Interview with the East Carolinian Newspaper

WitchcraftWEB-TBI was honored to be interviewed for the East Carolinian Newspaper (my alma mater is ECU!) on the classes in Modern Witchcraft that I teach. If that wasn’t good enough, there I am scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and lo and behold, there is the link to the article shared through The Witches’ Voice!  So, I’m feeling just a touch famous right this moment <blush> and just a touch exposed, too! I can thank The Witches’ Voice as the source of contact that created the now vibrant pagan community in Eastern North Carolina. It was through them that I first found the other witches and pagans who would eventually become the circles and social networks that made all that we enjoy here today possible. All my love and gratitude goes out to those fine folks who run www.witchvox.com!

Needless to say, interviews with student writers at college papers can be a tricky thing, and this one was done over the phone while I simultaneously cashiered customers at the shop.  <sigh>  However,  I give Destiny Edwards props for her open-minded and unbiased approach to a topic often shunned in this region. There are a few things I would have preferred to be worded differently, but I think the general feel of the article will be beneficial, over-all.

For more information on those classes, see the “workshops” tab on this site.   For more information on The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions, the metaphysical shop I run, check us out on Facebook and www.thesojo.com.

What do you think about the article?  Go see it here:
http://theeastcarolinian.com/?p=33495

Blessed be!

Litha Sabbat: A Ritual of Highlight and Shadow

sunspiralAs we begin to turn our attentions away from the Beltane rites we’ve just completed, and look now in preparation for the summer solstice, I would like to offer for your consideration this ritual I wrote years ago and have led several times, with several groups, all to beneficial effect. It also illustrates the ritual style developed and practiced by The Sojo Tribe.

I share this ritual because I am rather proud of it, and because it illustrates our style and techniques that have evolved over time to become powerful tools that engage all the celebrants as contributors, (regardless of their previous experience,) works with all the senses, includes both inner work and outer work within the Great Work.  I would be remiss not to give credit here to the ample influence of one of my early mentors, Diana Rice of The Lunatic Fringe, a Shamanic Witchcraft circle that offered public Sabbats for over 18 years here in NC. I was honored to have attended the last Samhain that they offered before their retirement and it continues to inspire me, lo these many years hence.

Litha Sabbat: a Summer Solstice Ritual of Highlight and Shadow

Written by: Heron Michelle

Need to procure: medium sized straw wreath, 2” Yellow florist ribbon, herbs of healing, mead, cakes, sunflowers, sparklers.
Altar:
Southeast edge of the circle, golden yellow altar cloth and sunflowers, chalice of wine, plate of sun cakes, libation bowl, silver goddess and gold god candles, white spirit candle. Incense, water, salt and fire candle. Hand-held mirror. Unfinished straw wreath (Sun wheel). Cauldron of healing herbs beside the altar, animal guide cards.  Fire pit in center of circle. Cauldron of water in the Western side of circle. Metal pan and fire shovel for collecting ash. Self-drying clay set aside for later.

  • RL: ritual leader, guide and narrator.
  • Maiden and Summoner
  • 4 Quarter Callers

Set up the Circle:
Outline perimeter with flowers, 18’ in diameter. Set torches at the cardinal points. Enter through the east.
Pre-ritual class:
History and reasons for the season and then we go over the ritual.  Everyone completes their sun wheel ribbon answering this question:  “My skills and talents shone most brightly when I accomplished______________.”
Cleanse the space:
Smudge the space with burning sage.
Challenge at the gate:
How do you enter?
Answer: “With an open mind and an open heart” or “In perfect love and perfect trust.”
Anointing the forehead with pentacle, smudged with sage.  Celebrant circles deosil 3 times before finding the place in circle that feels right.
Sweeping:
Maiden sweeps the ground with the besom while visualizing vital energy sweeping out any baneful energies of the physical/energetic space.  Summoner plays the Singing bowl.
Chant: Weave the circle well, Weave the enchantment well, sweep the circle well, sweep the circle well.
Grounding and Centering:
Take hands (thumbs deosil) around the fire.
RL: Let us begin tonight’s ritual by centering and grounding.  First we’ll take 3 group breaths from the belly.
(Pause)
Imagine that there is a tube running through your chakras from crown to root.  Hold the ball of your consciousness at the crown then as we exhale drop that ball down the tube…feel where it settles in your gut.  This is your center.
(Pause)
Now, extend that tube from the base of your spine into the earth–to it’s core.  As you inhale draw up pure white light through your chakras–set them spinning.  As you exhale, visualize any tension, fear or anxiety you may be carrying as black smoke being flushed down the tube to be cleansed by the earth and pulled back into you as vitality, confidence and power.
(pause)
Consecrate the altar:
Pull up the energy from the earth, pull down from the sky, out through the hands. Awaken and prepare the elements, light spirit candle. Ring bell three times.
Erecting the Temple:
Welcome and Ritual intent:
RL: Welcome Friends!

All: Welcome!

RL: The Wheel of the year turns on. We are gathered on this sacred eve to celebrate the summer solstice.  The earth is a riot of vitality. Just as the fruits grow on the vine, the womb of the mother goddess quickens with child.  The seeds planted at Imbolc, and fertilized at Beltane, grow.  Symbolically, the god is in his prime; the powerful provider and expectant father.  The sun reaches his zenith, shining brightly through his strongest, longest day.    But today is an out-of-balanced light that casts harsh shadows.  As the sun slips over the horizon, so do we also turn towards the darkening half of the year.  We celebrate our personal zeniths–as well as our shadows.

We step aside from personal ego, release knowing, and seek wonderment. We release personal will, and seek surrender to Divine Will. We accept our greatness, then dare to strive for improvement. We hold the space, seeking the next resonance. We will celebrate our greatest accomplishments then look inward to find the source of our inner light, setting ourselves on the path to discover “what’s next?”

Let us erect the temple.

Cast the circle:
RL: Together we will cast the circle with the Awen Cone of Power. Pull vital, protective energy from the universe and release it through your voice and hands, laying a hedge of multicolored light at the circles edge.

All: Ah–oo–wen (chanted repeatedly, starting low and slow, rising in pitch and speed, to peak at the top with arms thrown to the sky.)

RL:  A ring of our energy dances around us at the circle’s edge.  See it pulsing with light and life–all colors, all vibrations.  Together we will close the sphere.  Hands to the sides, close it above us gathering in the heavens (bring hand to a peak above our heads) and below us, gathering in the underworld (sweeps hands to close them pointing to the earth.)
The circle is cast; let it be our protection, our amplification, and our magnification for our work this day. Naught but love will enter in. Naught but love will emerge.  We stand in a temple of our own making, between the worlds, in a time out of time.  Blessed be!

All: Blessed be!

Quarter call and hallowing:
Everyone faces east, holding hands at chest height with palms facing away and fingers splayed like the sun. (ritual of gestures by Scott Cunningham.)
East: Guardians of the East! Powers of air!  We ask your breezy, cleansing presence into our circle tonight.  Liberate us. Give our voices wings of flight. Hail and welcome! (Draw invoking pentagram)

All: Hail and welcome!

East: (Goes to get element from the altar) I consecrate this circle with the powers of air…(all repeat as element is carried around the circle.) Air!  I your brother of air, greet you with air and ask that you blow free any unwanted energies from our circle. (Replaces element on the altar.)

Everyone faces south, holding hands parallel to the ground, elbows straight, grasping fingers in tight fists.
South:  Guardians of the South! Powers of Fire!  We ask your passionate, transformative presence at our circle tonight.  Embolden us. Ignite our spirits. Hail and welcome! (Draws the invoking pentagram)

All: Hail and welcome!

South: (Goes to get element from the altar) I consecrate this circle with the powers of Fire. (all repeat as element is carried around the circle.)
South:  Fire! I your brother of Fire, greet you with Fire and ask that you burn free any unwanted energies from our circle. (Replaces element on the altar.)

Everyone faces west, holding hands at head height, bend elbows and turn palms upward and cup them like a chalice.  Visualize blue and sense fluidity, waves of the ocean.

West: Guardians of the West! Powers of Water!  We ask your flowing, ever-changing presence at our circle tonight.  Inspire us.  Break free the banks of our emotions.  Hail and welcome! (Draws the invoking pentagram)

All: Hail and welcome!

West: (Goes to get element from the altar) I consecrate this circle with the powers of Water…(all repeat as element is carried around the circle.)
West:  Water!  I your Sister of Water, greet you with Water and ask that you wash free any unwanted energies from our circle tonight. (Replaces element on the altar.)

Everyone faces North, holding hands in front of the body with palms down and visualizing green and feeling solidity, foundation, fertility.
North:  Guardians of the North! Powers of Earth! We ask your sturdy, comforting presence at our circle tonight.  Strengthen us.  Manifest our dreams in accordance with our will. Hail and welcome! (Draws the invoking pentagram)
All: Hail and welcome!

North: (Goes to get element from the altar) I consecrate this circle with the powers of Earth…(all repeat as element is carried around the circle.)
North:  Earth!  I your sister of Earth, greet you with Earth and ask that you ground any unwanted energies from our circle tonight. (Replaces element on the altar.)
Invocation:

RL:  The Great Spirit fills this place.  Spirit has never been separate or elsewhere.   Every atom, every molecule, the soil, the burrowing worm, each blade of grass, breath of air and drop of dew are spirit swirling into manifestation.  I also honor the transcendent deity–the impetus to BE, to evolve, to come together and bond in new ways.  We are animated and connected by the divine spark.

Mother Goddess! Life-giver! You who are the fertile earth! Aid our journey with your strength. Hail and Welcome! (Light the silver candle.)

All: Hail and Welcome!

Father God!  Provider! You who are the blazing sun! Aid our journey with your devotion. Hail and Welcome! (Light the gold candle.)

All: Hail and Welcome!

Ritual Body:
Outer Work: Releasing attachment to former greatness
RL: Just as the sun is at it’s zenith today, we also have achieved zeniths, or times when our strength, skills and talents gained us great accomplishments.  We were in our full power and on top of the world!  Our pride and self-confidence grew. Our egos swelled.  While ego is an important part of our psychological make-up, *attachment* to our former accomplishments can be limiting.  If not released, it begins to define us as what we were, and derails us from what we can become.  So we’ll each come forward, declare that accomplishment for which we are most proud then attach the ribbon to the wreath, then we will burn the wreath and with it our attachments to that part of ego.

Each person shares their accomplishment, reads the ribbon and then attaches it to the wheel.
“I shone most brightly when I ___________________”

After each declaration we all applaud and cheer them on.

RL:  How brightly we shine! We are strong! We are powerful!  (Everyone repeats the affirmation. The sun wheel is dropped onto the fire)  But we are not limited by this past greatness.

Walking the wheel, or dancing to raise the cone of power…

All: (Chanting) Burning, burning, higher higher, feeding pride into the fire.

RL leads to peak, then everyone sits to ground the energy. Pause to catch our breath.
Inner Work: Opening to Mystery

RL: Our attachments to previous greatness are set free.  Where they once lived within us is now an open place, a void of potential. Let us invite into that space our next greatness.  Open yourselves to the mystery of what comes next.
(Pause)
Affirm your connection to the earth–strengthen your grounding root.

Feel the residual heat of the Sun at your back and open yourself to the Cosmos before you.  Look deep–stretch your awareness all the way to the Galactic Center.  Where will your path take you next?

(Pause for a lengthy inner journeying – shamanic drumming)

Thank any beings you have encountered.  It is time to return to the Circle.  Be present in your body again.

Now look yourself in the eyes and see the divine within you–your light–and affirm you will continue to seek this mystery.  While we do this, let’s all softly sing…

“I am the flow, and I am the ebb, I am the weaver, and I am the web.”

RL will hold a hand mirror for each celebrant (If ritual is at night, Maiden holds up the spirit candles to illuminate their faces.)  RL will whisper in their left ear in two parts the affirmation for them to repeat.

Individually: It is my Will to seek the Mystery within me / which is the source of my Light

After the affirmation, celebrant is handed a sparkler by the Summoner, they light the sparkler from either the fire pit or the spirit candle, then walk or dance the circle, as they desire.  Each person may scry at a cauldron of water…feeling the water…ritual cleansing…

RL: By this act of your will, you are on the path of en-Light-enment.  Your coming greatness will be in the service of that path, and in service to the Divine will in your life.
Closing:
Prayers and Thanksgiving:
We pass the bowl of healing herbs around the circle and holding them while praying, calling loved ones into the mind’s eye, envisioning them in good health and filled with healing light, then burn the herbs in the fire declaring wellness by name. End with “So mote it be.”
Divination:
We will each take an animal spirit card to reveal which animal medicine will guide our journey through the dark half of the year.

Simple feast:
Blessing of the wine and cakes, offering a libation to the goddess, god and spirits of the land into the offering bowl.  Each offers the feast first to each other. “May the gods sustain you.” (As the chalice and cakes are passed around the circle, “You are a god/dess may you never thirst/hunger.” Answering, “Blessed be.”

Dissolving the Temple:

RL: Blessed Be this midsummer’s night!

All: Blessed Be!

RL: Summer is here and our work is complete.  It is time to dissolve our temple and step back into the flow of time and the mundane world.

Farewell to Deity:
RL: Great Spirit!  Universe weaver! You who are mother and father to all things.  Thank you for the inspiration, nurturing, protection and devotion felt here tonight.  You are carried ever with us.  Hail and farewell.

All: Hail and Farewell.

Releasing the quarters:
RL: We’ll release the quarters widdershins beginning in the north.

Everyone faces North, making Gesture of Earth. (Ritual of gestures by Scott Cunningham)
North:  Powers of the North and of Earth.  Manifest our magick, lend solidity to our purpose.  As above, so below. Thank you for your blessings tonight.  Hail and farewell!  (Draws the banishing pentagram)

All: Hail and Farewell!

Everyone faces West, making gesture of water.

West:  Powers of the west and of water.  Nourish our magick and succor our hearts.  Thank you for your blessings tonight.  Hail and farewell!  (Draws the banishing pentagram)

All: Hail and Farewell!

Everyone faces South, making gesture of fire.
South:  Powers of the South and of Fire.  Empower our magick and lend your transformation to our purpose.  Thank you for your blessings tonight.  Hail and farewell!  (Draws the banishing pentagram)

All: Hail and Farewell!

Everyone faces east, making gesture of air.
East: Powers of the East and of air.  Blow quickly our magick to its purpose. Thank you for your blessings tonight.  Hail and farewell!  (Draws the banishing pentagram)

All: Hail and Farewell!
Circle release:
RL:  We’ll release the energy of our circle to light our paths during the darkening half of the year.  With your hands, gather the bubble of energy we’ve created.  Feel it tingling in your hands as together we push it, mold it into an intense ball of energy.  Smaller and smaller, charge it with all your intent, your will.  We charge this sphere to be the light on the path before us, leading us back together again! On the count of three, release it into the universe for the highest good of all! One, two, three…RELEASE! (We throw our hands upward, and clap, to break the space.)

The circle is open, but never broken!  Merry meet, Merry part…
All:  And Merry meet again!

(We sing the song and usually frolic around a bit like a square dance….)

Grounding as needed.

Spell working: After the sun wheel is turned to ash, and cooled, we collect that ash, mix it with the self hardening clay, and fashion a sun-shaped fetish that can either be turned into a pendant, or a figurine for personal use in the furthering of the celebrants great work through The Wheel of the Year. The fetish should be hardened and charged in the summer sunlight. Powdered herbs of the sun can also be added into the mix in small quantity, like cinnamon, or painted later in gold leaf.

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

The Thorny Path of the Public Witch: Stopping to Smell the Roses

Roses bleed thorns by Angelicscreams

Back in April of 2014, I was honored to lecture at Pitt Community College within two World Religion classes on the subject of neo-paganism and Modern Witchcraft. I’ve done this once or twice a semester for several professors in recent years. I also was privileged to be part of a discussion panel on the intersection of LGBT issues, gender identity, and religion at East Carolina University, my alma mater.

I was invited to do these things because I own the local Metaphysical store* through which I privately teach a year-round training course I call, Modern Witchcraft 366: The Art, Science and Psychology of Nature-based Spirituality. I’m currently learning from the 5th year of students who are turning this wheel with me. I love them all. They’ve helped me find the roses along the thorny path when I’ve needed them most.

Not everyone can be a public witch; not everyone should be, as this really is a very private and subtle path not suited to many. They don’t call these “mystery teachings” for nothing!  However, the Gods demanded this of me and, I believe, have groomed me for it since I was a child. They first called me to action as a young teenager and I tried to ignore that call for 15 years. (For that story, check out this blog.) Eventually, they removed every barrier to my work , took away every excuse I could think of to keep me from coming out of my broom closet, and shoved me out into plain view.

In many ways, on many days, I wish I didn’t have this cross to bear. Like Jesus in Gethsemane**, I often ask that I not have to drink from this particular cup–that this work not fall to me.  Alas, once you know, you cannot un-know; ignorance is a bliss I am not afforded in this lifetime.

However, despite the thorny path I’ve chosen to tread, there are still roses aplenty, and today I need to take some time to stop and smell those roses. Here are 10 things I love about my sacred work, which I see as the sharing with others of this “good news” when they seek me out; the good news of the Modern Witchcraft paradigm as I understand it.

In no particular order:
1) I love giving sacred permission to question everything, engage their minds, decide what is correct for themselves, discard what does not serve their highest good, no matter how old, nor how revered it may have been to someone else, nor what their parents think. The only blasphemy to the Divine Mind would be to stop thinking with yours.

Go back far enough and I promise you have pagan ancestors. What did they think?  EVERYONE has pagan ancestors; even Jesus; even Muhammad; even Siddhartha Gautama, no exceptions. They would be proud of you for having the courage to dig up those bones and roots, discover what they found to be sacred. You do them honor when you cease to be a mindless sheep.

2) I love the release of joy when I affirm that that they are sovereign beings worthy of dignity and respect, and I honor them as incarnate God/desses, no matter what their outer self looks like, nor who their inner self wants to be. I especially enjoy giving my LGBT listeners sacred permission to be themselves and love as they love, without hindrance.

3) I love the giggles, when I equate the Big Bang creation with the first cosmic orgasm between god/dess, and then quote “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” from the Charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente. Modern Witchcraft remains, at it’s heart, a fertility religion. Yes, we affirm the natural-ness, necessity, and sacredness of sex, and not just for procreation. Sensuality and union are a Divine expression of that ecstasy of Spirit within the flesh.  Please, go forth and get some, but for God/dess’ sake, be good at it (and responsible, harming none.)

4) I love watching their brains sorta melt, meld, and blow open wide, as I over-lay quantum mechanics and modern sciences, with ancient mystery school teachings. You can actually *hear* the pop, whirr and sigh as the connections sync up in their thinking. The collective WOAH creates cosmic eddies that tingle my spine. Yes, your thoughts create the world. Let’s think up a better one!

5) I especially love it when a college student who needs to attend a ceremony for their world religion class, and claims to be an atheist, attends one of my guided meditations just to get a grade. Yet, and it happens time and time again, these folks with the LEAST expectations are usually the ones who, no shit, travel to the heavens and meet GOD–like a specific god/dess, or an ARCHangel–and very definite, very profoundly REAL things happen that are in complete alignment with occult wisdom of which they knew nothing.  Lives have been changed. I love it when the lid of black/white thinking is blown off.

6) I love when they *feel* their own power for the first time. When they connect to the flow of the Universe, and the unseen becomes tangible. The need for “belief” or “faith” evaporates because the toe-curling wonder is right before them to see, touch, feel, smell, and KNOW. I love when this ceases to be a question of religion and becomes the IS-ness. It just IS. It becomes the thing that cannot be denied or ignored.

7) I love introducing my first two rules of Witchcraft:

1:  Don’t burn the Witch. You know, basic fire safety!  Then, be careful not to conjure up what you can’t handle. Followed more importantly by NOT attacking and denigrating yourself; stop burning yourself at the stake! Love yourself first.  Most importantly, in the name of all things holy, PLEASE, stop attacking your fellows within the pagan community.  I am appalled that the term “Witch War” was ever coined.  Good grief, 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?

2: Don’t be the asshole. First I enjoy it for the laughs, then I love it when the deep responsibility of Divine Being blooms within them; knowing what it means to live life as a benefit, and not a detriment..  I love seeing them become the warrior, stand in their truth, living authentically, out loud, and yet doing so with their ego properly aligned with Divine Will;  being gracious and beautiful even when they need to crack a few heads and defend the boundaries–because today I am loving you by saying NO, and YOU SHALL NOT PASS whatever boundary is being trespassed. (I call this going Gandalf on someone.)

Even better, I love seeing them step back in peace and “hold the space,” centered in compassion and love, honoring that wounds drive the harmful behavior of others.  This way we can dismiss the drama and not engage in histrionics that cannot serve any good. That sort of discernment takes heart and courage and is all too rare in the world.

8) I love expanding the idea of love, and exploring the difference between the battleground paradigm of Abrahamic religions (Good vs. Evil) and the honeymoon paradigm based on the polarity of Goddess loving God.  We explore how the polar opposite of love grows from the root of fearing a lack of love. When I ask, “What are you afraid of?” and there is that deep, mournful, resonant A-HA it spreads across the face in the most painful of ways, but the tension releases. I see the wounds; I feel them, then into those tender places I whisper of interconnection, of acceptance, of unconditional Divine love from which we can never be separated. We ARE love. We have everything we need at our fingertips. We are blessed in our nature.

9) I love standing up in a crowded lecture hall, or church sanctuary, and saying out loud, “I am a witch and a priestess” and the fact that those words no longer catch in my throat, nor cause tears to flow, because I’ve now been able to say them so many times that I can have that courage where others might not…yet.  Perhaps they can someday find their own courage because I opened the way.  I love it that no stones are thrown, no pitchforks raised, no blazing inferno ensues. I love it that room upon room of eastern North Carolina people now have had a moment when a reasonable person who defies the stereotypes***, claiming to be something they previously thought was malignant and terrifying, was actually just a decent neighbor of theirs, who made them feel good about themselves. I hope they all went out and told a few friends what they heard me say and that changed the world just a little bit for the better.

10) I love it when my customers preface a question with “This might sound crazy….” and I can honestly say that no questions are crazy, nor stupid or weird to me anymore. Chances are, they are probably just singing the song of our people. Its nice to find out you have “people.” I do enjoy making those introductions.

They ask me, “Is this all in my head?” I answer,  “Yes, but you have no idea how big your head is.”

* The Sojourner Whole Earth Provisions, 414 S. Evans Street, Greenville, NC 27858 www.thesojo.com

**Yes, I referenced Jesus the Nazarene. The shock that I cause by being well educated about the life of Jesus is my 11th favorite thing to do as a witch.

***Ok, I am owned by 2 black cats, named Mad Madam Mim and Nagira, and a grey, fluffy girl named Bellaluna (the witchiest three cats you’ve ever met) but other than that… IMG_7473