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.

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The Cave

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Until We Have Forgotten Them

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To Trouble the Water

It was Saturday again. We gathered once more at Chase‘s apartment, this time four of us instead of three: Chase, Sionnan, Bear, and myself. It was a night of merriment, of friendship, of spiked cider, of divination cards and runes and acorns.

We asked the cards many things, but the one that stuck out the most was when we asked the cards what we needed to leave behind in 2015 as we go into the new year.

Back on Samhain, Chase, Sionnan, and I met up to celebrate and to honor our ancestors. Then, too, we read cards and the Ogham. It was then that we asked what we were expected to do, what to look for, and what would come next. Then, I got a reading telling me that I needed to work with water.

I spoke briefly last year about how I have never quite gotten along with Water as an element. This still holds true. Before the readings, I had shared that I am so anti-water in my life that when there is running water nearby, I cannot hear what people say. There is just something about it that drowns out words, forcing me to only listen to the sound of the water as it runs.

This time, we asked the cards a new question, what we should leave behind in this old year as we go into the new.

And so, we each drew three cards.

Earthbound Troll_1

[Photo: Three card draw of the Earthbound Oracle. First card is “illuminate,” an eye with lit candles for its upper lid; second card is “earth,” the alchemical symbol for earth superimposed with mountains and a bone laying beneath it; and the third card is “healing,” a sparrow in flight with three arrows coming towards it.]

“Haha, very funny,” I thought. The earth was obvious, but after a moment I realized the other two cards had fire and air associations. I brought this up at my turn to discuss the cards I had drawn.

As the others spoke of their results, I grew curious and decided to draw a second set of three cards. For clarification, I told myself.

Earthbound Troll_2

[Photo: Three card draw of the Earthbound Oracle. First card is “toxic,” with a variety of poisonous herbs and fungi surrounding an intersecting fire and water alchemical symbols sigil (includes foxglove and fly agaric); second card is “fire,” the alchemical symbol for fire superimposed with flames and a ruby laying above it; and the third card is “self,” a green and brown heart with a blue eye in its center.]

Not weird. Not weird at all. I shared this result with the table and, with each of them watching, drew another two cards, pausing before I drew the second, the middle card.

Earthbound Troll_3

[Photo: Two card draw of the Earthbound Oracle. First card is “guide,” a compass with the Norse sigil “Vegvísir” to prevent getting lost; second card is “sol,” a painting of the Sun.]

I breathed a sigh of relief, to the amusement of the table. By now, each of us were watching me draw cards and waiting for the results. I drew the third card automatically, then stood up and walked away from the table, swearing.

Earthbound Troll_4

[Photo: Three card draw of the Earthbound Oracle. The first two cards are “guide” and “sol” from the previous photo; the third card is “air,” the alchemical symbol for air superimposed with clouds with a feather floating above its tip.]

It took some time for me to gather myself together. After storming away from the table, swearing and cursing and demanding to know why, I leaned against the wall before the door to Chase’s apartment and slid down its height before sitting on the floor before the entrance.

I can’t remember all I said, but it was not pretty. After a minute or two, I stood again and went back to the table. I sat, picked up the rest of my deck, and began flipping cards.

“What are you doing?” someone asked. I did not look up, merely kept flipping cards.

“I want to know where water is,” I replied, not taking my hands off the cards I had laid down.

“I bet it will be the last one,” someone else said. I shook my head, knowing full well where I would find it.

“No,” I told them, still drawing cards. “It will be the second to last, because I have already seen the last card: simplicity.”

I drew until I had three cards in my hand, then flipped over the third-to-last card. Not water.

Earthbound Troll_5.jpg

[Photo: The Earthbound Oracle in a pile over the previously drawn cards. The card for “water” is on top with one card flipped over beside it.]

I showed them all the second-to-last card without looking at it myself, then lay it on the table.

 

VI. The Lovers

Reach out and touch the fire.

Often, I think of what I want out of my spirituality. Why I bother pursuing my ideas of the gods, relationships with deity and spirit, and why I keep writing on it. In truth, it is because I want my spirituality to come to me as naturally as breathing or speaking.

This has been a goal of mine for some time, but it is still something I struggle to achieve. It is something that I think of in the times when I have no time, or just before I doze off each night. So I have begun to look at it a lot like when I started taking Prozac, to make a conscious effort at it each day. In some ways, it is easier now; in other ways, it’s still difficult. I imagine it will be for quite a while yet, but my goal is still there.

When we started looking for a new place, my boyfriend and I agreed to go for a two-bedroom apartment. The main reason for this was because our old place just didn’t have enough room for us both to get our own space, so we ended up starting to argue a lot and generally get on one another’s nerves. Additionally, I lamented that the only space I had to share with my gods was in the bedroom, off in the back corner where I didn’t see it every day or, if I did, it was a glance and quickly forgotten. So when we began getting ready to move into the new apartment last May, I began to think about how to remind myself on a regular basis to practice and have visual cues for my gods.

The Lovers Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
The Lovers
Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

In my office, as soon as you walk in, you see the shrines that my boyfriend painstakingly set up on the wall. Each of my gods has their own shelf-shrine and there is also one for the ancestors and one for the land spirits. Below it is the large table that I use as an altar, currently set up for The Morrigan later this week. I see these shrines each day, but I need to make more of an effort to engage with them and make offerings to my gods of flame, smoke, and breath.

The Lovers card reminds me of this relationship between my mundane and mystical lives and how I aim to compromise on both sides, as well as bring them together in balance. It is a struggle that I deal with each day as my day-to-day and non-religious life events prevent me from doing as I like – or so I think each day. But I want to break away from that thought and consciously live, be aware of each moment of my life and bring it into the sensation of my spirituality.

In some ways, I manage this. When I have a few spare moments to sit and take a deep breath, I close my eyes and try to recognize the sensation of being alive and the feeling of the world around me. Sometimes it catches me off-guard, like when a breeze comes up behind me, its currents eddying over my skin. Other times, I get so focused in other things, I forget to find importance in it. I am trying, though, to appreciate and find the ability to love what I do and what the world offers, in all its forms.

V. The Hierophant

Stretch your roots deep into the Earth and feel the ages past.

During my darkest period, I spent much of my time reflecting on the need for a deeper meaning. I wished and lusted for a sense that my life was not only important, but that there was a reason for my personal suffering.

In 2012, I was reaching the end of a heart-wrenching fallow time, what I typically refer to as my spiritual depression. My connection to my patron Anubis seemed to have severed. I felt lost and hollow and I suffered both spiritually and emotionally. But as graduation rolled around and I began to set a course for my personal life, moving from Chicago to Washington, D.C. with my boyfriend, I began to feel more of a purpose, more of a focus on my spirituality.

The Hierophant Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

My spiritual depression, however, was marked by periods where I would “fall” into The Forest (sometimes referred to as The Forest of Faith, or as you can see above, the Wood of Smoke and Bone, that place where the aetheric and the earthly combine). These events were typically times where my eyes would glaze over and I would sense myself in battered clothes, barefoot and groping my way through a dark wood. Once, I slipped and fell to my knees, then collapse on the forest floor, bits of old wood and rotting leaves pressing into my face. It was this time that The Morrigan came into my life, urging me to pursue my own path. Later, I would find myself once more in darkness, only to plunge my hands into my chest and pull out the knotted, gnarled rope that bound my heart and release the tiny spark of flame within. I used that flame to light a lantern to help guide me through the darkness, finally starting to make my way once more to something resembling a path. It was dank and covered in brush and brambles, but I began to pick my way along it when I found it, letting thorn and stone mark my feet as I made my way.

Then, in the winter of 2012, I began to lose my mind. It’s an old story, and one I don’t like telling too much. Many of those reading this likely already have some indication of that time. During this time, I fell hard on my beliefs and my gods; fervent prayer became the focus of my life as I begged my gods to help me maintain some semblance of myself. Eventually, through therapy and medication (and the help of my gods), I arrived to where I am today.

As I mused on the Hierophant the last week or so, I honestly wasn’t sure what to write. This card denotes wisdom and knowledge, and I suppose it represents more of a goal for me than where I am in my life currently. It is a combination of scholar and mystic, two things that, it seems, I have been forever attempting to reconcile, but with much difficulty. I desire a strong academic foundation, but do not want to lose sight of the arcane mysteries of the world, or even that which lays beyond it. Once more, I find myself burning with the fervent desire of one kindling their passions and aiming to rebuild those things important to them. For me, that is my religion and my spirituality. And as I learn more and act more, I hope to find them.

IV. The Emperor

To build, to celebrate, to become; these are the symbols of our lives.

Another hard one this week, made evident by the fact that this post is a week late. I’ll admit, the Emperor is not a card I feel much resonance with, for all my masculine energy and the personality traits that found in me and the card’s symbols.

Looking at this card, the main things that stick out to me are the carvings of animals behind him and the tree roots that bind him to the earth. There is a lineage to this man, to his nature. He is one of many in a long line.

The Emperor Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
The Emperor
Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

I suppose this is why the card does not resonate with me. I have never felt rooted in any one area of my life, my heritage, my being. Years ago, I remember my mother telling me as Sara Evans’ “Born to Fly” played on the radio, “This is your song.” It was an off-hand comment as we drove to my grandparents’ new home in New Mexico, but I can remember that moment so clearly, the desert and scrubland visible through the window as I listened to the words of the song:

I’ve been tellin’ my dreams to the scarecrow
‘Bout the places that I’d like to see.
I said, “Friend, do you think I’ll ever get there?”
Ah, but he just stands there smilin’ back at me.

…But how do you wait for heaven?
And who has that much time?
And how do you keep your feet on the ground,
When you know that you were born, you were born to fly?

…Yeah, ’cause I will soar away like the blackbird.
I will blow in the wind like a seed.
I will plant my heart in the garden of my dreams,
And I will grow up where I’ll wander wild and free.

-Excerpts from “Born to Fly” by Sara Evans

Over the years, I have examined my relationships with the elements. Air and Fire, the liminal elements have always resonated so strongly with me. I have spoken on my relationship with Water some previously, so I won’t continue with that just now. Earth, however, is something that I have always pursued and desired in my life. That sense of rootedness, I guess, that comes with its resonance. Something resembling an…identity, I guess. When you belong to many groups, you feel as though you belong to none. This is the root of many of my struggles and what often causes my frustrations and disappointments to get the better of me.

Applying this to my religious and spiritual perspectives, though, I can easily find connections. While the card itself might not resonate with me and my personality, I can find some allegories for my spiritual experiences. The draw I feel to revivalism, the renaissance of ancient cultures and their practices is easily seen in this card’s meaning. To create “order out of chaos” is difficult in this respect, but that is the goal of this project, this Tarot Journey.

II. The High Priestess

When I looked up the third card of the Majors in the Shadowscapes deck, I got really confused. I realized when looking at the webpage that I have never actually drawn this card in a reading in the several years I have had the deck. So, trying to figure out what to write for this week and mulling on the meaning of the card for myself and my path was difficult, to say the least.

02_TheHighPriestess
The High Priestess Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

There have been a lot of developments in the last week here at my place. I’ve come closer to finishing several of my shrines to my deities and things have come to pass that have allowed me to purchase books to continue my studies of my various deities and further develop my practice. I now have Persephone Unveiled, which coincidentally arrived today; Bearing Torches, a devotional anthology for Hekate; The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Faeries, a book I have actually used in some of my former college papers; Queen of the Sacred Way, another devotional, this one in honor of Persephone; and several Kindle books, including Hekate: Liminal Rites, Hekate: Her Sacred Fires, The Temple of Hekate, T. Thorn Coyle’s Crafting A Daily Practice, and A Druid’s Tale.

As I mentioned in my first Tarot-themed entry, I have been reading Coyle’s Evolutionary Witchcraft as well. Her writings, while focused on the Feri tradition, have inspired me to think more about some aspects of my path. These ideas I will get into in later entries, after I have finished the book. (I have also started working through her Crafting A Daily Practice, which I find a little less applicable, but I am not very far in the text just yet.)

All of these, however, have gotten me on the path towards the High Priestess. In the Shadowscapes Tarot, she is accompanied by the owl, a noted keeper of knowledge; that same bird bears a key in its claws, with which he shall unlock various mysteries. Until then, though, these mysteries remain elusive and unlearned, the same status that I currently find myself in. In her hand, too, she bears the pomegranate fruit, sliced open, its shocking red seeds born for all to see. Fallen, yellow leaves adorn her belt of twigs and grasses, signifying autumn, the season of change.

I haven’t talked much about my relationship with Persephone here, but a key aspect of it is that she has urged, in various ways, for me to pursue shadow work of various kinds, both mundane and magical. In the last year and a half, I have been in therapy to deal with the psychological issues I have struggled with for much of my life. I have also begun, slowly, to do my own psychological delving – or, possibly, traveling – in order to deal with my issues and problems. Facing my flaws has been a key theme of this year, and I have Persephone to thank for pushing me that way. (Though, quite frankly, The Morrigan threw me on the beginnings of this path years ago.)

This card, despite its lack of presence in the past, has struck me now that I sit here to write on my thoughts and developments associated with it. In a way, it encompasses exactly what I am attempting to do: better myself through self-education, improve my interactions with myself and those around me, develop a stronger spiritual practice, and to honor my gods the way they have honored me throughout my life. But, most significantly, it is change, as denoted through the autumn leaves hanging from the Priestess’s belt.

When I first began thinking of devoting specific online presences for my spiritual path, whatever it is, I struggled with a name for what I was doing. There is no name for the path that I follow; it simply is a wandering journey through a dark forest in many respects. But as I tried to figure out what, exactly, I was looking for, it started to become a little more clear.

Change has always occurred in my practice. Anyone who has known me for a while religiously or spiritually, or anyone who has followed the various blogs I have started and abandoned over the years can attest to this. I refuse to remain stagnant; I am a spiritual nomad, of a sort. I always want to grow and develop. Autumn is the strongest symbol of this for me, with its progression from the lush green of spring and summer to the cold and harsh depths of winter. It is the fiery time when the earth explodes with color and reminds us of the need to shake off the old to make way for the new; it is the time of winds that push us down paths we may not have normally come across. It is also my favorite time of year, the season during which I spend most of my time in contemplation of my spiritual life, a tradition I began years ago. But I am always seeking, always searching. This, in effect, harkens back to the change symbolism of autumn. I cannot ever be satisfied, and so I am always in pursuit of more, whatever it may be. What better way to describe this than with a hunt?

And, so, we get the Autumn Hunt, the name I have more or less begun to call my path, though this is the first time I have admitted it to others. Or, even, myself.

I. The Magician

Shatter yourself into broken glass and rebuild the mosaic of your life.

In the Shadowscapes deck, The Magician has his connections to the elements. I find these appealing, these four classical elements that show themselves hanging from the young man’s wings: Fire, Air, Earth, Water. Personally, I have a temptation to add Light and Dark to the assembly; always have. But those four are chief in the way I see the world.

I see myself with connections to three of the four. My temper is my Fire; my calm is my Earth; my birth is my Air, as I was born in the sign of Gemini. I find myself drawn to the wind, to its gentle touch upon me. At night, I am restless without the cool breeze upon my body, lulling me to sleep.

The Magician Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
The Magician
Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

But I have never gotten along with Water. Not surprising, I suppose, since I have been so Fire-based my entire life. It was only in recent years that I felt drawn to Earth and Air, finding myself with these elements. Fire was the first, though. I still consider myself born of it, bathed in it, and its mortal enemy is Water. So how am I to reconcile with that which is my opposite?

Honestly, I don’t know.

The Magician is unique, to me, in that he has connections to illusory magic, or the sleight-of-hand magic that is common today. Smoke and mirrors to hide the truth, trick the mind and the eye. I consider myself to be extremely observant, a skill I have developed over the years, but even I can be fooled. We all can.

He is also akin to the Fool in that he finds himself shaking off barriers. The Magician is not bound by the world; he exists within it and makes the rules bend to him, his will. Yet he knows them, for one cannot manipulate the rules without knowing how they bend and break.

Most of my life I have spent in a state of hyper-awareness. Knowledge is my friend, however I may learn it. I collect it and bind it to me for use at a later time, yet this binds me as well. I have caged myself with the physical world and its limitations, yet my spirit and my self yearn for that which is past it. That which can only be learned through experience, not books.

I have been this way for years, terrified of finding myself outside the limits of my mind, of my imagination. Of finding myself a fool, actually. Tricking my mind and falling for that which is not real. But reality is subjective, I think. My truth and your truth may never match up, but we have still experienced that which leads us to that end.

I need to bring the tactile and the spiritual together, to bring the two sides of myself into reconciliation. This is another step in my path, another stone in the wall I build.