indicating that the dementors are Depression personified, and Jenna agrees that:

the imagery of a malevolent creature that sucks feeling and hope away from you, that leaves you with a cold void space where your heart should be, that strands you in the company
of only your worst fears and memories—yeah. That. That is what it feels like.

But though the Dementors as Depression image is very good and very workable, Depression alone can’t destroy the soul. It can lead the individual to destroy his own soul, but on it’s own, no, Depression doesn’t have that power. Mental states, no matter how painful don’t have the ability to damn. So I’m not certain where exactly Rowling meant to go with that imagery and I’m hoping you all will want to discuss it ad nauseum, because I do. One thought I’m playing with, to see if I can make it work is The Noonday Demon of the desert fathers..but as of right now, I’m still searching.

So share your thoughts! Do the Dementors work? And what are the “implications beyond bearing” you see in their horrible ability to deprive the victim of his own soul?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Bohemia Branches Out: Paperwine

My husband's opened an Etsy shop: silk birds, hand-drawn cards, wire-earrings, and soon to come beauties are collecting in the yurt, ready to love and be loved in their new homes. It's exciting for him to be able to share his aesthetic, for me to see the designs he's imagined, and for Yarrow to have her daddy home more often - drawing her whims as she looks on.

He's not just doing Paperwine - he's been doing painting, masonry, and a host of small projects as well - but as the days grow shorter, he's spending more and more time at home. Close to the fire and close to us. A change we're all grateful for, and one we hope to continue. 

So if you're interested, check out Paperwine Industries on Etsy. There are more items to come soon, and so much more in the planning stages! And send up a prayer for us that this little venture becomes something more.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Creative Updates

We are in full on 'Artistic Mode' here! Which means lots of trading off play-time with Yarrow, cleaning up, and making tea. It's a fantastic time for us all - except Luba, who resents what she sees as yet another intrusion into her time and space. She wanders the house deliberately looking for a problematic place to lie down: the couch-full of silk birds, the bed-full of Yarrow's blocks, beneath the table - exactly where we need to sit and type. All of our enthusiasm (Luba excepted) my have something to do with the weather - gray skies and cold, blustery days make for some wonderful indoor afternoons - if Yarrow didn't keep inviting my to 'come to Mass' with her ('Mass' apparently means pushing a chair around and around the house, occasionally kneeling down to pray) I could sit all day with my little pink writing book and my piles of reading.

Both contemplating destruction..notice the plastic potty-chair, and admire!

With a little over a week left of NanoWrimo, I'm nowhere near 50,000 words, but I do have a story I like, characters I'm committed to developing, and lots of inspiration to grow on..along with a handful of new poems..and Seth..well, I can't wait to show you what he's been doing! I have to wait just another day or two, but very soon we'll be all ready to share his winter project!

What sort of work are you getting done this month? I feel like November is such a productive month! Too cold for yard-work, too dry for snowy-fun, just right for letting the imagination take over a bit! Right?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Harry Being Angry..and Death Omens: Book Club Talk

One of my favorite parts of the whole series is in this section. Harry wanders the happy, wizarding shop-land, young and eager and cared for, and free. There is no drama, no dark lurking shadows of evil, just bright afternoon magic and summer sunshine.  Though even in this scene, I just can't see Harry as a Leo at all. I love the mirror in his room at the Inn, but oh my goodness how awkward would that be! Especially at thirteen, I would never want to be dressing before a mirror that provided it's own commentary on my looks.

But Harry needs a chance to cool down after his time with Aunt Marge. At this point in the series, I'm sympathetic to Harry's emotions and lack of control, his tendency to rage is an understandable failing in an abused child (still very much a child), and while I'm disappointed that there are in no way consequences for his actions, I'm used to the 'golden-boy' treatment he learning to expect from his new society. That said, causing physical harm to another (even repairable harm, unintentionally caused) is not something to ignore, in any situation, and I'm not surprised Harry never really ends up learning to control himself, with the unbalanced jump from neglect and abuse in the one society to catering and over-excusing  in the other. 

Reading this section makes me want a bowl of hazelnut gelato and a book of medieval magic, though, along with a mirror that alters my looks for the better instead of just commenting on my faults.

* * * * * *

I know nothing about Modern British politics, so the Margaret Thatcher reference sort of escapes me, though it seems Rowling enjoys mocking the conservative mindset in general, and I can see how enthusiastic fans could pretend to be their own little Harry's. It's a stretch, but why not..I mean, people start churches based on Sci-fi novels, so why not, right? Jenna reminds us that:

           Once anyone starts tying something like this too specifically to modern politics, however,    it gets mean. Maybe some of the Marge and Vernon Dursley statements are a fair parody of some of the more extreme and mouthy conservatism, but it's certainly not a fair presentation of conservatives in general. 

And I think Rowling does a decent job of keeping it in the fuzzy area of uncertainty for those of us not in with the Harry-fandom-crowd, it's not essential to see that scene and Rowling hating on conservatives in her book, and I like to pretend she had no ulterior motives and leave it at that.. mainly because the whole conservatives vs. liberals thing bores me, and at least on of my co-hostesses..Christie, are you interested?

* * * * * *

We'll talk about death omens and divination later..after Harry gets his taste of Rowling's version. Because I love omens, and don't so much love people who mock them. Though for all her mockery, Rowling's got something of a sense of divination, in a mocking, superior, and modernist sort of way..I almost like it. Almost.
I couldn't resist stealing this, Jenna! And, I don't think I'm going to be able to resist hunting these down for MY tax returns either!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Beginning Book 3 with some leftover controversy: Harry Potter Book Club

l can relate to poor little Harry at the start of book three - I too neglected my studies all year, only to revel in 'homework' during the summer months. It's natural, Harry, really..I understand.

 We've had a lovely bit of discussion on a few general points recently: The spirituality (or lack thereof) of J.K. Rowling's writing and the value of the passive character in fiction. They've been fantastic, so if you haven't yet, check them out! If we can figure out a way to continue the discussion of spirituality in the series without ruining all discussion of future books - we will! Potentially during Lent - so wait and see, we'll let you know if we manage it.

On the theme of the magical and the spiritual, I thought Christie's thoughts were a fascinating take:
        ..  And what separates magic from science, in a universe where magic seems to lack all elements of spirituality and is a naturally found occurrence?  It reminds me of the passage in The Lord of the Rings when Lady Galadriel kindly tells Sam that what he considers "elf-magic" is for them art, skill, and science.

 l've never thought of the two magics as similar..though why exactly, I don't know..perhaps it's because Tolkien's world feels intensely spiritual to me, while Rowling's doesn't - Jenna has a much different reaction, to both worlds - hence the need for time set aside to dissect the soul of the series!

" A book of light and shadow" Jenna calls Prisoner of Azkaban; she's so right!  This is the book that seems to have more unrealized potential than any other, but that my because I have a love affair with light and shadow and am always hoping for more, or it may be because Rowling seems to be beginning a deeper infusion in the books of her themes and philosophies, but is not quite so heavy handed as she is in later books - so there is the attractive, imaginative richness of the  earlier books is still prominent. It is the book I usually think of when asked to pick my favorite in the series. "Pack lots of chocolate!" is Jenna's closing recommendation here, and I agree - along with her advice to "hold onto your souls"..which means I can't buy those beautiful tarot cards I just want to have for inspiration in my month of novelling... they are relevant to the story, really! But soul firmly in hand, I turn away, and towards the distraction of finding Harry Potter memes appropriate to our journey through book three!
I couldn't find one..but this is adorable!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November Writing

 Every morning now begins before dawn - and I can no longer walk barefoot without regretting it - even after noon on sunny days. I have tea steeping beside me nearly every moment of every day, indulging in November's primary joy while the world dies around me. 

My husband and I are attempting National Novel Writer's month (Nanowrimo) to make November interesting. It's a challenge - but one that invigorating  and fun after a few months primarily focused out of doors. I wonder sometimes why I invited my husband to write with me - I try to tell myself that he has it easier, as he's writing a bundle of short stories and not a proper novel..but it's embarrassing to read his drafts and know they are better than mine!  The truth is, that he has a natural gift for writing, and a style that is pure delightfulness. I'm talking him into submitting one in particular for one of the Tuscany Prizes that Christie claimed last year! So writers, beware..
I do actually love working with him on this. I have no focus or discipline of my own, I have to borrow from others to get even the smallest project done, and to nestle into the couch with him, notebooks and good pens, and a bottle of wine for an evening of talk and writing is a delight! We've got plans to take our projects out as well - leave Yarrow with friends for a few hours and settle in to a cafe for a less distracted (hopefully) and more romantic 'writing date'. Enviable, isn't it?

The Novel itself is a problem. I'm delving back into books and notes I haven't look at in months? Years? I even found some notes I'd made on a a fascinating and long lost book of death magic and superstitions..full of curious little rituals that make me nervous on the long night-time walk to the outhouse. The 'novel' as it stands right now is essentially an attempt to recapture the symbolic essence of the vampire-myth from repeated (read that: not just Twilight) bastardizations; explore the concepts of death and redemption; and the possible variations in the effect of immortality on individuals..without falling too far into the "vampires OMG!" swamp. It's a mess right now, as I have too many good characters, lots of imagery, and too little plot. I am not a novelist..any advice, my thoughtful writing friends?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Harry Potter and the Consequences of Magic

All Hallow's Eve and the ensuing feast days are past..It's November, and high time I put my life together again. Harry too, is changing seasons - school fading away for another summer with his aunt and uncle. He's faced his darker self, in a sense, and come away again in one piece. Riddle is an ideal villain in this one book. His Voldemort self is less convincing, and less interesting to me than the conscience-free, arrogant boy facing Harry beneath the castle. Is this why Chamber of Secrets is more unnerving than the rest of the series? Because Harry is still so young, still likeable, and Riddle is very much the image of a boy seduced by darkness, and not the incompetent, almost ridiculous little demon he becomes? 
That's right, pinterest is the best..this one's from Muggelnet

Dumbledore makes a lovely point about choices as well, which Jenna emphasizes nicely. It is a good lesson from author to audience; and I like to think of Rowling's young readers taking it to heart along with Harry's kind willingness to skip right past mentioning Ginny's part in opening the chamber. I imagine eager elementary kids refusing to pass on the gossip of who misdirected the dodge-ball over the fence, or who brought the tuna that filled the cafeteria with that smell, in an attempt to share in Harry's little kindness. But the quote also seems to reflect a sort of 'do as I say, not as I do' attitude in the author, because really, if we were defined by our choices, as Dumbledore says, then Rowling could not have created a character who, as she says in an interview has never loved or cared for anyone at all. A person who has never loved at all is lacking something, not by choice but by nature. He is deficient in humanity and his choices are all limited by this deficiency. It lends to the books a sense that Harry and Co's choices define them, but some people..people in Slytherin for example..are defined less by their choices than their families, their blood, and their abilities. So I end up hoping those impressionable young people don't read too closely or glean too much from the series.

* * * * *  

This week I was surprised, and thrilled to see Harry Potter mentioned in the magazine that gives me so many of my favorite cake recipes. Nestled between a recipe for Rhubarb, Cardamom, Pistachio, and Orange cake (which was amazing, even without the Rhubarb), and an as-yet-untried recipe for blackberry whiskey, "Why We Need Magic" caught my eye. It was delightful, and when Harry is mentioned, I found myself nodding in sympathy:

                          Magic in fiction needs to be more than hocus pocus spells: it must be
                          difficult, rare, and perilous. It's why - forgive me - I personally don't buy
                          the magic of Harry Potter, which is attained too easily and lacks 
                                      ~Philip Ball. Why We Need Magic

I can't help but see his point. The magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense, and teaches us nothing about how to approach this "embodiment of  the sublime virtue of hope", with all it's dangers, pitfalls, and beautiful potentialities. More often than not, the magic of Harry Potter is mere 'hocus-pocus spells' - not fairy at all. But then, there are at times that real sense of 'ritualized optimism' that makes the magic real. What do you think, my fellow readers - easy and mundane, or delightful possibilities??
* * * * *

In this book, Ginny comes across as an obvious 2 on the enneagram - opening up to the dangers of possession in order to feel the cozy sense of importance to another. It's interesting to me as I'd never even consider such a thing - too much a chance that the kind solicitude of the diary would turn to mocking arrogance - which is exactly what happened, of course..more reason not to trust your secrets with anyone who might not be what they friendly diaries or spirit-guides, or ghosts who come re-arrange your bathroom in the night.
Most of all, I end this book grateful that Harry and Professor Dumbledore show themselves to be the opposite of the Diary-Riddle, safe-holders of Ginny's weakness, and nourishing to her spirit and sense of self. It makes me wonder about Christie's comment that Dumbledore may be something of a Reader of Souls..there's argument for it here, it seems..and he is himself reflective enough to make it a possibility. It's definitely something to watch as we move along! Here, his and Harry's  kindness covers over so much that makes me wonder beneath the surface of the tale and lets me close the book fonder than usual of them both.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saint's

How Halloween-y are my potions!!! And my 'Apothic' wines!

All Hallow's Eve is passed; and with it the easy, crisp days of October. We had a delightfully Halloween-y month: a spooky, local, harvest meal at my favorite cafe (just my husband and I); a Halloween short-story reading at the library; and last night, an amazing little bit of trick-or-treating with Petka as a Matryoshka that ended at my in-law's tiny library, where my father-in-law (a local historian) told haunted tales.

Petka and Da made delightful Matryoshkas


It's a dreary All Saint's Day this morning. We woke late and warm, and lazed through a morning of creamy coffee, Stromboli, and all the anticipatory joys the new month brings. 
I should have waited to frost them today, it got just a bit dry looking overnight

..but Saints and photographs are so forgiving.

I've baked Saint's cakes for the altar today (and later for our mouths!): Orange, Cardamom, and Pistachio with an orange-y cream cheese frosting. The just feel autumnal. Tomorrow I'll bake Soul Cake's for our beloved dead, and for the Sad People only Yarrow can see. I like to pray a Rosary while mixing the batter, trying to remember all those who ought to be remembered..but today the celebration is just rest and celebration. I can greet my saints with gifts of cake and cream.

Seth made me spooky..but only in the photo. I looked pretty lame last night

 Blessed Hallowmas all!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Basilisks and other Delights

 I have plenty to say about chapter 16..but first, I just want to brag a bit.

 My potions are ready:

Both recipes:

Our Love Potion (otherwise know as the Elixir for Reduced Internal Chatter and Lowered Inhibitions) is deliciously complete and ready for shipping to those in need. Unless I drink it all and wind up reliving A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my magical-haze, in which case, you’ll need to brew your own. Gather a handful dried Siberian Ginseng, 4 pieces candied ginger, a stick of cinnamon, a split vanilla bean, and five cardamom pods (peel then and drop the seeds on by one into a quart jar with the rest of the herbs and spices. Four dried apricots and an optional three dried cherries are then added to the jar. Pour a cup of good vodka (or cheap, if you like that extra ‘bite’) and a cup of brandy (never use flavored brandy of any sort - especially coffee-flavored brandy!) and a half cup of raw honey. You can also add up to a half cup of distilled water to make a less potent version if you fear overdoing it on the pure potion (there is no shame in that!). Cap the jar tightly and shake well to mingle the flavors and set to rest in an appropriate environment (under the moon, in a cobwebby corner, in the soft light of the rising sun..) Shake and move the jar daily - this potion gets bored quickly- to keep the ingredient will mixed. Taste in 21 days, and if it passes muster - cork it and prepare to enjoy the bliss of a mind quieted by magic. 

The pepperup potion is still around as well! Though I've discovered that when you use really cheap vodka, it's best to use about 3 more peppercorns and an added hour of steeping time. And I used really cheap vodka. But apart from that minor mishap, it's a delicious success. We have two little bottles. And it displays so well!

So while you're stirring a potion of your own, let's talk about The Basilisk. My absolute favorite Harry Potter meme can finally come into the discussion:

From HarryPotterHumor

hahahahahaha!!! I've been holding on to that one since before there even was a Harry Potter book-club! I love it. But more seriously..and even without catchy memes, I think the Basilisk is one of Rowling's biggest successes - myth and symbolism-wise. She pulls a major win here. I know, I know..the actual myth is less dramatic, but you know, artistic license is a pretty essential aspect of storytelling, and unlike some, I'm not about to fault her for a bit of creativity. We haven't exactly seen the basilisk yet - he's still hiding out in the Chamber, but his whole creeping through the pipes of the castle, trying desperately to kill with a glance is delightful. As is the exceptional luck of all Hogwart's students (leading me to wonder about protective spells and charms within the school itself). But, for those like our friend at Unexplained Mysteries (see above link), disappointed with Rowling's basilisk - there are battles worth fighting against Rowling's adaptations, this isn't one of them. Sit back, relax (try some of my potion!), and remember that despite not falling exactly into line with past incarnations, Rowling's basilisk is - at heart - every bit as beautifully evil as any other (though I agree, the sneaky weasel is a way better foe for it than a rooster's crow - best would be having Ron Weasley represent the weasel and kill it..but...well..SPOILER!

The point is, that myth is always semi-fluid, it's the deeper symbolism that ties it all together more than the externals. The real myths of the basilisk are so varied themselves that it seems more nit-picky than even I want to be to cry foul on this particular incarnation. Especially when, at heart, the book's version is a match. Rowling's basilisk is like myth itself - altered by time and place, decorated through her own imagination, and yet an obvious descendent of it's namesake. So Congratulations from me, J.k., on a job well done here. But don't worry, I'll chew her out for something else soon. Promise. 

for now, I'm just having too much fun being Gothic!

 But tell me. WHY exactly do Harry and Ron go to the teacher's loung to talk to McGonagall, overhear everything, then leave without telling her anything at all, and then (as if they can't get any dumber) go to talk to Lockhart of all people - knowing full well he's a hopeless failure. Is there a reason - aside from moving the plot along - that they would do that? Because I can't see one. Ron? Harry? Did your brains die right there in the staffroom?  Hmmm??

Moaning Myrtle - can you tell I'm having an easy time loading pictures?

 Moaning Myrtle is another win for Rowling. Maybe that's why I enjoy this book so much. She writes the house-elves, so I have something to cling to in my Un-Fan-ness, but then she has the basilisk, the dueling club, and Myrtle - whose life is so pathetic, so full of small miseries, and then death..and her death is full of the same collection of small miseries! She's a fantastic character. So very mundane - proof, at least, that it's not only muggles in the series who fail so completely at life.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Reflections: Saint and Pope

I wonder if some of us American Catholics are going to lose our fondness for St. Francis during this pontificate. So many bloggers and Catholic media personalities are tending toward the "I love him but.." line regarding Pope Francis, that I think we're going to discover just how much we don't actually love the Franciscan spirit when it's lived out right before our eyes. I know I often don't.  St. Francis was God's fool, and that foolish, full-hearted sort of love is terrifying, challenging, overwhelming; it leads us, like St. Francis himself, to strip naked before the whole world and fling ourselves as babes into the arms of God.  Francis embraced martyrdom, poverty, pain, and misunderstanding in an attempt to walk after Christ as a living icon.

 "[Francis] is great because he is everything. He is a man who wants to do things, wants to build, he founded an order and its rules, he is an itinerant and a missionary, a poet and a prophet, he is mystical. He found evil in himself and rooted it out. He loved nature, animals, the blade of grass on the lawn and the birds flying in the sky. But above all her loved people, children, old people, women. He is the most shining example of ..agape"*

Like Francis, this pope is making himself comfortable naked before God and man. He's not trying to show anything, I think, so much as he's simply being himself before God, and God's poor sinner before man. He's decided that he fears being misunderstood and misrepresented less than he fears that each person he interacts with will not see the love of God in him. And so he embraces everyone with that holy promiscuity Francis himself was know for. Every person, not every thing. And the distinction is always there for him. Pope Francis does not seem careful in his words in the thoughtful way a Thomas More, a Thomas Aquinas, or a Benedict XVI might be, his words are careful of their own free will, because they come from a soul already defined, and they are careless because he's chosen to allow them to be. Because this is his calling: to rebuild the Church, not as merely the guardian of morals, but as the true home of each and every soul. And we are a world that misreads careful words as cold and unloving. We need a chance to come home first - to be like that poor, wild boy in the parable, who's father ask questions another day; after the party, after the joyful embrace, after he's fed his starving boy, bathed him, clothed him, and loved him back into safety. 

 "I will show the way, He said. Follow Me and you will find the Father and you will all be his children and he will take delight in you. Agape, the love of each of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of Salvation and of the Beatitudes."*

I am often uncomfortable with those formed by St. Francis. I'm torn between the desire to imitated and the knowledge that this is not my call, not my charism. But I love the squirming sense it gives me, that love really is the answer. And that love doesn't require niceness so much as holiness. And all of us, from the crustiest old imitators of Padre Pio, to the all embracing daughters of Mary Magdalene are called to be holy.

* both quotations are from Pope Francis' interview with Eugenio Scalfari


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Harry Potter again at last! (Oh my goodness, really, I wrote that!?!)

I LOVE these memes!
Poor Harry is getting neglected. I suppose it's best we spend the busy autumn months being slow with book two, as so many conversations and long discussions aren't likely to come up until later in the series, but still, I feel neglectful. My brain has been all in a haze thanks to my husband's long hours, my daughter's enthusiasm, and everything that needs to be done before winter sets in. 

Jenna's recent post, thankfully, brought something to my attention though that I think would be so interesting to discuss. I think we've mentioned Rowling's successful use of place, regarding especially the Hogwart's castle. In this book we see the strength of place growing as we see both Harry and Riddle's relationship to the school. Both boys obviously see Hogwarts as home. And there is a sort of magic to home, both in the series and in reality. Being rooted to a place is powerful and leaves a mark on both the person and the place. It seems too that Dumbledore is very much at home in Hogwarts. It is his place as well. Rowling shows it best when she gives us a glimpse of the school's previous headmaster: Armando Dippet. Dippet is kind, and I'm sure very competent, but he doesn't infuse the school with his presence the way Dumbledore does. The sense is that Dumbledore's emotional connection to the school is similar to Harry's and to Riddle's. It's his place, and because it is his: emotionally as well as vocationally, the change in official status does nothing to damage his magical link to the school and it's students. It's a rich detail, I think, and one that gives a layer of tangible, natural magic to the series. And I hadn't noticed it until Jenna pointed it out.

I wondered what Dumbledore meant by asking Harry if there was anything Harry'd like to tell him.  If Dumbledore does know everything that goes on in Hogwarts--which would be a natural position to assume as children looking up to their wise, knowledgeable mentor--then there is something unsettling in his allowance for things to run their course. 

Christie points out that there's frustration in the role of Dumbledore so far. Rowling writes him almost omniscient and yet he watches and waits and does nothing as his students are assaulted. If I were on the board of governors, I'd be likely to want him replaced by someone with less power but more motivation. Someone who does more than watch and wait. It's a character flaw that's never really dealt with satisfactorily in the series. In part, I think because kid's books need to give the children space to save the world, and in part because Rowling's created a too-powerful character, who knows too much and is too capable to be anything but passive. But because he's so passive, he stands to lose much of his goodness.

Next week, be prepared! We're reading through darker waters, my potions are photograph-able (and load-able!) and I'll be back on a proper writing schedule! I promise.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Potions to Pass the Day

Notes from the Potion’s Dungeon:

Pepperup is a success! I love this recipe..too easy to fail, and amazingly perky. Take a long whiff and then sip slowly when you’re feeling down, under the weather, or in need of something peppery. To make, place 2 heaping teaspoons of whole black peppercorns in a pint of vodka. Allow them to steep under the light of the setting sun for about an hour then strain out the peppercorns, bottle, cork, and deliver to Professor Snape for full marks. Or, just take a shot. It’s Potions 101.

And now we’re starting a slow-brewing elixir for lowered inhibitions and reduced internal chatter. It won’t build love, per se, you’ll need a waxing moon for that, but it will make romantic evenings more well as making board games with friends, dance parties, and political discussions ridiculously amusing! For now, we’ve put together Siberian ginseng, dried apricots, candied ginger, cinnamon bark, whole nutmeg, ….. To steep. For Romance, expose it to moonlight for at least an hour each night; for full-hearted political discussions, set it out - properly covered - in a rainstorm. It needs to steep a week for full potency. So we’ll leave it on the shelf for now. Snape disapproves of love-potions, so make sure it’s a hidden shelf!

This week’s Reading:

The Dueling Club is one of my favorite scenes in the series. Partially because it’s one of the rare moments of inter-house recreation. We get to see the houses - out of class and -at least superficially - out of their school-imposed clicks. It’s also an interesting scene because it shows Snape and Lockhart in sharp contrast: dark and light are obvious..and somewhat misguiding it seems; but of primary interest to me is the contrast between the Showman - with his well-dressed hair, dramatic gestures, and cultivated pursuit of the spotlight; and the Shadow - who cultivates an image to deter interest rather than attract it, excels in subtlety and derision, and who is obviously in his element here, aiding Lockhart in his enthusiastic self-humiliation. Rowling’s talent for caricature is happy here. There are so many distinct temperaments to play with. Harry’s ability to speak to snakes is well-revealed here, with a wider potential for reaction than the classroom or common-room could offer. There has been some discussion around the ‘net about the occult implications in Harry’s ability to talk to snakes (my personal favorite for overall enjoyment is - who knew that God had such a loathing for pale kids in black skinny-jeans!). I think that, looking at the treatment of snakes overall in the series, and especially in this second book, we see a trend toward a very balanced treatment of the serpent. Like serpents throughout the Bible, we see snakes here as mutable, tools in the hand of those with the authority to use them. But also as creatures with a dark mystique. The wizards of Rowling’s world seem every bit as cautious of snakes as the rest of us. It’s an interesting line for Harry to walk - and I’m looking forward to seeing it’s effect on his future.

Fawkes is…interesting. I prefer the image of the phoenix born anew in beauty from the ashes than Rowling’s ugly little hatchling. It seems to diminish much of the imagery. As does the name itself, which Jenna discusses a bit with my poor neglected husband here. I can’t see any other link between Guy Fawkes and phoenix, apart from the burnings, which makes the phoenix’s name sort of an uncomfortable, partial-mockery of a dead man, and very much a throw-a-way of a potentially meaningful opportunity by an author who does seem to try very hard with her names. 

So brew up some Pepperup to sip alongside your afternoon tea, and share your thoughts  - I'll edit in some photos when - and if - Blogger lets me load them. And check back with Jenna for more to discuss on these chapters. She gives her response to the perennial Christian question: Do we give these books to children, or are they too dark, too witchy, too entirely lacking in artistic merit? The third would have been the stickler for me, until I found myself reading Corduroy the Bear for the umpteenth time. I do have standards with kid's books (even at this age) but I'm not convinced Harry falls outside those standards. And I'm not such a control freak that only the best and brightest of children's literature is permitted to fall under Yarrow's impressionable gaze. But I can see reasons for pause in the series, as there are in most books, depending on the individual child's needs, temptations, and maturity. Would I be more likely to tuck away Potter and prominently display The Hobbit..yes, I would, but it would be because I love The Hobbit, it's a better book, and one of my favorites, and parents are always going to encourage their favorites. It's just a fact of nature. But while I can see aspects of the books that are very problematic in the formation of youthful morality, I don't see enough to deny a child the books. Yet. 

Your thoughts?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Potions, Lies, and Mysteries: The Harry Potter Project - CoS 8-9

Like Harry, we are moving more quickly than expected into autumn. The early mornings are cold, and I feel for him up on his broom as I feed the pigs and watch the sun rise through my own steaming breath. 

I've put off my own 'pepperup potion' for too long, and so photos will have to wait til next week, when the bottled brew is ready to be seen and sipped (slowly, please, or you might end up looking like Ginny for the next quarter-hour). But the season is right for it, and I'm looking forward to having some on hand!

Rowling does come up with some excellent potions. Adorable names and amusing extras alongside - I can appreciate why Snape would lean towards the subtlety and the never-ending options for improvement that come with recipe-magic.  I think about him often now, as Autumn is the season for infusions, potions, essences, and tinctures. I'm especially interested in Madam Z. Nettles' Scintillation Solution - some suggest it's a brain tonic, making poor Madam Nettles a witty conversationalist, but I like to think it makes her 'bright' in another sense - a spell for brilliant, glittering skin perhaps. And I want it for my own. 

 When Harry finds the Kwikspell Course (I hope it's advertised as The Kwikspell Kourse and sold for five payments of $19.99 - with a 'kwik' response getting you an additional 'spell-boosting wand extender' and three extra-potent toadstools) on Filch's desk, we see more of the habitual lying the students of Hogwarts are noteworthy for (in my reading anyway). Harry lies to Filch, Hermione to Myrtle at the dullest party imaginable, Harry lies to Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore's ghost at Nearly Headless Nick's request, and of course Nick himself is awash in socially-acceptable party lies. After Mrs. Norris is found, Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to lie their way out of any connection with the petrifying, and all of this is very casual, expected behavior. It's a small thing, I know, but one that grates on me while reading. Perhaps because I'm learning just how much I do value honesty; or perhaps because most of the lies are so careless.

The Death-day party itself is not terribly interesting. Rowling's ghosts are better left in the background, I think. But rumors that some Catholic critics of the series have linked the Death-day party to a Black Mass are still unsubstantiated. If anyone finds such a link, please pass it on. I can't find any real connection in the books or online....yet. 

Christie's recent post delves into the use of blood-slurs in the wizarding world - fascinating and thought-provoking - as well as touching on the mention (in last week's discussion) of those who disapprove of the Mandrake image in this book. I looked it up and discovered (to my surprise) that there are not a few who link the Mandrakes ugly-baby look in earlier chapters and eventual use in a Restorative potion (Lockhart calls it a Mandrake Restorative Draught, but we can't really trust him to know the proper name of anything but quality hair care and Odgen's Old Firewhisky) to a subtle pro-abortion agenda by the author. This is, I think, more than unfair to Rowling, who has her faults, but can generally be counted on to avoid the overly-subtle agenda. Mandrakes are in fact known for their human appearance, and for their cry, which kills. And Rowling's shown us  many times that her main skill as an author is in creating the cartoon - sometimes with a way-too-pushy agenda, but never with a so-light-you-can't-quite-taste-it message. So lets not pretend we believe she's delighting in cutting up 'living human babies' or encouraging the reader towards abortion in anyway through her use of Mandrakes, which are - after all, primarily used in fertility and life-promoting ways throughout magical tradition. 

But the mysteries in the book are deepening..and the Chamber of Secrets is such a grand, gothic sort of name for the hidden place of evil within a castle of magic. Unashamedly gothic. I love it.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Lockhart and other Joys

love you too, Gilderoy ;)

 Gilderoy Lockhart is pure delight! Obviously, he fails on a human level..but he's supposed to fail. He's a self-absorbed monstrosity..and I think it's in caricatures like Gilderoy that Rowling's talent really shows itself. While I'm forever disappointed with her primary characters, her peripherals are delightful, cartoonish, and consistent. Lockhart is one of my favorites, he so unabashedly self-serving..and his office is full of his own signed photos!!! What could be better - especially wizarding photos that seem just like tiny little mockeries on the wall. We are supposed to laugh, shaking our heads at him, and we do, because really, there's no other way to respond. Hermione does break character though, in her little crush on him. I can't really believe that Hermione isn't one of the first to notice his shallowness and his weak magic. It's not really fair to Hermione's character that she giggles and blushes with the rest of the girls whenever Lockhart goes by. I feel like there's a confusion here - Hermione seems to be passionate about knowledge until it comes to Lockhart, and then she's sort of reduced to just being impressed that he's "written most of the booklist"..and while Laura's right in saying (back in the comments somewhere) that it's tough to be consistent when you're 12, I think Rowling makes Hermione a bit weaker of a character when she has her hold on to the illusory Lockhart months after meeting the real man.

We've been talking a lot about the attitude toward muggles in the wizarding world, and this book really does bring out the dark underside. The fact that the rights and protection of muggles is even under debate is a pretty sad commentary on the wizarding community, also, as Christie's mentioned, J.K. Rowling seems to be presenting common decency as exceptional goodness pretty often as it relates to any interaction between wizards and anyone else, be they elves or muggles. I'm not sure if it's to create in the reader an awareness of how deeply flawed the wizarding world is, or if it is supposed to be viewed by the reader as exemplary. Thoughts here??

Jenna brought up an interesting point about believability - Ron's wand is an obvious Plot Necessity. If it weren't, any decent school would have it replaced, because he really can't do anything with it. Right now, it's just for humor: Ron attempts a spell - Failure! The general disorder of the school though, makes Lockhart's careless release of freshly caught Cornish Pixies acceptable and fun, but at some point you'd expect one of the more aware teachers to catch on to Ron's troubles and loan him a dumpy sort of school wand for the year. All that said, this book is doing a great job so far of  bringing us back to Hogwarts without making us feel we're repeating anything.
Cornish Pixie, bored by Lockhart's chatter