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 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.

The Trial of the Maiden

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The prayer

Waking up today, I felt that everything was settled for Persephone’s rite. I walked Low-Key, got ready for work, and spent my day at the office mulling over what I would do.

Tuesdays, I typically go to therapy, but I had canceled yesterday. Lack of interest mostly, but I just wanted some time to myself. With Alec going week to week as well, I knew he’d be out of the apartment for a few hours so I’d be alone for awhile with just the dog for company.

The white bowl holds the beads that will eventually be remade into her prayer beads.

We traded placed, me giving Alec the keys so he could drive to his session and me heading in to take Low-Key for his evening walk and romp at the dog park. We played with the local dogs for a bit before heading home and I began to finish setting the altar for the rite. Most of it was set on Friday, when I had originally planned to do the ritual, but the snow had thrown me off. So, I opted to wait until things felt right—as they did this morning.

The last few items were key. A few bowls to make khernips and the new offering plates I had picked up for Persephone. My new workbook as I prep for the end of May (more to come later). My copy of her devotional anthology.

I followed the basic Hellenic offering ritual, found here, for tonight’s rite. Not to the letter, as that would make things too easy, but as a general guideline. I centered myself and approached the altar with purpose and lit the candles. Since my altar is against the wall, I lifted my offerings of dark chocolate with pomegranate, honey, and the sparrow skull necklace that came, unexpectedly, yesterday from Skullery. I made khernips of water, sea salt, and a smouldering bay leaf, and cleansed my hands with the water.

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The offerings

From there, I read a short prayer from my anthology and made my offerings, explaining what I was giving and why. The chocolate was simple enough, and my recent bout of kleptomania while at the Ritz Carlton for my company’s meeting earlier this month produced the honey. (Give a witch a jar, and all that. What else was I supposed to do when I discovered they set out the honey in these tiny jars?)

The necklace was different. It arrived yesterday, which I was not anticipating, as I expected it to take a bit longer, as my crow skull had a few months earlier. But, today, after I got home from work and got changed to take Low-Key out, I found my hands drawn to the small box it had arrived in, still sitting on the front table, and putting it around my neck. I offered it to the Maiden and the Queen, as sparrows remind me something of her. They, too, are often misjudged, and I see them throughout the year, as I see her throughout the year.

This year, I finished my rite with a Tarot reading, drawing three cards. One for the focus of my work these next two months; two, as the actions I should take; and three for what the outcome will be for the end of May. I have yet to sit down with these cards and fully ponder them, but their spread intrigues me: Seven of Cups, Knight of Pentacles, King of Swords.

Timing

Friday was the Spring Equinox here.

…And it snowed.

Yesterday was warmer, but it felt…off. Like something was missing. Today is much the same.

Friday was the anniversary of my beginning to work with Persephone. But, this year, it felt as though she were not quite ready to leave and rejoin us above ground yet. So I’ve been postponing my offerings and rite to her. Hopefully, tomorrow will have a better feel. The altar is set and I purchased the last pieces today, since my offering plate is missing. (Not sure where the hell that went?) I’m hoping to make some bread, but it may just be the chocolate and water this year.

More to come when the rite is done.

The Becoming of the Queen

I’ve never been much a fan of holidays, but as I delve deeper into practicing religion, I find it becoming an exciting venture.

Last week was the Autumn Equinox, the day I associate with the beginning of Persephone’s Descent. As the leaves begin to change, the days grown shorter and the nights grow cooler, this is the time that Kore fades and Khthonia once again dons her bone and laurel crown.

The Sunday before the Equinox, I lay the bones of the altar. A third table was erected in my office and temple room, beneath the wall of shrines. A black cloth was laid over it and I began the process of honoring Persephone by adding to its beauty.

Aesthetics are something that I have struggled with for some time when it comes to the practice side of my religion. When I build an altar or a shrine, I typically keep it simplistic. But in the last year, I have tried to branch out and incorporate beauty as well as function to my altar.

BecomingOfTheQueen1_2014The Tuesday of the Equinox, I set out the offerings: pomegranate soda for Persephone; grapes for Dionysus; homemade garlic pizza for Hekate; chocolate coins for Persephone and Charon; lavender incense for the lot. Each of these items hold different symbols and I wanted to honor different aspects of Persephone’s myths, as well as include those who I have begun to associate with her and this time of year: Hekate as her companion to Hades, Charon as the ferryman, and BecomingOfTheQueen2_2014Dionysus…for my own reasons.

I lay my Tarot deck on the altar with the intent of doing a reading, but I have yet to do it. It has not seemed the right time just yet, so it continues to lay on the dark cloth and wait.

Standing before the altar, I realized that I had little idea what I wanted to do. Such is often the case with these rites, at least in my personal practice. And, as I have before, I just began to talk aloud to Persephone and offer my words along with my gifts of food and drink. I thanked her for the presence and power she has had in my life, and for the patience she has shown me these last 18 months. It has been a wild ride, to say the least. As I spoke, I talked about my experiences living apart from my boyfriend while at college and that I knew how hard long-distance could be. (Obviously not on the same level, but being away from your lover in any capacity and for any extended length of time is difficult.)

As I was writing the tags for the tumblr photo post, I began thinking of a name for this day in my practice. The temporary names have been Feast days with the various epithets of my gods for those events, but that did not seem to fit for me anymore. I wanted to emphasize the Queen aspect of Persephone at this time of the year, but I wasn’t sure how. Eventually, I remembered a repeated phrase in the book I had been reading at the time, The Witch With No Name. In this book is the Goddess, a deity in the elven religion who spends most of her time on the page rejecting the possibility of “becoming.” This phrasing had stuck with me, repeating itself in my mind over and over again until I finally connected it with Persephone’s Descent. It fit, as each year, Persephone lays down her mantle of maiden and once again dons the royal cloak to stand beside her husband, as equal and powerful. It is something she has chosen, something she does willingly. She does not fight against the progression of the year nor her role in the Dance of Life and Death. She becomes as she wills, and this was a celebration of that.

To Keep an Oath

Last year, I made an oath to my gods. I swore on my hands, my mind, all that I was that once I could, I would honor them weekly.

As I walked to the grocery store today to get a few things, I began to feel that familiar urge to scream and the panic building up. And as I chanted my mantra under my breath, the new trigger words that I am trying to coax my brain into calming down, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. Tears threatened to fall and I raised my hands to chest level and begged the gods for strength. I begged them for the help to get through the week and next, that I did not want to spend my birthday in a mental ward, to help me get through The Boyfriend’s parents’ visit next week and give me the strength to get through my first session of therapy on Thursday. I swore on my hands, my mind, my body that once I could, I would give weekly offerings, sing their praises, and do anything that I could do for them. And I named them: Persephone, Hekate, Odin, Thor, the Stag Queen, The Morrigan, and my lord and patron Anubis.

-From “We Do No Oath

Between yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I will finally be able to start fulfilling that promise. Alec and I went to the store yesterday with the sole purpose of getting the shelves and altar space that I needed for shrines. We decided on ten one-square-foot shelves for everyone to get their own space (and a couple extra for non-divine shrines) and a table to match my other two desks in my office/temple room to serve as an altar for Work. Yesterday, he began installing the shelves on the wall near my door; I will not be able to enter the room without first seeing the shrines now. They will also be easy to use, clean, and leave offerings at as they are within my short reach (seeing as I am only 5’4″).

The altar table I plan to use for regular Tarot readings, and to serve as Workspace and holiday shrines/altars. I still have my bookshelf that served as my old altar and I will use that to store my books and, eventually, my journals and notes on various aspects of my path. The boxes of books and icons, candles and incense have been pulled out of the closet and sit on my art desk, waiting to be unpacked, cleansed, and sained once more. All I have to do is wait for the last screws to be drilled and then the next steps can begin, cleansing the spaces both physically and spiritually and then assembling the shrines.

There are still items to be bought and made, but I am happy to see these first steps being taken. I am happy that I can finally begin to fulfill my oath.

Kissing Twenty-Five Years

Birthdays have never really been a source of pleasure in my life. In the coming days, I build up a small hope, a sense of expectation that maybe, this year, things will be different. Maybe this year things won’t all go to hell in a hand basket on May 22.

When I awoke last Thursday, the plan was this: have a long, leisurely breakfast while reading; go to work an hour early; get out around 4PM; run a couple of quick errands; come home and relax until Alec came home and we got started on making dinner. But when I got up that day, early as I have been doing, I threw in a load of laundry and waited for it to dry before going to shower. Yet when I turned on the hot water…nothing came out. Try all the taps. Nothing is coming out. Call our front office and discover that they are replacing the water boilers today and didn’t you know? No, of course I didn’t. We only just moved in a week ago.

Thursday was not off to a great start. I lamented my day, had to contact work and explain the situation to them and cancel my day there. I waited and waited for the water to come back on and when it finally did, I had a realization: without work, even though the morning had been awful, the afternoon could be anything I wanted.

And I did do what I wanted. I went to the Indian place next door and ate the long, leisurely meal I had promised myself. I ran the few errands I needed to get done, namely grabbing charcoal and the steaks for the grill as Alec had promised me steak for my birthday. And then, food put away, I walked to the library across the street and began pulling out books on the various cultures that I have been interested in and their religions and cultures.

While wandering through the stacks, a book caught my eye. I stopped and set down the few books I had been carrying and pulled it off the shelf. There’s no way, I thought to myself as a memory clawed its way to the surface. But it was.

If you’ve known me for a while, you might remember the story of how Anubis came into my life. I was young, about ten years old, and had had a rough time that sixth grade year. But at my second school of three that year, I came across the Lord of Jackals. Or, rather, he came to me. Patron of orphans and lost souls, guide to travelers, and guardian he is. He came to me out of a textbook, a book we had had to read for class at that second school. Social studies, starting Ancient Egypt just after Ancient Greece, the unit they had wrapped up my first day there. I remember thumbing through that book and reading about the mummies and magic of the ancient world, my mind sparking with interest and intrigue. And then, a large jackal-headed man came to my attention as I was reading through this book.

Over the years, I have remembered the basic things about the book but never a name. Yet, as I pulled the book off the library shelf, I knew: it was that book. The one that had led me to Anubis and finally started me down this twisted, crooked path over the last fifteen years. As I flipped through its pages, I shook my head as memories came flooding back. Anubis was back, I realized. Months of quiet, as he is wont to do, but this book was a gift. A reminder of our relationship and that he is never truly gone from me.

Once finished with it, I set it aside fondly and skimmed through the other books that I had picked up, taking several notes and writing up the information on each. I pulled out the Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, a book that I have read many times, but as I read through the section on Black Dogs yet again, something caught my attention. It directed me to another entry, not just the Black Shuck of Britain. Curious, I headed into S and looked until I found it: the Snarly Yow. Oh yes, that’s what it’s called.

I had never heard of this tale before and my excitement grew when I read where it was rumored to have been seen: southern Maryland.

What a coincidence. I live in northern Virginia now.

Black Dogs, for those who don’t know, have been a research topic and interest of mine for several years. In college, I actually wrote a thesis on them for my folklore class. (It was more or less an excuse to read and relish the various mythologies and tales on the entity and get class credit, too.) When I was in my final year of college, I had hoped to apply to the Fulbright Scholarship to study the tales in England, but things never quite panned out. “One day,” I promised myself. “I will go to England to do primary research on Black Dogs.”

Reading that section was the greatest gift I could have received on my birthday. It’s been a week and yet all I can think about is the fact that I am so close to a site where this entity is said to roam. There are many legends of Black Dogs and they vary, but the creature itself is something that fascinates me. I can’t wait to go and attempt to track down the history and the legends of the spirit from that area.

My time at the library eventually ended and I headed home. Dinner was a bit of madness as since we were still in the process of moving, not everything was at the new apartment just yet. Still, it was a delicious meal and I set aside a plate for Anubis as a thank you for his gift that day, cutting the tenderloin from my t-bone and setting it on the plate for him. It is always my favorite part, and the primary reason why I love that cut, so its offering was important to me.Twenty-five years is a long time. A quarter of a century, as my mother keeps reminding me. Looking over my life, I have done much and it appears that I have a long way to go. This year, I have been given direction, if I choose to read my experiences that day as such. (And I do.) I have much to learn and much to experience in the coming months, and these next few weeks will be an opportunity as Alec will be out of town and not back until his birthday. I’ll have free reign, both of our apartment and of my time without someone else to come home to each night. And though I will miss him, this time away will do us both good.

The Lord of Jackals

He came to me tonight as I lay in the arms of my lover, my partner. The soft flesh beneath my fingers became taut, lean muscle and I felt him there. The Jackal, the mighty, He Who Gives Air in the Coffin. He is the god who works, his well-muscled form one of labor than one of vanity. The Beautiful Guardian calls my attention, demands it as his due. It is time.

My fingers, long disused for writing the praises of my gods, dusty and ill-used begin to ache in the light of a swelling moon. The great orb above that alights shadows, long and stretching along the floor.

My tongue feels heavy, like a pool of moonlit water lay upon my tongue, pressing against my teeth. I feared if I opened my lips, it would dribble down like mercury upon my breast. As my mind rushes with his name, the ones that light upon the wind, I sit up, pull myself from my lovers arms, and open my computer to its glowing screen. It has been too long, a small voice whispers in my mind. You swore upon your tongue and your hands that you would do this when you were able.

And yes, I am able. He is just the first of many. I close my eyes and listen to the harsh arid winds that pummel me from nowhere. He has brought the desert with him in his wake. There is the taste of burnt gold, acrid and bitter, upon my tongue, the same sense I get whenever he is nearby, demanding attention.

Oh, praise be to the Strict Gatekeeper! Glory to the Lord of the Two Lands! I worship you of the Powerful Face! I submit to you, Lord of the Night! Dua Anubis, the Guardian and the Guide! The One Who is Secret, the One of the Dark Desert! He of the Swathed Moon! Lord of Silver Light and Desert Dune! Silent Laughter of the Desert!

I hear you, my messenger. I hear you, my guide. Bid to me that what you will and I shall honor you as best as my body and my mind is capable.