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.
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.