Salvation of a Southern Witch

I am one of those people who goes way over-the-top celebrating just about anything. I throw themed parties, decorate with lavish holiday displays, and go all-out creating hand-made Halloween costumes.  I sing, dance, and laugh too loudly, and both divulge and indulge too much.  If ever there are shenanigans to be had, you can be sure that I will attend to them directly.

a woman in a fancy hat

Heron in her Ostara Bonnet / Heron Michelle

I’m 41 years old now, and I look back at decades of thoroughly enjoyed antics and I will admit to you right now, in front of the Gods and the entire internet, that I can appear to be completely ridiculous… compared to a muggle. I’m not everyone’s preferred cup-of-tea, but I am SO OK with that.

You see, some time ago a secret came busting out of my broom closet, to the shock and dismay of my conservative family and neighbors.  That pointy-hatted truth just refused to stay politely tucked away.  It was a wild, unfettered and jubilant truth…my raison d’etre…so why should it stay hidden?

Even though many fine and respectable people thought I’d lost my mind, people for whom I’d so long bent and subverted my truth in exchange for their acceptance; even though it meant that I’d leave broken-hearted from my long marriage, and cherished stay-at-home-mom gig; even though I’d choose not to use my college degree, and leave my well-paying profession behind, I eventually took my fundamentalist Christian mother’s advice and let my “little light shine” freely for all to see.  She used to say that we, as Christians, were a “peculiar people” and we should be proud of that. As it happens, I was even more peculiar than she would have appreciated. That, and witchery is an unstoppable force. Go figure.

Heron Michelle

Heron Michelle

Today, I am a public Witch in a deep-fried southern town, and as a matter of course, I do many of the things my mother said were “of the devil.”   I own a witchy store in our downtown in full view of my conservative neighbors. I teach openly about neo-paganism in religion classes at local colleges. (So far, no lynch mobs have formed, fingers crossed.) I am a priestess within a coven I’ve helped to found, teaching the occult mysteries year-round  to all responsible seekers.

On weekends, I offer past-life retrievals, magickal consultations and tarot card readings to clients.  I drum until my hands are numb, bellydance around bonfires, adorn beautiful people with mehndi body art at pagan festivals and have a fabulous, sovereign life of love and happiness.  Most days I will tell you that by taking the less-traveled path, it made all the difference, but that is the happy ending.

Gather ’round, my lovelies, and let Mama Heron tell you a story, the back-story, a Witch’s Come to Goddess tale…or as they say in the Southern Baptist church, let me !TESTIFY! about my “burning bush” moment, how I was “saved,” and accepted my sacred mission to be an agent of Divine Love.

The Witchling Awakens…and Completely Misses the Point

I now serve Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, but I was raised in “the fear and admonition of the Lord,” as my evangelical mother would regularly say.  It never felt right to be terrified of god like that, but when you are a child, what mama says is the gospel truth. What she preached to me was very upsetting, to say the least. I had my own truth, things I just knew, but mama would squash any of that talk. I remembered when I was a man in a past life, dying in WW1, but there was no room for reincarnation in her paradigm. This was very confusing, so I’d suffered through some childhood depression.  The adults in my life didn’t know what to do about it so it went untreated and not talked about. What does a middle-class, white kid in a loving family have to worry about anyway? I know now that this is pretty common for a young girl just awakening to the witch blood.

Eventually, I rejected both the religious teachings of my childhood, and any authority my mother held over my soul. Not to mention any respect I may have held for her. That sent me into a tailspin. I’d rejected the hatefulness, bigotry and isolation taught me by our church, but what else was there?  If I wasn’t a Christian, was I doomed?  In that black and white world of “with us or against us,” I thought I had only two options: Christian or Atheist. To them, atheism was on par with dancing with the Devil.  Yet, if there was no higher purpose to life, why bother?

Around that pivotal time of menarche, I lie in bed wide-awake one night when the room seemed particularly moonlit.  Clearly in my mind’s inner dialogue I admitted my worst adolescent fear: “There is no God. I am a freak. I am absolutely alone and this is all pointless.”  I pronounced it with petulant finality, anger and self-loathing.

That is when everything went haywire. Immediately, my senses were arrested. I lost control of my body and was pressed into the bed as though the gravity of God Almighty was in the room. I was unable to move, heart beating like crazy; flooded with adrenaline, I became hyper-aware.  The room became ten times brighter, filled with bluish moonlight. The silence screamed and my mind rang with the surety that I was NOT alone and I DID have a purpose to fulfill.  This did not come as a voice or in words and gave no clues to its identity, or gender.   I struggled against this force but I could not move, and it wouldn’t stop until I’d acknowledged it directly.  I gave in and admitted, “OK, I hear you! Maybe there is a god!”

As quickly as it began, it was gone. I was released and all returned to normal.  Still panting and tingling, adrenaline rushing, I looked around at the ordinary room.  I moved my fingers and stretched. I sat up and craned around to look out the window with it’s ordinary darkness. My rational mind kicked-in, skeptical. I thought, “I’m losing it. God did NOT just speak to me.” And I laid back down.

I am here to tell you that the whole thing repeated itself again twice as strong. I was taken hostage by my own body, pushed back into the bed.  The moon light intensified once again, as though a floodlight was at the window, and this time a voiceless chorus screamed through my….everything.  I was a budding clairvoyant, and I had a vision of what my sacred mission would entail many years in the future–the message was basically that I had to prepare myself. Just a glimpse and a knowing that there was a specific purpose for me in the future. I surrendered with, “OK, OK, I believe you!”  And it was all over.

“Hello, I’m Aphrodite” might have made the interpretation easier, but no, that is too easy, and it was not any one particular deity.  What I got was that it/he/she/they were BIG, INEFFABLE, and POWERFUL. What I heard was, “Shut up and listen, kid: THE UNIVERSE is ALIVE.”

Today I believe that the greatness of Spirit quickened within me, to give me just the right nudge so I didn’t give up in despair.  At the time, I thought I’d been “called to Christian ministry.”  My whole life I’d listened in church as preachers and missionaries took to the pulpit and testified about how God spoke to them and they knew they had to serve Him.

I was horror-struck.  I assumed the message was that I had to preach the gospel of Jesus. I started running from that fatby exploring just about any forbidden thing my mother warned me about. I read the banned books; I tried all the verboten things. I didn’t want the job and so I answered HELL NO.  In true, rebellious, teenager form, I struck out to find just about any other way of being, come hell or high water.

…but I digress…

From Existential Crises to Personal Gnosis

This story is about a night years later when I was 19. It was May of 1993, as I drove back from a freshman year at Marlboro College in Vermont, to my home town of Greenville, South Carolina. It was a hard first year out on my own. My parents separated just as I left for school, and moved away. To escape the drama, I’d chosen to go as far from home as my father would finance and lived through six months of snow-entrapped winter for the first time in my life…in a liberal arts school.

I’d crawled out from under my mother’s protective rock in the bible belt, and into progressive New England.  It was like being released from captivity in a dark room…onto a foreign planet.  I thought I was there for the creative writing program, but I’d mostly studied religion, history and anthropology. I was exposed to the WHOLE story of the bible, ALL the major religions, the ways of indigenous people and their plight under the spread of Christianity. I asked the question: what did my ancestors believe before they were forcibly converted? I’m an Anglo-Saxon-Celtic genetic blend. I resonated with what I found among neo-pagan beliefs based in these cultures; it was like coming home!

By this time, I’d met a few actual Witches and began an obsessive study of Goddess religion and Wicca.  As the rite of passage for all witches of the nineties, I’d read Spiral Dance, Drawing Down the Moon, A Witches’ Bible,  but I was still in a confused, reactionary state, and so had laid that aside in frustration as well.

My problem was that I was trying to replace the patriarchal form of we are the only right way with an even older matriarchal form of we are the only right way.  Of course, Witchcraft doesn’t play that game. It’s metaphors, and non-dogmatic, seek the truth from within approach, would not give me the same comfort of absolutism in which I’d been raised.  I was still too much the sheep to take the needed responsibility for my own path. What if my mother found out? What if I were wrong?

I couldn’t wait to get back home to South Carolina, where I at least knew the lay of the land, but with my parent’s 25 year marriage falling apart, and each of us now cast to the four winds, I had no real home left.  That year, I’d also fallen deeply into an unhealthy romance, and after six months barely pried myself out of the black hole of partying to which my lover was already lost. I cried “uncle” on the harshness of New England and went into full retreat from my long-held dreams. This wasn’t my first heart-break and it wouldn’t be the last, but in that moment, it felt like the end of the world. I was in deepest mourning and I didn’t have a clue who I was anymore.

Road-Side Salvation via Giant Glowing Peach

(No, I wasn’t on drugs.)

As I drove down Interstate 85 that starry night, just past Charlotte, my mind churned in an anguished, lost pleading for answers.  Why even bother to keep living; to keep opening myself up to loss and anguish?  Was this just one long monotonous parade of day following day, months repeating themselves, the grinding of seasons, suffering the relentlessness of staying alive until at last I would succumb to nonexistence?

For what purpose? Why not skip all the bother and just go ahead and snuff out? I was young and I thought I was faced with a life of nothing more than constantly battling the inherent forces of entropy and decay for no other reason than to make another generation who would just continue the struggle. In short, I was deathly afraid of meaninglessness. My hands shook on the wheel as I seriously considered taking a hard left into a concrete embankment. In another moment of existential crises, I was hyper-aware once more, wide open and pinging the Universe for any kind of clue what to do.

Beside that black highway, I passed by this peach shaped water tower in Gaffney, South Carolina, that looks like an enormous ass glowing in the night. It is a ridiculous spectacle, totally unnecessary for the purpose of being a water tower. It is also fantastic in it’s over-the-top expression of pride in that being peach country.

*click*

The moment of gnosis that bloomed within me was like a fourth of July grand finale.  The point, I realized, was that we decide to give life meaning beyond the mundane. WE DECIDE to celebrate, to make art, and to live beautifully, not just functionally. We CHOOSE to throw fabulous parties, and to revel in the sumptuous delights of existence along the way, not just exist.  We make wild, juicy, orgasmic love, not just procreate. We gather the tribe and share feasts on the holidays, not just sustenance.  We eat birthday cake.  Why? Why not?!  We make the key points along the never-ending cycle sacred.  Why waste energy struggling against the cycle when you can celebrate it, flow with it, glory in the sureness of the dawn and the spring and the new babe?

Heron and her Larger-Than-Strictly-Neccessary, Jack-the-Fabulous-Lantern, ready to welcome friends to her Halloween Party

Heron and her Larger-Than-Strictly-Neccessary, Jack-the-Fabulous-Lantern, ready to welcome friends to her Halloween Party

To Live a Life of Love

It occurred to me that life truly was in the details.  The efforts we put into making life grand and enjoying it are worship.  We decide that it is meaningful, then we back that up with effort and trappings and it has meaning. The struggle balances the reward; the gain balances the loss; the love balances the fear.

Religion shouldn’t be about being “right”, or worshiping “god” or duty, or heritage, or fear of a distant doom.  It should be about fulfillment, growth and love.  I choose if this is heaven, hell or purgatory.  Do I focus on suffering, sacrifice and atonement? OR do I focus on love, balance and attainment?  These were choices.  I opened my eyes and saw that it is *ALL* Divine and the Divine is LOVE. I changed my mind, and the world around me changed;  I emerged from fear into wonder and “god” was everywhere, saturating the world in delight.

I choose to live a life of love; I make cake and decorate for the holidays; I throw parties, carve enormous jack-o-lanterns and wear crazy costumes; I dance, make love, and howl at the moon, all as worship. What I sought, I found it within, and I was saved from fear.

My answer to the age-old existential question?

I love; therefore, I am.

Blessed be,

~Heron

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3 thoughts on “Salvation of a Southern Witch

  1. I am truly inspired by this post. You have an elegant way with words. I was filled with so much emotion and I knew how you felt because I have felt that way before myself. I chose to be happy then and I have to choose it everyday. I still struggle sometimes. I have my pity parties and days where I can feel myself slipping away into a dark and cold place. Does it get easier? I’m hoping it will but it seems old habits die hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Heron's Rook and commented:

    Some days are harder than others. Some days I host a pity party for one, and I need a reminder about the meaning of life (and a swift kick in the britches.) Perhaps you need reminding, too? “I love; therefore, I am.”

    Like

  3. you know I am a solitary soul, but once a year I have a party for the winter solstice.. I gaudily decorate the house with billions of holiday baubles and cook more food than one person should be able to handle and I invite those who are important to me.. really important to me in my life to show them that I do appreciate them (even if I often don’t leave the house). I don’t hold a huge spiritual gathering, I do that privately.. but I do set up a small cauldron for them to set things to the air if they so choose (or not, it’s a great mix of people). I just find that being there, keeping company, and celebrating is enough. We need more celebrating in our lives, more communing.. I think.. and yes.. more chocolate (always more chocolate). It may seem like a somewhat silly way to honor such a grand solstice but to me it has always been the perfect way.. just together.

    Like

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