Tabernacle of the word*

These aren’t the words of empire that I learned as a child, that I spent years editing. These words are sovereign, rising live out of the sea, naked as Venus, luscious as magnolia flowers. They give birth to themselves, arriving unannounced from nowhere and everywhere… passed from tree to tree, carried in dewdrops, pollinated by bees, blown sun-ward with joy.

Oh I am hungry for them, these words made of pneuma, kinetic energy, the marrow of life. I need them like soup, soil, air. I will make prayers from them: dance-all-night, sway-to-the-moon, speak-from-my-womb, ruby-red prayers.

Words are being reborn, they are resurrecting themselves at the eleventh hour. The tabernacle is open, and words are flying out like birds, like seeds.

* One of the ancient titles of Mary.


What if words rose and rose, overflowing separation and species, pouring into a language-in-motion, a communion of verbs?

What would be the verb for ‘river’, how would we write the words ‘snow’ and ‘wind’…

Let me be a scribe, a mother weaving words from one queendom to another, looming them from soil to dewdrop to cedar tree, from death to life. Words in motion, fine as dandelion silk, lit by a star.

Let us hear you again mother nature, let us speak one language-in-motion, and hear with one ear of joy.

Finding my voice

I hear my voice. This voice, left on a field as a child.

I pick it up and touch it. A desert rose. Porcelain, fine, fluted. Shell pink.

I turn it over and over in my hands. The wind moves across it, playing it like a beloved. I put it to my ear. All of my body remembers.

My voice was held in my womb for safe-keeping, in the centrefold of the rose, till the time was right. Till the war was over, and there was peace on the land. Till the dove flew overhead with an olive leaf in her beak, and the sky was eggshell blue.

I hear my voice. I hear it with the ear of my heart.

We are the stars that sing..

We are the stars that sing above the valley at night, above the winding dirt road.

The sky spellbound with diamonds, the mountains folded into each other.

We are the birds that fly, wing to wing, hunting the wind, surrendering into slowness, melting along rivers of the night.

My heart is a tuning fork, sung open, spiralling on thermals of joy.

I will always remember this night. The valley asleep, the houses far and bejewelled.

The grace of your wingspan, the tenderness of my heart flung open, and the night streaming through unbound.

A leap of faith

Opening a magazine some years ago I saw an enigmatic picture, of a 15th century parachute floating over a boundless landscape. There was a hush over the page – a sense of something outside of time.

The text described how an English skydiver (Adrian Nicholas) had taken Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of a parachute, had the design made using the materials of Leonardo’s day, and taken a leap of faith. Would it fly? In the photo he was successfully suspended 3 000 metres above the Mpumalanga hills in a wood and linen contraption. The parachute looked mystical, other-worldly, yet quaintly solid in the sky.

The memory of it came up today. The sense of correspondence: feeling both behind and ahead of time, a sense of wonder, trepidation, and not knowing.

It is like that now – the leap of faith. Seemingly against the odds.

Will I fly? Will we fly?

‘From this day forward, only the path of Trust is real’ ~ Our Lady of Woodstock

Queendom of flowers

My simple art is a personal journey into the Mysteries of the rosary: joyful, sorrowful and glorious (life, death, rebirth). It has been a long path through an inherited ‘masculine’ spirituality to eventually find myself in the rose garden of the great Mother goddess. The Mysteries are my way, but even more than praying them, I feel called to deepen into them through making beauty.

With no training as an artist I began with the classical paintings of the Madonna, but they were only a partial fit. After several years I turned to the flowers, wild indigenous flowers (fynbos) and the original five-petalled rose, as these are fresh from the Mother’s hand, precious and free. I prepare them using a botanical press before layout, and crown them with her forgotten names in a ‘Queendom of flowers’.

I imagine that there are many who hear the name ‘Mary’ and turn away, thinking of a remote docile figure in the church. But the Mary I turn to is right here, alive in the dark fir trees surrounding me, brimming in the rich soil under my soles, bursting in the impulse to create. She is the great Mother goddess who goes by many names, the earth herself, the wellspring and womb of creation.

The deep was not when I was born, nor were the springs with their abounding waters. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I came to birth. [Proverbs]

Rivers of scent

There are so many ways of knowing, but of those ways that you once had, few remain to you today. One of these was scent. [Our Lady of Woodstock]

Ivan the woodcarver is absorbed in his workshop when I arrive, among carvings, cobwebs, and chisels. As he says hello he holds out a handful of shavings from the piece he is carving, and I lean over to smell it.

There is a rush of remembrance. A scent memory from another land and time. How can so much beauty and information be stored in the resin of a single tree? In the aromatic scent of these few curls of cedar.

The trees and flowers, the animals, insects and birds – these all live and have their being within broad, deep, delicate rivers of scent. [Our Lady of Woodstock]

In ancient times a lineage of women, known as myrrophores (myrrh bearers), were highly trained to work with scent, using botanical oils and resins. They served as midwives of the soul through life’s transitions, especially in the process of rebirth (such as through illness and loss), and across the threshold of death. Two of these women were Mary’s.

How do we re-enter the ‘rivers of scent’, with the trees and flowers, the animals, insects and birds? The Mysteries show us that it is by claiming our joy, facing sorrow, and being reborn.

Over and over.  

The tape is off my mouth

I will say your names, your holy liquid names. Goddess knows if anyone wants to hear them, but hey – the tape is off my mouth, and this is what is coming out. They are coming out as words, but also as flowers.

Words like the bracing cold on the mountain, like the shock of amber water in a rushing rock pool.

My mouth has been sealed for so long. Now the words rise like the wind, like the clouds and grasses blowing across the veld. My mouth is melted, parted, receiving words like manna, like lightning, like the scent of spikenard at the resurrection.

The tape is off my mouth. No more apologising, gossiping, rehashing, bore-myself-to-death, please-others speech. The words are earlier than wine, they are living water.

Silence comes out too, rich viscous silence. In counterpoint to sound.

The editor is being carried away on a palanquin, thanked for her service, loved, but no longer needed. The words are free unto themselves, they are virgin forests, fresh lakes. They cannot be contained.

We are not bound by human language, baby. The words don’t have to be ours. We can speak in tongues with trees, with the waterfall leaping from ledge to ledge down the mountain.

Let us pray together without ceasing.

On an early morning walk

A shock of light, wings, quiet.

It happens this way, the shock and swoon.

The bees move like particles of light, the old tree offers an opening in her body.

A fine synarchy prevails. Luminous wings bear gifts from the flowers, building an ecstasy of sweetness; the mother lies hidden, deeply dreaming.

And my gaze forms part of the mysteries now, exploding quietly between the resurrection and the ascension.

Black Madonna

It is dusk when I see you, washing in a pool of rainwater at the side of the road. You are tiny and thin, clothes thin too, wind icy. Nearby is the folded cardboard that is your home.

You speak so fast into the wind that I barely understand. Behind us are silent houses with high walls. Perhaps the people inside are enjoying a glass of wine before dinner.

You speak of losing your bungalow and the brutal indignities of life on the street. Your story evokes empathy and fear in me at the same time – fear that I may open the door to unbearable need, that you may come home with me and never leave.

Maybe I simply do not want to be disturbed. My prayer beads are in my hand. You are walking away when I call after you to say that I will bring you things.

I do, but they are not what you want. You say you want coffee and money. You do not dream anymore about a more beautiful world.

I take this twilight meeting as a visitation. I realise that I am not asked to solve your situation but to meet your eyes and not look away. Rather than rush to give you something and retreat to my cocoon, let me meet you here and allow right action to arise on its own. Let me welcome the outcast, the innocent, the orphan, in us both.

You come in difficult guises, in the void of grief at my daughter’s exile, in the raging fire on the mountain, in the dark dying of the rose in the courtyard. 

You come to me today as Renée.

Julia Casciola ©