Monday, November 16, 2015

The Voice of the Witch

"Baba Yaga" - Painting by Tempest
The way of the Witch is not an easy one - nor despite the cyclical brushes of culture limelight, a truly popular one.

To be a Witch is to be of the marginal, and for the marginal of society.  This path is often iconoclastic, drawing a route against the grain of the majority.  This truth is nothing new, it's been this way for centuries, and I would hazard to suspect longer than that, given the patterns of human nature.

The Witch exists in a space simultaneously of the community and not of the community.  Partly because the Witch deals in matters of the Other - the gods, the spirits, the dead, the mysteries, and partly because the Witch is a keeper of knowledge, an independent thinker, and essentially a loner. When you see the world differently, it changes how you interact with it.

The Witch has long been the one who knows, the one you go to when no one else will help, in the dark depths of night, in the hidden part of the woods. The Witch is the gateway to the unknown, the dangerous and the wild.

So when we speak, it should not surprise us that our words are not always welcome. When we speak up for what we believe is the right way, when we stand to fight for the marginalized and against injustice, and when we seek to talk of balance, growth, and education - it will cause discontent. The same people may call you beautiful and gifted in one breath, may condemn and strike against you in the next breath when your words make them uncomfortable. But their response can't change your path or the validity of your words and actions.

This all is nothing new. It has been our history and is very likely our future. We have been hunted, tortured, maimed, condemned, jailed, burned, and killed for our ways. But we go continue on, because we must.  You must remember that their actions and responses reflect more upon them than it does you.  It can't steal the power of your words or your path - unless you let them.

It is easy to get caught up in the glamour, the trappings, the talk of elusive mysteries and power and forget that we walk and talk a dangerous path.  Be true to what you believe, speak it, and do it.  It takes a brave soul to shine light upon the fears and expose the shadows. And in time, they will learn, if you keep going.

Travel well.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

In Memory of Us

Jill Tracy & Paul Mercer at the OTO, photo by Tempest
This past Monday, in a darkened room in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans, an eclectic crowd gathered to participate in an unusual performance - a musical seance with musicians Jill Tracy and Paul Mercer.

Individuals were invited to bring a personal item of meaning to them or from a deceased loved one, and place it on a table.  The musicians took turns selecting objects from the table, and invited the owner to share a bit about the meaning or person behind that.  Then a musical piece was composed on the spot to honor that spirit or memory.

I didn't have an object on the table, but that didn't stop me from contemplating the deceased, memorials, and ancestor worship.

Grave Sculpture at Metairie, photo by Tempest
No matter what name you give it, this time of year throughout the world is heavily steeped in traditions regarding the deceased: All Hallow's Eve, All Saints, All Souls, Dia de los Muertos, etc. (From a larger, longer perspective, every spiritual tradition and culture has some sort of ritual, observance, or structure for remembering the dead, even if it doesn't happen at this time of the year.)

Recently, I have seen a lot of different and interesting viewpoints from the Pagan/Polytheist community on honoring and interacting with the deceased, the Mighty Dead, the Ancestors. There are those with strong beliefs on what is the proper way to honor one's ancestors, and those who feel that their ancestors would definitely NOT approve of their spiritual path and would be offended by it, or would be disconnected by the generations that have passed. I think each has a valid point, as we all experience death and cultural identity in different ways.

For me personally, I grew up in a house that had some rather unusual otherworldly activity, but never had a sense that it was connected directly to our family.  My early introduction to death was the curiosity that I only had a godmother - my father's sister, as her husband/my godfather had passed away before I was 2.  When I was 8, my paternal grandfather passed away (preceded in death by his wife 31 years earlier), and while he was included in many family gatherings at our home, I was nowhere as close to him as my maternal grandparents, who I spent a great deal of time with.  Family drama post-funeral created a wall of confusion, making me more aware of the behavior of living humans than memories of the deceased. As fate would have it, it would be another 23 years before I would encounter death again in such a close family sense when my grandfather passed away.

Stained Glass Mausoleum, photo by Tempest
While I had great aunts and uncles and great-grandparents who passed on throughout my childhood, I never got a sense that they were "watching over" me. Why would they, when they had their own families (my cousins, etc) to watch? Nor did I have any self-identified "spirit guides", unlike most of the other professional psychic readers I encountered.  I certainly encountered other people's ancestors and spirits when giving readings, but not my own in such a specific way.

But in the time surrounding my grandfather's passing (before, while in hospice, and after), I began to have vivid dreams with him, involving long conversations and specific imagery. I was reminded of the Mediterranean and Slavic traditions that hold the belief that the ancestors can still teach and guide us after they have passed on.  Whether it was our deep personal connection, or that the relationship felt more in line with what qualified for receiving guidance in my book, I understood it and felt it. I had a lifetime of wonderful memories behind it.

But I digress, let's head back to New Orleans last Monday. Earlier in the day, we visited Metairie Cemetery to look at the beautiful monuments. Two days prior to that, I was thinking of my godfather as we passed Molly's At The Market on Decatur Street - as earlier in the year I had uncovered an article he had written about it in 1979.  It happened to be the bar we had met friends at on our previous visit to NOLA.  Standing in the cemetery, I began to wonder where he was buried, so I pulled up the obituary on my phone...and discovered it was the very cemetery we were at (and there are a LOT in New Orleans).  The office helped me locate the gravesite, and it turned out to be just meters down the road from where I was standing when the thought had occurred to me.  Coincidence? Perhaps. Godfatherly connection, or that I look very much like my aunt, and close to the same age she was when he died?

So this was all weighing heavily on my mind as I watched the musical seance. I felt the room chill as Paul played a song dedicated to his friend David who had passed last Halloween. I listened to people tell their stories through tears.

It struck me that we honor the dead for our own sake as much as theirs. We treasure the memory of them, our histories and experiences, to remember a part of ourselves. We perhaps hope that some day, others will think of us in the same way when we pass on to our next destination. That we won't be forgotten.  That maybe, in some form - may be it video, photo, object, or mitochondrial DNA, we will be a connection to both our past and the future.  I don't think it really matters whether you see the dead as familiar spirits that guide, angels up in heaven, a long line of mighty ancestors, off to reincarnation, or that there is no life beyond this one. What matters is that we acknowledge the power of death and the fast beautiful collection of moments that is life, and honor it.