All posts by Morgan Sylvia

Morgan Sylvia is an Aquarius, a metalhead, a coffee addict, a beer snob, and a work in progress. A former obituarist, she is now a full-time freelance writer. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several places, including Pseudopod, Wicked Witches, Wicked Haunted, Northern Frights, Twice Upon An Apocalypse, Endless Apocalypse, Haunted House Short Stories, and The Final Summons. In 2013, she released Whispers From The Apocalypse, a horror poetry collection. Her first novel, Abode, was released from Bloodshot Books in July 2017. Her second novel, Dawn, is the first book of a fantasy trilogy. Her most recent book is As The Seas Turn Red, an ocean-themed poetry collection, which was nominated for an Elgin. She is a member of the HWA and SFWA. Sylvia currently lives in Maine with her boyfriend, two cats, a ton of plants, and a chubby goldfish.

The pagan with the pen

Where does art come from?

Some might say the subconscious, or the imagination. Some may cite the id as the bubbling cauldron of ideas, or the need to define certain childhood experiences or emotions. Perhaps the answer varies from person to person. I personally feel that creation, in its purest form, is a sacred act.

There are definitely times when I’m writing that I feel like I’m channeling something rather than creating something.  I’m not alone in this.  One will often hear artists saying that their strongest works seemed to ‘write themselves’ or ‘play themselves’ or ‘paint themselves’.  It’s wonderful when this happens. More commonly, things don’t come that easily. That’s where craft and discipline come in. Divine inspiration or not, it takes work to shape the final piece. Muses can be fickle things. They can whisper while one is absorbed in mundane daily tasks, scream at inopportune moments and then, when given a chance to speak, be strangely and stubbornly quiet. They can abandon us at crucial moments, standing just out of reach. Muses must be fed, on a constant influx of inspiration. (Mine seems to also enjoy a glass of red wine.) And to open your output valve, you also have to open your input valve.

In art and in life, our influences and experiences are our teachers. The songs we listen to and the movies we watch and the books we read imprint new patterns on our brains. Healthy minds are always changing, evolving, factoring in new experiences and adjusting outlook accordingly. As we never stop learning (hopefully) we should never stop seeking new sources for inspiration. Frequently this search leads to the past, to the myths and lore and legends of old. And if one follows those threads of influence back, inevitably one will find oneself in the realm of myth. Stoker didn’t create Dracula out of whole cloth. The Count was the lovechild of myth and history. And without the Count, we likely wouldn’t find ourselves being inflicted with glittery baseball-playing vampires.  

The line where myth and art meet is not a clear one. If you’re looking for them, you might recognize archetypes and/or dieties at play in the least expected places. You might find a hint of Aphrodite working through Miss Piggy. You might find traces of Loki at play in a mischievous character. One of my favorite TV shows ever, Sons of Anarchy, is loosely inspired by Hamlet, which was inspired by the 13th-century Vita Amlethi, which was in itself inspired by something else, something older.

Art is the line between dream and reality, between the future and the past, the seen and the unseen, the sacred and the profane. Art is the embodiment of emotion. Art is one way in which we interact with the universe, how we express  our thoughts and emotions. Art is as necessary as breathing for some of us. There are many of us who simply feel driven to create. Whatever one’s art, there are going to be roadblocks at every turn. Rejection, uncertainty, lackluster product, even a lack of confidence can lead one down a dangerous dead-end road. Sooner or later, we all run out of gas. The way through these roadblocks can sometimes come through unexpected places, such as meditation or ritual, as well as research. I’ve found characters in meditation, and resolved plot problems while staring at a solstice moon.

When one is ‘borrowing’ a god or goddess for a muse, it can become a bit complicated. There is a fine line one treads when working with deities in art. Some deities do not take lightly to being adopted. You cannot work against them. You have to let them come to you on your own terms. I realized this recently when working with Hecate. I found myself blocked, and realized that I had to open myself to the goddess, rather than force her myth to open up to me. The pagan and the pen, indeed.

Where does art come from? The natural, or the supernatural? I think it’s a bit of both, but either way, art is a chain that stretches back to the beginning of time, and if nothing else, in that aspect it becomes sacred. If one can transcribe emotion and cause an audience or a reader or a listener to react emotionally, that’s a very powerful and profound thing . One of the things that drew me to druidry in the first place was the fact that it recognizes creation as divine.       

Some might argue that the gods and goddesses of the ancient world, and their stories, are nothing more than pieces of us, the human race, embodied in specific forms and tales. You can certainly put those labels on them, if you choose. This goddess represents sexuality, this one rage, this tale is about hubris, this one is about love. Myths certainly are mirrors; we see ourselves reflected back in them, and if we’re paying attention, we can learn valuable lessons from them. The spirits of the ancient dieties will shine through us if we let them.  And if you look, you might find them waiting for you in some very unexpected places.

Man vs. wolf

In a recent ruling, Rocky Mountain grey wolves were granted federal protection. There will be no wolf hunts this year.  Some wolf advocates fear that the ruling may prove to be a double-edged sword, though; it mandates that the laws regarding a species cannot vary state to state. Meaning that, if the ruling is overturned, it could lead to the overturning of wolf protection laws in three states.

Wolves are a top natural predator, and are frequently misunderstood. They are quite intelligent; they speak their own language, a language of howls and gestures, a language we cannot understand, a language we are not meant to understand. They mate for life, and have a clearly defined social system. Their only natural enemy is us.

 The wolf, in various mythologies, is frequently described as being of demonic descent. In Nordic lore, the wolf Fenrir was pivotal in destroying the world. In tale after tale, the wolf is the danger lurking in the wood, the deceiver. There was the Big Bad Wolf that ate poor Red Riding Hood’s Grandma, and the werewolves that linger in folklore, movies and literature.

I’ve personally always been drawn to wolves. I don’t know what it is; their beauty, perhaps, or the way they fit so perfectly into their habitats. I can’t look at a photo of a wild wolf in a forest without thinking how clearly that animal belongs there. They deserve better than being gunned down from helicopters.  

Montana officials, ranchers, and hunters are already moving to block the ruling, intending to form a congressional panel with the hopes of removing the grey wolf from the endangered species list. Farmers and cattle ranchers are angry at the ruling, understandably concerned and angered by the loss of cattle and of cattle weight. Apparently cows that are nervous don’t eat as much, and wolves make cows nervous. Studies have shown that often simply having a man on horseback protecting the herd will keep wolves at bay, and that shooting a single wolf will often deter an entire pack from a hunting a certain area. One would think that cattle barons, with the profits they stand to gain, can afford to pay a cowboy or two to ensure the safety of their herds.  

The wolf is a symbol of the wild world, the world we seem to constantly seek to dominate, to tame, to reshape as our own. Our own nature is no less predatory, that we hunt the wild cousins of our own “best friends.”

I’m watching to see how this will pan out. Perhaps if I were a Montana cattle rancher, I wouldn’t be so firmly on the wolves’ side, but there are risks involved in any industry. The answer, long term, relies on balance.

It’s good to see steps being taken to protect wildlife. It’s good to see progress being made to retain -or, in some cases, reintroduce- balance into the world. Even Prince Charles, unlikely eco-hero that he is, is alarmed at how “man has lost the once innate understanding of how to live in harmony with the natural world and within its limits.”

 The plight of the wolf is just one facet of a struggle that is taking place in every country, every society in the world; the natural world versus the modern world. We have sacrificed a once symbiotic relationship with the Earth and turned it into a parasitic one. Too many species are struggling to survive; the whales, the bees, even the bats are now dying off. The struggle of man vs. wolf  is to me also a struggle of man vs. earth, and that’s a war we can never win. We are stewards of this planet, and I hope that, going forward, we as a species can regain some of the harmony we’ve lost with our Mother.

“We humans fear the beast within the wolf because we do not understand the beast within ourselves.” ~ Gerald Hausman

Anne Rice quits the Catholic Church

Author Anne Rice recently decried Christianity and officially announced her exit from organized religion.

Rice was fairly blunt about her reasons for leaving the church, laying it out pretty clearly in a Facebook post. “My faith in Christ is central to my life,” Rice writes. “My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

Rice’s proclamation has of course created quite a stir,  drawing observations from everyone from Deepak Chopra to the LA Times. Rice has posted many of the letters, articles and essays on her Facebook page, where she continues to comment on the matter, and stated that “Comments pro and con are welcome.”  The responses vary from insightful and thought-provoking to grr-inducing. Though there has of course been the expected backlash,  Rice  is also getting support from some unlikely camps, including a Baptist preacher who identifies with her decision and says it was  “a great call for others to follow Christ, too.”

As the Miami Herald puts it, Rice just delivered a wake up call for organized religion.

You go, girl.

Religion is supposed to bring one into harmony with the universe, but somehow organized religion, with its eternal entanglement in political power struggles, seems to lead time and again into conflict. Organized religion definitely has a knack for holding up hate in one hand and love in the other, for committing heinous acts in the name of religion, for masking hatred with morality; The Taliban, the Inquisition, abortion clinic bombings, witch burnings, The Crusades and Westboro Baptist Church serve as just a few examples of this. The hypocrisy in the system goes all the way to the Pope , who does, incidentally resemble the Emperor in Star Wars. 

Which isn’t to say that organized religion doesn’t strive to do good. There are a lot of good Christians. There are good people and bad people in any organization, faith, race, religion, class, culture, restaurant, bar, or parking lot. And in a way, the dual nature of organized religion, with its life/death love/hate mantras, only echoes the dual nature of the universe itself. But one has to admit a discord in a system that preaches not to kill, not to hate, not to judge, yet does just that, and with a fair amount of enthusiasm to boot.

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads ‘Please God, save me from your people.’  

I think a lot of people confuse spirituality and God with religion, when really, they’re entirely different things, and there is no single right choice, just the right choice for an individual. Everyone has to find their own way, their own beliefs, and I applaud anyone who realizes that their path is not the brightly lit, billboard-plastered highway of the masses, but the quiet footpath that leads down an unknown forest trail. For that, truly, is the sacred journey.

“I quit being a Christian,” Rice writes. “I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life.”


Myths, symbolism and legends of some Gulf animals

The Gulf of Mexico is home to more than 400 endangered animal species. I’m going to contain my fury rant about the current situation (deep breath) and instead focus on myths, legends and symbolism associated with some of the species threatened by the current crisis.

This list, while by no means complete, includes not only animals native to the region, but migratory birds who use the Gulf marshes as a resting and hunting ground while en route, as well as animals further inland who may still suffer through secondary effects as the crisis travels up the food chain.

CRANE: The crane symbolizes longevity and eternal life, as well as fidelity, solitude, independence, and grace. In ancient times, the Chinese believed the White Crane represented wisdom, and considered it blessed. Cranes were also thought to be mounts of the gods, able to fly them to the Isle of Immortals. The Egyptians also saw cranes as the gods’ messengers. Since cranes sometimes feed on snakes, in early Christianity they were viewed as Satan’s natural enemies. They were sacred to the goddess Demeter in early Greco-Roman myth, as their annual migration concurred with Persephone’s return from the underworld. The ancient Greeks saw the crane as a guide to Hades, the realm of the dead. The crane was also a symbol of the Celtic god Pwyll, king of the underworld.

SONGBIRDS: Symbolic of solitude and poetry, as well as spring, the songbird is a protective spirit closely associated with, of course, music. The Navajo have an interesting myth about the creation of songbirds. More recently, sailors adopted the habit of tattooing a songbird (swallow) for each 50,000 miles sailed. Some Norse myths depicted swallows picking up fallen soldiers by their shoulders. There is a fairy tale about a king who cages a songbird, hoping to protect it. The songbird dies, and is replaced by a mechanical bird.

DOLPHINS: Dolphins are friendly spirits, as anyone who has ever been lucky enough to have a dolphin escort their boat (myself included) can testify. It is no surprise that dolphins symbolized protection to the ancient Greeks, Romans, Native Americans, Australian aborigines, and Celts. There are many legends of dolphins saving sailors and drowning swimmers, including Arion the bard, Taras, the son of Poseidon, and Telemachos, the son of Odysseus. In New Zealand, Maoris legend claims a group of dolphins guided the tribe to their new home. The Greek god Dionysus sometimes transformed himself into a dolphin. Ancient Greeks also considered the murder of a dolphin a crime equal to the murder of a human being; the punishment was death. Dolphins’ playfulness evokes the inner child in all of us. Other dolphin meanings include harmony, intelligence, friendship, contentment and resurrection.

WHALES: In various Slavic, Arabic and Russian myths, whales support the earth, while in Chinese mythology a whale/human hybrid is the ruler of the seas. Christian mythology paints a less friendly picture, with the whale being more symbolic of hell or purgatory. Perhaps the most compelling mythology about the whales I have seen is that of the Australian whaledreamer tribes, who believe that the whales, through their dreams, are able to reach other dimensions, and that the heartbeats of whales, being close to the center of the earth, are the heartbeats of the earth itself. The movie Whaledreamers takes a close look at this mythology, and I recommend it to anyone interested in it.

MANATEES: The manatee is thought to have been a perpetrator of the mermaid mythology, though they failed to impress Christopher Columbus, who noted in a logbook that these ‘mermaids’ were “not as beautiful as they had been painted.” In some cultures, the manatee and their cousins, the dugong, were thought to be the descendants of elephants that ran into the sea, while ancient Greeks may have mistaken them for sirens. Manatees were also considered sacred in some West African cultures. There actually aren’t a whole lot of stories to be found on manatees, perhaps because these gentle, friendly sea cows don’t do a whole lot other than eat and float around in our rivers. They are, however, extremely cute, and their faces have an oddly human look to them.

TURTLES: Symbolic of both earth and sky (because of their rounded shell), turtles are one of the more unique creatures on the planet. Ancient Greeks believed they were denizens of hell, but other cultures had a more positive outlook. A Native American myth depicts a giant turtle supporting the world. In another Native myth, the Earth Diver turtle swam to the depths of the seas, then resurfaced with mud which was used by the Creator to make the earth. Also, as beach shores are associated with doorways to the faerie lands, the turtle is sometimes seen as a guardian of those doors. A Japanese fairy tale tells of man who saves a turtle from being tormented by boys. The grateful turtle brings the man before the King of the Ocean, who presents his daughter, a beautiful water sprite, to the man as a bride. Traditionally, the turtle symbolized female sex organs and female sexuality to Nigerians and also to Native Americans. Also, since some turtles’ shells have a total of thirteen segments, and perhaps because they use lunar cycles  in nesting and perhaps navigation, turtles are associated with the lunar calendar, which is comprised of thirteen full moons or thirteen new moons (this may be where the female cycle symbolism originated from). The turtle can also be symbolic of Mother Earth and, of course, of persistence and steady determination, as shown in the more modern story of the tortoise and the hare.

Of the seven remaining species of sea turtles in existence today, five live in the Gulf.

ALLIGATOR: Like the crocodile, the gator represents aggression and male sexuality, perhaps because of its long tail and ferociousness. They also represent, unsurprisingly, hidden dangers and lurking threats. A powerful predator, the alligator is a cousin of the crocodile, which is found in several Egyptian myths: the Egyptian god Sorbek, for instance, wore a crocodile’s form. Though the alligator is hardly in danger of going extinct, as any Florida resident can tell you, it is a part of the marsh/swamp ecosystem, and it could create problems if it has to look elsewhere for food and/or shelter. There are no crocodiles in Louisiana, but they do inhabit the Gulf, mainly in the Everglades, where their territorial boundaries sometimes overlap with those of gators.

DRAGONFLY: The dragonfly is quite respected in Japan, where it symbolizes summer and autumn, new light, and joy, and also represents the warrior class. During the festival of Bon, the Dragonfly of the Dead, Shoryo Tombo, returns the souls of the dead to their descendents. Akitsushima, or Dragonfly Island, got its name from an emperor who thought the island represented a dragonfly. The dragonfly (one of the few insects I can tolerate) is also symbolic of happiness to the Japanese, who made it their national emblem, and to the Chinese, who consider it lucky. To the Navajo, the dragonfly represented pure water, though in early Nordic cultures, the dragonfly was less revered and was given names like ‘The Devil’s Dart’ and ‘Water Witch.’ Romanian folklore portrayed dragonflies as the souls of dead horses. Elsewhere, the dragonfly is associated with speed and purity.  As it is a being associated with both air and water, dragonflies also represent a sense of self and change, and remind us of how brief life can be and the importance of living fully. In other cultures, the dragonfly is associated with  prosperity, swiftness, purity, harmony and strength, while in some Native Americans cultures, they were thought to be the souls of the dead  In Celtic myth, the dragonfly is also associated with the faerie realm. Because of the way their fragile wings bend and reflect light, they also remind us of the importance of seeing truly.

Also, dragonflies can fly backwards.

LOON: The loon symbolizes peace, tranquility, and generosity. The call of the loon, especially when heard through a morning mist, can be quite haunting. The loon’s song, which can be mournful or quite animated, sounding like laughter,  is also the source of the term ‘loony,’ signifying madness; this call was also thought to be an omen of death to some tribes. Other tribes, believing the birds escorted souls to the netherworlds, buried loon skulls with their dead. The tale of how the loon got its ‘necklace’ from a blind man is the heart of a Tmishian legend, which was the basis for the story depicted in the 1950 movie The Loon’s Necklace.

SHARK: The shark represents stealth, hunting ability, strength and power. A frequently misunderstood predator, the shark is central to the Hawaiian legend of Kauhuhu, the tale of  The Shark God of Molokai, in which said shark god helps a man avenge the deaths of his sons.

HUMMINGBIRD: In some cultures the hummingbird was considered a messenger who had the ability to stop time. This little bird also symbolizes joy, purity, and love, and reminds us to savor our brief time here.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here, but that’s enough for today.