Friday, July 15, 2005

The Shrine on Horn Pond Mountain

I was 26 in the summer of 1985. I had just read Starhawk's book The Spiral Dance when I climbed to the summit of what the locals in Woburn, Massachusetts, called "Horn Pond Mountain" -- and found a summoning circle dated the first day of the new millennium....

Journal excerpts: Independence Day, July 4, 1985

10:14 a.m. A beautiful day with high cirrus clouds and brisk, clean air. Two dragonflies mate in flight: wings perfectly parallel, two bodies joined. Rising and dipping on wind currents with the wonderfully deceiving look of ballet. Bullfrogs "rev up their motors."

10:54 a.m. Woburn Reservoir. There is no altitude sign here, but my neighbor says this is the highest point in Woburn, offering a good view of the entire city as well as Boston. Off to the side is a single sitting rock, a spot of very peaceful seclusion despite broken glass and discarded cigarette foil and butts. There is no real shade to speak of, but I have briefly removed my hat to let the breeze blow my sweat away. Close by, hidden crickets make juicy sounds that range from mock bird trills to a Bronx cheer.

The trail continues on past the reservoir. On a cement cover 8 of my paces (approx. 16 feet?) square, someone has created a Zodiacal circle. There is a blue ring. I don't have a compass and it is too near noon for me to determine direction, but standing on the symbol for Aries and facing Libra (this was designed accurately) I face the rightmost electrical tower, and Sagittarius is aligned to the Woburn water tower. The only marking outside the circle is a line perpendicular to the tangent at Capricorn. Walking widdershins I would go the Zodiacal gamut: the symbols for Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo (here symbolized by a heart and 2 arrows), Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces.

Then there are planetary alignments (also spray-painted in symbols). Jupiter is between Aries and Taurus; Saturn is by Taurus; the symbol for ascending node is by Leo; the moon is by Scorpius; Venus, Mercury, and Pluto are clustered by Sagittarius; the sun is in Capricorn (which would make this December/January. Winter Solstice?); Neptune, Uranus, and Mars are clustered at Aquarius. The paint is not faded and looks relatively recent. The signs are in red paint, the planets in gold. This circle was made with careful attention.

To the right of the circle there had been a campfire. There is glass and mirroring from a car's headlamps, and the ashes have been covered by a silvery plastic lacing, shredded. Some of the glass has taken on a striated, gold-tinged look, like abalone.

I'd waved, notebook in hand, to a water supply driver as he drove by on his truck.

Beyond the circle, and by the electrical towers, I have a bird's-eye view of Horn Pond and can see it in its entirety. Remembering its appearance on my map, and checking the sun's position (which even at noon is still south of zenith) I suspect that the Aries-Libra alignment points East, and that Libra, Capricorn, Aries, and Cancer are at the East, North, West, and South points respectively (and North being the most powerful direction in the Craft, that would also signify the line outside the circle -- which had been done in red and blue).

Before continuing on, ever-mindful of my recent reading of The Spiral Dance, I entered the circle via Libra, centered (though rather quickly), and cast my own circle. I turned my face to the Sun, hands clasped, and recited the Gayatri, then followed it with, "Thank you for bringing me to this place." Smiling, I called back the circle and grounded, and continued on. Subvocally I had also prayed that it is good that comes from this place. And that it, and the Witches who use it within the benevolence of the Craft, be protected.

July 19, 1985

9:45 a.m. I passed my customary bench to find a middle-aged, lanky man sitting there. He leaned forward and lit a cigarette with his hands cupped around his mouth. Jeans, blue shirt, blue cap. Leathery face. He rocked back and forth on the bench three times, then leaned forward and stood. He reached into his left pocket, withdrew a pack of cigarettes, peeled the cellophane from it in pieces and let the pieces drop to the ground. And I found myself wondering if a man like that has any dimensions to himself that possess sensitivity in any form.

The rowers are nowhere to be seen, but I passed four fishermen by the platform. A family of ducks -- one adult and four ducklings -- paddled further down. Earlier, a small brown rabbit had hopped across my path.

Earlier, as I explored trails that were littered with pebbles, and climbed through rocky soil, I thought of myself as this clothed, exploratory creature in the midst of nature in all its nakedness. My sneakers -- protection that I take for granted -- mean that my feet are not callused or possess soles with the hardness of slippers (Margaret Atwood once described the feet of South American Indians thus: soles resembling slippers). That without protective clothing and gear we would be confined to a smaller area -- more like indigenous species or stable ecosystems. And, when one comes down to a basic purpose or need, there is no difference, really, between a sneaker and a spacesuit.

10:30 a.m. After lying on the banks of Horn Pond I now sit in a gentle breeze. Most of my sweat has cleared and I am resting before I make the climb to Woburn Reservoir. A bullfrog calls nine times. The first of the boaters are out.

11:07 a.m. It has taken me about eight minutes to climb up to the reservoir, and data have been added to the summoning circle, although the firepit looks undisturbed from 7/4. Outside the circle, by Aries, in black spray paint: 1-1-2000 AD. In the corners of the platform, one word placed beneath the other: EAGLE/WATER, LION/FIRE, AIR/HUMAN, EARTH/BULL.

And on the right side, on the far right: 3-14159.

(And I remember a John Dewey High School Math Club chant:
"Sine, sine,
Cosine, sine;
Three point one four one five nine!")


All the additions are in black spray paint, all of them outside the circle itself.

I'd realized that, due to the placement of Uranus, this was no recent date that was portrayed, and today I got my answer. And Pi. And so there is scientific as well as spiritual respect here, probably in line with views I've just read in The Spiral Dance.

September 1, 1985

Climbed steadily to the Woburn Reservoir without breaking my stride. Came up to the chainlink fence around the Reservoir and gasped.

The Reservoir is empty.

There are sloping walls of rock and shale, and a white and greenish-gray floor that reminds me of limestone.

Climbing, I'd noticed immediately that there was no trickling of water, no repairs being dislodged by rivulets and runoff. And thought: maybe they made repairs to curb leakage. We'd had storms Friday evening and into Saturday. I'd thought for sure that there would be runoff today.

No runoff. No water -- save for a shallow pool by the wooden posts and lintel that surround the Reservoir's drainage pipe.

I stand before an empty crater now. Next to a sign that warns, "City of Woburn, Public Water Supply: Keep Out."

12:40 p.m. I came upon the summoning circle to find the firepit filled with beer bottle glass: green, brown, clear pieces, and long glass slivers. Then I saw the circle itself.

It was littered with the same glass. As though bottles had been thrown inside the circle itself and shattered. So, too, was there glass filling the crevasses of rock beyond the cement lid. By "LION/FIRE" in the right rear corner, someone had scratched into the cement with a sharp instrument: "THERE IS NO LIFE BUT THE CHRIST!" Opposite, in the left rear corner by "EAGLE/WATER," the same scratched writing proclaimed, "JESUS IS LORD."

I gazed disconsolately at the mess inside and outside the circle.

Then I entered it, through Libra, and grounded. I closed my eyes and clasped my hands. I meditated into calm and, beneath the calm, felt the tides of sorrow and rage provide a steady undercurrent.

I opened my eyes. The now-faded spray-painted symbols shone with brief, new life as I adapted back to the sunlight, then faded again.

I squatted in the center of the circle and carefully began to pick up the pieces, one by one, and tossed them into the firepit. I worked my way around the circle sunwise, backtracking and moving forward again, using my now-long nails to carefully clear the glass. Soon I was down to small slivers, gathering them in my palm before I deposited them over the ashes. At first I felt self-conscious: what if someone sees me picking up this "dangerous" glass with my bare hands? Then that faded and the cleaning became a meditation in itself. I did not get cut; the glass left my hands with no complaint and I was in close communion with the ants and crickets that meandered across the concrete. And my heart felt as though it were in the most absolutely right place it could be, on this Labor Day Sunday as again the bells chimed above emptying churches. After I had done, having cleared this sacred space of glass defacement as much as I safely could, I retired to "LION/FIRE" to write.

Minutes later, after I meditated my thanks a short distance away (having forgotten to do so within the circle), I opened my eyes to see a man in a blue suit pushing his bicycle along the glass and rocks. We spoke of this beautiful day and he said, "Did you see the broken glass and beer bottles back there?" Shook his head. "Those kids are something."

His name was Carl. His blue suit turned out to be blue jeans and a polyester button-down shirt.

He'd wheeled his bike back to where I was sitting and called, "Could I ask you a couple of questions?"

I said, "Sure."

"What makes you come up here?" he asked. "Why do you come up here, and what do you get from this place?" His face was alive with curiosity-behind-sunglasses. "There's something -- some drive -- that makes me keep coming up here. Is it to be alone that you do this?"

I told him about the nature trails, the exercise, the serenity. "It's not to be alone, necessarily," I said. "I live alone. Nice days it's better to be out in the sun than inside walls."

He agreed with that. Added, "But there are a lot of people that don't do this. I'm 42 years old and I keep doing this even though it's not good for me to climb this hill, in my condition -- " patting his paunch, " -- and pushing a bicycle! Must've stopped four times on the way up to catch my breath."

He is balding. His forehead and scalp were coated with a sheen of sweat. "I was just wondering what makes someone like you come up here. So maybe I can understand why I come up here. I'm not a nature freak or anything like that...."

"I don't call myself a 'nature freak,'" I said, "but there is something spiritual about my coming here. Serenity."

"But what is it that makes you come up here? Is it the exercise, or the serenity, or the adventure?"

"All three," I said, smiling.

We talked about adventure.

"My wife," he told me, "she's afraid to come out here, afraid to go out and meet people. But she loves nature -- but biking or walking is a hassle for her and it never used to be. She used to do this all the time." The change in his wife had been recent. "She'd rather sit at home. Now she loves fishing -- and she'll come and fish if we drive there, if she can pull into a parking lot and get out and fish. And it's not as if she's out of shape; to me she still looks the same way she did when she was 17!" He grinned, proudly. "And of all the girls in her class I'll bet none of them looks as good as she does now."

But she'd been "brave" once. She'd never been in a plane in her life and they'd gone to visit friends in Maine who own land up there. There was a seaplane and Carl tried to convince his wife to take a ride with him.

"She kept saying no. She begged me, 'Don't go up there, I know something terrible's going to happen!' And I teased her. I said, 'Well then this will be the last time we ever see each other if you don't come with me. I'm scared!' And she hopped right onto the plane."

He shook his head. "But she's afraid to meet new people. And when she does meet them they love her. She's a great listener."

They'd lived with "about 500 people" by a pond. "I don't think we got to know four of them," he said. He asked why I thought it was that people don't greet each other, talk to each other. "Is it because they're afraid of being put down?"

"I think that's part of it." I shrugged. "Society teaches you to mind your own business. I've noticed that on city streets people don't greet each other -- rushing to and from work, or shopping. Here it's relaxed, the dress is different, it's more natural."

"See, you could've told me you didn't want to talk," he said, "and I'd have left you alone. I felt shy. I thought: Should I go and ask her? And I finally had to because I was curious; I still don' t know what it is that makes people come up here. You know, I get up early -- 4:30 or 5 in the morning, and the house goes crazy if I don't turn on the damn radio first thing. My wife doesn't like to leave the house, I don't know why. And she loves Nature." He laughed. "She wants to make love every time she sees a bush!"

I said there were times when I blazed ahead, and times when I went into seclusion. "Perhaps it's just something she has to do at this time, and it'll pass. People go through changes; it doesn't have to be permanent."

"Maybe." He shook his head. "I hope so."

I wished him luck.

Carl's wife had been a teenage runaway. I can see how she might need that serenity of a house -- a safe, closed-in space with walls.

Total walk: 7.6 miles. Leaving the Pond area I was passed by one, a second, and then a third child, all of whom feverishly pedaled their small bikes and yelled to each other. A whirring sound coming up behind me made me suspect a fourth rider. Instead, a motorized wheelchair sped by at what must have been 10 mph. Piloted by a white-haired woman, with another young kid standing spread-eagled on the footboard at the back of the chair to peer over her right shoulder.

"The Evil Spirits" (motorcycle club) ain't got nuthin' on wheelchairs.

The Shrine on Horn Pond Mountain


They call this hill a Mountain --
as though it were meant for
medicine wheels, henges on ley lines,
limestone caves
that shelter yogis, swallow suns.

Horn Pond Mountain
takes eight minutes'
steady climb: a helixed path
of split asphalt and acorns
mortared underfoot. In warm weather
there's runoff; in cold the runoff
freezes; the road ice-gouged
like elephant's hide.

To reach the shrine, you walk
past the public water supply
and toward the electrical works.
If you stand still
you will hear the drone of voltage
echoed in manic cricket song --
and you will vibrate between them.

You will see the pond below,
whale-shaped, glistening
with colors spat
from a dozen cast lures, and light
tucked into shadows under sitting-rocks.


The shrine
is spray-painted
on a cement block eight paces squared.
A simple, blue circle
cups the Zodiac in crimson,
the planets in gold,
the four alchemical elements in black.

In the center of the circle, there are twigs
singed, and renewed.
The number Pi blazes a tangent;
and prime numbers lie splashed
on outcroppings of stone.

The visitors who made this place
have named it: 1-1-2000 A.D.
I have never seen them -- only the man
in the orange truck from the Reservoir
who waves as he drives by.


The Reservoir
is the highest point in Woburn.
You can see the whole town from here.

I stand inside the circle
and clasp my hands,
and hear the church bells
peal. Past fish and tackles leaping,
past electric cables strumming
they summon over over over
Saint Charles Saint Joseph Saint John's Baptist
First Congregational United Methodist
Unitarian Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
of the Open Bible Church of the Living God...
Chimes -- like a chorus of angels,
like doves, like palms uplifted rise
toward the sun. They crest the top
of the Mountain.

Below the hill, beyond the pond
streets fill. Houses call
their congregations. Pastors tend
their flocks.
I kneel
smiling, solitary, as squirrels chitter
their hymns.

When all the bells stop ringing,
the crickets gather in the grass
and buzz, and the air shimmers.
Then I turn my face to the sky,
bluejeans warmed
in waves from concrete.
And I welcome the Goddess
into my New England town.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elissa, Have I not commented here before? I'm very much enjoying your blog. Your 10 things were WOW and made me think of few I forgot to list in mine. I don't know how you found my blog, but I'm glad you did...and we do have some things in common. I would have commented earlier but as you probably know, I'm on the road and at the mercy of borrowed internet connections. I just got back from my first trip to the White Mountains, which you also mention here. Let me look around some more...nice to meet you.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK I see I have commented before. I'm so confused out of my element. I also read Starhawk and am enjoying checking out some of your links! Thanks.

7:27 PM  
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