My heart is a piece of lodestone and all my life I have followed its tugging, no matter that it pulled me away from well-tended paths and instead over mountain ranges, across rivers, and to the farthest ends of the earth. Sometimes my road runs beside another’s and we walk together for a while, learning from each other where our journeys have taken us, and other times my road so deviates from the norm that I find myself alone in the wilderness. Yet either way the compass stone beneath my breast guides me so that I need not question my direction or fear losing my way. I walk to the ocean and I swim through it; I walk to the cliff base and I climb up it; I walk to the waterfall and I jump down it. Where my heart leads, I follow. In thirty years it has not yet lead me astray.
There’s a War on Christmas – In My Heart
Oh Christmas, what a strange holiday you have become. Some say you have your source in paganism, others in Christianity, and still others curse you as a capitalist conspiracy. Regardless, you have centered yourself in the American mindset as the most important holiday of the year, so important in fact that you overshadow your competitors – Hanukkah usually gets a polite nod, Kwanzaa the occasional tossed crumbs, and as for the rest, well, they have to be content with “happy holidays”. But I don’t hate you, Christmas. In fact, up until the last few years Christmas was one of my favorite holidays. I love how cheerful everything looks covered in evergreen boughs and twinkle lights; I love holiday foods like stuffing and pumpkin pie; I even love the old Christmas hymns like We Three Kings and O Come Emmanuel. This time of the year hearkens back to all those happy Christmases of my childhood, filled with choir performances, homemade decorations, and the nervous excitement of trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve. And yes, I’ll admit, I am certainly a fan of getting lots of gifts.
That being said, I’m just… not feeling it this year.
Actually, it’s more than not feeling – I’m downright bah humbug. I know my lack of enthusiasm is from a mixture of the usual reasons so many people hate the holidays: family drama; monetary stress; no two weeks of freedom like when you were in school. It can be hard to recapture the magic you felt as a kid when you’re unwrapping a tofu press instead of a new toy, or giving a gift to someone you are obligated to interact with but don’t actually like. It’s even harder when you’re in a committed relationship and either have to slight one family in favor of another or spend the holiday apart. So yeah, partly I’m being a grinch because Christmas as an adult isn’t nearly as easy and fun as when I was a kid. There’s more to it than that, though. I think. My feelings are very tangled right now, but when I try to work out the knots and get to the problem in the center I get the feeling it’s not just about family drama. It’s not just because I miss kid-Christmas. It’s because Christmas… isn’t my holiday.
Uh, DUH, you’re probably thinking if you know me. You’re pagan, of course Christmas isn’t your holiday. And yeah, there’s the rub. Up until 2015, I was a pseudo-agnostic content with celebrating a Christian holiday which has forced itself into the secular world. After all, almost everyone I know celebrates Christmas regardless of their spiritual beliefs, and in America it is very much assumed that you celebrate Christmas too. Sure, some folks go to church on Christmas eve, but many others just stay home and have cocoa. No one questions why you would celebrate this particular Christian holiday if you’re not Christian, and so you grow up not questioning it either. After all, most of us got baskets of candy on Easter, too.
But this year I find myself tripping over that “Christ” in Christmas. Despite how secular Christmas has become in our society, this year its religious connections seem to chafe me. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jesus was a great guy – but he’s not my savior. Why am I celebrating a Christian holy day? I’m proudly Kemetic, so isn’t that a little insulting to both Jesus and Bast? Somehow, celebrating Christmas as a pagan feels less okay than celebrating it as a maybe-agnostic, even though in both situations I’m still celebrating the secular version of the holiday. I feel like the guest no one invited to Baby Jesus’ birthday party, you know? Some friends dragged me along and now I’m standing awkwardly in the corner while Mary’s asking Joseph who the fuck I am.
To clarify, I don’t think I’m getting these vibes from either Jesus or the Netjeru. I don’t think anyone is angry or feels ignored, or is trying to push me into a decision I’m not ready to make. I think this is just the next logical stop on my spiritual journey; where I go from here is up to me. That’s kinda scary, though. What if I decide I don’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore? Does that mean I have to start explaining my religious beliefs to everyone who asks? Does it mean our family traditions have to change, or that I have to forgo seeing them on the holidays? What would my wife tell her staunchly Catholic family? What would I tell my fairly atheist family?
I know I have a lot of options no matter what decision I finally make, and Christmas 2018 is quite far away. Still, I think these feelings mark a turning point, and I’m both excited and scared to see where they take me. I’m pretty unapologetic about who I am – I’m fiercely queer, fiercely feminist, and fiercely geeky – but pagans don’t get a lot of respect in American society. People who embrace my queerness might mock my belief in Bast behind my back; people who support my rejection of Christian morals might draw the line at worshiping actual pagan deities. You just never know, and that unknown makes me anxious. Right now I fly below most people’s radar, even with my ankh ring and tattoos. Am I ready to be seen as pagan by everyone and to possibly defend my faith to family and strangers alike?
What if the outcast angels didn’t fall at all – what if they were shattered? What if their clever minds and rebellious souls could not be trusted anywhere, even the pits of hell, and so instead God shattered them and scattered the shards of their beings across all of existence, that they might never be made whole again? Hence Lucifer and Satan, Hannibal and Will, Tanim and Daren; hence all the gods, all the characters, all the muses, all the stories so strangely, achingly similar. Hence the echoes through time and space, linking all us sad scribes together in our solitary duty. If so, God made a terrible mistake. Divide an angel and you do not reduce it to disparate, weaker parts of a greater whole. Divide an angel and you only replicate it a thousand thousand times, each new duplicate as complete, as complex, and as unforgiving as the first.
After my Samhain ritual of remembrance for all the cats I’ve known and lost, I conducted an autumn-themed tarot reading (layout found here) with Bast. As you can see, She really does LOVE throwing major arcana cards at me. I usually pull at least one or two each reading, but four?!
Question: Harvest – What is one thing I should take with me into the upcoming season?
Card: The Fool
Interpretation: What a perfect card to pull for this question. The Fool is a card filled with wonder, adventure, and a willingness to learn. The Fool embarks on their journey with open eyes, leaving behind any burdens or preconceptions so that they are open to receiving whatever the world sends to them. Considering I’m just coming out of a long slump and am working to enhance my spiritual and psychic senses, this card tells me that I’m on the right path. I need to move forward with the courage and sincerity of the novice to continue my spiritual journey.
Question: Compost – What is one thing I should leave behind?
Card: The High Priestess (reversed)
Interpretation: The High Priestess is a card of magic, mystery, and intuition; reversed, it can represent being overly analytical, relying too much on external validation, and ignoring your inner voice. The High Priestess urges me to leave behind all of my self-doubt, fear, and need to understand and control everything in my world. Moving forward, I need to open myself to not only the messages being sent from the universe, but from within me as well. I need to trust my own experiences and beliefs, and stop seeking a “proof” that will never be good enough. Perhaps even more importantly, I must give myself what I need, not just what I think is necessary to look or be a certain way.
Question: Light – What is one thing I should take out into the world?
Card: Judgement (reversed)
Interpretation: For some reason, I have a hard time interpreting Judgement when I draw it. Reversed, it can represent upcoming consequences of a bad decision or negative karma. It can also represent an unwanted change, unhappy ending, or the necessity of hard choices. There isn’t anything in my life currently that could play out that way (that I know of) so I was drawing a blank. I thought maybe I would be called upon to help someone else through a rough time or to make a difficult decision. However, my wife pointed out that it could also mean giving others what they deserve, a sort of reversing of the object being judged. Either way, it sounds like I’m being urged to speak my mind truthfully and directly.
Question: Dark – What is one thing I should meditate on?
Card: The Emperor
Interpretation: I pulled this card last time, too. The Emperor represents order, control, responsibility, and rationalization. It can encourage creating order out of chaos by bringing structure and balance to your life. However, it can also represent the duality of logic and intuition; the Emperor is no dictator, but a ruler who understands how all things must balance each other. I think this card plays the same role as it did in my last reading, in that it’s reminding me to be diligent and study-oriented in this next phase of my learning.
Later I pulled one card to determine what kind of home our current foster kitten, Mitch, would go to.
Question: What kind of forever home will Mitch go to?
Card: 5 of Pentacles
Interpretation: The Five of Pentacles is a card about stagnation and sorrow. This card denotes someone who is drowning in spiritual poverty, who is feeling isolated and hopeless. The Shadowscapes version shows a woman loosely bound in thorns, her head bowed by her fears and worries. However, because she is so weighed down with her sorrow, she cannot see the butterfly right before her or the beautiful flowers that grow on the vines. Here, I believe this card represents someone (or perhaps an entire household) who is drowning in negative emotions and in desperate need of a light in the darkness. I think Mitch, with his playful attitude and sweet disposition, will be the companion this person needs to bring them out of their depression. After pulling this card, there was no way I could even consider keeping Mitch (though I wanted to!). He clearly has a very important job ahead of him, and I’m sure he’ll face it with the curiosity and courage he showed while staying with us.
i’m not really good with stuff like crystals and magic spells, essential oils and sigils and shit, i’m really more of a bleed and weep kind of girl, a burn your fingers on matches ’cause the flame’s too pretty kind of girl, so if my third eye is sealed shut or my crown chakra’s all fucked up, or whatever, maybe i should just cut it open, you know, peel back the skin so the smooth white bone shows through, maybe i should forget about meditation or yoga, just solve the problem once and for all with the cold reliability of a blade, that’s a religion i can get behind, that’s a god worth swearing by, you know?
As you can tell from my previous pieces, I’m not doing so great in the life department right now. A deep spiritual crisis has somehow perfectly coincided with both a supremely busy time in my life (getting married in 25 days, holy shit) and what feels like the worst depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m not just questioning my spiritual path – I’m questioning whether anything beyond the scientifically provable even exists, and whether there’s much point in our existence if it doesn’t. I feel listless and apathetic, and I’m really only getting the absolute minimum done in all aspects of my life. It’s not fun! Super not fun.
- Past lives: Jody told me I have lived many, many past lives. Among the ones she touched on were lives in which I was an ancient Egyptian, a monk with a special affinity for animals, a shepherd, an old Irish man with a wolfhound, a young girl who loved horses, an Italian man who spent most of his time sailing, and a Native American tracker who spent much of their time alone in the woods, exploring and bringing back news and discoveries to the tribe.
- I asked for clarification on the Egyptian life and Jody told me I was an Egyptian man who did energy work (possibly in a religious capacity?). She said I would “hold” energy, and in example of this she raised her arms up as if offering a large bowl to something taller – perhaps a statue. This evidently became my demise, as someone I trusted and for whom I was or had held energy took my life. It was a brutal end to a rather short life, according to Jody. She also said my connection with cats comes from this life, which isn’t surprising but still nice to have confirmed.
- The Italian lifetime struck a deep chord with me, as it reminded me strongly of my father. Judy said she kept getting “Italian” vibes as she read my past lives, which could have been a good guess based on my hair but would also make sense due to my strong Italian roots.
- My spirit: Jody conducted what she called a “rose reading” of my spirit and told me it looked like a purple rose so open that its petals were nearly falling off, which she interpreted to mean I have been in a time of development and change for the last three years, but it is coming to a close. I found this particularly interesting since my spiritual path began almost three years ago with Bast’s calling me to Her service.
- Spirits/Companions: Jody seemed surprised that I had a whole gaggle of spirits with me during the reading. She noted at least three that were spirits of those who had passed on, several animal guides, and a few others of the deity/spiritual entity persuasion. Among the gathered were the following:
- An older woman who was laughing, evidently amused and pleased by the entire event. Jody didn’t describe this spirit much, only saying that she liked her. I wondered if this might be Bast, as She often gives me the feeling of an amused, loving mother watching her daughter stumble around when learning to walk.
- The Archangel Raphael, whose presence definitely surprised me; I have very little connection with the Abrahamic religions and if I was going to be visited by an angel, I’d think it would be Lucifer. Jody said he was with me in a healing capacity, which made sense from the rest of her reading. When I told my fiance about this, she pointed out that Raphael is known for bestowing sight to the blind. Ah, I see what you did there, Universe.
- An old woman who reportedly told Jody that I can’t hear her, though she is always with me. Jody told me this woman had known me when she was alive, but that I hadn’t known her. I suspect this spirit was my mother’s mother, who died when I was just a baby.
- Two spirits of cats I knew or had known in my life. The first she said I had known many times, which didn’t surprise me; I have often felt that my cats were reincarnations of the same spirit visiting me again and again. Jody described the other cat spirit as large (personality-wise) and extremely loving but kind of doofy. I laughed out loud at this and asked if the spirit could be living now – it sounded exactly like my cat Lorne, who we call a “precious gift” when he does anything remarkably silly or dumb. It was so nice to know he was sitting beside me for the reading, like he wanted me to know I wasn’t alone.
- Strangely enough, though I got home much later than usual and way past our cats’ dinner time, they greeted me at the door in patient silence instead of their customary starved howling. It was like they knew I was going to be late but that it was for an important reason, so they gave me some slack.
- An animal guide in the form of a large black panther. There were also two other animal guides with me, but Jody was apparently warned (though I forgot to ask by whom) that she couldn’t tell me what they were – I either needed to discover them for myself or I knew their identities on a deeper level. I wondered after the session if they took the forms of a raven and coyote, as I’ve always been drawn to those animals.
- Jody also identified what she called my “sister spirit”. She said we had been together in many lives, and each time traded off who was more reserved and who was more lively. We always found each other and brought each other companionship, support, and love. This could honestly match any of my closest friends, so many of whom feel like sisters to me, but I think she could also have been indicating my fiance. For years I’ve longed for this abstract someone, always female, who felt like both a lover and a sister, and I knew pretty much the moment I met my fiance that she was that person. On top of that, my fiance longed for exactly the same thing – though she called this person her “Stranger” while I called them “Shakespeare’s Sister”.
- My father: The first and main spirit Jody identified was very clearly that of my father, though she originally identified him as a friend and said we had been together in many lifetimes. She told me he kept showing her things I had written about him and told her he was proud of me. She also saw him placing something around my neck, which she later interpreted as him giving me his “pearls of wisdom”.
- He also had with him a female spirit (we both sensed this was his mother) and a male spirit who seemed like friend or brother. My father’s brother is alive but they weren’t very close, so I don’t think it was his spirit. I suspect, but would love to confirm, that it was the spirit of my fiance’s father. We often feel as if one or both of our fathers are present, and they would have gotten along in real life – it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to think they hang out as spirits.
- In addition to the two other human spirits, my dad also had two dogs with him, which Jody said made him very happy. When I was a kid we had two golden retrievers whom my father cared for, so I think they are with him in the afterlife as well.
- Jody indicated that my father had died unexpectedly from something like an illness, but she seemed hesitant to define it further. Considering my father was originally hospitalized for a stroke, but died of complications related in part to his treatment by the hospital staff, this uncertainty makes sense. More importantly, she said my father knew (either consciously or subconsciously) for about a year that he would be passing soon and was okay with it. He felt ready to go, and lived that last year to its fullest. This detail was particularly comforting, and seemed to be confirmed by actual events – that year was my parents’ first without any kids in the house, so they spent a lot of time together doing new things, and my father actually became sick while on a family vacation with myself and my mother. Jody also told me that my father was happy as a spirit, because he could go anywhere he wanted and wasn’t confined to a physical body. She told me to hang up wind chimes as a way for him to signal his presence, which I will definitely do.
- Jody told me my father wants me to write. He said I have a book inside me that I need to write, possibly because it might help people. This statement originally confused me, since my preferred writing style is very short and discordant – not exactly the stuff of long novels. Jody seemed to think my father meant some sort of spiritual or self-help book, possibly based on my own experiences, but this didn’t feel correct. I’m not a huge fan of those kinds of books in the first place, and am not yet in a place emotionally where I would feel comfortable acting like an authority on, well, anything. But then a few days later I remembered that I had indeed been pondering a book idea! I gave it up immediately because I couldn’t fathom how to go about researching the topic (paranormal activity in relation to natural disasters), but it sits at the back of my mind anyway. Could this be what my dad was indicating? He definitely would have found the concept interesting, and would have encouraged my research. I’m super intimidated by the prospect, though, so I’m not sure yet what I’ll do.
- To top this all off, I came home and found my dad’s keychain on the floor of my room. I keep it on a bookshelf where I have set up a kind of ancestor shrine to him. It’s not impossible for my cats to get onto that shelf, but they usually knock more down when they do because it’s a cramped space. This time, though the keychain was on the floor, nothing else had been disturbed – even the cloth underneath that would surely have been rumpled if a cat had jumped onto it.
- My aura: Jody conducted an aura/chakra reading, in which she reiterated that I was doing a lot of healing on different levels (indicated by the color green). The most interesting thing she mentioned during this reading, though, was that my crown chakra’s aura was a light lavender speckled with stardust, and that this indicated that I am able to “know” things without knowing why. The combination of lavender and stardust, which I immediately imagined as freckles, made me think of Bast. She is associated with the color purple and lavender in general, and I always imagine her dusted with freckles. That this particular aura was also associated with my spiritual connection and this “knowing” which I can feel but never explain felt like a jolt of desperately needed evidence. Jody never named Bast or otherwise indicated Her presence, but when she told me about the state of my crown chakra, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of rightness.
- Overall: Jody emphasized throughout the reading that I am a healer and empathetic person who has difficulty shielding myself from the pain of the world – the understatement of the century, if my general mood through 2017 is anything to go by. Jody told me I can give too much of myself and must make sure not to take on others’ pain or sorrow, but to try to lift them up with my own light. This is actually something I’ve worked on with my therapist, but haven’t made much progress; it’s very easy for me to adopt someone’s bad mood and incredibly hard to retain my good mood if I’m around someone negative.
- Jody indicated my third eye is just barely opening, and that I need to nurture it through confidence and faith in order to open myself more to my spiritual guides, companions, and messages from the universe. She told me to listen to my dreams, look for signs, and take chances on things I want to do or learn, especially if they are creative activities.
If you actually read to the end of this, wow, damn. I’d love to hear your feedback or insight!
I’m being a real Doubty McDoubterson about my spiritual beliefs right now. I mean bottom-of-the-well, solar-eclipse-totality, what-is-even-the-point-of-anything-we’re-all-gonna-die-anyway levels of doubt. My altar is dusty, my devotional jewelry tangled, and I can’t even remember the last time I gave offerings or lit a single candle. I am deep, deep, deep in the dark. Hooboy, it is bad.
I’ve seen many other spiritually-inclined folks write about what to do during a fallow or questioning period, so I thought why not try it myself? I know stuff about stuff. I’m possibly as qualified as anyone else on the internet who gives advice they won’t personally follow. So here you go, my surefire suggestions for surviving the utter crushing apathy that has become your spiritual life.
1) Avoid your altar.
2) Camp out on the couch and watch all 4 seasons of Arrested Development on Netflix.
3) Stand for indeterminate amounts of time in front of your kitchen cupboards. Eat nothing.
4) Lurk in the “pagan” tag on Tumblr and hate strangers you know nothing about for having more faith than you.
5) Avoid the room your altar is in.
6) See something sad online and automatically say a prayer before realizing what you’re doing, then feel many conflicting emotions you don’t want to deal with.
7) Get out your tarot cards, oracle decks, book of shadows, and crystals in an attempt to jumpstart your enthusiasm. Play on your phone while ignoring their presence.
8) Eat an entire loaf of bread, and only a loaf of bread, for like two days.
9) Rewatch Arrested Development while lurking on Tumblr and Pinterest and every other possible app you can download, since you’re a very important person and just don’t have time for things like religion.
10) Make up a song with lyrics like “Everything’s awful, then you die” or “whatever, it’s not like any of the things I believe in are real anyway so who cares if humanity is destroying the planet and I’m alive to witness the next mass extinction”.
11) Avoid the half of the house your altar is in.
12) Spend hours on Etsy searching for the One Perfect Thing that, if purchased, will magically transform your spiritual life and free you from ever doubting anything again. Do this until your phone overheats, then let your phone charge for maybe five minutes. Repeat until you have a migraine.
13) Pretend everything’s okay by writing something sarcastic yet uncomfortably bitter on your blog.
14) Watch, I dunno, Arrested Development again. Or Archer. I mean who even cares at this point.
15) Die on the couch.