Fear of the New Year

Many of my Pagan friends—and even some friends who aren’t Pagan—are fans of astrology. For myself, it has never been something that I have had much interest in. I have enough interests and hobbies to satisfy my constant need for mental stimulation, and astrology requires too much time, study, and dedication to really understand. I know the basics (like sun, moon, and rising signs) and a few other bits of information. One of the major things that I know is the Saturn Return.

I turn 30 next May. According to most Saturn Return calculators, my first will be January of 2019, though at least one calculates it to be as long as 12/21/2017 to 12/17/2020. Between the two options, I’m going to consider it to be the more exact period.

Which means it starts for me tomorrow, more or less.

And I am terrified.

I am going to be real with you all here. No flowery language, no metaphors, no poetry. I am almost nauseous with fear.

 

I have never had very good luck. The absolute weirdest things happen to me and my family. We like to joke that our lucky number is 13; we are so unlucky that the most unlucky number cancels out for us. And, in truth, I often find Friday the 13th to be pretty good days for me. So I am not quite sure how to approach my feelings on my Saturn Return. It is akin to the Tower card from the Tarot, a time of upheaval and major changes in your life. But for someone like me, who seriously questions whether or not the Universe wants me around sometimes, what might that mean?

On the one hand, it could go fabulously. Like Friday the 13th, my Saturn Return could be a time when everything goes right for me, and it could be a breeze. Not sure what that might entail, but it is a possibility.

On the other hand, it could be a disaster, and that is what I’m thinking is more likely to be the case. My biggest fear here is being committed, which has been a major fear of mine for over six years, ever since moving to the East Coast and coming face to face with my inner demons. I’ll be really pushing myself in the middle of January, and while I have made a ton of progress in regards to my mental health, I am scared shitless that all my progress will backslide and I will end up having to check myself into a mental health facility. I don’t even know where there are ones here, but I am sure my therapist will have a nice recommendation or two if that ends up needing to be the case.

So, I’m scared. Honestly, I am terrified as to what January has in store for me. I think I will feel a little better after my Oracle reading for 2019 tomorrow, which will hopefully give me an idea of what it is will be in store for me in the coming weeks. I’ll post my thoughts on my card draw tomorrow.

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Morals and Sacrifice

Tonight, we had a fire for the first day of autumn. I spoke a few words, nothing too formal, and laid my Odin statue in the flames. I sat beside the fire and watched the pieces burn until it was unrecognizable as anything but coals.


A few years ago, I found an artist on Facebook who specialized in carving statues of different Slavic and Norse deities. The prices were reasonable, and even though it was coming from Ukraine, the shipping was very inexpensive. I found an Odin statue that I very much liked, and I was pleased by the price. So I bought it.

I had done a lot of browsing of the artist’s Facebook page and website, and I thought that I had found an artist that I felt comfortable supporting. No blatant carvings of symbols co-opted by the Nazi occultists of the previous century, or of symbols that modern neo-Nazis and white supremacists commonly use.

So I bought the statue.

It arrived, and I was very pleased. It was lighter than I expected, a result of the type of wood used, but solid wood and well carved, without being too refined. It was rough enough to be clearly done by hand, which I liked.

I placed it on my shrine for the Old Man and was pleased, for a time.

 

A couple of months later, I was still following the artist on Facebook. A comment exchange caught my attention, and I discovered that the artist was exhibiting some troubling reasoning. The knowledge unsettled my stomach, and I could no longer look at the Odin icon that I had purchased from them. I took it off my shrine and lay it in storage, where it lay for a while.

After a bit of time, I stopped following the artist of Facebook. It wasn’t long after I saw the exchange with some Nazi apologism that I felt I could no longer support them. But what to do with the icon?

I knew I couldn’t keep it on my shrine, nor did I want to keep it indefinitely. It didn’t feel right to give it away, either. What made me uncomfortable with keeping it would just make me feel dirty giving it to someone else.

So what were my options?

We lived in an apartment at the time, and I considered a number of things I could do. Bury it, throw it away, cover it with salt. All things I could do pretty easily where I was living at the time, but none of the options felt right. I still had that unsettled feeling in my stomach whenever I saw the statue, to the point where I ended up putting it away in a small box so it was out of sight. But it nagged at me for about two years, until tonight.

I decided a while ago that the only “right” thing to do was to burn the statue. Throwing it away felt outrageously disrespectful, and burying it would only cause odd questions. I didn’t have anywhere to do it anyway. Covering in salt would have helped me feel better about “cleansing” the statue of any intentions that I could feel attached to it, but it was still only a temporary solution. I needed something more permanent.

 

Early this past spring, my boyfriend bought a house. I live here, too, and we have a lovely backyard that backs onto a bit of wood. Lilac trees grow in the middle of the yard, and we have the most beautiful view out the portrait window in the dining room. A lot of factors clicked into place at just the right time for us to be able to afford this place, but that’s another story.

One thing that I was also lucky to obtain was a firepit. My former boss, back when I was a personal assistant–my first job in the D.C. area!–for another Pagan woman, is friends with me on Facebook, and when we bought the house, she offered me the firepit she had. She said she had only used it once and it had been sitting on their little patio in Georgetown for way too long; she was happy to give it to us (free!) because it meant getting rid of it! We finally found a time that my boyfriend and I could come out to pick up the firepit and take it home.

It’s a pretty light thing, much lighter than I expected! It was also smaller; it fit in the trunk of my Elantra without issue–stacked completely, lid and all. But it’s nice and wide, so we can have a decent fire in it.

Tonight was the first time we used it, due to a very hot, very wet summer here in Alexandria. I was down and out with a migraine when my boyfriend set it up, but I joined him after a bit when the painkillers finally kicked in. He asked me if I wanted to get the things together that I have been holding onto to burn for a while, including the statute. There are other things, inactive spell ingredients and the like, that are leftover from magic I’ve done in the past. I’ve been meaning to burn them for a bit, but hadn’t had the opportunity. However, we are still scattered in the new house, so I couldn’t find them. But I did locate the Odin statue almost immediately. It was time.

All four pieces were in one of the drawers that my spell components and shrine/altar decor are in: the main body, the two parts of Gungnir that screwed into his folded hands, and the bit of his foot that broke off a while ago (around the same time I came across the Facebook exchange, and the final sign to me that I needed to get rid of it). I washed all four pieces briefly in the sink, then went out to the firepit.

I spoke a few words and tossed the three smaller pieces into the fire. They were quite thin and quite small, so they were gone quickly. But I held onto the main body for a few moments, examining the carvings that I had once enjoyed so much.

Let me be clear: it was a beautiful piece. I spent my own hard-earned money on it while I was working at my previous job, making much less money than I am making now. It had meant a lot to me, as I had been looking for an icon for the Old Man for quite a while. I knew what I had to do, but it hurt to do it. It was a sacrifice for myself, to myself, in many ways.

But my personal morals are important to me, and I try to adhere to them as closely as I can. Knowing I had given my money to someone who I did not feel comfortable supporting hurt, but it was done in ignorance, despite my best efforts. I could not give the piece away, I couldn’t keep it. It had to go.

I lay the statue in the fire and sat, and I watched it burn to coals.

Summer Mysteries

For the last nine or so years, my aunt Jacq has been seeing a woman named Lark. I didn’t know much about her, only that my aunt enjoyed spending time with her, loved her, and that they got along well.

In 2009, I had the opportunity to spend some time with my aunt after visiting my grandparents in New Mexico. She had been living in Boulder, CO, with Lark for a while now, and so my boyfriend and I took the northern route back to Illinois so we could spend the day with her and crash at her place before heading home to Chicagoland.

I remember their place fairly well. It was bright, and there were books everywhere. It was a two bedroom, with the second bedroom serving as a meditation/temple room for both Jacq and Lark. That was where we would be spending the night.

But what stood out to me the most, I recall, was all the JARS everywhere. They were full of oils and liquids of different colors, mostly shades of brown or green. Lined up on bookshelves near the front door. They were quite fascinating to me, a still budding witch and Pagan with some interest in herbalism, and I kept looking at them as we sat in the living room and chatted with Jacq. Finally, I asked her what they were.

“Oh,” she told me. “Lark is studying herbalism,” though I think she called it something else, something similar. I filed the knowledge away for a time, curious about the tinctures and such brewing on the bookshelves.

 

Years later, my aunt and Lark are still together. They suit one another well, and I’ve learned a bit more about Lark as the years have passed. But I was not surprised to  learn that Lark is Pagan, though I don’t know that she uses that term. She practices goddess spirituality and plant medicine, and she runs her own mystery school: Folklore & Fern.

Last year, I wrapped up a major project: helping my aunt with her new book. I did the work pro bono, but towards the end of our work together, she reached out and let me know that she and Lark had discussed some compensation for me: letting me attend one of Lark’s Mystery School sessions in thanks for my help with the book.

I had done some poking around Lark’s site on and off for a bit. I’ve always been a voracious learner, and I like to learn about the paths others have chosen in their religious lives. So I was interested in taking a class, but it wasn’t in the budget for me at the time. However, when Jacq reached out and made the offer for the free session, I was very interested in checking it out, so I agreed.

About a week ago, Lark reached out to me and let me know that she had the information on the new sessions for 2018 at her Mystery School. I read through the descriptions of each session—spring, summer, and fall—before finally deciding on the summer session:

Summer is a time for spending more time outside, getting reacquainted with our skin and feeling our own inner quickening.

It is time to play, frolic, learn, investigate, adventure, open, dream, experiment, lounge, listen and invite new ways of being into our world.

We begin our adventure at Beltane, with the wild winds of spring ushering us into the bright days of early summer, we travel into nature divination and the mysterious lands of dreams and oracles, we continue our travels through mid summer magic and some ways to do healing on ourselves and others. Finally, we conclude the season with some essential herbal first aid and a summer break for integration, catch up and play!

The summer session seems to focus a lot on herbs and plants, which is unsurprising given Lark’s background with plant medicine and herbalism. I admit to being partially swayed by the mention of Hawthorn, as it’s one of my favorite trees—after my beloved Rowan. There is some mention of the Fae and the Sabbats throughout the session, but I haven’t had an opportunity to log in and dig deep into what is offered, as the class does not begin until May 1st,with Beltane, so I can’t speak to the contents of each course. But it does look interesting, and I look forward to being able to give a more developed opinion once I finish the course later this year.


If you’re interested in checking out Folklore & Fern Mystery School but can’t make the price point for the three sessions, Lark is offering 50% off scholarships. There is a limited number of scholarships available, but you can reach out to her personally and inquire for more information. Otherwise, there is a $100 discount off the spring session (which begins February 1st with Imbolc) until Friday, January 12th. Registration for the spring session closes January 19th.

2018 Oracle Reading

2018 Oracle Reading
2018 Oracle Reading

For the last few years, I have taken up a tradition on January 1st: I draw 12 cards from my Earthbound Oracle deck, one for each month. After these, I draw three additional cards for a message or tone for the year, as well as one final card for the theme of the year. I did the same this year, and so far I can see a few connections.

When I draw these cards, but for the last one, I stare ahead and do not look at the cards as I lay them down, letting only a vague glimpse in my lower periphery guide where each should be placed on my desk. It feels less “cheat-y” that way, as though my initial look at the full year ahead of me should be all at once.

The message for the year surprised me when I looked down and straightened the cards into more easily readable positions. The Obfuscate and Illuminate cards are mirrors of one another, and they reminded me of the partnership that Perseverance and Resistance had for me in 2017. And, again, the partnership of Obfuscate and Illuminate showed up for me in 2016 when I asked for more clarification for that particular reading.

Another thing that surprised me with this year’s spread was the fact that there is almost zero overlap between last year and this year, with the only cards repeated being Illuminate and Travel, albeit in different roles. It is also interesting that they both are matched in the message for the year. And upon reviewing my 2016 reading, I see that there is a total of four cards repeated this year from 2016: Voice, Time, Protect, and Obfuscate.

Voice for February sticks out for me, especially since it played such a profound role for me in 2016. Cycle for October has me curious, especially with its depiction of the lunar cycle. Over the last few years*, I have been wanting to observe the lunar calendar more closely. And with this year having two blue moons—as well as February being without a full moon—it sticks out even more in my mind, especially since 2018 begins with a full moon. As I sit here in my office, writing this post, I find myself looking out the window at the surprisingly bright full moon in the sky and its mirror reflected in my window, granting me a doubled full moon.

Other cards stick out to me, but to be frank, this entire spread seems meaningful. And, I suppose, it should, being as it’s intended to be forewarning and informative for the coming year. I have been antsy for 2018 to arrive these last few weeks, and now that it is here, I feel a bit calmer, a bit less frayed at the edges. With all the projects and plans I have for the coming months, I find myself hesitantly excited to see what this year brings.

 

*Post from my previous blog, The Crossroads Forest.

Beneath a Crow’s Wings: The Morrigan’s Call Retreat 2017

Only two weeks out from my return from Canada, I made the (much) shorter drive from Alexandria, VA—where I live—to Orange, CT. I love driving through New England, especially once the highways become two lanes and there are fewer cars on the road. In New York state, as I get closer to the US-Canada border, the landscape changes rapidly, becoming rockier, with large outcrops scattered beside the roads.

Camp Cedarcrest is the host of the Morrigan’s Call Retreat, and I found myself somewhat surprised by the land. It is in the midst of suburbia, but very much a patch of wilderness, with two rivers and a beautiful waterfall cutting through the land.

I’m sad to say that I was a bit festivaled out by the time midday on Saturday rolled around, but going up to Connecticut was the right step for me at this point in my life. Several things happened that confirmed some suspicions I had been having, a few of which I’ll discuss.

***

Last February, I reached out to my friend Brooke for a favor: would she be willing to perform an Oracle for me, to determine whether it would be the right move for me to attend the Morrigan’s Call Retreat? I had been sensing the Morrigan wanted more from me of late, but with the retreat being two weeks after the Sabbat, I was hesitant to register. I didn’t want to burn out, but I was feeling a strong draw towards going.

Brooke, kind soul that she is, agreed, and she pulled three cards from her oracle deck. Three cards for three signs asked of three Queens who are one.

I won’t detail her reading here, but one of the things that stood out for both of us from her reading was the direction that I was to light a candle at dusk when I had made my decision and state my intentions. She wanted me to make the choice, to consider the benefits and the deficits that I might face. Overall, I was to be patient and consider all the options.

Not long after Brooke finished speaking with me, I got a message from my spiritual advisor from college. She’s never met Brooke, knew nothing of my intent to attend the Morrigan’s Call, and I had not spoken to her of the oracle reading Brooke had done for me. So when she reached out and told me that “my candle always burns at dusk,” I was shocked. It’s a very specific image for it to be coincidence. It wasn’t until later that I remembered that she, too, works with the Morrigan in one of her aspects.

***

There was a glass bowl full of stones, dragon tears we had called them in elementary school. Orange and blue and white and green, with each representing one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann. The green tear in my hand, I found myself joining the Stone Clan, named for the Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny. It is this stone that screams when the true kings of Ireland tread upon it, announcing their destiny for all to hear. It is a stone that denotes the one who shall bear the mantle of sovereignty over Ireland.

Sovereignty. The theme of the weekend, and the message that the Morrigan has been attempting to get through to me for neigh on six years now.

***

It was after Anubis left, having taken with him the pendant that I so cherished, lost in the midst of a labyrinth in the days before Samhain. I had fallen into a slump, and I was experiencing sensory overlays, the feeling of my reality being superimposed with another. I kept finding myself in a forest, dark and overgrown, that I would end up referring to as the Forest of Faith. At that time in my life, my faith was stunted, and I had been depressed for some time, with the majority of that depression affecting my spirituality.

In the times I found myself in the Forest, I would struggle to move forward. Regularly, the brambles and bracken that covered the forest floor would tangle me up, holding my back. After struggling for some time, I finally fell to my knees. I couldn’t bring myself to keep going. I was so, so tired, and I was ready to give up.

She came to me then, dragging my to my feet and not allowing my to make excuses. The Morrigan, a flood of black feathers, dark hair, and darker dress. She saved me, from myself, from my depression. She came to me in one of my darkest hours and dragged me from the breaking point. She’s been a part of my life ever since.

I would come to learn a lesson from her, a repeated message that she wanted to impose upon me. Sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty. As a goddess of Ireland, a goddess of that land, and a goddess who protects that land and its people, it is one of her strongest associations, especially on my path.

It’s hard to explain the message to one who is not me, but I will do as I can: she expects much from me, and she will not allow me to falter unless it is my decision; I will walk a path of service, helping others and building a community; it is destiny for me to take up a mantle of service, as a warrior for those who need protecting, and as the one who will lay down and allow those who must cross to use my body as a bridge.

***

It was Saturday, and I was sitting under the Raven Pavilion listening to John Michael Greer. He had put together a workshop on the concept of sovereignty, and I spent most of the time of this workshop trying to avoid getting hit too hard with the clue-by-four.

When it came time for Greer to ask us for examples of personal sovereignty, I volunteered my brief story. Her helping me to regain my personal sovereignty over my own mind when I was at my worst. Another woman there gave the example of her transition, and Greer was very respectful towards both of us and our stories of struggling with our own bodies, our own minds.

***

It’s been two months since the retreat, and I’m finding it difficult to write about even now. I’ve let this post sit and percolate over the last eight weeks, hoping to get across the depth of my experience here. Even though I was festivaled and peopled out by the middle of Saturday, it was still an experience I don’t regret having.

 

I think the crux of the weekend, though, for me was Sunday, when I finally went to see the oracle. I had come to this weekend on the advice of an oracle, and it felt only right to leave with the advice of another oracle.

At the doorway, they cleansed me with sage smoke, and once more I had a blade held to my throat, asking me why I sought the Great Queen. Upon standing before the oracle, she, too, asked me why I sought her, and I spoke the truth of why I had come that weekend and why I was there then.

She told me that two paths lay before me: the hard path, which would challenge and transform me, take me to walk the warrior’s path; and the easy path, which would have me as I am. There is no shame in either, she told me, and I am expected to rest for a time. She sensed the weariness that I felt, the struggles I dealt with. She said she sensed I carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. The Great Queen bid me that I could call upon her in my dark times, in my struggles, in battle.

This hard path will always be open to me, when I’m ready. But I must rest first. And I know that I should still not dally, and when the time comes to walk that path, I must not hesitate from taking that first step.

For now, though, I will rest. The Great Queen will be there, and she has chosen me. I am among her children, and I will do as I can to honor her.

 

An Unexpected Message

Growing up, April Fool’s Day was always a major holiday to my family. We would plot and plan for days, trying to come up with tricks for that day to play on my siblings and parents. That’s not to say that we didn’t play pranks on one another all year ‘round, but rather that April Fool’s Day was a special case where anything goes, more or less. These days, I joke that it’s bigger than Christmas at my parents’ house, and that’s not entirely false.

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My first Witches Sabbat, I stayed for the planning meeting and hoped beyond hope that we would have tricksters be the theme for the following year. I had had a good time that weekend, and I planned to return. I was excited at the prospect of having a weekend of tricky pixies and sly foxes, full of magic and witchcraft and the thrill of a good joke.

Tricksters did not win that year, and instead I came up in 2016 to learn of offensive and defensive magic, of blessings and curses. I swam in a warm pond under a dark sky, the only lights the candles that marked the entrance, the only sounds the music of the frogs croaking and the shrieks of joy as those around me submerged themselves beneath the water’s surface, cleansing themselves of the pains and hurts of a rough year.

We did not stay for the planning meeting that year, the weather being too hot and the four of us being too tired to stay so late in the day. Instead, we drove back to Ottawa and spent time on our own. Later, we learned that the theme had been chosen for the following year’s Sabbat: tricksters and the fool’s journey.

I was thrilled.

***

As I prepared for the 2017 Sabbat, I knew I wanted to get back to how I had felt that first year. 2016 had been a fine time, full of magic and joy—after all, Sarah Lawless spat wine in my face, and it was awesome—but it had been missing something that I had gotten from it that first year. Friends I had made were unable to make it, and the heat drained much of the enthusiasm from me, as much as the mosquitoes drained me of my blood and made my fresh tattoo itch, driving me to the brink of madness.

I drove up on my own again this year, listening to various books on tape as I made the 10-plus hour drive to Ottawa. Of the five of us, I was the furthest south, and I can only stand being in a car for so long with other people before it starts to make my skin and my mind itch. I like the peace I get with driving, being able to stop and go on my own schedule. It’s a meditation-like activity for me, and I in part dedicate that time to Anubis, the patron of roads and the guide.

All along the roads to Canada, I watched as crows flocked to the edge of the highway or winged overhead, many resting as the rain fell quietly or picking bites to eat from those who did not manage to cross to the other side. I must have seen more than a dozen of them as I drove through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, headed north. They made me smile, for crows have many meanings to me and on my path. They are important symbols to me, important creatures, and I had opted to don their visage for our ritual that weekend. After all, in the animal kingdom, crows are often the ones tricking those around them, causing mild chaos wherever they fly.

***

The weekend did not turn out as I expected; what else can you really expect from a weekend dedicated to trickster gods and spirits? Knowing this, I tried to go in with as little expectations as possible, and still they managed to throw me for a loop.

I’ll admit it: I had thought that this would be my final year at the Witches Sabbat. It’s a great event, but it can be very draining, between the long car ride there and back again, as well as all the intense work we put in during those not-quite-three days. And, I’ll admit, though I was friendly with several of the people I had seen in previous years, I did not feel very connected to the community up there. It’s difficult to make an impression, to form connections, when you are only able to see these people once a year, and for only two days and a little extra. They’re good people, and I would miss them, but I had more or less decided that this would be my final year at the Witches Sabbat at Raven’s Knoll.

The gods, it seems, had other plans. And, frankly, I don’t know what I expected: several of the gods I work with are known for their tricksy ways. They have their own ideas of what is good for me, and I made my pledge long ago to do what I could to honor them.

I won’t get into the details of why the tone of the weekend changed dramatically on Friday evening. If you were there, you know of what I speak. If you weren’t, the story is too long, too delicate, and too personal to really go into. It’s one of those “you had to be there” moments, and honestly too complicated a situation to explain. To put it simply, the gods were insulted when we stood before the Aesir Vé, effectively changing the tone of the entire weekend. For me, if not for the folk assembled.

The rest of the weekend was spent in deep contemplation for myself and for what I wanted to do from then on. I knew by the end of opening ritual that I had to come back to Raven’s Knoll, and to keep coming back. Every year, I’m not sure, but it will be a regular place in my life for years to come at least.

I also came to learn that I was more part of the community than I had thought, with several people coming to me and expressing gladness that I was there that year. These small moments were not simply one-off conversations, but were instead the result of people making an effort and taking the time to speak with me privately.

In a lot of ways, it was humbling. I was not just welcomed, but wanted in some respects. This is a feeling I have always struggled with, the idea that my presence is not just tolerated, but sought. I regularly assume that, instead, people don’t want me around.

Call it part of my baggage, but it is something I have struggled with for years. And it was one of the things that I had considered and had helped me reach the decision that this would be my last year at the Sabbat. The gods, however, had other plans, as I said. They made it clear to me that they had greater expectations of me, something that was further emphasized two weeks later when I attended the Morrigan’s Call Retreat in Connecticut, but that’s another story.

***

If you don’t know me in real life, on the same side of the computer screen, you probably don’t realize that I can be a very serious person. I have my moments—and these can be fairly regular moments—where I joke and lay aside my stoic mask, revealing a bit of the trickster spirit I’ve always had. But overall, I am not one for frivolity, for relaxing and showing weakness to other people. I’m not one for setting aside my guarded ways, around almost anyone. There are very few that I trust, and this reflects a lot on my personality, to the point where people often have expectations of my behavior and, in those times I decide to relax and not play a part, surprise those around me.

Ritual this year was one of those times. It’s amazing what booze and magic will do—though, that almost assumes that booze isn’t magic, and I would have to argue with that idea—and the pure, unadulterated freedom of self you feel after a severe panic attack. But a little liquor, a little Pop! Goes the Weasel, a bit of tea with the Mad Hatter and you have yourself a space outside of time, outside of the real world. In the chilly Canadian night, I stood before the fire, a blanket around my waist, booze between my breasts, and a hellhound with their hand on my shoulder, asking if they can work on me for a moment or two.

I don’t know who it was behind the mask. I didn’t then and I still don’t. A few different people have told me it was one person or another, but frankly, it doesn’t matter at this point. They had come up a few times throughout the ritualized party we had gathered for, bearing mead for us before flitting off to somewhere else. But standing by the fire, they came up behind me, lay a hand upon my shoulder, and asked if I consented to being touched.

Being a bit drunk and more than a bit relaxed, I held up the green glow bracelet I bore. Red was for any who did not wish to be touched, and so by showing them that, I gave my consent. They worked my shoulders, ran their hand along my arms and down my back. I stood before the fire, closed my eyes, and let the final bits of tension and worry and fear and anger drift away. After a few minutes, they stopped, and as I turned around to thank them, I realized they were gone. And I did not see them again the rest of the night.

***

Kneeling in the soft dirt before the godpoles, I made a promise. I told them I would do better, and I got a firm idea in my mind of what that entailed. Taking care of myself has never been a high priority, and I have been known to regularly run myself ragged working for others, working for those who I consider need my help. I’ve been slowly coming to terms in recent months that I will live a life of service, another thing confirmed in Connecticut this year. But, again, that’s another story.

But kneeling in the not-quite-dirt-but-not-quite-mud, I prostrated myself before the gods and told them I would do better. I would make more of an effort to take care of myself, so that I can continue to help others. One cannot pour from an empty cup, and I have long since been drawing from the last dregs of myself. I have to take care of myself, else I cannot fulfill my duties.

I have not quite begun to meet that promise, instead spending time thinking on what it means. But I’ve spent too much time deep in thought, in contemplation. My body, something I’ve long disregarded, requires my attention and care. For I am mortal, and this is the only body I have. If I want to make the most of my life, to make the most out of my work for others, I need to take better care of it.

This is what the gods want from me, for now. It was not what I expected when I crossed the threshold of the Knoll and bid the crows at the gate hello after a year away. But the gods, the spirits—straight man and tricksters alike—will do as they please. It is up to you to bear the burdens they lay before you.

The Cave

A few weeks ago, I received a notification on Facebook that I had been invited to an event. Monika Healing Coyote was offering an advanced journeying class, and I’d been invited to attend the first session. I was immediately interested, and so I agreed to attend and put it on my calendar so I wouldn’t forget.

It had been a while since my first time journeying under Monika’s tutelage, but I was excited to attend, so early this afternoon, I made the hour-long trek up to her house.

Psychopomps were the theme of the day, though my journeys veered down a bit of a different path from those we were attempting. There were three goals, one for each journey, that we had for the afternoon: to ask our helping spirits to bring us to a psychopomp spirit that would assist us in our work; to learn a technique for guiding a soul to the afterlife; and to learn a technique  (or more) for guiding large groups to the afterlife, all of which were more guidelines for my experience today.


The drumming began, and I closed my eyes, finding myself in the autumn orchard after a bit of a rough start. I made my way down the path between trees, heading to the grand yew I had encountered before, growing in the midst of a cemetery with aged headstones. The grass was springy beneath my feet, which I only now realize were bare. I slipped into the gap between the roots and began the long walk down the dark earthen tunnel.

Once more, I emerge from the tunnel between two tall stones; this time, I notice they are encircled by a string of bells, about head height. I lick my palms heavily and press the damp skin to the left stone, then the right, before sitting at the base of the right-hand stone, called for a helping spirit once, twice, three times, and then settled in to wait.

Soon, I caught a glimpse of movement to my left, and I stood as the red fox trotted up to me. Kit, as I would later discover was what I was to call him, trotted on my left side as we made our way through the scrubland that I had found myself in the last journey with Monika, back to the rich forest where I had come across my own body. We went back to that spot, and I lay upon my bones, burying myself with the earth around us, and soon fell deep below the surface.

We landed in darkness, feet first. I could feel the water beneath us, but did not feel as though I were getting wet. It was dark, very dark, and you could feel the moisture in the air.

In the distance, I saw a white light, a doorway of light, and we began to make our way there. Upon reaching it, we stepped through, and I found myself in a large white…room? Area? There was no way to tell, for everything was white light.

Anubis stood before me, and I quickly felt the Morrigan at my back. My other gods appeared, all of them save Hermes. I realize now this is because he is not included in the oath I made years ago, for he made his presence known years after those words were said.

Surrounded by my gods, I see also an old man, leaning on a staff. At first I think, this is Hermes, but that does not seem right. I then think of Tiresias, the elderly prophet from The Odyssey, and though I am not sure, this seems true in some sense.

There were no words spoken, but the message seemed clear enough. Monika began the recall and I made my way back to the stones wreathed in bells and my orchard.

***

Kit and I made our way back to the dark, damp cave, the same way we had before, with my laying upon my body and burying myself with the rich dark earth. This time, the lighted doorway was gone, but I could see a paler area in the darkness, a sort of greyness that I headed toward. Soon, I found myself at the mouth of a tunnel, with the water growing deeper here but still my bare feet are not wet.

Gradually, the tunnel opens up, and I see to my right a stony outcrop where a man sits beside a fire. To my left, a little farther ahead, I see another man sitting beside a fire. Kit walks ahead of me and sits before me atop the water. He tells me I must choose.

“If I choose one, will I be able to come back to the one I did not choose?” I ask. Kit tells me that the one I choose would be the one that set my path.

I choose left, and I make my way up the stone and towards the man by the fire. He is old, the same man I had seen before, I believe. Kit goes ahead of me, curling up in the fire, beneath the cauldron set atop the fire. I sit on the log, the man on another to my left, before he stands and begins to stir the cauldron with his staff. I can see various herbs, roots, and fruit in it: what looks like red potatoes and strawberries, and I somehow know there is rosemary heavy within its contents.

Soon, the man bids me to drink from the cauldron. I told him no, that I knew better than to drink or eat that which I find in the Otherworld. He seems frustrated, but asks me if I know of the legend of the kappa. I nod, I say I do. He begins to ladle the cauldron’s contents over my head, but it pools and forms into a bowl over my head, the liquid hovering just inches above my crown. A few moments pass, and then it falls, drenching me. I bathe myself fresh from the cauldron, ensuring I get every inch of myself covered in the reddish liquid.

Now, the man nods at me, and he points to the water just a few yards past where we stand. It is an underground river, separating us from where the other man had been, but his small rocky island is dark now. Not far past the entrance of the cavern, the stones I had been walking upon drop off suddenly, forming this large underground river. The man tells me that I can now swim the waters in the cavern, swim this river. I walk into the water and begin to swim, now feeling the presence of the water and the sensation of growing wet from being submerged, something I had been missing before. I swim the wide circular river before coming back to the man. He spoke something to me, told me something, but I cannot remember.

The recall drumming begins, and I make my way back once more.

***

It is our final journey of the day, and I find myself back in the cavern with Kit, my feet still wet in the cold water. I choose right this time, and join the old man sitting there by the fire. He is the same man, I believe, as I have seen in the previous two journeys, but I am not sure. It is much colder here, and I can feel frost upon my feet.

I explain to him the intent behind this visit, and he stands and begins to walk up the ledge that curves around the tall cavern. I begin to follow, before noticing that Kit has not joined me. He does not like the cold, it seems. I tell him he can sit upon my shoulder, and together we walk up the ledge.

The old man has not stopped, and I am following him up a very thin path very high up the cavern wall. At one point, I look down, and when I look back again, I see the man is now two men, one continuing up, and one continuing through a door on the right, glowing brightly.

“You must choose,” Kit says in my ear. I hesitate for a long while before continuing up the ledge where the man has not stopped, now far above me on the path.

There is a dark cave at the top, and as I approach, I find myself in complete darkness as I head into the cave, following the man as he disappears within it. I am walking for a long time, and then the drum beats change. I call into the darkness, stopping, and tell him that I had to leave. From the darkness comes his hand, bearing a lantern lit with flame. I take it from him and turn around, carrying it with me as I return to my body.

Until We Have Forgotten Them

It was late October, and I had made the hour-long trip up to Mt. Airy, MD, to join some friends of mine for a journey group, led by Monika HealingCoyote. The aim was to contact the ancestors, and it had been some time since I’d done a journey.

I pulled in close to showtime, avoiding roosters and stable hands at the farm that was loaning us the space: a large barn loft, beautiful with its wooden floors and high beams. Inching my way past the caterpillar on the stairs, I made my way into the loft, carefully opening the door to avoid letting the warmer air escape, nor any barn cats that may be awaiting their chance.

Monika, the workshop leader, is a shamanic healer in the DMV area. I’d had the chance to meet her and attend one of her workshops at Frederick Pagan Pride Day this year, and I was both impressed and a bit smitten by her. She’s a sweet person, and conscious of her role in her own life and communities. Having enjoyed the workshop she gave and the short journey she led us through, I was intrigued to attend this journey session and see what I would see.


For the first journey, we aimed to travel to a helping spirit to bring us to an ancestor, so that we could ask them what gifts and blessings we received because of their life.  Monika began the music, and I pulled my hood over my face to bring myself into the darkness.

I walked along the path, finding myself in the apple orchard I frequent. A dry creek bed is hidden past the trees, not the flowing stream that I usually see. The trees are bare, their leaves gone for the winter.

I walk along the path until the orchard opens up into a clearing. Only a few years away there is a large graveyard,  headstones dotting the grass without order, their names illegible. I walk purposefully towards the yew, and make my way through the roots of the tree.

It is dark within here, but I find the tunnel and begin to make my way through, eventually coming out at the base of another tree, of My Tree, the large sylvan beast that I typically find myself entering this world from beneath. But, instead of standing at the top of the hill, before me spreads a wide expanse of dry prairie and scrubland, with two tall stones standing on either side of the entrance. I sit before one of the stones, and I wait.

At some point, the dog appeared, a collie snuggled beside me. He seemed larger than he was, but didn’t appear to be much bigger than others of his breed, at least not to my eyes. We stood and I followed him as we walked into the dry lands.

Cresting a dune, I looked down to see a large circle of people dancing in the dark, all clad in white, dancing around a fire. I watched for a while, unable to make out details from so far away, then followed my guide as he continued through the expanse. In the distance again, I caught sight of two men, battling with swords as they stood in the rain atop a ship’s deck. One slipped and fell to his knees, but the other did not kill him, though he was the victor. He showed mercy, and the scene faded.

At the far end of the prairie, we came to the edge of a forest. I began to crawl through the forest, over roots and fallen trees. In a small grove, sunlight broke through the thick canopy, and I knelt in the patch of light and began to dig, dirt quickly caking my fingernails. The earth was cold and wet beneath my fingers, and eventually I came to a skull, then slowly uncovered the rest of a skeleton—my own skeleton.

A crow came and landed on my shoulder, and at some point, my collie guide began a young woman, watching me as I dug up the skeleton that was my skeleton.

In the hole in the ground, I lay myself atop my skeleton in the damp earth, and I watched the trees above me until it was time to return.

As I came back, I ran, fleet-footed through the forest and through the desert back to the boulder. I lay my hand against the rock that was not there, then licked both stones standing beside the entrance to the tunnel. We ran, and as I went down the tunnel, the crow cawed and flew back behind me. Eventually, I was back beneath the yew tree, and I clawed myself out from under it, digging my way back to the surface. Emerging from its roots, I took a handful of water from the pool near me, lifting it to my mouth, then spraying it back upon the yew’s trunk in thanks.

I ran again, back down the orchard path, toward the cliff where I had started, and back to my body.


Our second journey was once more traveling to a helping spirit, to ask about the struggles and blockages we inherited from our family. We were to ask if our ancestor(s) could help us, work with us to cut away that particular influence in our lives.

Once more beneath My Tree, I stood by the standing stones. A crow joined me from the air, and a snake beside my feet. Once more, we made our way to the forest.

It was the same forest where I found my body, but we did not go beyond its edge. I stood there, surrounded by figures dressed in white who surrounded me, encircled me.

I drew the knife from my pocket and reached forward until I gripped the heavy, cold iron cord that bound me to the woman who had nearly killed me, the one I had thought to be my best friend.

It was a thin strip of iron, not unlike rebar, growing from the middle of my chest, out of my own heart. It was straight and cold, black like cast iron.

The woman appeared at the other end of the cord, and as I sawed back and forth across the iron band, my ancestors would come with buckets of water, pouring them over the iron as it heated from my efforts. Finally, I made it through the cord, my arm becoming weightless as it no longer had the iron holding it up. I lifted my hands, and I blasted her with my desire for her to be gone, casting her out of my life and into the depths of the forest.

Hiatus

If you haven’t already guessed, I am on a bit of a hiatus at the moment. I have a huge, non-religious project that I have been working on this month and will carry me into December. It’s extremely important to me and my future, so I am dedicating all my spare time to it. Additionally, now is the busy time at my work, and I am assisting on a few other time-sensitive projects, so blogging has taken something of a back burner role.

I would like to catch up on my shadow work posts, and I have a half dozen other posts that I want to write, but I do not currently have the time to do them justice. Hopefully, I will be able to catch up with the shadow work posts for June, July, and August (which I will likely end up lumping into one post), but I can’t be certain. My days are booked solid until early December, though, so I will likely not return before Yule.

See you on the other side! And wish me luck!

-Kaye

A Witch Who Cannot Heal

I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

I’ve been mulling a great deal the last several weeks over my shadow work progress. The entire point of 2016 for me is to work on myself, to deal with the issues I have with myself and my history, those things in my past that have marked me deeply. And I had to make a hard assessment of my efforts. And truth is, they haven’t been enough.

I haven’t been taking this seriously. I haven’t been taking myself seriously.

There’s a saying that “a witch who cannot hex cannot heal,” meaning that a witch who is unable to harm another, who is unable to cause hurt, is unable to heal it when it is brought to them. We cannot know the light without experiencing the darkness, for we do not know the light without the shadows it casts.

So, I made a choice. To take myself seriously, to take my healing seriously. To express myself, instead of bundling all my pain and hurt in my heart, mind, and soul.

Shadow Work journal

I pulled out the journal I had bought months ago and sat down with it, writing my current frustrations and pains on the pages.

It was not a lot, but it was something, and a small wound is now less red, less inflamed than it had been.

 

 

It’s amazing how some color and washi tape can make you feel happier.

I love how bright it is. With the colors and the flowers. Not what I was expecting.

Red

Shadow Work journal2I sent my best friend some pictures of the projects I’ve been working on, mostly the new bullet journal I started this weekend, but also a shot of my shadow work journal here.

I had inscribed a number of quotes after my first entry, all dealing with the shadow self, with shadow work. Quotes that have affected me or inspired me in some way along this darkened path. So many colors, and so bright.

“That’s the point,” I told her when she commented on it. And it is. I don’t want to sit in darkness anymore, and I need outlets for my creativity. I need some color in my life, even if it’s just ink on the page.

shadow work altar1.jpg

This journal will sit on the small altar I have set up atop my bookshelf in my office. It will sit upon the black scarf I have, with the candle and jar spells that I did for 2016. The small and empty jar of sourwood honey has a lavender candy spoon inside it from Sionnan and Penny from our equinox ritual last March, an attempt to hold onto my spoons as I deal with how much my mental illnesses take out of me in day-to-day life. The box I’ve had for years, almost as long as I’ve been Pagan, and in it are stones and items to bring me peace, joy, and courage.

Time to take this seriously now.