The chemo is not for you

May 31, 2013

I am reading Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World, her account of her encounter with cancer. She is terrified of chemo. But a talk with her therapist shifts her entire perspective:

“The chemo is not for you. It is for the cancer, for all the past crimes, it’s for your father [who incested her], it’s for the rapists, it’s for the perpetrators. You’re going to poison them now and they are never coming back. Chemo will purge the badness that was projected onto you but was never yours. I have total faith in your resilience and the magical capacities of your body and soul for healing. Your job is to welcome the chemo as an empathetic warrior, who is coming in to rescue your innocence by killing the perpetrator who got inside you. You have many bodies; new ones will be born out of this transformational time of love and care. When you feel nauseous or terrible, just imagine how hard the chemo is fighting on your behalf and on behalf of all women’s bodies, restoring wholeness, innocence, peace. Welcome the chemo as empathetic warrior.”

I love this paradigm shift.

My good friend Margot was suddenly diagnosed with cancer which has metastasized. She just finished a round of chemotherapy but says she may be on chemo for the rest of her life. She asked the Pagan community to work magic for her because she saw how Patricia Monaghan had died quietly and in pain, not availing herself of the resources of the Tribe.

When I do magic for Margot, I call on the chemo to kill the cancer. This is a serious Call—the Threefold Law says that anything you do comes back to you three times over. I have only outright cursed someone once and that initiated one of the worst years of my life. I had to keep checking in with myself about this Call. Is it the right thing to do?

Yes. In the mystery of lifeanddeath, we are permitted to fight for our lives. We are permitted to resist death. We are also encouraged to embrace death on our own terms, in our own way, according to our own lights. But if we want to live, we can struggle to keep on living—not rejecting death but engaging with life. It’s a subtle difference but an important one. And when the time for fighting is over, we can death in the way that seems best. If we are so fortunate to have the power to do so.

Modern medicine is obsessed with staving off death. It prolongs suffering because it views death as defeat, death as enemy. Witches and other Pagans have a more nuanced view, where death is as sacred as life. It is another rite of passage, as sacred as birth or menarche or marriage. It is part of the Whole.

When we embrace things like chemo, which causes temporary suffering for the sake of the greater health of the body, we engage in the powerful mystery of lifeanddeath. We partake of the goddess Kali—destruction so that creation may begin anew. It is not suffering for the sake of suffering, as is so often the case in Christianity, but a means to an end.

In the initiation of a Witch, we are asked, “Art thou willing to suffer to learn?” I always mentally amend that with the disclaimer that we can learn just as well from love and positive experiences, but the question is really about discipline. Are you willing to get down and dirty? Follow the path wherever it leads, no matter what light gets shined on your shadow self? Fully embrace all aspects of your being? Undergo constant and sometimes painful transformation?

“To dare, to will, to know, to keep silent.” These are the watchwords of the Witch. In this case, the challenge is “to dare.” Embrace the chemo. Let it purge you of the violations, all those experiences which stand of the way of your being truly alive. Embrace the empathetic warrior.

Teaching a child

April 28, 2011

I want to teach my goddessdaughter. I want to pass on some of what I know.

I would start with the 4 Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water. I would give her her first Book of Light and Shadows and ask her to draw her first sacred Circle. And onto that Circle we would place the Elements in order: Earth at the top, Air at 90 degrees, Fire at the root, and Water across from Air. And above and around that we would place the secret 5th Element: Spirit. That which binds us, one to the other, in the great Wheel of lifeanddeath.

We would investigate the Elements in a practical way, suitable to her age. A stone for Earth, breath for Air, a lit candle for Fire, and a mini-cauldron of Water. And our mantra: “Never leave a burning candle unattended.” 🙂

To keep her interested, I would teach her the Discordian tradition of The Sacred Chocolate: White for Air, semi-sweet for Fire, milk for Water, and dark for Earth. I suspect that will get her attention. 🙂

Over time I would teach her the layers of the sacred Circle. First the directions: North for Earth and then around the Circle. We would orient ourselves outside and learn how to find North no matter where we are.

Then the different Gods or guides that go with each marker. I would give her options from the world’s religions. I would explain the different characteristics of the Elements and ask her if she could think of her own guides. I would have her choose who should go where. I would let her know that those guides would likely change as she grows and changes.

Then the seasons: Winter in the North, then Spring, Summer, and Fall. We would draw pictures and tell stories about the different seasons and observe how Nature manifests herself in each.

Then the holy days of my tradition: Samhain in the North, then Imbolc, then Bealtainne, then Midsummer. We would learn these cross-quarter days and the solstices and equinoxes. I would teach her the difference between the two and how to observe the Sun and know the seasons. We would make wreaths of flowers and leaves, a Brighid’s cross, a May Day poppet.

I would teach her of the Moon and its journey through its thirteen cycles. I would teach her how to identify trees by their leaves and bark. We would listen for the song of the birds and follow their call.

Once she’s old enough, I would teach her the Tarot, beginning with the Major Arcana before learning the Minor. While the cheat sheets are helpful, I would teach her to trust her own intuitions and insights so that the cards serve her well.

When she is ten, I would begin taking her to different places of worship so she can be exposed to a variety of belief systems and forms of spiritual engagement. I would encourage her to follow her own heart, listening carefully to see if any one particular path beckoned.

I would teach her magic, beginning with the basics of visualization before moving on to simple charms and prayers. I would give her a book of Latvian dainas that she might know more of her people.

Above all, I would teach her ethics. “If it harm none, do what you will.” The Threefold Law. The deep commitment to justice and compassion that is a necessary aspect of any spiritual being.

Throughout our journey, I would listen to her. I would encourage her to speak from the heart and I would endeavor to hear the sub-text of what she’s saying. While providing a framework for the development of her spirit, I would encourage her to challenge me and herself to greater understanding, charity, compassion, and fairness.

While I might sometimes have her copy from my Book of Shadows, I would sometimes copy from hers to mine. She would teach me as I teach her.

This is my vision for her. It is a lesser version of how I wanted to teach my own daughters, had they manifested in this world. It is open to a multitude of spiritual paths while giving her a solid foundation. It would be creative. It would be fun.

It is not up to me to decide, of course. As her Goddessmother, I feel Called to nourish her spirit. Her parents may disagree with my choices or methods. It is for them to decide. A and J, what do you think?

Isaac’s Rolling Thunder

May 28, 2010

Am in the midst of the Rolling Thunder ritual for Isaac Bonewits. I started by casting a Circle of trees interwoven like Celtic knots and inviting my goddesses of the Quarters: Arianrhod, Brighid, Rhiannon, and Cerridwen. I prayed for a little while but then shifted into active healing magic.

I pictured Isaac in the middle of the Circle and moved deosil around him, chanting Phaedra’s chant: “Isaac’s tumors fade away; 30 more years with Phae.” I turned it into a chant-song (of course) and visualized him healthy. I kept a photo from the Wild Hunt blog up on my laptop so the vision of the smiling, healthy couple could infuse the ritual with love and meaning.

Isaac and Phaedra

Phaedra and Isaac

After a while the energy started to build and I felt Called to go widdershins and focus on dissolving the tumors and their root causes. The chant became more powerful as I Heard voices from across the world joining in. I was carrying my favorite goddess figurine and wore my spirit bag from the Pagan Summit. The magic became deeper and more solemn.

After a long time of focus on that I felt the energy shift and get quieter and slower. I poured water down my throat to cleanse the chant away. I sang very quietly, “I will sing/Sing a new song” (a bit from a U2 song) but that seemed too much. I’d planned on turning back deosil and focusing on the “30 more years with Phae” part of the chant, but that’s not the message I received.

Instead, I Saw Isaac in a white robe with Celtic knots traced on it. He was lying on his back, suspended in the air, arms slightly out from his sides. And everything was quiet and shimmering.

I walked around his body a few times and then stopped in the South. I sang a brief Spirit message about being still and being in the love of the moment. Then I began a vigil. That was the message. It was just time to witness his receiving all this healing energy from all over the world. To interrupt that with chanting would interrupt the healing process.

I sat for a long time, just holding that image in my mind and heart. Then I drew a tarot card for him: 4 of Swords. A time for rest, rejuvenation, meditation.

I don’t know if Isaac will live or die in these next few weeks. Last I heard, he was taken to the emergency room today. But he is being given every chance to make that decision in love. His body may just need to move on—I can’t tell. But the love and support out there tonight is immense.

I’m getting ready for sleep but have set my alarm for a few hours from now, when I will blow out the candles and open the Circle. I want this energy of the vigil to continue, even if my physical body needs to sleep.

Isaac had a profound impact on my early training (I still use his “cosmic switchboard” analogy) and then, when I met him at the Summit in 2001, he was very kind to me. A good man. I pray that his suffering is eased this night and in the coming weeks, and that we are all able to deliver that miracle his doctor has asked for.

Blessed Be.


March 16, 2009

Today I noticed that someone had tagged my front fence with bright red paint. It was like fresh blood, blindingly contrasting with the white of my PVC. I had that familiar sick feeling in my stomach as I wondered how long it had been there. No more than two days, surely. But while easily visible from the street, it’s not easy to see from the house.

I scrubbed off the paint using special graffiti remover, all the time thinking furiously about how much I’ve put into my house and wondering why the hell so many idiots keep vandalizing it. Someone breaks or tags the fence about every other month or so. It’s not the same people—just drunk idiots.

I always think of the warding and blessing Don and I did of the house in February after I moved in. It was so cold! We had to keep going back into the house to thaw before we could finish outside. But we were determined to walk the perimeter and declare the boundaries to the Elements, creating a safety barrier.

I think of how my nightmares have changed. Growing up, it was usually nuclear war or monsters. Later it was men, bad men, who were inexorably gaining ground on me no matter what I did. Then it became small gangs of people who were trying to break down the door of my apartment. Now it’s throngs of people who tear up all my beautiful trees and rape the good green earth around my house. 

Every morning I wake up and am loathe to look outside. I do a visual sweep of the fence to see what damage has been done. Most mornings there’s none. But every morning I visualize it.

Oberon Ravenheart is putting together a compendium of “Wizards of the World” through the ages. As a previously prominent Witch, he invited me to submit a bio. I sent it in yesterday. It was pathetically brief, and focused on activities from the ’90s. 

I have been told I’m a powerful Witch. I know that I go places many people are too reserved or too afraid to tread. Perhaps they find that powerful. I just follow the thread down to wherever it starts.

With all that “power,” you’d think some kick-ass warding spells would work. You’d think there’d be some way to keep me safe, to protect my land, and to banish these dismal dreams. 

I’ve been promising myself that I’ll do another warding now that the fence and gate are completed. But logically I know that I will continue to have people cross my boundaries. I have fantasies of violence against them, but I know that violence only begets more violence. They see my fence as a threat for some reason, as if I’m spitting in their eyes simply by existing.

What I need to come to terms with is the nature of magic and its limits. Oberon has the best definition of magic that I’ve heard: “probability enhancement.” I can enhance the probability of safety but I cannot be 100% safe. There are too many threads in the tapestry of life for that. Too many people able to make too many choices. 

It’s like in New York in’04 when I was between the police and the protesters, directing the energy of both sides down into the Earth. The longer it went on, the more difficult it became, partly because there were so many people choosing to get increasingly agitated. I Called on every ancestor I could think of to lend me strength, but in the end I was losing my hold when a new protest was announced in another area of the city and everyone dispersed. I could not have held all those threads indefinitely; I was already slipping.

Feeling safe is one of my deepest cravings. Of course my life is the exact opposite of that. Perhaps I have so many hard edges because I’ve knocked up against brick walls too many times. I wish I had the magic to create true safety for myself. Instead I need to live in this world, in this time, and learn to create a larger safe haven within my self. Let them break the fence—just don’t let them break me.