choices, consequences, and shadow

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I mixed the oil with the water, said my goodbyes, and dropped him in. He flailed for just a few seconds before settling to the bottom of the jar.. that’s when I gave him the lethal dose. Later that evening we lit the candles and left his little fishy spirit an offering of his favorite worms.. my thoughts were simply that I had done this.

I killed the smallest member of my family, this was several days ago now. I had not been diligent in his care of late. Sickness took him due to my neglect, and I could no longer watch him suffer. The responsibility was mine, and so this guilt joins my shadow.. which has been knocking hard at my door of late.

In this said late shadow lurks family, what that means to me, and spider’s insistence that a few things be dealt with. I have been winding through some memories (and lack there) of childhood trauma.. of which is mine and not open for discussion. Nonetheless, it brought with it the point of what I choose to consider family.. how much does one forgive and what then do we do with all those deeply embedded rotting bits asking to be examined? Do we make some kind of peace within ourselves? How about all the ripples said things have made in result? Do we release those as well? The answers are most personal.

Looking at my notes of what of those bits I could remember of that time, I can say it was definitely not filled with light.. at least not in regards to my biological ties. It was very clear to me that if it had not been for the support of my childhood friend and her family, things would not have turned out so well. In my head, her mom is my mom.. her sister my sister.. and she also my sister. I forever will consider them so and even though I stepped away later in life, I know that they are the reason I made it into adulthood in one or three pieces.

Do I regret my neglect and loss of those I consider my true family? Some days very much so.. but like the loss of my dear little one, that rests firmly on my shoulders as well. Still, spirit has its reasons.. choices, consequences, and shadow.

As I grow older, I now try to take that lesson with me and be much more responsible in maintaining my relationships close. I have new sisters and brothers who I walk my path with and they have become my new family.. and I am reminded. I might not always succeed, but I do my best. As for my surrogate family long lost.. I hope they realize that they saved me from the great terrible and that I will always be here if they have need. Most importantly, I hope they know the depth of my appreciation for having had them in my life and that I love them.

 

There is no birth of consciousness without pain.
–Carl Jung

Notes on shadow:

Like a storm rising up suddenly with brute force, one little dream became a heavy downpour of messages beating at me with fat needley droplets of wet suffering.. that would be my description of my current shadow work. Dramatic much, you ask? Not this time.. truly this time is a tough go.. and yes, I made up a word. It brought up a good discussion, however, at the last witch and wine.. which I will try to shorthand here (if not for anything else, then at least for my own reference) –

What is shadow? The shadow is basically those hidden ugly(?) bits of self that get pushed away into exile.. trapped painful emotions from trauma, parts of ourselves we find that are not valued, feelings we were taught not to embrace, etc. These things, lurking about where they may not be consciously acknowledged, have bearing on our lives. They can influence our choices or reactions, make us feel unworthy, separate us from a sense of wholeness, and all sorts of lovely things. Even considering all of this, I find that I still tend to agree with Jung in that the shadow holds gifts.. gifts of learning and wisdom if we choose to work with it in an honest fashion.

And shadow work? Shadow work is an act of going inward and working on/with those unpleasant things be it for release or reconciliation.. to weave those bits back to become whole. Sometimes we take an active step and choose the work, such as honoring the passing of a loved one at Samhain. Sometimes that bitch just sneaks up on you bringing with it all sorts of fun stuff (not). It is a decision of self how you choose to approach shadow work, be it through active imagery, dream work, meditation, friend support, therapy, etc. One’s avenue of working varies as greatly as the nature of shadow, and it’s important to work in a manner that works for you.

 

 

a line in the sand

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Earth, Air, Water, Fire, Spirit.. these are the elements that make up our path. In order for life to exist, the elements must exist. Spirit encompasses the entirety of the wheel, all elements, and the working path. It is what drives us along and what holds us when we are feeling lost. We are all interconnected.

I found the above shuffled amongst the many notes that I had been sifting through lately. This season found my body revolting against me and I found myself with a bit of forced downtime.. this old sack of skin and bone decided it needed a time out. I spent this time gathering and organizing. Along with the earlier elemental musings, one jotted question held my attention – “What is witchcraft to you?”

I could wax poetic on the many things that shape my witchy ways – mythos, folklore, those tales of things that go bump in the night.. but in those collected bits I wrote down two names- Doreen Valiente and Sir Terry Pratchett.

“I’d say to a person who really wanted to know what was the spirit of witchcraft that they’ll learn more by, say, going out on the Downs at midnight and listening to the wind in the trees and looking at the full moon..” (Doreen Valiente, The Power of the Witch-a BBC documentary)

Doreen Valiente, often considered the mother of witchcraft, was a great bringer and defender.. being mostly solitary, I particularly liked her later views on hierarchy and initiation (still a well debated topic I hear in some circles).

“..if a witch started thinking of anyone as ‘just’ anything, that would be the first step on a well worn path that could lead to, oh, to poisoned apples, spinning wheels and a too-small stove” (Sir Terry Pratchett, The Shepard’s Crown)

I personally hold the thought that anything worth learning about witchcraft an be found in Sir Terry Pratchett’s writings.. and I stand by that.

Why all this musing? Compiling all these said jottings down had me thinking about personal path and the many things we should revisit along the way. The experiences of spirit that uniquely make up our path are not the same as those that make up another’s. What does witchcraft mean to you? It is a very important question.

In the outworld, so much infighting, opinionating, words turned about, and judgements seemed to be rolling around.. sometimes I think these things move in cycles. I am also not innocent in such matters of opinionating and judgement.. I am human. I have witnessed many fellow witches, myself included, burned by such things. People set fire for mere gossip and personal life choices. Much of these goings on have made me think about where I should draw my line in the sand. I cannot/must not be party to this burning. Aren’t we supposed to be holdng each other up and celebrating our diversity?

I was also introduced to a new term (or new to me), “corporate witch”. Now, while I have my own hangups about spirituality mixing with money (requiring vs. choosing.. there’s a difference for me personally), I must ponder where the seeker would be without a pagan shop? Here is where they wander in for a glance and hopefully leave with ideas, knowledge, a feeling of place, experiences, and yes.. somethings shiny to help them connect with spirit.

These things- differences of opinions, gossip, infighting, questioning the material vs the spiritual.. they are not new. However, maybe we can take a step back, consider that we do not always know what s going on in another’s life or what has shaped their path, and concentrate on what is important in our own. Maybe we can let them do the same. Their line doesn’t have to be your line. For me, I will hold true to mine and do the best I can. Oh, and if you happen to see someone being doused with gasoline, maybe hold them up instead of striking a match.

 

underworld reflections

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That day was an exercise on underworld and shadow. We paired off to revisit our last underworld experiences – shadows some of us were still working through, and in some cases we found ourselves baring our souls. Many of us were faced with strangers and yet, thought crept in.. were they truly? Spirit had brought us all there for a reason.. who’s to say.. who’s to say..

I was thankful to be paired with a beloved witchling that I had already shared some bonding with, although I wasn’t sure if that made such truths better or not so.. but at least a bit more comfortable for laying my bits of shadow and bone bare. Thought popped in of my journey card image and of the raven picking at the painful meaty bits still clinging to said bone.. and that’s exactly how I felt.

We spoke of shame, of fear, of missteps and of regret.. all those things one has lurking about in shadow still in need of some work. I could have skirted around and picked something easy, but I chose to pull no punches. I laid out my most ugly bits, tinged with regret in a sense, but not necessarily in the way one would expect. There was guilt in there but mostly a sense of failure.

So much had passed and those choices were made in what seemed another lifetime.. but the lessons were needed. For me, I think, it was the lingering shame and the feeling of inadequacy to be found in my failing.. forgiving oneself is really the hardest. I think it is important to acknowledge to those who walk the path with you, that even those of us who have walked a long time still make said missteps large and small. We are but human and sometimes our best isn’t always something great.. it is just all that we can do in that moment.. and that is okay.

Sitting across, baring my immense horrible, I wondered how they saw me now. Did they find me less of a person in my inadequacies? Was I this broken thing – tarnished and pitted? Was I unworthy? Was I no longer the same person in their mind? Was I going to lose this fledgling friendship because I allowed them to see those ugly bits? Were they having the same thoughts in reverse? It’s a very scary thing to allow one so close.. terrifying.

As Wendy wove through her song “Rewind”, it really sank in.. yes, we all would like to have that magical rewind button. We all have times when we feel fucked up and blind.. and that’s okay, at least for me. It’s all part of the journey and we’re allowed.

Looking across from my side, I saw a brave and beautiful soul scorched by the fire of past hurts.. vulnerable and yet backed with an extraodinary quiet strength just finding its way to the fore. I saw the struggle to be open warring with the need to withdrawal – something that I very much relate to. They were brilliantly equisite, even in the not-so-comfortable soft bits they were still adjusting to.. and in that too, there lay such beauty.. and I loved them all the more.

As I placed my written release in the cauldron dirt, I decided the time for hanging on was through. I was going to allow myself to let go of that burden, that shame. I was going to work towards self-forgiveness and move forward.. I hope they chose to do the same.

beyond division

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“..scales fall from your eyes.. resurrection, rebirth.. beyond division.. innocence and experience become one..” – Judgement card, the Mary-El Tarot

I’ve always liked the idea of working in cycles.. the fool making his journey to find oftentimes that he is back at the beginning, the seasons moving through time, the imagery of the serpent swallowing his tail. It all speaks to me of cycles and of revisiting things from a new point further along the path.

I often draw a card around Yule-ish to help figure where I want to start my work in the coming year.. what I need to be paying attention to. This past card was Judgement. It brought to mind that cycling back to things previously discarded and of which I am currently working on. She has visited me before on other matters and no doubt she will visit me again.

Early one evening, post equinox celebrations and plant fondling with friends, Lola and I found ourselves discussing earlier discussions.. and Judgement popped in to remind me of more work needed. As I said, she tends to do this every now and again.. only this time it was a little more personally.

I tend to be a very judgmental soul – at least in my own spiritual. I strive very hard to work through it, to be honest and vocal about it in my path. It’s important to me that although there may be times when my words are twisted, that I am upfront in such matters. I strive even harder in this said vocal to impart the point that I am applying it to my path – just mine, and beyond that it is of no matter. Everyone must judge for themselves the path they wish to tread.

Somehow though, I seem to (mostly) unintentionally squash some toes.. which generally isn’t my intention at all. My intention is and always has been to keep things open and (sometimes painfully) up front.. to be clear in my words. I am not so sure I always succeed. This is where, Judgement whispered, I had done Lola an injustice. I had not done so well at explaining our working relationship.. my response tends to be that I’m working with someone and honestly I tend to ignore most outside rabble.

It’s no big secret that I have a long standing dislike for rigid structure in my spiritual.. that mentor-student, priest/ess-initiate, syllabus-degree, insert-whatever-here thing that works so well for most is just not my cuppa. I am a terrible teacher and an even worse student. Shiny things distract me constantly. To be clear, I am not saying there is no value in the system but that for me personally I prefer an even exchange.. no one above another as everyone old and new I think brings something to the table, a free flow of discussion, a sharing of information. Luckily I don’t work in huge groups so it isn’t a difficult thing to accomplish.. this is what Lola and I base our practice around.

We did put together a very loose structure around those cycles of what we wanted to incorporate within each wheel turn and revisit it every season to decide on a focus. Sometimes we stick to it and other times spirit calls us in a different direction. Sometimes we compromise. Always we collaborate to make sure it is something that works for both of us.

We entered into this partnership with baggage and tangle. Make no mistake, we lost much and had lots of ugly bits to work through. Many things were loosed along the way to get to where we needed to be but we did it. We worked hard on those shadows and made those painful choices to come out with something beautiful. Owl had called us forward and spirit tied us tight as we stepped forward, took each other’s hand that day and on even footing, we answered her call. I doubt either of us take it lightly. We shouldn’t.. it was hard work.

“Scales fall from your eyes.. resurrection, rebirth.. beyond division.. innocence and experience become one..” Who here holds the innocence and who holds the experience? We both do.

the ring of fire

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The midpoint between winter and spring came in threes again for me this turn. Many associate this time with the goddess Brigid and the parting of the winter crone Cailleach’s rein. Brigid is of the hearth.. of fire and healing.. of prophecy and light.. of cow, ewe, cockerel, and snake. I tend to embrace the serpent aspect of cycles at this time and the coming light.

Dolls, crosses, and beds are traditionally made to honor Brigid. Offerings are left in hopes that she will bless one’s home with fortune and well-being. Feasts are made. Fires are lit.. all to bring in the new and to celebrate the first stirrings of the approaching spring. I’ve never really been one to make the dolls, crosses, and beds. I usually light candles throughout the house. My feet during this time are planted firmly in the realm of honoring fire and serpent.. of the coming warmth and the shedding of skin.

Sometime before this turn of the wheel, I spoke with Lola. I told her how I felt this turn was bringing a solid break in many things that we had been working to release. She felt it too.. the slow and steady climb.. the joy sneaking in. The cards spoke of a definite close to said things.. the wind carrying them off with a heavy sigh of a great weight lifted.

My first celebration was a simple candle lighting at the hearth.. I am a big fan of simple. It involved a cup of tea, some cat cuddling, and much quiet contemplation. Later in the week, I went to dinner with some old friends. Lola and I left honeyed milk out in the garden. Cin lit the fire pit and we burned away those things left unsaid.

My third found me with those closest, all of which have become family to me.. spirit has tied us pretty tight over the past year and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was to there that I carried my first Brigid’s cross that I have made in ever. On it I wrote our names.. these are the people who stand with me to weather the storms and they are home to me.

We danced a silly, happy dance around the tree to silly, happy music.. to wake the serpent and honor these cycles. We drank and feasted. We tossed our offerings into the fire.. for me it was tobacco, the heart stone gifted to me by Blau so long ago, and the Brigid’s cross. It was a goodbye to that which was broken and a call for prosperity for us all in this new growth to come.. and it ended with some very wise words from the Dudiest Dude- “fuck yeah!”

and we ended with owl

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(part 2 of a weekend of spirit)

Air, fire, water, earth, spirit.. what do these mean to us? We all had a voice and in turn called to what that element represented. Wendy sang in soulful song intermittently as she guided us on each separate journey. We discussed their presence, what they were bringing, and ideas on how to balance them within our lives. Surprisingly, air was very prominent in the meditation for me, as of course was water. I walked with Bear on both.

I took the forms of many birds as I left the meadow, the air rushing through my feathers.. falcon, sparrow, crow, raven, pigeon, and then finally owl. I soared through fairie mounds to take her form settling in a forest tree further away to overlook Bear.. her strong presence felt even from my distance as she wandered below near the river’s edge. Soon I was off again, shifting through the many forms to settle as crow on the old woman’s shoulder.. who whispered to me words I could not hear before I headed back to the meadow to become owl once more. I was quickly sucked back to my form and then to my body in the now. Air for me was swift and changing.. the cleansing rush of forceful movement.

Hawk’s feather and red cord binding; and the things left unspoken.. this was fire. It was the ecstatic sway of responsibilities calling in battle with heart’s passion, and the laughter of those surrounding me. I bound it tight within my chest but could not find the release needed.. maybe it was just not time. Then water came and I let spirit move me from my body.

I approached the ocean with Bear at my side.. waves crashing and the smell of salted air. As I waded out, Bear became one with the waves and carried me out to the lulling of calmer seas. Her strength and comfort enveloped me as my body dissipated. A mermaid swam through, swishing her tail through the water that once was my solidity. I became part of that great body and traveled far.. becoming river and then rain. I ran in great rivulets down an ancient tree before making my way onward through the land. I saw Hare out in that wildwood before I made my way back to the ocean. There I flowed back into physical form. Bear, once again in the waves, carried me to the shore where the feeling of the warm sand beneath my feet brought me back to myself. Wendy spoke of allowing ourselves to become one with our emotions, to hold space with them.. I realized that work was needed there.

Earth was the pounding of my heart and my feet connected to the ground. I stayed very much in my body with earth. I felt every breath as earth held me solid and brought me a sense of home.. breath and bone and connection. It was sustenance and the friends who are my family, the spirits of the land and those witches who walked the path before; and the call of my ancestors over time that was liminal. Spirit expanded that connection out and reminded me of all that I had in the now.

The next day brought pagan pride and a real sense of that community. From the many altars set to the varied paths welcomed.. it was a humbling experience. That afternoon we saw Wendy in concert. Hearing her sing is beyond any words I can give but to me she will always be that beautiful soul guiding my journey into places needing to be seen.

That evening in ceremony we broke bread with everyone calling to their own path.. my heart sung at the diversity that was represented there. We made our way down to the water’s edge, chanting the elements and sharing this feeling of one. A prayer was said for the healing that was needed.. not just in the area but as a whole. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe our feeling of togetherness would grow across this great nation, if we did the work needed. It ended with the release of a rehabilitated owl.. full circle for Lola and I. I hope our prayer was carried off on its great wings.

 

we started with owl

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(part 1 of a weekend of spirit..because I’m wordy)

Our weekend past equinox started with owl and ended with owl. Lola commented later that it seemed as though we were on the right track.. after all, our journey together had begun with owl as well. We started our visit at the Carolina Raptor Center. As we walked among the wooded setting, quiet except for our murmuring and the occasional chatter of the birds, I felt very at peace. We pretty much had the place to ourselves as dusk set in. It seemed a perfect opening for the weekend ahead.

That evening I met a joyous witch named Gabi, who was the source from which flowed the most beautiful house of spiritual bits that I have been lucky enough to set foot in – Laughingbrook Spellcrafting and Ancestral Arts. Everywhere to be found were objects of pagan artistry.. of someone’s creative soul and hard work. Their site states, ‘Pagan-made ritual tools and supplies carry a more profound love and beauty’.. yes, and the store sang with it.

I was struck with that familiar feeling of place when I first approached the hearth area.. the image of crone singing to me in lulling tones of Baba. Tables of somethings shiny, wardrobes of books and bobbles, and the hum of the many tarot decks urged me forward. I came upon what I could only describe as “the wall of bones” to my friends later. They were tucked away with other speaking things in this gorgeously twisty piece of wood that covered a good portion of the wall. I gazed at them lovingly.. you know how I feel about dem bones.

I wound my way even further into another room which housed a beautiful altar. I was told one could leave things there to retrieve at a later date. It whispered to me but I restrained myself from touching anything on it out of respect, it was an idea that I loved.. and still there was yet another room calling to be explored. There I found many jars of lovelies.. a snake in particular caught my heart and I may have to go back for him. I feel sure he is curled up waiting still for my revisit. And speaking of heart, remember my earlier mention of that joyous soul? She said to me later, with sincerity wrapped around every word that I had a home there now. I feel like our world needs more souls such as hers, and yes.. even though I live quite a bit away, it did feel like home.

 

 

la bella luna dea

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I was there to find the crows, I thought as I wandered this place that was once home.. and I had to go to the bathroom. Nearing the edge of the neighborhood, a couple I did not know let me into their house to do just that. I was walking out when I saw the huge raven, his glossy black feathers stark against the ground. He was dead and I needed to take him with me. I knew this, but I had no gloves to protect me.

A large green caterpillar crawled out of his neck and I hesitated a moment before setting myself to the task. I decided to take his wings and his head.. which was being stubborn. I snapped it forcefully to the side and twisted it off.. sometimes it’s best just to get these things done as quickly as possible.

As I was leaving, I noticed the birds clustered in what looked like a large raised garden bed. There were too many to register. They were smaller and black with bits of white spots on their feathers. Their beaks were yellow and one was staring at me with great piercing eyes. What was he hoping to see, I wondered?

That week my dreams were full of small creatures, small creatures made large, and places that were once home. One morning my path was crossed by two cats, there but not there, and more whisperings than usual. I spoke that which seemed to be needed and wondered what all this activity was for.. that day, I heard from her.

La Bella Luna Dea and I share crow. We don’t often talk but when we do, our conversations are precious to me. This one was all about the shifty moonstone, friendships, the loss of, the whisperings of spirit, and her creative soul. If not for her artistry, those lessons I hold most spiritual may never have been set to rest. I look upon her work every day and am reminded of why I serve spirit. She was working on something for me, she just needed to have it realized and I could not wait to see.

She said that she had felt the need to make contact and I am glad that she did. I told her that only one thing lay heavy on my mind, tough choices and the longing of what was lost.. words that became truer as the weekend progressed. Later that night I was restless. I held her in my mind’s eye and pulled three cards.. instruction, protection, and the journey. I saw the instruction of ancestor, the image very paternal. I saw the need to protect the spiritually wounded. I saw the cyclic change that is the journey. It was time to let the bones be laid bare..

**beautiful artwork by Caroline Hedgepeth**

 

at the altar of baba

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Sometimes she slides in quite silently, and it takes me awhile to realize.. bone mother of cycles, death, and wisdom. She speaks to me in layers, and teaches me of shadow in light. Her greatest lessons can be found in this darkness where so many fear to tread.. those hidden stains in the deepest corners of your soul.

Sometimes, it is but a simple matter of paying what’s due. Sometimes it is a bit more complicated. Always, though, the work must be done.. to slip would offer up more of my soul than I care to, and I know she will devour it. I can smell the promise of death on her.. rich, earthy, and tinged with the decay of that which has been left for too long on the forest floor.

notes on the red meal

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“Retire to a suitable place (ideally) in the twilight or night when the moon is high, such as the roots of a great faerie tree, an ancient well, the side of the hidden spring, or an isolated graveyard or ancient burial mound..” — Robin  Artisson

When the veil is thin and it is a time for the fae.. and the burning away of things.. this is when I share the red meal. It is both an offering and a way to bond with other. My ritual was adopted from Artisson’s ritual in The Resurrection of the Meadow.. but much simplified. If I cannot seek a natural place, I perform it at the hearth.

A hex is drawn out using water from a natural body..

North to South – for the seen and the unseen, the ghost road from beyond the hedge..

Northwest to Southeast – for the spirits

Northeast to Southwest – for the good folk

Set the incense to smoke. A triangle is made around the invisible hex in white or yellow flour, powdered egg shells, hawthorn branches, beach sand.. whatever works for the place and the occasion.

Red, for our blood filled life – I pour the offering of wine..

White, for our timeless force – white candles are lit at the triangle’s base..

And Nelia, my stang, to bridge the three.. earth, sea, and sky – I push her into the ground at the top of the triangle. If I can’t use Nelia, I draw what I’ve come to think of as the sigil of the faery tree in her place. .

An offering of food and flowers is made. If there are petitions written, things to be released.. these are set to fire in the candles and the ashes buried.