Blessing the Year Old and New

by Cari on 01/06/2017

in Writing

Blessing of the Hands

A Blessing of Hands

I warm my hands at the fire of my soul.
My hands that broke my fall last spring.
My hands that grasped the walker, clasped the brace,
all summer, all autumn.
My hands that wrote and rested.

Other hands cut me and healed me.
Other hands held me and fed me.
All hands reached out, to and from me.
Some hands gave, some hands took.

May my heart live in love at the hearth of my home.
May my spirit be kindled at the forge of my art.
May my words be steady and true
as my hand makes, as my voice speaks.

Deep in this winter night
my cold hands stir and sift my soul,
a trace of faint inklings
to flourish and nourish me in all the hours
of this new year.

- Cari Ferraro


Longest Night Card Altar

When the longest night of year is here
Our friends and family gather near
To light a candle against the night
And warm our spirits in the wonder of light

The longest night of the northern year arrives tonight, and for a few moments, the world stills.

Since writing the verse illustrated in this card, the first I ever created for Yule, I have made a more serious study of embracing the shadow, polishing my skill with endarkenment. Since I was young I practiced this in the night, forgoing a light that I might find my way by my other senses. It is a way of playacting at blindness – what would it feel like to not see?

And yet, and yet . . . our need for light is primal and ancient. We may learn to be comfortable in the fertile dark, but it is in our nature to resist it by bringing light. At my age, I no longer walk in a dark house. It is safer for me to see my path. This year, many of us collectively feel a dangerous darkness drawing near; we will need all of our skills.

Tonight though, I will rejoice in the simple magic of sitting in a darkened circle with my dear ones. In this quiet dark we will light a sun candle, and then another for the Mother, and then my grown children will run! through the house and turn on every light! It is our oldest ritual, and one they still love. And thus will I warm my bewildered spirit.

Blessed Yule to all, as the holy Wheel turns again!

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Cal Revels_Dragons

Once again, I have gone to the Revels well, and been filled with light, song, myth and magic. As always, the show was pure enchantment, offering the singing and storytelling that are deep in the bedrock of Wales, this year’s honored culture.

The days are dark indeed this year, leading up to Yule and the turning of the great wheel of time. So it matters all the more to foster any little flames of personal happiness I can find. To be in a theater full of people, singing, is balm for the disarrayed soul. A simple thing, really, to just sing, and be with family and friends. And a chorus line of dragons is a supremely silly antidote to existential despair.

Cal Revels_Dragon Chorus Line

J. R. R. Tolkien, a writer who borrowed liberally from Welsh language and myth, wrote,  ”. . . the Pot of Soup, the Cauldron of Story, has always been boiling, and to it have continually been added new bits, dainty and undainty.” Revels stirs that cauldron and offers the new bits, retelling the old stories and making them fresh. Especially compelling for me was the old tale of the bard Taliesen’s birth by the goddess/witch Cerridwen, taken from the earliest prose literature of Britain, the Mabinogion.

Cal Revels_Cerridwen Cauldron

Cerridwen is known for her cauldron of wisdom, which she creates to help her unfortunate son. When the servant boy Gwion splashes a few drops of the magical “awen” on his skin, he suddenly knows all the wisdom of the world. Cerridwen pursues him, as they both sequentially shapeshift into animals, until finally, when the boy is hiding as a grain of wheat, Cerridwen becomes a hen and swallows him whole. Nine months later she gives birth to Taliesen, who is often thought to be Merlin the magician of Arthurian legend. The puppetry in this story was delightful, and the line of women singing a lullaby, enacting ocean waves with blue gloves, passing the baby Taliesen from one to the other, was downright magical.

Cal Revels_Cerridwen Chicken Grain

The fearsome Mari Lwyd ghost horse is a strange and terrifying presence in Welsh lore. This is an old custom, the strangeness of it pointing to pre-Christian origins. The Winter Mare demands, upon knocking at a door, the recitation of poetry.  Her “nightmare” visage, though frightening, brings verse and hilarity as she travels through the streets on the darkest nights of the year, reminding us that despite all the frivolity of the Yule season, it is still the dark time of ghosts and death.

Cal Revels_Mari Lwyd

For more about this uniquely Welsh practice, here is an absorbing account written by Welsh Druid Kristoffer Hughes, which includes some vintage photos and verse showing the antiquity of the tradition.

Cal Revels_Mari Lwyd Fearsome

Other highlights:

Robert Sicular channeling the Welsh bard Dylan Thomas, with lovely lines from A Child’s Christmas in Wales, gave us all a taste of the “close and holy darkness.”

The Welsh spelling bee was hilarious– Welsh is world famous for its long and perplexingly-spelled words – and with a virtuoso performance by James Galileo, whose Welsh seemed to be perfect (but how would we know?).

The song “The Weaver and the Factory Maid”, sung by the women and arranged by Shira Kammen, was accompanied by a weaving dance of the girls.

The well-known lullaby “All Through the Night”, sung by the incomparable soprano Susan Rode Morris, brought tears to more than one eye. And Margaret Davis of Broceliande played her beautiful harp.

Kevin Carr’s spellbinding storytelling was most welcome, for he is a true bard.

And other best-loved Revels touchstones were all here: the Border Morris, an especially fierce and raucous version of the dance,

Cal Revels_Border Morris

and the well-loved Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, always performed in a dim light.

Cal Revels_Horn Dance

And of course, The Lord of the Dance, sung by Fred Goff.

Cal Revels_Lord Of The Dance

There are times when the house lights come up for everyone to sing when my throat catches and my eyes fill with tears. In those moments, I bask in the sound of a thousand voice singing together, and here is the well: the feeling of community and a shared joy. These adapted lyrics by Susan Cooper to the classic Welsh hymn “Hyfrydol (Sing We Now)” – “Sing we now to greet the morning, radiant in the bright sunrise / Sing to turn the year to springtime, as the rule of winter dies / May our world so turn tomorrow, driving fear and want away / Facing t’ward the sun forever, joyful in the long, bright day.” As often happens after visiting the Revels world, this tune has been a welcome guest in my head all week.

Cal Revels_Sing We Now Program

This year there were many stories strung together like lights on a tree, with proper measures of song and dance, hilarity and solemnity. And it was all just right, the alchemy of entertainment and the intimacy of sharing a laugh and a tear with dear ones. We go our separate ways at the end of the show, but for many of us, coming together every year to celebrate is core to our feeling connected to something greater than ourselves in an increasingly turbulent and confusing world.

There are three more performanes this coming weekend, December 16-18. Visit the California Revels website for tickets. You will be glad you did!


Photos by Gabriel Hurley, Paul McMillan, and Cari Ferraro


A Bevy of Yule cards

by Cari on 12/05/2016

in Calligraphy

Yule cards display

A wise friend once suggested that a nice way to fill the well when feeling sidelined was to look at past work. And it’s customary toward the end of the year, and on one’s birthday, our personal year, to “take stock” and look back on the triumphs and trials of the past year. The trials, tedious as they were, are not the subject of this journal. Suffice to say, they kept me from my art studio most of the year and away from that particular strand of my creative life.

It’s gratifying, to say the least, to see the fruits of past labors and to gather some of them together for a family photo. The cards pictured here are a significant harvest of the last three decades. They were popular enough for me to invest in offset printing them, some of them multiple times. They still sell in retail outlets and at Revels shows around the country in December.

This crop of Yule cards is available over at the Prose and Letters storefront, some of them in limited quantities. They are available as singles, or more economically in 6-packs, to mix and match, or in 10-packs of the same design for the best price of all.

I’ve shared in this journal some of my inspirations and art techniques that led to the making of some of these cards, in particular, The Longest Night, The Horn Dance, Yule, Dona Nobis Pacem, The Holly and the Ivy, and Let Union Be, (and again here).

Many of these cards are approaching “limited edition” status. The writing is on the wall, so to speak; the greeting card market is changing. It won’t make sense for me to print these cards in such large quantities anymore. Sales have been slowing down in recent years, though people seem to be buying more prints as gifts. The evergreen favorite, Fra Giovanni’s “Letter to a Friend”, is available here, as well as many others.

Though it’s becoming old-fashioned to send cards in December, Yule cards are still a nice way to greet friends and share a little bit of art and verse.


Soul Tending

by Cari on 11/13/2016

in Writing

Ring The Bells_Leonard Cohen

This week, I have had few words. I have felt such a deep sense of despair it borders on catatonia. I am tending to my soul, and doing all the right things to begin to heal the shock and disillusionment that have threatened to sink me, and so many of us. My time-tested way to deal with trauma is to seek out words to frame it. In framing it, I think I find a slight remove from the raw feeling. Many writers are following the same course, and many who I follow have offered me succor and sense. So I read, and move, and breathe, and stay in my body, and gather with friends, and write. Here I share a few writers with you who I have found especially helpful for dealing with fear and despair.

A compassionate counselor in an online Hillary group shared this excellent list of tips to help yourself with stress, if you are having trouble with extreme anxiety, if you are surrounded by abusive people, or if you are just still strung out about this election. Please visit the link if you need help. Take care of yourself.

A simpler version of this is here: why staying embodied is so very important, for all of us.

One of the wisest writers I know, Rebecca Solnit, has responded to this national trauma by making her book, Hope in the Darkness, available as a free e-book to download at this link. I have shared excerpts and sent paragraphs to friends when hopelessness overtakes them. It will hearten you, and help you see a way forward.

The powerful Alice Walker writes on the importance of studying and learning, now more than ever.

The wise and wonderful Joanna Macy writes of the Great Turning and the power of grassroots movements, one of the great social revolutions of our time. This offers some ideas to consider now.

I visit hecatedemeter, an eloquent and passionate blogger, when I need an infusion of searing truth and sometimes fiery anger. She never fails me, and just reading this made me feel a little better.

And finally, saying farewell to the bard Leonard Cohen. Brain Pickings is one of my favorite places to visit for wonderful writings about writing and reading. A sanctuary of sorts. The selection of his lyrics and musings about the creative process, including our “laboratory of democracy” is well worth a read.

Good writing is often a lifeline for me, and these writers have helped keep me afloat this week. I share them with you in the hope that it may also be so for you. Go well, stay well, and keep the faith, tribe.


p.s. The art above is a piece I made about a year ago; it is paper painted red, gilded and then inscribed with the words through the gold leaf. I regret now that I did not include the attribution, but it is from a Leonard Cohen song called Anthem. Full lyrics here, and many of his other songs. You could begin your study with just reading this brilliant writer’s lyrics.

The birds they sang 
at the break of day 
Start again 
I heard them say 
Don’t dwell on what 
has passed away 
or what is yet to be.Ah the wars they will 
be fought again 
The holy dove 
She will be caught again 
bought and sold 
and bought again 
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack in everything 
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs 
the signs were sent: 
the birth betrayed 
the marriage spent 
Yeah the widowhood 
of every government – 
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more 
with that lawless crowd 
while the killers in high places 
say their prayers out loud. 
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up 
a thundercloud 
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts 
but you won’t have the sum 
You can strike up the march, 
there is no drum 
Every heart, every heart 
to love will come 
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That’s how the light gets in. 
That’s how the light gets in. 
That’s how the light gets in.


All Hallows Eve

by Cari on 10/31/2016

in Wheel of the Year

Hallowmas altar


Dear ones
Your mute voices clamor in my ear
Thin fingers pluck at my hem
Your dry tears clot my throat
I bear your unquiet loss.

I light the candles
I call the directions
I bring the flowers
I keep the faith, the waste, the plaint
I give the breath, the blood, the bone

It is for me to write
Your untold stories
But the ink runs out
I write words with air.
I carry you and I lay you down

You are dust now
Shades that flicker behind my eyes
This body has its own riddle to solve
Rest you now. Rest.

In the dim light, at the dark moon
I tarry at the crossroads
Wrap my holy heat close
And dance in all the worlds

- Cari Ferraro



“Poetry arrived …”

by Cari on 09/22/2016

in Wheel of the Year

Autumn Equinox calligraphy

The autumn equinox arrives today. The great wheel of time turns. The darker half of the year draws near, whether we will or no. And as sometimes happens, “I was summoned, from the branches of night …” by an old friend.


Moving through
this scaffolding of days
Holding solace in dreams
and murmurs of memory
I wander through the house
the shadows and sawdust
the bones of old desires
And I wonder
Where is the bliss? The old fire?
So quiet now.
But listen:
a small sound says

- Cari Ferraro

with thanks to Laurie Doctor for her musings, and always, the great Pablo Neruda



Lammas Altar Corn Husk Dollies

It’s Lammas time again, the first of the three harvest festivals and the one that especially honours the bread and the brew.  My altar has artwork for the body of grain, bread art representing the female and male principles, two favourite corn dollies made by my daughter when she was young,  a favorite framed harvest photo, a favorite piece of rock art of the Hunter/Shaman from the Four Corners area of the Southwest, a copper etching of another ancient spirit  from Sweden, the visage of the Green Spirit as a mask (another art offering from my talented daughter), and fragrant juniper freshly pruned from a tree in my courtyard.  And always, my rock friends and a string of stars.

Lammas Altar Corn Husk Dollies

And a journal page from last year in which I explored some versal  letterforms.

Tending an altar, lighting a candle, arranging my symbolic things, these are all a form of solace and centering for me.  And I have long thought of my journal as a kind of personal sacred space, an altar. It’s a place where I can explore, sort, honor, and comfort.

The fact is, I’ve been struggling with some medical issues.  It doesn’t really matter what they are, but my mobility and freedom are restricted right now, so building an altar is my solace, when I can’t spend time in my garden.

This is my offering for this turn of the wheel. Writing these posts helps to keep me connected to my practice and to you all.  My gratitude to you for reading.


A heartfelt postscript:  I am so moved as your responses come in; thank you. I am always selective about what I share, and that almost never includes vulnerability or physical challenges. But I should know by now that I have nothing to fear by doing so, and everything to gain.  I can’t say this any better than a  great wisdom teacher, Rachel Naomi Remen: “Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of.”  So this, this caring and compassion from you, enlarges  and enriches my harvest of healing. Deep gratitude.


Her Story

by Cari on 07/28/2016

in Herstory

Hillary, Chelsea, Dorothy

Herstory. Her story.  It’s been a long time since I wrote a post in this category. But this week a woman’s story is a central narrative. The Democratic National Convention  gathered to applaud and nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton to be the first Madame President of the United States. A daughter, a mother, a grandmother.  I have been pretty much beside myself with excitement this whole election season. Today is the culmination of a rugged primary season. In November we’ll be seeing an even better one. Tonight we are all smiles, and no words, just tears.

So for words, I transcribed these from the video that did not play at the convention but which was made to honor Hillary’s mother, Dorothy, a litany of the women who inspire and lead us (do follow the link and watch it, I was not able to embed it here):

“. . . she’d be the first to tell you she did not do this alone; she did it by standing on the shoulders of so many women who came before. Standing on each other’s shoulders is how our gender has always moved forward, be it through biology  or inspiration. Tonight we say thank you to Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, Margaret Chase Smith, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Harper Lee, Bella Abzug, Sally Ride, Maya Angelou, Dolores Huerta, and Geraldine Ferraro, all heroes of Hillary Rodham Clinton. But certainly no one inspired her more than one tiny unbreakable eight-year-old whose own dream of all little girls being valued rests on the shoulders of her daughter now.

“Tonight we say thank you to all the women who would not take no for an answer: you dreamers and schemers, you rabble-rousers and hell-raisers, you petticoat abolitionists, you chain-smoking pants-wearing exhibitionists, you educators, agitators, and aviators, you risk-takers, you rule breakers, you unlikely heroes, you white-gloved, teacup-serving Mrs. John Does, with your homemade soap boxes and your brazen public rants, you lady pals, and career gals, you I’ve-got-big-plans smarty-pants. To all the men who marched for our cause, thank you, friend, for showing the world what a real man does. Thank you to all you highflying death-defying ladybirds, you crazy ocean-swimming maniacs, you dazzled us with your impossible dreams and then you turned them into facts. When you were knocked down, you got up. When others said stop, you said go. When they said quit, you said no. Thank you for your breathtaking patience, and you-ain’t-seem-nothing-yet audacity. Thank you for showing us how good courage can look, carrying a purse and wearing a pillbox hat. Thank you for teaching us, from Annabel Whitford to Laila Ali that little girls can also float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Thank you to all the mothers for endowing us with such glorious new recruits to fight the battle that is not over yet. And speaking of multiplying thank you for giving birth to entire human race. The journey of women, like America’s journey, is always evolving toward equality and social justice. Our trajectory, like that another indomitable female, has always been up. How  far can we go? It appears the sky’s the limit. But one thing is for sure: if Dorothy Rodham’s daughter has her way, every little girl and boy who dares to dream will be coming with us.”


Journal signatures and cover paper

This year’s journal has arrived in summer, now opposite from the beginning of the calendar year. But since I observe time in a circular way, any day on the wheel of the year is the first day of the year that will follow.

Journal - emergent pages and inclusions

As usual I begin working on the pages long before they are bound into a book. I like carrying the nascent journal around for a month or two, before joining it to the remaining blank signatures in an actual book.

Journal signatures and punched spine holes

I choose a longstitch binding, one I learned many years ago from Carol Pallesen. Usually I use soft leather, but a dive into the flat files unearths this strip of Arches hot press watercolor paper, paste painted a vivid blue. It is exactly the height of the pages, apparently meant for just this journal.

Journal - longstitch binding sewing holes jig

The jig for sewing stations is made by careful measuring, equidistant marking, and consideration of all the bits I stuff between the pages every year, so not too tight. I make the holes with a Japanese push drill and a 1 mm bit.

Journal - long stitch binding with kettle stitch

The first kettle stitch  is sewn backward from the second into the first signature, before moving ahead to the third signature.

Journal - sewing the kettle stitch

Thus the kettle stitch establishes a kind of bridge between every other signature, giving a greater stability to the sewn structure.

Journal wraparound paper with leather strap closure

The strap is best threaded through the scored side of the long back cover; allowing the wraparound to either overlap the front cover, or tuck underneath it.

Journal - leather strap knotted

Here is an inside view  of the strap construction.  For a tutorial on how to make this kind of closure go here.

Journal -  leather strap wrap closure

The journal is bound and wrapped, ready to go.

Journal - open pages

Most of the signatures are wrapped with a decorative paper, allowing for folds and pockets. The writing paper is a Zerkall text weight with a lovely velvety vellum finish.  It takes pen calligraphy beautifully, as well as some of the wetter media that I like. A paper towel on the still-damp paper and a light weight help relax the pages flat again.

Journal - sideways writing on gatefold page

Exploring the meaning of revision by radically revising my original entry, I block it out with dark Intense pencils, and add a list of synonyms with a gold gel pen.

Journal desk

The desk at Lammastide brings out journals old and new. A tarot reading for the workspace: 4 of Swords, for my time of retreat and rest; 8 of Pentacles, for my ever present craft; Knight of Wands, for the the restless creative urge. I’m quite fond of my summery journal, blue and white. It is a kind of refuge, a private place for catching stray bits of meditations, dreams, and ponderings.

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