Empowerment

Good Fences: How to Set Healthy Boundaries and Maintain Your Sanity

 

Having and enforcing healthy boundaries has become the topic of many conversations in my world lately. It seems like we’re all trying to get a handle on what is or isn’t okay with us and how to communicate that to other people. It’s a bit ironic that we’re more comfortable with letting strangers know when to back off than we are with letting our own friends and family know when they’ve crossed a line (or ten). We don’t worry as much about how strangers are going to feel or how the dynamics might change, because odds are high that we’ll never see them again. Our interpersonal relationships demand a lot more of us, however.

I now have an even deeper understanding of why Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Fences show you exactly where a boundary lies. There is no mistaking when and how it has been crossed. It’s frustrating sometimes that our emotional boundaries aren’t always so visible or accessible.

When people come to me because they feel like others are taking advantage of them in some way, I’ve noticed that they often haven’t looked within to really identify their own boundaries. They’re too busy people pleasing and trying to manage how others feel. Women fall prey to this a lot, because we’re socially conditioned to be caretakers and to put others’ needs well above our own.

Expressing what we need out loud can be difficult, because we don’t want to be accused of being selfish. (Oh, that nasty little word!) What we usually fail to recognize is that others fire the “selfish” missile at us out of co-dependency. They fear the possibility that their needs might not get met by us, so they use “selfish” to churn up guilt. If we bite the hook and give into the guilt trip, then we’ve collapsed a boundary. We’ve said Yes when we really felt No. Is that what a Goddess would do? I think not.

Friends have referred to me as “The Queen of No” and “The Boundary Queen” before, and I wear both titles with pride. It took a long time to love myself enough to stop being a doormat, so I will share my tactics for maintaining my sanity and sanctity.

Do a Gut Check

Step One in healthy boundary setting is checking in with how you feel. When somebody asks you to do something, stop and take a deep breath. How does their request sit with you? If you sense hesitation inside, heaviness, or anxiousness, that means you’d rather not do it. Your body will give you signals, but you have to recognize them and honor the message. If you feel like you should say yes, consider the motivation. Are you just worried about being liked?

Be Honest and Speak Up

Step Two is being honest about where you feel compromised. Women have to learn how to be outspoken, even though that goes against the way we’re socially conditioned. We’re taught to be nice, to acquiesce, and to accommodate. Outspokenness is a skill we have to master, nonetheless, if we’re ever going to reclaim our lives. Say it out loud, and stand firm, even if you’re shaking. It does get easier with practice!

Release the Guilt

Step Three is letting go of the guilt that will surface once you learn how to say no. People are rarely going to let you off easy, because they have their own agendas and issues. Feeling the guilt is completely normal, so it’s important not to be hard on yourself when it comes up. It’s equally important to push through it and realize that a more balanced, positively-engaged life awaits on the other side of that guilt.

Be Ready for the Fallout

Step Four is allowing toxic relationships to die, and this may be the hardest part of setting and enforcing boundaries, particularly with relatives. A balanced person who truly loves you will honor and respect your limits. Period. An unbalanced person will argue, give you the silent treatment, try to coerce you into saying yes to their demands, play the victim, or heap on the guilt—maybe all of these things. If they can’t learn to accept your new assertion of power, it’s time to limit your association with them or cut ties completely.

Rock Your Goddess Power

The goddess I think of most when it comes to setting boundaries is Durga. She’s a badass multi-limbed warrior and protector of the universe who rides a tiger or a lion. Her very name means “fort” or “a place that is difficult to overrun.” I like chanting her mantra when I need an extra shot of fortitude, but I encourage you to do whatever ignites your own Divine Feminine fire.

Remember that even if our parents didn’t teach us about healthy boundaries as children, it’s something we can learn. It’s a practice, and it’s something that we have to keep practicing in all of our interactions.

Decide. Begin. Make your life brilliant.

Blessed Be

Copyright © 2018 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved. 

Empowerment, Goddess

Goddesses Don’t Wear Bras

 

Friends, it’s hotter than Brigid’s forge in lower Alabama, so I’ve been going sans bra as much as possible. It’s ridiculous to be layered when atmospheric conditions are at rain forest levels. If it would not result in arrest, I’d probably go around naked through the Dog Days of summer. Since public nudity isn’t an option, I can at least shed my bra.

If you trace the word brassiere to its Old French origin, it means armor or “a protector for the arm.” I’m not going into battle, so why do I need “armor” for my breasts? Why does any woman? What are we protecting our breasts from, or rather, why is the world still so concerned with the appearance of breasts that we spend $16 billion on bras annually? Such a waste of funds!

When I look at ancient statues of goddesses, so many of them are bare breasted. Consider the Venus of Willendorf, or Astarte, or the Minoan Snake Goddess…I could go on. All of them reflect eras when the life-giving, nurturing aspect of the Goddess was honored. Breasts were powerful, not just sexual. They represented fertility, sustenance, and abundance of the land and its people. Goddesses don’t wear bras. The very idea would be insulting.

Today, breasts are hypersexualized, objectified, and somewhat divorced from their main function. Ask any woman who has breastfed her child, and she will describe the challenges of doing this in public without feeling shamed and judged. Society is much too worried about the appearance of a woman’s nipples, despite the fact men have them, too.

How far we have fallen from our matriarchal roots.

When I posted about bra hatred on my personal Facebook page, several friends raised their virtual hands in agreement. We discussed the fact that even when we go braless, we often resort to hacks like covering our nipples with those nifty circular Band-Aids if we’re wearing tight clothing. So even if our breasts are freed from the underwire cage, our nipples might still be muffled under cheap adhesive bandages or nude-colored pasties. Why? Because we feel self-conscious. Our culture has made us believe that if our breasts bounce and our nipples show, we will be considered loose and immoral. We’ve been trained to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention, lest we be assaulted, raped, or killed.

Yes, trained—and it all begins with the training bra we’re told to wear at the first signs of sexual development. Think about it. Who or what is being trained? Are we training our breasts to get used to the bra, or are we training ourselves to conform to a social standard that we didn’t even set? I remember asking my mom for one, because all the other girls in school were beginning to wear them. I was beginning to feel self-conscious without a bra, which shows just how much pressure girls are under to conform. The message we internalize is that there is something much too vulgar and tempting about breasts, so they must be hidden under double layers of fabric. We carry that message our whole lives, unless we consciously work to reclaim our natural beauty and worth. Reaching way back into our collective memory and connecting with the Goddess is a doorway to the process of reclaiming our selfhood.

Thankfully, some wonderful teachers and empowerment coaches are now actively assisting in the work of showing us better ways to appreciate and work with our bodies. Saida Desilets, Ph.D., creator of the Taoist-based Jade Goddess teachings, describes the energetic quality of breasts in this way:

Our breasts are considered our love center because they sit on either side of our heart and represent the external expression of our heart chi. Chi naturally flows from our heart center out into the world. Our breasts have long been a symbol for nurturing and loving energy. They also hold the secret to our longevity. (206)

Susun Weed, herbalist and author of The Wise Woman Way, also speaks of the power we hold in our breasts:

We are the Ancient GrandMothers and our breasts are ancient. Perhaps you find them ugly. See how they drift yearningly toward the Earth, lower with every passing year. We smile knowingly; we know our breasts contain a power that is resilient, flexible, supple, easy, and impossible to restrain. Whether the whim of fashion says our breasts are to be large or small, pointed or flattened, with cleavage or without, padded or bound, accented or obscured, it matters not to us. Our breasts fall free, untouched by current notions. The power of our breasts is the power of life.

Yet, we block and constrict that power, and we’ve been doing so for the last 500 years since the introduction of the corset.

I have this fantasy that women all over the globe will join together in a Bra Burning Day. I see us all flinging off our constricting garments of torture and dancing around the flames, never looking back. I see men there with us, drumming in the outer circle, supporting us lovingly and committing to the work of demolishing the old paradigms.

May we unlearn the rules imposed upon us by earlier generations that were ruled by fear and shame. May we nourish our breasts with freedom of movement, healthy relationships, massage, good nutrition, and a positive self-image. May we remember that we are the reflections of the goddesses of old, who are still alive and within us now, calling forth our courage and our love.

So Mote It Be

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


Désilets, Saida. Emergence of the Sensual Woman: Awakening Our Erotic Innocence. Kihei, HI: Jade Goddess Publishing, 2006. Print.

Weed, Susun S. “Ancient Breasts.” Wise Woman Herbal Ezine, www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/February09/breasthealth.htm. Accessed 14 July 2017.

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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, Mythology

Laughing Out Loud: Goddesses of Mirth and Revelry

I remember chatting with a friend at a coffee shop after a period of intense cosmic energy that had left us a bit flabbergasted. We were getting mighty tired of feeling like pinballs in the inscrutable game of life, and both of us were wondering when things were going to feel lighter, easier, or at least not quite so darn Saturn-ish.

“Is there a goddess of laughter? Because I need that one!” she said.

“Actually, there is! Look up Baubo,” I said. “She’s a Greek goddess who rules laughter and all things crass and unmentionable.”

I hadn’t studied much about Baubo up to that point—I just knew she was the goddess in the Eleusinian mysteries who made Demeter cackle so much that she ceased mourning for her daughter Persephone. This was no small act, considering that the Earth was suffering under an endless winter without Demeter’s attention. Restoring her spirit gave her the courage she needed to secure Persephone’s release from Hades, thereby allowing spring to enliven and quicken the land again. Powerful magick, indeed.

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Greek terra-cotta figurine of Baubo holding a lyre.

Laughter is good medicine, and Baubo is the queen of deep belly laughs, dirty jokes, and unbridled sexuality. I would compare her to Mae West or Amy Schumer. She is a goddess who speaks directly from her genitals, and your approval is neither sought nor required. Precious little survives of her likeness and her story, but the unearthed figurines of her depict either her face in her belly with the vulva forming her chin or an exaggerated vulva between her legs. Whatever she was hiding under her skirt certainly gave Demeter the giggles.

If you invite Baubo into your life, be prepared to find humor in just about everything, to laugh until your sides hurt, to flaunt your fabulous self, and to stop apologizing for being “too much” for the curmudgeons. If they can’t laugh along with you, dear one, it’s their loss.

Another goddess who gives no fucks is Uzume (pronounced oo-zoo-may) from Japanese mythology. She is a shaman goddess who found herself in a similar role to Baubo as court jester, clown, and one who saves the day through raffish humor.

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Uzume, from The Goddess Oracle by Amy Sophia Marashinsky

As the story goes, Amaterasu, the life-giving, compassionate goddess of the Sun, had hidden herself in a cave. She was severely depressed and grieving over the violent actions of her brother, Susano-o. He was quite jealous of her power, so he went on a rampage, slaughtered a young horse (a sacred animal to the goddess), and threw its carcass into her weaving room. He destroyed her looms, ruined all of the valuable fabric, and terrified all of the women who were working there at the time. In some versions of the story, he kills all of the attendants and wounds Amaterasu as well.

Her refusal to come out of the cave after this episode was beginning to distress all of the other gods and goddesses. The rice fields were dying, and the situation was getting desperate. They had tried to lure her out with no success, and then Uzume showed up at the cave entrance. She begins by looking quite serious and refined and then proceeds to lift her kimono for a frenzied, erotic dance that made all the assembled deities howl with laughter. When Amaterasu became curious enough to venture outside, the others sealed the cave so she could not return. Balance was restored to the land once again by a goddess who understood the power of comedy.


So here we are about halfway through a Mercury retrograde, and I know it’s eclipse season, and the Equinox is less than two weeks away, and the holidays are coming, and the election is looming, and the world is exploding, and Winter is coming…yeah, I get that.

But laugh. Really. Find some cat videos on YouTube. Go see some live stand-up comedy. Check out the People of Walmart. Do whatever it takes to laugh so damn hard that tears roll down your face, and ask Baubo and Uzume to help you.

Blessed Be

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

 

 

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Goddess

The Goddess as Challenger

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The great traditions of the goddess emphasize her overwhelming power, but call us to love her. Not in spite of her power, but because of it. Not in spite of death, but because of life. It is not easy to travel on the path of the goddess, but once her challenges are met, life is filled with unimaginable sweetness. -Patricia Monaghan, The Goddess Companion

Finding the Goddess can feel like coming home, like being nurtured and loved at last after so many years of searching for…belonging? acceptance? something that honors the feminine in a world that has glorified the masculine? I remember that feeling. After suffering through a patriarchal Baptist upbringing, the Goddess was like a cool drink of water from a sacred well. Here I was free to be entirely myself. Here my gifts were acknowledged, even celebrated. Here I found sisters (and a few brothers) who were cut from the same cloth.

I exhaled…releasing the poisonous vapors of original sin, menstrual shame, sexual repression, and misogyny. I inhaled the truth of the soul’s incorruptible perfection, my sacred blood, second chakra liberation, and an abiding, fierce love of myself as a woman and representation of She Who Is. There was no going back. Even if I had wanted to retrace my steps, She would have corrected my course again. The Goddess is tolerant of many things, but playing small is not one of them.

She loves us, feeds us until we’re strong again, and then kicks us right out of the nest when the time is right, like any strong, wise mother would do.

I’m reminded of these brilliant lines by Erin Hanson:

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?

She knows the only way we’ll find out is if we step right up to the edge of our comfort zone and swan dive into a future we cannot see. Sometimes we are gently nudged. Sometimes we are shoved.

Gentle nudging is when the same message keeps showing up in different ways. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take up pottery, but you keep talking yourself out of signing up for a class. You’re too busy. You’re not even artistic. You might be a terrible potter, and all that money would be wasted. But then a flyer shows up in the mail about a pottery class in your town. You flip open a magazine, and there’s an article about the therapeutic effects of working with clay. You’re surfing through channels, and there’s a documentary about famous women potters. That’s a nudge. That’s the Goddess saying, “Take the class already, and quit making excuses. How many messages do I really need to send?”

Getting shoved is when you ignore all of those messages, deny your inner calling, and then chaos arrives. You break a finger through some unfortunate accident. Now your hand is useless for a while. So while your bones are healing and you are cursing the annoying splint you have to wear, you wish like hell that you had gone to that pottery class last weekend while you still had two perfectly intact hands. Ouch.

Thus, my second major awakening to the Goddess was discovering that She is both the Benevolent Mother and the Challenger. (Well, hello there Kali Ma, Morrighan, Hecate, Baba Yaga…and all others who have taught me so much while kicking my butt at the same time).

Challengers question things and create opposition in order to force some growth. They swoop in and utterly destroy anything that has gone way past its expiration date. It’s part of their job. They clean shit up, and you won’t always like their methods. It’s not like a quick Saturday morning dusting and vacuuming. Nope. It’s more like taking a bulldozer to the whole house and starting over with a new foundation.

They want the real you…minus all the false walls you’ve erected and the useless objects that weigh you down. You know what I’m talking about: the job that still sux no matter how many positive affirmations you’ve stuck on the mirror, the relationship that doesn’t work no matter how much counseling you’ve tried, and the friends that are beginning to feel more like frenemies. That stuff will devour you from the inside out, and it would be a travesty if you exit this life before accomplishing all the amazing things you came here to do.

Goddess knows this far better than you can imagine, which is why she shows up as Challenger with sword in hand (or wrecking ball), poised and ready to rearrange your life and priorities. The truth is that we just don’t have a lot of time to waste on being meek, mild, and mediocre. The world needs repair, and we are the bandages, my friends. So if Goddess is showing you some tough love right now, know that it is because you are worthy and those natural gifts you’ve been hiding are extraordinary. Claim them. Use them. Start from the fresh, fertile ground she has leveled for you. Grow something that will benefit the seventh generation and beyond. I believe in you.

Blessed Be

© 2016 Jennifer R. Miller. All rights reserved.

Goddess, Healing

Service and the Art of Self-Care

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“Pure Love of the Divine” by Shiloh Sophia McCloud @ Fine Art America

She goes by several names…Mary, Miryam, Magdala, Magdalena. I won’t speculate on her origins or elaborate on the Gnostic teachings that describe her as Sophia, the original female principle, the Goddess. Many have already devoted books to the exploration of her mysteries, but I will leave all of that for the scholars to pick apart and debate. What I know of the Magdalene comes from simply asking, listening, and receiving. This is what she would like women to know about balancing service with the art of self-care. These are her words:

Welcome, my sisters, to the path of the Sacred Heart. You have climbed the steep, rocky hill like so many others before you to reach the entrance to the sacred cave. This is not the sparse chamber filled with hard, lonely benches and a shrine to the woman they believed me to be. No, this is a warm, inviting place where only a mystic and a priestess of women’s mysteries would dwell.

Now that you are here, step inside and see. I shall unveil it for you. The light of many beeswax candles illuminates the way, and soft rugs woven from the finest wool lead into the inner chamber. The calming aromas of myrrh and frankincense cleanse the layers of your aura. Here you may rest upon pillows that hug every curve of your sumptuous body. Here you may take respite from life’s burdens that press so heavily upon your aching shoulders. Here I shall wash your tired feet in a basin of purest rosewater and anoint them with precious oils. You are safe, weary traveler, and you are loved more than you could possibly know.

I can see that you have taken on the pain of others because of the immense love you have for them, but that is not the role of a healer. A priestess holds space for those who seek her help, and by doing so, she enables them to see the truth of their own existence. All healing begins with a desire to change, and then the source of the problem reveals itself, sometimes all at once, sometimes in layers that peel away like an onion. You must allow this process of shedding and releasing. It is what some describe as a crisis, but it is more like a flower responding to the light. It is the petals opening up at last, spreading out, and revealing the fragrance of the soul. You may water the flower and create a healthy environment, but the opening, the blooming, will happen in its own time and space.

Take care, also, my sisters, that you do not neglect your own body, mind, and spirit in the service of others. Your body allows you to do your work in the world. Treat it with kindness and respect. Bow to your body the way you would bow before entering a holy temple, for it lives inside the soul. Keep your mind free of distractions, and do not allow negative thought forms to become etched upon the tablet of your heart. Be mindful of all that you see, all that you read, all that you hear, all that you take into yourself. Consider whether these things are helpful or harmful to your inner being. Nourish your spirit with uplifting images, words, and sounds.

Allow stillness into your life like the waters of a deep pond, and feel your own intuition ripple lightly across those waters. Speak, move, and act from that source which can never be depleted and to which you are always so deeply connected. Always remember your Divine Feminine essence, even in those moments when you feel that nothing about you is lovable. All about you and within you is lovable. Without roots reaching into the darkness of the soil for nourishment, there would be no flowering branches spreading into the light. You are both the root and the branch, and one is no more sacred than the other. Both must work together in harmony for the existence of the whole. One is seen; the other is unseen. Self-care is the unseen work, and yet it is the foundation for all other works.

Remember this, my sisters, and treat yourselves with gentleness while you are engaged in the greatest of all tasks: the birthing of a new age, a new consciousness.

Peace & Blessings

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

Goddess, Healing

Hazardous Material

 

I wrote this poem after contemplating how often women deny or suppress their own power because of shame or social conditioning. I believe many, including myself, have felt that we lost our sensual selves along the way somewhere. The truth is that we can’t ever lose something so dear, but we can (and do) find ways to hide it away or make it more “presentable” for the patriarchy. This is an invitation to be defiant, be disturbing, be whatever they fear most, be the sorceress, be the witch they tried to burn, be the temptress, be the lover, and most of all, be unapologetically you.  

At any moment, you can call it back—
all that power you have bottled up,
labeled Hazardous Material,
and placed on the highest shelf.

At any moment, you can reach up,
wrap your fingers around that amber vial,
twist off the corroded cap, and then…

what shall you unleash upon the world?

the fluidity of your stride,
the sway of your hips,
the grace of your hands,
the bounce of your breasts,
the might of your thighs,
the light in your womb,
the alchemy in your eyes,
the goddess in your smile

You own all of that until the day you die.

No one can take anything
from she who is one-in-herself.

You can remember what you are, woman,
before they said you were unsafe for consumption,
and you believed them.

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

Goddess, Nature, Poetry

Descent to the Underworld

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Little did I know that moving to Savannah five years ago would be like Persephone’s descent into the Underworld. It’s a path I believe she chose, rather than being snatched unwilling into that cavernous void. She wanted to learn about herself, and there was only one way to accomplish that task. She had to face her fears and integrate her shadow self in a place that was far from everything and everyone she knew. Although she left Demeter’s side as an innocent girl, she returned as a powerful queen in her own right. I relate to her journey, and I’m beginning to understand why that is so.

Ted Andrews, author of Animal Speak, says that landscapes have their own symbology and that marshlands in particular represent emotional stages of life, decomposition and new growth. Take a look around the Lowcountry, and you will see miles of tidal salt marshes. Almost a third of the Atlantic’s marshes are right here in Georgia’s lower coastal plain.

So there is a lot of breaking down and rebuilding that happens here, both in the environment and in people’s lives. I have spoken with many transplants, and they all confirmed that something about this place filters out whatever isn’t needed, just like a saltwater marsh. The process can be painful, since we humans are masters at resisting change. It’s also illuminating, humbling, and mysterious. Savannah works on you like no place else. I’ve had my deepest heartbreaks here, right along with my most profound breakthroughs and creative inspirations. I don’t know if the swamp is quite through with me yet, but I’ve reached a point where I can appreciate what she teaches.

This is my poetic tribute to a place that has mystified me, changed me, shaped me, and in a strange way…loved me more than any other.

I place my coin firmly in Charon’s icy hand
and pull my cloak about me,
as he ferries me deep into the heart of the Lowcountry.

The sucking black mud on the riverbank threatens to swallow me whole.
An alligator smiles and disappears into coffee-colored water.
Marsh grasses whisper and sigh,
as the boat drifts silently through a cypress maze.

A host of restless spirits wanders about
with their tragic stories and plots left unresolved.
You don’t belong here, child. This is a land of secrets.

Ah, but it’s too late, I tell them. I have eaten the pomegranate seed.

I fall hard and fast for live oaks and Spanish moss,
changing tides and driftwood beaches,
decaying cemeteries and a history steeped in blood.

It is deliciously dark and seductive,
this Scorpionic underworld
that lies so very still beneath the antebellum façade.
When the swamp is through with you, my pretty,
you won’t ever be the same.

I laugh as we glide past the relics of my youth,
faded images of a girl I used to be,
rusting trophies and shredded ribbons.
I don’t want to be the same.

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

Goddess, Nature

The Soulful Path of the Witch

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My spiritual journey did not begin in a sacred grove amidst ancient trees under the light of a silvery moon. I didn’t wear a cloak or carry a staff adorned with a glowing crystal sphere. I didn’t have a wand or an athame or a silver pentacle dangling from a chain around my neck. I had nothing other than the hardness of a church pew matched by the rigidity of the sermons I listened to each Sunday, because I had no choice in the matter.

Like many other natural witches, I did my time in mainstream religion while under my parents’ roof, and then I followed a quest for something deeper and more meaningful on my own. I tried out other ideas, other modes of thinking, other ways of being. I wandered down a meandering path that took me into solitary witchcraft, New Thought communities, Buddhist meditation, women’s spirituality, traditional Wicca, shamanism, and back again.

No matter how wide my path became or how many side trails I explored, the roots and bones of the craft stayed with me. I found myself returning again and again to the Wheel of the Year, the eternal dance of the Goddess and God in the earth and the heavens, the lunar cycles, the power of the elements, and the transformative energy inside a sacred circle. All of those things became the cornerstones on which everything else in my life rested. I could not feel winter’s icy embrace without appreciating the Goddess in the mantle of the Crone. What was Midsummer without basking in the glory of the Sun God at the height of his power? What was a full moon if I could not dance beneath it with the pounding of the surf in my ears and a billion stars twinkling above me?

The patterns of my life became inextricably tied with those found in nature, and so the ways of my agrarian ancestors began to feel more normal to me than much of what I witnessed and experienced in the modern world. How could it be natural to sit in front of a screen all day to earn a living? My eyes longed for sunsets. My feet ached for soft grass and warm sand, and my heart sang with the rhythm of the tide.

Nature was not something outside of myself to be feared or controlled. She was part of me. I was part of her. I wanted to be more in alignment with what she had to teach. Following the path of the natural witch and the wise woman gives me that connection, season after season, year after year.

I believe there are distinct stages on any spiritual journey, and the ways of the witch are no exception. There is an initial stage of curiosity and discovery, followed by a deeper stage of self-exploration and learning from various teachers and texts. At some point, the seeker begins to apply all of that knowledge to develop a personal practice. After years of devotion and practical application, the seeker often becomes the teacher, and the cycle continues.

There are also the inevitable dark nights of the soul when one’s beliefs and methods are put to the test. I have fallen into the abyss, faced my own darkness, and risen from smoldering ashes many times in my life. I could only see the growth and transformation long after the pain was over, which is usually the case with life lessons. Those who are drawn to the external trappings of the craft are often quite disappointed when they discover what is truly required of one who walks the witch’s path. We cannot always make our troubles vanish with an herbal brew and an incantation. We may be metaphysically gifted, but we are not spared from illness, death, adversity, losses, and rejection. Sometimes the greatest magic we can summon is our own strength and integrity to endure the storm until it passes.

Looking back, I could stitch together all the pieces of my journey like a quilt—and it would look like a “crazy quilt”—the kind your grandmother might have made with fabric scraps of varying sizes and colors. It only makes sense when you’re standing back far enough to see how those irregular parts become a unified work of art.

The question I keep asking myself at this stage of life is not so much what I can learn (although I am always learning something), but what can I teach? What can I leave behind that will help someone else? Is there anything I can pass on that would make a difference?

This is an “8” year for me in numerology, and it has already been filled with opportunities for leadership, teaching, and some promising results from seeds planted long ago. I’m a rather shy Virgo who tends to avoid the spotlight, but I’m finding that the desire to share knowledge is finally outgrowing my insecurities. I don’t have to be perfect—I just have to do my best with what I have been given.

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DruidCraft Tarot

The highest expression of the 8 in the Tarot is The Star. She is a woman at ease with her natural, unadorned self and her surroundings, knowing that she is deeply connected to the source of all life. Rather than pouring water between two vessels, as we see in the Temperance card, she now pours the healing waters of the Goddess from both vessels freely upon the earth. She knows there is an inexhaustible supply, and her only task is to be, to allow, and to trust that all is in perfect harmony.

As I contemplate the purity of The Star, those words become my mantra…be still, allow, trust…and keep walking the soulful path of the witch.

So Mote It Be

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