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.

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

Flying to the Sabbat

i. Friday

Driving down the dirt road, past the home at the head of the property, we traveled deeper into the woodland. Tall pines stood as sentinels, a small line of silver birch to our right as we passed the spiral.  It was Friday, May 27th, and we were finally here. After 11 hours of driving, I was finally back at Raven’s Knoll, with my friends there for their first time.

I waved to the spiral as we drove ever so slowly down the road, remembering my time there the previous year, clad in a dress with my hair veiled, a thick salve of mugwort slathered at the crest of my spine and red paint across my face, wrists, and ankles. We had danced barefoot in the midst of the spiral labyrinth, the fire casting long shadows from the center as the witches danced a spiral dance, raising energy and losing themselves to the animal within.

20160527_171221.jpgDown the road we drove, parking before the keystone fire and the main gathering area. We clambered out of the car and stretched, enjoying the scent of pine sap and thick loam on the humid breeze. I met my friend Andrea from the previous Sabbat as we all closed our doors at the same time and introduced her to my three companions—Chase, Brooke, and Sionnan—before leading the way up to the registration tent, where we met the organizers and attended to the mundane things we needed. The steward’s daughter led us to the trailer we were using for the weekend, and we unloaded our belongings, changed, and headed back to the main fire-pit.

It was still quiet, registration having been opened less than an hour. We sat at the table with the black-painted stang of juniper wood, and I trailed my fingers along it quietly, enjoying the feeling of the rough paint and the grooved wood beneath my hands. When Juniper came by to ask for some help bringing items to the Spiral for the opening ritual, Sionnan and I agreed to join her. She bade me hold the stang as she drove us up, and I stood her between my knees, holding the forked branch, and rested the butt of her against my foot. In the back of the cart, Sionnan held the basket of odd fabrics, black henbane seeds, and the ointment of bear fat we would be using in the ritual the next day. And as we approached the Spiral, I held firm to the stang, not wanting to harm her as we entered the labyrinth.

Round and round we drove, with Juniper having bid the spirits of the land that we were there to leave a few things, and thanking them for letting us enter and leave unharmed. I danced with the branches of pine, weaving the stang as best I could between them to avoid damage, to both the stang and the trees. We entered the grove in the center of the spiral and left the cart, and I handed the black stang to Juniper, who lay it before the Horned Lord. Sionnan passed her the basket of cloth and poisons, and she lay that before the ancestors stang.

I strode to the back of the grove, near the entrance, and bowed my head to the stang there. It was the stang I had helped prepare, had helped paint and slather with mugwort ointment. I bid hello to Bob, the stag skull and spirit at the crux of the stang, running my fingers along his orbital sockets, the same ones I had painted red a year before to give him sight. I showed Sionnan the offering I had made the previous year, pleased to see it was holding up despite the elements of wind and rain and snow. And then it was time to leave the grove, for a time.

We drove back to the center gathering, and Sionnan and I rejoined Chase and Brooke before the four of us assisted in moving the three tents to fix the houses for that year’s workshops. All of us moved together, and it was probably the smoothest I have ever seen a group of people work together—which is surprising, considering how difficult it usually is to get a group of Witches and Pagans together and do anything, at least in my experience.

Opening ritual began later, and we greeted the various land spirits, both at Gnome Home and at the Spiral, as well as opened the temple and greeted the keystone fire-pit, where much of our time would be spent. We left offerings at the stangs in the spiral, and I once more bid Bob hello, leaving offerings of herbs, barley, and corn from home for him and the others. We brought the stang back to the fire-pit, as well as that year’s herb of black henbane. Our group of four stopped at the entrance of the spiral and left our offerings for the land spirits there, so different from their counterparts at the other half of the campground, before adjourning for dinner.

My group and I headed back to our trailer for a time to rest and eat dinner before the Bardic Circle that night. We smoked hand-rolled cigarettes of mugwort Sionnan had made and brought with her, and we drank the Viking Blood mead I had brought with me from home. With Chase still nervous about singing that evening at the circle, we thought it best to loosen her up some before she sang to the whole assembly.

And then it was time to head back to the fire.

It was not quite time for the circle when we arrived with our chairs and mead. I remember stepping aside to do something and catching Sarah Lawless passing by me. I was excited, having met her the previous year, but also for another reason: I had e-mailed her not long ago asking if she would have any rowan wood and berries to sell me, as I knew she had access to them. Sadly, she was unable to spare any due to her own source needing significant tending, but she directed me to a couple of sources and I thanked her. However, I was excited for an entirely different reason.

Not long before, just a week actually, I had gotten my first tattoo. Two branches of rowan on my left arm, encircled by a red thread, with one branch in blossom and one bearing fruit. I lifted my sleeve to show her as we crossed paths and she complimented me on it, mentioning that she had seen it earlier and was pleased by it. I reintroduced myself to her and mentioned the e-mails we had exchanged, then introduced her to my friends Chase and Brooke. (Sionnan was off making friends elsewhere, but we introduced her when she rejoined us not long after.)

For those who have never met Sarah Lawless, she is a lovely woman. You can tell she has a great wealth of knowledge, but she’s also quite kind and easy to talk to, easy to respect. We spoke with her for a time, and I complained that my tattoo itched but I couldn’t scratch else I would risk damage and infection. A moment later, I was shown a tin in Sarah’s hand and she offered it to me as a preventative for the itching. I immediately latched onto it, stating that I trusted her (as I knew she knew her shit), and she laughed and asked what that said about me. I had no response, but was glad for the ointment she had offered me, and she slathered it on my arm, still consisting of small open wounds. It was a flying ointment she had brought with her, and between that, the mead, and the mugwort cigarettes, I was definitely flying high by the end of the night.

The circle began not long after, with Chase leading the charge. She sang as darkness fell completely, firelight dancing across her as she slowly seemed to draw power, from the song, from the fire, from all of us listening. I had heard her sing this tale before at Samhain, but it was different in the middle of the woods ’round a crackling fire, with the stars as our only witnesses above us. You could feel the crackling of the fire, feel the strength and emotion she poured into the words. And as she sang the last line and bowed, we all erupted into applause, both our small group and the entire rest of the Bardic Circle. And so the circle continued, with tale after tale, song after song, deep into the night.

It was a few hours before I began to doze off, falling asleep in the peace of the woods and the warmth of the fire that drove away the swarms of mosquitoes we had been fighting since we arrived, to the sound of voices telling tales of the gods and the spirits. Our small group headed back to our trailer, ducking out between presenters with murmured apologies as we headed to bed. I was tired, yet still flying high as the ointment and I had by this point become deeply entwined with the herbs of the ointment soaked into my skin, the smoke of mugwort in my lungs, and the mead in my blood. I felt relaxed, and powerful, as we walked back to the trailer, where Sionnan and Brooke opted to lay on the little platform before our door and look at the stars.

So many stars…it was as if the entire sky was a battle of darkness and light far, far away. The sky was so thick with them, and I could not recall seeing so many since my previous year at the Knoll.

We fell asleep not long after, each of us exhausted but content in our own ways.


ii. Saturday

It was early when we awoke on Saturday, the morning deliciously cool on our skin as we headed back to the main fire. The majority of the day would be workshops, with the main ritual in the evening and the second ritual in the dead of night.

Most of our group stuck to the same workshops, beginning with the “Am I Being Cursed?” discussion led by Juniper and Linda. We talked about how to differentiate between a curse and just bad luck, and Linda showed us her curse diagnostics board she had made in order to more readily tell what might be going on in her life, at least magically. Much of the discussion touched on things and concepts I was already familiar with, and when the workshop ended, we all headed out to Gnome Home to give offerings to the land spirits and bid them thank you for allowing us to be there that weekend. I gave more offerings of

The four of us switched from House Rowan to House Blackthorn to learn of Blessing and Blasting from Peter. I think we all agreed by the end of his presentation that we were a bit disappointed. The information he gave was good, but most of us knew many of the things he covered, and it felt more like a lecture than a workshop. Once it was over, we returned to Gnome Home as Chase had wanted to take photos of the shrine, but we had opted to see if there were any signs it was acceptable before doing so.

20160528_124455When we returned, we were quite surprised, as there was a small chipmunk sitting at the shrine, munching on the seeds, nuts, and corn people had offered to the land spirits. He sat in the small doorway of the mound and we were all smitten—and surprised—to receive such a visceral sign of acceptance of our offerings. For what else could it be? (Coincidence, yes…but given the circumstances and where we were, none of us were inclined to skepticism at that point.

Our photos taken and the confirmation of Brooke being a Disney Princess complete, we headed back to the main fire-pit to await the Stone Soup, a number of pots of hot soup made on the main fire, as well as stir-fry and a potluck of other foods. We each tried moose meat, and Chase introduced a Canadian to the delicacy that is Old Bay. We talked and laughed with those around us, and we sat and enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded by fellow witches and Pagans. It was comfortable, liberating, and calming to be able to discuss the things we had done over the years, to discuss magic without fear of judgement.

I had missed this, as even online, even in local groups, it is always hard to truly relax and discuss these things. I am lucky, though, in that the Fellowship and my friends are all very open, and we discuss magic and religion regularly. Even so, we were a small community, here in the midst of Canada, surrounded by thick pine trees and the silence of the forest, and no judgement would pass here.

Lunch adjourned and we returned to House Rowan to prepare the stang for the main ritual. Chase had opted to head back to the trailer to rest before the other workshops, but Sionnan ran back to get her when we learned we would be making charms for the stang, rather than simply discussing it or making other preparations.

20160528_173722Each of us crafted our own charm to banish something from the Knoll. I, remembering my charm from last year, filled a small glass bottle with rowan berries and other herbs, then braided a rope of red, black, and white threads to hang it from: white for protection, black for banishing, and red for power. My knife, my beloved working knife, I passed to a few others at the table to cut thread and herbs for their charms. I have used this blade for several years for all kinds of magic, and after handing it to one woman, she commented on the heavy sensation she got from it, the sense of power and of dedicated work. I smiled, pleased to hear it, pleased that the knife and I had built such a relationship that others were able to send its works, its history.

We made our charms and hung them from our necks or carried them throughout the rest of the afternoon, through the discussion of that year’s herb and our main ritual briefing, where we were told what the format of the ritual would be. Then, we adjourned once more for dinner, in order to change and prepare ourselves before heading to the drumming circle. Andrea joined us after dinner and we shared the cigarettes Sionnan had rolled, discussing religion and magic before heading out to the main rite.

I won’t go into the main ritual, as it was a powerful rite that would lose its magnificence if it were shared in too much detail. But we danced the circle round, banishing the horrible things people may bring to the Knoll, and casting our charms to the stang. We made offerings of water, of mead, of wine to the stang, pouring them thickly upon the axis mundi symbol. And we danced in circles ’round the fire, all of us laughing and drumming and stamping our feet as we danced, building energy to empower our spell.

Each of us did our own things for the next several hours. Gersande joined us at the table outside our trailer as we sat and smoked more mugwort Sionnan had rolled, discussing more magic and religion between the five of us. We drank wine, the dark Apothic Red Brooke had brought with her. We discussed the ritual briefly and wondered how the next rite would go. Each of us was a bit nervous, but the time came to change into our white clothes and join the others back at the main fire-pit.

The ritual didn’t begin until midnight that night, that Saturday. We all gathered at the main fire-pit to talk and take part in more community before heading to the Cauldron. At some point before midnight, the sky opened up and rain fell. Not thick, not heavy, just a gentle rain from the sky, with lightning in the distance and the distant echoes of thunder.

“Thor,” Brooke murmured to me, pointing towards the lightning. I smiled and said a quiet prayer to my god as he showed his face here in the land so thick with magic and faith.

With the stars above us like a dense veil, it turned to midnight and we began our procession. Sarah told us we could be as serious or silly as we liked, but our tone quickly turned solemn as we processed down the main road and toward the Drumming Circle, passing its entrance and heading to the dark shores of the Cauldron.

We were all dressed in white, the gentle lights from the stars above and the sliver of moon still visible illuminating us like spirits in the night. Ahead of us, Sarah began to sing, bearing a lantern in one hand, clad all in red with her dark hair trailing down her back.

“Strong as the ocean,

Gentle as rain,

River wash my tears away,

Aphrodite.”

Soon the whole procession had picked up the chant, each of us lending our voice to the words, with stars above us and the tall pines standing sentinel on either side of the path.

Slowly, ever so slowly, we made our way onto the shores of the Cauldron. There stood a man in black beside a fire, and not far from him stood two torches, their threshold covered in rose petals. We made a dense semi-circle around the edge of the inky black, for we could not see the water beyond the torches. Frogs were our music now, our large group quiet as we passed honey from hand to hand to bring sweet things into our lives. A bottle was passed, and some of the most delicious liquid I have ever tasted gilded my tongue. Sarah came ’round to each of us, a bottle of red wine in hand, and she took a swig before spraying each of us in turn with wine from her lips. Juniper, too, came ’round, spraying us each again, staining our white shirts and faces with the red liquid. Around again came Sarah, a large basin in her hands filled with water and rose petals. I dipped my hands inside, bringing the water to my face and my throat, cleansing myself as I murmured a prayer to the Morrigan and thought of what I wished to rid myself of.

And then it was time.

The first wave went inside the Cauldron, that spring that formed a huge pond beside the Drumming Circle. Bodies clad in white or sky went in and doused themselves in the clear water, plunging themselves beneath the surface before rejoining us on the shores. We four were in the second wave, and I muttered that I regretted all my life choices before rushing into the water, expecting it to be cold and frigid.

But it wasn’t. It was warm and tender, like a hug from a gentle lover, and I submerged myself beneath it, but did not let my face slide under. I rose from the water and splashed water upon my face, rinsing myself clean of all the sorrows and worries that I had carried with me to that point.

We all left the water with laughter on our breath, water dripping from our bodies and skin, before toweling off and heading back to the trailer that was our home for the weekend. Our moods were lighter, and we each commented on how refreshed we felt, the warm water still sticking to our skin. I fell asleep that night with a smile on my lips, laughter in my heart, and the now cooled water drying in my hair.


iii. Sunday

Sunday morning rose early for Brooke and me as we headed to the bathroom then returned to the trailer. She asked for the keys to grab something from the car and I handed them over, only learning a few hours later that she had fallen asleep in the backseat, shielded from all the spirits and magic of the last two days. Sionnan and Chase woke her, and we packed our things in the car, cleaned the trailer, and headed back in the car to the main fire-pit, parking it where we had first arrived that Friday.

The first workshops that day were on sigil magic and witches ladders. I had originally planned to attend the witches ladder workshop, but the number of smokers and delay in the start prompted me to wander back over to House Blackthorn and learn more on sigil magic.

Our presenter was good, her daughter assisting as she showed us several methods in ceremonial magic to create sigils, guiding us through the creation of one. She was attentive to all of our questions, and I was very pleased and happy to learn from her, for she clearly knew her works.

After the workshop, we had a delay between it and the next. I spoke with Chase as the others headed off to attend to a few things, and we opted to head back to Ottawa. All of us were exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and we all wanted air conditioning and no bugs in the coming hours. So we bid our goodbyes to those we had made friends with, both old and new, and began to get ready to leave. But as we were heading back to the car, Chase recalled that Auz, the steward of this land, had offered to take her up to the Aesir Ve and show her the shrine to Freyja. She asked if he would tell us how to get there, but he volunteered to take us all the way to the shrine trail, our group of three and another, as Sionnan had gone off to search for birch branches for her goddess and lady Frigga.

We crossed paths not far from the sacred birch grove and headed down the path back towards the Drumming Circle and the Cauldron. Sionnan spoke of her desire for birch and showed us the short branch she had picked up. Auz gifted her a larger one shortly after, saying that birch quickly rotted once it hit the ground and this new one would serve her better, longer. I won’t tell that tale, for it is hers to share if she wishes.

20160529_122333As we headed through the Drumming Circle, we bid hello to the stang, where it still stood and guarded the land before it would be processed to the spiral with its brethren later that day, at the closing ritual. The others ahead of me, I heard shouting to our left and looked up on the edge of the circle to see a very large dog at its crest. I smiled at him, for I adore dogs, and tried to shoo him back towards his family on the other side where the swam in the Cauldron, but he would not be deterred. He ran down to me and nuzzled my hands, and I gave him skritches beneath the chin and behind the ears before directing him back to his family. He headed back and I ran ahead to join the others where they began to walk the trail, finally catching up to them at the Jotunn Ve at the head of the path. I stood at the back of the group, not wanting to catch Loki’s eye, for though I have no oath to him, he and I have danced before.

We picked our way through the swampy earth, down the trail, passing the shrine to the huntress, to the tricksters, and a few others before coming to a short bridge with a sign. Auz bid us read the sign and leave all items not dedicated to the Aesir behind, as well as our phones, upon the ledge of the bridge. I slid my phone from my pocket and lay it on the ledge before following my friends to the entrance of the Ve.

Our hands clasped in his, Auz took our oaths to worship only the Aesir past the entrance, within the confines of the Ve, to not allow spit nor sweat nor other uncleanliness to taint the godpoles or the altar, and to swear not to bring violence into this holy place. As my friends spoke their oaths ahead of me, I waited my turn before clasping his hand.

“Who stands before the gods?” Auz asked me, and I gave him my name, the one given to me at birth. But that name has little meaning to me, so I gave him the two other names I go by, those that hold more power to me and the ones I share with my gods and my folk: Dodger and Kaye MacArthur, the latter of which I write under here. He paused a moment then took me oath to keep the Ve clean, to bring no violence within its bounds, and to only worship the Aesir there. I swore my oath and entered the Ve, joining my friends before the four tall poles for Freyja, Frigga, Odin, and Frey.

The five of us oathed, we stood before the gods as Auz greeted the gods and welcomed us to the Ve, welcomed us to the presence of the Aesir. It was warm there in the Ve, for there were no trees above us, only the large expanse of blue sky with the sun burning brightly above. Ahead of me, to my left, I could feel a faint presence of joviality and strength. Thor it was, I believe, just there enough for me to sense him again after Saturday night’s brief storm. I bid hello to the Old Man and spoke my prayers to the coin I then lay upon the altar. We bid our gods greetings and spoke prayers to them before leaving and bidding them farewell, heading back to the car. Auz told us that now that we were oathed, we were welcome any time back to the Ve, and if need be, we too could oath others into the sacred space. I felt a heavy hand upon my shoulder, not necessarily of a god or spirit, but rather a sense of responsibility as he spoke those words to us. To give an oath is one thing, but to take the oath of another, as a conduit for the gods? It is a great deal of responsibility, and I am still sorting out my thoughts on the matter, even now, a week later.

On the way back, I thanked Auz for bringing us, not just for me but for my two friends who have recently begun to follow Norse paths.

“She needed that,” I told him as we stepped through muck and mud.  “And so I thank you.”

All once more gathered together, we thanked Auz for his time and for taking us through the shrine trail. The four of us climbed into the SUV and I drove us back towards the entrance of the grounds. We rolled the windows down and bid goodbye to the spirits there, to the spirits of the Spiral, thanking them for allowing us to join them for that weekend.

Three of us plan to come back next year, and so we promised to return. And as we reached the threshold of Raven’s Knoll, we stopped again and once more bid the spirits of the land thanks, promising our return. But for now, it was goodbye, and we began the journey back to Ottawa, back to home.

To Pay a Debt

Sometimes we make promises. These promises fall on the wayside, we forget, and they become years out of date. We make excuses and we cast it off as nothing. After all, nothing’s happened so far due to us not keeping our promises. Why should anything happen if you continue not to follow through?

Years ago, my grandfather had an incident. He and my grandmother live in New Mexico and he picked up geocaching after they moved there from Chicago. One day, he decided to go for a cache up on a mountain. Day turned to afternoon turned to evening turned to night. My mother got a panicked call from my grandmother saying that he hadn’t come home, he wasn’t answering his phone, and the place he had gone was on a mountain with cougars, bears, and other terrors.

That night was the first night I clasped my hands and prayed. My first prayers were to Anubis, for my grandfather’s safe return; my second prayers were to Hermes. I had never worked with Hermes but I figured it was good to throw in another god, one associated with both mountains and travel.

The next morning, we got a call. “I’m going to kill him,” my grandmother said. A member of the search party she had called together found my grandfather walking down the mountain to his car, completely fine. Once it had gotten late and dark, he had gotten out the emergency supplies he carried with him, and slept on the mountainside.

I’ve made it up to Anubis over the years for that, I believe. Hermes, though….

For the last two nights, I have burned cedarwood incense before I go to take my shower and relax for the night. As I blow out the initial flame, I murmur into the rising smoke “I burn this in offering to Hermes for the debt I owe,” or something to that effect. Things have been going rather smoothly the last couple of days, so I’m hoping that means the offerings have been accepted. I intend to burn more of the incense, but as it is actually The Boyfriend’s, I will have to ask him before I commit to it past this week. That said, I still intend to make it up to Hermes, to repay my debt, with interest.

-From “What I Owe

I’ve been dragging my feet for a while now. The gods have long memories, and years ago I spoke words in thanks to the Messenger of the Gods, the Fleet-Footed Bastard (as I call him), the Silver-Tongued Menace (another loving nickname): Hermes.

The shrine was set up weeks ago, the “most passive-aggressive bare bones shrine ever” as Sionnan said to me this weekend. She’s right, and it became clear to me that she was not the only one who had noticed. I won’t go into the details, but after dropping off Chase on Monday night on our return trip from Canada, I drove over to the Crystal Fox just before closing and tried to find a statue. No dice (pun intended).

So, yesterday while I sat in my cubicle at work, I took a short break from work to order him a proper icon on Amazon Smile. I have known the one I wanted, if I were to get one anyway, for some time now, but the smallest I could find was a 9″ statue, so I put it in my cart and clicked “Submit Order” with bitter resentment. They told me it would arrive on Tuesday, but of course it came to my apartment office today, his day, the same day I was sent home after just an hour of work for looking like hell.

It sits on his shrine with cedarwood incense burning to ash beside it. I have not yet refreshed his offering of cool water, nor lit his candle, but he has a stronger presence now. And even know I can taste warm copper on my tongue and sense his wicked smile of triumph.

Hermes is not one for patience, apparently. Or, rather, he is patient…to a point. And then all hell breaks loose.

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Bone-weary

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

-“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

“I think you need a break,” my therapist said to me, after a half hour of my language and posture becoming more and more aggressive, my words harshening, growing more rapid as I tried to voice everything inside me.

She was speaking specifically about work, but my entire life has felt to be in free fall for quite some time.

I work a lot. On Tuesday, I pulled in over 14 hours. I finished this week well beyond 40 hours, and I’ve done the same the last several weeks as well. In 2016, I’ve had more weeks over 40 hours than at it.

I’ve let myself become taken for granted, and while most of my team is appreciative of my efforts and hard work, the one person in charge of my salary and raise is not impressed, from what I gather. Despite my hard work and my crosstraining on three separate positions, in addition to my own; my dedication to the quality of my work, which is why I regularly work late and often watch the sun set through the windows of my fifth-floor cube; and my constant requests for more work, leading my supervisor to think long and hard on various projects I can attend to during my downtime,  I have been informed that I am “not working hard enough.”

Color me furious.

But that anger has disappated, as I have so many other responsibilities on top of those with work: I am a partner to my boyfriend, a mother to my two dogs, a friend who wishes to maintain my relationships with those close to me, a leader in my own small community, a writer and blogger, a researcher, and oath bound to my gods. There is so much work to be done, yet every day passes and feels shorter than the last. I sleep too late, my body trying to tell me to hold back and take a breath. I have so much to do, yet the hours and minutes pass like so much sand between fingers that have lost the will to grip tight.

I am bone-weary.

As I came to reflect on the focus of my April shadow work, I examined the the card fate had dealt me: Protect–a stone lock enveloped with moss in its cracks, open with vines entwined around the mechanism, a long black feather deep in the keyhole.

I need to take better care of myself, protect myself from that which might rend me. I must find this balance between my outside responsibilities and those I owe myself, for I have allowed myself to sacrifice for other for so long, yet been unwilling to hold out for myself. To help myself, before I help others. And that has begun to break me.

I am tired. I am so very, very tired. And while I have miles to go before I sleep, I can see where I may lay my head down for a while, and it is not yet so far.

March Reflections on Time

wp-1459910902668Each month, I am lucky to have had a friend do a clarifying reading for me regarding the focus of my shadow work for that month. For March, Brooke was kind enough to do a clarifying bibliomancy reading for my shadow work focus, clarifying the card of the Earthbound Oracle I originally drew for March: Time.

Brooke reads from The Lord of the Rings series for her bibliomancy readings, and she received the “Song of Beren and Lúthien,” which you can read here.

 

We, as the readers, are supposed to recognize the parallels [between the “Song of Beren and Lúthien” and the tale of Aragorn and Arwen]: the love story of Aragorn and Arwen, another mortal man and Elven princess, is said to be “Beren and Lúthien come again”, the two being compared to their ancient ancestors of old. A huge theme of Lord of the Rings as a whole is this idea of rebirth (And destiny): Aragorn shedding his Strider persona and accepting his role as King, Frodo inheriting the Ring from Bilbo, Gandalf’s transformation (through which he literally dies and is reborn) from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White; Gollum being the one to destroy the ring even though he was the one who started all this; etc. Second chances, new life from old death, things coming full circle. Transformation and rebirth.

The reading you did for yourself spoke of Time. Remember that one of the key quotes form Lord of the Rings is Gandalf’s famous sentiment to Frodo that “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” I think that is relevant here, as well. If Aragorn and Arwen are the rebirths of Beren and Lúthien, what can you learn from that? Is there not hope in that? Is there not a beauty in that? While some things pass into memory and story, others live on; and it is through those stories that we are able to see the connections. We must turn our eyes forward, towards the horizon, and see the “big picture” – I think getting lost in detail is not what you need right now. You need to focus on the threads that weave everything together, not the differences that set things apart, if that makes sense. And through that, you need to make your own transformation(s).

I believe your Shadow Work for March should focus on time as it relates to rebirth – what do you need to transform right now, in your life, in the time you have left (because accepting your own mortality is a big part of all this)? Who do you need to transform into – what do you want to become (physically and metaphorically)? Are there aspects of your life you know you need to change, but up until now, you have been too unwilling/stubborn/lazy/half-hearted (either consciously or subconsciously) to make those changes? What connections can you see between your own life and the lives of those who came before you? What Gods do you feel can help you with become wiser, and able to see the big picture?

I’ve spent most of March, and even the beginning of April, mulling on this: What do I want in my life, and how can I get there?

This is a question that I’ve been posed before, and I can never quite answer it. When my previous therapist asked me what I wanted in life, I just shrugged and told her a dog. That was apparently not a good enough answer for her, neither was me expressing my desire to travel. But truly, my desires are quite simple.

As a freshman in high school, one of my peers asked me what I was most afraid of. I told them that I did not wish to die ignorant, that I wanted to learn as much as possible. In many ways, this is still my intent behind everything I do: I wish to learn, and I wish to experience new things. I have a very active mind, and the idea of it going stagnant or of not having mental stimulation (or at least not having the opportunity for mental stimulation) is terribly frightening to me.  So I must develop a road map to learning what I wish and come to terms that I will not be able to accomplish everything I desire—and this, too, is terrifying. I have so much I wish to do.


 

Late last year, I came to a decision, which I haven’t shared outside of one or two close friends, but I am making it public now. It’s a long-term goal, and one that I have an intense desire to one day achieve: I would like to be ordained, to become a Pagan minister or other clergy.

I’ve started doing what I can now, at the age of 26: researching opportunities for training, reading a variety of Pagan literature and philosophy, even that which I disagree with; and working on developing the Fellowship Beyond the Star, the interfaith Pagan group I founded with Chase two years ago.

It is a lot of work, and I think overall this is what the intent is behind my 2016 focus on shadow work: working towards becoming a stronger person, developing the strengths and skills I would need to one day be a Pagan minister, and strengthening my ties to my communities.


 

In a lot of ways, the reading Brooke did for me confirms this: the idea of rebirth, of not just growth but transformation and development. I am now at the stage of a chrysalis in many ways—and not just on this journey but on my life’s journey overall. I am a mere 26 years of age, and hopefully have many more years to go before this journey ends. And there is so very much more to be done.

The Gods of the Wild Wood

She is the river

He is the road

I stand between them

Neither one nor the other

But guided by both.

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Several years ago, I met the Stag Queen. She was silver and she was wild beauty, though “she” was never right for her. Still, she told me it was acceptable, and so it is what I use. I have seen her as a stag with a mighty rack of antlers, with long silver fur. I have ridden her to the river, and it was there I met the Other, the Dark Hound.

For years, I have questioned who these spirits are, though I have strongly felt them to be deities. I have laid shrines to them, know that the solstices are important to their worship, yet I know very little of either of them.

A few months back, I came across a picture that made me pause. Though, it was less the picture and moreso the description that came with it. The wild wood, the horned woman, she of the hidden paths…these connections made me pursue the thread of the Stag Queen as Elen of the Ways, from the Welsh pantheon. I put out a call on tumblr requesting confirmation that there was historical precedence for this goddess and asking for resources. The answers that came back were mostly affirmative, and a few offered me the resources I had requested. I ordered the two books recommended and began to read…

…And it fell flat. The book was a slog, full of “historical” claims without historical evidence, and the information made me uncomfortable, for it did not feel right with what I knew of the Stag Queen. Some things fit, many things outside the book fit, but it was still akin to putting a square peg into a round hole.

tumblr_najaj8IYTy1rxekheo1_500As I began this research, I perused the Welsh pantheon looking for an idea of who the Dark Hound might be. I know that he and the Stag Queen were of the same pantheon, so if I had a breakthrough with one, I knew that the other would follow shortly.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to two options: Gwyn ap Nudd and Arawn. I began to operate under the assumption he was the latter, especially after coming across a prayer that fit the epithet I most strongly associate with the Dark Hound: He Who Waits. Arawn fit much more strongly than Elen fit for the Stag Queen, though I still felt intrigued by what was offered by Gwyn ap Nudd, especially his blackened face, which felt appropriate given what I know.

And yet…two weeks ago, as I sat at my desk that Friday while working from home, I turned and faced the wall of shrines behind me. I looked at first the shrine to the Stag Queen, and I said aloud that I did not believe she was Elen of the Ways. And then I turned to the Dark Hound’s shrine, and said aloud that I thought it possible that he was Arawn or Gwyn ap Nudd. Still, the idea has been spinning in my mind as I ponder who they might be, for no other Welsh goddess fits with what I know of the Stag Queen, and I know they are of the same pantheon and intrinsically linked.

Which leads us to Saturday.

After our Persephone ritual, we sat and talked and divined and talked some more. Later in the evening, I found myself speaking with Brooke, expressing frustration over the Stag Queen and the Dark Hound. She listened then offered me the idea of Apollon and Artemis as the Dark Hound and the Stag Queen respectively.

I’ve wondered if the Stag Queen was Artemis in the past, though I never pursued it. Of all the goddesses that I have come across, Artemis fits the best with what I know of the Stag Queen: associations with hunter and prey; stag imagery; woodlands and forest imagery; silver, silver, and more silver; faint lunar associations, though she also insists upon solar; a sense of the chthonic; and a blending of gender, ending as neither female nor male, but both and neither. All things that have associations with Artemis.

And then Brooke shared something interesting with me. A few years ago, after she had stepped away from Kemeticism, I read of her encounters with a god she called “Lord Ghost.” He, too, was strongly associated with stags, especially a crown of antlers and bone, the same kind of crown I see the Stag Queen wearing from time to time. He was of the mountains, a strongly earthen deity. As she told me about him on Saturday, I felt drawn to it, as much of what she shared resonated with what I knew of the Stag Queen. And then she dropped the gauntlet: Lord Ghost was Artemis. She shared with me the Orphic hymn to Artemis:

[35] XXXV. TO DIANA [ARTEMIS]

The Fumigation from Manna.
Hear me, Jove’s [Zeus’] daughter, celebrated queen, Bacchian [Bromia] and Titan, of a noble mien:
In darts rejoicing and on all to shine, torch-bearing Goddess, Dictynna divine;
O’er births presiding, and thyself a maid, to labour-pangs imparting ready aid:
Dissolver of the zone and wrinkl’d care, fierce huntress, glorying in the Sylvan war:
Swift in the course, in dreadful arrows skill’d, wandering by night, rejoicing in the field:
Of manly form, erect, of bounteous mind, illustrious dæmon, nurse of human kind:
Immortal, earthly, bane of monsters fell, ’tis thine; blest maid, on woody hills to dwell:
Foe of the stag, whom woods and dogs delight, in endless youth who flourish fair and bright.
O, universal queen, august, divine, a various form, Cydonian pow’r, is thine:
Dread guardian Goddess, with benignant mind auspicious, come to mystic rites inclin’d
Give earth a store of beauteous fruits to bear, send gentle Peace, and Health with lovely hair,
And to the mountains drive Disease and Care.

-Source: http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html#35

It is line seven she drew my attention to: “Of manly form.” For Brooke, it fit that Lord Ghost, a deity she had assumed masculine or male, was actually Artemis, especially with the goddess being described as manly or masculine herself.

Then, our discussion turned to the Dark Hound. Brooke is a devotee of Apollon, in the Orphic tradition, and the mythology of the Orphics link Apollon with the image of a black wolf. We discussed the possibility of the Dark Hound being, possibly, a black wolf, thereby linking him to Apollon. What I know of the Dark Hound, which is very little, also fits:

You are the Unmaker

And you are breaking me

Piece by piece

Having waited so many moons

You carve into me

And unmake me

It is up to me to put myself together again.

-A poem for the Dark Hound

In the Orphic tradition, it is all about the Labyrinth, the deep darkness of the heart, where you are unmade and then put together again. Reading this piece I wrote months ago, when I was merely aiming to put down in words the ideas and thoughts running through my mind, I wonder if a part of me has known for a while, the idea that the Dark Hound may be Apollon.

I gave my personal book of prayers and notes to Brooke to read, showing her the two short prayers I had written for both the Stag Queen and the Dark Hound. Not knowing anything of either deity, she told me she would think these were written for Artemis and Apollon. And then she told me that she had kept quiet about this for quite a while, but that she had always wondered if these two deities of mine truly were Artemis and Apollon, coming to me in different guises than one might expect. And it made sense, and a part of me recognized a truth to this.

And still, I hesitate. There is something of the Hellenic pantheon that makes me pause before I take the step forward. Part of it, I think, is its popularity, and I often worry of whether I do something because it is my truth or if I do it because it is something that I have heard enough times that it becomes something of a truth. So, too, do I worry of the concept of hubris, though Brooke has explained it in a way that differs from what I have had foisted upon me in the past as its definition. It is, instead, now something I can  understand and perhaps even embrace.

Brooke lay the cards for me, confirming that whoever the Stag Queen is, she is very earthy, mountainous, and wild; she has the sense of the roots of the mountain. All these things I can trace back to Artemis. All of these things have a subtle ring of truth to them.

And yet still I am hesitant.

I am hesitant to agree that the Stag Queen is Artemis, that the Dark Hound is Apollon, though both I have felt drawn to since first beginning my way down this winding, twisting path. I wonder if I am so desperate for answers, for a face to put to the name, that I will accept this answer, not for truth, but because I wish it to be easier.

I have no idea who the Stag Queen is, nor the Dark Hound. It is possible they are Artemis and Apollon, though I still feel drawn to Gwyn ap Nudd of the Welsh. Elen has presented herself, but I do not believe she is the horned goddess I have felt in my life for the last five years. Of that, at least, I am sure.

It is possible, and I have wondered this these last few days, that Gwyn and Apollon are both the Dark Hound, both showing themselves to me as similar faces, and now is the time to accept them both into my life and on my path. After all, there is now an empty shelf on my wall of shrines, after I took down those for the land spirits and the ancestors yesterday.

Still, I don’t know. That’s part of the problem with this little thing we call religion, especially one as experiential as the various Pagan paths often are. In the end, though, all I can do is walk the path and pray that answers will come my way.

The Maiden’s Awakening 2016

For the last three years, once the crocuses bloom, daffodils spread like bright yellow wild fire, and the cherry blossoms burst into bloom, when night and day hang equal, I lay the altar down and bid welcome to Persephone as she returns to us as Kore. Last night, I joined seven others bidding her welcome back, spreading wildflowers behind her as she walked away from Hades and bid the flowers to once more spread across the earth.

Several weeks ago, Chase and I began to plan the ritual for Persephone-as-Kore for this year’s spring equinox. We used the basic outline of a Hellenic rite, from procession to offerings to closing, and tailored it to fit the space we had allotted to us and what we felt to be the most important. As the days passed and the time came nearer, our excitement grew until we were feverish with the desire for the 19th of March to arrive. Finally, the day came.

I woke early, despite having been up late cooking and preparing blessed water for the ritual the night before. The Boyfriend set up our bread machine to make the offering bread, and I packed the various items I had promised to bring for the altar: candles, libation pitchers, a bowl for the barley, and a plate for the bread. I checked and rechecked that I had everything and verified everything was clean and pure before the bread machine went off, letting us know that the loaf was ready to be brought out. It was later than I had wanted, but I finally left, burdened with bags of offerings and altar supplies. And despite the load, I was excited and thrilled for this day to finally be here.

Last year, just as this year, the forecast called for flurries, but unlike last year, we barely saw any snow, though the scents of cold and bones were on the breeze. I made the trek up to College Park to join Sionnan at her apartment to drop off the food, then we all went to the Fellowship Beyond the Star coffee talk at the local board game cafe, the Board and Brew.

This meeting was a special treat, as we had two guests from out of town in addition to our usual group: Penny and Brooke. I had met Penny the previous weekend when she and Sionnan had come down and I had shown them around Alexandria, but despite having known Brooke for a few years, we had not yet had the opportunity to meet in person. It was very satisfying and pleasing to finally meet her face-to-face, and I had a grand time talking with her throughout the day and the night.

Our Fellowship coffee talk is usually without a set topic, encouraging conversation to grow organically and go into whatever is in members’ minds at the moment. We discussed several things, including a mindblowing explanation from Brooke regarding Jewish theology and philosophy. We talked over coffee and tea and chai and good food, sometimes three distinct conversations happening at once. We were all enjoying ourselves so much, that instead of disbanding at 2PM as is our custom, we all opted to stay until after 3 o’clock to chat and talk and enjoy each other’s company.

Afterwards, we went our separate ways for the time being, mostly to pick up flowers for the night’s ritual. I had opted to bring a new daffodil plant, preferring to have fresh, living flowers to offer the Lady of Spring that evening, so I waited at Sionnan’s apartment building to pick up the food and take a few other items up to Chase’s apartment so everything would be ready for that evening.

The drive to her apartment is only about a half hour, and I came in with my arms full of food and eager to help set up the altar. Brooke answered the door as Chase was in the kitchen cooking chicken for the meal after, and her partner greeted me with a hug and warm welcome. As Chase and Brooke cooked, I put away the food I had brought and then began to clear off the table for the altar. We covered it in  white cloth, lay the earthen mound Chase had made in the middle, and set the libation glasses, basket for our wish papers, and the pillar candles on either side of the icon, which Chase gently placed upon the mound and we veiled in black cloth, wrapping the statue until she was covered entirely. We went through the ritual once more to ensure there were no issues or to work out any last-minute problems, then each to our own preparations.

Brooke had brought a wormwood elixir with her made by Sarah Lawless to help us achieve trance and a ritual mindset. I offered to be the test subject, and so two hours before people began to arrive, I down a short glass of wine with a few drops of elixir in it. (I felt comfortable with this after ingesting mugwort at the Witches Sabbat last year, and as someone also leading the ritual, would rather it be me to bear any ill effects than spread it around to the guests without at least some idea of what we were getting into.) I ended up having 19 drops throughout the night, well within the recommended 8-10 drops 1-3 times a day, and only noticed a calming of the mental beehive I typically call my mind. It helped me withdraw from earthly distractions and engage fully in both the ritual and the community meal we enjoyed after.

Sionnan and Penny were the first to arrive, bearing tea eggs and deviled eggs and wine and lavender candy spoons. We all sat in the living room enjoying bread and wine, cheese and meats, grapes and honey butter, discussing the ritual and other things, writing our wishes for the coming six months, what we wanted to manifest in our lives between now and the autumn equinox. Eventually, our entire group of eight was assembled, and we went through the ritual once more so everyone had an idea of what to expect. Brooke and I both blessed the holy water, with bay laurel and with silver, and I bathed myself in the lavender and rosemary scented waters, running it over my throat and wrists and hands.

And then it was time to begin.

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I stood at the doorway with Brooke before me, waving rose-scented incense over her. She stepped forward and then it was Chase, and on they went around the circle. Each was connected to the one before them and the one behind, bearing ribbons and flowers and wishes in both hands. They lay the ribbons behind them as they entered the ritual space, and then we began.

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I won’t go into detail of everything we did. It was highly experiential, and I don’t think I would do it justice to go through it here. But by the end, the icon was unveiled, libations were poured, and flowers were lay all across the altar. We thanked the Lady of Spring, our sweet Kore, for her gifts in our lives and then disbanded, but left the candles lit and the altar set. Chase set a chair before the table and invited us each to come into the space if we wanted a private word with the goddess after dinner. Throughout the night, I watched each of our circle silently disappear into the darkened room and have their private time with Persephone.

Dinner was divine, a pleasurable gathering of nine in the living room, sharing bread and wine and meat. We ate and we laughed, shared stories and spoke softly, threw the runes and laid the cards. I glanced at the clock at 9:30, and before I knew it, it was nearly midnight, though it had felt like only a few minutes had passed since I had last looked.

It was a wonderful night, full of laughter and reverence, full of community and personal piety. Midway through the ritual, I felt my eyes prick with tears, and as I spoke my own words in praise of the goddess, my voice broke in awe of this wonderful deity who had come calling me three years ago.

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Persephone has had a strong place in my life since then, and I am humbled that we were able to do such a ritual in her honor, to give such potent words and offerings to her, each of us.

Today, on the equinox itself, I cleansed my various shrines, washing them with the same sacred water I had made a few days before. I pulled down the skulls, the pomegranates, the darkness from Persephone’s shrine and laid it fresh with faux daffodils and soft pink roses. Each shrine was washed, the icons bathed, and the two middle shrines cleared off entirely. The land spirits shrine will be transferred to a cigar box courtesy of Bear, as will that of the ancestors. I have much to do with them still, but they are currently sitting on my working altar filled with herbs and offerings to consecrate them. Next weekend, I plan to gather several of the items I still need for them both and finish crafting them, but for now they will sit and I will wait.

For now, the middle shrine on the top row is bare, washed clean and waiting for whoever it is is meant to occupy that space. The shelf below it, though, has the barest hint of who will now be honored there, but that is a story for another time.

Mysterious Ways

It all started when I noticed the cleaning lady hadn’t been by for a couple of days.

I work a lot, and so I’m usually at my office after six, when the staff who works in our building to attend to the general upkeep (the cleaning staff) comes by. There’s a woman who works on my floor, who attends to the waste baskets and does general cleaning. I thank her when I see her, offer a smile, and wish her a good night if I see her when I leave. She’s sweet, older.

So when I saw she had been gone a few days, I got worried.

She came back later that week and I asked her where she had been, in English. That I had noticed and was worried about her.

But she didn’t speak English very well. Only a little, and I was so out of practice with my Spanish that I couldn’t think of how to ask. So she went off to continue her rounds and I finished up my work, and it left off kind of awkwardly.

The next night, I saw her again. Now, though, I was ready. I asked her in Spanish, broken as hell, if she had been okay and she told me she had been in the hospital. She’d slipped and hit her head. She was okay, but needed a couple of days.

Now, when I see her, we exchange a few words in my broken Spanish, which I understand better than I speak, and we talk a little.

Tonight, though, was different.

Like I said, I work a lot. I’ve been working even more the last couple of months, so my stress is high. Compounded by increased anxiety and being, much to my disdain, depressed and suicidal of late, I ended up staying late, upset, and was crying quietly at my desk, cleaning myself up with tissues and trying to stay quiet.

My boyfriend had said he’d come home early. His original plan was to stay late. They have a lot going on at his office right now, too. But when he learned I was in a downswing, he told me he’d come home and I agreed to drive him home from my office.

As I was waiting, I pulled out my copy of the Homeric Hymns. I’ve been carrying it around for several days, but hadn’t opened it yet. I wanted to read the hymn to Demeter, which speaks of my goddess Persephone. I had read a couple of pages when I heard the woman behind me, and I turned around to say hello, as had become our custom.

She paused a moment before asking if I was sick. I shook my head and said no, just sad. She asked why and I gave her a brief answer. I’ve been going through a lot of stuff the last several months, do I had plenty to choose from (though not a lot of vocabulary to explain). She asked if someone was sick, and I said no, just upset with me.

And she apologized and offered me a hug. You could tell I had been crying. My eyes were red, my face puffy. She hugged me and when she pulled away, she told me that God loves me and cares. I know she probably meant otherwise, the Christian god, but it caught me off guard that she would say God, not Jesus. I guess I’m just used to that phrasing.

And I felt…better. My downswing settled out and I started to feel less depressed. Here was a woman who knew nothing about me, only that I can speak a little Spanish. But she cared enough to ask and enough to comfort me. And it didn’t just feel like another person reaching out, but like something more was behind it, aside from human empathy.

Maybe it was Persephone. Maybe it was just a kind woman offering what she could to a lonely and sad person she talks to now and then. Maybe.

January Reflections on Voice

imageWhen I did my oracle reading for the year of 2016, the card that I drew for January was “voice,” the card showing a wolf howling with what looks like a night sky behind them, stained with deep blues, rich dark purples, and bleeding pinks, dotted with stars.

I won’t lie—this card confused the hell out of me. I had no idea what to expect in January.

About a week ago, after having wracked my brain for what this card could be trying to tell me, I finally decided to draw a new reading for clarification. With the blizzard that hit the East Coast this past weekend, I ended up working from home Monday and Tuesday since we were still pretty snowed in. Sitting at my desk, I pulled out my Earthbound Oracle, and I began to do a reading.

 

Resistance, Sleep, Cycle.

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The cards that showed up were easy enough to read in light of their overtone card, voice. Knowing when to speak up and when to hold my tongue. But why? What could I possibly need to do or realize with this? And so I felt no more clarification than I had when I first pulled the deck out again to read the cards.

And then I remember a reading a friend of mine did for me earlier this month. They were offering free Tarot readings on tumblr, and while I typically don’t request readings from others, I couldn’t resist. I knew that this year was going to be a rough one, tumultuous in terms of emotional rending and healing, mental chaos, and a lot of changes going on. But when they gave me the results of my question (What should the focus be for my shadow work this month?), the cards they sent back and the interpretation they gave hit me like a sack of bricks. I knew what I needed to do.

But gods damn, did I not want to do it.

See, the cards that Delffin sent back gave a general message of me confronting someone that has had a lot of control over my life, someone I had recently done a small battle with and that I was feeling drawn away from but I needed to fix the bridge between us.

And there was only one person who fit that bill: my mother.

I won’t go into details, because it’s highly personal and I don’t want people to think I’m dragging my own mother through the dirt. The truth is, we are very different people, and we have both had a great deal of trouble coming to terms with that. I am the eldest child, my parents’ first born, so it’s been tough for both of us. I love my mother, but like most of the people we love, she can be extremely frustrating. I had not spoken with her since before Christmas, and my maternal grandmother had reached out the previous week because she knew something was wrong but she did not know what and she wanted to know what was going on. I gave my side of the story, and we talked, but this was another sign of the universe bringing this once more to my attention.

And so after the clarification reading, with all of this in mind, I asked the cards how I should approach my mother.

Balance, Home, Self.

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Well, shit.

The Earthbound Oracle really does not pull any punches. I get nothing but pure honesty from these cards, and it’s always been highly specific about its answers to my questions. These cards are quite easy to interpret: finding a balance between my roots, my home, my mother, and that which makes me myself.

That is hard.

But the Universe wasn’t quite done sending me the message. My aunt, mother’s sister, and I had been talking of late, and after speaking with my grandmother, I had vented to her about my stress over the situation. She and I ended up Skyping later that day and talking about it some more, and she gave me some advice on how to approach my mother.

But I wasn’t ready. I put it off and put it off, and I didn’t want to do it.

I really did not want to do it.

But today, I did it. I sent my mother an email, very brief, and reached out.

And that’s the end of that, for now.

Shadow work is a real bitch.