Featured Portals Artist: The Visual Artists!!

In light of Maxine Miller signing on to the Portals project I thought this would be a good time to introduce our visual artists.

As you know, the music and video are the core of this project. But if we can reach our stretch goals we plan to bring the project into the visual arts, with a gorgeous art book with song lyrics, stories based on the songs, and companion art from these featured artists. I am honored to present them to you!

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus is a good friend, and also a big impetus in Portals existing as a crowd funding campaign. Through her own recent (and very successful) crowd funding campaign for her “Book of the Great Queen”, she benefited several members of her community by bringing them into her project. We see Portals as “paying it forward” by carrying on this tradition and including several artists in our project. Thus do we keep our communities thriving!

Also her art is striking and powerful! Celtic, tribal, and mythic, the art of Morpheus Ravenna evokes the ecstasy and mystery of union with the Otherworld. I am thrilled she’ll be contributing art that brings the Portals songs visually to life. In fact, one of our songs, No Long Night, was inspired by her. We’ll have her illustrate that one.

BONUS: She is also a tattoo artist You can have her art on your body!

Here are a few examples:

You can find out more about Morpheus’s art at http://www.bansheearts.com.



Maxine Miller

Maxine Miller

I have loved Maxine’s art for years. She is well known, and has many iconic designs out in the Celtic and Pagan worlds. Imagine my glee when she began showing up to our shows in Portland! We have become friends, and I am super excited to have her as part of Portals. Her art is vibrant and incredibly ornate, with a bit of nouveau flair! I am thinking her style would be perfect for our song, Porcelain Princess!

BONUS: She has offered 10 signed 11×17 prints as perks! I’ll be adding this perk as soon as they arrive, so keep your eyes on the campaign!

Here are a few of my favorites:

You can find out more about Maxine’s art at: http://celticjackalope.com


Laura Tempest Zakroff

Laura Tempest Zakroff

I first met Tempest, as she is known in dance circles, when a magazine she co-produced, Crescent, featured an article on Pandemonaeon. The magazine was beautifully produced, and really stood out due to Tempest’s art. Over the years I have continued to be wowed by her creations. She has a singular style, which is reflected in her costuming as well as her visual art. She was a natural choice when compiling my favorite artists for the art book.

BONUS: Tempest is also an excellent dancer, specializing in dance that delves into the realms of myth and magic! She is very much an opener of portals!

Here is why I adore her work:

You can find out more about Tempest’s art at: http://www.owlkeyme.com


Valerie Herron

Valerie Herron

I met Valerie through Maxine and have gotten to know her better through various mythic communities. Her artwork is sophisticated, emotional and evocative, and delves deep into the realms of myth and symbol. She’s got a spunky spirit with flaming red hair and a pagan-goth vibe that identifies her as “my people”. She combines fierceness and vulnerability in a way I just love!

BONUS: Valerie’s art will be featured extensively in Morpheus’ “Book of the Great Queen”.

Check her out:

You can find out more about Valerie’s art at: http://www.valerieherron.com


Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

I first met Shauna as a mover and shaker in the world of Pagan leadership. Only later did I discover that she is an astonishingly gifted artist. She takes iconic, mythic images, and frames them in Celtic knot work and jewel-like accents, brightly colored and with bas-relief touches. Her style is romantic and beautiful, drawing heavily on Aurthurian and Celtic legends. I have an original hanging on my wall, and I love it!

Shauna’s art would be perfect paired with the song we’ll do with Heather Dale!

BONUS: Shauna also writes novels!

Here is a sampling of her work:

You can find out more about Shauna’s art at: https://shaunaknightarts.wordpress.com



And we need to get well into our stretch goals in order to do it.

I’d love to get one or two larger donors in the next week. It would be a good boost for the campaign, and also a great news item! If you have been thinking you’d like to have Winter and I come to your home for a house concert, I’d be thrilled if you book one through the campaign today.

Also, if you are in a position to help us step up to the next level by taking on a role as Executive Producer, I would love to talk with you. Please contact me privately to discuss a specialty arrangement just for you. Email sharon (at) sharonknight (dot) net.

Of course ALL donations and sharing are helpful, so please keep it up! Together will will make something truly stunning!



Portals Featured Artist: Heather Dale

Heather Dale. Photo credit: Barry Gnyp

Heather Dale! The Celtic Myth songbird who’s heart is as pure as her voice! Another remarkably talented singer who is also incredibly kind. (Life is too short to work or play with people who aren’t you know?)

Heather smiles all the time. And it is genuine. She loves what she does, and it shows in her electric performances. Her partner Ben is a droll yet charming compliment to her bubbly joy. And of course they are both outstanding musicians.

Many of their songs are based in Arthurian Legend, and Heather is well-known in SCA circles. She is truly a poster girl for the Bardic Arts!

I was already rather start struck when I first met Heather, because I had heard her song “Mordred’s Lullably” on a compilation Cd called “The Secret Life of Celtic Rock”. When I heard this song, I was floored. I listened to it over and over again. Her voice, the melody, the theme, all really spoke to me.

If you’ve heard Winter and I perform live in the past year or two, you have most likely heard us perform Heather’s song “Joan”, about Joan of Arc. Now you have a face to go with the name! And links to her music!

About 6 months after discovering Heather, SJ Tucker invited Winter and I to play her Strowler events, and we jumped at the chance, largely because we’d be sharing the stage with Heather Dale.

I am thrilled that she’ll be singing with me on Portals, and I already know exactly which song we’ll be featuring her on!

Without further ado, let me introduce you to Heather Dale! If you are at all a fan of Celtic music, you’ll be glad to have discovered her!

Here are three of my favorite Heather Dale songs:

And here is a cool video of Heather playing several public pianos that her hometown of Toronto has placed around the city for people to play. Great idea!

Want to learn more about Heather? Here are some links!

To dive right in to the music, I recommend her Bandcamp page! She is very prolific so make a cup of tea and settle in!


And her website (currently being rebuilt):


And remember, we are able to include – and pay – these wonderful guest musicians specifically through the power of crowd funding!

Pledge Your Support for Portals and Claim your Awesome Perk Today!




Portals Featured Artist: Sonja Drakulich

Sonja Drakulich of Stellamara

This beautiful woman is Sonja Drakulich. She is one of my all time favorite singers; one of the best vocalists currently on the planet, as far as I am concerned. Her voice is pure and controlled, yet deeply evocative, able to elicit emotion with a command that few possess. I hold her in the the same regard as Lisa Gerrard or Loreena McKennitt.

And I’m not the only one. She is the most successful of the musicians we know, recently completing a lengthy stint touring with Faun. She is the only one of our musician friends who has performed in stadiums. As such, she has become somewhat of a folk heroine to those of us on the circuit.

The recognition she has gotten is well deserved. Aside from a rich talent and a stage presence that seems effortless, she is an incredibly nice person. You would expect someone like Sonja to be a diva, but she is remarkably down to earth and open. And she is supportive of other artists in a way that makes her the perfect Portals candidate.

Winter and I met Sonja through her musical collaborator, Gari Hegedus. Gari answered an ad on Craig’s List for Pandemonaeon, and joined us for many years. He plays more instruments than I can count, and has been instrumental in developing Pandemonaeon’s sound. He is an outstanding musician and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he makes an appearance on Portals.

I don’t know what else I can say about Sonja that would be more powerful that just introducing you to her music. So without further ado, I link you to Stellamara’s most recent release on Bandcamp. You can stream the entire album and if you don’t fall in love with Sonja by the second song, I may believe you heart has turned to stone.

Suffice to say, Sonja, SJ Tucker, and I singing three part harmonies on Melusina = dream come true.

Also, here she is with Faun:  That is her singing lead!

You can learn more about Sonja here:




Portals Featured Artist: SJ Tucker

SJ Tucker. Photo by Earth to Steve.

This is the first in a series I will be writing on the artists we are featuring in the Portals Project. This is the essence of Portals; to strengthen our vibrant artists’ community by shining a light on one another’s talents. Throughout the campaign, I will introduce a Portals artist here and share a bit about why I love them. Starting with SJ Tucker!

SJ Tucker is a pint sized package of pixie-pirate awesomeness, with a heart of gold and a voice of pure magic. She is also a consummate show woman, with probably the best command of the stage I have ever seen. She is incredibly kind and open hearted, but also fierce as a lion.

I first met SJ at the Heartland Festival in Kansas 10 or 11 years ago. She was a wee wisp of a girl back then, and as we sat around the campfire, she announced to what was clearly a community she knew and loved that she was going to go for it; that September she was going to quit her job and try her hand as a full time musician. At the time, I was coming off “The Warner Brothers incident” and remember thinking to myself “Good luck with that, I hope it works out for you”, not feeling at all confident that making a living in music was even possible.

I think we can safely say, it has worked out for her!

She is one of the most well-loved performers in all the mythic-magic tour circuits we play, and for good reason. Her songs are filled with charm and whimsy. Her lyrics are clever and imaginative, weaving poetry and humor as she parts the veils to reveal fantastical worlds within. Her voice is honey and yearning, and her command of her instruments is masterful. Her stage presence is larger than life and utterly captivating. These things combined have won her a large and loyal following. I hope you get a chance to see her completely own the Neverworlds Stage at Faerieworlds! She and Tricky Pixie (all of whom are featured in Portals) do a great job on the main stage too, of course, but it’s as though the Neverworlds Stage was made just for her.

As Winter likes to say, SJ Tucker is a force of nature.

On a more personal note, she’s got a special place in my heart because she visited me in dream about 6 years ago, one of those vivid dreams that you wake from trembling, with the word “woah!” on your lips. In the dream she floated up out of nowhere and said, “You know, you really should be doing this”. Shortly thereafter, she showed up at Pantheacon, and asked me if I would play at her Strowler events. In many ways, I credit her with giving me the boost I needed to give music another try. And I am pleased to say, it is working out for me, as well!

To celebrate this dynamo, here is a sampling of some of my favorites of her work:

“Neptune”, from her Mischief album

A personal favorite, dark and haunting:

Showcasing her clever wit:

And her newest:

We are featuring SJ Tucker in Portals because we are sure you will love her as much as we do, and we know without a doubt that bringing her into the mix will help make a good project great!

 Learn more about SJ Tucker here!

Learn more about the Portals Project here!

Today is my Father’s Death Day

Today is the fourth anniversary of my Father’s death. I still miss him terribly. And yet, there has been a strange sort of healing that has happened, that wasn’t possible in life. Writing about it helps. So I wrote this:


When the light went out of you, I thought I had lost you forever. All chance of salvaging our forsaken years blinked out in an instant, buried evermore in a tomb of missed communion.

A life expiring on a bed of regrets, moments of joy wished for but never brought to fruition. When your candle extinguished, so did all hope of shared secrets, belly laughs, spiced cider, and delicious smells coming from a warm kitchen. Apologies, rites of passage, tender knowing eye twinkles, all lost. The hope of what could be now firmly enshrined in what might have been, a museum piece resting on a scratchy pillow, encased in glass with the great oak doors closing on it forever. A living, beating heart now consigned to the dusty relics of antiquity, with nothing but regret lingering in the stale air.

My heart squeezed shut and oozed black, pooling over the bright places and blotting out all visions of renewal.

I walked away, empty.

But gradually your voice came to me. Free now, of the constraints of the flesh. Free of the miles between us, free of the jealousies of covetous new wives. Free of your duties, your vanity and wounded pride, that convinced you that holding a grudge was worth your life.

I began to speak to you. And now your voice held a shining spark, as if your breath had wings. As if a great chain had been unshackled. We spoke of love not shared, but nonetheless cherished. We spoke of pride in one another. We forgave. We released each other’s bonds. We saw that there was a way forward.

At first I told myself it was a trick of the mind. Some pale therapists’s exercise to balm over what can never be regained. Some sort of feigned, forced attempt at healing. Make-beleive to make one feel better.

And yet. Can I be so sure that your empty husk was the end of you? Has life not demonstrated itself to be grand so far beyond our imaginings that we can scare comprehend it, over and over again? I feel you all around me when we talk. Palpable. Can I be so sure that you are not also benefitting from this newfound communion?

Can there be a kind of freedom in death, and not merely the snuffing-out endgame that we have come to believe is the only truth there can be for sensible people?  When the measuring of brain chemistry is our only yardstick, what do we miss? We civilized people, we are so pleased with ourselves and our inventions, our science and dishwashers and self cleaning ovens. Truly, we have accomplished mighty things. We have conquered much disease. We have put a man on the moon. We have also nearly destroyed our world. Perhaps our civilized wisdom is not the only wisdom. Perhaps we have not figured everything out with our measuring devices and our microscopes.

For I feel you now, Dad. I feel you and there is a great relief about you. That we can talk again in private. That we can resume a friendship we both wish we’d never lost. And I am reminded of that other wisdom, stories told by people as old as time. Stories told in song and not in lab results. Stories of the Dreamtime, that great sea of consciousness that we all dip in and out of. And the part of us that is most alive, even after the mechanics of our bodies cease, drifts as a mist into this sea and mingles with all things.

In this place, I can touch you.

I weep.  Tears of sadness and joy. Tears of loss and renewal.

But mostly tears of wonder.

We are the Light Returning

Winter Solstice is upon us, and with it, themes of the returning light, of the glimmer of hope endured after hardship, and the general goodwill of humankind. I have always loved this time of year, and associate it with Return of the King-type sentiments. An epic journey completed, with the fruits of a long struggle at last beginning to shine through the darkness.

Of course, for us in California, this is kind of a joke. By the time we reach Winter Solstice, our epic journey through the darkness has been going on for all of 6 weeks. Oh the horror! The rain has barely gotten started by Solstice, if we get any at all.

For this California girl, the Return of the Sun is something felt more as an internal process than as something that ties me to nature. It has always been more about the bleakness in the human soul, and the hope of return to a better life. This internal bleakness, I am sorry to say, is something we have a plentiful supply of.

My world has been seeming mighty bleak of late. I don’t know if events of the world are worse than usual or if it is just easier than ever to access a wide variety of news. Whatever the case, the human struggle has been hitting me pretty hard these past several weeks.

The woes of the world touch us all at different times, and different events trigger different people. Regardless of the what or when, we all know this feeling of bleakness, when it seems that no light touches us, but only a never-ending, grinding cruelty.

A cruelty that threatens to overwhelm us.

Many times over the last year, I have seen people plaintively express feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and overwhelm. They want to do some good in the world, but they don’t know where to begin. They don’t know how they can possibly make a difference when so much is going wrong all at once. Or they feel crushed under the weight of their own burdens, with scarcely enough money or time to handle the immediacy of their own lives.

I have felt this way myself, many times, and recently.

What helps me through my own periods of hopelessness is to take action. Even a small action. It doesn’t have to be some epic “Save the word in one fell swoop” action. Just a little something. The act of taking one small step toward the world you want to live in has the power to move incredible amounts of energy. Energy that will shift the paralysis of overwhelm.

Too often we think our gestures have to be grand, or they are worthless. By judging what we can do as “Not enough”, we shame ourselves into doing nothing. In our frozenness, we shut down and close out the world. And thus, we cut ourselves off from a sense of connection to and belonging in the world.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

This little saying has helped me immensely. We don’t have to build a non-profit from scratch. We can donate $10 to one. We can volunteer one day a month. Even if we have neither time nor money, we can devote an hour a week to learning about a situation that troubles us. Education is often the first step in figuring out how to be part of a solution.

How do we pick something, in a sea of troubles so numerous that the very thought of narrowing them down triggers overwhelm?

I always start with this question:

What is breaking my heart?

Usually one thing will flood to the surface above the others. Take the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t second guess it. It may not be “The One True Thing Forever and Ever”. It doesn’t need to be. You can support another thing down the road.

Hell, you can write different things down on paper and draw one out of a hat. It doesn’t matter what you pick, only that you pick, and then take a small action in support of that choice. Whatever you pick, I guarantee you will feel so much better investing a part of yourself into its healing.

Once I have chosen something, I look for organizations local to me that I can donate to or work with. Keeping it local makes the most sense for me, because that is the community I am invested in. (My pick for year’s end donations this year is Planting Justice, an organization that combines several of my interests at once into their mission. Check ’em out!).

By participating, however small, in solving a problem that breaks our heart, we become part of that solution. We become part of the light of the world. It is so easy to think that our offerings are small and unworthy, and therefore not worth doing. But real change is made from a thousand small gestures. We really don’t need to ride in on a white horse with capes billowing, and save the day. This world will be changed not by the mighty heroes, but by the small gestures of all of us, woven into the fabric of our everyday lives. The changes that can be realistically sustained over time by regular folks are the ones that will endure.

We are the light. We must never forget this. A thin sliver shining through a crack in a dark room is light nonetheless. We are the Strengthening Sun. We are the Return of the King. The Solstice season reminds us yet again to take stock of what truly matters to us, and to shine our light on it.

And when we do? We light a fuse that burns away the darkness. We renew hope, not only in ourselves, but in all those we touch. We become the light.

Pick something. Some small gesture. Commit to it. Own what breaks your heart, and let yourself crack open. And then feed it your care, your commitment, your compassion.

Become the Light. And Shine.


Statement of Solidarity

T. Thorn Coyle and Brennos of Coru Cathubodua in Oakland, CA

I have been seeing statements in the Pagan community coming out in active support of people of color. Just now I have heard that people of color are asking for our overt support.

Here is mine:

On behalf of Winter, Paul, myself, our band Pandemonaeon, and our festival Hexenfest, I publicly state that we are 100% in support of the black and brown people in our community, and their struggle to overcome the obvious racial inequities within our justice system.

We want you to know that we see you, hear you, and are actively educating ourselves as to what your experience is. We are listening.

We are committed to calling out racism when we hear it spoken. We will do so firmly, with as much skill toward not triggering defensiveness as we can, that true dialog can happen. We will withdraw our support from any person or organization who continues to demonstrate racist behavior even after genuine discourse has been attempted. We are committed to challenging racial stereotypes as they come up, within ourselves as well as our communities.

We will continue to educate ourselves, and share what we are learning. We will continue to listen to the voices of color in our communities, and to remain open to to further ways in which we can support you.

We do not want these militarized police. We will not stay silent.

We know there are good cops. We know that all lives matter. However, we will not diminish the discourse that needs to happen right now by stating these obvious facts. Right now, the emphasis needs to be on the frequency with which black and brown lives are discarded, not only by police but by those of us who remain complicit by justifying police brutality with racial stereotypes.

We care about you and will stand for you. Black and brown lives matter to us.

Sincerely, Sharon, Winter, and Paul, representing Pandemonaeon and Hexenfest.


Cinque Terre, Italy, part 2 – Monterosso al Mare


Monterosso al Mare

Our arrival in Monterosso was a bit of a shock. After my monk-like experience in our remote lodgings outside Riomaggiore, the tourist cliches of Monterosso al Mare scaled heights of garishness both comic and jarring. A feeling of dread swept over me as our little taxi whisked us up the perilously narrow pathway to our hotel.

The hotel, Hotel Porto Roca, didn’t help with our desire to feel hipper than the average tourist. I chose this hotel for three reasons; location, location, location. Seriously, check out these pictures! I wanted to have that view just once in my life!

We paid for it. Our room, on the side without the ocean view, was $400 a night. And for all of its various terraces, courtyards, infinity pool and the like, there was a certain charm that was missing from the hotel itself. It didn’t feel comfortable or relaxed. The staff struck me as either pretentious or obsequious, depending on who I was talking to. As though they were all carefully trained in making their clientele feel elevated above the masses. (Honestly, is this really what rich people want?) It was all a bit “Lifestyles of the rich and famous” for our taste. I half expected Jason Statham to stroll through the front doors at any moment.

Also the beaches put me off, with their little rows of umbrellas crowding out any possible view of the ocean. Why would anyone want to litter a perfectly lovely beach with rows and rows of umbrellas?

So I spent my first day in Monterosso feeling rather grumbly about having left Riomaggiore. Still we were in freaking Italy, so we figured it wouldn’t be that hard to make the best of it. Once we got settled in, we took off to explore the town. Tourism or no, this was a new experience, and I am a softie for those.


These towers are all over Cinque Terre. Apparently they are lookouts for pirates, but we still got in.

We walked through the town, and I grudgingly had to admit that it was full of medieval Italian charm. We found one of the hiking trails and followed it for awhile, until the lack of appropriate shoes made itself apparent. Then we headed back, and stopped at a market to get supplies for a picnic dinner. I swam in the pool, which overlooked the sea and lifted my mermaid spirits considerably.

The  next morning I awoke feeling tired and washed out. I had strange dreams of being impoverished (as I slept in the swanky hotel, heh) and also the day before took a bit out of us with the travel and the impromptu hike in less than ideal shoes. It had been pretty warm the day before as well, and I was thinking as I arose that if it were hot again today I may not be up for a hike. Which was the main reason I wanted to explore this region. I felt my inner curmudgeon taking root around my heart.

As we headed into breakfast, served on a balcony with a yet another spectacular view of the sea, it began to rain.

You might think this would seal the deal on my grumpy mood but nope. This lifted my spirits considerably! As I sat drinking a remarkably delicious cappuccino, I felt the mist and drizzle invigorate me, and realized this would be the perfect day for a good long hike along the coast.

Cinque Terre is truly a hiker’s paradise. The opportunity to explore the many narrow trails nestled into the cliffs along the sea is what drew me to this region. As a lover of both hiking and the ocean, I was willing to go to great lengths to see this part of the world. Many months of planning, scrimping, and saving went into this. And today was the day!


Heading out of Vernazza to Corniglia.

One of the nice things about our hotel was that the the trail started right from it. So after breakfast, we trundled down the driveway and off we went. It took us two hours to hike to Vernazza. After exploring the town and having lunch, we got it in our heads that we had the energy to then walk to Corniglia. Another two hours. My feet felt like little sausages by the time we arrived! As we also walked around the towns, we estimated we must have walked 6 -7 hours this day. Boy, was I glad of the regional trains that connect the towns, so we didn’t have to walk back!

There are few things more satisfying to me than utterly using myself up! No troubled sleep this night.

We spent our final day lounging on the beach and swimming in the sea. The chip on my shoulder about the little umbrellas came right off. The Ligurian Sea is not like the Pacific, my “home” sea. The Pacific is freezing, and it will kill you. This was warm and salty and inviting! Not that I still didn’t manage to nearly drown myself; in my zeal to become one with the ocean, I swam too far out, and then, after I had completely expended my energy, realized I still had to swim back. My lungs were near bursting as I struggled past the exhaustion to get to shore. I was beginning to fear that the hot Italian lifeguard was going to have to come rescue me. As Hot Italian Lifeguard fantasies go, this would not have been choice A.

Once I learned my limits and spent a good twenty minutes gasping for air, I was able to return to the sea with a more accurate understanding of the limits of my own mortality, and thus I enjoyed the rest of the day immensely. There were fruity drinks and tasty snacks. If you find yourself in a touristy situation, might as well go all in, I figure.


That’s Hotel Porto Roca, nestled into the cliffs. Fun for pretending you are Maharet from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

I warmed up to both the Hotel Porto Roca and the umbrella-laden beaches. Once I let go the need to be “above” such tourism, I sunk into the pure pleasure of a “getting away from it all” style vacation, and had a grand old time! Relations with the hotel staff got more down to earth, and the little umbrellas were quite nice to lounge under. Though I probably won’t book here again unless I win the lottery, I have to say, they really do have the absolutely primo location. (And their own private beach.) If $400 a night is no big deal for you, I’d recommend it, for views, delicious drinks, and the only infinity pool in Monterosso. Definitely hold out for a sea view room!

Our final day was spent in Porto Venere, a lovely area that, from the look of some of the yachts, is a billionaire playground. It has a huge castle jutting up out of the hillside. It was lovely, but ultimately didn’t hold a candle to the Cinque Terre. So I’ll keep this post from getting much longer and cap the storytelling for now.

If you’d like to go:

I used Booking.com to book both our accommodations in Riomaggiore and Monterosso. I was extremely happy with their service. It was very user friendly and I would recommend them to anyone looking to book a trip. Here is a link directly to their offerings in the Cinque Terre region.



We flew to Europe almost for free. How? By becoming Frequent Flyer ninjas, of course! I became a member of Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel. He saves members endless hours of research by doing it himself and sending us the results. Want to become a member? If so, follow the banner!

(Extra awesome: if you book or join through either of these links, I get a commission, making it that much easier for me to keep making beautiful music for you!)

Join the Travel Hacking Cartel

Happy travels!!

Honoring the Dead at Samhain

photo reposted from: reclaimingthedarkgoddess.blogspot.com

Honoring the Dead at Samhain has become more important to me over the years. The reason for this is likely obvious; as we get older, more and more people in our lives have gone from us.

When I first began practicing Pagan traditions in my late teens/early 20’s, the Samhain season was more about turning inward and focusing on deep personal work. It became a time of deepening my understanding of self, of striving to heal wounds and uncover more of my own authenticity. It was a time of creative gestation and introspection. There was always the element of the Dead, of course, but for me that aspect had more to do with the Mighty Dead than with loved ones who had passed on.

(The Mighty Dead, as understood in the Anderson Feri Tradition, are beings who shone so brightly in life that their imprint is still felt upon the ethers long after their deaths. Jimi Hendrix, Grace O’Malley, Martin Luther King, would all be examples of the Mighty Dead).

It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the recently deceased. It was simply that I personally didn’t know many dead people.

This is no longer the case.

This year, our greater community has lost more people than in any year I have been alive so far. People who will surely claim a seat at the table of the Mighty Dead. People whom I was very close to.

Since last Samhain I have lost yet another coven sister to cancer, as well as a cousin to stroke. Added to those who already grace my altar from seasons past, I have come to realize just how important it is for me to have one night that is dedicated to sitting alone in private communion with my Dead.

This I did last night.

What an lovely tradition this is!  We Pagans have our foibles to be sure, but this is one thing we really get right. To set aside space to remember, commune with, and celebrate departed loved ones answers a longing left in their absence that little else can. I miss these people so much! I miss my Dad, I miss Tara Webster and Teresa Morgan. Hell, I miss my cats! To make a special place to toast them, share memories, say things I wish I had said, opens me to life and meaning in a glorious way. This tradition honors our Dead, reminds us of the connections we shared, and makes sacred the roles they played in our lives. It evokes melancholy too, of course; I sobbed full out for a long while. But that is part of it, part of fully owning who these people were to us.

Our Samhain traditions give us an opportunity to really sit with Death, to process it and come to terms with it. My cousin Sandra died while I was on tour. Aside from a brief conversation with my aunt while in the car, I had virtually no time to unfurl my feelings about it.

Lest my way of talking about this makes it sound like this is purely a psychological process that benefits the living, let me say that I see it as more than that. Yes, for those of us left behind, these rituals are profoundly healing. But it is not only that. The field of consciousness is a fascinating thing. I won’t pretend to know how it works, but there is something to the collective unconscious, the Akashic records, and those types of things.  There is something that happens in the field of consciousness that is more than “our own psychology”. At least that is how I see it. I am one of those who believe the Gods have a life of their own, and yet our own consciousness can flow into them and theirs into ours. There is a continuity of consciousness that continues on somehow, that transcends life and death and the boundaries of physical composition, and this is how we can commune with our Dead. As Lon Milo DuQuette likes to say, “Yes it is all in your head, you just have no idea how big your head is”.

But I digress, on a topic that has been discussed at length, with no known way of answering definitively. Suffice to say, communing with my Dead – and my Gods – from the perspective that they are more than a part of my own psyche, is the most empowering for me.  This was certainly the case last night.

My private Samhain reminded me how important ritual is in my life, and how I have let my ritual practices slide somewhat in deference to career. I have become “All Business” over the past few years, with my Capricorn tendency for goal setting, and the realization that as I get older I’d better have my financial house in order. That, coupled with discovering that the thing I most love to do – music – is also the most viable of the career paths available to me, but only if I work it relentlessly, has made me very driven indeed. As such, my ritual practices have suffered.

It is crucial to have parts of our lives that are not about goals, strategies, and saving for retirement. These thoughts can easily dominate; we live in difficult economic times, and most of us have to think about these things constantly just to keep our heads above water. This is all the more reason for us to practice, IMO. We need to remember why we work so hard. The things that are most meaningful are often not the things that bring home the bacon. Honoring our Dead is just one of the rituals that are important to me. Others are opening the gates to inspiration and beauty. Rituals for healing and relaxing. Spending time with friends and family among the living.

This year, my Dead have reminded me that all work and no play makes Sharon a dull girl. They have reminded me that feeding my soul is every bit as important as putting food on the table. One mustn’t be sacrificed for the other. This Samhain marks the beginning of a new commitment to keep the magic alive in my life on a regular basis. I give thanks to my Beloved Dead, who continue to teach and inspire me in death as they did in life.

May Samhain weekend bring equally insightful and meaningful communions with your own Beloved Dead, as well as a period of fruitful creativity!

Cinque Terre, Italy, part 1 – Riomaggiore



We arrived late. We had ridden the sleek German trains through the Alps and into Italy, arriving at the coast as the sun set. Rolling past palatial villages and dilapidated “social housing” alike, we took in our first glimpses of the Mediterranean sea. It was flat and calm here, and gave no indication of the sweeping natural drama I was soon to witness.


Turns out, this was the view that greeted us upon waking.

We arrived at the train station too late for the regional train, so got a cab to Il Borgo di Campi, just outside Riomaggiore. Our cabbie whipped through the hills at speeds fit for James Bond, and I hung my head out the window like a dog and drank deep of the sea air. A mist had crept in and clung to the valley, so there was no hint of the sea beyond the scent. As we climbed higher and higher, I could only imagine what views I’d be met with upon waking.

We stumbled down 200 stairs to our apartmenti, a small stucco studio clinging perilously to the the edge of a cliff. We slept with the soft lilt of the waves in our ears, and awoke to the Ligurian Sea.

Thus began our inevitable seduction by the siren of this land, the soul of nature at her most devastating.

As far as my own inner landscape was concerned, I did not bring a wholly rose colored view of the world to the occasion. Ferguson, MO, had erupted in a wave of protests over police violence just days before, and was met with an alarmingly militant response by police. The growing police state in America is a concern that eats away at me with increasing frequency, and it weighed heavily on my mind as we entered this phase of our adventure. It seemed irreverent to try and tune it out, yet I desperately wanted to give myself wholly to the experience of Italy, for it isn’t often we are able to afford ourselves such a majestic experience.

Conflicted, I carried with me a mix of melancholy and wonder as we embarked on our first explorations.

How much farther to Mordor?

How much farther to Mordor?

We chose to hike into the town of Riomaggiore. We took the Telegrafo up to the No. 3 trail. This was about a two hour hike for us, and some of it was very steep. It was also breathtakingly beautiful. One of the things Cinque Terre is known for is its many hiking trails along the coast. As we took in these sights and smells, this region became a part of us, and began to wash away all that was not part of its grandeur.

We are part of the soul of nature. This belief is at the core of my entire understanding and experience of spirituality. We not only dwell in her, but she also dwells within us. To walk along the coastal trails of Cinque Terre these 6 days has changed me, has brought a fresh nuance to the poetry in my soul, has deepened my capacity for beauty. Do I sound like a mush head? Perhaps. It would take a far more stoic soul than I to resist the romantic allure of this stretch of sea.

IMG_1158Some of the charms this particular trail held for us were the many votives to Mother Mary that were ensconced along the walls as we approached the town. I’m just going to say it: I like religion. I know it is not fashionable to be enamored of something so ‘quaint and outdated’ as religion – after all, are we not modern people, fully equipped with the faculties for rational thought? Surely I risk my membership in that most venerated of social orders, that of the pragmatic and educated Western thinker, to admit to such a provincial predilection. A certain bitter cynicism is, after all, required to maintain my place among the serious adults of the world.

Except that for me, scientific materialism has never held the be-all and end-all of answers to everything in the universe.

This is not to say that I think religion has the answers. I don’t. In fact, I think religion is often laughably bereft of any answers at all. What I do appreciate about religion, however, is the human striving to understand  mysteries that lie beyond the reach of scientific knowledge. Religion itself is not God, but a structure that we have created to help grapple with that sense of moreness that lies at the edge of perception. It is this yearning toward something, that which beckons from the deepest reaches of our being, exquisite in its vulnerability, yet insistent in its promise to fulfill some part of our humanity as yet untouched, that keeps me enchanted with religion.

As a Goddess gal, I was particularly pleased to see how very well represented Mother Mary was here in Cinque Terre!



We entered Riomaggiore invigorated. The weather was perfect; just overcast enough to keep the sun from being overbearing, and with the remnants of the morning mist lingering in the air and on our skin. We had a “fruits of the sea” laden lunch. We roamed the town, with its twisting cobblestone alleyways and lazy cats draped over windows and walls, with the zeal of children, our imaginations utterly swept clean of the modern world.

It was wonderful.

Eventually the sun came out, and I walked right down the harbor and into the sea fully dressed.

The restaurant at Il Borgo Di Campi

The restaurant at Il Borgo Di Campi

It was a glorious day, full of physical exertion, astonishingly beautiful nature, new sights and smells, delicious food, and all manner of old world wonder. We returned to Il Borgo Di Campi at night to a delicious meal at the villa’s restaurant, and I fell asleep again to the sounds of the sea.

The next day, I was utterly empty. That stillness one hopes for as the fruit of meditation, but is only rarely granted (if you’re me), was mine this day. It was delicious. And so very needed! The 5 lands of the Cinque Terre are themselves pretty remote. Il Borgo Di Campi is part of a tiny hamlet well outside of Riomaggiore, and it was very quiet. Being a city girl, to achieve this level of quiet is the mythic equivalent of riding a unicorn. There were virtually no other sounds except the rhythm of the sea and an occasional bird.

But it wasn’t just outside that was quiet. Allowing my soul to open to this environment, allowing it to flow through me and attune me to its rhythms, created a stillness within that I rarely possess but frequently long for. My mind ceased its chatter, its worry,  its angst and uncertainty, and was utterly present.

We stayed on the property this entire day, just being with the quietude within and without. Meditating, reading, writing, lounging, listening.


Our private garden.

The weight of the world will still be there when we return, and I will always ponder whether there is more I can do for the world, but one thing that remains true for me is this; we need these times of stillness. Far from being mere escapism, these times replenish us and reinvigorate us so that when we return to the world, we can be our most effective. We must return to the Well from time to time, to remember that there is beauty in this world, and that it is worth fighting for. When we return to the Well, we bring ourselves back to the world fully charged. These moments allow me to hear the deepest parts of myself, that aspect that is at the heart of what I think of as true religion, that pure presence that allows us to experience that something, that glimpse of eternity that graces us so rarely yet fortifies us so thoroughly. For this day, I was granted the gift of dwelling within this world view, and it was a sacrament.

I was so grateful to have this stillness, to have this monk-like existence in our little studio cottage on the cliffside of Cinque Terre. I could have easily spent another day here, if not several, but it was not meant to be. For the next day it was on to Monterosso and a quite different experience indeed.


I flew to Europe almost for free. Want to know how I did it? By becoming a Frequent Flyer ninja, of course! I became a member of Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hacking Cartel. He saves members endless hours of research by doing it himself and sending us the results. Want to become a member? If so, follow the banner!

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