At this point in my life, it is really important to me that I take note of where I have been on my spiritual journey, what transitions I have made along the road, lessons learned, and new paths chosen.
So, it all began for me when I was in high school. Near the middle of my sophomore year, I discovered Paganism, thanks to the growing internet and the local bookstores. I knew that Christianity, the faith of my upbringing, was not doing it for me. I refused to believe that all the truth there ever was and that I needed to know to successfully navigate this life was written in a few hundred pages of some book. We had been reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet in English class and there was a line that kept rattling around in my brain: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Eventually the Shakespearean context fell away and what remained is the scary wonder of being clueless about the true magnitude knowledge and meaning that “my philosophy” couldn’t touch. I had felt this truth but Shakespeare gave it verbal form.
Of course, I did a lot of researching and poking around. I found tons of websites on the elements and basic principles of witchcraft, magick, and Wicca. I also started buying music CDs with Pagan themes. I also thoroughly freaked out my very, very, very, Christian friend whose Jesus-loving relations would not be okay with my quickly “deteriorating” judgement. Luckily, I had decided I did not care what they thought. My own (immediate) family – mother and brother – was fine with the path I was choosing. However, I will say that my brother thought I was a little nuts but he thought that of most people with any religio-spiritual convictions at all.
One of the beauties of Paganism for me when I embarked on this path, was its embrace on the divine feminine, its wholesale acceptance of the human body with all its quirks, natural urges, and visceral inclinations, and its emphasis on charting your own path. In addition, the reverence of nature was “right” to me. I saw the earth as partner, not tool. The earth as subject, not object. When I first began in Paganism, I had unconsciously relegated the gods to that nebulous space between archetype and syncretic elements of “the All”.
During high school, I would occasionally do a Full Moon or Sabbat ritual with my best friend, Mr. Blackat. Sometimes we would go to the beach and that was truly awesome, being out on the shore with the moon-kissed ocean waves gently coming in. At that time, I was primarily focused on learning the basics so I did energy exercises on my own, visualizations on the front porch in rainstorms, random meditations with cheap sandalwood incense, and the occasional prayer tossed up to the archetypal Goddess. I honestly spent those early years trying to figure out where my will, my choice, my being was in the whole grand scheme of things. The notion that I could have a relationship with a Deity that is deeply meaningful, reciprocal, and ecstatic did not come until much later.
After high school, I went straight to college and there was no Pagan student group on campus. I spent a lot of time feeling alone in my spirituality. I continued to read, create various seasonal altars in my dorm room, and meditate when I could find the time. At this point the Goddess archetype was joined by the God archetype more often and I started trying to connect, with moderate success. Occasionally I would go out into the Chicago Pagan community to participate in public rituals. I went to a few Reclaiming Tradition public rituals, few Pagan Pride Day fairs, and the like. It was good to know that there is a community and that folks are committed to their Pagan paths. Toward the (very) end of college, I found a group in Rogers Park, a northside community in Chicago. That was a good experience because I got to figure out what it’s like to work in a semi-regular group and I got to share ideas with folks on a regular basis.
For a little over a year I think, after college I met with the group in Rogers Park, kept the Sabbats, actively practiced basic magickal techniques (e.g., circle casting, quarter calls, God/Goddess invocation, cleansing, consecration, etc.), and continued to try to connect with the God and Goddess archetypes. While trying to honor “The God and The Goddess”, I was also doing research on gods and goddesses, distinct deities with personalities and agendas. I gathered information on Greek, Roman, Italian, Chinese, Hawaiian, Norse, Japanese, Yoruban, Lukumi, Candomble, and a host of other pantheons and religious/magickal systems. However, there did come a time when the group began to unravel a bit and I fell off. That was a very isolating time for me. For two years, I sat around my apartment on Sabbats and was lucky if I felt like tossing up an honorific prayer and lighting some incense. Work between Sabbats was mostly nonexistent. Those years were very lack luster in my spirituality. I had my own emotional struggles during that time and I (wrongly) felt that there was no space for deep spirituality in my life.
I feel like my graduate school years (beginning in June 2007) are when my past experiences first started to gel and make sense to me. Some of the emotional hurdles were jumped and I could breathe again. Finally, I felt like my spiritual experiences, such as they were, up to that point could coalesce and, with a little effort, evolve into something that could be a regular, powerful, personal practice supported by my own budding philosophies and understandings of the Worlds around me. So, I spent time developing a personal practice (more on that in an upcoming post) and I also started making contacts with local groups; I joined four (completely insane while also being a full time graduate student but hugely rewarding)!
The first group I joined was a great source for herbal knowledge and wortcunning. I also learned a lot about group dynamics and the complex psychoemotional interactions that occur between the group leader and group members. The interpersonal interactions in the first group were less than ideal from the start and only worsened over time. I believe the main reason is that we were all growing and changing and those changes did not intersect well. Even with all the challenges of trying to force myself to fit with that group and its leader, good things came out if it. Like I said, quality herbal knowledge, as well as a couple of good friends, and, the big one, my initial contact with Hekate. In preparing for my first Samhain ritual with the group (about 5 months after joining), I wrote an invocation of Hekate but in writing it I hit a block and realized that it might help – just a tad – if I knew who the hell I was calling! I got up from my desk and walked into my living room where I paced for a few minutes reaching out to Hekate energetically, asking her for insight and inspiration. Little did I know, I was actually invoking her in that moment! She rose up from the floor in a corner of my apartment like a glittering, thick, black mist. The air got really heavy really fast and my head was suddenly filled with what to say. I thanked her profusely. From that moment on, I knew that she and I needed to talk about more than just invocations. Other interesting things happened shortly (within 24 hours) after first contact, including stopped clocks, no heat in my apartment for a while, and a squirrel crashing into one of the windows of my second floor apartment. These omens implied to me that she and I had business. Then, within four months (around February 2008) I was invited to circle with a group (in the Spinning Tapestry Tradition) that Hekate just happened to patron. Coincidence? I think not.
In Spinning Tapestry Tradition, my magickal training really took off in the company of some exceedingly talented energy workers. I gained greater confidence in my ability to perform basic and intermediate magickal operations. I also learned what it means to work with deities as individual entities, not “aspects of the Goddess” or archetypes. This was the start of my self-identification as a polytheist. In that vein they also helped me sort out some initial communications from Mercury (2008) and he and I have been walking interesting roads ever since. Even though each member of Spinning Tapestry had different perspectives on deity, we were all very good at coming together under one understanding for the purpose of ritual. We had “group mind”, which I have come to believe is necessary for successful long term magickal practice, especially if that work is focused on psycho-transformation in a group setting. With Spinning Tapestry, I also had an opportunity to learn what a more positive group dynamic looks like within a spiritual context.
As a part of its magickal practice, Spinning Tapestry also engaged in regular drawing down ceremonies (once or twice per year) in which Hekate and other gods close to the group members came into circle to commune with us and deliver messages. I think my life as a mystic truly began here when Aphrodite was encouraged to join us and her light and energy almost took me out! Her presence was truly glorious…and visible! I could see her energy very clearly. At that same ritual, Hekate was also drawn down onto me. The drawing down did not “take” (which made me profoundly sad), but I had a taste of what it was like to be energetically close to her, and so I was resolved to try again when I, or rather she, felt the time was right.
In June 2008, I discovered the local branch of ADF, Apple Branch Protogrove. It was (and still is) filled with great people interested in honoring the Kindreds and building community. The group’s underlying organization and philosophy were in line with my growing understanding of my own polytheistic convictions. Also, ADF really spoke to my desire to venerate the gods, ancestors, and spirits in public ritual in wide open natural spaces. I mean who doesn’t love a fire pit at every fair weather High Day, complete with hallowed well, and mighty rising World Tree? I mean really; I could not resist. Also, ADF afforded me an opportunity to get close to two women Rtemis4 and Cindy (both mentioned in previous posts) who would reveal themselves as Catskin Sisters.
So, by this point in time, summer 2008, I am in three groups: the first, Spinning Tapestry, and ADF. There are increasing deficiencies in the interpersonal interactions and magickal training available through the first group. Of course this assessment is based on my own personal trajectory. There were folks who were happily installed in that first group, so good for them, but I was fading fast. At this point, I am also in Spinning Tapestry. In addition to strengthening my magickal skills, Spinning Tapestry Tradition also encouraged my interest in the runes and Odin (December 2008). One of the members was actually working with runes as well so that was fortuitous. He and I had not really talked much about it before I began my rune studies. The nice thing was that when I took up the runes, two women from the ADF, the third group, brought me into the Catskin Sisters, the fourth group. That group opened up to me about four months after taking up the runes and further supported my interest in Odin, who introduced me to Freyja and Nerthus! The Catskins also explore the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil and meet the spirits that populate the Worlds which really nurtures my animistic convictions. Also, with the emphasis on ancestor work, I began reaching out to my Egun (ancestors) and Orisha Oya, and Orisha Elegua dropped in to wholeheartedly encourage further outreach.
Together, all four groups (both for the perspectives and practices that they offered and for those perspectives and practices that they did not offer) were critical to my realization that pantheism is nice and still “works” on a metaphorical level for me but that I am ultimately a polytheist, animist, and mystic. The also helped me to conclude for myself that the spirit world in general is very real and real magick is not in your head. It’s within, betwixt, and between, the worlds and among the starts, and on the edges of galaxies and in literal and metaphorical crossroads. The other -ists and -isms that I could claim orbit around the three stars of polytheism, animism, and mysticism. The Spinning Tapestry, ADF, and Catskin Sisters – which are the three groups that I am still a part of – provided the practical base for me to Work and relate within a polytheistic, animistic, mystical context. My bones and flesh knew that these were a part of my path but it was these three groups that showed me how I could live that personal truth.
I learned SO MUCH about myself by being a part of these four groups and obtained varying types of knowledge about Paganism. Most of it great, some of it lacking but all of it powerful because it entered the boiling cauldron of my becoming. It is during this time of reflection that I truly accept the fact that even problematic experiences teach us something about ourselves and our developing Pagan identity/identities)! Does that mean that one has to remain in shitty situations? No, but it did help me to realize that none of the time I spent, good or bad, was wasted!!
Now, as I move forward, I am concerned with charting a future course for myself. What groups and practices will I keep, what will I release, what will I transform and how. The choices I have made, am making, and will make weave my Wyrd! Ah, future directions…the Feast of Possibilities makes me want to weep tears of joy and excitement!
Hail the folk! Hail the spirits! Hail the ancestors! Hail the Gods!