Gratitude without complacency

I have been struggling with how to write this post since Thanksgiving. I wanted to write something about how beneficial I’ve found the practice of gratitude, but I had trouble with it because I didn’t want it to be just another saccharine annoyance about how you, too, will feel #blessed if you just take the time…you know how those go. Most of all, though, I was confronted with the problem of complacency.

There is a tension that I am only beginning to explore between so many of the practices that are touted these days – mindfulness, gratitude, etc. – and my fundamental orientation to the world, which is part of my Wicca. I fundamentally believe that we can and should change the world; I am concerned about too much acceptance of what is, just because it is, especially for the situations that humans create and thus could change.

In the short term, my answer to the problem of encouraging gratitude without complacency is that my gratitude practice is one of the tools that helps me do my magic. I think this is because I approach it slightly differently from the way I’ve usually heard it presented, some of which has to do with my personal situation, and some of which has to do with a more Pagan perspective. I’m going to share that here in hopes that it may be useful to some others.

My gratitude practice is a simple daily activity: list three things about yesterday that were good. They don’t have to be big, earth-shaking goodnesses; in fact, on a lot of days, they are just simply three things that made me feel good or be happy, even if just for a breath. When I write down “sunrise,” I’m not trying to contemplate the cosmic beauty of sunrises in general. I’m just trying to capture and acknowledge the way that particular sunrise yesterday made me smile, even for a second. When I am grateful for people in ongoing relationships, I try to think of a specific interaction that made my heart glad.

That’s it. I don’t go through some grand exercise of trying or working or pushing myself to feel grateful or thankful or extra happy. I don’t generalize, I don’t contemplate the grandiosity of the universe, I don’t try to make myself believe that this is the best of all possible worlds or that all things are working together for my betterment. I had to leave all those expectations behind for this practice to start being meaningful for me.

In part, this is a valuable practice because of my personal struggles with depression. Simply acknowledging that there were good things yesterday helps me have hope, even in the darkness of depression, that there might be a few sparks of light in my day today. This is when even a split second’s worth of not-hurting can be the most valuable memory to hold on to.

From a Wiccan perspective, though, my gratitude is more than that. This simple act, especially when repeated on a regular basis, helps make me more myself, and deep down it helps me gain the power to do my magic, whether that means shaping myself or shaping the world, or – usually – both at once.

An important point here is that for Wiccans gratitude can be a part of the everyday fabric of life. We don’t need to stop and be grateful to someone outside of the world; we are grateful to the world itself for being, as the reification of divinity. We are not bowing and scraping for the scraps that an all powerful divinity chooses to toss our way, and could revoke at any time; instead we are grateful as part of the web of relationship of beings that we participate in as full and equal partners.

Thus my gratitude helps me remember the intricate web of relationships in which I exist, and on which I depend; like so much else in Wiccan practice, it makes me more myself, it helps me to be myself, as part of my relationships with others, human and nonhuman alike.

Remembering those connections not only makes me more myself, it makes me better able to do my magic because my magic flows from and through those very connections. I gather the tools I use and the very energy I need to do magic from that web of relationships, and I send my empowered intention out through that same network to create change in the world.

For me, my gratitude practice is a another simple-seeming tool, like breath work, or grounding and centering, which when investigated deeply is an opening to much more complex work. I’m only beginning to explore that. As the poet said, I shan’t be gone long; you come too.

Practicing through depression

I’m going through an episode of major depression. This is not unexpected given how much has been going on for me lately. It seems odd to me that it’s happening when things are finally settling down, but maybe that’s to be expected too. I’m seeking care in a lot of different ways. One of those is talking about it. Another is continuing my daily practice. But my daily practice can be extremely difficult for me right now, and I was wondering if others have gone through something similar.

The problem is that while it’s very difficult to do my daily practice(s) right now, this is the time when I need it most. This is the time when I know it’s good for me, and yet I can barely care enough to sit down and do even the simplest work.

Depression is very sneaky and difficult to deal with because it is so self-reinforcing. Take social contact: it’s generally good to be with friends and loved ones, but depression not only makes me want to be alone, my depression tells me that no one cares how I’m feeling, or worse, that by trying to discuss my depression with others I’m imposing on them or hurting them. Intellectually, I can know that statement isn’t true, but it doesn’t change the force of the feeling, and that feeling is very difficult to overcome.

Similarly, depression is self-reinforcing by sabotaging things like my daily practice. I know, in my head, that doing my daily practice is good for me and may actually help me be less depressed. But in my feelings, it’s not only hard to do my practice, it’s not rewarding once I’ve accomplished it. There’s no “think of how good it’ll feel when you’re done” as motivation because it doesn’t feel good when I’m done. Sometimes it feels relieving to cross one thing off my to do list, but only in the sense of not having it hanging over me any longer; sometimes it just doesn’t feel like anything.

At times like this, it feels like I’m faking my practice, or doing it in an empty fashion. (When I’m depressed, empty is at least better than hurting.) That plus difficulty concentrating makes it pretty hard to do even the simplest devotions or meditations. Yet I want to keep doing them, if only so that I know I’m not making things worse or letting things get worse by letting that part of my life slip away.

Have others gone through something similar with spiritual practice, especially with depression? How do/did you deal with it?

Daily Tarot Practice

I’ve discovered that a daily Tarot practice is a great way to get better insight into the meanings of the cards as they relate to everyday life. I’ve been working on my daily practice lately – and I’ll be writing more about that soon – and have made it a habit to draw three Tarot cards daily.

Like other kinds of daily practice, this is something that many teachers and books advise, but I don’t know how many people actually do it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how useful it’s been.

One of the things it often does is reflect back to me what I already know; you could make an argument that this is entirely what Tarot does, and it’s very useful! By highlighting some things and bringing them further into my conscious attention, Tarot helps me figure out what is most important for me to be concentrating on at a given time. This helps me use my own self-knowledge more effectively. For example, when I’m having a bad day with depression and I draw the Five of Cups, seeing the card reminds me to acknowledge my feelings and take extra time for self-care.

Another way daily work with the cards has helped is by allowing me to discover more mundane meanings of the cards in my life. I don’t know about you, but most of the meanings I’ve learned for cards are expressed in broad, generalized language that has a lot to do with the psychological implications of the cards. This is useful because it allows for a broad range of interpretations, but it doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of practical meanings very much.

Those practical, mundane interpretations are something I’m discovering for myself. The Six of Swords can mean a lot of paperwork and bureaucratic hassle. The Lovers is a beautiful card, but the Two of Cups has more to do with connecting with my love in day to day life. And I can’t tell you how often lately the Chariot has come up when I’m going to spend a long day in the car.

If you’re thinking of starting a regular Tarot practice, start small – maybe even just drawing a card a day. If you’re learning Tarot, it can help you practice remembering the meanings of the cards. If you’re experienced, maybe you’ll find new meanings or just get a heads-up on what your day may hold for you. Either way, incorporating Tarot into your daily practice can be rewarding. I’d love to hear about how it works for you.

Ritual for committing to daily practice using the Eight of Pentacles

The 8 of Pentacles is an image of an apprentice practicing a craft. The message of this card emphasizes that progress and rewards come from repeated, enduring practice. In this ritual you will commit to practicing a single action every day for the next week and a day.

Your commitment to practice does not need to be a big one. In fact, it’s important not to make it too big to start out with. It could be something as simple as “I will take a deep breath.” It could be brushing your teeth. (Since we’re working with the suit of Pentacles, choosing to do something good for your body would be wonderfully appropriate!) It could be deciding to put a dollar in your savings. It could be a commitment to name three things for which you’re grateful. You get the idea.

Make this commitment specific, measurable, and realistic. Specific means that you name exactly what you will do – instead of “I will work out,” say “I will walk a mile.” Measurable means that you will be able to tell for sure whether you’ve achieved it. Instead of “I will be grateful,” say “I will name three things for which I’m grateful.” Realistic means that this needs to be something you can fit into your existing life in the next week. Every day. No exceptions. That’s why I encourage you to pick something small. Tiny. Just one thing!

Oh, and this should be a specific action you will do, not something to refrain from doing. This isn’t giving up X or refusing to do Y. This is a positive action for you to practice.

For materials you will need eight tokens. I suggest pennies, because they neatly reflect the theme of the card, but you could use stones or beads or slips of paper or anything else you like.

You may want to use the Eight of Pentacles from your favorite Tarot deck. If you have an object or tool that you will use in your daily practice (a candle? a mug for your cup of tea?), it would be beneficial to include that as well.

Ritual:

Ground and center yourself.

As you cast the circle, think about the repeating nature of the circle.

Call the Quarters:

Powers of the East, Element of Air, blow through me with a fresh breath as I (re)commit myself to this daily practice. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the South, Element of Fire, burn in me with the dedication to carry this practice through every day. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the West, Element of Water, flow through me with the commitment to this daily practice. Hail and welcome!

Powers of the North, Element of Earth, ground me in the stability of this daily practice. Hail and welcome!

Invoke a goddess if one is appropriate to the practice you have chosen, or simply ground and center and commune with your landbase as you commit to yourself with this work.

Sit in the center of your circle. Arrange your tokens in front of you, but not on your altar. Reflect on why you have chosen this practice, at this time. Meditate on it, and consult your intuition and inner guidance to be sure that this is what you want to pursue for the next eight days.

Formulate your practice into a simple statement. Build a visualization of yourself doing it: what does it look like, feel like, mean to you? Will it be at the same time every day, or will it be something you do when you remember to? How will you make it work on days when it’s hard? Ask all your allies to help you commit to this single, simple daily practice for the next eight days.

When you are ready, bless your tokens to help you. For each one, pick it up and draw an invoking pentagram over it (starting from the top point down to the lower left) as you state your daily practice. Place it in a pile on your altar.

When you have blessed all eight, put your hands over the pile and send any extra energy into them as a whole.

Ground and center yourself again. Thank your landbase and any goddess that you called.

Thank the Quarters:

Powers of the North, Element of Earth, I will do what I have said! Let me gain strength from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Powers of the West, Element of Water, I will do what I have said! Let me gain equanimity from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Powers of the South, Element of Fire, I will do what I have said! Let me gain energy from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Powers of the East, Element of Air, I will do what I have said! Let me gain insight from it. Go now with my thanks and praise. Hail and farewell!

Ground and center yourself again.

After the ritual, put your tokens in a place where you will see them as you do your daily practice, if at all possible. Move one from the pile to a new pile every time you do your practice. At the end of the eight days, take time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t about this practice, and what you’ve learned and gained from the experience.

Sitting at a cold altar

Have you ever tried sitting at a cold altar?

By cold I don’t just mean temperature. My altar where I do my regular devotions has symbols of the Elements on it: a stick of incense, a small candle, a dish of water, a dish of salt. It also has deity figures and sometimes seasonal decorations and other things. Preparing my altar is part of the process of devotions: sweep off the old incense ash, check the candle and wick, refill the water if needed, light the candle and the incense. Then I sit down…

But in this cold season, when the Earth herself is sere and sleeping, perhaps it would be more appropriate not to do some of those things.

What would it be like to chant my devotions to Fire with an unlit candle? To connect with Water in an empty bowl?

In my way of reckoning the seasons, we’ve just passed Midwinter, and this is still the season of Earth. The bowl of salt and a stone, the presence of Earth on my altar, requires minimal tending – so little that it can be easy to pass over. Perhaps letting my altar become sere would help me concentrate better on that quiet, deep Earth in this its season.

I know we’re all excited that the sun is reborn, and I look forward to Imbolc as much as anyone. But the anticipation shouldn’t cause us to live in the future so much that we neglect the present. Winter has a ways to go yet, and around here we’ve barely had a taste of real cold so far. Our landbase needs the cold, and perhaps we need some time to acknowledge the cold, to honor the darkness even as it begins to give way to increasing light.

I’ll try it. As Hecate says, I shan’t be gone long; you come too.

The Great Cat in the Sky

Hecate recently quoted the new American Poet Laureate:

Isn’t that what it’s about –
pretending there’s an alert cat
who leaves nothing to chance.

And all the jokes about Ceiling Cat aside (srsly!), this made me think of one of the best fictional depictions of a pantheon and its myths that I’ve ever encountered, which occurs in Diane Duane’s Feline Wizards books.

Set in the same universe as her Young Wizards series, all species know that there is the One, the creator, and the Powers That Be, who serve the One, and the Lone One, who is the force of entropy but a necessary part of creation nonetheless. Each species has its own versions of these, though, and sometimes multiple versions. In The Book of Night with Moon, cat wizard Rhiow and her team struggle with reenactments and revisions of feline mythology and its intersections and interactions with other species’ myth and history. In the latest installment, The Big Meow, we get a vital addition to the mythology explaining how the feline version of the afterlife came to be.

So overall there’s a pretty viable pantheon, with their stories told in a comprehensive myth cycle that covers creation, the purposes of life, why death happens, and what comes after. Although the cats don’t practice formal rituals as such, there are also plenty of examples of how different cats relate – or don’t – to their deities. All in all, if someone wanted to work with this setting, they could. But would you?

Some ideas of working with imaginary pantheons are simply not tenable for me; I couldn’t keep a straight face through even a self-subverting chaos magic ritual that called on Star Trek characters, for example. But things like the ha-ha-only-serious rituals of Caffeina, or even chaos magicians working with Bill the Cat or with ferrets, those I can all imagine doing. In my particular urban area, I have learned to offer incense and to give praise and thanks to my own dear Asphaltia, Our Lady of Traffic and Parking Spaces.

This is one of the interesting things about not being constrained by the Christian emphasis on belief. I don’t have to believe that Bill the Cat is anything other than fiction; if the ritual does something for me, (even just a good laugh) that can be a good enough reason to do it.

On the other hand, the more I work with Asphaltia, and the more I get unexpected results from those workings, the more I wonder if she’s not actually a contemporary aspect of the deity of travel and travelers who has had many forms throughout the ages.

Star wrote recently about how we don’t create meaning ex nihilo, and that our relationships with the Powers That Be include ongoing revelation. Can some of these new deities – or old deities in new forms – be part of that ongoing revelation? Does it matter if that revelation comes originally in the form of fiction, like Duane’s work, or loving humor, like Caffeina?

What do you think about fictional or invented or “found” deities or powers? Do you work with them? Only with certain ones? Why?

Finally, I raise this question because I’d also like to find out if there would be any interest in me posting a creation myth I wrote based in part on Diane Duane’s felines. I adapted the pantheon slightly and told the story in form more similar to most Wiccan myths. If you’d like to see it, just leave a note in the comments or “like” this post.

My plant as an altar

Hecate has written passionately piece about how her garden can be an intensely demanding lover, especially right now, when it never stops needing her attention, and the relationship, I can only imagine, is sweaty and exhausting, and I hope satisfying. I have only a few potted plants on my balcony, so I can’t describe my relationship with my plants in that way, but it made me wonder whether I can think of one of my plants as an altar.

Some time ago, my mother sent me a potted plant as part of a gift. It’s a pretty little succulent whose glossy green leaves have a thin line of contrasting reddish-purple color along their scalloped edges. When I am good at taking care of it, it rewards me with clusters of little red four-petaled flowers. I am not always good at taking care of it, but it’s teaching me, albeit slowly. Plants are often slow teachers, which is good for me when I’m being a slow learner.

One day as I was taking care of it, I found that a sizeable stalk had gotten accidentally snapped off – possibly by the cats, possibly by me pushing it up against the window carelessly. I felt bad about this, and as I hesitated to throw the broken part away, a tiny idea emerged: Couldn’t some plants propagate like this? Actually, come to think of it, I knew that jade plants, which are also succulents, could grow from cuttings, so…what if?

Not quite sure of myself, I got a water glass, ran water in it, and plunked the little stalk down it it next to the big plant, and gave it my best wishes. Much to my amazement, it worked. After just a few days, I could see tendrils of thin, white roots emerging. Over the next several days, I added just a few crystals of Miracle-Gro to the water, figuring that it needed some nutrients. When it put out new leaves, I knew it wasn’t just my imagination; this thing was actually growing!

I had to guess at the right time and sufficient root structure to actually plant it in soil and a pot of its own, but the little sprout is now growing luxuriantly. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but I hope that it will soon. Since it’s still relatively small, it spends most of its time on my desk.

I have a little mini-altar on my desk already: an inkwell, my dip pen, and a few other symbols of the Elements and Powers. But as I was watering my plants the other day, I said something like, “There you go! That should help!” to one of them, and it struck me that the watering could be a kind of offering, a libation not just to the spirits but to the very physical beings of that little corner of earth.

So I think I’m going to try cultivating a relationship with my little desk succulent wherein I regard it as an altar, a place where I come to observe and appreciate life: its, mine, and all. The difference between watering and libation may be as simple as the words I say, and the attitude I foster within myself. We’ll see. If I’m right, and it works, then this plant may become to me, for a time, more than just a plant, being also at the same time a living symbol of some of what I see as holy.

Where do you find or make your altars?

PS: Real gardeners may be horrified by my admittedly blase attitude towards the sprouting experiment. I’m sorry. I don’t even know the real name of this type of plant, and as I said, I’m still learning. Because of my many concerns with the non-plant beings in my life, plants are relatively low on my priority list. This post is about an example of changing that. Which is my way of saying: please don’t lecture me about what I should have done. I’m working on it.

Meditation Moment: The Skill of Forgetting

We often think of forgetting as a problem, something that only happens by accident, something that we want to fight against. Our memories are vital to who we are and how we live; loss of memory is one of the most feared aspects of aging for some people. But memory isn’t always a good thing. The traumatic, intrusive memories of PTSD are just one example of memory run amok. Think about what your mind would feel like if you could never forget anything, even the most trivial details, like the thousands of license plates you see on the road in the course of your life. Having to sort through all of those to try to remember your own would be a nightmare. We would drown in the details, which is why forgetting can be a skill.

In investigating the effects of cannabis, science writer and nature lover Michael Pollan discovered that the plant makes compounds with structures similar to neurotransmitters involved in the extremely complex process of regulating remembering and forgetting. In his book The Botany of Desire, Pollan went on to speculate that part of the experience of being high might come from cannabis temporarily altering this system by impairing our memories, letting us experience the world as fresh and new rather than through the filter of our memories and expectation.

As he put it, “It is only by forgetting that we ever really drop the thread of time and approach the experience of living in the present moment, so elusive in ordinary hours. And the wonder of that experience, perhaps more than any other, seems to be at the very heart of the human desire to change consciousness, whether by means of drugs or any other technique.” (162, emphasis original) This amazing mindfulness and presence in the present is one of the things that meditation makes available to us without the use of mind-altering substances.

I have suggested using a focus for meditation, such as a candle, object from nature, or a favorite image. But it’s easy for us to substitute our abstract conception of a thing for the thing itself. We can think of our internal imagination and memory of what a candle is or looks like rather than what is actually in front of us; we meditate on our idea of what a rose is or ought to be rather than on this particular, unique rose in the here and now. It’s almost as if we like to substitute some idealized Platonic representative of a whole class of objects for the immediate reality.

One way to get around that tendency is to treat an encounter with a focus object almost as a game to test your observation skills: what is this particular stone like? Can you visualize it clearly when you close your eyes? Could you pick it out of a group of similar rocks? What makes it unique or distinctive?

This seems like it would be an exercise of memory, but where forgetting is needed to help us lay aside our expectations and experiences so that we can perceive the particular object we’re focusing on more clearly. The gift of memory isn’t just the freshness and wonder of being absorbed in the world but also the ability to take in our experiences more accurately. Memory, especially in the form of expectations and assumptions, can give us blind spots where we simply can’t absorb information that is contrary to what we already know or think.

To practice the skill of forgetting, try using an object from the natural world that will change over time as your meditation focus. A leaf, a cut flower, a plant with a bud about to open, or anything that will show changes over a few days to a week will work. Try approaching it each day as an entirely new experience. Let go of how you saw this thing yesterday; don’t let that memory override your actual perception of the object today. Look at it as a whole, not just noticing the changes. When your mind brings up comparisons and changes over time, acknowledge the thought and then bring your attention back to the present moment and the current reality of your focus.

A similar challenge is to try to describe something in nature without using its name; an herb might be a plant, an annual, a member of a certain family, have flowers that butterflies or bees enjoy, home to a spider’s web, something that needs water and sun (but not too much of either), a producer of oxygen and consumer of carbon dioxide, a seasoning in your favorite dish, home to pests or resistant to them, and on and on. Describing the herb this way makes us more aware of the way it exists in a complex web of ecological interrelationships, instead of concentrating only on the way the herb exists in relationship to us. It’s almost a way to see the plant on its own terms rather than on ours.

This fresh perception and the wonder that it brings with it are the gifts of forgetting. Even for a little while, this kind of forgetting can be soothing and healing. Forgetting, used wisely, can be a valuable skill. Make meditation a time to practice it.

Meditation Moment: Bringing the Outdoors In

Last month I wrote about how being deeply present in a single moment helps us relate to all moments; this month, I want to extend that approach to thinking about space as well as time. As Pagans, we tend to cultivate our connections to the world around us, especially the natural world. Meditation can help us deepen that connection.

Many of us practice in urban areas, but still want to connect to the rhythm of the seasons and natural cycles. It can be ideal to find a location outdoors in which to meditate, but few of us have the luxury of doing that every day. So we need to find ways of bringing the outdoors in for us to connect with during meditation.

The goal here is to be present in a particular place, just as last month we talked about being present in the particular moment. We want to be present with this individual stone, or shell, or flower, or twig; not with all stones, or all flowers, but this one, in particular, in all of its uniqueness. It is an example of the place it came from, a connection to that one spot. But just as being present in each unique moment helps us connect to all moments, narrowing our focus to a deeper contemplation of this one location can paradoxically help us appreciate the totality of the world we live in.

Meditation’s connection between the minuscule and the majestic – now and all time, here and everywhere, myself and all living things – makes this contemplation of nature much more than a decoration, more than a superficial acknowledgement, and into a deep act of awareness. When we want to have a more meaningful relationship with the web of life and the natural cycles that support it, we can start small. Recognizing the uniqueness of one thing and the richness in one small corner of reality helps us appreciate that each corner is similarly rich and full.

If you can make meditating outdoors in a particular spot an occasional addition to your regular practice, that can help you establish a relationship with a specific place. Then taking a small reminder – a stone, a leaf – back to your usual meditation space is part of an ongoing process of connection anchored in that location, not just a scattershot series of one-off connections with a multitude of places. Even if there’s no special place where you can go and meditate, maintaining a connection with a particular spot is a better way to anchor yourself in the rhythms of nature; connect to one tree or one group of living things in your area, and use reminders of them as your focus for meditation.

If you really want to connect to the seasons in that place, make sure to change your focus on a regular basis. Take your reminder back to the place you got it, and return it to nature with your thanks, then find something else, something new, to focus on, to help you experience the constant change and wonderful variety found in your particular location. Especially at this time of year, when flowers are blooming and trees are unfurling their leaves as fast as possible, don’t let your focus get fixed on a single object to the extent that you ignore the changes taking place in your little corner of the world.

Get physical about your experience of place, too! The physical world engages our senses in ways that an abstraction like time can’t. Feel the texture of trees’ bark with your fingers, taste the tart sweetness of blackberries later on, listen to the birds and the wind in the leaves and the patter of the rain. And yes, stop and smell the roses – and the honeysuckle and lilacs and everything else, too.

I mentioned that a connection to place can serve as a kind of anchor. Just as the ability to draw one’s attention to the present moment can be a part of grounding and centering, the deep awareness of a particular place can also be a form of grounding – the literal meaning behind the metaphor. That familiarity with a location can be a touchstone, a reminder of the relationship that we hearken back to every time we pause over a meal or give thanks for coming home safely after a trip.

And since you know that by connecting to your one place, you are also connecting to all places, even when you are in unfamiliar surroundings you know you have the ability to ground yourself there as well, to tap into the connection to the same deeper reality, and if you need to, to become familiar with this new place as well.

The beginning of this month is the celebration of Beltane; it’s time to fall in love again. One of love’s amazing qualities is that it takes us outside of ourselves. By engaging with someone else, we gain a whole new perspective on the world, and on ourselves, and we gain the opportunity to change and grow in ways we could hardly have imagined alone. This Beltane, consider falling in love with the land. When we do, when we bring the outdoors in, if we fully engage with it and start to develop a relationship, it too, like all good loves, will take us outside of ourselves.

Down in the mud at Beltane

Some days I think that no one in her right mind would want to be a Witch and a priestess – unless, of course, she was called to it, and it was as much a part of her blood as the cells that carry oxygen to keep her moving even when she’s tired and heartsore.

Another family that my partner works with just lost a baby at term. It was one of those accidents that just happens; no one is at fault, there’s no real cause to look for. It just happened. I’m volunteering to help any way I can, and what I could do today was bake bread.

So I did: I took water, which is most of what we’re made of, and added salt, for the tears the family is crying right now. Then I added honey, for the sweetness and healing that will come later, and milk, for the nurturing the mother was going to give to her child, and the nurturing the couple needs right now, and oil to ease the transitions. Yeast came next, because baking is about life, in the midst of everything. And then flour: the body of John Barleycorn, whose offering of life sustains us all.

I mixed it, and when it started to stick together, I kneaded it, turning it, folding it, getting it stuck to my fingers, feeling it transform in my hands. And I sang: I sang my sorrow, and my concern, and my care, and my love, and my support right down into that dough until it was folded in among all the physical parts. I let it rise, letting the life of the yeast do what it’s supposed to, and when it had risen, I punched it down and kneaded it again, shaping it into a loaf. I laid the loaf in the cradle of its pan. When it was ready, I baked it, using the fire to further transform and then fix the physical form as well as to seal my intent.

And after I dropped it off for the family, I went to TRI to have a rest and talk with the Lord and Lady. I found a spot in my favorite corner of the island and was sitting on a rock dipping my toes in the Potomac, thinking about what it means to be a Witch and to live on boundaries, in the in-between spaces, when a family came by on the path. One of the little boys clambered up on top of some rocks and then jumped down again from about his height onto hard ground. He had a rough landing, but he didn’t seem to hurt himself, although my heart leapt up into my throat to see him do it. Then he started crying, and I thought maybe he’d bitten his lip – his father turned to him (had just been advising the other son not to climb on the rocks like that…), but the boy was crying too much to tell him what was wrong, and then I was moving, trying to get to them and mentally reviewing the first aid kit in the car and how quickly I could get to it if he had a serious laceration. It turns out he just bit his tongue, but I was at least able to tell his father what had happened, and he comforted his son.

On the way to them, I dropped and broke my sunglasses, and got one foot in the river’s mud, and I didn’t care, because as Nanny Ogg said, “Is a witch someone who would look round when she heard a child scream?” Of course she is.

As I continued walking around the island, I was acutely aware of the ways the rain and soil have been interacting lately; there was plenty of mud around, and while that’s not the first thing that springs to mind when I think of Beltane, it was obvious that the mud was part of the waking up of the land and the life just as much as the pretty flowers and new leaves. I thought about the ways that Witches describe themselves as living on the edges, or being there when life is on the edge, and things can go either way. Those edges aren’t a distant place on some far-away periphery, they’re the edges in the middle of everything, like the mud is the edge between the water and the land. As Granny Weatherwax would say, that is where the soul and center of Witchcraft is: down in the mud.