Behold the flyer advertising the class I’ll be doing at Moonstruck in April! Tah-dah!
Back in the day when I had an apartment that was tucked into a cozy old house that was slowly disintegrating around me, I used to love Spring and Summer nights just like this one. The apartment had a sun room that faced the street. And I could throw the windows to the sun room wide open and let the sweet twilight air into my apartment. The sun would sink, the shadows would rise. The cool of the evening would finally take over and my entire apartment would transform into a place of mystery.
I’d light candles and incense here and there in different rooms. Open up a bottle of wine. If I was lucky, I’d have friends over. If I was luckier, they’d bring beer and snacks. We’d listen to good music or quietly lounge around in the sunroom and talk.
Magic would happen on those nights. Not big, startling, dramatic magic. But quiet, creeping, subtle magic. It would creep up on us like the shadows outside. Our conversation would turn to esoteric subjects. Our minds would wander to places they didn’t often go and we would share the results with each other over wine. Someone would pick up a deck of Tarot cards. Fortunes would be told. Plans for more structured magic would be made. All to the tune of the stereo turned low, crickets in the bushes, and the hum of an occasional car passing by on the street outside.
Those were nights of such peace, silliness and camaraderie. And it felt good to host them when I could. To make a space for me and my friends that was not only comfortable and safe, but conducive to that kind of atmosphere. Creating a home that was a place where magic could sneak up on you. It was a beautiful time.
Can you tell I’ve been house hunting? Can you tell I’m ready to have my own space again?
Think back. Remember your Wicca 101 days? Or your Pagan 101 days? Or your Ceremonial Magic/Obsessed with the Golden Dawn 101 days (Hey, those happen occasionally, too)? I bet that if you do remember them, if you haven’t blocked them out of your memory through sheer embarrassment, you remember sitting down and writing about your beliefs about magic or religion or probably both. Lots of 101 books get you to do it. Usually with a series of questions at the end of the first chapter.
Questions like the following:
1) What do you think magic is?
2) How do you think magic works?
3) What is your idea of divinity?
4) What are magical ethics and what system do you plan to use?
5) What god forms do you plan to work with/are you working with? Why?
Those are the most common ones I remember, anyway. A lot of books repeated these questions at the end of the last chapter so that you could write your answers down a second time and compare your responses. To be perfectly honest, I used to get tired as hell of these types of questions. At first, I’d get out my magical journal and diligently and thoroughly answer each one. But after being confronted with the same questions over and over and OVER again, I stopped. There were only so many times I wanted to cobble together a working definition of magic. Also, once I clearly defined the answers, they didn’t change that much from month to month.
But, what happened after I’ve left the 101 books behind for *ahem* several years? When I am not perpetually confronted with those kinds of questions every month or two? When I haven’t really even consciously thought about those questions in more than a decade? I’ll tell you what happened for me. All kinds of weird beliefs and thoughts and ideas have kind of organically grown up through the cracks. Some are great, some aren’t so great. Some are encouraging growth but some are holding me back from accomplishing what I’d really like to do. The hard part is that you can’t really tell what each belief is doing until you examine it throughly.
Just finding the damn thoughts/beliefs is hard enough. Let alone isolating each one and thinking about it critically. But that is what I have started to do this week. So far, I’ve used up a lot of paper and a lot of ink to kind of wander around in circles. But the circles are widening and covering more and more territory each time. And I’m finding out stuff about me and what I believe about divinity and magic, about the gods and my interactions with them. And I plan to do some severe pruning and nourishing to this thought garden. So that it is both filled with healthy and constructive beliefs and so that it reflects my beliefs as they stand today…not five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty years ago.
It’s not exactly a picnic, what I’m doing. But I can sense the value of it. I’m interested to see exactly where this leads me. Once I find out, I’m sure I’ll let you know. ;)
And so comes the heat and humidity. Kentuckiana summer, two months too early. The low, slow electric hum of days made languid and long by warmth and light and a little bit of the magic that makes this town beautiful. On hot afternoons, time seems to stand still. A quiet descends that is unlike any other. On some days, a pressure builds, but you can’t tell if it is a coming storm or something else. Something subtle and dancing on the edge of perception. Something darkly beautiful and unpredictable.
This is what the warmth brings to Louisville: magic and mystery and things start to feel a little off kilter. You get the sense that once you step out of your door, you could end up anywhere, doing anything. Even if you were just going to the grocery for milk. And that’s just how things feel in broad daylight.
As night draws down, twilight takes its time. The colors in the sky shift and blend, eventually resolving into a deep and lingering purple. When I look up and see that color, I know that I am home. And when the sun finally gives up its grip on the sky, the day time nature of Louisville slides along with it into the evening attitudes.
The shadows slide in around the edges of things. The quiet thread of background noise — crickets and rustling leaves and the distant sound of traffic — weaves its way through the landscape. Lightning bugs bloom and fade, dotting bushes and trees with intermittent gold. Every now and then, a stuble breeze carries the scent of magnolia or jasmine.
It’s quiet and still. There is a brooding kind of peace. But there is a lurking feeling that the peace could be broken at any moment. And, if you have the right frame of mind, you can step out onto your back porch with your cool and sweating drink in your hand, put your feet up….and calmly and assuredly wait for your adventure to begin.
Yeah, yeah, I’m a pagan and all that. So I should have to wrestle with the idea of Easter, right? Well, Easter isn’t my problem. And it never has been. I’m kind of down with Easter. I like it. I was raised Catholic, after all. And all those years of Easter Vigil Mass (so symbolic! so dramatic!) and waking up bright and early Easter Morning to religous themed cards and baskets of candy have a cumulative effect. I love Easter from the fasting and self-denial of Lent to the painfulness of the Passion to the joyous “He is risen!” of Easter morning. It’s all good to me. You can come by my house and try to revoke my Pagan card any time you like. Just you try it.😉
Though I’ve never had a problem with Easter, my problem is that I’ve had a hell of a time with both Ostara and Eostre. For those of you following along at home, Eostre is the goddess that has loaned her name to both Ostara and Easter. If she ever existed. That’s part of the problem. I’ll get to that later on.
Even when I was trying to do the whole Wicca-flavored Pagan thing, and then again when I moved on to the Ecclectic Witch thing (and now when I am whatever the hell I am now. I honestly couldn’t say.), I had problems with Ostara. It was the spoke on the Wheel of the Year that I was most likely to skip. Not by purposeful exclusion, but just by flat-out forgetting to celebrate it. I was worse at remembering Ostara than I was at remembering Imbolc. And I should have won a medal for how good I was at forgetting Imbolc. In fact, I may have received a medal at one point and I’ve just forgotten it. Anyway, I digress. This isn’t about me sucking at honoring Imbolc. This is about Ostara, damn it! (See, even when I am attempting to write about Ostara, I try like hell to write about something else instead.)
Okay, so what is my problem with Ostara? I’m fascinated by Equinoxes, so it isn’t that. I love the idea of a day when light and dark are equally balanced. Of a day being set aside for being the threshold into the new half of the year. A day sacred to the passage from the dark half of the year to the light. I am so down with that, kids! So that’s not the problem. I think part of the problem I have is with the name. Ostara. It doesn’t say anything to me, really. Other than the fact that some Goddess that I never really think about until Spring kinda loaned her name to this one special day and we, as dutiful NeoPagans must suddenly get excited about her. It’s hard to get excited about a diety that I don’t really have a relationship with throughout the rest of the year. So, okay, the name irks me a little because it reminds me of Eostre.
And who is Eostre, really? Well, that’s another problem. The thing is that even though Eostre is billed as a Teutonic Goddess, there’s not a whole lot of evidence out there indicating that she was actually a part of that mythology. You don’t usally find that informaiton in your standard Wicca 101 books, and that kind of pisses me off. Here’s an interesting (and short, for those of you who have limited time) article on Eostre and the possibility that she never existed at all. Eostre – Teutonic Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy? So this Goddess, that I’ve been struggling relating to you for years and that has kind of turned me off of Ostara…she may not have really ever been a Goddess at all.
So…what to do about all of this? I kind of still consider myself an Ecclectic Witch. That’s the way that I would describe myself to anyone who asked. It doesn’t fully describe me any more, but it’s something that people can kind of wrap their heads around. And I do still enjoy celebrating the Wheel of the Year, particularly when the celebrations include my friends and family.
There has to be a different way for me to approach Ostara. A way that allows me to retain my enthusiasm and that doesn’t make me feel as though I am just going along with the standard NeoPagan view of the holiday. You’d think that after having veered off the path of “standard” Ecclectic Witchcraft several years ago, that I’d have gotten around to custom tailoring all of the holidays to my tastes. But, as I mentioned above, I’m really really good at ignoring Ostara.
Whatever you call yourself — Pagan, Witch, Wiccan, Shaman, Magician, Ceremonialist — eventually what things boil down to is that we do magic. Generally, non-specifically, we are magicians and we do magic. Wether we perform magic via the power of our wills, or via the grace of our gods or through the intervention of our saints, or via the love of our ancestors, magic is what we do.
Admittedly, it can be pretty pedestrian most of the time. Cast a circle, call the quarters, focus energy and direct it — done! Light a candle that has been dressed with oils and herbs and imbued with intent and place it reverently in front of a favorite patron deity or ancestor — done! Move on with the day, tend to the mundane.
Occasionally, there is a thrill of the numinous before you walk away. A moment when it feels the rotation of the universe centers on you, your circle, your candle, your intent. You sense more than you usually do. The realization creeps over you. This is powerful. This is real.
This method (whatever method it may be) has worked countless times before. This method will work again and again. For you and for others. There is a connection between you and all the others that have used it and that will use it again.
When I am lucky, the realization comes in a flash, leaving me breathless and content. When I am very very lucky, it comes as a tidal wave that washes over me and consumes my entire body, mind, and spirit.
The other day, I was reminded of the first time this momentous realization happened to me. It was the first time that the feeling of true magic consumed me, washing over me in a flowing wave of numinous mystery.
The particularly annoying part of this story is that I can’t quite remember what we were trying to do. This was early in my magical career and was one of the very first times I attempted to work magic with others. We obviously wanted to get something done. There was a need to raise energy and direct it. But the exact purpose escapes me. It may have been healing. I’m honestly not sure.
But I do remember who I was with. I was at the home of a woman who was in a magical group I had organized. I’ll call her T. Another group member was with us. She’ll go by J. The weather was warm and the air was still. A nearly full moon was high in the sky, just visible through the branches of a neighbor’s tree.
The three of us filed out into the yard. Two steps into the yard and my bare feet were soaked with dew from the grass (okay, thats a little dramatic, but my feet were wet — it was either dew or it had rained that day). I remember it well because I had a horror of stepping on a slug or something. We were all pretty self-conscious because all of us were comparatively new to magic — and very new to working magic together.
If I remember correctly, I was feeling particularly awkward because earlier in the evening, when more group members were present at the house, there had been some kind of incident with negative energy being sensed. And someone had kind of flapped a hand at me and said, “Oh, Dee…why don’t you do that Lesser Banishing thing that you always talk about in order to get rid of this?” And suddenly, I found myself standing in the middle of a living room, intoning Hebrew words that I knew I was butchering and making flailing, vague magical gestures. Good times.
Now, I was standing firmly in the other end of the spectrum, slipping out the back door of the house, into the cool and quiet back yard which was silvered by moon light with two other women. The magic number. The quiet night.
For some reason, we decided to join hands around an old stump. Our arms reached out to each other, our hands tentatively clasped. So we started to dance, rotating around the stump. There wasn’t any music. I can’t remember if we were chanting or singing. I would guess that we were. I can remember getting really breathless. I can remember trying to dance and I can remember the muffled sounds of heart-felt obscenity as one or another of us would accidentally stub a bare foot on the roots of the stump. Eventually, we got faster, nearly running around the stump. We got better at avoiding the roots. The obscenities faded away to breathless movement. Energy grew. Energy rose. My heart thudded to the rhythm of our movements. I lost myself to the moment, the movement, the cool earth under my feet, the warm hands in mine.
Someone had the job of “calling it” — of announcing when the energy we were raising had reached its peak and we were ready to release it and direct it towards its goal. I think that it was T. I didn’t know what I was expecting her to do to announce the moment. I certainly didn’t expect the heart felt and concentration-shattering cry that issued from her throat. The cry echoed through the neighborhood. Dogs barked. I stopped moving and my head snapped up. I really really saw the energy spiraled high above us, reaching towards the moon. I may have murmured something — some reminder to the others to direct the energy.
I felt the energy gather itself and coalesce as purpose directed and shaped it. Then suddenly it was gone, rippling away through the night and towards our goal. I fell over backward onto the grass. I’m pretty sure we all did. I felt the moisture from the wet grass soak into the back of my dress. As I lay there, bathed in moonlight, a wave of divinity, blessing, and beauty poured over me. Tears sprang to my eyes. I’m pretty sure I started giggling. Eventually, I rolled over onto my stomach and grabbed two big handfuls of grass, holding myself tight to the earth in a love-filled embrace. At that moment, I wanted to hold and cherish everything. I could still feel the energy rippling away from me, through the evening sky. I could feel the cool wet ground underneath me. I could hear my two cohorts in magic gasping for air. My giggles turned into giant whoops of laughter. I was giddy with the beauty of everything.