Hurricane Isaac

New Orleans area now under Isaac hurricane watch

New Orleans area now under Isaac hurricane watch, could see 70-mph winds on Wednesday –Nola.com

Waiting to see what Hurricane Isaac will do has become a slightly surreal experience. I moved to New Orleans a little under two years ago, and so far, hurricanes haven’t been something that I’ve had to deal with.

It’s been funny; the subject of initiations and their importance has been a topic of conversation for the last several months around here (I’ve been working towards mine), and it feels like this is my final initiation into New Orleans life. If surviving the summer heat and Mardi Gras are the outer court degrees, a hurricane is actual initiation.

The fact that I should have gone to the store yesterday has been pretty much my main thought for the afternoon. I’ve been sick all week and I spent yesterday in bed. I had a horrible craving for brownies, but couldn’t convince myself that the reward would be worth actually crawling out into the world.

Going to the grocery store in New Orleans is always a challenge. Our grocery stores are few and far between (thanks in part to Katrina). For someone who, up until this job, has always worked second shift and has always gone to the grocery store at about 2 a.m., the overcrowded grocery stores of New Orleans are, on their lightest day, quite overwhelming. I’ve found that the best time to do my grocery shopping is during a Saints game. The Saints are our religion down here. Sure, we’re a Catholic city and we have a large number of Voodoo practitioners, but when it really comes down to it, we all know who we REALLY worship. You could probably rob banks while the Saints play and people would just shrug and go back to the game. Drew Brees would stand in for the God, and New Orleans herself, the Goddess.

I was thinking that I would wake up today and have a text from my significant other telling me that he was finally on his way home. Last night was his final gig of a three-month long tour, and his plan was to start driving from Northern PA to get home to me sometime late tomorrow. This is the weekend that we’ve both looked forward to for many months. I’ve been told that we’re a little disgusting in our conversations with each other over the phone (sorry, Jason Mankey!), but when you’re separated from your other half for three months, well…it gets rough.

But no. Instead I woke up to several panicked texts from family members and my S.O. telling me that overnight the hurricane had shifted its way directly towards us.

Contrary to what the rest of the country seems to be thinking, we aren’t panicking. Hurricanes are a fact of life down here. Yes, there were more people at the grocery store, but not by hugely significant amounts. Mostly people were stocking up on water, just in case. Actually, most of my fellow New Orleanians seemed to be stocking up on booze. It seems that in true New Orleans character, the city plans to drink the hurricane away. I also noticed a lot of people taking a second or two to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. They seemed to have this feeling that, well…we aren’t going to be seeing this for a while, might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

The rest of the city seems to be going about its daily business in a slow, unhurried, way.

I’m told that the biggest decision is whether to stay or to leave. That once that decision is made, the rest is pretty easy. It’s just a matter of coming to that decision.

No one is evacuated until the storm becomes a Category 3. Right now they’re projecting Isaac at a 1 or a 2. I asked a friend of mine, who has lived here for years, if I should be a bit more pessimistic about the storm. Her reply was a pretty practical no…just be prepared, buy water and canned goods and try to get your house as ready as possible. Her suggestion was to leave my doors open during the storm to equalize the pressure and possibly save our windows and some of our roof.

It’s one of those situations that you know things could get pretty bad, but what’s the point of worrying about it? My life is here, my things are here, where else would I go? Sure my parents are still in Ohio, but everything else (except my S.O.) are here.

I’ve been trying to think what I would take with me if I were to leave. Important papers are an obvious must, probably my craft tools, my Significant Other’s art and instruments, and the cat…that’s probably it. Clothing maybe, some personal items…but at what point are you saying that you’re leaving just for now and coming back or that you’re leaving expecting nothing to come home too?

During my first months in New Orleans, I went to a panel put on by our local Pagan meet-up group. The panel presented several different local practitioners from the area discussing who they are and what they do. One of them was a Mexican Weather Witch. I was fascinated by her discussion of Lake Pontchartrain and how a good deal of her practice focused on appeasing the Spirit of the Lake, Lady Pontchartrain. Apparently, many of the local natives in the past had also focused on Lake Pontchartrain. If Pontchartrain is appeased and happy, hurricanes don’t happen.

New Orleans is a city of water. We are surrounded by it on all sides. Lake Pontchartrain in the North; the Mississippi all around us. The swamp is pretty much ubiquitous, and as the gulf is only about 60 or so miles further South. New Orleans itself is pretty much it’s own little island. When I visited here for the first time, I was surprised at how much the city wasn’t completely engulfed by the grief and tragedy of Katrina. While there are definitely still scars everywhere, and there is still much grief, I expected a more tangible display of the spiritual grief than I saw. After thinking about it for a while, I concluded that the flood that had killed so many, had also probably washed away the lingering effects in a spiritual way as well. Water is deadly, but it also cleanses away impurities. The city had gone through a trial by water and maybe the Gods were kind enough to flood some of the grief away with it so that healing could occur.

That still leaves things open for Isaac. Katrina is in our past and we’ve rebuilt. But just because we’ve rebuilt from the last time, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen again. And I think that this is imminent in all of our minds. Isaac has been acting the same way that Katrina did, and people are worried that it will be worse than Gustav, which happened several years ago.

So yeah, we’re scared. But not in the way it seems that everyone expects us to be. I keep wondering what I can do spiritually to prepare myself for getting through the storm. And all I can really come up with, is to just keep plugging along in my daily practices. I know my Gods are with me, and whatever is meant to be, is meant to be. So what’s the point in worrying about it? As my French ancestors probably would have said, “C’est la vie…”

My house is as ready as it’s going to be; my papers have all been gathered together, and I’ve stocked up on enough water and peanut butter to choke a horse. This will be my first hurricane, but it’s certainly not the first for the lovely Belle de Nouvelle Orleans, and as always, we will get through this one just fine.

Mardi Gras 2012

Mardi Gras 2012

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Boundaries and Hospitality

“Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were.” – Proverb

We don’t have doors in our house. We have doorways, but no actual doors. So, my Significant Other put up old sarongs to at least give us some privacy in the bedroom.

We have a black cat named Bansidhe. She sings to us all the time (I haven’t noticed anyone dying whenever she cries, but who knows, right? She is a cat after all. I also haven’t noticed her herding fairy cattle, but I’m pretty sure she does that at night while we’re sleeping. At least it sounds that way…). She also has trouble crossing over our threshold at the curtains. At first I just assumed that my cat might be a little…well, you know, special. But then I started watching her when we did ritual. She never crosses our Circle. She is also an excellent companion on guided group meditations, and in my own astral temple work. She is very good about digging her claws into my knee at just the right moment to bring me all the way back. So I started watching her when she was going in and out of our bedroom.

She works her way up to it and then seems to force her way through. If I open the curtain for her and invite her in or out, she has no problems at all. But when she’s doing it herself, she does that adorable cat hunter butt wiggle thing and gets this look of extreme focus on her face as if to say, “I’m GOING to do it, NOW”.

So I started thinking that maybe my personal shields on the bedroom were a little much…

But what can I say? The bedroom is my Sanctuary, it is where I go to retreat from the world and from people and from all of those grating social activities that drive me nuts. When I’m at work, I’m forced to be polite and nice to people who do not always give me the same courtesy. I see it as a part of my professional demeanor to be as polite in all situations as I can be. Having a bad day? No excuse to take it out on other people.

So when I get home from work, I need a place away from the stresses of the outside world. I also don’t particularly like having people living in my space. I work my ass off and sacrifice a pretty big part of the actual me to work the job that I do. And while there are things about the job that I love, there are also things, most notably a lot of coworkers, that make this job an absolute misery for me. But, at the end of the day, I like having a steady paycheck with benefits. I like knowing that I can pay the rent to ensure that my sanctuary is always there. So working a nine to five job is a sacrifice that I’m willing to make. Having that Sanctuary is essential.

We live in a shotgun apartment. (Shotgun Apartment Layout) Our bedroom is not only our shelter, it is in the heart of our house. It is the most protected room physically in the whole place, which I’m sure adds to the shielding me and my Significant Other have created.

I’ve had more than one person tell me that the shields on my bedroom were particularly strong, but until my poor familiar started having trouble dealing with them, I had never noticed this myself.

In this house, it’s not just me, but my Significant Other as well. While he is a much more social person than I am, like me he appreciates his space. So I’m sure that between  him and I, the shields on our bedroom (which is where we spend a majority of the time in this apartment), are pretty spectacular.

Last year, I had someone that I respected tell me that I’m an “aggressive, territorial bitch”. I had told her son, who was going to be our landlord, that I didn’t want a strange girl living with us. He had hired a girl to watch the house while they were doing repairs on it and she was living in the rooms that we were moving into. I had told him that I didn’t mind if she stayed until she found a new place, but that I wasn’t comfortable with her living with us for very long. She was someone that I didn’t know, who wasn’t going to be contributing to the household expenses, and who was not someone that I had personally invited. I saw her as his employee and therefore his responsibility. I didn’t think this was being unreasonable. But I was told that I was a bad Pagan and that I lacked “hospitality” for not wanting to house this stranger. I think, that out of that entire horrible conversation, as I was torn to shreds and generally sat there with my mouth hanging open in shock through all of it, that it was this accusation that hurt the most.

My S.O. and I went on to house people continually from October of 2011 to March of 2012 without respite (in the shotgun apartment with no privacy). It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction to this accusation either, it was because of promises that my S.O. and I had made to various people months prior. It wasn’t until after that whole long period was over that I looked back on my supposed “territorial aggressive bitchiness of no hospitality” that it occurred to me how absurd the whole thing was.

But that accusation has nagged at me for months now. Where does our responsibility to be “hospitable” end? Especially for people like me who need privacy from the outer world for our physical well being. I can’t emotionally handle being around people for very long. I have to like you a lot and trust you even more to be O.K with you in my space for long periods of time. When I’m around people constantly, it wears me down, first mentally and then physically. Again, I have a stressful job, and the stress of those people adds onto my stress with regular social situations. I’m O.K with the fact that I have some social anxiety and maybe a slight case of agoraphobia; I know how to deal with those things and live a relatively normal social life. But I also know that there are times when I have to seclude myself in order to shore myself up for when I am around people.

If nothing else, I think the shields on my bedroom, which aren’t particularly intentional, are a good example of how willing I am to keep people OUT of my personal space when I am home.

I never before saw that as meaning I lacked hospitality. How can I give hospitality if I am too sick and worn down to give the type of shelter to a guest that is essential to  hospitality?

I think that hospitality can be a troublesome issue for modern Pagans. We can’t quite just allow every person who wanders by into our homes anymore. The dangers of inviting strangers in are much different than those of the past. Our lives are also not ruled by the social obligations that ancient lives were. We don’t give service to a ruler who then has obligations to us, and our lives are not intertwined with the rest of society in the same way either. And while we do still have obligations to the Gods (otherwise, what’s the point of being a Pagan?), we have much less of a connection to our neighbors and communities than ever before. Community has been the subject of a lot of Pagan blogging lately. People have been asking why it’s so important or why they should be as invested in the Pagan community when its generally quite a mess. I’m sure that this was never a concern to our ancestors. Community was their whole lives. Of course, we also don’t have to worry about breaking social obligations and becoming  outcasts, deprived of the resources of greater society. We can happily live outside of social boundaries if we choose to, and other than alienation from the rest of the herd, we can do our own thing mostly in peace.

I would say that my Significant Other practices some of the purest forms of hospitality that I’ve ever seen in a modern Pagan. If he meets you and you need a place to stay, he invites you home with him. But these interactions are still within the personal sphere. He has also traveled the road pretty extensively for over thirty years and appreciates hospitality in ways that I’m sure most “landed” people don’t. It’s not uncommon for me to come home and find another musician crashing on the couch for a night or two.

I think this also comes down to a debate between the hardcore reconstructionists and those who are more on the Neo-Pagan side of things. To be someone who is actually reconstructing whatever Pagan religion that you’re practicing, the act of hospitality takes on a much greater significance than it does for someone with a more current frame of mind. Xenia was an extremely important aspect of the ancient Greek practices and some form of this is found in most other Indo-European cultures.

I had never seen myself as being inhospitable before. I have more house guests than most people that I know other than the pirates. And one of the things I love so much about my pirate crew is their ability to ensure that everyone in our group has the things they need. Lost your job? Don’t worry, we’ll keep you fed and put a roof over your head until you find something new. The pirates are the best example of a working community that I’ve ever seen. I see hospitality as giving someone a place to stay who needs it until they move on or have gotten back on their feet from whatever, not indefinitely housing someone who doesn’t have any reason to need it. I think that the point you have no extra energy to give a “guest” is the point where the guest is no longer acting in that particular role. It’s just like any relationship, there should be an energy exchange, not an unhealthy energy drain.

I think, as with so many other things, it comes down to doing the best you can. Sometimes we set boundaries because we need them, and it isn’t always the best choice to open your home up indiscriminately. There is a reason we set a circle and only invite certain beings into our rituals. Our homes are the same way. If we aren’t inviting every spirit or deity that wanders past in ritual, why are we supposed to do the same with strangers? We shield for a reason, we cast circles for a reason. Our homes have many sacred elements, and shelter our religious and ritualistic lives as well. We are not the ancient societies that first came up with these ideas, and while I still expect to help people where I can, I have to watch out for myself too, since I no longer live in a community that will.

The Gods Walk in New Orleans

I recently submitted a piece for an anthology about personal experiences with deity. The anthology didn’t end up happening (for lack of submissions), so I thought that I would post my piece here.

The Gods Walk in New Orleans

I don’t know about elsewhere, but the Gods walk around New Orleans like it’s nothing new. Let me tell you a story…

I woke up from a lazy Sunday afternoon nap, listening to my significant other work on a new song that he’s writing. This is the end of the time that he spends at home with me. For four months of the summer he’s gone, singing for people that I’ll never meet. He likes to use this time to prepare new songs and stories to tell. It’s always a pleasure for me to listen to him from other rooms, while he’s creating magic with his music. He doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but I know that these are things that I could never do. I’m fascinated by how easily he puts notes and chords together to create something entirely new. Poetry pours from him in waves that he either uses or discards without any thought that these words might never come back to him.

I woke up knowing that he had someone else in the studio working with him. The woman was singing with him and every now and again, she paused to murmur something too low for me to catch. I had fallen asleep earlier in the afternoon and had slept hard. He hadn’t told me that anyone was coming over, but since it was Sunday and he was working on the new album, I assumed that he must have been able to get a hold of someone to do some vocals for him.

I was buried under my great aunt’s afghan in the air conditioning and I was frozen in indecision. I was stark naked. We live in a shotgun apartment in New Orleans. If you’ve never been in a shotgun apartment, they’re a series of four or five rooms that run all in a line. If you want to get to the back of the house from the front, you have to walk through all the rooms in-between to get there. I was worried that this unknown person might need something to drink or to use the restroom and would have to walk through our bedroom to do so. Usually, being naked around people doesn’t bother me, but when it’s a stranger and I’ve had no warning of their presence, I prefer to be clothed.

I finally decided that instead of risking getting up and flashing whoever this poor, unsuspecting person was, I would remain under the blanket and sleep a little longer. It was Sunday afternoon after all and I had already indulged in an indecently long nap, why not snooze a little more? Maybe by the time I woke up again, they would be done working on the song and whoever it was would have left. The woman’s voice was soothing and my lover’s guitar strumming was softer than it might be, so I drifted back to sleep listening to the woman and my lover sing together.

I woke up a couple of hours later to realize that he was still working on the song, but the woman, whoever she was, had gone. I felt a sense of irrational disappointment. I had enjoyed sleeping to the music they made together. I got up, put on some comfortable clothes, and pulled out a book to while away the rest of the beautiful New Orleans Spring Night. The house was quiet and peaceful. There was nothing at all rushed and hurried about that long Sunday afternoon.

My partner made us dinner and we re-watched a movie that has always been one of my favorites. Somehow the topic of the afternoon came up. I asked him who he had found to work with him on the new song. He gave me a baffled look. “No one was here, baby, I was working on a song about the Goddess Diana…”

This is not the first time I’ve experienced the Gods and other spirits walking in our house. A whole slew of fairies live in the same studio that my lover sang with a Goddess in. My shiny hair pins and bits of jewelry disappear constantly, only to reappear months later. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night paralyzed with fear, realizing that something is in bed with me. At first I usually think that the cat has decided to come sleep with us, and then I realize that no cat moves or breathes like that. It’s a feeling akin to that which I felt as a little girl waking up from the nightmare and KNOWING that there was something sitting in the closet staring at me. And who knows? Maybe there was… The cat regularly plays tag with and talks to things that I can’t see. Invisible beings perch on my knees and sit with me as I read. Every now and again something bites me in a teasing manner. I think they know that I don’t like them. It’s difficult living in a house with fairies when you don’t necessarily appreciate them.

I meet Baron Samedi on the streets of the Quarter regularly. He peers out at me from the people who carry him with them. Occasionally a tall, skinny man in a top hat, with a skull face winks at me as he strolls by. When our house was robbed by the teenagers across the street, my lover and I offered blood to the Baron to watch over us and to give back threefold what had been done to us. He knows me now, in ways that others do not. I often worry about what other price we might end up paying.

My father used to tell me a story when I was a little girl, about when his appendix ruptured and all that he knew was that he was very sick. He likes to reminisce about waking up to see a faceless figure robed in grey sitting in the chair next to his bed. He said that that’s when he knew that it was time to go to the hospital. When I ask him how he felt about Death sitting with him, he piffles at me and says, “That? That was my guardian angel watching over me”. Maybe my father is right, maybe Death is his guardian angel. He still tells me that he talks to Death regularly and that Death always listens. Maybe the Death that my father knows and my Baron Samedi are familiar with each other and pass back and forth their knowledge of my father and I like two old men playing dice.

New Orleans is a magical place: it is an old place. Ghosts walk the streets of the Quarter amongst the strolling tourists. The LaLaurie mansion sits on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls. The house, supposedly one of the most haunted houses in America, seems to decide how it would like people to perceive it. There are days that I walk past it and it looms ominously over the rest of the street with a chill, forbidding air. Other days I pass by it and don’t realize that I didn’t notice it at all. Tourists regularly run into the Verti Marte, the little sandwich and grocery shop across the way, pleading with the people behind the desk to call 911 and tell them about a little girl that has fallen off the roof across the street. The grocers shrug their shoulders and tell the people to either buy something or to get out. She died nearly three hundred years ago, after all.

I like to walk up to the shore of the Mississippi. I spoke to Santa Muerte one night and she made her refusal plain by burning the candle, the wood beads, the chocolate and everything else that I had brought as offerings to her. My partner works with and regularly calls down the God Herne. His eyes change colors and his breath smells like new grass and my lover is no longer at home in his own body. The weather witches talk about leaving offerings to the Lady of Lake Pontchartrain. It is only when she is appeased that we don’t have hurricanes. Pontchartrain is easily forgotten by me, someone who didn’t grow up on her shores, but I know that she is always there. It was only six years ago that she rose up and took 11,000 lives. Those dead sleep restlessly in our cemeteries. They are awaiting the day where they can get up and walk about once more. Whenever I pass through one of their resting places, I leave an offering in hopes that when that day comes, they remember me and pass me by.

I thought that I was prepared for New Orleans when I moved here. But how can you be prepared for standing in the middle of the swamp and listening to a Voodoo Mamba wail into the night? The swamps of New Orleans are not like the forests that I grew up in. In some ways they are much more sinister, in others they are much more inviting. I have always heard stories of Will-O-the-Wisps, but never lived somewhere where I expected to see them. Here I do. New Orleans has opened up the world of that other place for me. Do the Gods walk elsewhere? I’m sure they do, but not in the ways they do here. Here they are almost like everybody else, busy doing their work and sometimes saying hello when they pass by…

An Uneasy Night Spent under an Astrologer’s Roof

Please forgive my relative silence lately, but I’m currently in the midst of a vacation in the midwest. I just spent the weekend at the Bristol Renaissance Fair and am now on my way to Gen Con in Indianapolis (where I’m really hoping to see Will Wheaton collate some paper…). If anyone is hanging around Gen Con this week, and wants to say hello, I’ll be hanging around Kenny Klein’s booth in the vendor area and playing washboard in the hallways. You can also probably catch me in the evening having dinner with Kenny and Christopher Yates. I can promise you much hilarity, if nothing else. (I also learned that the Wisconsin Cowboy is a very fine thing indeed…)

Last night, as we were between Bristol and Gen Con, I had the pleasure and the honor of getting to stay the night at the house of Janet Berres, Tarot Reader extraordinaire and master Astrologer. Janet has been reading Tarot for over thirty years and has read for thousands of clients. She is the author of one of the definitive texts on Tarot and has amassed a huge collection of Tarot cards. Her website says that she has 1400 different decks, but talking to her last night, she said that it was well up to over 1800 now. Her eventual goal is to start a Tarot museum and open it for the public somewhere in Chicago.

My significant other has known Janet for about five or six years at this point and trusts her for all of his Tarot needs. They met at a festival in Minnesota and have been keeping in touch ever since.

I don’t usually get to hang out with Tarot readers (well, I live with one, but I don’t think that he counts). And I have never actually had a sit down, professional reading done for me before. I am a very beginning Tarot reader and have only recently begun to sit down and learn the basics of the Tarot. I’m lucky in that my significant other is a walking encyclopedia of Tarot symbolism, but even he, who has also been studying it his whole life, admits that unless you devote your entire life to the Tarot, you’ll only ever skim the bare surface of it. Janet Berres is one of those people who has dedicated her whole life to the Tarot.

She didn’t want to read my cards until she had done my astrological chart. She used a good old-fashioned computer program to do my natal chart, but after she printed it off, with only glancing at an astrologer’s almanac every now and again, she took about forty-five minutes to explain all my various signs and planets and the effects that they were going to have on my life. She also laid out a few specific dates over the next four years where she thought that I was going to have to deal with stressful situations. And then she read my cards. She did a general reading and then did four different spreads for me for specific questions. She was eerily accurate.

As someone who is in Acquisitions, I was fascinated by how she kept on top of buying all of these different decks. When I asked her about it, she told me that it was getting harder and harder. She said it used to be easy to keep track of every deck published. Only a few publishers were putting out Tarot decks, but now, especially with the internet, many smaller independent companies were putting out decks and it was harder for her to hear about things.

Her house though, in and of itself, was pretty amazing. She has decks, upon decks, upon decks of Tarot cards everywhere, all extremely organized and on their own book shelves. She also has a huge library of books on astrology and the Tarot. Tarot imagery hangs on her walls, sits on her shelves, is in her furniture and in her decoration. And the house itself, just keeps going…

At a recent meetup, we had an interesting discussion on Tarot reading and divination and whether people thought that they were receiving information from the Gods directly or whether or not they thought that something else was going on. Janet told me that she thinks that all of divination is receiving information from the divine, though maybe not from a specific deity. She also thought that everyone has some of the ability, or is slightly psychic, and if they really try, they can interpret the cards to some extent or another. She said though, that she was just lucky enough to be one of those people who have a lot of the talent to do readings and see the messages that come through the cards to her. When I asked her to describe her reading style, she told me that she sees the images in the cards and they tell her a story about whatever is going on in her client’s life. She doesn’t do the more logical interpretation that my significant other does and she doesn’t do intuitive reading the way that some of my other friends do. To her, the cards speak and tell stories.

She didn’t get into as much astrology with me, but she had just as many books and items relating to astrology and the zodiac around her house as she did the Tarot. When I asked her what her favorite deck was, she told me that even after all of these years, she still uses the Rider/Waite/Smith deck. She said that she didn’t know how many times she has had to replace her deck, but she uses the same one over and over and it hasn’t led her astray yet. She thought that this deck had been the most influential on all of the other Tarot decks out there and that its imagery was the best to be found.

While I had an interesting night (I’m pretty sure that Janet’s house is pretty spectacularly haunted), it was a fascinating night of getting to talk to one of the best Tarot readers in America right now. I’m sure that I could have sat and talked to her for days and days and still only have gotten the very beginning of everything that she knows that is related to all of these many topics. She was currently getting ready to do several workshops and meetings with other Tarot Readers in the area and also had a few that were flying in, specifically to talk to her. While my S.O. and I stayed with her, she received many calls from clients (at all hours of the night) asking her for her help and her advice, which she graciously gave. She never seemed to mind stopping whatever she was doing to assist someone with something. She was also a wonderful hostess while she was at it. If you ever have an opportunity to get to talk to Janet or to have a reading, take it. It is an opportunity that you won’t get to have everyday.