I wrote the previous post a week ago. The next morning, I woke up feeling out of sorts and decided to stay home from work in order to fend off whatever malaise was encroaching. By late afternoon, I was in a state of high anxiety--and I'm not prone to anxiety. I called my therapist and made an appointment for the next day, and I called two friends to come be with me. By the time my friends arrived, the migraine had begun. The migraine that lasted five days.
I know the moon was full in Virgo, shadow to my beloved Pisces. (I have two planets, sun and Venus, and the north node in Pisces, above the horizon in the 11th house. I have fateful Pluto and the south node in Virgo, below the horizon in the 5th house.) I know there was a lunar eclipse. And I was just about to start bleeding. A Witch knows what these things mean.
I began getting migraines in my early 30s. For a while they were quite disabling, coming hard and often, but then I met an acupuncturist who all but cured them. I stay on a regimen of Chinese herbs, and I get few migraines. The ones I have aren't severe.
But this one: the aura of high anxiety at its cusp, the pain on the left side of my head, tight muscles throughout my body, sensitivity to light and smell, heat rising through my body, time distortion, upset stomach, vomiting, no appetite, extreme fatigue. I pretty much spent three days asleep with an ice pack on my head. I did get to see my therapist, who talked me down from the ledge o' anxiety, as I lay on her couch with an ice pack on my head. Oh, and my acupuncturist? She's in India.
Emotionally, I was just miserable. (What am I doing with my life? What's the point anyway? Why don't I take better care of myself? That sort of thing.)
I started to feel better on Sunday and was able to take a walk in the sunshine. By Monday afternoon, back at work, I could feel that the energy had shifted, and I started to feel more like myself, a bit more optimistic. I took a dance class last night and got to stretch all my muscles, which is such a relief after the thick, turgid tightness of a migraine.
One of my friends who came over to help me during the eclipse, herself a healer, said something that helped me:
"To be a healer just means to be willing to be in healing, with yourself and with other people. To be a healer means to be willing to be in healing."
My therapist said something else that helped:
"Hope is out there, even if you don't feel it right now. Just because you feel hopeless doesn't mean there is no hope."
I'm sure it's a lovely cosmic joke that as soon as I pledge to make my own healing a priority for the year, I run right up against the unwillingness, my own and others', to take steps toward healing.
I've been walking around for days churning with frustration at what I take to be the intractability, on the part of people around me, to changing their lives. All the while I know, at least in an intellectual way, that the anger I'm feeling is a projection of anger toward myself and my own intractability. That is, I turn my self-judgment into judgment toward others. Yeah, I do that, and I'm psyched, really, that at least I've learned to recognize that much. But what am I so angry about?
Tonight after hours spent hiding from myself, web surfing, mostly, and avoiding dinner in favor of junk food snacks, I went to the sink to do dishes (trying to get mad at Adonis that there were dishes to do, but I can't even take myself seriously, it's so clear I'm trying--and failing--to get mad at him when I simply want an object for my anger other than myself). Throwing the dishes around the kitchen, I touched the feeling of anger that had been masquerading as lassitude all evening, and then it came to me: I'm angry because I can't control these big, potentially life-changing events happening around me. I can't do a damn thing about my sister's cancer. I can't do a damn thing about our not getting what seemed like the perfect house; we did everything "right," and it still didn't happen, and no matter whose fault it is or isn't, there's not a damn thing I can do about it. I feel powerless about these big first-chakra issues--you know, survival, home, the little things--and then that feeling goes global: "clearly," my monkey mind chatters, "there's nothing you can do about anything. Not about your own health or comfort or well being, not about your work, not about your friends' struggles, not about the dying oceans. I mean, fuck you."
The obsessive narrative of my thought continues in its nastiest voice: "Clearly you can't heal yourself. What makes you think you can do anyone else one whit of good, let alone heal them? Look at you. You're a mess. You might as well give up. Here, have a doughnut and feel sorry for yourself." And so on, ad nauseam.
The point is not really about anyone's unwillingness to change. That's the voice of (self-)judgment speaking. My point here, if I have one, is to notice that (a) I made a pledge not three weeks ago to continue down the healing path and to focus on what it means to heal myself as I serve my healing apprenticeship, and (b) the first challenge given to me is to notice and experience what happens when life feels out of control. I couldn't be much further from feeling like a all-knowing, wise, powerful, beneficent, white light, earth mother, warm and fuzzy, peaches and cream healer. No, I feel like shit.
So now what?
Update: Oh yeah, and Pluto is square my natal Chiron and Mars. Ha!
I want to thank you all for your kind new-house blessings in the last post.
Unfortunately, the house is not to be ours, after all. We spent more than a week going back and forth with the sellers via our agents. They refused to sign papers, even though they had accepted our bid; they kept trying to change the terms of the agreement; and it appeared as though they were playing us off a second bidder - at the very least, they kept threatening us to do exactly as they demanded or they would go to the back-up bid. We kept trying to negotiate in good faith, but they kept making demands and changing their minds. Finally, we decided we couldn't trust them and that, as much as we love the house, we could no longer do business with them. We withdrew, and we're filing a formal complaint against the sellers' agent.
I know, I know - Mercury was in retrograde.
I wish I were a bad witch and believed in hexes.
I'm trying, but mostly failing, not to blame their evangelical christianity for their rigidity, capriciousness, and fear. Actually, I don't blame their religion; that gets it backwards. I do believe that rigid, fearful people are attracted to fundamentalisms of various stripes.
My friend John, a horticulturist, says that you can always tell a witch's house by the common weeds being cultivated in the garden. John is currently traveling in India, so I haven't been able to tell him the big news: we're buying a house! We signed the papers to begin the process today; we close in the spring. And I already have plans - heck, I've had them for years - for planting nettles, burdock, clover, mugwort, dandelion if necessary... Do you think the neighbors will mind? Do nettles keep the deer out, or do the deer just eat them along with everything else?
Adonis and I have found our house, and we're thrilled. We love the house itself, a solid mid-century ranch house with a wall of windows looking out over the large yard, woods, and the distant hills. The property, just outside the city limit, abuts a natural area with miles of hiking trails, acres of woods, and two reservoirs. We step through a gate in the backyard onto the main, three-mile trail, popular with dog-walkers, runners, bikers, and cross-country skiers. A ten minute walk through the woods takes us to a swimming hole. Farther up (or is it down?) the creek is a more secluded swimming hole at the waterfall. The location is quiet, and beautiful, and about a five-minute drive from downtown.
We plan to fence the yard for gardens and dogs. The lower half of the house is an apartment that we'll rent and, when we can afford to, we may convert the house back to a single-family dwelling (though it seems huge to us). There is a fireplace with a lovely "modern" (1960) stone chimney. Did I mention the windows, the light? There are plenty of renovations I'd like to do to the interior, but those will have to be budgeted in terms of time and money. I look forward to painting and figuring out how to do things cheaply.
I wonder if we can build a firepit in the backyard? Wiccan ritual and barbecue at my place; maybe the neighbors will come and bring potato salad.
I need a course in Dreamwork 101. I'm a freakin' Pagan and a Pisces, for Nyx's sake, but I can't remember my dreams to save my life. So don't ask me if I really did dream of my pledges for this Imbolc, this year and a day, because I have no idea.
I spent the evening of the new moon working with my "healee," the 2nd-year student from the mystery school who drew my name to work with her this year. Our work provides support for her through the grueling 2nd year, and a healing apprenticeship for me in this, my 4th year. And it is wonderful work. I love it. I have this sensation of being "plugged in" when I do the work - both grounded in the earth via my root chakra and electrically charged. When I'm in that place, the path before me is illuminated, even if I don't know how all the practical details are going to shake down. It's very different from my old modus operandi, which was to try to make things happen through sheer force of intellect, planning, and ego-driven will.
Since my path right now is that of the healer, I asked what I could do to pledge myself to that. The answer I received is to devote myself to my own healing. Like a lot of people, I can spend myself, becoming ungrounded and depleted, on a mission to help others. Indeed, I can cast "helping others" as a noble mission, but use my focus on others as a way to avoid taking care of and taking responsibility for myself. This spring I have my healing work, my full-time job, volunteer work with the dogs at the SPCA, mutual support of my partner, and a house-hunt to occupy me. But my pledge is to devote myself to my own healing. I can't lose sight of that, or I lose sight of everything.
What are the practical details of this pledge? First not to turn it into a to-do list, the modern woman's guide to beating herself up. Nor does self-denial heal a damn thing. My preferred forms of self-punishment are to deny myself sleep, time with friends, cooking at home, and movement. So the first step is to allow myself those things. Go to bed early. Make a meal at home; involve a green vegetable somehow. Have a friend over for conversation and a tarot reading. Go to my dance class. Spend 20 minutes practicing yoga.
Also, I'm devoted to herbal infusions, thanks to the incomparable Susun Weed (this week I've been alternating oatstraw and a red clover/red raspberry mix, because that's what I have in my cupboards), and flower essences, thanks to Molly at Green Hope Farm.
My favorite metaphors for healing are those of flexibility and nourishment. The best medicine is pleasure.
I'm still thinking about Imbolc. I like what Arachne has to say about celebrating the creative spark at this time of year, about making art out of "just more winter." We celebrated poetry on February 2, but I haven't yet made my commitments for the year. Maybe it's because I spent Saturday cleaning and shopping for the party and Sunday sleeping, but I wasn't able to gather energy to make promises for the week, let alone a year and a day.
I decided that it would make more sense to do ritual and make pledges tomorrow, on the new moon in Aquarius. The energy will be powerful, with Chiron aligning the sun during a solar eclipse at 18 degrees Aquarius. The Sabian symbol for 18 Aquarius is: "The masquerade has long been in progress and laughing young ladies at last have forced the final male to unmask."
In my own natal chart, Aquarius fits neatly in the 10th house, the house of career and public reputation; the only planet nearby is Mercury, the communicator, at 24 Aquarius. ("A man obviously of the world has turned his back on passion and is giving people a deep and undying wisdom.") Tomorrow's new moon is thus "a cosmically ordered moment to shake lose the restrictions that limit me from fulfilling my potential" in the realms of the tenth house: career, role modeling, teaching, public reputation.
The symbol is one of final unmasking in a masquerade that has long been in progress; the realm is that of my public face, my public role. My transformation from devotedly rational academic to mystically minded...what? what is my work, my path, my identity now? - has been vertiginous. What commitment do I make when the energy is that of the trickster god teasing away masks?
And then there's Chiron, the wounded healer. Astrologer Simone Butler says of tomorrow that
"We will all have an opportunity to heal old wounds as Chiron...aligns with the Sun in a solar eclipse in Aquarius.... During this extra-powerful New Moon eclipse, a time when electromagnetic patterns get short-circuited and rerouted in the heavens, a giant leap in awareness is possible. Whichever house and/or planets in our charts fall at or near 18 degrees of Aquarius are about to be triggered for the purpose of healing and growth. Old wounds reflected by our natal Chiron placement may also be activated."
My natal Chiron is in Aries in the 12th house, the house of spirit and the unconscious. I don't yet understand what my wound is, but here is a question posed by Elizabeth Rose Campbell for those with Chiron in the 12th house: "How can I trust my own unique bridge to the sacred, not getting caught in anyone else's definition of it?"
I think I need to sleep on all of this, perchance to dream, and revisit the idea of pledges tomorrow.
It is a point often made by Pagans that what smart atheists, à la Daniel Dennett or Christopher Hitchens, reject is a version of religion and cosmology that many Pagans also reject. And not only Pagans are making the point.
The unreflective religiosity that still holds sway in much of the world today, which posits a father figure in the sky who listens and gets angry and forgives and judges just as we do -- not allegorically, but in some way literally -- is one which requires not merely a suspension of disbelief but a suspension of the act of reason itself. As many of today's "new atheists" have pointed out, this belief is intrinsically both unverifiable and irrefutable, and thus consonant only with faith in its most fideistic form.
Jason Pitzl-Waters links to this smart, provocative article by Jay Michaelson, on nondual Judaism, in which Michaelson explores the felicitous pairing of nonduality (the belief that the divine, the world, and humanity aren't separate) and polytheism (the belief that the gods are many). Why do spiritual traditions that embrace one often embrace the other, when the two appear contradictory?
We have at our disposal thousands of myths, symbols, and other linguistic technologies that enable us to speak obliquely of the unspeakable. And the more deeply we know ineffability, the more amenable we are to multiple forms of approximation. So nonduality and polytheism exist not in uneasy tension, but as complements of one another.
Micahelson also explains why, despite his own nondual and polytheistic leanings, it might still make sense for him to practice a form of Judaism. Here he takes a pragmatic and theologically humble approach to religious practice that greatly appeals to me.
As I return to my cherished symbols, to challah and wine, candles and songs, I do so with no pretension or desire that they are in any way superior to other symbols, or more accurate, or more holy. Yes, some symbols are better than others, relatively speaking; better candles than guns. But their worth is evaluated in a consequentialist way, in terms of the kinds of life on this world they engender. In terms of the absolute, they are all technologies, nothing more; they are fingers that gesture at the moon, and that also, if I may extend the metaphor, reflect the moonlight into hand and home. Could challah and kiddush be communion wafers and wine instead? Of course. Are they in fact descended from loaves baked for Astarte? Most likely. But it doesn't matter. This is an antifoundationalist religion, as Richard Rorty would describe it: one without claims of priority, but with an affirmation of utility. I take up these tools not because they are God-given or superior to others, but because these tools work, especially for someone who grew up with them. They work because they have been used for thousands of years, refined by tradition, and imbued with value and mystery I cannot understand. They also do not work, for many people, and though I might at times labor to justify and elaborate on them, ultimately that is deeply fine as well. I choose these tools because I love them, and nothing more. No theology, no history, and community only, for me, in a secondary role. I love them; that is enough.
Dear friends - You are warmly invited to join Adonis and me for our somewhat-annual Imbolc gathering, Saturday evening at 7:30 at our house. Imbolc (also called Brigid, St. Brigit's Day, or Candlemas) is the Pagan midwinter holiday celebrating fire, poetry, inspiration, creativity, smithcraft, lambing, the hearth, the sacred well, etc. We'll have food and drink and a fire in the fireplace. Please bring a poem to read aloud. (For those who haven't attended before, we won't force you to read aloud, but I promise that it's more fun than it may sound.)
Partners and children most welcome.
In the past we've had poems read by adults and children, by published poets and rank amateurs like me, in Yiddish, Russian, and Icelandic. The first year, I asked people also to come dressed as poets, however they might interpret that request. There were black turtlenecks and berets, flowing peasant shirts and beads, and I can't remember what else; one guest came dressed as Percy Shelley, complete with a copy of Godwin'sEnquiry Concerning Human Justice tucked under her arm and seaweed wrapped around her torso (Shelly drowned before he could turn 30).
Since this is also a day for making pledges, I've been thinking and writing about intentions for the next year and a day. Events of the last week have shown me clearly how much I want a house of my own and to adopt more pit bulls. I've also been meditating on this passage from Barbara Brennan's Hands of Light.
What is your thirst? What is your longing? Whatever it is, it will carry you to what you need to do next to accomplish your work, even if you don't know what that work is yet. When a thing is easily presented to you, and it sounds wonderful to you and a great deal of fun, by all means do it. That is guidance. Let yourself flow free with the dance of your life.
Or, as a wise person once said, The things that make us happy make us wise.
Blessings of heat and inspiration on this sacred day.