A happy mother’s day

Being a mother is perhaps the single most life altering, spiritually powerful thing I’ve ever done. Women often write about how intense and life-changing are the self-sacrifice, the long hours, the intense demands, and the beauty of the love that children bring. Those things are all real. For parents, male and female and every other stripe, parenting is crash course in intense love and compassion and heartbreak. These are good things.

For me, being a mother is all of those things and it is also the foundation of my spiritual life, the core of ‘my ashram.’  If I had been told this when I was pregnant with my first child, I might have laughed it off as hormone induced sentimentality.

Being pregnant was powerful stuff for me. I tend to be a very thinky person, all up in my head most of the time. I over think things, I reason out and take people and situations at their word, even if my gut is urging me to notice something different. My spiritual practice has long been focused on Results and doing things Right. But being pregnant put me in my body in a profound way. The hormones coursing through me kept me emotionally volatile, particularly with my first pregnancy. I struggled to surrender to that experience. I didn’t like that I couldn’t move as quickly, as nimbly, or as gracefully with my enormous belly. I struggled with the postpartum years – being three or four or five shapes and sizes in the space of 12 months is trying, and not just on the wardrobe.

I came to be present in my body in a way I’d never had to before. It wasn’t about being strong or fit or athletic – the ways I’d related to my body previously. It was about nourishing others and myself. It was about growing and sustaining a life. A life that was ME, my bones, my blood, but also its own singular thing, distinct from me.

Nourishment.

Nourishment.

With my first pregnancy this life within life transformed my theological understandings of the divine. I am the Holy Mother. And so are millions of other women. I’m not sure I can fully articulate the mind-blowing realization of this yet. But theological ideas of interdependence, Process Theology, goddess language, and ideas of a Matrix of Being, made so much more sense. Intuitive and experiential sense that reason and systematic theology could not argue away.

I remember one day in my first pregnancy, walking home from the BART in Oakland (public transportation), looking at the many varied people around me, many of them looking pretty miserable and not particularly healthy. I realized, every single one of those people is some mother’s beloved child. Every single person began as a mewling baby. Even if some of those people were not well-loved by their particular mothers, they were grown and nourished by a body and birthed – with blood and sweat and tears. That was powerful stuff for me. It was the beginning of new chamber of compassion in my heart.

In a practical way motherhood has also forced me to clarify. If I have 20 minutes of uninterrupted time: do I sit on my laptop? do I go meditate? do I write? I have to make choices in a way that I did not before. I am also more aware of my energy levels. I am ‘on’ all day long. At this point in their lives, I still have to monitor my kids’ energy levels and often be the boundary keeper for them. There are many times I want to go make my own magick or go connect to my gods and I just don’t have it in me. Sometimes I skip it all together. Sometimes I get creative. Whereas before I might have been ‘all or nothing’ about pujas or mediation, I now find great value in perhaps just placing an offering on my altar, bowing, and saying Hail and Thank You.

I understand the concepts of macrocosm and microcosm at more personal level too. My children are part of a great macrocosm, but their world as far as they experience it is teeny tiny. I see how my understanding of the world is equally teeny tiny, even though I’ve got a larger grasp on the world than they do right now.

I grasp the concepts and realities of the Ancestors and Descendents in a way I couldn’t before. I am bone and blood and flesh of my mother and her mother before her and so on. My children are my bones and my blood. The Ancestors and my Descendents make me a mother, as much as my own choices, my own body, and those of my partner have.

I can never not be a mother. I may some day have different spiritual beliefs, certainly my views and practices have evolved over the years. But I can never not be a mother. Even if both my children vanish tomorrow (may all the gods forbid), I am forever a mother.

I’m sure plenty of people come to these realizations on their own, not needing to have children. For me, I can’t imagine that I would have come to understand them without becoming a mother.

So, all hail the mothers! All hail the Ancestors and all hail the Descendents! And all hail the Holy Mother, in whom we live, move and have our being.

Amen.

Further thoughts on being a householder

One of the things I didn’t get into in my last post on being a householder and homemaker was how amazing a spiritual journey pregnancy and childbirth are. I wrote my last post from where I’m standing currently: parent to a nearly 5 yr old and a freshly 2 yr old. Yet, I learned so much from growing, birthing, and sustaining a new life.*

Madonna lactans, Jean Fouquet

Madonna lactans, Jean Fouquet

I found my naturally heady and airy self more grounded and physically present in my body while pregnant. I struggled with the limitations of a growing belly and the way my energy levels fluctuated while pregnant. But the profound mystery of not only containing another living being within my own body, but creating it from out of my own flesh, bone and blood was mind-blowing and theology altering. The messy, painful, miraculous event of childbirth is a dance with death. Breastfeeding is a blur between the sensual and the necessary. Being a biological mother has been the most pagan thing I’ve ever done.

Being a nun or monk would exclude this way of knowing. Being a householder has been my way to engage more physically in this world and this flesh.

My partner and I debate a third child every now and again. I feel in my gut this is what I want. I think with my brain that it is not wise. I admit, as much as I struggle with pregnancy and as much as birth hurts, I want to experience it again. I want that intimacy with my body; I want that powerful feeling that I am a Creator; I want to feel that connection with/as the Holy Mother.

Madonna del parto

Madonna del parto

It’s a little selfish, I admit. The magic of life is intoxicating and beautiful.

 

*I will gladly sing the praises of unmedicated childbirth, midwives, homebirth, and extended breastfeeding, and then back it all up with science. This in no way means I devalue hospital births, c-sections, and formula feeding. Nor do I think that birthing is the most important way a woman becomes a mother. Nor do I think that parents are more spiritual than those who choose not to have children. These are divisive issues, and I feel it necessary to clarify these points.

Navratri begins!

After doing my dark moon cleaning of the altar, I changed my altar just a little in preparation for Navratri. For the next 8 days I’ll observe this beautiful Hindu festival of Shakti principle. (I wrote about Navratri last year and recommend reading it for a little background.)

My Navratri altar

Navratri focuses on the manifestations of Durga, the Mahadevi, or in my Feri eyes, the Star Goddess, the Great Source from whom we all emerge and to whom we all return. For the next three days I’m focusing on the dark, purifying aspects, as seen in Kali. The picture of Kali, seen hung on the back of the case, is permanently affixed, as she is a deity I honor daily. While asking for boons and blessings is a common part of festivals and holidays, I like that this one kicks off with a focus on purification. It is not purification from our inherent evilness, but purification from the confusion of illusion (often self-inflicted), from obstacles to truth, and from the malaise of inaction. I’ve already made kala this morning and will make kala daily as part of my purification practice.

 

O, Kali Ma!

Slay the fears that limit my spirit.

O Kali Ma!

Dance upon the grave of my iniquities.

Many Hindus choose to fast for the entire holiday. That can mean any number of things: having only one meal a day, giving up meat, eating only grains and fruit…. ask ten Hindus, get ten different answers! I am abstaining from dairy and alcohol. (I already don’t eat grains, other than the occasional bit of rice.) I love dairy and alcohol. In fact, I have a 2/3 full bottle of bourbon sitting on my shelf and I’m not touching it! But I welcome this fast. It feels joyful and life-giving to me.

In the photo you can see a red scarf draped under my little table, with red candle holders. Sandalwood incense burns; the white shell holds two handfuls of rice as an offering. This morning I added a ramekin with turmeric in it. I’ll change out the offerings throughout the nine days. I plan to run the Iron and Pearl Pentacles, make kala, and have two sittings a day of prayer and meditation.

Already I feel the presence of Ma Durga. Her loving presence descended just a little last night, and I was grateful. This is a very personal holiday for me. I don’t have the kids involved at all. I retreat into my tiny office and sit at my altar – time just for me.

Jai Ma!

 

(If you observe Navratri, I’d love to hear how you involve your family, if at all.)

 

 

Perhaps: a post about the gods

Most witches and pagans are polytheists – or agnostic to greater or lesser extents. I’ve yet to meet anyone who calls hirself a pagan that is monotheistic, at least not in the way that anyone of the Abrahamic faiths would recognize. Plenty of people I know have patron deities or are henotheistic (honoring one god to the exclusion of the rest, yet acknowledging that other gods do exist). For a while I thought I tipped into the polytheistic non-dual (a description I first heard from T Thorn Coyle). In my mind that was a radical interpretation of monotheism, but I may have trying too hard to keep with in a Christian framework. A few nights ago a passing two sentences in a Feri initiate’s private blog got me thinking: what if the gods aren’t Gods? What if the gods are just little g gods? A form of entities different to us, bigger than us, but subject to their own forces and to the Ultimate Ground of Being, much like we are?

Victor Anderson said ‘God is Self and Self is God and God is a person like myself.’ That always rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t make any sense in my theological understanding. I can talk endlessly about the potential of divinization of the human person. I believe, firmly and utterly, in the inherent goodness, fullness, and dignity of the core of humanity and all of creation. I believe that humanity carries the spark of the Divine within, the breath of Life is present in each breath we take. ‘God is Self and Self is God.’ I believe this was part of what Jesus Christ was trying to teach us; I think this is what Tantric Hinduism is getting at. We are not separate. The Holy Mother who is the Ground of Being, that from which all of creation came and to whom everything, everyone returns, is our Creator. We are part and parcel of the wider whole. Recognizing this – knowing it in all our parts – is the goal of enlightenment and is liberation.

I may know this key to enlightenment with my brainy bits, but I certainly haven’t grasped it in my entirety. I’m not sure I can and still parent small children. I’m not sure I could handle the depths of compassion that embracing the Entirety of All would require. Hell, I still pat myself on the back when I laugh at my 3-year-old accidentally dumping a half-gallon of milk all over the floor, rather than swear and yell and grumble. I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace the power that being in concert with the G/gods would take. Baby steps, right?

So if we are not separate from the Ultimate One, then what’s all this talk about gods – plural? What’s with polytheism?

When I read the Iliad in school we discussed ancient Greek culture and talked about the gods. This was filed away under Mythology and Primitive Belief and we assumed that no one really believed in them then, nor does anyone now. From the generic Judeo-Christian point of view, who would dare believe in gods that were just as petty and ridiculous as us ‘mere’ humans. If those Greek gods were real then I thought the stories were demeaning, indeed. But I think I get it now. The gods are like us, only they are not of our material. Whether you want to think that the gods exist in a different parallel universe (like in the movie Thor, where they say that their world is different enough from ours that we think them gods) or maybe you like the idea that maybe they exist at a different frequency that we just can’t readily perceive (like how certain insects see colors we don’t), the issue is one of perception and understanding, not one of reality.

Until I moved to Wales I felt pretty agnostic about the gods. Were they just symbols? Projections of our best selves? Archetypes? How could all these different families be simultaneously real? I mean, the Greeks, Norse, Yoruba, and Celtic pantheons seem to have some overlap, but also seem to be their own coherent systems. How could they all be true? I’ve since learned that the Gods are real. I liken this experience to learning to kiss (or have sex). When I was a pre-teen and had my first kiss, I remember thinking, ‘THIS is what the big deal is about??’ A few years later I kissed some one else and discovered, oh my, yes, that is exactly what the big deal is all about. The same thing happened with ritual and the gods. Sure, I’d been to ritual – I’d even had a great time and quite enjoyed myself! But then, I circled with two other witches in Wales, on a dark, damp Welsh night and oh my. I discovered that the Gods are real. The Arddu showed up, swept through the front door and front hall and into the living room. He looked around, smiled amusedly, and went on his way. That experience has changed me. It wasn’t intimate. He didn’t pass along any knowledge. There was no exchange of pleasantries. But it was a moment where we met and I realized that this witchcraft stuff is not some figment of an overactive imagination. It’s the doorway to a new way of interacting with the world. The gods are real.

If the gods are people like myself, then the another of the Anderson’s sayings is crucially important: never submit your life force to anyone or anything. This is not saying always be strong, always dominate. This is not some kind of Ayn Rand power trip. This is about maintaining one’s dignity and integrity, one’s sense of Self. There are as many ways to submit one’s life force as there are people and combinations of people. Choosing to serve others is not submission. Even submission in a BDSM context is not necessarily submission in this context. Feri admonishes us not to bow down before the gods. This may seem the height of arrogance to those from other religions. I admit, it felt that way to me too for a long time. We honor the gods, we do not worship. It’s like the technical hair-splitting the Roman Catholics do with the Virgin Mary – hyperdulia (excess veneration) vs latria (adoration, reserved for the Holy Trinity). We can split hairs here too. Am I only honoring the gods? Might there be some adoration in there too? I think the human heart is messy and doesn’t split these hairs as cleanly as our minds would have us do.

Many grimoires and wise, experienced witches and magicians caution us not to worship, follow or even get friendly with just any spiritual being that introduces itself. If the spirit world is made up of a variety of things that are just on the edges of our perception, and if those things are not God Hirself, and if they are like us in any respect at all, then it behooves us to get to know any entity before we offer our allegiance and loyalty – just as we do in ‘real life.’ We do not submit our life force to anything or anyone. We insist on equality, respect, mutual trust and mutual loyalty.

If the different pantheons are different families or nations, like we humans are, what does this mean for syncretism or for finding ‘our gods’ in a relatively godless world? I don’t accept that Yahweh is The God. After years of biblical studies, on devotional and academic levels, I think Yahweh is just a patriarch in his own divine family. In all the years I spent trying to be a Christian, Yahweh never spoke to me, nor did Jesus. I felt a deep connection with something Big, but it never, ever seemed to line up with Yahweh. I never heard much from Jesus either. Listening to that still, small voice has obviously led me away from the Church. Perhaps those guys just aren’t my clan. Coming from a Judeo-Christian culture, but a secular family, I don’t know who my clan is. I’m definitely seeking them out. I read, I think, I meditate, I ask. I think some gods are particular to place. Who will appear when I move to Olympia? Will Ana and Arddu follow me there? Ganesha has made himself right at home with us and he is not ‘of’ Wales. Can a person have a Hindu god as a patron ‘saint’ of the family and still look to Old World European gods?

Changing my thinking about the gods from Big G gods to familial, clan gods has opened up my mind to so many new possibilities. All of a sudden pantheons make much more sense to me. It even helps make sense of Christianity. The gods are people like ourselves: messy, inter-related, powerful, limited, individual, cruel and kind, evolving in this world, all held under the hand of That Which Is. I think ‘polytheistic non-dual’ might still be the best way to sum up my theology at this time. Who knows what I’ll be thinking in a year’s time. Stay tuned.

Ritual

There are many stereotypes of pagan ritual: witches gathering in a coven to call down the moon, or cast some dark spell involving eye of newt and a big ol’ cauldron; druids standing in groves chanting at trees; crazy bacchanalian rites involving too many candles, too much wine, and too little clothing, etc. All of those are about right, for some people. Friday night I did some ritual solitary-style. Here’s what went down. (Psst, it’s not very sensational.)

I decided to cast a circle and do something more formal than my daily devotions, so that I might deepen my relationship with the Gods and Entities and Ancestors. My family is undergoing some very stressful shifts right now (more on that when the dust has settled) and I wanted some assistance in sorting things out. I decided to consult the tarot for some perspective (notice I said perspective, not answers) and I wanted to do that in a sacred space, with the assistance of this spiritual tradition.

Many elements of ritual are the same, it seems, from one form of witchcraft or paganism or religion to another. We engage our senses and our wills; we create sacred space; liturgy has a beginning, middle and end; there’s offering of some kind; etc. Firstly, I cleaned my space – my trusty dining room. I put the babies to sleep. I gathered my materials: book, pen, tarot cards, offerings, candles, incense, lighter. I lit one candle, saying the Holy Mother prayer to kick everything off. Next, I prepared myself. I did a brief meditation, cleansed myself with salt water externally, washing hands, anointing forehead, crown, nape of neck. I cleansed internally by making kala (a rite specific to Feri, as far as I know). After tidying up those items, I lit the candle in front of the Ancestors, lit a couple more candles around the room for light, lit the incense and waved it in front of Ganesh first, then the rest of the altar.

Next came the difficult part – raising the energy to cast the circle. It wasn’t that raising the energy is hard, it’s that I’ve been so run down and sleep deprived lately. However, I managed to get focused and felt the energy rise. It wasn’t particularly strong, but it was steady, and that was good. I cast the circle as I’ve been taught. For the first time I felt pretty confident about it. I called in the Guardians, the Gods, the Ancestors and Descendents, and the Fey/Spirits of the Land. I offered my grandmother a hot cup of tea with a dash of milk, and for the Andersons I poured a glass of port. At the end of the ritual I got the sense that Cora would have liked a cup of tea, too. I opened a bottle of peated Welsh whiskey and poured a glass for the Fey. The room felt close, very full and crowded. I stated what was going on and why I’d called them all to house. I asked for their guidance and help in interpreting the cards. Then, I sat down to see what the cards had to say.

Of course, the baby woke up shortly into reading. My husband brought her down and she sat at the edge of the circle happy as could be, playing with her toys. After a couple of readings, with very clear answers, the baby started to fuss. Only then did I realize that two and a half hours had passed! I packed up the cards, picked up the baby, said my thank yous and goodbyes, and took down the circle. I blew out all of the candles and went to bed, feeling peaceful and alert.

The next morning I was very tired, like I had been at a really good dinner party slightly longer than was wise. Which is kind of what a good home ritual is like. It’s not flashy, it’s not complicated, but rather like a late night gathering with good friends.

Go if you must, stay if you will. Hail and farewell!

What is Feri?

Feri is……

Feri is a form of traditional witchcraft. That’s right – witchcraft. It’s an American-born, syncretic tradition, informed by Hoodoo, Voudoun, Huna, Wicca, Yoruba, Gwyddon (Welsh witchcraft), Appalachian folk tradition, and probably more that I just don’t know about. Victor Anderson saw himself as drawing on ancient commonalities, the current of the ‘small dark peoples of the earth.’

Feri is non-dual. There is no ultimate God and Goddess parity, except when there is. I cannot speak about the many ways the Gods are known, as I don’t know them (and I wouldn’t if I did!). But the core belief is of the Star Goddess as the foundation of all existence, who made love to herself, and brought forth the Twins. Duality exists in unity. Victor said, ‘All gods are Feri gods.’ There is an element of universality in this statement, but this doesn’t mean all gods are the same thing. We are all human, and therefore the same entity, except I am not you. From a species point of view, you and I are not that different and represent much of the same thing to other beings. But we’re not the same. Kinda like the Gods.

Feri is paradoxical.

Feri is ecstatic, sexual, and creative, but isn’t concerned with fertility. Cycles of the seasons of are important, but only in the sense that we connect to where we are; there is no monolithic mythic adherence to seasons and their festivals. The only central holidays that all Feri practice are Samhain, as honor of the Ancestors is an important part of the practice, and Beltaine. Ritual connects us with the spirit world. Energies of god and goddess, goddess and goddess, god and god, and god/dess and god/dess in any combination are embodied and expressed in our lives. Sexuality is a creative expressive of life force; creativity is a form of sexual energy springing from life force.

Feri is experiential. Theory is great. In fact, I have found Feri/Faery folk to be among some of the brightest, boldest, most impressive and well-educated people I’ve met, particularly in the pagan world – so a good theory, some new bit of lore or myth to chew on will suit just fine. However, if that lore or theory doesn’t move you, deepen your connection with gods or engage your practice – if you just don’t practice at all – well then, all that theory is useless.

Feri is mystical and practical. If you can’t use your craft where and when you need it, what good is it?

Feri is black magic and white magic. ‘White magic is poetry. Black magic is anything that works,’ according to Victor.

Feri is often called amoral. Most people hold different nuances for the words ethical and moral (even though they mean the same things), so I like to think of Feri as highly ethical, but devoid of external morality. It has virtues (we’ll get to those in a few posts), but very little is off-limits. Consent and integrity are the foundation of its ethic. ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law. Love under will.’ Feri and Aleister Crowley might agree upon this.

Feri is really quite simple, though not simplistic, and quite complex.

Feri is an initiatory tradition. There are teachers who teach via distance or over the internet. There are workshops and group rituals that are based on Feri concepts and tools. These are a great beginning. But the current is only passed in person.There are no levels, there is only one initiation.

Feri is a priesthood; ideally there is no laity. All Feri initiates are shaman priest/esses. There is no hierarchy.

Feri is powerful and awesome.

New quarter, new altar

Simple Feri altar

This quarter’s altar is really a three-in-one. I’m limited for altar space around here. While this doesn’t look cluttered, there’s a lot going on. From left to right:

First, there’s my Israeli stoneware cup, or chalice, which I find I don’t really use very much. The blue votive holder is back. It’s really my Holy Mother candle votive. It was made by a friend as a going away present when we moved from the Bay Area. Flanking it are two peacock feathers (hard to see against the black heater top). Peacocks are sacred Feri symbols. Behind the votive is a carved, Black Mother figurine.

In the middle is the wooden star. A red candle with twin dragons carved around it. Three horse chestnuts, also known as conckers, decorate the altar as symbols of autumn They are everywhere here. I put them on a sign of the season and as an offering. The incense holder is here, also for offerings. I have a beautiful blue glass sugar bowl that I’ve turned into a censer that I use for cone incense and for censing my house. But it’s too big to keep out.

Beginning the right hand side, which is the Ancestor portion of my altar, is a beautiful blue ceramic pitcher. In it I place libations of water. Right now it’s got water in it from St Non’s Well in Pembrokeshire, a very potent place. There is the framed picture of my namesake, my late maternal grandmother. There are also pictures of my (living) mother as an infant. It may not be wise to have pictures of the living on an ancestor altar, but I feel it’s appropriate in this case; these pictures want to go together. There is my black glass votive I light for the Ancestors in the evening. Tucked in the back and hard to see is a little picture of Victor and Cora Anderson, the ‘founders’ of Feri. Ancestors are not just those to whom you are blood related. I believe it is important to honor Victor and Cora, not just for their legacy, but also in hopes that they might bless the work I do within the Feri tradition.

Ganesha's new spot

As I was dismantling the last altar Ganesh made it abundantly clear to me that he did not want to be put away, or even moved upstairs where the other murtis are being kept. Oh no.  So he remains in the dining room, on top of the freezer, which also functions as the storage portion of my desk. He gets greeted every morning and I wave the incense at him when I light it.

This all feels cozy and just right! Onward!