Why I protest

February 16, 2017

activism is not an event, it’s a daily commitment.
normalize advocacy

i have been involved in protest movements since i was 17, when my principle concerns were the nuclear arms race and political prisoners. i moved into anti-apartheid and anti-colonial work shortly after. i’ve repeatedly been let down by the traditional Left but i go where the people are or i go alone – i must resist.

i am least interested in whether a mass protest achieves concrete results right away. that rarely happens. and it’s not the point. the point is to build a movement that lasts and grows over time so its cause can no longer be avoided.

look at all the progressive movements of the early 20th century, the civil rights struggle, the protests against the war in vietnam. they all took time. they all took commitment. and they took repeated actions by a wide swathe of society to get results. that’s how mass movements work.

the immediate effect of mass rallies and the like are to change the narrative for the day; this is what happened with the 2017 women’s march in DC and elsewhere. and if the protest/rally is large enough, or widespread enough, it remains a marker in the news that reporters keep referring back to. why does bernie sanders still get so much coverage? because large numbers of people got off their butts and went to his rallies. these are the kinds of results you can see.

[while i find anything related to the bible extremely tedious, i’m including this for my parents and other christians. do you think the money lenders in the temple stopped lending money after jesus trashed their space? no. then was jesus doing something utterly pointless? seems weird for the son of god. and for the church to think the story important enough to keep in the bible. protests matter.]

i protest because i am a doer. i must ACT. i feel so much physical pressure building up inside my body, so much psychic dissonance, that i MUST take action. sometimes that’s going to a rally or a march. sometimes that’s standing alone on the corner of kirkwood and walnut holding a sign. sometimes that’s singing peace songs alone to agitated cops. i pick actions that are committed to nonviolence. i pick actions where i will be educated. but i ACT.

i protest because the children and young women in my life are watching. i want them to know they too have a voice, that they have power, that they matter. and i want them to be conscious of the power of solidarity so they can take strength from it when they are most bowed down.

i must resist. for my self, my spirit, my soul. i could not live with myself if i just said, “this has nothing to do with me.” i believe that each step towards freedom for one group without privilege is a victory for all. i believe in the morality of resistance. i don’t want anyone coming to me 30 years from now and asking, “where were you when the world needed you?”

i resist because it is the right thing to do. i believe in goodness. i believe it is a process. i believe we have to work at it to grow and become more human. i want to be good. i want to walk the path of justice, equality, wholeness, diversity, and freedom. this is what i’ve chosen for myself. so whether you stand with me or stand aside asking, “what’s the point?”, i will resist. i resist because it is the right thing to do. a better world is possible.


i wrote this on my phone, so please excuse the lower case.

Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and me

January 9, 2017

I was on holiday in California when I got the news that Carrie Fisher had gone shining. I didn’t want to ruin my holiday groove so I buried my feelings until I got home.

I was 10 years old when Star Wars came out. Princess Leia just exploded off the screen. I’d never seen a strong woman onscreen before. Films during the ’60s and ’70s showed women as victims or men’s appendages if they showed up at all. I couldn’t identify with any of them. But when I saw Princess Leia, I saw courage and grit and power and sarcasm and resourcefulness and a clear, principled will. Here was something I could identify with! She had a huge impact on me. And Carrie Fisher was spot on, save for the occasional English accent wandering in (in books, they say she was mocking Tarkin, but I feel like that’s trying to cover up a bad directorial decision).

I have seen A New Hope probably 50 times and she is still a revelation to me. And when she reappeared in episode 7, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. In the expanded Star Wars universe, Leia is one of the only Jedi who is never even tempted by the Dark Side. She has a clear moral compass and is willing to do whatever it takes to bring peace and justice to the galaxy. She’s smart, she’s sassy, and she’s no one’s fool.

So that’s a little about Princess Leia. Many years later Carrie Fisher did a one-woman show that was translated into a book I read: Wishful Drinking. In it, she talks frankly—really frankly—about mental illness and her experiences with treatment. While she first entered my life playing a fictional heroine, now she was a heroine in the waking world. Instead of speaking in hushed tones about her challenges, she is sarcastic and funny and informative. She helped me see that I didn’t have to be ashamed of my own mental illnesses, and she gave me courage. And a new hope.

As I write this I realize how paltry the words are in comparison to the vastness of my thoughts and emotions. She burned brightly, fiercely, and I owe a part of my self to her. Thank you, Princess. Thank you, Carrie. Go shining.

A story from my father

January 9, 2017

Every summer until I was 15 our whole family went on a camping trip somewhere in the continental United States. There were long hours spent in the car, with everyone passing food around that Mom pulled out of the cooler in between her and Dad’s seats. We’d finally get to a destination and spend a torturous hour or so setting up camp. Then my Dad liked to walk the perimeter, getting his bearings. I get that from him.

My favorite part of any trip was after a long day of sight-seeing and dinner when my brothers would build a Boy Scout-sanctioned bonfire and we’d gather around in lawn chairs, mostly quiet. I would beg my dad to tell a story (he was so good!) and sometimes he’d oblige. This is the only story I can remember.

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a small cottage. Some nights he liked to travel the road down to the village pub and nurse an ale. There was one dark night where he’d stayed too late and he mentioned to the bartender that he planned to take a shortcut through the woods. “Oh, no!” cried everyone in the pub. “Don’t take that shortcut—it’s dangerous! There are monsters in the wood!” The man laughed and pushed his way out into the cool, dark night.

He headed out on the path that ran through the woods. It was a quiet night and dark, so he had to pay attention to where he was going. He’d been walking for some time when he suddenly came across a giant egg in his path. It seemed to glow. Well, he scratched his head and he tapped on it and he tried to imagine what it could be, but nothing obvious came to mind. Suddenly deciding, he rolled the egg down the path in front of him and pushed it inside his cottage. He made a few more attempts to figure out what it was but gave up, its being late and all.

The egg stayed quiescent for days. But one night he heard some tapping sounds and as he whipped his head around from the hearth where he was cooking his stew, he noticed that the egg had started to crack. Holding his breath (and the ladle in one hand), he slowly approached the egg. The whole thing quivered and suddenly the top split open. Before he could even comprehend what was going on, a small goblin popped out. Then another. Then another. Soon there were six small goblins in his cottage, and they were immediately completely out of control.

With screeching voices they bounced all over the cottage, upsetting his table and chair, pounding on pots and pans, smashing plates, and more. He alternated between ducking thrown objects and yelling at them to stop. Nothing worked! He watched in horror as his neat little cottage descended into chaos.

For days and nights his life was a nightmare. It seemed like it would never end. Even when he collapsed from exhaustion he was aware of the goblins bouncing on him, pulling at his hair and tweaking his toes. He was at his wit’s end.

Then one night while chaos reigned around him the hearthlight went out. He got a candle  and a flint and, with many interruptions and much frustration, he finally got the candle lit. Suddenly there was complete silence. The goblins stopped their screeching and smashing and tearing and slowly crept towards the flame. Astonished, the man set his table upright and placed the candle on it. The goblins, completely fascinated, drew close and stared at the flame. All was quiet. The sudden silence after so many days of bedlam sounded loud in the man’s ears. He stared at the goblins for a long time, but they only gazed quietly at the candle, mesmerized.

From then on, whenever he could he would light a candle and place it on the table for the goblins to gather around. And it was in this way that he began to reclaim his shattered nerves and bring some order back into his life!

+ + +

When my dad told this story, it was like magic. I could see it all so clearly in my mind. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I suddenly realized: there were six goblins. There were six of us kids. My dad was talking about us! He was talking about how we were so noisy and boisterous but would settle down and all stare quietly into a bonfire like goblins under a spell.

It still makes me laugh to think about that. He was absolutely right—he was a man who liked order and peace and here he was with six kids bouncing off the walls. I have no idea how he and my mom survived! Goddess knows I love my peace and order, too, and my goddessdaughters sometimes tried my patience mightily as they created chaos in my neat little house when they were young.

So there you have it. Any parent’s story. I love it!

Sex and sometimes love

December 4, 2016

I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I don’t miss it.

Gods above alone know how I could have survived so much sexual abuse, assault, and harassment and yet ended up with a sex-positive view. I love sex. I love intimacy. I was fortunate to have, on the whole, good lovers. But then, something went Terribly Awry. This story is not an invitation for you to invite me to have sex with you. Please pay attention.

My last lover was impatient and our relationship was completely fucked up. I knew we shouldn’t be together after our first night but he wore me down with arguments until he finally found my Achilles’ Heel: “Think how old you are now. How many more chances are you going to get?” Good basis for a relationship, eh?

The last time we slept together he might as well have been masturbating for all the difference it made that I was there. I knew he didn’t like my more creative style so I swallowed my disappointment and just endured. Gods. Wretched. It’s hard to know if I was just responding to patriarchal conditioning and submitting to my man or if I genuinely felt the poor guy should get a break. But it sucked for me. And he broke up with me shortly thereafter.

I spiraled into a depression. No surprise there. But the fucked-up-edness of our relationship didn’t stop when he broke up with me. He still rang me three or four times a day. I went to his condo several times a week to take his dog for long walks and cry into his ruff. And I’ll admit, once I suspected my ex was seeing someone new, I went through his drawers until I found the condoms I’d bought for him when we were together and took them all away. Childish, but devilishly satisfying. Why should I pay for his sex?

Did I mention things were fucked up? I would drag myself to my computer in the mornings to check for work email, sobbing, then crawl back to my bed and watch Lord of the Rings on my laptop, sobbing. As 11am approached my anxiety would shoot through the roof and my heart would pound and my chest contract and my hands sweat and my mind run as I desperately tried to think of how I could entertain him. And sure enough, at 11 on the dot he would ring and say lackadaisically, “So what’s going on?” Then I would try to delight him with trivia or gossip and play the sexy fetch. I was terrified he’d find me boring. I performed. Terrified. Until the phone call ended and I would collapse back on my bed sobbing. This would be repeated at 4 and 6 and sometimes 9. Every day. And if he was road-tripping, he would ring me at the start and expect me to talk him all the way home from Fort Wayne. So I did.

At the same time I was executing A Plan I’d devised in the week after we broke up. I am excellent with plans. I am a Capricorn. I live for plans. And this fabulous plan was that I’d take 3 months to get my head together, 3 months to build a wider circle of friends, and then I would try blind dating. At this point I could tell a hilarious story about the only blind date I’ve ever been on, but let’s stay focused on how screwed up I was. Surely if I got a new therapist I could be well in 3 months, right? And another 3 months is plenty of time to make friends in! And no, I don’t “date” in the traditional sense, I only have relationships, but just because it’s a really bad idea doesn’t mean it won’t build character! C’mon! Execute plan!

So I found a new therapist but my behavior didn’t change. My depression got worse. My anxiety got worse. Every time I expressed concern that I didn’t seem to be getting better she’d have some Buddhist maxim for me. I’m not a Buddhist. How were these things relevant? They weren’t. But I couldn’t see that. I thought that if I just tried harder, I would understand more, that I would feel better.

The first 3 months flew by. Then I hit Match.com to meet prospective friends. I didn’t put a picture up because I’m instantly recognizable and I didn’t want that vulnerability. So even though I said in my profile I was ONLY looking for friends, almost all the men who contacted me badgered me for a photo and when can we meet when when how’s now what’s your problem why not NOW? Tedious men.

I met up with about seven people ultimately from different walks of life, some male and some female. I seemed to hit it off with several but I was being very calculating in how I presented myself. I still spent most of my time sobbing but when I connected with these people I was oh so diverting. Funny, smart, sarcastic, deep, shallow, whatever the occasion demanded. But I wasn’t real. And I think they saw through that. So one by one I lost them.

As the months went by I became increasingly mentally ill. This is still with 3-4 phone calls a day from the ex, by the way. I was screaming a lot. Throwing things, hitting things. Not cutting, surprisingly. But seriously ill. I told my therapist I no longer felt like I had a self and she told me how great it was, that I was having a Buddhist enlightenment experience. Looking back, I know I was going insane. But in the moment all I wanted to do was try harder to be what she wanted.

Lots of things happened. Bad things. I fell.

There was a morning where somehow I ended up on the floor in a fetal position, babbling away, perhaps in gibberish. I say this now because I lived through it. At the time there was only unconsciousness. At some point a pinprick of light appeared along with the words, “This is not rational” across my black internal mindscape. It went away immediately. An indeterminate amount of time passed, me babbling away in total mental darkness, and the light and words came again. This happened repeatedly until the light held on long enough for me to realize where I was and what was going on. And that light was right, this was definitely not rational.

I lost my mind. Not in a metaphorical way. Not in an exaggerated way. I went insane. All conception of “I,” of “me,” of “Cairril” was lost. It was not an abyss. If there’s an abyss, there’s a you to observe the abyss. There was no me. There was nothing. And that’s not all that was happening. It was, however, the worst.

I fear only two things in life: rape and insanity. And while technically I’ve never been raped I had now gone insane. I can’t explain the terror. The vulnerability. The realization that at any moment you can lose all that makes you you. You think you can control it. You’re reading these words, you’re perhaps thinking, “Well, if that happened to me, I’d [fill in the blank].” I tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. This is so far beyond most people’s experience that they can’t comprehend what it even means.

My great-aunt Mary was made a ward of the state and put into an insane asylum in the early 1920s after a fever caused brain damage. I never knew she existed until one day when I was about 15 my parents said, “We’re going to see Aunt Mary.” I’m like, “Who’s Aunt Mary?” They just said she was in a nursing home and would probably be speaking in German. When we got there I saw a little old lady hunched over in a chair babbling in some kind of language, but it sure as hell wasn’t English. We left. And we didn’t talk about it. She died about a year later and we went to her funeral. And we didn’t talk about it. It was like it never happened.

Aunt Mary’s father, my great-grandfather, went insane on his 60th birthday the year after Mary was put away. The family tried to care for him but soon he, too, became a ward of the state. Mary spent 60 years in asylums. Great-grandpa Ruth spent his last 13 years in the Longcliff Asylum for the Insane in Logansport. And no one talked about him. My mom, his granddaughter, didn’t know anything about this until her sister told me in the 1990s. He’d been disappeared.

And as if that wasn’t enough tragedy for that family, Mary’s brother, my great-uncle Leo, loved a girl in Wisconsin. He proposed. She turned him down. So he drove his 1938 Mercury coupe down a back rode and shot himself in the heart. It was front-page news in Wisconsin and in Indiana. The family tried to deny the story because of the shame involved but all the evidence pointed to suicide. So he got disappeared, too.

I learned this stuff from my Aunt Dolores, who didn’t speak in hushed tones behind her hand. She just talked about it the same way she talked about playing Canasta. She wasn’t afraid of it. But my parents were. My mother had been told by her mother, “Don’t ever tell anyone about Aunt Mary or you’ll never get married.” That was totally a product of society, not a character flaw of my grandma’s. It was a terrible scandal to have mental illness in the family. We live with that prejudice still.

That morning on the floor made me realize that no, this was not a Buddhist enlightenment experience, this was insanity. And something must be done. Insurance was actually helpful for once and they got me into a couple places to be evaluated. At Bloomington Hospital the bored doctor asked, “Do you want to stay?” I said, “Should I? You’re the doctor!” He just said, “Well, if you’re a danger to yourself or others…. No? All right, sign here.” When I pulled my car out of my parking spot and headed down the garage ramp I pressed the gas to the floor, my eyes glued to the concrete wall in front of me. At the last minute I remembered that I was going to be evaluated by a different hospital, so I slammed on the brakes.

At Meadows Hospital they didn’t want me to leave at the end of the evaluation. They were practically strapping me to a stretcher (not really, but that’s what I was afraid of). By this point I had stepped outside my brain and Great-grandpa Ruth had walked in and was doing the talking to them. I was having his flashbacks. At one point someone stepped in and, without a word, snapped my picture. I started screaming. I have the photo Longcliff took of August Ruth when he was admitted. And he looks like a crazy man. So here I was in an asylum having my own experience of being photographed and simultaneously having his experience of being photographed.

I was psychotic. Also suicidal, but that was so common with me it seemed normal. But my brain no longer functioned the way it was supposed to. I remember when the nurse was going through my stuff to pull out anything potentially harmful. I’d ask him, “Why are you taking that out?” and he’d tell me why. Before the first word was out of his mouth I’d forget it so I’d repeat the question. Over and over. I just couldn’t hold onto the English language anymore. Bless him, he was perfectly patient. But it was terrifying to be unable to communicate. It was terrifying to keep slipping out and having Great-grandpa slip in. It was terrifying to think they’d drug me up or give me electroshock treatments or, Gods above, wall me away so my family could pretend like I didn’t exist. I was terrified of being disappeared. I still am.

This is a long story. A lot happened. The happy-happy-joy-joy part is I got diagnosed and was put on meds that actually stabilized me. I continued to have psychotic episodes for three years after Meadows but slowly clawed my way back to sanity with the help of good doctors and therapists. But let me tell you, the whole experience put me off the idea of having relationships.

Remember sex? Where we started? This is my point: in my mind, being in an intimate relationship and having sex became connected with psychosis in my mind. To even start a friendship is to risk madness. And in the maelstrom before I went into Meadows, on some deep level of my self I swore I would never go through that again. I’d kill myself first. So to go on a date or even to start a friendship means I’m taking both my sanity and my life into my hands.

Is it any wonder I don’t miss it?


At the same time:

I believe in intimacy. I believe in sex. I believe that such things can make you a better person. They can make you stretch, make you grow. They are fun. Like when your lover puts their cold feet on your warm ones and laughs hysterically as you shriek and pound on their chest.

How wonderful is it to be held when you feel happy? When you feel grief? When you feel lonely? I don’t get held anymore. I get hello and goodbye hugs sometimes, and with my sister there’s the communication of “I love you so much I don’t want to let you go” but for the most part my life has become a touch-free zone. It’s hard for me to believe that most of my life was spent as a puppy cuddling up with other puppies. I love touch. But now it’s dangerous.

No one tickles the inside of my elbow anymore to make the side of my tongue itch (it’s true!). No one pets my back. No one breaths my name in my ear.

I was raised a good Catholic girl and was not going to have sex until I got married. After I stopped believing in God I still wanted to wait to have sex until I was in love. But time passed. And passed. And passed. And while I was having relationships, I was not having love. So I got tired of waiting. My first sexual experience was with my best male friend. I highly recommend it. No pressure. Total comfort. Easy conversation. Tenderness and compassion and laughter. A different way of saying, “I love you.” It was a wonderful introduction.

I have been very fortunate to have had lovers who were on the whole kind, passionate, sensitive, respectful, and fun. People with the breadth of styles so at times you just throw the other against the wall and at other times you take all night. (Ah, the joys of sex with young men—stamina!)

And with my almost-husband, I was able to explore the power and magic of spiritual sexuality. Some of the most profound experiences of my life happened while making love with him. Our bed was sacred space. I didn’t have to invoke the Goddess, I was the Goddess. I was pure love taken form. So was he. And we gave and took equally, generating a golden helix between our hearts. Pulsing with the deep, deep love that fuels the universe. Love that infused every atom of our beings and bound us more deeply than any external cord. Our bodies were love. Our spirits were love. And there was no separation anywhere.

I haven’t had sex since 2002. And I miss it.

Immanent Goddess ritual

November 4, 2016

This is the ritual I priestessed at Daun Fields’ wonderful and welcoming Sunrise Hive. It came out of my frustration with Pagans’ so frequently looking outside themselves for the sacred, and how many of us women still hate our bodies. Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon talked about the Church of All Worlds, where they greet each other with, “Thou art God” or “Thou art Goddess.” Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was my third Pagan book and she talked about immanence at length. It’s an empowering practice and it unifies the self with all of Gaia.


Intros: Introduce yourself and your matron goddess, describing some of her main attributes.

Something that is “immanent” is “indwelling, inherent.” Something that is “transcendent” (which is the type of deity most of us were raised with) is “over, above, beyond grasp.”

Starhawk, in Dreaming the Dark, defines immanence as “the awareness of the world and everything in it as alive, dynamic, interdependent, interacting, and infused with moving energies: a living being, a weaving dance.”

The split between immanence and transcendence, and the split between body and mind, can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Around 360 BCE Plato wrote Phaedo, a Socratic dialogue. In it we find such gems as:

  • The soul of the philosopher greatly despises the body, and avoids it. It thinks best alone by itself by avoiding so far as it can, all association or contact with the body.
  • So long as we have a body, and the soul is contaminated by such an evil, we shall never attain completely what we desire, that is, the truth.
  • Purification consists in separating, so far as possible, the soul from the body

Clement, Origen, and other early Christian church fathers saw the body as evil because of its needs for food and sex. The body became linked to Eve and Adam’s Fall. St Paul and other early Church writers link women with the body and disgusting sin. Gnostics saw the flesh as evil, animated only by a divine spark within. In the Middle Ages we see body-hatred manifested through fasting, flagellation, hairshirts, and sleep deprivation. Perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs Goddess women make is when they reach radical acceptance of their woman bodies.

Even as Pagans, we tend to see the sacred “out there” (trees, sea, fire) or “in here” (trance, meditation, spark). What about everything in between?

Our Goddess is not a transcendent mountain god like the Abrahamic god. Our Goddess is immanent. She is all-pervasive. She is you.

The Goddess is you. You are Goddess. Your flesh. Your bones. Your voice. Your eyes. Your coughing fits. Your hayfever. Your pee. All that is natural is the Goddess. All that is natural is holy. The Goddess isn’t in these things, she is these things.

***Break for questions ***

Invite the Quarters:

East: Breathe loudly in and out

South: Rub palms together fast

West: Slide your hands over your arms like water

North: Stomp!

Cast the Circle:

Visualize a sphere of white light springing up from us and encompassing this whole floor of the building, the space above, the Earth below.

Close your eyes and travel to your matron Goddess. [My technique is to lie down on a cloud and descend gently and slowly over the edge of a cliff, changing colors from yellow to orange to red to green to blue to violet so you end up on the ground surrounded by violet light.] See your surroundings, look at your Goddess’ clothing, coloring, her aspects, etc. Make it as clear as you can by engaging sight, sound, smell, hearing, taste, touch.

See how your matron Goddess’ attributes are your attributes, too.

Then see her come nearer, facing you. She changes shape until she is exactly the same size as you. She turns her back to you so she’s standing right in front of you. You step forward as she steps back. You are one.

Feel suffused with her energy. Feel how her qualities resonate with your qualities. Then see how you embody those qualities, how they are as much your attributes as hers. You are one.

All rise and stand in a circle, holding hands. Taking turns, state your name and one of your Goddess attributes. The rest of us then respond, “[Name,] give us [attribute].” (For instance, I say, “I am Cairril, and I bring courage.” Everyone responds, “Cairril, give us courage.”)

Go around the Circle. It’s okay to duplicate attributes. Smile at each other and feel the power of our immanent Goddess selves. When you’re done, squeeze the hand of the person next to you. When everyone is finished, bring your held hands to the center of the Circle. Start toning on a low note and as you raise the pitch higher, raise your arms up until you are at the top of your range and stretching up. Then take a break! (Remember, your pee is sacred. Those feet that take you to the drinking fountain are sacred.)

Come back to the Circle and pick up a small food item. Ground yourself by sending shoots into the Earth from your root chakra. Feel your body weight against the floor and feel the Earth supporting you. Feel the holy energy exchanged between your sacred self and the sacred Earth.

I am going to say a five senses prayer. With each sense invoked, utilize it with your food item. If it’s “sight,” really look at your food and revel in how it’s sacred, but also how your sight itself is sacred. It is all Goddess. Thou art Goddess. I am Goddess.

Five Senses Prayer:

I praise the Gods who infused in my head
Soul and reason both
And who imbued me with my senses
Air and earth, water and fire.
One is for seeing.
Two is for touching.
Three is for hearing.
Four is for smelling.
Five is for tasting.

Eat mindfully, taking in all your sensory input. Let the food ground you. Then you can relax!

Sharing circle: what was your experience like? What messages did you receive? How have your perceptions changed?

Housel! Journal, chit-chat. Open the Circle.


It is my hope that women in particular will find this ritual helpful in coming to radical acceptance of their bodies as sacred. But for all who participate or adapt this ritual, I hope it opens you up to how sacred and powerful you are. Thou art God. Thou art Goddess.

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.