I jump back into her arms over and over again, but I’m not really mastering the backstroke. I’m just letting her catch me, because I’m scared that I’ll drown. My swimming instructor, a very tan and capable Red Cross lifeguard, realizes that she will get nowhere with a five year-old who doesn’t like to be in over her head. So, we’re doing the only thing I’m comfortable with at the moment, although I’m far behind the other students. I miss the security of my orange water wings, and I’d rather be lying on a beach towel staring up at the clouds. I look over at my cousin, a Pisces, who really does swim like a fish. I swim like a stone, a double earth sign with a Virgo sun and a Capricorn moon. I do not like the water, and I’m certain it doesn’t like me. I hate the feeling of sinking down beneath it, not knowing if I’ll resurface, if I’ll ever breathe again. I muddle through the lessons until the end of the week when we must demonstrate that we’ve learned the basics, but when I hear the coach’s whistle…I freeze. The community pool might as well be the English Channel, because there is no way I can swim across with the other kids. Humiliated, I climb the steps leading out of the pool. My fear of the water has conquered me.
I wish I could say that I went on to become a confident swimmer and diver, but that didn’t happen. Still preferring to have a firm foundation beneath me, I can dog paddle just enough to stay afloat. I enjoy wading and being near large bodies of H2O, but when it comes to being submerged in the stuff, water and I have never come to agreeable terms.
So, how does this affect my spiritual practice? As a witch, I believe in striving to balance all four elements within myself. It’s a basic principle of Hermetics, but it’s not an easy one to master. I can ground myself without much effort—earth is the easiest element for me to access, because I have so much of it in my astrological chart. Air is also quite easy, since I am ruled by Mercury. I love to communicate my ideas to the world through writing and to be engaged in stimulating conversation. Fire always draws me toward its light and heat—I married an Aries, and I have several friends who are Leos and Sagittarians. Their radiating warmth counterbalances my cool, quiet earthiness. But water? Fuhgettaboutit.
Water corresponds with emotions, feelings, the subconscious, the womb…things I should connect with easily as a woman, but I don’t like being out of control or jumping into the unknown…or floating without any sure destination. I realize there’s nothing wrong with having a good cry once in a while or even tearing up over a sappy movie. Grief certainly has its place, too, but accessing deep emotion for me is like digging a well through solid granite. I have to work for those cathartic releases, and the work is usually unpleasant.
At times, I’ve even felt like water was out to get me. When I’m stressed and all out of sorts, water shows up in my dreams. The bridge is washed out, and I’m trying to get across. The hurricane is coming, and I’m trapped in a high rise hotel. My car goes over the bank into a river, and I’m drowning. Water is always the element that shows up to remind me that I need to s-l-o-w down and go within…although I wish it would find less frightening ways to get its message across!
One of many things I’ve learned on my path is that the Goddess continually moves me into situations where I must face whatever is holding me back. Last August, I moved from Atlanta to Savannah. I remember looking at Savannah on the map and freaking out a little when I saw all of the rivers, inlets, and of course the mighty Atlantic Ocean, just spreading out there in a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue. Water…miles and miles and miles of it…would be all around me. There was simply no escaping it this time, but I packed up the U-haul and moved anyway—and it was the right choice.
This tidal marshland has opened me up to a softer side of nature and of myself. The live oaks and the herons convey patience and wisdom. The tide comes in and goes out, reminding me to keep a steady rhythm in all things. The sacred wheel seems to turn with an easier, more forgiving pace here. The longer I stay, the more I am learning to move with fluidity and grace, just like the water that flows through this land.
It is Mother’s Day 2012, and I am sitting cross-legged on the dock, which overlooks a channel and a green, abundant marshland as far as the eye can see. The wind whips my hair about, and the overcast skies provide welcome relief from the sun. I close my eyes and slow my breathing, silently calling upon Yemaya, the African Goddess of the sea. Yemaya assessu, Assessu Yemama, Yemaya olodo, Olodo Yemaya…I ask her to keep me together through whatever lies ahead. The song of a red-winged blackbird, symbol of Binah and the Dark Goddess, awakens me from my meditation. He perches just a few yards away, and I marvel at his impressive plumage and the way he gives himself over to the melody that must be voiced. I know that Yemaya has sent him to assure me that my request has been heard, that she is always nearby in this magical place where the river meets the sea.