Solstice Celebration sign lit up outside the Richmond Library
The Winter Solstice — a time to honor the promise of rebirth in the dead of winter, the ancient legacy of prayer and hope in the face of the unknown darkness, the sun returning, and the power of Nature.
I’m inviting you to join me at the interactive Zoom Winter Solstice Celebration hosted by the Richmond Public Library, Richmond, CA on December 21, 2020, the day of the Winter Solstice.
I’ll be welcoming this darkest time of the year with music, art, drumming and a book reading. I’ll share astronomy and history, focusing on the Chaco Puebloans known as the Anasazi, the ancient Native Americans of the Southwest who constructed massive buildings aligned with the heavens.
In honor of the Winter Solstice I’m offering a Special 2 for 1 Solstice Bundle of my Anasazi companion novels Sundagger.net and Spiral for a limited time. Buy one and you’ll receive the second book FREE.
Buy the bundle! Two novels for the price of one. SAVE 50%!
+ for just $17.00*
See you on the Solstice! —Margaret
* Offer good through December 31, 2020. Tax and mailing costs not included.
How far would you go to save your own child? In the excerpt from my new novel, Spiral, a mother is fighting to save her infant son from the tyranny of a group of Elders, those “wise ones” who rule Chaco Canyon and sacrifice children in the name of the Sun God.
One afternoon just before dark, the three of them had just returned home when Owl Watching noticed a small object on the hard-packed floor. He picked it up.
“What is it?” asked Willow as she carefully took off the heavy cradleboard with the sleeping child inside.
“The Elders have been here,” he said, scowling as he held out the little copper bell. He grabbed Willow.
“We must hide him before it’s too late.”
“Too late? What do you mean? What should we do? Where can we go?” she cried.
When her mother found out, she took the bell to the Master Pot Maker, and they threw it in the hot kiln. Together the two shaman women made powerful secret magic, chanting, threatening and howling with the wind to twist the Elders’ power and render it harmless. The bell melted in the fire, turning into a small dull stone.
Now Owl Watching insisted Willow he and the baby leave his relatives’ house each morning. This way, he said, the Elders would not find them at home when they came back. Stepping gingerly over the icy brittle snowy ground, their little family traveled up and down the canyon in the frigid air, paying visits on the Coyote Clan. The baby was held out, admired and feted. People discussed a good time for a naming ceremony. Names were suggested for him.
The winter was worse than any Willow could remember, the wind blinding, ripping through the canyon, and the daylight too short to stay any length of time at her mother’s house or to make pots. Owl Watching grew more worried with each day he ushered Willow and his son out into the cold. They both knew it was only a matter of time. Finally, Willow refused to leave the house. She was just too exhausted.
Owl Watching said he was going out one morning to search for more kindling while Willow ground corn and the child slept close on the warm hearth. The baby boy was wrapped in his bunting, adorned with the necklace of turquoise and bird bone she had fastened around his tiny neck. How sweet he looked! Willow was daydreaming, admiring her baby when the Elders came again, the staggering men stomping and dropping snow and ice on the floor. She jumped up but not soon enough, for Thin Nose had already grabbed the infant out of her arms. The baby let out a scream.
“No!” Willow cried, reaching for the child wailing in the Elder’s scrawny arms.
“I’ll take that blanket too,” Thin Nose laughed, picking it off the floor. Surrounding them, the others began to chant, skipping with their bells around and around in a little dance. Afraid to pounce on him or grab her crying child for fear she might hurt him, Willow grabbed for the blanket instead. Thin Nose let it go as he held the baby higher in the air. The child began to scream.
“Pray with us, sister,” said one Elder.
“You should be honored we have chosen your child for the sun dagger,” another said.
“Aeeeeah, Aeeeeah,” Willow screamed, choking, emitting high quivery gasps like a stricken coyote.
“The perfect sacrifice!” Thin Nose called out, stumbling toward the door with his prize, Willow following, kicking at his boots wrapped with delicate metal bells.
“Stop!” She screamed, lunging after him. Suddenly she saw Owl Watching hovering behind the deerhide door, which was flapping in the wind.
“Help me!” Willow cried.
Owl Watching rushed past her, shouting to the Elders, “Just the blanket!” He pulled it out of Willow’s hand and thrust it at the Elders. “You said you only wanted the blanket! Here! Here it is!” he cried, holding it up in front of Thin Nose and the screaming baby.
“Give our child back!” Willow screamed.
Holding the blanket, Owl Watching attempted to take away the baby. But he too hesitated for fear of harming him. The Elders’ feet tinkled as they pounded the ground, forming a circle around the child.
Suddenly Willow leaped onto Thin Nose’s back. They swung around as if in a dance. Owl Watching tried to grab her. Tipping back and forth, the rest moved in closer, pushing, pushing. Thin Nose stumbled, almost letting go of the child and knocked Willow off his back. Lunging for the baby, Owl Watching fell sideways to the floor with her. Thin Nose held out the screaming baby in front of him for all to see as he and the Elders danced away.
Owl Watching looked up just as they spirited his child out the doorway.
“No!” he wept. “No!”
“You brought them here!” Willow screamed, twisting out of his arms, turning on him.
“They said they only wanted the blanket!” He sat up, desperate, dazed, still holding the blanket.
“You fool!” She jumped up. “When have they ever told the truth? When?”
“He said they needed the blanket,” Owl Watching groaned. “Forgive me, Willow.”
Order Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net now!
“Just ordered my copy. I so enjoyed Sundagger.net: such vivid depictions of place & time and such interesting characters. I lost many hours of sleep staying up late to read because I just had to know what happened next. “— Sarah F.
I don’t often think about these questions while I write. Mainly I just keep on in my writing groove, inspired by the vision I had at eight when I read The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a teacher turned children’s writer. Did you read that book too? I wanted to write just like Gertrude.
I started thinking about how I write a novel while waiting for my daughter at Many Rivers Books & Tea, a bookstore on the corner of Main Street in the Sebastopol, CA. Though it was Sunday, my daughter was at school—she teaches 4th grade this year—preparing the next week’s lesson. We were going to celebrate Annemarie’s birthday by having tea together. But my daughter was late, so I browsed the aisles of books, teas and objects designed to further the bookstore’s mission “to provide customers with tools to support genuine spiritual practice.”
Soon I got into a conversation with Jim Wilson, one of three owners of Many Rivers Books & Tea, that continued until Annemarie arrived. Then we had tea and she bought two bags of rune stones for her class studying medieval England. I got a present too, because Jim invited me to read at the ongoing “Thursday at Many Rivers” event on April 9th, 2015.
So how does writing novels fit in with spiritual tools and spiritual practice anyway? Four words came to me as if displayed across a screen of a Powerpoint presentation: Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story.
I realized I begin a book starting with the earth and write from the ground up. I write from the place where my characters are, seeing what they see. With them, I look upward to the sky, searching for—call it spirit, a vision—and from that cloud-spun, high unknown space, the story emerges. I do this again and again, beginning in the same way: earth, sky, spirit, story. It becomes a practice.
Decades ago I began writing Dreamers from the vantage point of the cobblestone streets of Pittsburgh during the civil rights upheaval of the 60s. As a streetcar turns the bend in a snowstorm, it smashes into Thomas’ brand new, borrowed Impala, upsetting baskets of newly-clean laundry. It is this seemingly innocuous accident that drives the love affair of Thomas and Annie.
In my novel of magic realism, Sundagger.net, I compare two deserts, chapter by chapter, matching the actual Anasazi ruins of the American Southwest with the spiritual desert I experienced working as a tech writer in Silicon Valley.
Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins with Willow, a girl coming of age, standing at a dry riverbed, searching Chaco Canyon for a famed hunter with whom she’s desperately in love. From the desert floor, Willow talks to lizards and to crows.
The ancient Anasazi of the Four Corners area, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet, knew the connection between Earth, Sky, Spirit and Story too. All you need to do is to look from their amazing Great Houses to the heavens to realize it; they designed their buildings and created rock drawings to align with the equinoxes and solstices.
I too followed the same migration route my characters take in Spiral, beginning from the Great North Road, sixty miles long, which you can only see with aerial photography. At my Reading on April 9th at Many Rivers Books & Tea, I’ll share selections from my novels as well as a short videos from my three trips to the Four Corners area, where I explored Chaco Canyon, NM and its furthest, northern outlier, Chimney Rock, CO.
NOVEL WRITING AND MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS TO FOUR CORNERS
Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story with Margaret C. Murray featuring her upcoming novel, Spiral
When I stand in my backyard and look up at the night sky, I feel both very small and very big. The small part is my physical body, the big my spirit, from which I am able to imagine any story. Each night it’s a different sky I see and a different story.
All my stories begin with what I see from where I’m standing. It’s the forested hills, valleys and rivers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in Dreamers. The Oakland Hills, San Francisco, Death Valley and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico in Sundagger.net.
With my upcoming novel, Spiral, I take the old story family of Sundagger.net on the same migration route as the prehistoric Native Americans took in their struggle to survive in a dying culture, one that built Great Houses as big as the Roman Coliseum at a time when medieval Europe was still in the Dark Ages.
Spirit and story begin with the land and the sky. The ancient people of the Americas knew this too.
Many readers of Sundagger.net have told me they were awestruck by the sense of the spiritual upon visiting the ruins of Chaco Culture Natural Park. Here’s a short video of the ruins of Chaco Canyon with music by my son, Chris Goslow, that recreates this awesome feeling. Notice the sun dagger at the end.
The primitive people saw, felt and witnessed the deep spiritual connection between earth and sky too. In the bottomland of a desert canyon sometime near the end of the first millennium, a native American climbed a butte and cut a spiral in the sandstone behind four 2000 pound boulders that just barely allowed the sunlight in.
This artist positioned a 19-circle spiral so that, on the one day of the summer solstice, the center of the spiral was split by sunlight in the shape of a dagger. Furthermore, this spiral pecked out of sandstone was of an exact diameter so that, at the winter solstice, sunlight framed its outmost circle by two smaller daggers of light. Likewise, the equinoxes were shown with smaller daggers.
What an artistic feat to show such brilliance and balance between earth and sky! And that’s not all. Great Houses and kivas, incredible feats of engineering, were constructed over centuries with their outer walls matching the path of the sun and moon light across the land at solstices and equinoxes.
Visiting Chaco for the first time, I first “saw” the story I would come to call Sundagger.net when I stopped before a nondescript ruin of a small house, a house that called out to me with an ancient sad face and spoke of sweet dreams and great disappointment.
I had just come home from Chaco where I had taken many notes on the land and its history. The first scene I wrote describes a man–he didn’t have a name yet–walking in a circle on the desert floor. It didn’t make much sense, except that it did. Sitting at my desk in Pinole, CA, I created my novel around this troubled man like you might if you drew circles without lifting your pen from the center point.
The man became Rowan, a big boss at TekGen, a network communications corporation in Silicon Valley. Why is Rowan obsessively circling? He’s been taking photos of the wild turkeys in the Canyon, talking to them. He’s rethinking his business venture scheme and worrying about the young woman he convinced to come with him, who’s waiting back in the rented car at the Visitor Center. When finally he looks up toward the sky, he spots his ancestor, a primitive man in skins and feathers, RoHnaan.
Spiral, my upcoming novel, takes on RoHnaan’s story, beginning with the young Willow, his mother, waiting at the deep, dry, jagged bank of Chaco Wash, frantically scanning the horizon for her much-older lover.
The Anasazi too had their love affair with the sky beginning with the land. Their first structures were circular pit houses, underground mostly, entered through a hole in the roof by ladder, but by 800 A.D. they were building above ground, raising up to 5-story Great Houses with hundreds of rooms and no evidence that anyone lived in them, round kivas likely used for spiritual ceremonies, as are the kivas of the present-day Hopi and other Puebloan tribes.
This past summer on my third trip to Chaco Canyon, when I came out of the only entrance to the biggest Great House, Pueblo Bonito, the interpretive ranger remarked that I was in the exact spot to watch the sun rise at its southern-most point on the winter solstice. She also pointed out that the east-west wall of Pueblo Bonito precisely divides day and night at the equinoxes, marking the middle of time.
What happened to these pre-Puebloans called Anasazi (“Enemy Ancestors”) by the Navajo arriving three centuries later?
Earth, Sky, Spirit. Story. Before the sun dagger, there was the spiral. Each time the Anasazi migrated, they left behind a spiral to show they were leaving. Why? There are so many questions to ask, so many secrets remaining.
“It’s a mystery in another dimension”, as famed Southwest mystery writer, Tony Hillerman, said about Sundagger.net. So might he say about Spiral.
I was on the seventh day of my road trip. After days of driving and camping—interspersed by a stay in Flagstaff with my friend Joyce—I had finally arrived at Chimney Rock, Colorado, the site of my upcoming novel, Spiral.
I had been working on Spiral, a prequel to Sundagger.net, for five years now and I just had to go see for myself. I had to take the same pilgrimage my characters Willow and her son, Little Hawk, take after they flee their home in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and set out for Chimney Rock, the furthest outlier of Chaco culture.
Driving from California on Highway 40 to Flagstaff and from there to New Mexico, I was intent on first spending a few nights at Chaco Canyon World Heritage Site where Spiral begins.
The Pre-Puebloans (otherwise known as the Anasazi, a name given to them by the Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors”) likely came the same way, from the South.
Like me, these ancient migrants would have passed by the same red rock mesas. They too would be inspired, awed, by the deep color of the high desert, the vast vistas and endless sky.
Maybe they too were anticipating a great spectacle–those ceremonies in honor of solstices and equinoxes held in the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon.
Bumping along on an unpaved dirt “washboard” road, I slowly drove through the Navajo Reservation, stopping my car in front of the only sign for 23 miles:
ROUGH ROAD May be Impassable Travel at Your Own Risk
The ancient people would have experienced rough travel without cars, wagons, wheels, horses or any other means of transportation.
A thousand years ago, this same road would likely have been full of people migrating to and from Chaco to witness the sun’s return or thrill at the lunar alignment.
What a surprise when I turned a rocky bend and saw Fajada Butte. How close and massive it seemed from the dirt road, like a cathedral carved from sandstone.
I’d been to Chaco Canyon two times before but never approached it from the South.
I felt a strange kinship with this great rock.
At Gallo Campground in Chaco, the wind blew my tent away before I even got it secured in the ground. With the help of the campground host (from Vallejo, Ca!), I tied it to heavy metal rings. I slept that night surrounded by mesa walls, greasewood and blowing sage.
The Pre-Puebloans would have come through the South Gap into the Canyon. On the far side of the gap are more than 50 pit houses. Are they “motels” the migrants camped in while at Chaco?
Across Chaco Wash is Pueblo Bonito, the grandest of the Great Houses, where I stood while taking this photo. Debbie, the interpretive ranger who took me on a tour of Pueblo Bonito, said the arriving visitors likely might have been thrilled by the noisy celebration, the singing in many languages, dancing and music from flutes, conch shells, rattles, foot drums and more.
So many people to see the show! Was it like our rock concerts? Disneyland ? Or like High Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral? Who knows? The only evidence are ruins and potsherds. There’s so much mystery here.
Leaving Chaco Canyon reluctantly (and missing the Full Moon ceremony), I drove to Navajo Lake where I camped a few days and then headed northeast over the Colorado border to Chimney Rock.
And now, finally, I’ve arrived. Even from so far away on the road, I am repelled first sighting the mountain. It’s chilling just seeing bulbous Companion Rock and high narrow Chimney Rock on a dark mountain of chert and lava rock. I’m amazed at how close my feelings are to the atmosphere of terror pervading Spiral that Willow is so desperate to flee.
Still, looking out of my car window, I take comfort in all the mailboxes along the road, proof that ordinary people live beneath this mountain that appears so isolating and ominous seen from afar.
After setting up my tent at Ute Campground, I drive to the park entrance and learn I’m not even permitted to go up Chimney Rock alone. So instead I and five other tourists take a fascinating guided tour with Wayne, an interpretive guide and volunteer.
Today Chimney Rock is the powerful landmark and spiritual center for the Pueblo People–the Taos, Acoma, Zuni, Hopi, Tewa and more.
The two towers signify the Twin War Gods of the Taos Pueblo who slay monsters to help their People. The war gods are also revered by the Navajo who know them as Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water.
My solstice writing workshop at Yosemite was sweet! We sat on huge granite boulders outside the Sierra Club’s Le Conte lodge, beneath the hot afternoon sun. I began by drumming, mimicking the sun. (Did you know the sun’s center acts like a huge pulsing drum? See the recent KQED special, Journey into the Sun.)
The participants and I conjured up images, words, phrases and paragraphs about the sun, the earth, and we humans who measure and make meaning from the solstice and the heavens itself. Our imaginations flowed like the Merced River across the road.
As the sun crossed the sky and the wind came up, we moved from the wooded, rocky hillside behind the lodge to the river’s edge and then back to where we began. I ended by drumming. We all had written something we wanted to tell.
Two high points for me were the creative writing skills of the participants and the opportunity of having my books for sale at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. As I told one of their cheery employees, I am honored to have my novel in a gallery named for the great nature photographer and friend of John Muir. Plus the place is jumping!
GREAT NEWS! Now you can buy Sundagger.net to download to your computer, Kindle, iPhone or any other e-reader. Buy my book for $4.95
Summer Solstice Reading
June 14th, 2010, 7PM
Hercules, CA 94547
You’re invited to a book reading I’m having of my novel, Sundagger.net, “a mystery in another dimension”, at the brand new Hercules Library. Please come! It will be held on a bright Monday evening, one week before the actual solstice on June 21st.
What is a summer solstice? It is the longest day of the year and occurs when the earth is tilted closest to the sun.
My novel begins and ends with a solstice ceremony. The title is based on an actual phenomenon that occurs at the solstices. In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the sun “pierces” a spiral petroglyph carved by the Anasazi at the top of a butte. The stone slabs through which the sun shines shape the light into dagger(s). One dagger shines down the center of the spiral at the summer solstice and two flank the rim at the winter solstice.
The reading will also include drumming and Native American ceremony. It will be held in a beautiful large white room in the Hercules Library with all the latest electronic equipment one might ever need. I’ll be showing slides of the amazing and colossal Chaco Canyon ruins.
As we approach the summer solstice, our energies will be high and our intention strong. Together we will manifest ourselves. Come celebrate. Bring your drum!