How can we not be moved by the changing seasons? I’m sharing a lovely, inspiring poem from a friend and guest poet, who is enjoying the fall foliage of upstate New York.
The Engagement of Gaia and the North Wind by a Maple Tree
by Stacy Mojica
Dawn awakens the world with a now muted glow,
announcing an alliance made in nocturnal repose
between Mother Earth and the North Wind who doth blow.
Half frozen dew coats her fingers and toes.
She knows how this is going to go.
So she blushes.
Scarlet red, orange, and gold.
Frost will be her petticoat.
Her gown will be snow.
Her marriage will be a magnificent affair
with gold ribbons dancing
through crisp, chilly air,
and a pulse keeping up the tempo of Fall
with the drop-drop of acorns
and a goose’s farewell call.
It’s a time to prepare
a time to wind down
a time for hickory nuts to be found
brought as wedding gifts, offerings to her knees
hid in the ground with the burrows of bees.
Some will be forgotten
and grow into trees.
her autumnal cloak
upon the glittering hills.
Shedding every vestige
of the year her mem’ry fills
with color and with life that’s always there
hidden ‘neath a green campaign of Summer’s gentle care.
Like Persephone she chose
to descend into the heart
but this isn’t the end-
it’s the start.
Like a curtain the white blanket falls upon her now.
Bare and dormant in the nuptial bed,
does she fear what lies ahead?
The energy of autumn surrenders to the cold.
Today a beauty to behold;
Tomorrow gone, its story told.
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 tellthem. 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.
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.
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.
There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame.
I won’t deny that I love the wild one most—
she who resists order and structure,
she who prefers the loamy smell of woodlands and the sand of untrodden shores,
she who calls the lightning bolt down to shatter the tower,
she who gives not a single flying fuck about your opinions.
The wild witch knew magic long before it was sifted down and spread categorically into the pages of dusty books and grimoires. She knew it well before the Golden Dawn, before Gardner, before Cunningham, before replicated lists and correspondence tables. She knew the Goddess before they gave her names and the Horned Hunter before they demonized him.
The wild witch walked in the forest, lifted her hands to the sky and felt the radiance of the noonday sun pulsing through her veins. She pulled the power of rocks and soil and gnarly roots up through her bare feet into the core of her being, renewing her connection to the Earth Mother. She waded into the stream, and the water swirling about her calves and thighs was her very first lover.
The trees spoke to her in every season, bearing the changes of growth and dormancy in equal measure; so she learned to do the same, dropping her leaves like the oak in autumn…blooming like the hawthorn in spring. The flowers and herbs beckoned to her, revealing all of their secrets one by one, and they became her strongest allies. Rosemary grew tall and strong at her door. Artemisia graced the entry to her garden. Primrose danced between the stones of her walkway.
The wild witch attended the university of the winged ones, the four-leggeds, and the creepy crawlies. Lessons arrived daily. She listened to the hawk’s piercing cry and reveled in the raucous laughter of crows…caught a glimpse of the elusive fox and the owl’s golden eyes at dusk…watched the shy, gentle deer and the steely serpent shedding its skin.
The moon waxes and wanes, and so does the wild witch.
The cycle of
replays over and over again with the ebb and flow of Luna.
Her world is fearless inspiration…blood and fire of creation…bitter ashes of death and destruction.
She recoils from domestication.
Don’t try to “save” her, please. You will find her in the deepest of caves, drawing portraits of her yoni on the walls with red ochre.
The wild witch loves as only feral beings can love…completely but without attachment, deeply but without anchors.
There are two witches living inside of me…one wild, one tame…and how fiercely I love the wild one.
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.