Biannual update

It’s about that time, right? COVID-19 is still a thing, my kids are attending school remotely and I’m working remotely and we all have Zoom fatigue at this point. My January/February resolution to avoid buying in bulk and overstocking the pantry was exactly the wrong choice for 2020 and I went so hard in the other direction, it’s starting to look like we’re preppers.

On a personal note, my dad passed away in July (from ongoing heart problems, not COVID) and my mom, who is in the early stages of dementia/Alzheimer’s, is now living with us. (All their pantry items and bulk purchases have also come to my door as we begin clearning out their house.) Taking on the management of my parents’ house and finances and Dad’s final affairs and Mom’s ongoing needs is… a lot. Wiccan practice looks different for me right now. I don’t necessarily have the time or the mental energy to devote to reading stacks of books and thinking deep thoughts (and writing pages and pages about them), as I once did. Now it’s more like stolen moments, writing brief notes as I read here and there because I can’t keep ideas in my head, developing a small solo practice rather than planning and leading coven rituals.

In related news, MoonFire coven has been continuing to meet via Zoom, except for the briefest of visits last weekend: masks, socially distanced, outdoors when possible, the whole nine. It’s so good to see people’s faces. In-person gatherings are going to be all kinds of fraught at the end of this. I’m hearing that this is what most covens across several traditions are doing now: almost exclusively Zoom meetups (sometimes ritual, sometimes just conversation, sometimes group meditations and astral temple work), including meeting seekers. Some have met seekers on Zoom, some are asking seekers to wait. At least one coven has begun an online outer court.

Where my not-coven goes from here, I don’t know. Today I’ve revised the Resources page a bit to provide signposts for seekers, and I’m rethinking the hyperlocal focus I’ve had for the page. As I’ve explained, my major goal was to create the resources I wished I had 15+ years ago. Recently I’ve been wondering how useful that actually is to people who are not me, and I’ve been thinking about what other goals would be worthwhile.

And so it goes. Next month it will be 20 years since my very first Samhain ritual. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined the path from that moment to this one. Here’s to the next 20 years.

A pandemic check-in

(This blog is good for updates about every six months, it seems.)

It’s been about six weeks since the world collapsed and the phrases “due to COVID-19” and “in these uncertain times” entered the lexicon. At work on March 11, at the end of the day, I gathered up anything that I might need to work from home for the foreseeable future, and I’ve been working remotely every day since. We’ve all gotten real familiar with Zoom, a tool my office had already been using. About two weeks ago, I remembered the Larabar in my desk — in a sealed container, to guard against mice — and wondered if I’d be back in my office before it went bad.

For the first couple weeks of quarantine, I took my kids’ temperatures daily. One of them had a fever, but it turned out to be a regular little-kid sort of fever with just a bit of a cough, and it cleared up quickly. We bought extra bottles of children’s cold and cough medicine, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, but thankfully, haven’t needed them. Nor have we needed the big bottles of regular acetaminophen or NyQuil, the Vernors or saltines.

Not to mention my gratitude that we’re back in our own house for all this. The restoration company made an effort to get us here by Christmas; we moved back in on December 23, with most of our stuff arriving on December 26. In January, we unpacked. In February, we really settled in. By early March, there were only a few things we hadn’t gotten around to re-buying (although one of them was yeast).

My husband, the store-enterer of our family, made sure we were also stocked up with Lysol, Clorox wipes, toilet paper when he found some, and the other quarantine necessities: Canned goods. Milk. Eggs. Flour. I began a sourdough starter but stuck it in the fridge when our quest for active dry yeast was successful (a 2-lb brick!). I began and abandoned a crochet project. I sprayed all the door handles and light switches with Lysol and washed everyone’s bedding. I started wiping down the counters more often (possibly because there’s more happening in the kitchen), using a cleanser with bleach after once-a-week grocery trips. I wipe down all our groceries before putting them away (even if I don’t really need to). I placed an order with King Arthur Flour, but not for flour; they were all out. The first week, I ordered a cookbook for my kids, and we’ve been cooking and baking from it: quesadillas, oven-baked chicken drumsticks, banana bread, brownies, cupcakes from a mix. Then I really got into the baking spirit and made beer bread, a no-yeast baking powder bread (turned out like a huge biscuit), cinnamon rolls, chocolate chip cookies, gingersnaps, gooey chocolate pudding cake, and pizza dough. If we can get a lot of eggs I’ll bake a whole loaf of bread just to use it for French toast.

The kids have a big yard to play in, although they miss their friends and family. I was signed up to participate in an in-person Couch to 5K program that went virtual after Michigan’s governor declared a state of emergency, and although I was disappointed to miss out on a chance to run with other people, I clicked with the training program and my running has been going really well. It also means that I’m out of doors three days a week, running on paved trails, choosing the less popular routes and keeping 6 feet away from anyone else (the trails are busy on nice days but almost empty in bad weather).

I did not turn to witchcraft for comfort in the early days of the pandemic. Perhaps my knowledge of the effectiveness of Clorox and Lysol and plain old soap obviated a need for purification charms, and after we made it through the first 14 days or so without showing symptoms, all we needed to do was stay inside. I had been scheduled to lead MoonFire’s Rite of the Vernal Equinox, but in perhaps more panic than I realized at the time, I left it to our HPS to convert it to a Facebook Live event instead. The only magick I did in the first month of quarantine was the kind you do to clean and sanitize everything as best you can, even things you didn’t think needed cleaning and sanitizing before. The kind you do to simmer chili and mix dough, in wild-eyed desperation to ensure that you can feed your family, despite the existence of sliced bread, Easy Mac, canned vegetables, a well-stocked freezer, and excellent French dip sandwiches at the local bar (now open for takeout only).

With the gym closed, my regular yoga class has been happening over Zoom, too, and my yoga teacher went all in for an amazing moon-based practice on the night of early April’s full moon. Something caught in me during that yoga practice, and the old mantra rose up: Remember who you are. The magick slowly flowed back. I snapped out of something just long enough to realize I’d been in it.

Make no mistake, I didn’t wake up and somehow become OK despite the state of things. I’m still stress-baking and spending more time on Twitter than is probably healthy. But I did remember that I have some small measure of power. I recognized that I was doomscrolling and started respecting the screen time limits I had set for myself. I spent a weekend curled up in my reading chair, snuggled in a soft blanket with a cup of coffee, catching up on Triumph of the Moon for Thorn Mooney’s Patreon book club. (And I finally joined the Discord.) I made a point of doing more active self-care — as a former freelancer, I’m a veteran of the remote working trenches and have passed through the braless-in-sweatpants phase, the never-changed-out-of-pajamas phase, and the shaving-is-tyranny phase and have risen from the depths into the comfy-matchy-activewear-outfits phase. I’ve been real attentive to showering and hair removal, recognizing that jeans and bras are indeed unnecessary but I feel better (and am less apt to sink into depression) when I’m clean, cute, and ready to (theoretically) leave the house at a moment’s notice. It’s also time to break out the fancy skincare samples, to use the good lotion, the good shower gel, the good shampoo and conditioner and hair masks. I added in nail polish and got used to seeing painted nails again. (This is maybe inconsistent with all the extra cleaning, since the nail polish chips off right away, but who’s going to see the chips?)

So I’m somewhere in between quarantine camps. I’m working remotely, so it’s not like I have hours of the day to fill, but no one in my family is sick right now, so I have enough leisure time to think about how to structure my day.

I’m now working on my evening routine: shining the sink (yes, really), setting up the coffeepot, and spending a few minutes performing the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and picking up my meditation practice again. On Facebook, Lon Milo DuQuette is going live every day to read from The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed ben Clifford for the Fraternal Order of Sequestered Mystics; you can catch up on his page. He’s already read through My Life with the Spirits (those videos are also available). Rather than ordering new books, I’m working through my TBR pile. I’m drawing a Tarot card in the mornings and working on my shuffling. As the resident Zoom expert, I set up a coven meeting for Beltane, so we’ll at least see each other’s faces.

And so things go for now.

A nine-month update

It’s been a bit! I said in my last post that the beginning of the year would be quiet, and that certainly seems to have been the case. This year I’ve been doing more than thinking, planning, or writing, which is a much-needed step in my own personal growth. I’m very Air-oriented and live in my head a lot of the time, and I occasionally need reminders that visualizing a spell or a ritual that should work is not the same as physically performing the spell or involving other people in doing the ritual. (I’m thinking of two instances this year in which I had grand plans that looked excellent on paper, but in reality, they didn’t end up happening the way I envisioned. This is fine, though! This is experience, and learning, and the accumulation of wisdom to do things differently next time.)

In the spring, from March through late May, I did a daily working for self-confidence that was centered on the solar plexus chakra. (In April I finished a year of daily meditation with the Insight app, and a lot of my meditations worked with chakras, so this was a natural extension of that.) This was a solid, well-timed working and did what I wanted it to do… except I didn’t plan a big finish or really any kind of ending, and it just sort of petered out. I’d like to revisit it in the waning year.

Since my intensive work with Tarot last year, I’ve acquired some skill, and I continue to read publicly on occasion (usually on a Saturday at Artes & Craft when my coven sister, the regular Tarot reader, isn’t available). I’ll be doing Tarot readings this coming Saturday at Artes & Craft’s booth at Grand Rapids Pagan Pride Day.

Other parts of my work in the past few months have not been glamorous: coordinating coven events, doing some of the cooking for those coven events, helping with setup beforehand or cleanup afterward. A covener died unexpectedly this summer, so there was much to do to honor her life and mark her passing (and Samhain is still to come).

And — I’m burying the lede here, yes — this month I was initiated and am now a first degree in Cththonioi-Alexandrian Wicca. *confetti toss* I’ve told the story of my seeking many times; altogether, it was about 13 years from my serious pursuit of BTW to initiation. (I’ll clarify that from the start of my seeking to finding Blue Star and beginning study was pretty fast, only about a year, although I moved cross-country in that year. But I wanted initiation, and there were other twists, turns, delays, and detours along my path to that goal.) I would say that I’m still adjusting — that’s a long time to say not yet, I’m not, not yet, not yet — but I have a whole lot on my plate right now, and it’s starting to feel like the gods are saying, “You’re here, excellent! Now it’s time to really get to work.”

On Saturday, MoonFire will be presenting a Dionysus ritual at GRPPD. On Sept. 22, the following Saturday, I will be leading a public Full Moon Esbat at Artes & Craft; the next day, Sunday, Sept. 23, I will be co-leading a public Harvest Home ritual, also at Artes & Craft. These are excellent opportunities to come talk to me in person, if that’s a thing you would like to do!

A decade-long cycle of growth and regrowth

On the old version of this blog, I wrote (somewhat poetically) about my experience of waiting. Let me say a few words about it in a little more depth.

From 2007 to 2010, I was actively studying Wicca on the East Coast. I sought it out, found Blue Star, and for much of that time I circled with two different Blue Star groups, one in the city where I lived and one further south, where my teacher lived. As a shiny new Dedicant, I had many new experiences, learned a ton from a lot of people, made friends, even survived a falling-out or two. So much growth happened in these years! I expected that things would just always be like this, now that I was “home.”

At the end of 2009 and heading into 2010, there were major changes all around. I made a difficult decision to leave one group. I thought an elevation to Neophyte was coming, but instead, doors seemed to close all around me. My teacher’s family had to move, and they struggled to find a safe, secure new place to live. I was laid off from my job. My husband’s disability became severe enough that he missed the safety net of family and friends back home in Michigan, and after a few months of job searching didn’t yield much for me, we decided to move. By the time we arrived, I was pregnant, and preparations for baby plus a new job with a long commute took up much of my time. Our daughter was born in 2011; about a year later, I deactivated my Facebook account over some privacy setting, and I stopped updating my LiveJournal because I no longer had time to write or read there. As a young working mother, I no longer had time for the lengthy, ponderous online discussions I used to love or the same round of 101 questions that often cropped up in Pagan discussion groups, and I stopped participating in those places too.

And thus I was cut off from the community I’d taken for granted. Now I was too far away to visit regularly, and I had (perhaps unwisely) removed the easiest ways to keep in touch. I was lonely and isolated; I thought that having a baby was a kind of isolation I’d chosen, but I was devastated and hurt when life went on for my community, and I didn’t see that there were ways I might have continued to participate. All I saw was closed door after closed door.

Every Blue Star elevation announcement made me bitter. It should have been me, I thought. I was ready.

Time has since mellowed some of that bitterness. I wasn’t ready — even at the time, I thought, if I’m feeling this way, I probably do need to wait a bit longer and do some self-work — and the people closest to me weren’t ready, either, though I didn’t know this at the time. Their stories aren’t mine to tell, but I can say that I wasn’t the only one who experienced major life upheavals.

This is the part of the story that’s still weaving itself together. By 2013, I’d changed jobs again, had another baby, and moved to the rural spot we live in now. My first attempt to fit in with a Grand Rapids Pagan community hadn’t gone well, and I was too disheartened to keep trying. Why? I now implored the gods. I’m ready. Why am I out here? Why am I still so lonely?

The Craft can wait, I had heard; the Craft will be there. So I waited. And then I had a battle with postpartum depression to fight.

In late 2014 and 2015, I started therapy and I started running. Slowly, the gray clouds parted. They’re still not gone, but I learned how to cope, how to function when there didn’t seem to be any point in it, and then I learned to find the point.

I started to wonder if the gods hadn’t thrown me into the wilderness just to see if I’d find my way back. So I decided to come back.

I reached out to a new Grand Rapids Pagan discussion group, one that hadn’t been around when I searched before, and I found enough of a fit to attend a circle or two. They were active on Facebook, so I activated my account again, and just like that I had my network of family and friends and acquaintances back.

In 2015, a treasured priest of Blue Star suddenly became very sick, and he didn’t have much longer to live. The community rallied around him to share their love and ease his passing, and because I had learned from him and circled with him and feasted with him, I shoved aside the last of the bitterness that I still felt and I joined in. At this point, I had been away from the community for years, and the hurts that seemed fresh to me were ancient history for everyone else involved — I wasn’t even sure that I’d be remembered.

It turned out that I was remembered, and I was loved, and I was welcome.

Through 2016, I took baby steps toward restoring my sense of community. I renewed my relationships with close friends who I’d lost touch with. I attended a couple of circles with the discussion group and participated on Facebook. I brought my children to Grand Rapids Pagan Pride and participated in the rituals. And in the last days of the waning year, I started participating in a new Blue Star group aimed at connecting those of us who were solitary and lonely and feeling isolated. Simply the knowledge that I wasn’t alone — that others had rows as tough as mine to hoe — let so much of my grief and heartbreak fall away.

This is the part of the story that has yet to take place. I feel that I’m on the cusp of something new, that other doors will soon open, and that I have to really absorb the lessons of the past decade. I’m not sure what will happen next, but I am here. I’m still here.