When I was ten or eleven I let my mom talk me into joining her to a gathering of her witch coven, where we all sat in a circle on some rocks by some water under a full moon and talked about menses.
I’m not lying, that actually happened. Why I allowed myself to be brought along is absolutely beyond me. It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into.
“We’re going to sit under the full moon and talk about menses,” she’d told me.
I think in my mind I’d sort decided that she was inviting me as a desperate cry for protection from these older witches (older, meaning the same age that I am presently). I was there to help her in case they turned on her and tied her up and took her to a gingerbread cottage in the woods where there were lots of herbs drying all over the place and a cage in the corner where people were fattened up for a few days before consumption occurred. Instead we all carpooled to the river and found a silvery rock to sit on and nobody was tied up. There were lots of new age style frame drums with frilly feathers and amethyst bangles. We each chose a drum and, thumping out a witchy rhythm, we went around the circle taking turns talking about the menses. There were stories about the first times and stories about mothers and daughters and stories about tampons and babies. The talking stick came round to my mom and she said something clever and then the inevitable happened and they all turned to me with eyes full of wonder. I didn’t have a menses yet, and so I admitted as much, locked my eyes on that full moon, and burped out a few halting sentences about connecting with the earth and the moon and then it was time to go home. In hindsight, I don’t really think my mom needed my help that night. I think she was just fine.
A few decades later I had my uterus surgically removed because it wasn’t behaving properly, having blanketed itself in abnormal tissue and fibroid tumors. To be clear, I do not think that these two events are connected. It’s all just information. But now my menses is no more, thank you very much.
What’s the point? you might be asking yourself. Is this whole thing just some opportunity to write the word menses a bunch of times? No, I do have something to say besides menses. It has to do with the sky and connection.
As I’m sure you’ve probably heard, on solstice this year (December 21-the shortest day of the year) Jupiter and Saturn are going to be one tenth of a degree apart from one another. The last time they were this close together was just before dawn on March 4, 1226.
That morning in 1226 some peasants were probably plastering their cruck house with wattle and daub to keep the spring chill out or maybe they were reaping the rye or whetting the grindstone or walking around on some wool in a vat of old pee. Then they looked up to see this giant double planet ball burning in the sky, telling themselves that the next time this will happen is on December 21st, 2020, and the people then will probably be super happy that they don’t have to take medicine through a giant conical shaped butt tube.
On March 4th, 1226 Saint Francis of Assisi was suffering from stigmata nail wounds he’d recently received from a seraph. Did he stumble outside to check on his bunnies and see the Saturn Jupiter conjunction? We will never know. We do know that he died seven months later, nearly to the day, of his stigmatic wounds, which is not nice, though he probably did not complain.
In March of 1226 Genghis Khan was in China, western Xia to be specific, meting out revenge on the last remaining Xia and Jin forces who had betrayed him by not helping out with a very special raid. Did you know that Genghis Khan was responsible for the deaths of up to forty million people? Numbers schmumbers, but that was 10% of the world population at the time. His raids killed one out of every ten people alive in the 60+ years he was on the earth. His empire was massive, stretching from Korea to Northern Europe. On the morning of the great Jupiter Saturn conjunction, maybe he glanced up from the siege plans he was diligently working on and noticed the crashing planets. What did he think of such an event? We will never know. He died a year and a half later of unspecified cause. Marco Polo said he got an infection from an arrow wound. Some angry Oirads said he got stabbed by a Western Xia princess whom he’d stolen during a conquest.
In the thirteenth century astrology was mixed into everything. Mathematicians, scientists, poets, political leaders, doctors, farmers, astronomers, cobblers, writers, laborers, priests…everybody was in on it. To be considered for an archer position in Genghis Khan’s army, men had to have vision sharp enough to be able to locate the two stars Mizar and Alcor in the Big Bear constellation. Alcor was thought to have been placed next to Mizar as its protector, and as such was prominent in Mongolian astrology. Could you imagine being trotted out into the night to locate stars as a part of your job interview?
When I look up at the night sky I think about all the people before me who looked up. Ptolemy (wrote the premier book on astronomy that was upheld for over a thousand years), Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi (has a lunar crater [Azophi] named after him!), Hypatia (murdered by Christian zealots on the street), Copernicus (did a real number on the Roman Catholic Church when he published a book strongly suggesting that the sun is at the center of our solar system), Tycho Brahe (had a pet moose and a fake nose made out of gold after he lost his own nose in a drunken sword duel), Kepler (might have murdered Tycho to get his star charts), and Galileo (spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest for defending the Copernican heliocentric model) all looked at the same planets, the same galaxies, the same comets as we do. The Anishinaabe lived on the same river where our coven gathered for tens of thousands of years and they gave the same moon we sat under different names for each of the seasonal influences it reflected.
We live in a time of great separation. But the sky holds us all in like a magic blanket and it has done so since the very beginning. I’m really hoping that the skies are clear on the night of the Solstice and that I’ll be able to see the conjunction of the two planets. I’ll be thinking of St. Francis and Genghis Kahn and Hypatia. And I’ll be thinking of the return of the light and witch covens and menses and conical butt tubes. But mostly I’ll be thinking of all of us here together, making things work, tucked up and in over the millenia, looking up.