Listen

My grandmother took me aside as a small child and said, “Our family sees things, you will too. We don’t talk about it, ever.”

My father’s family is a fairly typical Appalachian family: they worked hard, had little money, went to church every Sunday, said their prayers at night and looked the other way when they saw things no one else did.

My father, staunch Methodist that he is, emails me regularly about everything under the Sun. This morning I received the email below. I thought I would share it here, because it’s so rare that I hear my older Christian relatives talk about and actually address the things my grandmother told me to never talk about.

And he wonders where I get it from?

Sometimes they are very much in the back ground. You almost have to be expecting to hear them. It is as if they are having a conversation between themselves. Then they seem to come forward if you want to talk to them. Other times they just say things in the clear that they want you to hear. You may look around expecting to see people but real people are not there. They can warn. They share joy. Always pay attention to warnings. E would say they warned her many a time. L knew F S’s time was coming soon. They told her indirectly through him. He told her he sat down while walking from out on the ridge. He heard voices talking of death but he didn’t know whose.

When I was laying in bed dying when my appendix burst, the Sheppard was there at my head all night long. I knew he was there guarding me or just being with me. When I heard the dead stick rattle up and down the rafters of the front porch, he let me know the devil was waiting and I still don’t know why it was the devil and what at that point in my life I had done wrong.

When they had to put the hose down my nose, I had to go to x-ray every few hours. When they were loading me on the elevator for the last time, I knew all I had to do was to let go of the parallel bars I was holding onto. All was black around those bars. I knew not to let go because I would be in the wrong place as a result. I don’t know how I knew unless it was the Sheppard protecting me. The Sheppard never spoke. He had no face I could see. Perhaps it was the Valley of Death of which much is spoken. Since then the voice calls me in the middle of the night. It isn’t the one from the garden. At night it is sharp and piercing by my name. The garden doesn’t call me by name, it is the friend.

Perhaps you will not be the carrier of this curse. It is something to bear. It is definitely another dimension of which Uncle R seems to believe. Your Aunt D doesn’t hear the voices. I am not sure why I do unless L chose me. She use to teach me about them. She always said “You can’t run. You can’t hide!” perhaps she was telling me I would never be free of hearing them. I always thought she was speaking of death alone. Maybe both. You may see patches of light and dark pass you by out of the corner of your eye. I believe there are good and evil forces among them. They are always about their business.

Know this I have had some side effects of the knee surgery. I intend to ride this horse to the finish, as I would rather die than quit walking. The peace was there today as I walked at Dawes with the dog. That is twice now. I have not known it for so long I had forgotten it. It is within you, if it comes to you. It is this serenity like no other. Nothing in this world can hurt you ever again when it is with you. There are forces unseen which do exist. I just happen to be a conduit for some of them. E plays for me on a regular basis now. I would guess by your rule of threes you should always be on the plus side of that count.

It was the last lesson your Grandfather taught me. Die proud and never on your knees, he said. Be proud and never give the bastards an inch. Take it all standing full on. Fear not you will be standing by the shadows of the past.

~ April 3rd, 2016

index

The road that goes down over the ridge where my family has lived for generations.

The first time I ever experienced what my dad is talking about was the night before my grandmother died. She had had Alzheimer’s for eighteen years. I was 21.

She was down to about 80 pounds and had mostly quit eating, so we knew that her passing would be soon.

I went to bed that night as usual and unlike other nights, I dreamed one long dream all night. I woke in the dream sitting in the old, ugly plaid chair in my grandmother’s front room. And across from me, on the love seat, was my grandfather.

I had never met my grandfather, he died when my father was a boy.

We both knew who the other was, but couldn’t seem to actually speak to each other.

We sat there, all night, together, without saying a word, keeping vigil together. Right before I woke up, he stood up and suddenly had a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

Not long after I woke, my dad called me to tell me that my grandmother had passed.

I like the image of my grandmother passing and finding him waiting there for her with a bouquet of flowers. He was the only one she ever loved and they were separated for forty some years.

It took me a long time to reconcile my choices with family expectations and traditions. I know many of my living relatives are disapproving. But someone told me once that death makes us all equal and that they don’t care about things like religion or sexual orientation on the other side. That they claim us no matter what. It took me a long time to realize that my grandfather’s visit was as much an acceptance of me as a vigil for my grandmother.

I think the reason I write about Wicca and Paganism is exactly because my grandmother told me not to talk about it. It took me so long to figure things out. How different would things have been if I had known things at a younger age?

We need to share our stories and listen for the voices. They are all around us, all the time and when they speak, its necessary that we listen. I don’t see it as a curse, but as a blessing. I am a witch. I stand at the gateway between life and death and I am able to speak for those who have no mouths to do so and I can go places that most of the living cannot.

I am proud to walk in the shadow of those who came before me. I come from a long line of hardworking farmers. It’s not a glamorous legacy, but it’s certainly a strong one.

And I too will ride that horse until the bitter end. I have nothing to fear. I will not budge. My roots sink far into the past and will hold me in the midst of the worst storms. Try, try to move me all you like. It won’t work. I am not just anchored in this world, but in the next as well.

 

Advertisements

A Few Thoughts On Death

I’ve spent the last few days at Pantheacon. I’ve been having a great time and I’ve gotten to talk to a lot of awesome people. Today, I got to sit on a panel for Llewellyn on ancestor work and death.

It was a great conversation and I thought I would bring it over here for a second.

Death is definitely one of the things that brought me to Paganism in the first place. My family, on both sides, seem to have a strong connection with death.

My great grandfather was in the the last moments of his life when he suddenly looked peaceful. When his children asked him what he was looking at, he said that he could see his wife (who had died several years before) and that she was standing in a garden, waiting for him.

My great aunt died. The doctor declared her dead and one of my aunts let out the death wail, a traditional Celtic keening done at the death of a loved one. My great aunt sat back up, looked at the aunt who had wailed and said “Can I die yet?” When my poor aunt nodded, my great aunt laid back down and was gone once again.

My grandmother had Alzheimers for nearly 20 years. For whatever reason, she seemed to be scared to die. My grandfather had died when he was 52, they had been married for 35 years and my grandmother never remarried. The night before she died, I dreamed about meeting my grandfather (who died nearly 30 years before I was born) at my grandmother’s house. It was an awkward meeting, we both knew that we had no business seeing each other, but we waited in my grandmother’s living room for those last long hours together, he sitting on the ugly plaid recliner in the corner and me on the small loveseat by the organ, never saying a word. I woke up in the morning and received the phone call from my father that my grandmother had finally passed on. It made me feel better to know that he was waiting for her.

My father constantly talks to an entity he calls his guardian angel, but I always feel Death in the room.

In New Orleans, we are constantly surrounded by death. But we celebrate life’s passing and don’t let it get us down. We see life as a dance that eventually has to end for everyone. For funerals, we second line. The first line of a procession is the casket, the second line is the band. We parade someone home to their final resting place and this always seems like a fitting way to go out.

What do I personally believe? As a Wiccan, I believe that the soul passes on from this world to what many call the Summer Lands. There, the soul is able to take a break, rest and heal. In the Charge of the Goddess, we are promised peace, “upon earth I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal; and beyond death, I give peace unutterable.” Once the soul has taken the time it needs, I believe it moves on to the next life.

As a priestess, I believe that I’ve dedicated my life to the service of the gods and I don’t believe that this service will ever end. I think the gods send us where we are most needed next, whether that be for us to learn new lessons or for us to continue to give the service that is most needed.

Discussing death is extremely important. I want to make sure that my final wishes in how my final moments and my funerary rites are handled are done in the way I want them to be done. I don’t think that death is scary, it’s simply the transition to the next phase in the journey. Unfortunately, as Pagans, we sometimes have to fight family and society to ensure our final moments are handled the way we wish them to be. I know too many people who have had families who have refused to honor their last wishes. I have DNR signed and I already own my burial plot in the family cemetery. Death is certainly not always easy or peaceful and having these details dealt with ahead of time will hopefully make the process a little smoother when the time comes.

1003435_10101134922912258_718613055_nIs this morbid? Maybe. But I sleep better at night know that my family knows that I don’t want to linger in case the worst happens.

It’s important to remember that those who came before us do still have an impact on our lives today. If nothing else, their blood and their genetic memory flows through our veins. I look at pictures of my family from a hundred years ago and see my own face staring back at me. I don’t know that in life, my family would agree with my path, but I think that in death they understand a much greater universal truth about acceptance. As another priestess said to me, death is the great equalizer and after we die, the minor details of lifestyle choice are no longer important. They don’t care that I practice something differently than they did, they do care about the fact that I am their present and might, just might, bear their future.

Death is the last great mystery that we all have to deal with in our own way. After all, nobody gets out of this life alive.

Unselfish

Yesterday in the midst of reading about CNN’s blunder in their handling of the Steubenville rape case, I was caught up in an unexpected argument at work. The argument was over whether or not women who choose not to have children are “selfish”. Apparently I, as a young woman, am extremely selfish for living a fulfilling life without children.

The expectation that women will and should have children is omnipresent in our culture. It is even seen in the often fiercely feminist Pagan community. I especially see it in the triple Goddess concept of Maiden, Mother, Crone. (This is especially poignant because this conception of the Triple Goddess is not an element of classical myth; it was born of the Feminist Goddess movement of the 1970s).

This idea is wrapped around the assumption that a woman’s worth is characterized by her reproductive abilities; that the three stages of maiden (before childbirth), Mother (in the midst of birthing and raising children), and Crone (the inability to have children any longer) are the stages that define a woman. It is as if there are no other important parts to a woman’s life.

The sad part is, we don’t even seem to be realizing we’re doing it.

I am none of the above and I have no plans to procreate in the foreseeable future. I do, however, think about it a lot. The other day my partner asked me why (with a slight hint of panic in his eye), but my generation stands at the precipice of a new way of thinking, and the decision to have children is no longer an easy one. Today, we have the choices, but we are also still pressured to conform to the ways of a thousand generations of our ancestors: ancestors who did not have easily obtained birth control, and who could devote their lives to being in the home, raising children.

I am a fully independent being whose self worth is not tied up in my potential to bear children. I am lucky enough to live in an age of science, and to experience the most freedom we, as women, have ever enjoyed. While there are those out there who are fighting to take that away from us, our right to choose is one of the most powerful rights we have in the sovereignty of ourselves.

The power to choose is also one of the most significant that we, as witches, have.

The phrase, “Witch, know thyself” says it all.

My energies lie elsewhere: in my partner, in my coven, in my new priestesshood, in my writing, in my career, in my graduate work, and none of these things would be possible if I were to choose to have children right now and devote myself to their care.

I am not “selfish” for choosing differently. If feminism did nothing else, it gave me the right to choose how to handle my body and my family making decisions. The fact that I hear this mainly from other women is one of the worst parts about the whole thing.

We need to come up with new concepts of what characterizes womanhood. We need to reach beyond the archetype of the triple goddess and embrace new ideas of what women are and what their possibilities can be. While the triple goddess may be an easy archetype to grasp, we are more than that. My Lady is more than that. The Craft that I practice is about more than that.

I am not “selfish”; I am a witch who is here to help reshape the world. Whether I decide to create life has no bearing or relevance on my place in that unfolding reality.