From Samhain Fires to Thanksgiving Feasts

IMG_8289The wheel of this year turns on, and I realize I haven’t properly blogged since the turning of Samhain-tides. Here we are a month past, as the seasons click forward to the American holiday of Thanksgiving. If you’ve been keeping up with this great work of mine, you will remember that this year I dedicated my spiritual pursuits to understanding better the meaning of “unconditional Divine love.”  What does “perfect love and trust” really mean? How do we practically apply that wisdom to human unions? I gave my service to Aphrodite/Venus and asked to be Her agent of love, beauty and grace in the world.

That is when everything went to shit.

To recap: I turned 40 and suddenly my health crapped out, as though the warranty suddenly ran out on this meat-suit, mostly concerning issues that challenged my sense of safety, beauty, sexiness, fertility–all the domains of Aphrodite were in an uproar. My hand-fasting was canceled and that relationships ended. For months I felt the thorns of what love is NOT, then as Litha turned, I was given the roses of what love SHOULD BE.

I’ve felt very strongly the loving presence of my maternal grandparents, Frances and Elmore, whose spirits visited me via a medium around Beltane, just as my former relationship was ending.  They were an amazing Pisces/Cancer couple, an inspiration to all who knew them. They were married as teenagers, and became a shining example of partnership until death they did part, over 50 years later. My grandma Frances only just crossed the veil to rejoin Elmore in May, and I couldn’t be happier for them now that they are reunited. I feel closer to them now more than ever!

IMG_8291 - Version 2

At Lammas, I participated in the Morrison Ritual, and finally remembered that “all acts of love and pleasure are Her rituals.” I was reminded that the point of life is to enjoy it and that is how we witches show devotion–how we worship–by making love to the world through our every word, thought and deed. I rededicated to life, and returned from mourning back into the land of the loving.

As Lammas turned to Mabon, in a mystical, magickal, synchronistic turn of fate, I reconnected with someone who, as it turns out, is the man of my dreams. And he was right here in my hometown THE WHOLE TIME. Go figure. This beautiful human being is a catalyst for a profound shift in my thinking, and my perspective on, well, everything. I’d known him as a distant acquaintance, and have been a fan of his music for years.   I have this *thing* for musicians <sigh.> We easily fell into time and step with each other, and so simply, so astonishingly, fell in love.  Despite everything, I will honestly say that I did not see that coming!  Yes, my dearies, it is true; I’ve enjoyed three life-changing months with the most nurturing, interesting, exciting, enlightening, inspiring, and encouraging man I’ve ever known–nay– that I’ve even dared to hope existed since my Grandad left this earth.  I am so proud of him I could just burst. 🙂 Did I mention that we, too, are a Pisces/Cancer couple, just like Frances and Elmore? Uh huh. Good stuff!

Moral of the story: when you dedicate your service to Aphrodite, when you ask to know what Divine Love it all about, she will deliver. First, she strips you bare of all detriment to Divine Love, then she shows you what is beneficial. Viva la difference!

IMG_8391

At Samhain, I released to the funeral fires many misconceptions I had about Love and some links to old relationships and old dreams, and a few old masks I’d allowed myself to wear but no longer served my highest good. I realized that I’d worn these masks crafted to cover the wounds of my previous heartbreaks, to shield fears of betrayal. There were masks I’d worn to appease others in hopes that they’d return my love and masks I’d worn to conform to societal norms, masks to obscure the horrors of my inner struggle from my children.

When I think about this “mask” metaphor, the images that come to mind are pretty amusing, like old fashioned theater masks. I have quite the collection, perhaps you have them, too, as they are all the rage this season: sarcastically happy face, sad but not beaten face, strong in the face of adversity face, still youthfully attractive despite her age face, got my shit together face, fearless business woman in denial about how she is clueless how to proceed face…not terrified about how to pay the bills face…proud to be out of the broom closet and not hurt by how people point and whisper in public face… OK with being single and alone in this life face. All of them obscure the squishy truth of who I truly am, and while masks are necessary to a certain degree, if I’m not aware of how I use these “tools” they begin to use me, and that is when I lose my power.

I was recently interviewed by a student for a religion class project and she asked me what was the ultimate point of my Witchcraft practice? I pulled out the canned “teacher” answer, “Salvation from the illusion of separateness from the Divine, to liberate me from fear, and equip me with the tools and skills to live beneficially, and with sovereignty, as a co-creator of my own experience.”

It was then that  I finally remembered that I’ve been neglecting those skills and tools, and that I could co-create, to don or not to don, the masks of my choosing, and many of them had to go. This blog I share with you, this story of my great work this year, is part of that stripping away, and choosing to reveal the inner truth–to shine brightly what is beneficial, rather than mask or obscure that light because it makes me feel vulnerable. Boy oh boy, do I feel vulnerable. So much so that after I first posted this thing yesterday, I became physically ill–root chakra kinds of ill. This morning, I began editing it, and I choose to reveal more, rather than obscure my meanings in poetry.

theater masks

Which brings me to this Thanksgiving, and my year to have my children at home for the long holiday.  I chose to make space for a “miracle.”  You see, being a divorced person with a custody agreement, these holidays alternate from year to year. What they say is true, time heals many wounds, and we are in our 6th year of amicable shared custody.  In recent years, my children’s immediate family expanded with their father’s re-marriage, and then with the birth of a new baby brother.

So I asked myself, what better expression of Divine love, beauty and grace than to share a meal around a Thanksgiving table, in triumphant victory over past heartbreak and selfishness? I needed to redefine a few traditions, to cook a meal for the people I love, to share what I have with family and friends, old and new. I can’t think of a better expression of gratitude, than by opening my home and heart to the people who share in the nurturing of my children.  I needed to completely FORGIVE, and live on.

What I’ve learned from the great work this year is that the only heart prepared to receive love, is the heart already opened from the sharing of love.

So, despite all previous odds, I invited my ex, his wife, their baby son, and my new boyfriend all over to dinner with us, and they accepted. Then, in a meaningful, magical twist, one of my oldest friends, a woman who’s known me since the dark days of my previous marriage, all the days of my divorce, and the rebuilding of our lives since then, who is, herself, currently living through the FIRST difficult Thanksgiving since her separation, accepted my invitation to join us with her two children. How perfect is that? I hope we were able to show that a glimmer of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel is possible.

10815612_1519641408286393_799907865_oIt was a smashing success, if I do say so myself. There was much feasting, laughing, bouncing of babies, and playing of music together that night (a handy benefit of my penchant for musicians. 🙂

As the wheel turns toward Yule, and I look back over the great work of this year to process and understand the lessons, to integrate what I’ve learned, I am struck by how I’ve arrived in a place vastly distant from where I thought I was going when I dedicated at Imbolc. Hell, I thought I was headed toward the hand-fasting altar in May, so that left turn at Albuquerque really got me lost for a while.

I’ve questioned my spiritual path, my sanity, my raison d’etre, even my desire to keep living.  But, I set my magickal intention, then allowed the flow of this life of love to move me, accepting that what was both leaving and entering my life were both in alignment with my Divine Will, because that was what I’d asked for, and I do have some say over what happens to me!  That is “grace” to me.  Grace allowed the relatively undramatic stripping away of what did not serve my life, and then grace delivered me back into love with myself, into a love of life. Through finding my way back to enjoying life again, I was able to rediscover what is beautiful, and it wasn’t the obvious things. The beautiful partnership I’m looking for is one where we can grow “ugly” together.  There is loveliness in the colors, smells and dimming light of the decays of autumn, as nature declines into the dearth and wisdom of winter. So to I feel that slow, steady pull into the dark night, and hibernation…to dream in the arms of the bear, and be healed of last season’s woundings.

Mysterious? Seek within yourselves, and ye shall find, my dearies. I do hope the road rises up to meet you the way it did for me. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rule #3: Don’t be the Weak Link, Tarot Message

IMG_8235

…continued… This blog is the fourth part in a series that began with Heron’s Rules of Modern Witchcraft, and continued with Rule #1: Don’t Burn the Witch. and Rule #2: Don’t be the Asshole. Next, you can browse over to Rule #4: Must be Present to Win.

Recap: Don’t be the Weak Link

Pithy, yes? But what does it mean to a Witch, practically? Beneficial and responsible behavior has to both begin and end with yourself, regardless of if anyone is watching, regardless of the poor behavior of those assholes who may be challenging you.  Choose to be a circle, a sphere of influence, of integrity and strong character.  The construct of the circle is paramount to the Witch. Anything we can dream of being is more effectively accomplished in the sacred circle, so choose to make your own body, your own life, a microcosm circle of protection, amplification, and focus for your will. It is here that we go to the crossroads, find our axis mundi, where all the worlds intersect.

rainbowchainI see the tapestry of the Universe, matter and spirit woven together, like a cloth of chainmaille, with each entity within it their own circle link, pliable enough to have free will, sovereign on their own, but woven together they can do so much more!  If all links remain strong within their own character, who begin and end every interaction as responsible members of society and in alignment with their principles, and as magicians they use their power, intellect, hearts, bodies and spirits to weave together a responsible life, then apply that energy cohesively with their neighbors, then together they create a society within which we can all coexist to ENORMOUS, reverberating benefit.

Do as you will, but Harm None: However, if one person, one link, weakens and behaves like a straight line pointing only to their own selfish, ego-driven needs as if there are no consequences to their actions; If they start to “burn” themselves through self-loathing, or project that self-loathing onto others as distrust, (Don’t burn the Witch;) who wields their own wound as a weapon to wound other people (Don’t be the Asshole); through this weakness of character, they betray the bonds of the surrounding links, betraying “perfect love and trust,” exploiting, disrupting their relationship to the Divine through each other.  That hole in the chainmaille grows, and ruins things exponentially throughout existence.

The three-fold law: If you exude beneficial energy in the world you receive benefit. If you exude destructive energy in the world, you are destroyed. If you work with unity, for unity, all of Divine creation flows with you. It only takes one weak link to ruin harmonious existence for everyone. So, don’t do it!  We are all counting on you, man!

Tarot Query: What lessons do you offer us through “Don’t Be the Weak Link”
Highest Divine Guidance speaks to how we are to attend to our internal state of being through “perfect love and perfect trust.”

Card: X Fortune In the realm of thought, Divine asks us to dismiss what we think we know and begin to WONDER about the wholeness of the cycles of life, the cycle in constant motion, yet unchanging in its completeness. What miracles and possibilities are to be found in each moment? What self-realization and creativity comes from unexpected fortune? I would note also that this image is about the completeness of a circle, so just at face value, we are given confirmation of this metaphor of the “links.”

Card: XIII Death In the realm of will, we are asked to apply the full force of our Will, our passions, and drive, to a radical transformation and becoming free of anything that keeps us from moving forward in our personal evolution. We are now ready to make the necessary changes in our lives. This is the path between success and failure; there is no difference between them besides our attitudes about it. Release all that does not serve our growth and evolution.

Card: I The Magus In the realm of emotion, Divine directs us to DARE to overcome all obstacles to create the world anew with clear communication and our brilliant capabilities. We have all the tools and skills we need to tear down the established order, to rise above any barrier, and create the world we desire.

Card: Knight of Swords In the realm of the physical, we are asked to HOLD THE SPACE, to BE SILENT and observant, paying attention to the harvest of our ambitions. It is our time for the harvest of a new way of thinking and being.  Our intellectual powers will bring deep emotional perceptions. This master of imagination can achieve all that he dreams.

Card: 10 of Disks, Wealth Highest Divine Guidance wants you to understand that you will attract to yourself everone and every situation in your life, and if your internal state of being resonates with overflowing riches from spiritual, emotional and intellectual levels, then you will be outwardly wealthy, but that wealth must be shared on all levels with others in order to remain valuable. Endless wealth can be yours, but the responsibility is also yours, only if you remain generous and grateful.

This is my interpretation. What do these cards and messages mean to you? How does this message inform how you would apply “Don’t be the Weak” to your own life?
In gratitude, blessed be.
Stay tuned for the tarot messages for:
Rule #4: Must be Present to Win.

Hail Mercury In Retrograde!

[This blog was originally posted on my column Witch on Fire at the Agora on Patheos Pagan.]

A Charm for Mercurial Mercy…
Hail Mercury, of dark cosmic humor,
log me in, accept my password.
Find the WiFi, connect me soon,
hear my prayer and grant this boon:
Run the payroll, transmit the taxes,
upload the work, grant me access.
Trickster Mercury, why the confusion?
Cease the problems, grant a solution!
Take heed of these wishes bade,
even while in retrograde!

mercuryThe planet Mercury has been in retrograde since September 17 and will return to his direct path October 9th, so not long now. ¹ You may have noticed that communications have gone a bit sideways over the last few weeks, especially if you’ve been paying attention to the Patheos Pagan channel and the very hot debates raging there.  This will account for some of it.

While I am loathe to allow planetary movements to be used as an excuse for insensitive communication choices, I do understand it to be a reflection on the largest, most visible scale of how patterns play out among us. So, we assuage our frustration by saying things like, “Mercury is in retrograde, so that explains it….” However, there is a very big difference between an excuse and an explanation, and in my opinion, any pagan worth their podium on Patheos should know better, and act accordingly.

To read more, click here to go to Witch on Fire…

Rule #1: Don’t Burn the Witch, Tarot Message

IMG_8084

 

This blog is the second part to Heron’s Rules of Modern Witchcraft.

…continued to:  Rule #2: Don’t be the Asshole,

Rule #3: Don’t be the Weak Link

Rule #4: Must be Present to Win.

To recap: What I mean by “Don’t Burn the Witch”

  1. Practice basic fire safety with thorough respect for the Powers of Fire.
  2. Do not conjure what you cannot banish.
  3. Begin by healing, loving and respecting yourself. “If that which you seek you find not within, you will never find it without.”
  4. Protect, defend and support your fellow Witches, engaging them with mutual respect, in “perfect love and perfect trust.”

September 23, 2014, after I awoke from the Mabon Day Revelation dream, I grabbed up my Thoth Tarot Deck and engaged Spirit in a conversation about each of my Rules of Modern Witchcraft. I used a spread I developed last year that I call the Witches’ Pyramid Spread. This spread has since become a key instrument in my divinatory practice as it speaks to the evolutionary process and works especially well when I’m reading for magickal people engaged in The Great Work.

Query: What lessons do you offer us through “Don’t Burn the Witch”

Highest Divine Guidance speaks to how we are to apply attention to our outer relationships in society.

Card: The Magus In the realm of thought, Divine is asking us to dismiss what we think we know and begin to WONDER  about the brilliant capabilities, skills and tools we have to share with others, and how we can create the world we desire through clear communication. We are asked how the full expression of our creative potentials can bring us happiness. How can we become fully-realized mages, capable of creating the world we desire?

Card: The Princess of Disks In the realm of will, we are asked to SURRENDER to a new beauty entering our lives; to become the gateway to a new identity, to a new concept. We are asked to rebel against the old ways, and gain sovereignty over what we manifest in the world. We must surrender to the transformative powers of divine harmonic balance.

Card: 5 of Wands: Strife In the realm of emotion, Divine directs us to DARE to overcome restriction, to face the strife of the situation and do something about it, to express ourselves creatively. Face our adversaries and build our strength, gaining dominion, by bravely facing any resistance to our will-power.

Card: Knight of Wands In the realm of the physical, we are asked to RESONATE, to make the quest into the void of potential, applying dynamic forward motion, seeking out and gaining increased insight, resulting in a mastery of growth and development, and changes in consciousness. Be grateful for this gift from existence; every challenge that arises will help us grow. It is our time to reap the harvests we’ve long worked to achieve.

Card: 8 of Swords: Interference Highest Divine Guidance for our outer relationships with society, asks us to relax and trust life; stop worrying so much about our choices. Problems which seem unsolvable will find their solution in their own way. Apply endurance and trust in all that we do. We have a choice to “burn” or to nurture ourselves and our fellow humans. What sort of neighbor do we wish to be?

So, this is my interpretation. What do these cards and messages mean to you? How does this message inform how you would apply “Don’t Burn the Witch” to your own life?

In gratitude, blessed be.

Heron’s Rules of Modern Witchcraft

[Heron’s note: following is the continuation of Aphrodite’s Thealogy of Perfection that developed into our “Four Rules.” This is the story of how the last two were revealed to me as a visionary message back on September 23rd, 2014.]

Allow me to take you back to a time not so long ago…It was a warm and shining Autumn Equinox day here in North Carolina, and we’d just returned from vending at the Pagan Pride Festival in Raleigh the previous day, so I was considerably exhausted.

By USFWS Mountain-Prairie ("And the Raven Still is Sitting ...") [CC BY 2.0] Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

By Lori Iverson, USFWS Mountain-Prairie (“And the Raven Still is Sitting …”) [CC BY 2.0] Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

We’d spent a lovely weekend in the company of 3000+ fine pagans . It was also a family reunion, as we got to see many from our Sojo Tribe who live in that area. I love my tribe; they are the most mature, civilized and responsible group of witches I’ve ever known. It is a rare thing to have a teaching coven last so long without strain from diva-drama.

The Mabon Day Revelations

That crisp afternoon, I was cruising Facebook and see a posting by Raven Grimassi lamenting how within the witching communities, many are quick to stoop to pitiful levels of back-stabbing each other in public forums.  He implored us to become the kind of people who seek out the best in each other, rather than constantly harping on the worst in each other.

I read this sad message just as I was laying down for a nap. As my three kitties snuggled in around me, I thought about all the times folks I’d trusted had betrayed me, and the “Rules” that developed as we tried to learn a better way to coven together. They started as a comedic way to illustrate thealogical concepts (3). Until this fateful Mabon day, we only had two: Don’t burn the Witch and Don’t be the Asshole. As I descended into sleep, I knew this is basically what Raven was asking of us.

"Burning at the stake. An illustration from an mid 19th century book" By mullica [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By mullica [CC BY 2.0] public domain via Wikimedia Commons

1.  Don’t burn the Witch.

The obvious: If you are going to work with the element of Fire, respect its potential, then avoid accidents.
 The less obvious: Be careful not to conjure up what you don’t know how to safely send back.

Heal thyself: All things vibrate, and like vibrations attract more of the same. (Hermetic Principle of Vibration, also called the Law of Attraction.) If you remain a pulsing magnet of self-loathing, no matter what intention your mouth speaks, you are doomed to repeat your past suffering. If you continue to harbor your wounds, you cannot evolve beyond “wounded consciousness” and all your magick will ever cause is a good ol’ fashioned witch burning of YOURSELF.

“If that which you seek you find not within, you will never find it without.” Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente

Empowerment starts with YOU. Wisdom starts with YOU. Healing starts with YOU. YOU ARE THE MAGICK, so make it effective, harmonious, kick-ass magick sourced by Divine Love. The FIRST step on the path of the Witch is to learn to recognize these wounds for what they are, release all lingering connection to them, and heal from the inside out. Love yourself first. THEN, and only then, can you begin to break the cycle of woundings and don the crown of personal sovereignty.

Perfect Love and Perfect Trust: In the name of all things holy, STOP burning your fellow Witches!  We have a hard enough time not being “burned” by the rest of society, if we can’t treat each other with respect, what are we playing at?

Heron Gets Her Groove Back

mabonHappy Mabon-tides, my witches! I know I’m a little late, but I’ve been out in those fields of metaphor, harvesting all kinds of existential goodies, and getting into Aphrodite’s favorite shenanigans. Oh yes, my dearies, and it was about damned time this dedication to a Goddess of LOVE and PASSION became a joyous good time again.

BEHOLD! The fields of my Great Work finally bore fruit and I’ve been drunk on her sweet nectar for months.  In the dance of this Wheel of the Year, as the lamenting music that led to Lammas waned, and the last sorrowful notes of heartbreak faded into solo acceptance, I turned my view and my feet from the past faltering steps, into the present moment, did a little do-si-do with a bow and a nod to Her harsh lessons, then plunged onward into the reel.

IMG_7880The next steps involved a visit from writer and lecturer Jason “Pan” Mankey of Raise the Horns, who came out from California to teach through The Sojourner. In addition to 4 excellent seminars, he offered us a chance to initiate into the Morrison Clan, the Jim Morrison Clan, with a ritual of music, ecstatic hedonism and an unleashing.  Jason was just the Priest this circle needed to shake things up.  Into our temple he called in Jim as a modern incarnation of Dionysus, Pan, Aphrodite, and Eris Discordia, because if you don’t, she shows up anyway, and we’d rather not have hang-overs, thank you so much.

I know what you are thinking, and you aren’t entirely wrong, but this was some serious business. The ritual was set to the music and the spoken word of Jim Morrison and The Doors, and there was dancing, singing, wine, whiskey, and an excavation of that feral part of ourselves too often buried under layers of reservation, prudence, and socially respectable facades. We let our hair down, unwound, and Spirit moved.

We pledged to enjoy life, to let inspiration flow, to have hedonistic fun, to “drink the good wine to the old Gods,” to let “all acts of love and pleasure be her rituals,” in full-throttle engagement with the ecstasy of the flesh.  All this within healthy balance, dontchaknow, so that we do not flame-out prematurely as Jim did. I mean, good gods, y’all. Gimme some of THAT old time religion!

IMG_8120We each received a strand of mardi gras beads, and a clan name. I was dubbed “Story Morrison,” because I have stories to tell, and I’m often caught retelling them. Um, guilty as charged. But more than that, I think this was the opening salvo for the next phase of story-telling ahead of me, one that I hope is a bit more formalized, and will someday find its way into print. But that is a harvest for another blog….

*This* blog is about how Heron Got Her Groove Back. Note the swiftness of this magick:

Saturday night: Initiation in the Morrison Clan with a re-dedication to enjoying life again.

Monday: Deliver Jason back to the airport with so much gratitude and a genuine shift of perspective, thanks to his insights.

Tuesday: I get the familiar twitchy feeling, that deep longing to go forth into the night and make merry mischief. Basically, the sexy Heron beast within me awoke, stretched her wings and began to preen. I posted this to Facebook: “My kids are out of town with their dad for the rest of the week and I’m seeking shenanigans. I would like to attend to them directly.”

Back to my altar, I renewed the work, I thanked her for the lessons in heartbreak, in ugliness and loss, and I asked that at this time I be given the lessons of healthy love, of beauty and grace with the person correct and good for me at this time.  Oh, and could it be with a playmate who actually lives in my town this time, pretty please?

HAIL Aphrodite, of sensuous pleasure,
who restores my heart in full measure.
I give myself in reverent mirth,
hands, hips, and lips in holy rebirth.
Each little death, sweet sacrifice,
I am your willing acolyte.
As worship, let there be romance,
deep longing met in sacred dance,
to sing in divine duet once more,
I call forth the ideal paramour.
In perfect trust, in perfect love,
No harm to cause, to all involved,
I call the highest good for me,
As I do will, SO MOTE IT BE.

Wednesday: I receive a message in reply to my FB post from the most fabulous, interesting, compatible man I know in this town, asking me to meet him on Friday.  He was once a Gentleman of Interest, that long ago I’d set my sights upon, until I learned he was in a relationship, and had therefore retreated and been effectively avoiding for almost two years. Whaddaya know, he is newly single…imagine that!  As it happens, his previous relationship had been dismantling for just about the same time frame as mine had been…how very…fortuitous!

Since that fateful Friday: Well, let’s just say that since that auspicious beginning, I’ve learned a lot about living in the bliss of the moment, and being grateful for what is unfolding, without putting too much concern into what it might “mean” or where it might be “going.” I’m just too darned thankful to taint this gift with second-guesses. I feel like my wings are fully outstretched in rapturous flight, and I’m just enjoying how this new breeze lifts and inspires me to soar to new heights.

Isn’t the Universe grand in it’s poetry? So long now I’ve danced with Spirit in the Great Work, and even still I sometimes get twisted around and forget how I can trust absolutely Their lead; that all will come to fruition eventually; that all will work out for my highest good in the end, and in alignment with my Divine life purpose. Regardless of what happens from this point onward, I stand in deepest gratitude for that simple reminder.

I celebrated this Mabon with my faith restored, and I am once more fat, happy, grateful and satisfied with the fruits of my labor.

Blessed be.

Titles for the Teetering Pile

In my previous post, I confessed about the summer I “burned the witch” going on an obsessive reading binge of the history, biographies and original works of the Grandparents of Modern Witchcraft. Like quests to find the source of the Nile, I trekked back to discover for myself the sources of this stream that had long drawn me back to my genetic roots.

Telluride Colorado view of stream among the mountains

Taking the long view, Photo by Heron Michelle

The Problem of Pedigree

This quest was, in part, a reaction to a…let’s call it an “educational” experience…that I had back in 2012 with a Wiccan priest who touted a lineage that could be vaguely traced back to Alexander Sanders, who we know can tag his initiation back to Gerald Gardner (despite his claims otherwise.) That last bit was supposedly the key to opening the door into the exclusive “Wicca” club, per his view.  With no small amount of arrogance he offered to teach me the “real Wicca” you couldn’t find in books. He insinuated that since I was lacking this crucial pedigree that my work as a teacher and priestess lacked legitimacy in the wider witching world, but he could help me rectify this problem. Having never before had such an offer to be taught or initiated by anyone else, I was intrigued. In my attempt to “be present to win,” and follow the breadcrumbs of my guides, I listened to what he had to teach.

He began with a class on the modern history of Wicca as it emerged in England during the mid-20th century and its migration to America since then. He joked that during the 1960’s the Sander’s London apartment was a revolving door of initiations so frequent, and so easy to achieve, that all you had to do was drive by slowly enough on any full moon night, and you were instantly a first degree. While funny, and not without a kernel of truth, that was hardly a glowing recommendation. You can’t have it both ways: using this coven to prop up your own legitimacy, then turn around and demean their practices as a joke. No bueno.

Digging Up Roots

These days Wicca is treated like the bastard red-headed step-child of pagandom, with many entrenching opinions still in hot debate. From what I can tell across the blogosphere, you either love ’em (because you are one) or you revile them. Holy Hermes, people!  Much more bitching about which witch is legit, and I might pull a Cochrane and drink the belladonna.

Any modern synopsis of what “real” Witchcraft is, was, or should be will be biased based on the speaker’s point of view. That is the shtick with a point of view, isn’t it? It is pointy and limited by the distance seen from one’s vantage point. The higher you climb up the teetering pile of well-studied books and experiences, the farther you can see. Well, I wanted a nice panorama shot so wide I could perceive the arc of the horizon.  Like all the best occult mysteries, its a paradox: to see far, you dive deep. So, I went into the garden of Witchcraft and started digging down to the roots.  To quote Orion Foxwood, you can’t “Bless the fruits, and curse the roots.” I LOVE the fruits of modern craft, but I was pretty clueless about the roots, so I went to the sources.

Memoirs of Wiccan Priestesses

Photo by Heron Michelle

To triangulate my way to a truth about where it all came from, I started with the biographies of the founders of Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, Namely Alex and Maxine Sanders, and Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. This revealed the names of their covenmates and inheritors (I read up on Patricia Crowther, Lois Bourne and Vivianne Crowley), and rivals (namely Robert Cochrane); which led to reading THEIR biographies; which led to reading many of THEIR original works on various streams of Witchcraft; which led to reading the foundation occult materials that had inspired their practice; which led to reading the biographies of the generation of THOSE occultists who’d come before them (namely Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, etc.) It was quite a trip, and the stack of books on my nightstand that I have yet to read continues to grow.

My favorite was The Rebirth of Witchcraft by Doreen Valiente, originally published in 1989; I absorbed every word with gleeful delight.  This is a must-read book, especially for those vying to win the very popular game of “oh witchier than thou.”

Back in the day, Doreen served as Priestess within the covens of both Gerald Gardner, AND his contemporary and rival, Robert Cochrane. She helped to found and hone both of their traditions. In this book Doreen shares her story and research, and much like a war-correspondent, shares pointy insights on her first-hand involvement with these men, these covens, the tumultuous times in which they emerged, and how both their good works and dastardly deeds influenced Modern Witchcraft. Plus, she’s a hoot. If I could invite one deceased historical person over for dinner and conversation some Samhain night, it would be Doreen Valiente.

Four Dastardly Bastards

So here we are in 2016, and I’ve long noticed that when talking about our history and traditions, it is easy to focus on the MEN who attracted the spotlight, like Gerald Gardner, Alex Sanders, Robert Cochrane, and the “wickedest man in the world,” Aleister Crowley. I now refer to those four men as the Four Dastardly Bastards.  We are all enjoying this revival because they trotted it out to the press with their signature flare, (or pitched a fit in Witch-circles against publicity in the case of Cochrane) so I suppose that deserves some gratitude, but they weren’t the only ones making magick at the time. They had priestesses, who were well-balanced, sincere, discreet, and running the damned show!

You know, while the ego-maniacal face-men were out flirting with tabloid reporters, acting like big- ol’ divas, posing for inflammatory photo-ops, and flat-out lying to everyone, mamas Doreen, Maxine, Patricia, Ray, Lois, Dafo…are back at the covenstead with the reasonable priests, honoring those vows of silence Gerald took from them before breaking himself. They were creating liturgy, researching, teaching, organizing, running interference for the dastardly bastards and doing the Great Work of the Old Religion with dedication…all while raising up the babies (Maxine was, at least.)  Ain’t that usually the way? <eyeroll>

Photo by Heron

Photo by Heron

Mama Doreen Drops the Mic

I think that a major cause of this imbalance in current discourse is due to the Grandmothers of the craft not being given an equal measure of attention as the infamous Grandfathers early on. The best part about reading the autobiographies of these priestesses, are the scenes they describe where they realize that Alex, and Gerald and Robert have gone off the rails, and are just making shit up to try and control them. My favorite bits in all these memoirs are when these strong women tell the dastardly bastards exactly where they can shove their abuse and sexism, drop the mic, and exit stage left.

Doreen left Gerald’s coven after he insisted on publicizing what was oath-bound, and then lying about it to them. When they dared to demand some standards of behavior, he manufactured the sexist Ardanes, or Laws of the Craft, in a ludicrous attempt to remove her from any power. Here are a few dandy quotations from Rebirth of Witchcraft:

Doreen wrote to Gerald “I am afraid we have come to the parting of the ways. Because there is no point in trying to do magical work with someone who is going to foist a lot of phoney ‘Laws’ upon us and whose word I can no longer trust.” page 72

In the case of Robert Cochrane, who she reports as being an adulterous, hate-mongering, drug-abusing, madman:

(Doreen) “rose up and challenged him (Robert Cochrane) in the presence of the rest of the coven. I told him that I was fed up with listening to all this senseless malice, and that, if a ‘Night of the Long Knives’ was what his sick little soul craved, he could get on with it, but he could get on with it alone, because I had better things to do.” page 129

Doreen walked out on both Gerald Gardner and Robert Cochrane over their abusiveness. Cochrane’s wife and Priestess of the Clan of Tubal Cain divorced him over infidelity, and Maxine divorced Alex for the same reasons. They both tell the story of how heart-breaking and difficult that was to do, but then they carried on with the business of Witchcraft with distinction, forming new covens with reasonable witches, whose names you’ve probably never heard, and rightly so. If the women who knew these dastardly bastards so well could tell them to fuck off and walk away, then why are we still arguing under the banners of these men’s names? Why do we not call it the Valiente Tradition? or the Maxinians?

I think I know why; because the wise Grandmothers ultimately knew that the Craft, and the Power and The Divine Forces are nameless and all names, ageless and all ages, owned by no one yet possessed of everyone, and does not particularly care about blood-lines, or lineages, and would never allow such hubris to cloud THE WORK.

‘The Old Religion meant a great deal to us, and we had not stopped believing in its beauty, its magic or its power. Our parting with Gerald simply meant that the quest went on.” Rebirth of Witchcraft, Page 72

When Maxine Sanders was asked what they should the call witches who followed their ways, she said, “We had no idea. To us The Craft was just that, The Craft.” Firechild, Page 164

The Moral of the Story:

I know that the soul is eternal, unbound by genetics or heritage, so why should it have ever mattered to me which stream of Witchcraft floats my boat? To me, pedigree doesn’t matter one lick, not anymore. I solved that problem with a little bit o’ education. It might not have been apparent in all their earlier writings, but the older the Grandmothers grew in their understanding, and the further they wandered, the more they realized that this stream was meant to flow through us toward new horizons, not be damned up to stagnate in the past. This theme continues through the writing of the Craft’s sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters, to become thing we now call Modern Witchcraft today.

I came to the gates of initiation as a book-trained “solitary.” I’ve now studied in person, on one level or another, with teachers who are every flavor of Witch but I took my initiations direct from Spirit. I’ve learned important things from each of these people, stood on sacred ground and heard the voice of the Gods through their lips. I deem them “legitimate” because of their dedication and the beneficial fruits of their Work, not because some witch up-line from them was or was not trussed, whipped and kissed by a press-whore named Gerald or Alex.

Circling back to the story of the Wiccan Priest who offered to train me, I left his tutelage before we even made it to a dedication ritual, but that experience was transforming and I’m glad I took the time to listen and open to that possibility. I left with both an appreciation for who that Priest was in his own right, and self-respect for my own wyrdly wonderful, witchy path, to boot.

Teetering pile of books on my nightstand ~ Photo by Heron

Teetering pile of books on my nightstand ~ Photo by Heron

Titles for the Teetering Pile

I highly recommend to any Witch that you educate yourself by reading the foundational texts for yourself. Why? Because these Witches were some seriously interesting, entertaining and screwed up people, full of shadow and light, but basically they were no different than the rest of us.  Especially do this for yourself if you are being demonized for your choice of path. You need to know enough about where it came from so that you can defend your choices with accuracy, because ALL THE GODS know that we need a LOT more accuracy up in here.

I’ve read a lot of these works, but the stack of books on my nightstand is still teetering with plenty more I have yet to explore. To that end, click >>Here<< for a list of the books I recommend that you add to your own teetering pile.

Enjoy!
~Heron

 

The Great Work: Holding the Space

Gouache on paper by Heron Michelle

Gouache on paper by Heron Michelle

As part of my spiritual practice each year I choose an area of study or devotion to which I will dedicate myself for the course of that turning of the wheel. I call this year-long working, that is furthered through 8 sabbats and many esbats, the Great Work.

Beginning sometime after Samhain, which is the end of the cycle, and beginning in earnest during the Yule rites, which is the beginning of the cycle, I use various means of meditation and divination, to open my heart, mind and eyes to the Awen (divine inspiration) about what that next Great Work should be. Then I make the dedication at Imbolc like the planting of the seeds. Throughout the remaining year the work is fertilized at Ostara, empowered at Beltane, cultivated at Litha, harvested at Lammas, and the fruits of those labors applied and integrated at Mabon, before laying to rest at Samhain what aspects of my life and process no longer serve my highest good, in light of the new development.

That time of rest between Samhain and Imbolc becomes a very wide open, reflective and intuitive time. Without fail, once I broadcast to the Universe that I seek their guidance and I am open to their messages, the synchronicity, signs, symbols, and omens blaze and sizzle into my awareness like fireworks. It becomes almost comically clear what threads I’m meant to begin weaving into the tapestry of my evolving consciousness through the next cycle of the Great Work.

The way that I utilize the energies of the solar cycle that we call “The Wheel of the Year”  allows for a time to “hold the space” during that dark time of late fall, early winter, when we celebrate the mythos of the God/dess descending into the underworld and arriving at Samhain. For me, the waning Samhaintides, are a time of rest and reflection. It is a time when the lessons of the previous harvest are taken into account with gratitude, and in the silence I find conclusion to what the year taught me. Then I turn my eyes to the future, into the birth of the new cycle, to begin a new vision.

cropped-moon3.png

Gouache on paper by Heron Michelle

It takes this time of metaphorical “darkness,” to refocus one’s inner vision.  Just as when one sits in the dark back yard, when there is no moon, nor glare of artificial light, and your eyes can relax into the low light. Perception expands, deepens, and points of starlight previously imperceptible, now come into our view; the patterns of the stars take on new clarity and meaning.

“Hold the Space” is the term I use more frequently than “be silent” when referring to the active principle of the elemental earth mysteries of the Witches’ Pyramid of Power, the foundation principles of my magickal practice.  To hold the space means that I hold open the void of potential, like playing midwife to a birth, and deliver into the world whatever my Divine Will deems appropriate for me at that time. Meanwhile, I withhold any sort of critical analysis, judgement, or action.  I merely PAY ATTENTION, gather the strands of data, and SHUT UP for a while (that is the be silent part.)

“Speak ye little, listen much.” ~The Wiccan Rede.

As Imbolc approaches and  I begin to formulate the new dedication, all those strands of data begin forming a pattern, like a big arrow pointing in a direction, that I can discern.  But its for the best that I still withhold judgement and just begin that journey with the first step, since there are no guarantees to be had, anyway. Truth be told, even if I think I have an idea where Spirit is leading me, I’m always amazed by the journey. I may THINK I have a map, but I’m not going where I’ve been before, that is behind me, and every person’s journey is unique, so other people’s maps would do me no good anyway. You know what is said about the difference between Religion and Spirituality, don’t you?

“Religion is belief in someone else’s experience.
Spirituality is having your own experience.”
-Deepak Chopra

I’ve been consciously traveling this river of Wyrd, this flow of Spirit, or my fate or personal destiny, as my Anglo-Saxon ancestors may have called it, now for over a decade. I can trust that the boat I’ve made for myself is well-crafted and strong, because I built it myself, one bit of praxis at a time. I can trust that my Wyrd is flowing in accordance to Divine Will, and that the wisdom, skills and experience I’ve gained through my spiritual practice will be sufficient to navigate whatever rocks, eddies and rapids may lie ahead. I also know that as a sovereign being with free-will, I have choices:

  1. Do I cling to the edge in terror of the unknown before me; paralyzed by my fear? Am I so powerless and dependent on anything or anyone else to allow my personal destiny to unfold? I’m no sheep.
  2. Do I turn my boat around and paddle feverishly and pointlessly against the current, attempting to cling to the past or to old ideas, and outmoded ways?  We know that is an exhausting, frustrating, pointless endeavor at best, and is seething fundamentalism at worst, getting you no where; I am no fool.
  3. Do I allow myself to become diverted and mired in some murky bog of avoidance, self-loathing, addictions, heart-break, disillusionment, or entrapment in old ideas, or systems that no longer serve me? I’m no slave.
  4. Or might I have the courage and open mindedness to take responsibility for my own evolution by pointing the prow of my boat into the future, flowing with the current of wyrd, my Divine Will, and using all the tools I’ve honed and wisdom I’ve mapped for myself, to tackle what new vistas and lessons are out there waiting for me? Yes. I am the Witch; I am the Magickian.
Gouache on Paper by Heron Michelle

Gouache on Paper by Heron Michelle

With gratitude to the mystery teachings and techniques I weave through the Wheel of the Year, I have a praxis through which I can build the strong boat, map the wyrd through my own wisdom, and learn the skills of navigation through magick.  I will not let fear paralyze me, nor will I waste my energy on the pointless avoidance of change. I will not be blinded by personal ego, misdirected by personal will, nor will I let despair nor hatred bind me.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” ― Frank Herbert, Dune