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The Adventures of Fen Fatale ~ Ecoheroine

The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy. Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing…

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The Marriage of Tarot and the Empath

On the heels of the beautifully aspected Taurus full moon, my dreams lately have had me thinking a lot about empathy.  Recently, I taught a series of workshops for Windham-Raymond Adult Education on folklore, astrology, palmistry, tasseography, and my favorite–cartomancy, the art of reading everyday playing cards for divination. I first began working with the Tarot, astrology, and cartomancy in 1992, while I was a teen-ager. Prior to that, around 1991, before I entered high school, a friend of my mother’s gave me a set of Celtic Tree Oracle cards–a system of divination with a guidebook and cards created by Colin Murray and Liz Murray, illustrated by Vanessa Card (1988). I still have my original deck and guidebook–even though there’s a little bit of tree sap on some of the cards from using them outside 20+ years ago. (I experimented with aeromancy, allowing the wind or a sea breeze to lift certain cards in the course of a reading in some secret grove on the coast of Maine. But over the years, I fully embraced my true path as a hydromancer, and have never mastered aeromancy, divination with the element of air.) I will have to write a different post on hydromancy.

my original deck of the Celtic Tree Oracle by Liz and Colin Murray from 1991

I had always been intrigued by different languages, different systems–from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to runes, and even created my own “planned language,” with a full dictionary and grammar guide (my own version of an Esperanto, albeit without speakers other than myself). Learning the Celtic Tree Oracle system of divination was fun for me as a fourteen-year-old; I spelled out my name in the Ogham alphabet, and learned that the ash tree (“Nuin”) was associated with my birthday (in late February). As a result, I’ve always sought out ash trees. Just before I decided to buy my home at Nixie’s Vale in southern Maine, I was pleased to discover that the property beheld a rare black ash seep–full of ash trees–which served an ecological purpose to cleanse and filter the soils around the well, and replenished a perennial stream that meanders through the woods and flowed into the pond. It spoke a language to me: one of wetlands, of trees, of healing and replenishment, of water and folklore–one in which I imagined a water nixie living, protecting the well, the streams, the seep, and the nearby pond. That’s why I named my home “Nixie’s Vale.”

By nineteen, I was serious about the study and practice of cartomancy and Tarot. I began reading for others in college–friends, classmates, total strangers–on campus while a student at St. Lawrence University. Sometimes, my peers approached me on campus–students I didn’t know, and never encountered in a classroom, to ask me for a reading. I’d garnered a reputation for “accurate readings” by my sophomore year. (I read palms, too, but my preference was a deck of Tarot or regular playing cards.) I enjoyed a variety of references to guide my early practice but I loved books by Gillian Kemp. (She wrote The Fortune-Telling Book (2000), among other books.) Later on, I loved working with The Oracle of Love by LeeAnn Richards (2003).

A classic reference on cartomancy by Leeann Richards

Cartomancy is over 700 years old. Scholars in the field of semiotics study ways that signs and symbols as elements of communicative behaviors, which is a robust field of scholarship. Within that field of study, there are those who focus on the symbolism that corresponds with maps and cards. Cartography is map-making; cartomancy is divination with cards; notice the use of the same prefix “carto-” meaning, “map, chart,” or “playing card.” Early in the 16th century, historians and scholars see the use of astrology (see the work of Don Cameron Allen, 1942) and cartomancy in the Tudor court of King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. (Allen, 1942) and (see the work of Ross Caldwell on the history of cartomancy in Europe). According to Caldwell, what we now think of as “playing cards” appeared in Europe in the 1300s, although the various methods for using them for divination evolved and split into various sub-groups throughout Europe and time. In the Tudor court, Anne Boleyn read cards–but she was likely using what we consider traditional playing cards, which had the likeness of King Henry VIII for several of the kings, and later, he commissioned cartomancers to make a deck featuring four of his wives–none of which were Anne Boleyn. In the Showtime series, The Tudors, we see a couple of scenes in which Anne is “reading cards” and she’s using ‘playing cards’ not Tarot. Then, Tarocchi, an Italian card game, was printed in Europe, and circulating, but it wasn’t until later that cartomancers combined the 52 cards of the traditional deck with unrelated illustrations inked by medieval monks–Christian monks, who created the archetypal illustrations that later became known as the “Major Arcana” of Tarot, to create the 78-card Tarot deck.

Drawing from my Celtic roots, I have always been drawn to decks that have a Celtic theme. One of my favorites is the Wild Wood Tarot by John Matthews and Mark Ryan. I love working with this deck. It’s unconventional–and that might be off-putting to those who are looking for a traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck, but for those interested in Celtic mythology, folklore, or pre-Celtic mythology and folklore, this might be right up your alley, too. For those who are in love with pre-Celtic folklore, such as the old medieval tales of Robin Hood, or the folklore of the Green Man and Green Woman, as well as the animal kinship, connection to Nature, this is a valuable tool for meditation, divination, and drawing inspiration for writing in a journal.

Working with the Wild Wood Tarot deck

The relationship between Tarot and empathy is a constantly renewing interest for me as a practitioner of lightworking and healing arts, and as an Empath. In this context, what do I mean by empathy? It’s sometimes called psychic empathy, and I would like to point out that the definition of “psychic,” is “of or related to the soul,” so empathy is a soulful experience.

While it’s a relatively broad term, psychic empathy can describe the range of experiences one may have as an “Empath.” You’ve probably heard of telepathy and telepaths—Empaths, or highly empathic people, receive information in different ways, but are highly sensitive to the emotions of others. Sometimes these people call themselves “highly sensitive people” (HSP) and refrain from mention of any psychic correlation. Others delve into divination or experience lucid and/or prophetic dreams, as I do, and still yet others call themselves “healers,” “Reiki practitioners,” therapists, counselors, or some other type of healer. Most empaths are healers at heart. In addition, there are a myriad of other layers to the experiences of Empaths–including clairsentient (“clear feeling”) expressions of psychic empathy. I’m a clairsentient empath type, which is not uncommon for those born under the sign of Pisces, or those with strong Piscean energy in their astrological natal chart (Pisces Sun, Moon, Rising/Ascendant, sometimes those with Jupiter or Mercury in Pisces). In fact, in western astrology, all of the water signs–Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, are likely to experience psychic empathy, and/or clairsentience in their lives, regardless of whether they choose to use this as a gift, or tool for healing (themselves or others), or in their vocation or, express it through creative arts. I’m a poet and writer, and tend to use my “clear feeling” gifts to connect with others, and to transmute those experiences into my writing. I swim at least five months of the year in the lake and the ocean to clear my mind, replenish my body and spirit with the energy of water, essential for any hydromancer, but also helpful for Empaths. Swimming cleanses the body and mind of others’ energy, and for me, recharges my energy physically and mentally.

I’m a Piscean poetess-empath & Mystic, swimming in the sea

Emotionally intuitive, and sometimes physically intuitive people are empaths. There are emotional empaths, physical empaths, intuitive types, and those who connect with animals through psychic empathy, and those who connect closely with the earth (the plant whisperers! I have lots of friends who fit this category!) An empath might be primarily emotionally intuitive, or both, that is, experiencing the emotions and physical ailments/illnesses/injuries or pain of another being. Depending on the individual’s experience, an empath might have additional gifts or abilities, which allow that person to receive other types of information. This might include highly detailed and specific information, names of people or places, details about emotionally-charged events (e.g. a trauma, a memorable event, a rite-of-passage) or just about any other type of thought. It’s not mind-reading. When an empath is a baby, s/he might tune into other babies (e.g. cry when another baby cries, or have a soothing/calming effect on other children). As an empath reaches puberty, the experiences can be heightened and frustrating, especially if the teen-ager doesn’t understand what s/he is experiencing is a form of psychic empathy.  Dr. Judith Orloff is one of the most well-respected experts on psychic empathy. You can find more about her work at her website here. 

Tarot has its roots in cartomancy, the method of divining with the use of what we now think of as traditional playing cards. Playing cards—with the King, the Queen and the suits of Hearts, Spades, Diamonds and Clubs—were invented for the purpose of divination about 600+ years ago. There are 52 cards in the deck for 52 weeks in the year; four suits represent the four seasons and the four elements—earth (diamonds), hearts (water), air (spades) and clubs (fire). And so forth. But Tarot came later. One of my favorite WordPress blogs on Tarot is Truly Teach Me Tarot, by Vivien Ní Dhuinn, who has fantastic information about the individual cards and how to read Tarot cards in various spreads for various purposes. I have referred to her website again and again, even though I have read (and studied) the Tarot since 1992. I’m always learning–Tarot is such a rich, robust arena of holistic systems for mindful ways of knowing, living, being. One of my favorite teachers of Tarot, for me, personally as a practitioner and lifelong learner, is Pamela Loffredo, a professional psychic-medium and Reiki Master Teacher, and Intuitive, based in Maine. She can be found through Leapin’ Lizards in Portland, Maine. Pam taught a series of Tarot classes at Leapin’ Lizards over the years, and I took one of her classes. I’ve learned a lot from Pam. 🙂 Another fantastic resource is Mary Greer. In Mary Greer’s 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, she explains a bit about the relationship between the empath and Tarot. Her blog can be found here.

But I also frequently rely on my own intuition, my own experiences as a lightworker, an Empath, and a Mystic, and a hydromancer, sometimes, aspiring to draw from dreams, ancestral knowledge, traditional knowledge passed down to me from my grandmothers, including my Irish grandmother, who taught me some elements of Irish cartomancy before she died in 1992.

Reading the Wild Wood Tarot at Nixie’s Vale

Since the invention of Tarot, Empaths have used not only the cards themselves but the whole experience of sitting with another person and “reading” for him/her. In my experience, whenever I’ve “read” for someone without the use of cards, or any other tool (including their palm, or use of a pendulum), the other person can be incredulous. It seems to me, when I have illustrated cards with symbolism in front of the person, or some other tool (e.g. a moving pendulum, lines on a palm) the person embraces the information more comfortably. People like visual aids. I tend to think of Tarot in this way when I give a reading. I’m not unique. Other empaths use Tarot as a tool and their empathic abilities as guidance. It seems to me that this is a long-standing relationship between empaths and Tarot. After a 400 +/- years, we’re talking commitment. A quick Google search will turn up countless results for “empathic Tarot” readers, each explaining their gifts and how they use Tarot to help others. There are hundreds online and many fantastic readers on Youtube. Some of my favorites include AquaMoonlight (she’s in Maine!), Ashley at Hello Tarot, Andrea Leigh Cox on the Detox Intuitive, Reading the Signs Astrology and Tarot (she’s in Ireland!), Wendy Bones Tarot. In particular, Andrea Leigh Cox is a gifted Intuitive, Detox Specialist, a fellow Pisces, a beautiful soul, and utilizes her many gifts to help people. To learn more about her work, visit her website. I have learned a great deal from Andrea, and feel she is a kindred spirit.

How about you? What has been your experience with Tarot, or card reading, and psychic empathy? Please leave a comment to share about your experience, or if you have a favorite deck of Tarot, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading, liking, and sharing my blog.

New Moon Tiger

When I was little, big cats were my favorite.
I liked nature programs on PBS, picture books
Depicting lions, tigers, cheetahs, and ocelots.
Once, a panther prowled through our yard
We looked out through the windows (my cat,
And I, safely inside) at the predator, whose
Shoulder blades worked like perfect gears.

Now I keep dreaming of tigers, the great
Healers of the animal kingdom. My dream
Dictionary tells me tigers represent innate
Feminine power, raw emotions, intuition,
The ‘shadow part’ of me, and sensuality,
My will-power, courage and strength.
She symbolizes ‘yin’ and moon energy.

In my dream, I walk beside her, this bengal
Tigress, black-striped, electric-wiry orange
Fur swallows my fingers as I pet the beast.
She chuffs, ears pricked and muscles flexed
We are hunting –primal instincts act fast.
Our taut muscles hold quiet power; in tune
With the mangrove, the dream-jungle forest,
Nature’s rhythms, my lineage, acute senses.

According to Chinese wisdom, the female tiger
Comes to the mystic dreamer on a vision quest
She casts dark moon spells and augers fertile
Desires in a ferocious-hearted breast; a spirit
Animal like this, gnashes her teeth, a vital
Sign, secretive and solidified—these truths
Tell a deeper story—how to trust, how to fight.

I was born the wintry month of water tigers,
The daring daughters of the zodiac, often
Found among extremely prolific writers.
She remains calm, swims through calamities
An appetite for life and a long polished tail,
Her coping mechanism, and it’s a good one
Triggers hidden aggression, coaxes the male
Rolls around for three days of mating rituals.

When I wake from the recurring dream, I realize
There was no danger; I was unafraid of the tiger,
Unpredictable she may be, I know she personifies
My spontaneity and super-adventurous vigor;
Sure enough, it takes guts, I crouch beside her,
My dream-deity, subterranean patient part of me,
Tigers don’t walk for exercise; we are hunting.

We are hunting for the dragon, the ‘yang,’
Sun and fire chi, that waits, hot-winged,
Smoke-mouthed with gleaming fangs;
The solitary tigress—in dreams,
Shows the way to sanctuary.  

Leah C. Stetson

Poet’s note: This is a work-in-progress and part of the Tupelo Press’s 30/30 Poetry Challenge to raise funds for the nonprofit literary press. Please mention my name when you make a donation. Thank you for reading and following my blog. I also encourage you to read the fine work of my fellow poets on the Tupelo Press’s 30/30 blog page here. TP Donate

Poet’s note: I came across a writing prompt to take a piece of fiction (that I wrote) and attempt to turn it into poetry. Let me know what you think.

Blue Dog & the Sea Fan Girl

Most of the beach-bums packed their vans
And kids, to leave Scarborough at happy hour.
Blue Dog carried his longboard down a path
Sharply netted with the shoots and sour

Blades of dune grass. His stocky form
Read like a rap sheet, pale pink scars
Cave diving, rock climbing, surfing
With the big boys off Alaska, Hawai’i.

He didn’t wear a wetsuit, or own a car
(Commandeered a bike, or hitch-hiked)
An old shaper taught him how to carve,
Make his first board out of balsa scraps,
Coat it with resin, smooth as shark skin.

Leans into his element, a bird on a current,
High in the sky; waves, wind—he needs.
Body limp, arms held down at his sides,
Loose and controlled at the same time,
Pressed into waves like palms to wet sand.

Shoulders rolled as though waves themselves.
For fun, sometimes he let it pummel him
Into tunnels of clashing tides and flow
Of the undercurrent. Or else he might fly
Down that blue slope, rope left, tilted low
Leaning to let go, his deep ecology.

In a swoosh, Blue Dog flipped
His board, suspended upside-down
Red hair coiled, hanging jellyfish
Tentacles off a translucent face.

She moved so fast it looked to him
As though she had the tail of a fish
But kelp trailed behind her legs,
Kicking together dolphin-ish.

She smiled at him. This wasn’t
The typical reaction he got
From females; when he tried it,
Blue Dog was too aggressive, not

Good at flirting. Here was Asrai,
Waving flat coral, a sea fan to signal
One thing or another, mermaids always
Expect others to have the manual.

She snaked his waves, for once
He didn’t care; impressed
With her telehydrokinesis,
Tripped over her jets, crushed.

A sea-lust mates of another kind
Neither man nor woman satisfied
In the dark of night, at high tide
He found her in a pool, lying

In her throat, flecked mussel necklace.
His half-moon went taut, his claspers,
Stiffened. Her scent drenched his snout
As if she’d been riding on top of his head.

Asrai splashed. Suddenly he slid upon her
Scaled curvy figure and thrashed as his nose
Broke the surface. Half in the water, half out,
The shark lover rolled over, then rough-shod

Four limbs to hold her, a mouth
To kiss, not rows of teeth for a spine,
Not some island nightmare myth;
But Asrai had other treasure hunts
In mind.

Leah C. Stetson

Recently I discovered Ondine ~ a brand of pre-cooked lasagna pasta, named after the Ondine, a mythological mermaid (or group of mermaids), who dwelled along the rivers. Also spelled “Undine,” they were water spirits who showed up in European folklore. In one eerie version of the story, the Ondine had the ability to “gain a soul” by marrying a man and bearing his child. In a German version of the myth, called “the Ondine’s Curse,” the water spirit, or mermaid, casts magic on an unfaithful man so that he would stop breathing during sleep. Apparently this “curse” and mythology fed the early medical thinking on those who suffer from frequent hyperventilation. I’ve heard several variations of the diagnosis for my sudden and frequent lapses in breathing–but from now on, I am going to think of it as my Ondine’s curse. That’s a little easier to swallow than all of the other freakish-sounding medical explanations from doctors over the past 25 years. It’s my spiritual mermaid self just channeling ancient memories.

NymphsI was nine years old when I stopped breathing one day, while washing my hands in the bathroom sink. I had no way of calling to my mother for help, so I clapped my hands and banged against the counter. A sharp pinch in my lung prevented air from going out or coming in, so I couldn’t breathe in either direction. My mother called 911 and the first responders arrived, and examined me in the living room. I hadn’t been breathing for several minutes–but suddenly began to inhale and exhale tiny puffs, like sipping the steam off the top of hot cocoa. My chest burned. I gathered from the look on my brother’s face, I was turning funny colors, and freaking him out. One of the emergency responders told me I had a touch of pleurisy, an inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs. It causes sharp intense pain in the chest (the lungs, specifically) and can be brought on by taking a deep breath, coughing, or even laughing. Over the years as I grew up, and to this day, I occasionally stop breathing. Sometimes I am engulfed with laughter with friends, or talking on the phone, and suddenly I go dead quiet. My closest friends and family know this about me, so they know to either wait it out, or my best friends will continue laughing–since frequent hyperventilation is inconvenient and embarrassing, and sometimes funny. Not in a ha-ha kind of funny, more of an obtuse Addams Family dinner way. Oh, she’s stopped breathing again. A part of me wants to think this is the basis for my constant need to speak fast and furious, and to interrupt others with enthusiastic bursts of creative thinking–because there is the likely scenario that I might stop breathing mid-sentence and lose the thought completely. This is a bit difficult to explain to people in the work place, and can sound melodramatic. When I taught writing classes in my usual exuberant and entertaining way, I sometimes clutched my chest and lost my breath. After this happened once in front of horrified students, who thought I looked young enough to be one of their classmates, I explained it away in my best impression of SNL “Coffee Talk,” and told them I was verklempt and for them to “talk amongst themselves.”

Now I find myself sipping raspberry zinger at my desk. The inside flap of the box has this description of the tea: “According to Roman legend, raspberries were originally white – but turned red when the Cretian nymph Ida scratched herself on a thorny raspberry bush.” (Celestial Seasonings) It’s too bad these descriptions don’t make it on the grocery store shelves like the hand-written recommendations of bottom-shelf wines: “Full-bodied and dishes it right back.” I think in another life, I’d like to be responsible for writing the descriptions of teas and under-sold wines. raspberries

Ondine Movie Pic“Ondine” is also a beautiful 2009 Irish romantic drama starring Colin Farrell and Alicja Bachleda. This is one of my favorite movies from recent years. It makes me want to go to Ireland really really bad. (Plus, I’m Irish.) Check it out: http://www.ondinefilm.com/

Tonight I shall experiment with tomato Ondine lasagna with roasted root vegetables, goat cheese and tomato basil sauce.

This past weekend we had a mini ice storm in the mountains of western Maine where I live. My dog and cat snuggled by the fire as I worked on “Wetland Breaking News” and a Water Resources Protection Ordinance draft.

As ice crackled in the trees, I listened to Prairie Home Companion, broadcast from New York City, on the radio. Garrison Keillor relayed the News from Lake Wobegon, including a climate change skeptic’s love story that was really charming. I find climate change skepticism akin to astrological skepticism – as astrology is based on science, the same physics used in astronomy, according to my astronomy professor at St. Lawrence University. I try to avoid arguments with people who are skeptical of climate change…or astrology for that matter. In looking back, I found the predictions for the Chinese “Water Dam” year uncanny in their relevance to what we’ve seen for natural disasters this year in the U.S.

Last winter in a February Strange Wetlands blog post, I wrote about 2012 as the “Black Water Dragon” or “Water Dam” year in the Chinese calendar. Astrologers predicted a focus on dams, water, levees and floodplains management, under a strong stormy and dark water influence, including a storm or heavy flooding event in late 2012. Water problems, including dramatic changes in water levels, were also predicted for the “Water Dam” year. In a recent Compleat Wetlander post, my boss, Jeanne, noted that the last time the Mississippi River levels were at a record low was 1940, also a dragon year. The last time we had a “water dragon” year was 60 years ago, when my mother was born in 1952, a year when all of the named storms attained “hurricane” status. Among the six hurricanes that year, Hurricane Fox (Oct. 20-28, 1952) a Category 4, killed 40 people and wrought $10 million in damages (that’s in 1952; in 2012 that would be equivalent to $87.5 million in damages). It was one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the U.S. …until this most recent hybrid storm, Sandy, in October 2012.

At my job at ASWM, I’ve been responsible for developing content for the Climate Change resources section of the aswm.org website. In response to Hurricane Sandy, I post news, analyses and reports related to the storm and her impact on wetlands, as well as the relationship between hurricanes and wetlands on a new section of the website. See Hurricane Sandy news here.  If you’re looking for information on particular sea level rise tools, pilot studies and storm surge analysis, visit ASWM’s Sea Level Rise page that I put together.  There are some really terrific storm surge and sea level rise tools!

Around 3 a.m. Sunday morning, I finally shut off the tablet and the light to go to sleep, when –as if on cue, an otherworldly howl shuddered through the woods. It was a lonely howl, unanswered. Usually the dogs of the neighborhood call to one another late at night. I worry about them since it’s getting colder and I wonder why their owners let (or make) their dogs stay outside all night. But this particular howl wasn’t dog-like, or wolf-like, or like any coyote I’d ever heard either. It was a mix of canine and human-like cries. Logically, I told myself it could be an animal in the throes of death, in the clutches of another animal, and those encounters can bring about strangely horrific sounds. Deer also make strange noises during rutting season – but it’s not the right time of year and it was only one howl, not likely a deer. I ruled out fisher, too, since it didn’t sound like a woman being murdered.

MTV’s Teen Wolf

My mind was full of inventive possibilities since I’d just finished watching the first season of MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” which is excellent. Season 2 is terrific, too, and I look forward to the third installment of the series, which is supposed to have 24 episodes. I liked the mix of settings from the woods to the lacrosse field to the classroom. It picks up on the same premise as the 1980s classic with Michael J. Fox, a movie I adored as a kid, but MTV put a slick modern spin on the story line: hunters, ancient mythology, werewolf packs. As much as I respect a girl who knows how to use a cross-bow, I had to hand it to Holland Roden, the actress who plays Lydia Martin, a redheaded popular girl, who is highly intelligent (perfect grades, leadership skills, on the path to winning a Fields Medal someday) teen-ager who plays dumb strategically. Roden’s portrayal of that complex character is refreshingly original. She’s sort of like a “Mean Girl” who gets a supernatural makeover and reveals herself to be much deeper than anyone guessed.

Holland Roden as Lydia

I think what I like best about Lydia’s character is that she reminds me of my friend, Jodie, in appearance and creative style. Jodie and I have the same birthday, and as Pisceans, we’re idealists. Lydia seems like an idealist, too, and romanticizes her relationship with her beau, Jackson, who goes through a bit of a monstrous metamorphosis, with many, many manifestations. Good thing Lydia knows archaic Latin and sees his true colors (even though he is a snake at times, quite literally!) The show is great -but if you can’t handle suspense or supernatural horror/violence, then pass on this one. This show beats the Twilight series in a number of categories, one being werewolf fights. Well choreographed! The plot is 10x more compelling in “Teen Wolf” than in many other supernatural series on screen today. Two thumbs up!

Then this morning around 6 a.m., a large dark animal crept over the stone wall in my backyard. It moved stealthily. It was bigger than a dog, even the German Shepherds on either side of my house, and stayed low to the stone wall, creeping like a cat. My dog went bananas, throwing herself at the door. My cats peered out the window. Everyone seemed to buzz with excitement. I guessed it to be the bobcat that shows up in my backyard every winter–only this year she/he is early. My cats seemed to run from window to window, taunting my dog: “the bobcat’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble, hey now, hey now, the bobcat’s back!” I waited a while before I took my dog out on her leash so she could sniff around. I could tell by my dog’s tail that the bobcat was long gone.

Tonight on my way home, after dark, the headlights of the Subaru flashed a pair of glowing eyes in a dark shape moving across the road. It looked like a very big black dog. It didn’t have a collar – at least not one that was visible – and it walked in an awkward way, its shoulders pronounced and protruding above and behind its head. It stopped on the side of the road and turned to face my car, as I slowly drove past, thinking it was a neighbor’s dog out too late, unattended. No houses or people walking nearby, no driveways around. I hope–if it was someone’s dog–that it got home alright. On the other hand, a part of me wondered if it was a stray, a lost dog or a wild dog. This area has been known for wild dogs for over 60 years, though there hasn’t been a large pack since the 1950s, according to the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife guys I asked two years ago. Around here, there is an unspoken understanding among hunters, too, that if they see an animal they believe is a “wild dog,” they’re allowed to shoot it, even if it turns out to be someone’s pet. That’s the part of the culture and deeply-embedded mythology of this place that’s real, not fiction. It’s what people believe, and what their fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, told them as children to believe. There may not be werewolves around here, but the hunters believe in wild dogs. And they walk right through my woods at Nixie’s Vale.

Mist rolls off the pond like tumbleweed. Over Columbus Day weekend, I swam in the lake with a juvenile loon, listening to its creaky voice. A flock of geese flew in a V across a sunset hazy sky. They squawked. Alone in the water, I pushed through hydrilla and slippery reeds, coiled ‘round my wrists like odd bracelets. Back home, thumps and thuds clamor through the woods. It’s just deer and moose. A murmuration of starlings explodes suddenly from trees and even the woodpeckers pause their pecking on a rotten birch. My black ash seep, Fern Gully, smells of sweet fern and wild grapes, a strange brew of grape and goldenrod. A perennial stream trickles through the woods and flows into the pond.

Woodpecker in the V branch of a birch

A neighbor told me something eerie about the land—that’s mostly forested wetlands and uplands. We live next to a pond previously called Little Rattlesnake Lake.  It was known as a sacred place. A legend told of a healing energy and spiritual protection over all who lived there. I’ve noticed that a number of healers, and others who work in the health profession, live in the neighborhood. My neighbor retold stories about ghosts and spirits, which she had believed to have seen in the woods between our houses. She thought the land was haunted. A hydromancer came with a dowsing rod and he identified several places where water was hidden underground, matching my neighbor’s maps showing the location of pipes and springs. He also confirmed her suspicion—but clarified that the area was charged with a kind of water force and spirits, and they held positive sway over the land. I listened to all of this with great curiosity because I, too, had felt good vibes. When I first moved here, I named my new home “Nixie’s Vale,” with a nod to Tennyson and to water spirits.

Growing up in haunted houses in coastal Maine, I was no stranger to ghost hunters. My family lived in a home that was featured on the TV show, “Unsolved Mysteries,” for one thing, and tourists wandered in through the parlors when I was a teen-ager.  We lived on top of Tucker’s Hill, beside the famed Castle Tucker, overlooking the Sheepscot River estuary. I loved to sneak down there in the moonlight and pad over the two footbridges to my family’s little one-acre island, named after my grandmother’s family – White’s Island. A circle of seven trees, which I thought of as a coven of witches, stood around a sunken hole, where the tree roots of one tree flipped backward underground, causing an abnormally large rounded dent. There was something spooky about it. Upon approaching it from afar, a person couldn’t tell there was a hole, since tall grass grew all around it. The result was a sort of concave grassy knoll that tripped runners and captured them like an island-sized Venus flytrap. As far as I knew, the island was haunted only by the family’s dogs, buried on the island. Gramma’s dogs, Brownie and Freda, loved the island, so we always pictured their spirited tails wagging in the eel grass as they hunted for things that moved in the rockweed. I like to think that they continue to guard the end of the second footbridge. I can never go back there, this much is true.

Islands and wetlands, especially bogs, moors, swamps, meadows and seashores, set the scene for a good ghost story. In classic literature, wetlands represented something dark and mysterious. In modern fiction, wetlands are still a preferred setting. Read a short story called, “Phantom Lovers of Dismal Swamp,” by S.E. Schlosser or the famed Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, set in a rural swampy Louisiana parish with quirky stories of the undead.

If you prefer to curl up with a book of wetland ghost stories, try Ghosthunting North Carolina by Kate Ambrose. Most of the book is set in coastal wetlands. For more wetland “ghost stories,” see my other post. 

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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