Goddess, Healing, Rituals, Witchcraft

When a Witch Doesn’t Feel Like Witching

 

I spent most of 2015 grieving the loss of my mother. The following year was consumed with celebrity deaths, the election, and a general feeling of malaise and anxiety over what lay ahead, both politically and personally. It was supposed to be a year of recovery for me, a year to get my groove back…except it wasn’t coming back so easily. It was sort of inching back like a snail on a Hosta leaf.

Enter 2017. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion at first, and then it sprinted forward in May. Suddenly, my husband has a fantastic new job, and we’re hopping one state over to Alabama. As I’m writing this piece, the movers are filling cardboard boxes with all our worldly goods. I am parked on the patio, preferring the company of my dog, the songbirds, and the rhythmic sounds of Layne Redmond’s Hymns from the Hive.

Instead of focusing on the move, I’m thinking about my spiritual practice and how it has fallen into what can only be described as a slump. I am a witch who has not felt like witching. Other than my daily Tarot draw, I don’t do much. I’ve allowed Sabbats to go by with a yawn. I’ve acknowledged the moon through astrology reports more than I’ve gone outside to soak up her soft, comforting rays. Candles remain unlit and stored away. Crystals stay in a lovely wooden box that a dear friend gave to me years ago for my birthday—it even has an image of the wolf goddess Lupa on the top. There are reminders like that everywhere, symbols of the Divine Mother’s love and strength, but I walk by them as though they are shrouded in mist.

 Rather than chastising myself, I’m looking deeply into why I haven’t felt inspired. Why do any of us turn away from our rituals when life gets nasty and we actually need them the most?

Weeks pass. The move is complete. Now I sit here on a rainy morning in a new room with a new desk in a new town, still looking, still questioning. Honestly, I have felt somewhat annoyed with one aspect of Goddess spirituality, particularly the intense focus on self-improvement that continues to mushroom. If I could roll my eyes any harder, they would slide right down my back.

For all the attempts to build women up and make us feel that yes, we are goddesses incarnate dammit, there’s also an assumption that we’re quite flawed and in need of fixing…and there’s plenty of money to be made from women who desperately want to be fixed. All of that makes my hackles go up. I’m baring my teeth, and this is my low growl that says, “Back the fuck off. I’m not buying, because the Goddess is not for sale…and by the way, I’m not broken.”

The problem with having your spiritual nose planted so deeply in your own ass is that you’re constantly in a state of “healing.” I’ve been there, and it’s exhausting. You bounce from one program or one ideology to another. You think that you’ll get out there and make a difference as soon as you finish cleaning up the shit from your childhood and your bad relationships and your grief and all the rest of the baggage you’ve been hauling around for eons. Here’s a hard truth: that day won’t ever come. You’ll never feel so perfectly “healed” that fairy dust exudes from your pores and rainbows shoot from your nipples straight to the heavens. Don’t use that as an excuse to avoid making your own unique contribution to the betterment of humanity. Have you looked around? No one is levitating off the floor, are they? You’re as good as anyone else. We can’t afford to be so inwardly focused that we don’t see what is needed in our own communities and the world at large.

Here’s a little story about that from my own dusty archives. I once practiced with a circle of women that really got into prosperity magic, which could be defined as rituals designed to bring about financial gain. Granted, this was about the time The Secret came out, so a lot of people were convinced that they could have wealth beyond their wildest dreams if they could just think positively, create vision boards, write themselves fake checks for a million bucks, and repeat a shit-ton of affirmations in the mirror every morning. I give that book about as much credence as the cow patties in the pasture down the road. Actually, the cow patties are useful as manure and do serve a purpose, which is more than I can say about The Secret.

Anyway, one member of the women’s circle finally began to question why we weren’t doing rituals that focused on world peace, healing the environment, equal rights for the oppressed, and so forth. After all, this is what the earlier Dianic covens did, and their political activism made an impact. She was beginning to see that prosperity for one is good, but prosperity for all is better. We were raising energy strictly for our own purposes, when we could have made it broader and more meaningful. Not surprisingly, things began to shift in a more positive direction for me when this group dissolved, and I went my own way.

I may be tired after all that has transpired the past couple of years, but I’m not defeated. I’m looking at everything with a very skeptical eye, and I believe this is healthy. I need to question my role, my path, and my focus. So forgive me if I don’t become positively rhapsodic about writing up a wish list for the full moon or a banishing list for the dark moon. Forgive me if my cauldron stays empty right now. If and when my witchy practice returns, it will have to encompass a lot more than personal transformation. It will have to reach wider, dig deeper, and feel truer.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Moon, Rituals

Is the Moon the New “It Girl”?

I never imagined I’d see the day when the moon became trendy.

In the early days of my witchy explorations, I had to learn about working with the lunar phases from books and from other witches. There were websites, but the Internet was young and barely crawling at dial-up speed. It was hardly worth the trouble to do a search, because a lot of the material had been plagiarized or bastardized in some way. If you wanted original content about anything related to witchcraft, you still had to seek out a metaphysical bookstore, find a local discussion group, and/or join a coven that offered instruction, degrees, initiation, and so forth. It required more effort. You had to actually get off your ass to go meet real people and do real things. There was no social media to hide behind in the cozy comfort of your living room. Ah, those were the days!

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Flash-forward to the present, and you can find tons of articles on how to do just about anything in accordance with the moon’s phases, along with Facebook groups, infographics, webinars, YouTube videos, downloadable classes, and probably more Digital Age tools that I haven’t even discovered yet. I’m not dissing them entirely, since I use many of them myself.

Still, who knew that our Lady Luna would become so popular with the tech-savvy, even among those who don’t necessarily walk the path of the witch? The moon is, dare I say, hot right now—and she gets shit done, or at least you would think so by the number of hits she receives on Google.

Advice on manifesting and releasing with the moon is trending hardest, and why not? It seems we are always trying to pull something into our lives or banish it for good, and the moon’s constant waxing and waning matches our desire for an in-flow or an out-flow of energy. Witches and priestesses have known and honored this magick for ages, but now it’s a thing…a tool…a shiny New Age toy (long, exasperating sigh).

As women, we feel (or have felt) this ebb and flow in our bodies most keenly with menstruation. We know the art of creating and letting go quite well. I am told that the feeling of building and emptying is still there even after menopause. We never really stop cycling with the moon. Blood or no blood, womb or no womb, our connection with that pale, luminous orb is never severed. Yet, we have become so detached in a collective sense that working with Luna’s energy seems new and hip. This saddens me, and it also makes me want to clarify some things I’ve learned about moon magick, lest it become just another hipster fad.

First, I see any type of lunar ritual as a catalyst. Whether we’re burying something in the earth to manifest a dream or burning a list of what we want to release, we’re asking for change. We are opening the door to people, circumstances, and divine messages that will bring about the transformations we desire…and we have no idea what any of that will look or feel like. Trusting that whatever does come is for our highest good is an act of faith, pure and simple.

Second, results are rarely instantaneous. The moon doesn’t work like a child’s wishlist for Santa. We may have several blocks to prosperity that have to be worked out over weeks, months, or even years before a dream can be realized. Coming up against those blocks isn’t exactly fun, but a new moon prosperity ritual will certainly highlight every single one of them. Dealing with our own resistance clears the way for growth and abundance.

It’s the same with releasing. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve seen that advise writing down what you want to release and then burning it on the dark moon. It can be cathartic to watch a ton of emotional baggage go up in smoke. I’ve done it myself plenty of times. Fire purifies like nothing else. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that years of encrusted fear, shame, and self-loathing will vanish instantly in the flames. It doesn’t. What happens is that we are provided with opportunities to heal those wounds.

Whether we’re drawing something toward us or letting it go, we still have to do the work. Goddess never lets us avoid that, but She doesn’t abandon us, either.

Trendy or not, I’m grateful that the moon is slowly returning to her rightful, honorable place in the spiritual lives of women after being shunned and feared for so long. She has always been a symbol of all that is feminine, mysterious, and magickal. May we be ever mindful of how we work with her energy and what she can teach us with every cycle.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Rituals, Wicca

Reclaiming Ecstatic Ritual

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“The Youth of Bacchus” by William Adolphe Bouguereau

We drank the wine, and broke the bread,
And ate it in the Old One’s name.
We linked our hands to make the ring,
And laughed and leaped the Sabbat game.

Oh, little do the townsfolk reck,
When dull they lie within their bed!
Beyond the streets, beneath the stars,
A merry round the witches tread!

from The Witch’s Ballad by Doreen Valiente

People assume a lot about witches and pagans, and much of it springs from the fanciful pages of gothic and paranormal fiction. Sometimes I really wish I could be at least half of all the things they imagine, but I daresay that most would find my witchy life quite mundane in comparison.

Many moons ago (I’m not going to say exactly how many), when I began testing the uncharted heathen waters, I found divided camps. Now, keep in mind that I was exploring paganism in the southeastern U.S., and many witches here (self included) were brought up in extremely conservative, fundamentalist churches. On one side of the pagan fence, I found those who practiced a freewheeling, skyclad (sans clothing) version of Wicca. On the other side of the fence, I found those who preferred to stay fully robed and far, far away from anything resembling an unbridled, ecstatic rite.

It was a bit confusing. Did we not leave the repressive church to experience something different? Were we simply trading one dogma for another?

I began circling with all-female groups, mostly because I had heard stories about lecherous male pagans and high priests who insisted on sexual initiations for female coven members. That sort of thing tended to get my feminist hackles up, as I did not want to be in yet another situation where men had ultimate power and women were subservient. Looking back, I wonder if there was even a kernel of truth in any of those stories. I’ve met precious few men in the pagan world, but most have been kind, strong and deeply respectful of women as the embodiment of the Goddess. Had the patriarchy infiltrated so deeply into paganism, or was it all just a projection of deep-seated fears that women have carried for millennia?

Most of what we knew, or thought we knew, about covens came from British Traditional Wicca. When I review the works of Valiente, the Farrars, and other witches who were writing and publishing throughout the 1970s, it seems as though their ideas were somewhat diluted in the crossing of the Atlantic to America. Perhaps it’s because they landed on Puritanical soil, which wasn’t quite ready and willing to receive them.

What I love most about these foundational writings is that they address sexual polarity and how central it is to Wiccan philosophy and practice. There is always a High Priestess and a High Priest, serving in equality, as representatives of the Goddess and God. The balance and beauty of that is undeniable.

Early covens also adopted ritual nudity in order to be completely free of the notion that the body is profane, to rise above ego and persona, and to increase psychic power and awareness. Perhaps this was partly inspired by the sexual revolution of that era as well, but even so, they were tapping into something ancient and transformative. The poetry and passion in their rituals, indicative in the High Priest’s invocation below, is deeply moving.

Altar of mysteries manifold,
The sacred Circle’s secret point—
Thus do I sign thee as of old,
With kisses of my lips anoint.
Open for me the secret way,
The pathway of intelligence,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
Beyond the bounds of time and sense.
Behold the mystery aright—
The five true points of fellowship…
Here where the Lance and Grail unite,
And feet, and knees, and breast, and lip.
(written by Doreen Valiente)

Fast forward 30 years, and you would see a plethora of books on Wicca and witchcraft, but you would find only the barest hints of erotic mysticism within their pages. Skyclad covens were getting seedy reputations, whether they deserved them or not. Sabbat rituals were becoming short, saccharine, and whitewashed of anything that might offend tender sensibilities. More’s the pity.

You would also find female centric covens that worshipped the Goddess while stripping away her sexual nature. The male aspect of divinity was, at best, a mere consort who sat politely in the background, waiting to be called forth like a faithful hound. It was a clear backlash against the patriarchy, as women rediscovered their power, the Goddess within, and Her awakening presence in the world. The only problem is that the Goddess isn’t singular or chaste as the Virgin Mary. She is Shakti…always cavorting and co-creating with Shiva. I am a great proponent of women’s circles and women’s mysteries, but only if we extend that healing outward to include the sacred masculine from which we are never separate.

Deep within, I believe all human beings have a natural craving for ecstatic ritual, but how often do we ever really let go and surrender to such power? All of the poetry, the pageantry, and the ritual nudity that characterized Wicca’s beginnings were just ways of getting above the mental blocks that keep us rooted in a third dimension reality. In a world that is fraught with so much sexual wounding, can we step through our shadows long enough to feel the light? How do we reclaim ecstasy in a way that honors the gods and the highest self?

I may be an idealistic witch, but I believe we reclaim it by owning our stories, standing in our power, honoring our bodies in whatever way we choose, embracing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, building circles of trust, daring to be vulnerable, stripping off our barriers (and perhaps our clothing), dancing wildly, drumming passionately, loving deeply, and becoming the alchemists of a New Age.

So Mote It Be

Copyright ©2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

Rituals, Shamanism

Creating Ritual

 

Sacred ritual, properly guided by an experienced shaman, can create a “whole brain” experience that awakens the curiosity of the neocortex, satisfies the need for safety of our more primitive limbic brain, and makes ecstatic states accessed by the frontal lobes of the higher brain possible. Ritual performed wholeheartedly allows us to transcend our limiting roles and beliefs and experience more elevated states of being. – Alberto Villoldo
Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman

The Random House Dictionary defines ritual as “an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” That’s a rather ho-hum definition that suggests following something very structured and scripted that may or may not be inspirational. The word itself can feel heavy and laden with centuries of doing the same thing over and over again in the vain hope of recreating a sense of wonder and ecstasy. It can also suggest something mundane, like brushing one’s teeth or applying deodorant.

Yet, the idea of being in a ritual and experiencing something ethereal is part of what drew me to paganism. I wanted to be out of my head, out of my body, and out of this world if possible. After working in sacred circles for many years, I now see ritual as a catalyst for spiritual transformation when it flows from the heart and is fueled by strong intention and desire. A well-designed ritual has the power to transport us to a different level. We enter the circle, and we are changed by what occurs inside. The change may be instant or gradual, but there is no denying that a shift occurs.

That magical shift in thought and awareness is something that modern society has tried hard to achieve through psychology, but we’re now waking up to the fact that traditional methods are losing some ground. A paper published in the Psychological Bulletin revealed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is roughly half as effective as it used to be in treating depression, for example. It’s quite possible to lie on a couch and talk about a problem with a therapist for years without ever making progress. Perhaps the frustration over “getting stuck” is one of the reasons people are seeking something much older and more shamanic in origin. Rituals use symbols that work with the subconscious mind to bring about lasting (and sometimes dramatic) changes. It’s more than just venting about what hurts—it’s getting to the root of the issue and healing it on a deep level.

When designing group rituals, I look at what’s happening seasonally, astrologically, and energetically. Are we in the dark half or light half of the year? Are we more inwardly focused and reflective or more active and expressive? What solar and lunar influences are at play? What is the overall mood of the group? Sometimes there is a need for rest and recovery; sometimes it’s more about raising energy for particular goal.

Tarot can also be helpful when I need guidance on developing a ritual theme. During the month of March, for example, I did a reading on what the focus should be for the next women’s circle. I drew the Eight of Pentacles, the Hanged Man in a reversed position, and the Nine of Pentacles. I’m sure there are many ways to interpret those cards, but I was seeing frustration over being out of alignment with one’s higher calling. Too much time and effort was being wasted on making widgets instead of making a life. The graceful ease and refinement depicted in the Nine of Pentacles hadn’t quite manifested, but the desire was certainly there.

Given that the date for the circle was near the Spring Equinox, it was the perfect opportunity to focus on planting seeds, both literal and symbolic. Our ritual focal point was the blessing and planting of some organic basil seeds, which are now quite leafy and ready to transplant into a larger container! Basil is associated with drawing money and success while warding against misfortune, so its properties also matched our intentions. (Plus, it makes a yummy pesto).

My personal rituals often begin with a shamanic journey. Most of the time, I know what I want to address, but I don’t always have immediate inspiration on how I will go about it. So I let the sound of a drum take me deep into theta where I can meet with a trusted spirit guide. I’ve received advice on ritual timing, herbs, incantations, crystals, talismans, and more just from traveling in the astral realm. I tend to trust what my guides tell me more than the ready-made spells available in books and on the Internet. Those were fine when I was new to the Craft, but eventually, I wanted something more personal and specific to my needs.

After learning what I need to know from my journey, I do the ritual. I inscribe the candle with runes, create the mojo bag, bury the object, paint something with menstrual blood, make a collage, chant the words, dance like a banshee…whatever needs to be done (as long as it’s legal). Then I let it go. This last step is crucial—when a ritual is over, obsessing about the outcome won’t help. I trust that I’ve done all I can, and I leave the rest up to forces greater than I am to work out the details. I believe that all rituals work—even the ones that seem to affect nothing, because they are sending a message that everything is in stasis for a reason.

I won’t say that rituals are the solution to every problem—if you need professional help, please go get it. But I will say that serving as my own priestess and shaman has helped me navigate the seasons of my life and deal with the harder blows like divorce, death, and illness. I didn’t have to trek deep into the Amazon or climb the Himalayas to find a guru, either. I became my own. I’ve never felt completely powerless, because I knew that as long as I had breath in this body, I could at least be fully present in sacred space and do something that symbolized what I wanted to achieve. If there is one magickal axiom I still trust completely, it is this: As above, so below. As within, so without. As the universe, so the soul.

Blessed Be

References

Johnsen, T. J., & Friborg, O. (2015, May 11). The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling: A Meta-Analysis. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000015

© 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Rituals

Women’s Circles and the Quest for Community

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Everywhere I go, I find myself in gatherings of women. Most are spiritual seekers, deeply engaged in the process of healing old wounds and awakening to their divine purpose. Sometimes I’ve been in tribes that formed naturally and easily, as though we already knew each other, and we were just picking up right where we left off. Other times, I’ve had to be more like a lighthouse, beaming out into a misty void, not really knowing who would show up and drop anchor. This past year has been a lighthouse kind of year. Both circumstances—having a closely knit tribe and then searching for one in a new place—has taught me a lot about what women look for in a sacred circle.

There is such a longing for women’s rituals and ceremonies that it’s almost palpable, especially here in the southeast. Can you feel it, too? It’s like the stirrings of a seed underground that has finally been watered enough to burst forth from its protective layer. I have read this quote by Starhawk many times over the years, and each time, I am filled with inspiration for what could be…and a twinge of sorrow for what women have lost:

We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.

Several books have been devoted to the subject of creating exactly the kind of community Starhawk envisioned. I own a few of them myself. They offer sound, practical advice that looks so delightfully inspiring on paper. All of them will make you want to erect a giant Red Tent in your back yard or buy 20 acres just to create your own version of Stonehenge. The reality is that most gatherings happen in living rooms or around a kitchen table or on someone’s patio or maybe in a community center. It doesn’t really matter—any space can be sacred, depending on the energy and presence of mind and heart that you bring to it—and that feeling of sanctuary and trust in each other is what women are seeking and not finding so easily.

But why?

You’d think that developing a strong sisterhood would be easy. Women are naturally communal and cooperative, right? Sure we are, but we’ve also learned how to be competitive with each other, how to hide our authentic selves, how to be controlling, and how to sabotage our own personal growth. All of that comes into the circle, too, more often than not—and the circle sometimes fragments as a result. So, then the question becomes whether we can unlearn those patriarchal influences while still holding space for each other to move past those barriers.

I’ll just say it right now—it’s easier to give up, go your own way, and practice your own solitary rituals. But then you also miss out on the power of women whose energies are united and fueled by the mystical radiance of the moon, the strong pull of the tides, the healing power of the sun, the richness of the earth, and the lineage of our matriarchal ancestors going back thousands of years. It’s strong medicine and much needed in this world. I believe it’s worth getting out of our own way and working together for the common good. Maintaining both a personal and communal practice helps both the individual woman and her tribe, creating a ripple effect that ultimately benefits the whole planet.

As Sandra Ingerman notes in Awakening to the Spirit World, “Ceremonies and rituals are performed to honor the spirits, to celebrate life and changes in Nature, to acknowledge rites of passage, to give thanks, and to create change. Performing a ceremony or ritual creates transformation.”

Indeed it does. When a ritual encompasses an entire group, transformation happens on a much larger scale. How it affects individuals will vary, depending on their openness and receptivity, but the point is that everyone experiences some degree of change on both a personal and transpersonal level. The energy that is raised collectively is always stronger; therefore, the responsibility for working with that energy both during and after a group ritual is even greater.

With that in mind, I believe there are four key elements that can help establish and maintain a women’s circle when the focus is ritual and self-improvement:

  • Purpose: Never lose sight of why the group formed in the first place. What do you hope to accomplish together? If the purpose doesn’t remain at the forefront, then the circle can quickly dissolve into nothing more than a social hour or a venting session.
  • Sacred Space: Creating a space that feels safe is absolutely essential. It requires more than just wafting around some white sage, ringing a bell, or chanting a mantra. All of those things are lovely, but they are useless if those inside the circle don’t feel free to speak openly and straight from the heart without being judged. Many of us carry scars. Many of us are fighting hard battles right now. Sharing our stories makes us both vulnerable and courageous at the same time, and it’s vital that we honor that by refraining from gossip or anything that would compromise the integrity of the circle.
  • Leadership: Good leaders set the direction of the group and keep the support of the whole in mind while doing so. Leadership can remain with one person, or it can rotate so that all experience having that responsibility for a time. Anyone leading a women’s circle should understand that it’s much more about service and much less about power and ego. An article from Forbes on The Most Undervalued Leadership Traits in Women highlights the following: “Looking for respect more than recognition, the most successful women leaders don’t seek to become the star of the show — but they enable others to create a great show.  In other words, being in the spotlight is not what drives them – but rather it’s the ability to influence positive outcomes with maximum impact.” I believe this holds true, whether you are running a business or serving as a High Priestess.
  • Flexibility: Circles tend to change and evolve. People come and go for different reasons. Some move away. Some decide they need to follow a different path. Some attend for a while, disappear to do their own solitary work, and then return later. It’s all perfectly fine. As long as the core purpose of the group stays in tact through the guidance of inspired, heart-centered leaders, the circle can still flourish even as it changes. Strength and flexibility don’t cancel each other out—they support each other, as any athlete knows very well.

The dawn of the Aquarian Age marked the beginning of many positive shifts for women. We are still waking up to our inner Shakti. We are tapping into the Divine Feminine in new ways, as we seek greater equality and balance in the world within and around us. We have spent a lot of time and energy examining how we relate to men in the quest for greater understanding and equality. Maybe it’s time women looked just as deeply into how we relate to each other and how we can best move forward in our sacred circles, our sisterhoods, our communities, and our world.

Blessed Be.

References:

Copyright © 2015 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

Goddess, Rituals

A Pagan View of Death and Dying

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I was raised in rural Appalachia where Georgia meets Tennessee, so let’s just say that I’ve endured a goodly number of Southern Baptist funerals. I’ve heard my share of sermons on how the deceased had been redeemed by the blood of Jesus and would therefore be assured of eternal peace in heaven. These are my family’s beliefs, so when one of them passes to the other side, I have no choice but to honor their wishes. After the flowers, hymns, Bible verses, stories, and personal anecdotes, the body is lowered into the ground. According to the officiating minister, the soul ascends to the Baptist version of heaven, leaving behind photographs and keepsakes and a lifetime of memories for those of us who are still topside of the dirt.

I wasn’t with my maternal grandmother when she passed, but I had a dream a few weeks later in which it felt like we were in a busy airport. Lots of people were passing through, but she found me in the crowd and held me tightly. It was her way of giving me the closure I had not received at her funeral. I spoke of the dream to my mother, who dismissed it completely, saying that it wasn’t really my grandmother at all. “You just miss her, so you had a dream about her. That’s all it was. It doesn’t mean anything,” she told me.

It meant everything, though, and I have maintained a connection with my grandmother ever since. She was, after all, the first to introduce me to the concept of astrology and how to plant a garden by the signs and phases of the moon. I would not be the witch I am today without her early influence and her guidance even after she left this plane of existence back in 1996. Sadly, my mother did not share her views and ruled such practices as mere superstition and foolishness.

So that is how it goes sometimes for pagans with family members who don’t share our views on death and the afterlife. We are often advised to accept the notion that the connection between the living and the dead is severed like a limb from a tree. We are supposed to be happy for the soul that has broken free from the chains of this “wretched” body. We are bombarded with casseroles from well-meaning church ladies. We are counseled to simply move on with life. We are expected to get on with our grief and resume our daily routines for everyone who needs us to be “normal” again.

The truth is that grief takes as long as it takes—and it can’t be remedied with pills or booze or anything other than time.

As a pagan, I have come to view death as both the end and the beginning of a cycle. We let go of the life we led, with all of its challenges and triumphs, all the lessons learned and the pain endured, and our consciousness returns to the source from which it came. After a resting period, perhaps we come back to give it another try, to execute another life plan to continue on with our soul’s evolution. Birth and death are one and the same to me. From the minute we exit the womb and sound our first importunate cry to the world, we are dying. Every single minute we are living, we are simultaneously dying.

Seeing it all as an infinite loop has made me much more comfortable with death, like an old friend I would invite over for tea. We can sit across from each other in an easy silence, sipping our Earl Gray, each in full awareness of the other’s function. I know I will have a final date with death someday, and that’s perfectly okay. I know I won’t get to choose when that date happens, and that’s just fine, too. I’d rather not know. I can only strive for a life well lived until then.

I have several friends who are nurses, and all of them have said that death can truly be kind, especially when the body is wracked with pain and there is no hope of recovery. They have all emphasized the importance of dying with dignity, of giving death as much reverence and honor as birth.

I’ve witnessed this firsthand, as my mother is now in the last stages of a rare illness called Multiple Symptom Atrophy. She can no longer walk or move anything other than her head at this point. Her speech is all but gone as well, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of her physical body shuts down completely. I’ve had a long time to prepare for her death, mentally and emotionally. I’ve had to think about how I will honor her life in my own way, knowing that her funeral will certainly be in accordance with her Baptist beliefs. I know that any ritual I do to honor her will have to be carried out privately, after all the formalities are said and done.

Although she may have never honored the Goddess within herself, I do, as I do in all women. So when the time comes, I will carry a remembrance of hers to the sea. I will release it as the tide goes out, celebrating her life with this final blessing:

I bless your womb that carried me,
and the scar on your belly
that marked my entrance
into this wide, magical world.

I bless your arms that held me
the chair that rocked me
the hands that soothed me
the stories you read to me.

I bless all the fond memories
of planting vegetable gardens
and canning strawberry preserves
and baking apple turnovers in the fall.

I bless that beaten up 8-track tape
of John Denver singing “Country Roads”
because we played it on every road trip
and it still reminds me of you.

I bless all that you taught me
and how you released me
so I would learn and grow
even when it broke your heart.

I bless your bright spirit
now free and boundless
as the wide expanse of the sky
and the gentle caress of the wind.

May you rest and be comforted.
May you know that you raised me well.
May all mysteries be revealed to you, and
may you always feel my love.

So Mote It Be