Back And Still In Black

The inevitable questions and comments come, as they do every year at this time. Ah yes, Halloween. The time when people assume that I decorate my home with all manner of supposed spooky things, dress up as someone other than myself, put children in bubbling cauldrons and party with vampires and werewolves or some such nonsense.
Feeling the same way as I did almost 25 years ago, when I received my calling to practice the Craft, I choose to be open as opposed to deny and hide in the ‘broom closet’. I decided that it wasn’t possible to educate people from in there. So, here I am, still ‘out there’ and educating.

Things have changed over the years. Most for the better, considering how easy it is to find information about things that a person might be curious about and actually find the truth that is out there. However, there are still the misinformed, the superstitious, and those who prefer to believe lies instead of becoming knowledgeable, lest they violate some edict that came via a ‘man of the cloth’.

People who do ask the questions as to my celebrating ‘Halloween’ are usually surprised. I explain that I celebrate Samhain, the last of the three harvest holidays that Witches observe. For me, it’s more about the seasonal dark times that began at the Summer Solstice than it is about scary things, unless you find squash to be terrifying. My husband does, but he will point out a nice pumpkin when he sees one. The quest for a current crop apple continues and I scent Enchanted with cinnamon and clove and relish the icy pinch of Autumn’s fingers upon my cheek that gives me an excuse to flip the switch for an instant perfect flame and embers in the fireplace.

It also might raise an eyebrow or two to find that I consider the images of Witches that are so commonplace, to be very offensive. Green skinned, hooked nosed, toothless ‘hags’ abound and no one even imagines that real practitioners of Witchcraft might have a problem with it. Would a catholic be upset by someone dressed as a priest with an alter boy in tow? A little Hitler going door to door for candy? A KKK member carrying a noose as a prop?

Witchcraft is a Nature based spiritual path, first and foremost. The reality has nothing in common with the world of vampires, zombies and werewolves. Have fun with the fantasy if you want, but please, know the difference.

The Magick that I practice involves the focus and directing of energy. I don’t expect to light a candle with my finger or ‘make’ people do my bidding. I have been asked to put curses on ex-significant others, but that’s not my thing either. People cast spells all the time without conscious intention. Saying the words, “I wish”, “I hope” “I want”…all with an outcome in mind, are in essence, spells. Lighting a candle in church for someone, prayer circles, and the traditional making a ‘wish’ on falling stars or before showering a birthday cake, candles ablaze, with droplets of spittle in an effort to blow them out… I know you’re thinking “why did she have to go there”…did I mention, I’m psychic too.

When I see the image of that Halloween ‘witch’, all in fun, I see the victims of the trials who were tortured and murdered because someone’s admittedly jealous and vengeful deity told them to do it. Women, broken and battered until their skin was bruised and had a green appearance. Noses busted, swollen and twisted. Teeth knocked out, hair ripped from bleeding scalps, their clothes torn to shreds. Witches? No, many were widows who’s land went to the church in the event of their deaths. Practitioners of midwifery and folk medicine that worked, therefore they were suspect of having evil powers.

I can’t help but weep for those times and the victims of prefabricated crimes and yet, I am grateful that I can write this, openly and honestly. Free to meet with others of like mind in broad day light, attend Pagan events, browse for hours in metaphysical shops and answer questions like yours without fear. I wear my pentacle with pride and reverence, as you do your cross or star of David.

After the trick or treaters stop coming, the porch light is turned off, and I have saved the last KitKat bar for myself, I go to my circle in my yard. I celebrate the lives of family and friends who have crossed over, for the veil is believed to be thin on Samhain and their familiar voices may be heard.  An empty place is set at the table for them in remembrance of times when meals were shared. Called a ‘silent supper’ the meal is eaten, void of conversation to honor them, and is savored as much as the memories.

As with many things, fantasy is exciting and fun, but temporary. Don’t be afraid to explore the reality that is lasting, deep and sacred. The voice you may hear in the darkness is nothing to fear. It comes from within and will speak words of knowledge and wisdom. Listen intently and welcome it often.

Blessed Samhain, everyone.

Genius In A Jar

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In all of life, there is what has become standardized or otherwise known as ‘the norm’. There seems to be an accepted way to behave, to live and to think. Clusters of beings who seem to adhere to these behaviors and patterns that are familiar and shared among them tend to gravitate toward each other and form societies. It is frequently referred to as ‘hive mentality’ when these behavior patterns are born of the same set of beliefs. Once a belief becomes ones own personal truth, unless the believer can be convinced that another way or concept is better, rarely does one deviate from this.

Then there are those individuals who seem to question everything, not for the sake of being contrary, but rather to find something that makes sense to them. Being that I was born with this tendency, I fully understand it and often find difficulty in comprehending the attractiveness of being any other way. Oddly enough, us renegades and rogues, also tend to gravitate toward each other and form a sort of silent alliance. Unbound by unnecessary introductions or explanations, we just ‘know’. Our numbers are small because there are fewer of us and we often attempt to hide it to avoid ducking stones as we are driven from the villages that we occupy. So, we carefully observe and imitate, making an effort to be accepted by the majority as to not appear to be as anti-social as we feel.

But, sometimes the need to be true to our own truth compels us to quit trying to fit in. We learn to make peace with our uniqueness, strut proudly through the gates and leave the village behind. We meet other sojourners along the path, and even if we have a lot in common, we don’t feel the need to construct our own villages comprised solely of us ‘idiots’. We have come to enjoy the pleasure of our own company,  entertained by our own minds that run rampant to explore the infinite expanse of our vivid imaginations. With no one to judge beliefs we choose not to share, we bask in the joy of our own sense of freedom. Dear reader, if you too understand not just these words, but also the beauty of individuality and the mysteries we discover when left to our own unfettered devices, you will enjoy getting to know Albert.

Birds flock, Wildebeests herd, Wolves pack, and the Deer and the Antelope play. We look skyward as honking ‘V’ strands of Geese migrate and marvel at schools of Fish who seem to flow as one entity. Throughout all of Nature each species has its own standards, behaviors and beliefs that have become accepted as ‘the law’. However, just as with humans, there exists among all of Nature’s children, the ‘outlaws’.

Our deck is small, but serves its purpose. Connected to the open concept kitchen and dining area by a sliding glass door, it overlooks the back yard. In the Summer, my herbs grow in baskets attached to the rails and there is room for two chairs, a small table and about six pots of various sizes where I grow peppers, a bush pickle, and scallions.  In the course of my culinary exploits, I can harvest exactly what I need right outside my door. Heading into Samhain, when things die back and go dormant, I put a small tray of seeds out there and a suet basket. Of course, the Cats enjoy being entertained by the Birds who come for a meal, but the Squirrels really intrigue them. As you may have read and recall from previous posts, I tend to name my garden guests. For some reason, all the Squirrels answer to the name, Samwise, after the loyal and true friend of Frodo from the works of English author J. R. R. Tolkien.

They do what Squirrels do. They eat liberally of the food I offer them, burry it in the yard and in my pots, perform anti-gravity stunts in the trees, and look adorable. They play, ensure their survival by whatever means necessary and at times, feud within families and with neighbors. They reproduce and teach accepted behaviors to their young…just like us. And yes, at times, discover that they have given birth to the weird kid.

When they come to the deck, they notice the Cats watching them intently, and even though they know that they are safe, they keep their distance from the glass door. However, one day I noticed a baby Squirrel out there, nose to nose with my Kitten, Mac. To them, the glass served as a barrier that prevented them from doing what they wanted to do, which was get to know each other. Staring into each other’s eyes, they’d notice all of the things that made them different, but also, what they shared. “You have fur, I have fur, but why are your ears so much bigger.” ” Never mind my ears, look how huge your tail is, dude.” They seemed to have no idea that they were supposed to be enemies or most likely, just didn’t care.

Watching them interact became a source of enjoyment and wonder. One tiny paw would reach out and press against the glass and soon another would respond in like manner. There would be rolling and playful behavior, and most likely, a bit of frustration over having to endure this inability to touch and smell and even taste. “Why do you taste like fish?” “I eat fish, and obviously you eat seeds and dirt.”

With the onset of colder days, he came to the deck less frequently. I didn’t think much of it, assuming that he had gone off to join his family, if they had not disowned him for being a Cat lover. There were preparations to be made, and this little guy was about to discover his first Winter.

Then, one day I noticed something as I enjoyed my daily connection with Nature from my front stoop. I have a Squirrel feeder that my brother made for me that consists of a wooden frame that supports a large, empty, glass pickle jar.  It’s suspended from a low branch of my flowering crab tree, enabling me to reach it and keep it filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts and corn. There are two holes on each side of the frame that allow access into it and then the Squirrel can move down into the jar to get the food. The food stays safe and dry and so does the Squirrel.

In addition to empty sunflower seed hulls that were now spread over the entire bottom of the jar, there was also a wall of leaves that covered the sides and top, making it no longer possible to see inside the jar. Slowly and quietly, I approached, until I was right up to the feeder. Between the spaces of  bronze Autumn leaves, I saw tufts of gray fur. This is the fourteenth Winter we will be in this house and never has this been done before.

Dry and warm, with access to food and water from the nearby heated pond, this little guy is totally sheltered. Out of reach from predators, he can survey his surroundings through the glass before he ventures forth to eat, drink, or get some exercise. Glass, that he has learned, serves as a barrier.

This is the work of a genius. He is a free-thinker who has followed his heart and listened to his inner voice and has, thereby, found comfort and joy in his own little world. Perhaps, ensuring his survival by doing his own thing, being apart from those who do the predictable and time honored. And, even though the traits of  Samwise are virtuous, brave and honorable, this particular Squirrel seems to have more in common with the most famous genius of all, Albert Einstein.

My attention went to the swaying of branches in the corkscrew willow yesterday, as the familiar little Squirrel jumped into the crab tree, crawled into his jar and adjusted the leaves around him. I drew in close and bent toward the jar, “Good for you, Albert”, I said. “There is a difference between being alone and being lonely and when you follow the beat of your own drum, it will inspire you to create your own dance”. He stirred slightly and a tiny paw stretched out and pressed against the glass. “By the way” I told him, “Mac says, hello”.

Signs Of Samhain

It seems that merchants put out the holiday trappings earlier every year. “Halloween” is no exception. For many, it’s all about ghouls and goodies, but it’s not all screams and tales from the dark side for those of us who practice the Craft.

For me, it is a somber time. The gentle hues of fading grasses against a back drop of brilliant color presents a view that is breathtaking. Honking Geese on the fly fill the skies and I frequently offer a smile and a wave with the cheery send off of, “have a nice flight”.

Yesterday, as I sat in the griffin chair on my stoop, an unlikely pair of birds perched side by side in ‘Evelyn’, my crab tree. A Robin and a Black-eyed Junco. One, the first sign of Spring and the other the first sign of Winter. It’s so soon for the Junco to make an appearance…early snow. Many will not be happy, but you must trust Mother’s omens and signs. Reading them is what Witches do.

Samhain is also celebrated as the New Year in many Craft traditions so as Nature appears to be dying back, we are looking forward. We put to rest things of the past and plan for the decent of the dark times when days continue to get short and we take to the comfort of hearth and home. Deeper and deeper we go… into our studies and spells. Divination in candle lit rooms, heady with clouds of incense smoke that smack of damiana and dragon’s blood occupy the evening hours. My scrying mirror, awake now, as I remove it from its protective bed of mugwort. The Celtic knot work forms a circle with the center, a bottomless black pool. By flickering candle flame the myst will form and then part when the visions come.

Not to rain on anyone’s costume parade, I don my pointy black hat that I designed to be so very ‘me’. A yard or so of fine black tulle, black roses and the brim a flutter of feathers. My night wear is the same as my day wear so I don’t have to change a thing. Long black skirt, black velvet shirt and mile worn ‘granny’ boots, the leather soft and buttery. I sit in the Griffin chair, partially hidden behind an iron trellis of clematis, faded to a crispy mass of vines.

One by one they come, some remember from years past that a Witch lurks in the shadows. I sit out there to prevent the Cats going bonkers from the doorbell and the constant jumping up from the sofa to answer the call. Besides, it’s fun to give them a reason to be scared. A caramel apple martini sits on my twisted twig table to ward off the chill…this is the night for ‘spirits’ after all…

A shudder of my spine puts me on edge. It’s her. With her spritely red gingham over dress and her white eyelet petticoat…and those damnable ruby red shoes. As I drop the candy in her bag I lean into her and hiss, “I’ll get you and your little dog”. She looks at me, all saucer eyed and confused. “I don’t have a dog” she says haughtily. Come on kid, if I have to play this silly game then so do you.

The Ninjas, the vampires, the superheroes and the unrecognizable form a steady stream from road and side walk. They love to come to this neighborhood so a line of cars accompanies the walkers. “You got the good stuff” one girl exclaims with glee. “All we usually get is dum-dums”.

The little Witches get told how gorgeous they are and Harry Potter is always a welcomed sight. At random, when the voice within tells me ‘this one’, I reach into a velvet pouch and remove one of my Magickally charged crystals. “This is a Magick crystal” I explain as I slip it in with the candy. “Use its powers wisely and kindly”. One teenage girl was so overjoyed she clutched it tightly and taunted her friends. “I’m the only one who got one”. “Don’t give any body a face full of zits with that or it will backfire”, I caution.

I never mind if the kids get older than most find to be the acceptable age to join in the candy raid. I figure if they’ve got the balls to dress up and ring door bells for a box of Nerds, then I shall oblige. I’ve had a few adults as well. It’s funny that people that never even acknowledge each other with so much as a neighborly wave now commune with laughter and so much joy and merriment that it is sure to keep any evil far, far away.

But, when the porch lights go out and all falls dark and silent, the real reason for this season comes to light. I set the fire pit ablaze in the backyard and the Moon and star cut outs flicker in the darkness. Now is the time to remember them. Those who have passed on, beloved and missed, as well as those whose Earth walk never crossed with mine.

I reverently part the veil and offer a recitation of gratitude for the victims of the burning times. Was it their frightful appearance that has inspired the image of what has become the stereotypical Witch? Women, beaten and bruised until their flesh took on a greenish hue. Noses broken and crooked, teeth knocked out and hair yanked from scalps until it was little more than scraggly strands that hung limply, encrusted with blood and grime.

For those who were tortured and murdered, many whose only crime was to be unmarried or widowed. They owned land that would become church property in the event of their deaths so declaring them Witches made it all too convenient. The midwives who may have heard the first cries of their executioners when they helped to birth them. The practitioners of folk medicine whose herbs and potions brought relief and healing. As accusations flew, anguish and death would follow.

It is with pride that I practice my Craft openly and honestly. Something that they were not allowed to do after the old ways became a crime worthy of death. What a sacrifice they made. Those who truly practiced the Arts and those who simply lived a solitary, quiet life that wrangled suspicion.

For my ancestors, who had long passed before I ever heard their names. Some memories were shared around my grandmother’s table and I listened to the stories with eager ears. She is long gone too, but I can still see her snow white hair and dancing blue eyes as she rocked with laughter at the telling of the tales.

It was her collection of books and magazines that I dashed for right after I met with the barn Cats when my 5 year old imagination was vivid and undeniable. I’ll never forget in later years, reading a magazine that she had that featured an article about Sybil Leek, a real Witch. How fascinated I was…something stirring deep inside me that predicted my calling to the Craft many years later.

The ‘silent supper’ is observed in many a Witch’s kitchen. A place is set for someone who has left this incarnation and the meal is consumed in complete silence to honor the life of this invisible guest. A beautiful tradition among many that mark this final harvest holiday.

Stews of root vegetables flavored with dusky herbs steam in large bowls accompanied by slabs of grainy bread, saturated with melting sweet Irish butter. Cinnamon, cloves and allspice simmer in pots all day just to scent the air and entice prosperity when whispered spells are offered skyward with the steam. Out into the ethers they go, sure to bring health, wealth and love, riding upon the winds of change.

More than monsters and ghosts, this is a sacred time. I am quick to educate those who seem to think that people like me have lives that revolve around that kind of stuff. Like with many things, the lines for the observation and celebration have become more blurry with time and the chance to capitalize and merchandise is all too compelling.

Have fun and enjoy the trappings. But, when the silence falls, please take a moment to remember someone who has crossed over. The veil between the worlds is thin, they will hear you and they may speak. Listen, because the message will be one that will be important and will serve you well.

Blessed Samhain. Happy New Year.