This past Saturday at World Tree Healing, I led a workshop on “Loving and Serving ‘Dark’ Deities.” It was a well-attended workshop and for the first hour, I engaged the participants in a series of discussions based on the following prompts:
- How has staving off criticism from mainstream religions made Paganism afraid of its own shadows?
- How do you help outsiders to your tradition distinguish between “darkness” and “evil”?
- Has anyone ever had an experience of invoking Dark Deities in a group ritual context and then been castigated for invoking Them?
- How is the function of the Trickster valuable to a society? Who is devoted to Trickster Gods?
- In his Manifesto for his powerful Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey has declared: “We call an end to the pretense of respectability.” What are your thoughts on this? What do Pagans lose by attempting to claw their way to the interfaith table, begging for scraps of acceptance from Abrahamic religions?
It was a great discussion that appeared to make two people with Abrahamic allegiances very uncomfortable, so they left after I had announced that we’d be taking a short break before our ritual to Nephthys would begin. Good riddance, I thought. I certainly didn’t want the miasma, or spiritual pollution, of their presences to spill over into my devotional ritual to my Patron Deity. The major risk of hosting a public Pagan ritual is that you never know what kind of people may show up, especially folks with overtly hostile ideologies (read: patriarchal monotheists) who attend solely to destabilize the gathering, which is why I absolutely favor doing private ceremonies in the company of fellow devotees I can vouch for.
I just returned home from burying my beloved animal companion of the past 12 years–my cat Thor–on my parents’ property. I am exhausted, and tears have freely commingled with sweat and snot on my dirtied, makeup-smeared face. I look like a parody of a zombie meant to spring out upon unwary, cash-paying visitors to “haunted house” attractions in this Halloween season. Everything about me feels “off” today because it’s plain that my visible manifestations of grief, what used to be publicly acknowledged as mourning, are no longer welcome in this death-denying, youth extolling, commodifying, grinding capitalist world where productivity comes at the expense of our collective humanity. A grinding world where, especially when it comes to the loss of a treasured companion animal, one is met with snide remarks of “Get over it–it’s not like a person died” or “It was just a cat. The city is crawling with them; just go get yourself a new one.”
This grinding world is the locus of disenfranchised grief, which noted grief expert Dr. David Kessler defines as “a type of grief that other people might deem as ‘less than'” (You Can Heal Your Heart, p. 136). Pet loss is the most common form of disenfranchised grief; the losses women experience after undergoing an abortion or experiencing a miscarriage are even more glaringly absent from any form of public discourse.
On March 13, after having been informed that I passed my comprehensive exam with 100% accuracy, I officially became certified as a Death Midwife. Continue reading
As the Executive Editor, I’m very pleased to announce that the Autumn issue of Isis-Seshat, the quarterly journal of the worldwide Fellowship of Isis (FOI), is now available! Eighty pages–the longest issue to date–of stunningly beautiful (each issue is printed in full color on 80-lb. high-gloss paper stock) and theologically provocative essays, poetry, prayers, and original artwork from Polytheists (Kemetic devotees and others), Pagans, international FOI clergy, and U.S.-based artists delve into the subject of navigating “Dark Nights of the Soul.” Continue reading
“Learning to live with one’s own mortality is the most universal of educations in reality.”
According to noted grief expert David Kessler (I highly recommend his book, co-authored with Louise Hay, entitled You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death), a person can be said to be healthily coping with the loss of a loved one when heartwarming memories of the deceased outweigh the pain of the loved one’s absence in the physical world. But the loving connection with the deceased is never severed, Kessler asserts, and the spiritual relationship between the deceased and the person grieving her or his loss on the physical plane takes on a new level of intensity.
That “intensity” is pretty much what the Samhain season represents for me and devotional practices to what we in my former Gardnerian coven used to call “the Mighty Dead” or “the Hidden Company” take center stage in my home and at the public Pagan rituals I attend at this time of year. Those who have gone before us, those who have made us the walkers of the crooked path that we are today, are rightly honored, remembered, given thanks and praise, and in many cultural traditions, literally fed. They may be ancestors of blood and bone or ancestors of spirit, mentors to whom you’re not physically related. I am glad that at this Samhain season, the loving counsel of those who have gone before me and helped make me the Witch and Priestess that I am today is as near to me as the rustling wind ushering fallen maple leaves, or the moon-kissed shadows that slink across the walls of my home in this season of encroaching darkness. Continue reading
Death. I’ve been acutely reminded of its omnipresence in many ways lately. Seeing the low angle of the sun at this time of year has begun to trigger my seasonal affective disorder. My nightly cemetery walks have been tinged with greater pensiveness and even despair. It’s a gloomy, cool day here in Chicago as the Sun gets ready to enter the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio, herald of the mysteries of death and rebirth. I’m still processing the devastating news I received on Tuesday when I took my 11-year-old cat, Thor (a feral kitten rescue from Hawaii), to an emergency veterinary clinic for an abdominal ultrasound and other tests. My regular veterinarian had performed an X-ray on Thor to determine the cause of his misshapen stomach and elevated liver levels revealed from recent blood testing. The X-ray indicated a mass protruding from Thor’s liver–one so large it had actually pushed Thor’s stomach at a 90-degree angle. No wonder Thor’s lost 9 pounds in a little over two months. Was it a tumor? If so, could surgery be an option? I was referred to the emergency clinic, which is equipped with an advanced radiology department, to find the answers. Instead, the main veterinarian there stunned me with the diagnosis: advanced pancreatic cancer that has metastasized to his liver and lungs. And then those horrible six words, laden with the iron weight of finality:
“There is nothing we can do.” Continue reading
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness–
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way.
–Sylvia Plath, “The Moon and the Yew Tree” (1961, lines 17-22)
The more that I think about it, the less I believe what I experienced at 4:52 this morning was the ending of a dream. It was more of a spontaneous shamanic journey, the kind I’d had with disturbing regularity in the first two years of my brother Mark’s death. What I know for certainty was that I was in the Duat, and Sekhmet was next to me. She panted/grunted while scenting the air, Her lioness nuzzle awash in blood. Her pupils were massive, dilated, and gleaming like actual carnelian stones. Torch light either gleamed from behind or radiated from within Her. There was a wall behind us. We stood within a long, dark corridor. I knew unequivocally that Sekhmet protected me fiercely against evil entities that wanted to harm me. She fed on them. I was afraid–not of Her, but of where we were. I wanted out. And no sooner did I think that than did I feel myself being rapidly “plucked” upwards–in sheer nanoseconds. It was a jolting sensation, but I felt myself being pulled up out of the ground–even through my bed’s mattress!–before “crash landing” back into my body. I gasped and thrashed a bit–hitting my fiancé in the process–before sitting up and grabbing my iPhone from my nightstand. 4:52. Continue reading