A Witch’s Battle with the Leviathans of Global Suffering

Published at Witch on Fire on July 16, 2016

These are troubled times on our spinning, blue earth-ship, my beloveds. This week, like so many weeks before, we’ve suffered a surge in violence and hatefulness throughout our world with countless acts of terrorism; in France, in Turkey, across the Middle East. In the United States where I live we have rampant police brutality against African Americans, rapists getting off with a slap on the wrist, government persecution of trans-people, the Orlando massacre, the deadly algae bloom choking Florida, and so many other acts of willful pollution that massacre ocean life. We are all interconnected; we are one body; what happens to a French child, or Turkish soldier, a Floridian manatee, happens to all of us.

We are witches, and we know these things; countless hideous acts of inhumanity, and their global repercussions, relentlessly break down our barriers, claw at our hearts, darken our Spirits, until decent people can’t help but be sucked down by all the suffering. That is what makes us decent people: we can discern right from wrong at a global scale, and we care. Fantastic. Now what?

Viktor M. Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Viktor M. Vasnetsov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Four Horsemen are Assholes

I’m now a witch, but I was raised in the “Hellfire and Brimstone” of the Southern Baptist Church, and damned if this doesn’t look like the Armageddon prophecies of the book of Revelations, come to pass. Except for a troubling omission: where is the second coming of Jesus, so that all these fundamentalists and evangelicals will be raptured right on out of here?

We’ve got the four horsemen of the apocalypse running roughshod over society lately under the banner of Abrahamic-Religion-based extremism. Hell, Donald Trump just announced his running mate as Mike Pence, the appalling Governor of Indiana who does his level-best to destroy his state with extremism against women and gay folks. I’m getting a sulfuric whiff of an Anti-Christ power-duo on the rise. Gods help us!

If we must suffer from war, famine, judgement and death, let’s go ahead and get on with this apocalypse already! Apocalypse doesn’t really mean that the world ends, you know. It means that the veils of illusion are pulled from our eyes so that we finally see the truth of things. These truths definitely feel like the end of a world!  Don’t get me wrong, I normally have an excellent relationship with J-man, but he’s late, and its really becoming a problem for the rest of us who hope to be left behind so we can clean up the mess these “true-believers” are making. <insert sarcastic eyeroll here>

But seriously, for those of us who are tapped into Universal Consciousness: witches, shamans, mystics, people with an uplink to aspects of Divinity that ask us to love, to heal, to restore the earth and her creations, to rise up like warriors against these mad-men who do harm, what are we to do? How do we deal with the horrors that our fear-bound neighbors are imposing? How do we go about our lives in an effective way, and resist succumbing to the madness, or despondency ourselves?

Goooood question.

Click here to keep reading about how I’ve learned to battle the leviathans of global suffering, click here

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I Am: A Memoir

Long ago,  in 2006, I think, I was asked to submit an article for a webzine column entitled “I am” wherein folks would share the story of how they found their pagan path, and how they define themselves within their practice.

For the launching of this new blog, I’ve been rethinking those questions and how the subsequent 8 years continued that story, for better and for worse.  At the time of the first writing I had only *just* finished my formal year and a day of studies, but had not yet approached the gates of initiation. Now that I peek into the viewpoint of my 2006 self I can honestly say that I was a wide-eyed infant lost in the woods with absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into.

Today, I remain…a Pisces, a daughter, a sovereign woman, and a single mother of two precocious and vibrant children. Since 2006, I have reestablished my independence (otherwise known as divorce); become a witch, priestess, teacher, clairvoyant, Reiki master,  mehndi artist and a business owner.  I am Divine!  I have identified as a pagan-seeker since 1992 at the age of 18.  I continue to recover from a Christian upbringing, but after many years of study and walking the spiral path I can now define myself as who I AM instead of who I am NOT–without apology.

My journey toward witchcraft started much like anyone else in the southeast US.  I was raised in the ordinary, middle-class, suburban, Southern Baptist sort of way in Taylors, South Carolina.   My childhood was fabulous; full of freedom and adventure, including a few years living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  However, my mom suffered a massive hemorrhage and near-death experience two weeks after the birth of my little sister.  She called out to Jesus to save her so that she could raise her children.  She would dedicate her life to his service if she lived, and live she did. That vow changed a lot of things…

Mom’s number one agenda became raising us in the “fear and admonition of the Lord.”  We were at the church for every class, service and event.  Thinking about the fine points of theology was hardly encouraged, but I had this annoying habit of resolutely disagreeing with our minister.  Picture a 7 year old actually *listening* to a fire and brimstone sermon and just knowing he had it all wrong, then arguing about it.  Despite being a small child I had a different truth, a stone foundation that was ancient, upon which my brand-new childlike house was sitting.

My whole life I’ve been “differently aware.”  When I first learned of reincarnation I had a eureka experience. I’d always remembered flashes and bits like another person’s memories.  I knew that somehow, just around that last bend in the road, I was an adult man. Occasionally, when going into public restrooms, I had to be reminded that I was a little girl.  There were times when I wouldn’t answer to my name as if it wasn’t mine at all and times when I’d catch my reflection and be startled. The deja-vu was so constant and over-powering that I’d lose track of whether it was past, present or future.

You can imagine the gender identity issues this would cause. I intimately understood being a man, a soldier in WWI. I remembered the fear, and adrenaline of warfare, reacting with PTSD-like behavior when triggered.  I had erotic dreams, that I now recognize as past-life recollection, about being with women. Yet, I liked being a little girl just fine, and had crushes on the boys. In the eighth grade, I confessed to a friend that I was afraid I might be a lesbian. She asked, “Do you like girls?” Well, no, not specifically.  “Then what makes you a lesbian?”  Good question!

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Almost 3 years old, and pretty happy about becoming a little girl.

Now that I have a clairvoyant practice of retrieving past-life information for others, I know that gender is a very temporal and fluctuating thing that can be explored flexibly; however, being raised in a church that tried to “pray away the gay,” you can imagine the sense of crises in which I was raised. Today I prefer the term, “heteroflexible” and I take a namaste approach; the Spirit in me, is attracted to (or not, as the case may be) the Spirit within you. Personally, I think the style of meat-suit people happen to be wearing should be of of far less consequence in matters of love. (1)

I also could see the material world as energy if I shifted focus. I see flashing, multicolored particles flowing and swirling and would lie in bed at night and practice moving the flow with my mind as a way to get to sleep at night.  I’ve also perceived the thoughts of those around me (telepathy), and I usually know who is on the phone just before it rings.  I see auras when someone is very emotional.  As a kid, I called them halos  and boy could our minister work up a bright “halo” when he was preaching that hellfire and damnation!

Starting in the 5th grade and going through early adolescence I suffered some very deep depression.  I was in existential turmoil, having rejected the hatefulness, bigotry and isolation taught me by my mother’s church.  But, if I wasn’t a christian, was I doomed?  In that black/white world of “with us or against us” I thought I had only two options: Christian or Atheist (Atheism=Devil, in that small world).  Yet, if there was no higher purpose to life, why bother?

At around thirteen years old, 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.”  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 10 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 until I gave in and admitted, “OK, OK–Maybe there is a God!”

A quickly as it began, it was gone. I was released and all returned to normal.  Still panting and tingling, I looked around at the ordinary room with the ordinary darkness.  I moved my fingers and stretched. My rational mind kicked-in, skeptical. I thought, “That was weird. I’m losing it. God did NOT just speak to me.”

I am here to tell you that the whole thing repeated itself again twice as strong; I was taken hostage by my own body!  The moon light intensified once again and this time a voiceless scream was in my head.  I thought, “OK, OK, I believe!”  And it was all over, never to be repeated since.  Today I believe that the greatness of the Universe quickened within me, and spoke through my body and Spirit.   At the time, I thought I’d been “called” to christian ministry.  I was horror-struck.  I started running from that fate by way of binge drinking, partying, and non-christian behavior of all self-defeating kinds.  I do not regret those free-thinking, free-living days, but they were hardly pious.

I have this theory that I was being groomed for something specific: I modeled for years, learning poise and grace. I majored in creative writing at The Fine Arts Center, a special high school. In college, I extensively studied religion, anthropology, psychology, history, and writing for several years, before transferring to ECU for a BS in Interior Design, cognate in business, and a specialty in sustainable design. For the next 5 years I worked as a NCIDQ certified, professional Interior Designer, designing healthcare facilities for architecture firms in Raleigh and Houston.

But I digress…back when I’d been eighteen years old, I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s, The Mists of Avalon.  In this fictional Avalon, I found the goddess-centered lifestyle and spirituality that felt like home, but I assumed those ways were dead and trapped in a distant past.  Shortly thereafter I became friends with a Wiccan priest in my hometown.  He opened my world to neo-paganism.  He shared books with me and we talked in generalities, but despite my expressed interest, he remained very private about Wicca. A deep, familial love and spiritual intimacy  developed between us, but I was never invited to train with him or his coven and I still don’t know why, for sure…Perhaps it was the old Wiccan requirement that the seeker must ask for training 3 times and be denied, before being accepted. I didn’t know that.  That experience gave me to believe (wrongly) that Wiccan Witchcraft was a private club, and that I somehow did not qualify.

So, for the next 10 years I considered myself pagan, by philosophy only, and remained locked tightly in my broom closet with a stack of books.  I married a scientist who had no need for spirituality, nor a belief in spirit at all.  I was successful in a my career as an Interior Designer, while lurking on message boards for the pagan communities in Raleigh, Houston, and Charlotte.  Fear of what my family would think, or that I might be disregarded professionally, kept me mute. I once worked a block away from a metaphysical store that I walked past longingly every day, and yet not once stepped inside.

My daughter is born; A mother emerges2002Then in 2002, I gave birth to my daughter, just after my 28th birthday, just after my Saturn return began.  I’d spent weeks of bed rest cloistered with my books, Raven Grimassi’s Wiccan Mysteries, and Spiral Dance, by Starhawk. During the labor a recurring vision of the goddess pushing open the portal at the end of a long tunnel guided me.  I came face to face to the Mother of us all, and she looked me right in the eyes, turned as though to invite me to pass her, said “you are ready, come through,” then guided me through the rites of birth. I wanted an all-natural, right of passage to motherhood and I got it!  As I gave life to that baby, I called on strength within myself I’d never dreamed possible.  I was surrounded by all the ancestors of my line before me to one side, and after me to the other side. I knew that it was already done, therefore I could do it!  It was ecstatic!  It was a proving ground, and I emerged victorious!  I had a sense of belonging in the great creation of the Universe where I could be so small, but equally divine and powerful. I named my daughter from a word that means Victory!

After her birth, I overcame my fear and through Witchvox.com found a family coven in Charlotte.  As a seeker, I joined them for my first Midsummer Sabbat celebration.  Shortly afterward my husband and I relocated yet again.  I was devastated to arrive here in Greenville, NC, and find that (at the time) there were no pagan groups in town, very few individuals listed on-line, and certainly no training circles.  Well, no one who meant to be found, anyway.   A few days prior to Samhain, I grabbed the bull by the horns and started my own yahoo group called East NC Pagans and invited every local pagan who had a listing on witchvox within 100 miles.

I began to realize how different my spiritual needs were when I was eighteen compared to thirty years old.  My beliefs about deity ranged from wanting an ancient, monotheistic Goddess, to a godless Scientific Pantheism with many stops in between, but there was one defining moment that brought my spiritual journey full circle.

Again, I gave birth naturally to a huge and beautiful baby boy.  His birth was quick and perfect, but medical complications afterward caused an uncontrollable hemorrhage. This sent me on a panicked ER-style ride to a D&C procedure.  I signed consents for possible hysterectomy and parted from my stricken husband with a “take good care of my babies for me.”

I really thought my time in this life was over.  My blood pressure was so low it wouldn’t register on the automatic cuff. As they strapped me, still painfully conscious, to the table in crucifixion position, yelling for the physician to get in there NOW! I could FEEL the panic in the nurses’ voices shouted over me as they rushed to save my life. I stared up at the ceiling and thought to myself,   Here I am just like Mom was when she almost died with a toddler and new infant waiting for her.  Is there a higher power to call on?  Am I alone here?  Hellooo??”     I opened my heart to the void and listened…to silence…  I let go and put my fate in the hands of the medical team.

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My son is born, and I live to raise him!

Coming back from that was tough. I briefly handed over the moderator job of East NC Pagans to someone else and walked away from everything. But, I found that ignoring my own spirit wasn’t possible.   During the very slow beginnings of that group I renewed my study and visited open circles out of town. It took over a year before I could convince anyone on that board to meet me in public for coffee and conversation, then suddenly it was a break through, thanks to the good folks at the local Unitarian Universalist church. The community building  took off like wild fire! Over the next years the membership of East NC Pagans grew to almost 200 people with large monthly meet-ups, classes, and affiliated groups forming in different cities.
From East NC Pagans a circle of friends coalesced who were all seeking, as I was, and hungry for more.  Over beers one night, while bemoaning the lack of teachers in our areas, my dear friend Alice quoted the old Chinese proverb, “‘Tis better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.”

*CLICK*

Profound gnosis hit me. The great cosmic “Clue by Four” knocked me for a loop. If we were going to grow, we had to take responsibility for ourselves.

By Yule of 2005, we’d formed a study group called Wisecraft Circle. It was a non-traditional, eclectic and egalitarian circle that used the published training guides by Christopher Penczak (2) and Timothy Roderick (3) as our curriculum (among a bunch of other reading we all liked.) We turned the wheel together one full cycle and began again at Imbolc with new friends, this time holding a covening and formalizing our organizational structure.  That was February 1(ish). March 9th my mother passed from this world, kicking off a period of intense awakening for me, guided directly by the Spirit of my mother.

Unfortunately, the “F” word, fundamentalism, reared its ugly head. Questions of legitimacy, authority, ego, and sexual tension killed that circle before it’s second summer solstice. I learned a lot about who I was and who I was NOT, and what NOT to do within group practice.

Midsummer night, the first ritual I'd written and lead for Wisecraft Study Circle.

Midsummer night, the first ritual I’d written and lead for Wisecraft Study Circle.

Nevertheless, I’d dedicated to a year and a day of study in Witchcraft and had some amazing things open up for me.  My awareness expanded, I called and felt the presence of the Divine; become the conduit for Reiki healing energy; inadvertently began astral projecting in my sleep; and the bloom of my psychic ability opened. I experienced spiritual ecstasy that brought me to my knees, and learned to write and lead rituals for the community that expanded that transformative opportunity to others.

The second turning with Wisecraft, I’d dedicated to working with the element of Fire. Nothing touched by fire stays the same and all you can do is surrender to that tempering power. What did not serve my highest good, all that hindered my growth, was burned away: abusive relationships reached their pique so that I was forced to confront them; my mother passed away; the circle disintegrated with all manner of pyrotechnic, ego-spanking emotion; my marriage hit the skids; I had my heart broken by the dashing of old dreams…all by August. However, as I emerged from those fires, my resolve to live authentically outside the broom closet, and with the dignity and self-respect my mother had instilled within me, was honed to a razors edge.

Let me repeat: with the guidance of my fundamentalist, evangelical, ultra-conservative mother’s spirit, I realized the lessons she’d taught me to be the “peculiar people;” to let my “little light shine, not hide it under a bush,” to be a WITNESS for the Divine light within me, and that I deserved to be treated with love and respect by my partner. (4)  By November, I announced my decision to open The Sojourner and the wheels of business development went into high gear.

The SojournerAfter much betrayal, an emotional gauntlet through the burning wreckage of my marriage, the sale of two pieces of real estate in a depressed market, two families moving, the collection of life insurance money from my mother’s estate, false starts, re-imaginings at the last hour, and over a year to secure a location, The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions was opened to the public on March 28th, 2009. It took immense effort, sacrifice, generous investment by our families, and hard work by many dear friends and partners without any appreciable form of monetary compensation for years. That first day we were open, pagans and muggles alike arrived by the car-load from great distances and damn near cleaned us out!  Lady Sojo is an entity in her own right, and I’m honored to be her care-taker.

As of 2014, we’ve now been open for 5 years, hanging in there despite a lousy economy, and I am now teaching the 5th full year of Modern Witchcraft students, in a program I created based on the books and experiences born of my time with Wisecraft Circle.  From those who’ve completed the training and taken self-initiation, The Sojo Circle formed, and is still a wondrous tribe of beautiful, loving Witches.  A second affiliated training circle now operates out of the Raleigh area concurrently, using this same curriculum.

I’ve passed through many more gates of initiation and taken service to Spirit as Their priestess. My sacred commission, given to me directly through another of my “burning bush” moments, was to be the light-house, shining brightly so that all people may know where to have their spiritual understandings validated; where seekers of enlightenment find an open, safe, welcoming, and responsible training ground on Main Street USA, not a “private club” shrouded in secrecy and bigotry in some hidden basement.

2014It is my belief that I was chosen and groomed by Spirit through a wandering path, to become a public face and voice, (hopefully a respectable and trustworthy one) with the resources, poise, skills, and wherewithal to build a beneficial environment for all followers of the less-traveled paths to flourish in eastern NC.  So, here I find myself today in 2014.

*pause*

As I reread the above I realize how much Personal Ego seems laced within these revelations. I put that pride in the scales of balance, and on the other side, I place the pant-wetting fear, the loss of some of my dearest relationships, the humiliation and heart-break, not to mention the repeated ego-spankings from those I loved the most, that it took to bring me to this re-balanced place.

Nope, I’m OK.

I am grateful, now, for this balance, though I’ve been the brat who wanted to break all the toys and storm home. I did learn from the losses, and am quite proud to report that I am NOT an alcoholic, NOT waned to nonexistence from grief, NOT bankrupt, and NOT in an abusive relationship, but it was a pretty slim victory over those forces of fear. I’ve come a long way, baby.

Here was the prayer I first uttered as my dedication back in 2005:

Spirit! Great Weaver of all things, I seek to know your nature. Ignite within me your fires; wash me clean of doubt; blow my mind. I dance to your rhythms with earthen shoes and the starry heavens tangled in my hair. Show me the way! As I will, it is so. Blessed be.

(1) Hindu scripture recognizes this emergence of a LGBT “third gender” as an evolutionary progression that is sacred. Native Americans revered homosexuals as shamans, calling them “Two-Spirit.”

(2) The Inner Temple of Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak

(3) Wicca: A Year and a Day in the Craft of the Wise by Timothy Roderick

(4) No doubt the subject of an upcoming blog

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