My first spell

October 14, 2016

Almost 27 years ago when I was first introduced to Paganism, I was reluctant to practice magic. Magic seemed like wishful thinking and constructed “coincidences” to me. (The most famous definition of Pagan magic is Doreen Valiente’s “the art of changing consciousness at will,” but I prefer Oberon Zell’s “probability enhancement.”)

I decided to give it a (skeptical) try. I chose to work magic to attract more money into my life. I was living on my own and trying to raise enough money to pay for a year at college. I had some scholarships and loans but didn’t have enough to cover expenses. For effective magic, you need to feel an attachment to the outcome. Money was something I was definitely emotionally attached to!

I chose spells from a variety of traditions, both folk and contemporary. For instance, I wrapped a silver dollar in orange paper (orange is the color of attraction). This is an example of folk magic, where you “show the way” for the outcome you desire.

For a more contemporary approach, I did candle magic. I used several lit candles of different colors, each representing something different. One represented me, a green one represented money, gold represented riches and abundance, etc. Over the course of seven nights during the waxing moon I moved the green and gold candles closer to the one representing me. Eventually they burned together in one waxy lump.

I also tried an ancient form of magic: dance and trance. In my candlelit room, I danced in front of my altar for an hour at a time, repeating chants like “As the leaves fall from the trees, bring the money unto me.”

As much as I tried to maintain my rational skepticism, I couldn’t help but notice that I was changing consciousness, that I was raising power, and that I could clearly visualize an outcome where I had enough money and riches without harming anyone (an old Pagan guideline is “harm none”).

Far beyond what I was experiencing with magic were the results! Within two weeks of doing the various spells, I received the money that I needed to go back to school. First I received a new work-study job that paid more and was related to my major. Then I received another grant. A previously awarded scholarship amount was increased for an unexplained reason. My parents, with whom I had a complicated relationship, came through with a no-interest, no-strings-attached loan.

One of the oldest rules about magic is “be careful what you wish for.” In the same time period that I received all this good news, my parents came to visit me. They brought two large bags filled with cakes, candies, brownies, dessert mixes, and other sweets. They’d never done anything like that before and haven’t since. Even more odd, they’d brought a box of chocolates that my sister had bought for me. My sister had never bought anything for me before, much less my favorite candy!

I was puzzled by all this sugary largesse until I thought back to what I’d been asking for: money and *riches.* As every Pagan knows, you can place your requests however you like, but the universe will provide in ways it thinks are best! I received my wish—with the side effect of a larger waistline!


Aunt Dolores

August 30, 2016

Dear Cairril,

My therapist, Marisa Tomei, has suggested I write this letter to you. She suggested it after you waxed nostalgic for Aunt Dolores. So let’s talk about her.

She was born in the 1920s to a dour German mother and a lively Irish father. Grandma didn’t like her, something which scarred Aunt Dolores for life. She was named Betty, which she later changed to Bettye in high school, I suspect to help her stand out a bit more. Like all the rest of her starving Depression-era family, she was a stick figure, but alas was not blessed with a very attractive face. But somehow she managed to rope a sailor man into asking her to marry him (he gave her that book Queens Die Proudly which you keep in the first bookcase). She turned him down. Because she heard a greater calling—God was calling her to be a nun.

She went into a Franciscan order in the 1940s when rules were very strict. She had virtually no contact with the family. I don’t know a lot about those early years, partly because Mom didn’t have any contact with her.

By the time you were born in 1967 she was called Aunt Sister. Why? No one knows. Her name, given to her by the bishop, was Sister Dolores Marie McLaughlin. I always wondered if the spelling (dolores instead of delores) was a curse of unhappiness on her because of its Spanish translation. She was stationed in Florida, in the heat and humidity she hated, teaching typing to high schoolers, which she hated. She had always wanted to be in office administration, something she got her Master’s for, but the stern Church forced her into the swamps.

Growing up, you hated her. She would visit for a couple weeks each summer. You and your sisters called her “Aunt Bitch.” She looked so much like her mother—the shape of her face, the thin set of her mouth, her limpid blue eyes—but she lacked any hint of kindness which Grandma had. She was a major control freak and very picky. An extremely unpleasant person. Once when you and your sisters were setting the table you were just tossing down plates, silverware, napkins, glasses—good enough. She walked right after you and straightened everything out so it was precisely correct. LOUDLY. Laura had enough and went back around the table, messing everything back up. Take that!

You didn’t give her much thought until you learned as an adult that she’d entered a therapy program run by the Church. She was in her 60s and deeply depressed. When she went to a priest for help, he told her to just try to get through the next minute. Just one minute. When that minute was over, get through the next one. That sounded familiar. The agony of existence.

Later in life you saw some of her art therapy projects from her time in therapy. She clearly adored her father and marked his death as the low point of her life. And she clearly loved the nuns she was surrounded by. She called out the names of those who were special to her.

During therapy she came to grips with the complicated relationship she had with Grandma McLaughlin. She had always felt disliked, never good enough, especially since Grandma fell all over pretty and bubbly Aunt Eileen. But Aunt Dolores came to grips with all of it, faced all her demons down, and came out of therapy a changed woman.

First things first: No more “Aunt Sister.” She’d always hated the name. It took a little getting used to, but then she was so different it seemed natural to call her by a new name. She smiled a lot now, sometimes in a slow way with a sideways glance, sometimes brightly in response to a joke. She finally got that administrative post in the convent mother house and loved it. She had a whole new life and she dove in.

She told me later that sometimes she would wake up at night, wrap herself in a shawl, then go down to the chapel and sing Canticle of the Sun while spinning around in a circle on her bare feet. How joyful she was. How close to God.

Now that you could stand her, you joined in the canasta games she played with Mom and Uncle Ralph and Aunt Barbara. And she was unbelievable. She was a true believer in picking up the discard pile rather than new cards. So she’d meld and meld with these crappy low-point cards and then suddenly lay down a wild card canasta. Where did that come from?? There were no wild cards in the discard pile!

She was the family historian and when she got to be too old to keep up with it she handed it off to you, knowing your interest. Remember how amazed you were at her circles of correspondence? She didn’t write long letters, but she did send notes to the most distant of cousins, sharing news and enjoying the contact of family.

The thing that turned her into your hera was her breaking the taboo around mental illness in the family. She spoke openly about great-Aunt Mary (institutionalized for 60 years) and great-Uncle Joe (suicide) and great-Grandpa Ruth (institutionalized for 13 years). Mom had never heard anything about her grandfather, but there Aunt Dolores was, blithely telling the story of how when the men in white came for great-Aunt Mary, he said, “You just watch, they’ll be coming for me next!” And he was right.

Aunt Dolores normalized mental illness. She made it possible to talk about as just any other illness you had to deal with. By bringing it out of the darkness, she made it possible for you to normalize it, and to research the biological inheritors of the Ruth genes, and see that much of your suffering was due to chemistry, not a character flaw. How you admired her for that. How grateful you were. How much you still owe her.

At one point, maybe in her 70s, she got sick with some illness, I don’t remember what. But she lost her mind. Remember going to see her? One of the most chilling experiences of your life. She would speak, almost forming words, but it was really just gibberish. She was gesturing in the air as if she were writing on a chalkboard. You took her for a ride in her wheelchair until she started yelling and hitting at things. It was shocking. You fled to the bathroom and sobbed.

But then you found out they’d put her on an anti-depressant. Thanks to her leads, you’d traced our problems with serotonin to the Ruth line and you demanded she be taken off whatever SSRI they’d put her on. And sure enough, she came back.

She got more frail as she aged but continued to look more and more like Grandma McLaughlin. And no matter what, Mom and Dad and Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ralph could brighten up her day by taking her out for ice cream and playing a little cards. She was in the retirement house by then and the other nuns all looked out for her. You wanted to have a closer relationship with her but it was hard, being so far away and poor. You exchanged letters, talking history and religion. She was true to her vocation, a beautiful thing.

Remember her Golden Jubilee? You went up with the fam to celebrate all the nuns’ anniversaries and were amazed at how liberal the lyrics were to the hymns. No wonder they didn’t wear habits after Vatican II—they were practically heretics!

When the end came, she was surrounded by her sisters and her family. And they prayed and they sang. Oh, how they sang. Mom and Dad were transported by the love and joy being expressed at this passage, seeing for the first time that a Christian should die happy in the hope of Heaven. You were down in Bloomington holding vigil of your own. Every day the news would come: not yet. And finally you remembered that in all the songs you’d sung for her, you’d never sung Poor Robin is Dead, a children’s song brought by Grandpa McLaughlin’s family from Ireland. You sang it and sang it, smiling and releasing her, and that night she died.

The wake was held at the retirement home. All the sisters were gathered in one corner and the family in the opposite. It made you realize how little you knew of her life among these women and you yearned to fill that deficit.

Once the nuns knew you were the family historian, they swarmed you with stories so thick you could hardly get your mp3 recorder out fast enough. They were so happy. It was a beautiful time.

You spoke at the wake, thanking her for breaking that taboo and for consequently saving your life, and the lives of all her great-neices and -nephews.

You stayed for the funeral, which was a very brief affair in a small chapel at the burial grounds. While everyone went ahead you searched out her grave, just one plot among a hundred, completely anonymous. You moved the board over the opening so you could see where she would be planted and bugs scurried away. But you weren’t startled—it all felt part of the great breathing biosphere that is Gaia.

Aunt Dolores, like you, was a spinster aunt. Hardly anyone in the family was interested in her as a person. This blog post you write may be the last story told of her. But she will always be a hera to you and you will always bless her name. You still talk to her sometimes, bringing her up to date on genealogy and whatnot. You miss her. She was someone to look up to.

But as a spinster she, like you, is just a short twig on the family tree. When you die, no one will sing her songs anymore. Just like your story will end when your nieces and goddessdaughters die. But let us seek to live courageously, as Aunt Dolores did, in the time we have left. Let us sing and dance in a circle and smile.

Love,

Cairril


An Open Letter to the Monroe County Fair Board

August 1, 2016

Monroe County Fair Associaton
PO Box 1446
Bloomington, IN 47404

cc: The Herald-Times

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

I enjoy taking my two goddessdaughters (ages 8 and 13) to the fair each year in part for its celebration of American values. That’s why I was stunned and dismayed last Friday to see a vendor displaying a Confederate flag for sale.

I was overcome with emotions: outrage, nausea, even fear. I’m white — I can’t imagine how an African American would feel. And I was faced with the difficult decision of what to do: face down ignorance and even downright racism or keep my girls safe? I chose safety but I have been conflicted ever since.

The Southern white narrative about the flag is that it celebrates Southern culture. If that were true, there would be an awful lot of Southern African Americans flying that flag, too.

We cannot escape that flag’s history, first as a banner for the continuance of the lash, rape, and abomination of slavery and the concomitant treason against the federal government, then its symbolism of Jim Crow, then its adoption as the banner of the anti-civil rights movement. To this day it remains, along with the swastika, the pre-eminant symbol of white supremacy.

This is the flag of blood. This is the flag of oppression. This is the flag of Dylann Roof and white terrorism. Is it appropriate to sell such a thing at a family-friendly community event celebrating American values?

You would not approve the selling of Ku Klux Klan robes at the Monroe County Fair. I call on you to reject the legacy of white supremacism and put an end to the sale of Confederate flags.

 


Eeyore and depression

February 10, 2016

This is one of my favorite memes about depression. It really speaks to how to respond to someone with the disorder.

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Dreams

February 7, 2016

A repository of the dream summaries I post on Facebook.

dreamt that i helped an american-accented neil gaiman select a paper stock. he chose a milk finish (my fave, big surprise). no worries, i steered him away from all that garish gold foil.

4/9/17

 

i dreamt i was gloria steinem, traveling from the old world to the promises of the new, and there wasn’t enough rope. then i was james bond, planting concrete markers underground throughout florida. why? ask M.

3/15/17

dreamt i was mr rogers’ roadie camera operator as he went on a quest to win back an old flame who was now married with a son. mr rogers took us to gallifrey, which he said was his home. that part i believe.

3/14/17

dreamt i was in the military of a police state, very regimented, stationed in antarctica when a global warming catastrophe hit. everything was falling apart and going to hell and i was running around with a huge grin on my face. the world was lost. none of the rules applied anymore. no one could touch me. i was finally free.

the same dream featured matt smith’s doctor who, caprica 6 and baltar from battlestar galactica, and the penguin from fight club: “sliiiiiide.”

2/25/17

dreamt i was with the standing rock water protectors, singing with roger waters and eating twizzlers. i got my dad and Rob Palmer on a conference call to convince them to come join me. “a better world is possible,” i said.

12/2/16

i dreamt i stuffed Jeanne into a black knit sock with me so we could fly to new york and see “cats.”

10/20/12

last night i dreamt i was supposed to be helping Janiece find a house but i kept bouncing off to join the collins open house/orientation party, attracted by the enormous slip-n-slide. sorry i’m such a flake, janiece.

9/1/16

last night i  dreamt i was touring catal huyuk in britain (yes, britain, not turkey) with soldiers from the boer war as guides. sting and i were at the final stop in a grocery store, taking pictures of an elaborate grave and old-fashioned type presses with our digital cameras and eating jammy dodgers (whatever those are — but they were yummy).
9/1/12

last night i dreamt of planting grain, glaucoma, and the iliad. all to a beatles soundtrack.
6/30/16

this morning i fell back asleep after my alarm went off and entered this technicolor extravaganza where i was ice dancing accompanied by an orchestra featuring my high school sweetheart. then suddenly the music stopped, a spotlight hit the suddenly open rink, and Laurent Castellucci came sliding out on his knees across the ice and starting dancing like prince to some mad beats someone was throwing down. then he gestured to me, the beats stopped, and i opened my mouth to sing. all my inhibitions about improv fell away and this amazing tune came out of me (now unfortunately obscured by tangle eye) and it was in my old voice, full and rich, not this thin reed i have now. it was freaking amazing. i didn’t want to wake up.
6/29/16

last night i dreamt i was adding lucky charms marshmallows to a bunch of trail mix my family was making, all to the tune of “only you” by yaz.
6/29/16

i dreamt about economic development to the soundtrack of “the headmaster’s ritual” by the smiths. wth?
6/28/16

i dreamt Mike Price and i were swing dancing like crazy at Angela and Janis‘ housewarming party until i lost my purse made out of my grandma’s bridesmaid’s dress. joy found, joy lost?
5/19/16

i dreamt the bad guys had locked me up with olivier and anthony hopkins doing shakespeare. oh, would that it were so!!
5/16/16

i was dreaming of space travel when jar jar binks showed up. that killed THAT dream.
4/9/16

this morning i had a twilight dream. i had just become a vampire and was running all over the place and reveling in the speed of it. it was exhilarating. i noticed edward at work on a little house on dunn and changed my route so i could ogle him. cut to the narrator bringing us together and revealing that we’ve just been married. edward got that huge gorgeous smile on his face where his eyes crinkle up and my heart just melted. he loved me so much. we were so happy. he had an infant son (parthenogenesis??) that immediately became mine. he had a job in politics that really interested me and it turned out they were hiring me, too. so we’d have this fulfilling work and then be able to share our days on the drive home. it felt so incredibly good. life was so full of love and promise. but then i started to wake up a little and then went back in and all had changed. two years had passed and i had lost him long ago. i went up to his new house near our old apartments on 8th street and jane was there—his new wife. because she and i had been friends long ago, in horrible pain i made stilted small talk with her. she casually mentioned her son that called her “mom” and i realized with a sharp stab that she meant edward’s son, who had been my son. i had lost him completely and irrevocably. edward wasn’t even in the picture. it was all gone, so long ago. i woke up shattered.
4/4/16

last night i dreamt that someone hurt my feelings so i said, “well, i was going to design your logo for you but now you can use microsoft clip art with times new roman!” then i flounced out of the room in front of their stunned faces. so there!
2/25/16

i dreamt melissa etheridge had carved onyx and diamond studs in her eyes. then i realized this is not new — for years i have been dreaming of women rockers like joan jett and bonnie raitt with pierced eyeballs.
2/23/16

i dreamt i got a kite at the UU church. then my alarm went off. fell back asleep. dreamt i got a kite at first presbyterian. alarm went off. fell back asleep. dreamt i took both kites to main square in highland, indiana to fly them together but i couldn’t remember my username and password to get in. when the alarm went off i said screw this and got up.
2/20/12

i dreamt that donald trump hired kaia to perform at a fundraiser for the library. he was throwing a fit that Google maps showed the building address rather than Trump Towers when Susan Armstrong Lantzer stepped in. he fell in love with her and became putty in her hands.

susan, you have a duty to the nation. time to step up.
2/14/16

i dreamt bryan and i were competing in a figure skating competition to the death and our opponents were the new barbie dolls.
2/7/16

i dreamt johnny depp and i were together, singing and writings, outwitting vladimir putin.
2/2/16

i dreamt i was running for president so i was in a wheelchair to get more votes but then at the gas station my dad behind the counter wouldn’t give me an eclair so i wanted to nip around and get it myself but i was afraid someone would see me and not vote for me.
8/2/13


The best Star Wars video ever

December 24, 2015

I would kill to have this experience before I die.


My favorite poem

December 19, 2015

I was introduced to this in Mrs Karp’s high school English class. The typewritten copy I made then has followed me around for over 30 years since then.

Poemectomy

The trouble was they left her too much alone,

feeding on books and dreaming of love

and watch willow tree shadows

sway across the polluted river.

 

Instead of running about and laughing

and talking of nothing with the other girls,

she grew wistful and wan and dangerously thin

and after hours of pondering such things as

frost on a window

or the frail filament fingers of an old nun on a bus,

she would look weaker than ever

and complain of a terrible pain in her chest.

 

Until late one night they rushed her to the hospital

and worked over her for hours in Emergency,

removing a huge tumorous verse

so horrible that even the nurses grew sick when they saw it.

For days afterwards

she was draining words where the stitches were

and then only a few letters now and then

until the wound was completely healed.

 

But there’s still a large scar where they made the incision

and even now when she sees things

like a bird on a twig

or the shadows of leaves on the sand

or a butterfly wing washed up on the shore,

the scar turns pink or a livid red

and you almost wonder

if they succeeded in getting out all the infection.

 

John W. Dickson