It’s been a rough week in Meville. For almost a year, I’ve been planning this amazing trip to Eastern Washington with friends to go see Dave Matthews Band. We went last year and it was heavenly. I can’t think of any prettier venue than The Gorge Amphitheatre or better company with whom to share it. They indulged my whim to visit a really bad mural in the city of Toppenish of someone called Irish Dick, being mauled by a bear and have good naturedly participated in a year of Irish Dick jokes, so I know they’re my tribe. This year, despite half of the Pacific Northwest being ablaze, we had concert tickets for two nights, a rented house near Leavenworth, plans for floating down the river, horseback riding, barbeques, and ziplining (okay, I was probably going to be more of a watcher for that one. The sense memory of my last break is too fresh to induce me into anything that involves lines breaking and me potentially careening toward the earth, but still…) In short, we were planning to have lots of fun. Because of responsibilities at home, I don’t get a lot of time to myself or as much time alone with my friends as I’d like, so it was a much needed respite. It’s been this bright spot of sunshine to look to any time things were difficult and this week I had to cancel.
I won’t lie. I’ve been feeling disappointed (maybe even a little bitter at first, though thankfully that has passed). Reality is that it’s just not a good time with a tight budget and a house full of guests. There have been some challenges with differing ways of doing things, my mom’s memory, level of patience and adapting to having four extra people in the house. One day she is jovial and fun, the next, she forgets things and blames people for things they’re not doing, then gets mad at me for trying to talk her into being reasonable, which creates a tense environment. They offered to stay with her while I was gone, but I don’t really feel like that’s a tenable situation. I’d take her with me, but then she would spend the whole time freaking out over whether the animals are okay and I’m honestly not yet in a place of trust that sees “here, strangers, stay alone in my house for several days,” so that would not be ideal (or much of a break) either. So, I’m not going and have promised myself that when things quiet down and become more normal, I will slip away for a beach weekend or a short mountain retreat (or if I’m really desperate, maybe just the Holiday Inn down the street!).
Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking of strategies to carve out little blocks of time and replenish my spirit in other ways. So, I’ve signed up for some personal growth classes – one called Warrior – True Voice Restored and another onSnake through wonderful Pixie Lighthorse’s SouLodge program. I’m really excited to be doing this work in time for October 28, which is kind of an anniversary for me. It’s the day I broke my shoulder last year, which ushered in a period of intense transition and rebuilding (I’m still working on the rebuilding part), so working with issues of Voice and Rebirth seems particularly apropos. Ideally, I’d like to celebrate the 28th with something special, though I’m not yet sure what that is. How does one celebrate a symbolic birthday?
The good thing is that I’m no longer really upset or depressed about it. Rather, I choose to look at it as a message from the universe that the time wasn’t right. There are no accidents. Things usually work out as they are meant to and I can’t wait to see what is coming in the next year! Whatever else happens, I know there will be a lot of learning and growth and that alone is enough to get excited about.
One of the things I have been busying myself with for about a year is doing some intense study. It started when I was injured and couldn’t do much else. Then I decided to make a career change (terrifying, exhilerating!) and started taking some classes at Southwest Institute of Healing Arts (SWIHA). And, well, I’ve been SUPER excited and eager to learn and discuss and grow ever since. It has always been my way when something interested me to delve deep without coming up for air. As a kid, I remember wiping out whole library shelves at school when some topic stirred my heart. I would squirrel myself away in my room until I had exhausted them. As an adult, I do pretty much the same thing – research, read, ask questions, write, meditate, find any way I can to absorb the information in order to make sense of it.
Yesterday in the middle of a disagreement with a friend, she told me that since I started school, I think I know everything. As someone who has always had trouble expressing her voice, it really took me aback. I am someone who is a dissertation short of a Phd and there is this inner part of me that still balks at speaking authoritatively on my subject, despite the years I’ve devoted to studying it. I’ve spent a lot of time (and am STILL working on) trying to overcome a childhood of suppressing my voice. I am a singer and there are literally times when I am feeling insecure that my voice shuts down to the point that I can barely get out a croak, even though I was able to reach the same notes an hour earlier. It left me wondering, “Do I come off as puffed up and overconfident, like I know everything?” It’s certainly not how I feel and it’s most definitely not the kind of person I want to be. So, to ease my mind, I did a little survey of friends and relatives, asking them to be brutally honest. Thankfully, while some did say I have grown more confident, directed and excited as I’ve started to find my path, all of them assured me that I have not been obnoxious about it.
And, then, because all of this devotion to learning is in service to a business I’d like to open in the future and I have been making a habit of drawing a daily card (to reinforce what I already know about the Tarot and learn more!), I asked my Tarot deck, “What do I need to do to best position myself in preparation for a successful business? Am I doing the right things? Am I a know-it-all? What should I be doing? What qualities should I be emulating?” And who did I pull, but the King of Swords? And what are swords, but the suit of the mind and intellect? Someone is definitely listening to me!
The King is an interesting figure. When I was a young woman, my first serious relationship was with someone who always seemed to me like the archetypal King of Swords. He was a few years older than me, handsome, insanely intelligent, confident, analytical, measured in his thinking and decision making, successful in his business, and very mindful of his responsibilities and doing the right thing. Any time you wanted clarity, he was the person to talk to. He was someone I in a lot of ways admired and looked up to.
At this point in my life, the King of Swords is very much a card about claiming one’s power, not in a domineering way, which can be part of its shadow, but also sitting comfortably with one’s knowledge, gifts and the responsibility that comes with them. If you look at the traditional representation on the card, you see a figure seated on a throne adorned with butterflies and crescent moons (transformation and mystery — something I’d never noticed before today!). He is wearing Blue, red and purple. Red is, of course, the color of vibrancy and passion. While the blue of his robe bespeaks intellect, clarity and spiritual understanding, this is a man who is not only intellectual, but filled with emotion and life. Purple has, of course, been used throughout centuries of art history to denote royalty and spiritual royalty and holiness in particular. The sum of all this imagery together is one of a person who is measured, intellectual and clear, but not without compassion and the desire for spiritual understanding in addition to a more mundane mental sort.
What I found particularly interesting in doing some research, is that the blue of his robe also represents communication, teaching, and self expression. My career change relates to opening a private practice that employs tools like life coaching, story, music, spirituality and creative expression along with modalities like aromatherapy and hypnotherapy to help empower women to create the best and most fulfilling lives they can for themselves. I started my professional life as a teacher and this too is a kind of teaching, so my eyes lit up when I read:
In the meaning of colors, blue relates to one-to-one communication, especially communication using the voice – speaking the truth through verbal self-expression – it is the teacher, the public speaker.
The color blue is idealistic, enhancing self-expression and our ability to communicate our needs and wants. It inspires higher ideals.
That fits right in with our King. He is someone who uses his intellectual prowess and knowledge in service to his responsibilities. He may hold a sword to cut through ideas and find clarity in them, but his other hand also rests peacefully in his lap. He carries within him a balance between rest and action. When he comes up, we are being asked to deepen our understanding and to honor that part of us that needs for things to make sense mentally as well as intuitively in order for us to feel a connection to them. And that’s really what all the learning and studying I do is about. I LOVE to learn. I am enthusiastic about it. I love to share what I learn. I love to discuss it and meditate on it and write about it. I want more than anything to grow and find whatever gifts I have to offer to the world. And, lately, after a lifetime of searching, I’ve been getting inklings of what they are. My once caged heart is starting to flutter its wings and SING! I am happy. I recognize that my work does not have to be tedious, impersonal or superficial. I can choose a path that is deep, loving and fulfilling and there’s room for my love of learning in implementing and creating it for myself. And, so, no, I do not know everything. I am nowhere even close. And, really, I’m not sure I’d even want to, because what would be the fun in that?
This morning I have been reading about the Greek heroine, Alcestis. Alcestis is the wife of King Admetus of Thessaly, who on their wedding day offends the goddess Artemis and is sentenced to death. Apollo, however, offers Admetus an out, telling him that if he can find someone to willingly die in his stead, the gods will accept that life in exchange for his. None of Admetus’ relatives are interested in this proposition, but his wife consents, offering herself as sacrifice in the ultimate act of love and wifely devotion.
In the manner of a priestess preparing for ritual, Alcestis prepares herself for death, washing her own body, dressing herself in her funeral robes and jewelry, and adorning her own alters with sacred myrtle sprigs. In this ritual she plays the dual role of both priestess and sacrifice. She then prays to Persephone to watch over her children and elicits from Admetus a series of promises including that he will not remarry.
She sees the skiff of Charon, coming to deliver her to Hades and dies. Shortly after, Hercules arrives. Wanting to impress the hero with a lavish welcome, Admetus breaks off the kingdom’s mourning, telling him it was no one of importance who has died, just some stranger. When Hercules learns that it was Alcestis, he resolves to save her, by stopping Death before he carries her from her tomb or by travelling to The Underworld to entreat Persephone for mercy. And, indeed, Hercules does return with a woman veiled in black, saying he won her in a contest. He asks Admetus to keep her for him until he returns, saying that a new wife will console him. At first, Admetus demurs, but eventually capitulates, breaking his promise to Alcestis. The veil is removed and Admetus recognizes the woman as his wife. He is wary, fearing it is a ghost. Despite Hercules’ assurances, he wants to ask the woman if she really is Alcestis, but she cannot speak without being purified or until three days have passed.
So we have this feminine archetype, Alcestis, the good wife, who is willing to sacrifice everything for her husband. In fact, Alcestis is such a good woman that she doesn’t even inconvenience anyone with the details of preparing her body for the funeral. Even this, she does herself. We women have been taught that a good woman doesn’t inconvenience others and puts them before herself, even if it means laying down her life. While these attitudes have improved somewhat with modernity, this sort of culturally ingrained idea that a woman must be giving and selfless is still far too present and why so many of us have so much trouble with self-care.
And so the good wife Alcestis died and was reborn.
The story has many layers, but the one that interests me most is not Alcestis as good wife, but Alcestis as Priestess. While literary criticism has historically viewed Alcestis as the archetype of the devoted wife willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for her man, some interpretation suggests that the story derives from ancient myth about feminine power and the worship of Mother Earth and the Elysian mysteries. According to Norma Lorre Goodrich’s Heroines, “What Alcestis performed during the three days while she absented herself from felicity may have been to worship Mother Earth by descending into the Underworld. There the adoration Alcestis duly performed persuaded the goddess Persephone to give her a diploma, as it we, or the black veil, her passport, her visa for safe transit to the upper world again.” Perhaps this is not so much a story of sacrifice, but one of initiation.
If we ascribe to Goodrich’s reading, Alcestis is not preparing herself for death so much as in the manner of a priestess about to perform a ritual that will take her across the liminal threshhold and into the world of the sacred. Just as the priestess prepares and prays and conducts ceremony on behalf of her community. Alcestis as Priestess enters The Underworld in proxy for her husband. Perhaps she even entreats her husband not to remarry, because she knows she is coming back. It is in casting aside her role as wife and leaving society (death, the ultimate women’s retreat!) that Alcestis is able to commune with the Goddess and return recharged and be reborn.
Of course, we don’t have to literally die to journey to The Underworld. We can do it through meditation and spiritual journey work (even the 3-day period before Alcestis can speak reminds me of the time it takes to ground after journeying). Whether that view is the original intent of the story or just something I’m seeing through the lens of my own goddess worship and journey work, I cannot say, but what I do know is this:
We need time away from the demands of our daily lives to get in touch with the sacred. Our spirits need that time with our gods. What that means for you maybe be different from what it is for me. For some of us, it may mean women’s circles. For some of us, it may mean ritual or church. For some of us, it may mean meditation or prayer. For some of us, it may mean expressing ourselves creatively. And the list goes on. All I know is that we need it, because it replenishes us.
Relationship with spirit is an act of self-care. Where does your life need a little self-care and replenishment?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about family. My niece is making a move back from California to Oregon, so she and her three children are staying with me, while she looks for an apartment and job. It’s been an interesting experience. Because my half-sister is much older than I am, my niece and I are actually close to the same age. I hadn’t seen her in over a decade. In fact, it’s been long enough that I had never met her two teenaged daughters and eight year old son. Friends told me I was crazy to allow strangers into my home and to be careful, because it’s not normal for someone you haven’t seen for over a decade to show up out of the blue, expecting you to open your home to four people you barely know, but I didn’t listen. I won’t lie, I was a little apprehensive before they got here, but we got along so well as kids, I decided to take the risk.
As it turns out, it’s been interesting getting (re)acquainted and it’s so funny seeing these little people who have my eyes. We have some strong genes in my grandfather’s line that include big blue eyes with dark lashes. It makes me think about my dad and his dad and the line of eyes before them. It’s also made me think a lot about hospitality, family and the ancestors.
In my circle, many of us follow paths that call for the veneration of spiritual ancestors and ancestors of place and blood. These ancestors always seem like this vague and general, but somehow comfortable connection. No doubt I wouldn’t have been BFFs with every one, but distance makes it easier to dismiss their foibles as a product of the shadowy past.
But what about the closer, more recent ancestors? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
As an adult, I’ve never really placed that much important on biological family. My parents and most of my grandparents were lovely people. I have a few cousins who are great. And then there is the redneck section of the family tree, who apparently take after my paternal grandmother. She was a bigot and one of the most bitter, unpleasant people I have ever met. While most grandmothers dote on their grandchildren, mine told me my eyes were just like my father’s – so cold I could stare a hole through a brick wall. She used the N-word to describe little girl scouts, who knocked at her door to sell cookies. And, for thirty years, she referred to my German mother (who like all immigrants was here to either to “steal our men or take our jobs”) as “The Foreigner.” She had the idea that everyone else lived on the sunny side of the street, while she was beleaguered with a big, eternal and immovable rain cloud stationed directly over her head.
What this taught me is that some people win the family lottery, others have to make their own family. And how lucky for us! We get to pick! And so, my philosophy has been that if I met you on the street and wouldn’t be drawn to you, there’s no need for us to become uncomfortably intertwined only because we share a gene pool. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to create a really great soul family for myself. It includes a smattering of nieces, nephews and cousins (some real, some adopted), decades long friendships and some newer ones. They come from many ethnic, social and economic backgrounds, but what all have in common is that they are part of my soulpod. We celebrate each other’s victories, we mourn each other’s losses, we love each other and help each other through the good and the bad. They know I have my kooky, hippie dippy, tree hugging, wild soul, gypsy eccentricities, and they don’t care. They also know that I will give them hospitality any time they need food or drink or place to stay or even just a sympathetic ear; and I know they would do the same for me. If that isn’t family, I don’t know what is.
But that still leaves me with the conundrum around ancestors of blood. How does one relate to an ancestor like my grandmother, who is close enough in time that we remember them – – and not very fondly? How do we come to terms with the not so pretty things some of our ancestors did? The best I can figure is that we treat them like the other negative experiences in our lives. We treat them as challenges that have shaped who we are. Would I have learned compassion without a grandmother who was mean to me for no reason other than that she hated my mother and was disappointed with my father for marrying her? Would I have as many friends of different ethnicities, if I hadn’t seen how unkind people can be for no reason other than skin color? Would I value my self-created family as much, if I hadn’t had to deal with people like her? Would I be who I am without having known her?
The truth is, I like who I am and I absolutely love my soulpod. My grandmother and some of my other more dubious relations are a part of what shaped my character, just as the line of ancestors of all kinds before them influenced and shaped the people and world around them. They might have sometimes done so from within a negative space, but they shaped it as surely as any other experiences and relationships we have in our lives, and so I give thanks for their teaching, their wisdom, their gifts.
Within the Bardic grad of OBOD’s (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) first year of study, we work a lot with stories, particularly the Welsh tale of Ceridwen and her cauldron. There are different versions of the story, but essentially goes that the Goddess brews a potion in her cauldron that will bless her son Morfran (sometimes also known as Afagddu), who is hideously ugly, with wisdom and poetic inspiration as a compensation for his aesthetic shortcomings.
The potion has to cook for a year and a day, so Ceridwen entrusts the cauldron to a young boy, Gwion Bach, to tend. She warns Gwion that the first three drops from the cauldron will bestow wisdom, but the rest are fatal. One day, as Gwion is stirring the potion, three drops spill, burning this thumb. Instinctively, he puts his it in his mouth to so soothe the burning and ingests the gift meant for Ceridwen’s son. Immediately, he knows the Goddess will be livid, and indeed she is. There is a chase with both Gwion and Ceridwen turning into different animals until Gwion turns himself into a grain of corn. Ceridwen transforms herself into a hen and eats it, but because of the power of the potion, Gwion doesn’t die. Rather, Ceridwen becomes pregnant and Gwion is reborn as the great poet, Taliesin.
The story is, of course, a tale of initiation. It is Gwion and not Morfran who receives the gift of Awen, because it is he who has tended the cauldron and done all the work. The business of transformation requires effort. Sometimes we plan it and sometimes the cauldron just boils over. The catalyst may come out of nowhere, but the process is never just over night. In fact, according to the story, it takes a year and a day. And I’m not sure it ends even then. So far, in my plenty-nine years, it seems pretty apparent to me that learning, growth, and transformation are a rewarding, but never ending effort.
The thing about these stories that is wonderful, though, is that they mirror the human experience. We all have initiation and transformation stories. In fact, I would daresay I haven’t talked to a single person on a Pagan, earth based or just plain old human path who didn’t have some story about how they were initiated onto it. I’m not talking about initiation into a group, but rather a kind of soul initiation, or maybe better yet, dedication. After all, initiation requires someone to let you into the group. That’s all nice if you’re joining a coven or maybe the Masons, but true personal transformation comes from within. And that’s what I’m talking about is a kind of personal, heart based commitment via which we begin a new cycle in our life. For me, that moment (or at least the most recent one) came well after I started down the windy path of spiritual discovery. And, as it goes for many people, it took getting burned to get me back into alignment.
In my case, the Goddess didn’t chase and eat me, but she sure threw a lot of obstacles in my way to slow me down – an injury, the loss of a furry family member, an unpleasant health diagnosis for my mom, and losing a good, steady, but uncompelling job I had stayed in for far too many years. It was like the universe gave me a couple extra kicks after already shoving me down. There were many times when I thought, “Seriously? What the fuck was I thinking, delving into shadow work last summer before all of this began?” And I’ll admit it, I did feel sorry for myself at first. Even now, there are still some struggles that go with it, but every day I am grateful. If it hadn’t happened, I would have gone on working 65-70 hours a week, cultivating some crazy high blood pressure numbers, and never taking time to really live or find the work that makes my heart sing.
Without a giant headlong shove into the cauldron, I would have never acknowledged that staying true to my spiritual path means living in a way that mirrors its teachings — and that is not just talking and learning about esoteric things (though I DO love that!), but MAKING A DIFFERENCE in my world. The truth is that injuring myself and losing my job and insurance were both catalysts. Thorny, ugly catalysts, but catalysts nonetheless.
Without them, I would have never had to change insurance, started going to physical therapy or found a new doctor who helped me bring my BP under control. I would have never started working with a shamanic practitioner or started really thinking about what would help foster wholeness in my health and life. I would never have enrolled in some of the amazing Earth Medicine School and aromatherapy classes I’ve been taking or the coaching certificate program I will be completing in December or rededicated myself to completing my druidic studies, because I wouldn’t have had time to devote to any of that. And I certainly wouldn’t be in the middle of planning a really exciting career change or the healing practice I want to open in January. And I know that’s all only the beginning. There is SO much that I want to do! I seriously have not been this excited in YEARS! Frankly, if the Goddess hadn’t forced me, I would not have stopped to take a breath to even contemplate any of this, let alone be doing the work to make it happen.
And, so, you never know. Everything can lead to rebirth. The answers are there within us. Sometimes we just need to quiet ourselves to hear them. And if we don’t, the universe is not above giving us a good, hard kick in the ass, if that’s what it takes to make us listen.
The thing is, we can do it the hard way or the easy way. I’m sure I would have reached all these wonderful epiphanies a lot sooner, if I’d just taken the time to be with myself, meditate and connect with my inner voice, instead of living with feeling vaguely ill at ease, like I was living someone else’s life all these years. So, I’d invite you to do it the easy way.
What is it that you need to hear?
Who are you? I mean who are you really? Not what you do, but what makes you you?
We devote a lot of time in pur culture to asking people what the do as if that really tells us who a person is at her core, like knowing she is an awesome filer or can rock an Excel spreadsheet tells us something profound. I think the much more interesting question is “Who are you?”
It’s such an easy, safe answer when someone asks us about who we are to say “Oh, I’m an accountant” or “I’m a regional operations manager,” but for many of us, it’s just what we do to get by. But is that REALLY who we are or what we want to be known as? I know that for me, it wasn’t. It certainly didn’t even touch on even a fraction of all that I am, but I was so engrossed in and tired from it that I really didn’t allow myself much time to be anything else.
One of the blessings inherent in leaving my old job and the life that went with it is that I get to redefine my the answer about who I am and what it is that I do. As it turns out, it is a long list that doesn’t just boil neatly into a pithy title.
So who am I?
I am a daughter.
I am a caregiver.
I am a rescuer of strays.
I am an auntie.
I am a friend.
I am an avid procrastinator.
I am a keeper of old ways.
I am a Druidess.
I am a writer, a teller of stories.
I am a musician, a singer, a writer of songs.
I am a perpetual student.
I am a medicine keeper.
I am a tireless learner.
I am a writer of rituals.
I am a creator.
I am a teacher.
I am a seeker of liminal space.
I am an eternal spark in a limited body.
I am a fighter for justice.
I am a champion of kindness.
I am a believer in miracles.
Who are you?