Letter to my friend

Hello dear friend.

I waited for the longest time before I sent this.  I needed to be sure, and, because I love you I didn’t want to hurt you, or offend you, or cause consternation or misunderstanding.

But the time has come.  I want to share this with you.  Because for me it has become a part of who I am and in order to be that person, whole and open and authentic and true, I need to be honest about this too.

You know I went to church, maybe it’s where we met or how we connected, my faith in God and Jesus steered my life, they were my compass, my anchor, the sea in which I swam.  It was a long and well trodden path, it shaped my whole life, all my choices, and every experience I had was filtered through that.  Challenges came and went and my faith held me through it all, providing the walls for my experience, holding my edges.

That has changed.  I don’t know when it began. There were life events, certainly, which shook me I know.  There were real shifts in the way I lived.  And gradually God grew wider, wilder, more beautiful, more fierce, more loving, more passionate, more mysterious and more terrifying than I had ever imagined.  And I found that she was missing in the church.

So I stepped outside.

I find her dancing in the autumn leaves, playing in the rain,  singing with the blackbirds, crashing on the shore, creating havoc in the winds, roaring in my blood.  It took time, to explore this path, to know who I am here, now.  Time of following the seasons, the year’s wheel, the moon’s rhythms.  Time of listening and learning from others on this path, a time of gathering tools and sitting with the knowledge that I was being changed forever.

And so I name myself witch.To be a witch

I understand this is uncomfortable, I know that for some it is anathema, unimaginable, dangerous, evil, wrong.  I know the rage and fear it inspires, because that lived in me once. If this is your experience know that I love you, that I am grateful for your part in my life, and that if this is where we part company I wish you every joy and blessing as you journey on. If you’re still here I am excited to be walking with you and look forward to sharing our explorations of faith, of life, of God, of love, as we seek to bring healing and grace to the world we live in, whatever our creed.

Brightest blessing )0(

 

Magic every day

It’s around this time of year that I pass a significant anniversary in my life.  I always find myself looking back and wondering.  I get that sense that my life went off the rails somewhere, and I’m spending my time now trying to get back on track.  When actually this is my life.

So I’ve been pondering deeply, about paths and journeys, trackways and meanderings.

I’m a bookworm, an info geek.  Whenever I start anything new, any new project or path I gather all the words.  The books, the articles, the blogs, the websites, the YouTube vids.  How do they do it?  What’s the wisdom out there?  Who has the skinny on this?  I’ve been doing this the past eighteen months as my path has shifted towards the sacred feminine and away from mainstream religions, as I’ve begun allowing my witchy self out of the broom closet.  I have bought books, taken online courses, engaged with circles, studied cards, laid out crystals, connected with spirit guides, created rituals, set intentions.  I’ve found gurus and teachers, thrown my towel in with them. Retrieved it a couple of times.

There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with this.  But there are days when I wonder if I’m not missing the point.  I’m like a tourist so busy snapping pics with my camera and sharing them on Instagram that I miss the place I’m in, miss the actual, concrete, dusty, crowded, beautiful, strange, mysterious experience of the moment.  In glorious 4D technicolour.

Berries and yarrowSo I’m thinking that sometimes I’m so busy looking for the path, that I miss the fact its under my feet.  This path.  My path.  I imagined it would be more glamourous and exciting, full of beautiful backdrops and thrilling meetings.  Like most people I have my photo album days, meetings with friends, picnics, beautiful walks, theatre trips and vacations.  But most of the time its just normal.  Just real.  Just earthy and happening.  The cat throws up on the carpet.  The boys need help with an online form.  I run out of milk.  I need to book an eye test.  It’s someone’s birthday next week and I want to remember to get a card.

So when I’m witching, priestessing, it’s in the middle of that.  What I want to look for is the magic every day.  The magic everyday.  I don’t know what that would look like for you.  For me it’s the shared smile with a stranger.  The chance to give an unexpected gift.  Allowing another car out in traffic.  Baking a cake and stirring in my intention for the well-being of those who will eat it.  Feeding the birds and watching the fledglings hopping on the grass discovering the seeds I’ve left.  It means being where I am.  Starting with who I am.  In this skin.

Witching, magic, then becomes both mundane, ordinary, and also completely otherwise, each day, each moment, woven through with a thread of silver and enchanted.

 

My cheese

This is a work in progress.  It’s one of those things I recognise, but I’m not there yet.

I have, for a long time, been aware of a kind of hierarchy in spiritual life.  So it’s seen as good if you have a spiritual practice, it’s better if you embody that in your life and work.  that’s the message.  On another level I know that we all have different skills, abilities, gifts and whatever we do is fine with God/dess. But.  It’s a message which runs deep.  It’s like the message I took in through long years of church life.  It’s good to be a Christian, it’s better to be a Christian in ministry.  Even better if you’re a priest.

It is of course a human thing.  The desire to create a hierarchy, a system we understand and that makes sense to us.  A desire to know who is in our tribe and who isn’t.  It speaks to instinctive needs and to our lesser selves, encouraging us to “other” our brothers and sisters, to see the differences not the similarities.

Healing handsSo I’ve been wrestling with this on and off for the past thirty years or so and most recently in my current work.  The work which makes my soul sing is my healing and guidance work, supporting and nurturing others on their path to wholeness both physically, emotionally and spiritually.  This work, although it fills my heart, is a small part of my week and, at a practical level, a small part of my income.

The rest of the time I work in education.  I’m an independent special needs consultant and assessor.  I work with schools and parents.  I believe this is important and valuable work and I put in a lot of effort to get here.  But I have still, for years, had in my mind that it isn’t my “real” work, that at some point it will get set aside and the other elements will grow.  And until that happens I have felt like I’m not doing my “real” work.  Which leads to inner conflict and struggle and dissatisfaction.

Have you read the Tiffany Aching series by Terry PratchettTiffany AchingTiffany is a witch, she was my gateway witch.  She lives with her parents on a farm when her story begins.  And she works in the dairy.  Her job is to make the cheese.  This is what she does to support herself as her journey unfolds, she makes cheese.

It occurred to me one day, when I was moaning to myself in the car about why I hadn’t got to the point of doing my “real work” yet, that this, the education work, is my cheese.  It is worthwhile, needed, valuable, and it keeps a roof over my head and food on the table for my family.  It is a crucial part of my life and witching.  I am working on embracing this.  My cheese.  cheesePerhaps most importantly for me it keeps it real, grounded, helps me stay connected in earthy practicalities.  Which means that the “real” work is already right here. Now.  I’m doing it.  You are to.  Wherever you are right now.  That doesn’t mean we won’t develop, grow.  That there won’t be shifts or changes in our patterns of work and life.  But this is where it is.  With all its blurry and messy lines, all its inconsistencies.

Say cheese 😉

 

Ritual wisdom

Spinning

I am making a journey today.  In imagination, through thought, into the space behind words.

She waits there, older than the hills and quicker than starlight.  Today she looks like an Anglo-Saxon princess, long, flaxen hair tied back, a deep, blue linen robe and course white apron.  She sits weaving with a spindle, twisting the wool into yarn.

Tell me, I say, about ritual.  What must I do?

There are shadows flickering here on the walls, from the fire.  She doesn’t answer straight away and I wonder if she has even heard.

You know already, she says.  You have always known.  You must feel for them.  They are there already, knit in your muscles and bones, deep in your flesh memory.

But I want to get it right, I say.

In which case, she smiles patiently, you are already missing the point.  You cannot work to a formula here.  This knowledge is too deep and that way will only take you so far.  You might use it as a blueprint, a map, you might see what is done by others.  But the greatest power comes in your own work, the work you grow and birth yourself. 

Where do I start, I ask, drawing in the ashes with a stick, spirals, flowers, leaves.

Start with your wish. She twists the yarn, drops the spindle.  Start with the whisper in your heart, what are you seeking to bring?  Is it healing, or change, is it as gift for another or your own work, to release something old, to conceive something new?  Remember to do no harm.  Remember the limits of your responsibility, you may make a wish for another, but not compel them, their lives are their own.

She pauses in her work to add a log to the fire.  She goes on.  Once you know your wish you might write it down, you might sing it to yourself.  Then you need to embody it, act it, if it is to release you might take thread and cut it, or find a stick to carve and then bury, or paper to mark and then burn.  You already know. 

Show me.  I say.  For instance.

She looks unsure.  I will not tell you what must be done.  The work is yours, you must trust your truth.  But…say you want to release a friendship, or an old lover.  You feel them still strongly in your heart, but your time is over, you are ready to let go, to be free and move on.  You might take salt first.  Scatter it in a wide circle, and pray for the blessings of the elements to be with you in your work.  You will breathe deeply, feeling yourself grounding into the earth beneath your feet.  You light a candle and take yarn or string.  You tie into it memories of your lover, whispering your goodbyes as you do.  Then you hold it tightly and cut it, imagining as you do your connection being released.  You take it and burn it with rosemary and sage, to cleanse and heal.  You scatter the ashes to the winds and let them go.  You end with thanks and gratitude, thanking the elements for their blessings.  Then you refresh yourself with drink and food, bringing yourself back to the place and time, ready to go forwards.

I am silent.  It seems so simple.

It isAnd also more complex than you can imagine.  You only need to begin where you are.  The rest will grow.  Now.  I have work here.  She gestures to her spinning.  You must go.

I bow to her and leave her, there in the shadows.  To return to the waking world.

 

The losing and the finding

It is an old story.  A man leaves.  Sets off for pastures new, wife and children left wondering, an echoing space in the home, too many unanswered questions.

Seven summers ago a marriage ended.  After the event you can see the signs, but in the middle of it?  You’re thrown into the need to deal with practicality.  With how on earth to pay the bills, how to fill the screen wash on your car, or check tyre pressures, how to manage the confusion and pain of sons who worship their father.

You roll up your sleeves.  Your mother did this, when your father went away overseas, the Queen’s shilling calling.  Your grandmother did this when the air raid sirens wailed over Kent and her husband was missing in transit on his return from the Far East.  Your great grandmother did this when her husband had to go out to fight fires in Ramsgate or rode cavalry in the Great War.  It is in your blood.  No fuss.  No tears.  Tie your hair back. Do what needs doing.  Your foremothers showed you how.  It is your story.  No drama.  Get on with it.

You are good at this.  You organise as easily as breathing.  The raw pain is soothed by sorting, by managing.  Over time the story moves on, you begin to let go of the man, the marriage.  You begin to write your own story.  You engage with therapies. Take responsibility for your own life.  Remember who you are.  The wheel turns.  You find a new love, someone who knows you in a way that seems impossible.  You begin to build a home together, blend a family.  There is much to be thankful for and life becomes richer and fuller than before.

But she is waiting.  A quiet shadow, a bruised a damaged woman, mud streaked and tattered.  Her eyes are haunting and her cheeks tear-streaked.  Your grief.

Because in the confusion and the making do you did not give her room.  And in releasing the man and the marriage you forgot to weep for what you lost.  Twenty years of life.  Dreams, hopes, wishes.  The work of years to help another find their path, build their career, the promises, broken and remade.  All because you love and believe.  All because your faith teaches you this is the way it has to be.  No fuss.  No tears.  Get on with it.  He loves you, he loves you not.  He is going, he is staying.  Losing yourself, sacrificing yourself.  Allowing another to steal your life, sitting by and watching yourself give it all away.

And today she arrives.  Eyes red.  Barely able to see as you negotiate the road home, struggling to breathe, for air.  She reminds me that it isn’t the loss of the person or the relationship.  It is the theft of a life.  My life.  Two decades.  And not even this.  Not to blame and rage and curse another.  But to know that I allowed it.

This beginning.  This opening.  Raw.  Jagged. Leaving me unable to think or move, cutting through me.  Just a start.  The work comes now.

Time has come to face what is lost.  The days, weeks and years.  The moments.  The missing husbands down four generations.  I will take a spade.  I will dig in the earth.  Fighting the stones for space, for release.  I will take paper and ink and write down what is lost.  I will add herbs and stones for blessing, for letting go. I will whisper to the breeze of the things done, remembered, wished, hoped.  I will burn it to ash and bury it deep in the earth cauldron.  And the earth mother and the air sister will take my dreams and weave a spell of healing and release.  In the dark silence of the soil something will end.  And begin.  In the losing I will find the beginning.  And be born again.

 

Wild swimming

Come with me down to the river.  We’ll park by the village hall.  You’ve got the towels, I’ve got coffee and biscuits.  We walk down the path next to the Stour.  It’s banks are lush with red campion and the willows bend down to kiss the water.  We pass the play park, the old mill houses,  past the weir and the walls of blackberries beginning to ripen.  Walking further we come to a huge tree, it’s good for climbing.  Today someone has pitched their tent under its shelter.  Opposite is a rambling house, red shingles covering the first floor walls, its garden coming down to the water’s edge.

We pass through the cycle gate into a wide meadow, yarrow is blooming all along the path and I wish I’d brought some scissors so I can take it home to dry, yarrow tea will be helpful come the winter cold season.  You press on, you can see the pumping station and know we’re nearly there.  We stop at the wide patch of grass, put on our wet shoes and clamber down the bank.  I get a bramble hooked in my arm and have to pause while I free myself.  We step down carefully onto the wide gravel ledge, feeling the cold slip into our shoes.  You go in front, stepping down until the water reaches your knees, it’s cold and deep after yesterday’s rains.  I follow and gasp, then stop to watch the minnows swimming in shafts of sunlight.

You’re braver than me and push on through the cold until you launch yourself and head out towards the opposite bank, swimming in wide circles.  I work my way out, swinging my arms through the water, struggling to breathe as the cold reaches my rib cage.  I have dreamed of this moment, setting out, free, into the open water.  It sums up something inside me, a wish to break the rules, to take a chance, to experience the real wild world.

I am so close now, another few inches and I can push out.  But my feet stay rooted.  I am not sure.  And in the end I do not trust the river.  Or myself.  I feel and growing sense of “no”.  I can’t.  It is at this point that I want to re-write the story.  Say that I overcame my fear, that I did it anyway, that I was stronger than my conditioning.  Not today.  Today I make my way back into shallower water.  I am convinced that with that extra step, that push, I will cease.  I am sad.  But not surprised.

Walking back, picking blackberries as we go, I wonder about this.  What stops me?  It isn’t just about swimming in the river, though that is part of it, the completely open, unsanitised, unsanctioned space, with no signs or lifeguards.  It is about trusting myself.  Believing that I can, and that I am allowed.  It is about permission and the ability to scream “Towanda!” and take the plunge.

I am edging closer to that space, I am working my way there, each day, each moon brings me closer.  But gently, holding my own hand, speaking soothingly and with compassion to my scared, bruised soul.  Peace.  All is well.

Journeying into the heart of faery

Last new moon, in our temple space, one of the Melissa priestesses encouraged us to ask a question of the Faerie’s Oraclefaery oracleI had not even considered faery before, I knew about flower fairies, from when I was younger, but had never been a fan.  I had always pigeon-holed fairies in the realm of children’s literature.  The reading I received, though, was powerful and apt and I began to explore further.

Firstly I adopted the intention to see magic, wonder and grace in each day.  My reading had suggested that in becoming a faery godmother for others I would see these gifts in my own life too.  Working with the image of a sleeves-rolled-up, hair tied back, ready to get stuck in kind of model (rather than a ball-gown wearing, tiared beauty) I set about my work.  It’s slow going and some days I don’t manage to fly in a straight line, or get my wishes muddled, but we’re underway.

Secondly I began reading Your Fairy Magic by Halo Quin.  This compact book covers an introduction to the faery kingdom, a list of resources and clear and accessible exercises to access your faery heart.  I’ve found it a wonderful companion on the journey so far.

Thirdly I’ve been working through the exercises in the book, connecting with my faery self, setting up my faery altar and making a journey to my own faery temple (you can listen to the journey on my facebook page here).faery altar

As with all journeys this is just the beginning.  I am still tentatively wobbling my way forwards, I am not yet sure I have enough faith or imagination to jump right in, my inner sceptic is loud and shouts at me a lot, but I want to believe,  and I’m willing to trust that the way of faery offers a wise and enchanting path to engage with our world, connected to nature and seeking magic in everyday.

A living priestess

It’s now almost two moons since I began working with Vanessa Sage on her Sage Priestess certification.  Priestess EDWTThe journal I’ve been working through provides a chance to reflect on the path I’m traveling.  I am struggling to put something so deep into words, it is felt, in my body, my breath, as much as anything, thought is only partially capable of capturing the essence; the deep soul song, dancing in my body, heart beat drumming the pulse, shimmering, shining, graceful, full of joy and love.

When I began in May I was feeling fractured, longing for the freedom and joy in life that I recall from childhood, the daydream wanderings and wonderings, hours to stare at clouds, to follow the twisting paths of imagination.  I was aware that in practical terms there remains a need for me to go out into the world and engage with work and grocery shopping and care for my family.  My question was how can I embody the priestess and be authentic, real and grounded?

I spent several weeks downloading resources, attending our online groups, listening to inspiring teachers and learning from my sisters in the circle.  I began to get back into an old mindset of achieving, doing, worrying about being “good enough”.  Wise words from Vanessa reminded me to show up as I was, where I was.

As I worked with my intention to be present something shifted downwards.  A sense of rootedness, of being entirely at home in myself and my situation.  So that “being” a priestess, ultimately, is about being most entirely myself.  There will be no one pattern, though there will be common threads, a desire to heal, to serve, to hold sacred space, to listen, to create, to share vision.  The details will depend on the priestess.  Some of us are full time workers on this path; guiding others, leading workshops, teaching yoga or practising healing therapies.  For some of us our priestessing is worked out in our gardens, our employment, our acts of creativity.

Strength EDWTThe seeds I am working with, as I prepare for the next cycle, are; being present, connected, authentic.  Being wholly human and divinely blessed.  Being prepared to show up and be seen as I am. Seeking magic, wonder and grace in each day.

(Images from the Everyday Witch Tarot)

 

Nine steps to connecting with She

In the style of a lifestyle magazine here are nine of the steps I’ve taken to connect with the sacred feminine, as an offering and a signpost; gotta love a “how to” list ❤

  1. Read Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  This book literally changed my life, the stories which begin each chapter are magical and the explanations about how these link to wild feminine spirituality and life are deeply moving.  Journal
  2. Journal.  Write or blog your journey.  Once I’d started looking for my wild feminine self and seeking the Goddess there were signs and synchronicities all around.  In dreams, in the natural world.  Tracking the journey helps me to see where I’ve come from and ponder where I am.  It begins to clarify the patterns and spirals I’m moving through.
  3. Watch Women and Spirituality: Full Circle for an accessible introduction to the women’s spirituality movement born in the seventies and eighties.
  4. Learn to breathe.  Move out of your head and breathe into your heart and belly.  Profile of Face with SwirlsBegin to allow your body to teach you what you need.
  5. Connect with Gaia.  Sit on the ground outside.  Place your palms on the earth.  Breathe slowly and feel for the energy of Mother Earth.  Allow her to hold you.  When you’re ready send love back through the palms of your hands into the earth.
  6. Sign up to Vanessa Sage’s wonderful (and free!) Meet the Goddess course.   You will receive five Goddess prompts and can work at your own pace as you explore different  goddesses and aspects of She and connect through daily reflection. Goddess statue
  7. Connect with natural rhythms.  Work with Joanna Powell Colbert’s 30 Days courses over at Gaian Soul.  These take place around each of the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year.  You’ll receive a daily email with an art focus, a reflection and a journal prompt.  Joanna has such a wealth of wisdom and grace to share and this has transformed my understanding of the natural world and rhythms, as well as introducing me to a range of goddess stories and practices, and encouraging me to get creative.  Each course is available for $19.  Also check out The Moon is my Calendar for April McMurty’s work.  I’m just beginning this work but it’s already helping me to be more focused about what I’m working on with intention setting and what I’m releasing each moon. I’m learning to work with my ebbs and flows.
  8. Bummed out spreadConnect with your intuition.  There’s a knowing within each of us which is drowned out by mental chatter and book learning.  Reaching down to your solar plexus you might be able to feel it, that sense that allows you to know when someone isn’t being wholly truthful, or when something good is coming your way.  I’ve been working with tarot and oracle cards.  I started with The Alternative Tarot course at Little Red Tarot.  My current favourite decks are the New Age Hipster Instaoracle (it’s so much fun and  both accessible and deeply insightful in readings) and the Green Witch Tarot (because, witches!)
  9. Join a circle.  It’s not easy to find groups where we can feel safe sharing our woo woo selves, heck it’s not easy sometimes looking in the mirror and admitting it’s safe to let our soul out to shine.  Virtual groups are brilliant and I’ve made friends all over the world through these. The pop-tastic Vix at New Age Hipster has just launched her group The Circle and I’m over the moon about being a part of that.  Alternatively you might want to look for a Red Tent group, these usually meet on or near the full moon and provide sacred, safe spaces for women to gather and share.  The Red Tent Directory covers groups in Britain and Europe. Henna Decorated Hands Arranged in a Circle

 

Making space

This is a thought at the moment.  It’s no news to anyone that our modern, western lives can be hectic.  I have spent the past nine years seeking to create balance and space in life.  Some days it feels like an uphill scramble.  I’ve used all kinds of strategies.  Blocking out time in my diary, taking retreat days, going out for walks.  Most recently I’ve been taking some time each morning for meditation and reflection.  All good.river

Only I don’t stick to it.  I can go so far and then something happens, one of the cats gets sick and I need to dash to the vets, one of the boys needs a lift, a client calls for a last minute appointment, stressed and at the end of their tether, a school call for an urgent assessment, someone really in need and the end of term deadlines approaching.

The first thing that goes is my space.  The time I have carved out.  Because it’s selfish not to.  This is what I learned growing up.  We all do.  Your own needs come last.  Be polite, go last, give up your seat.  And so on. And so forth.  Of course its not ever that simple.  Of course we don’t want to be selfish, or rude, or unkind.  But where is the line?

Like most things, for me, it’s a work in progress.  And the key word of the year is…boundaries.  In my mind it’s a line in the sand, a picket fence, a castle wall, thus far and no further, barbed wire and guard dogs, harsh and forbidding.  I feel it like an aberration.  Shutting other people out goes against my conditioning, keep the door open, be hospitable, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek.

What I have found, and you may have too, is that this takes me to burn out.  I run out of whatever I have to give and then I just keep on giving.  It becomes a kind of compulsion.  A pattern of behaving that I can’t shake.  An addiction.  I know now when I’m in the danger zone, my head starts to spin, my body begins to feel achey and tight.  I am starting to see the signs.  Some days I even pay attention!

Speaking with a wise woman the other evening I was introduced to the idea of containers.  The essence of the thought is that we need them.  All shapes and sizes.  It’s good to flow and give and flood our way through life, it’s good to pour out our souls in service to the world.  We can bring blessings to others this way, we can bring nourishment and refreshment.  But we need edges.  Finding our edges, recognising them, holding the line, is a life’s work.  Without edges I’m going to be nothing but a puddle, spreading ineffectually around, energy seeping into the cracks, getting lost.  With edges I take shape, can be something useful, a drink maybe, or even better a river, contained but flowing free and powerful.  Boundaries, edges, in this sense become protective but not defensive, they give form to the energy of our selves.

The realisation is always  a shock.  When I see the pattern begin to repeat.  But I’m learning that catching myself before I’ve fallen in is a win.  I am going to reach for my edges, feel them, breathe to them and allow them to hold me.  I make this resolution today.  I will probably be making it again next week.  I will keep on.  Practice, patience and compassion.