goddess spirituality, pagan, life

Rites of Death: Requiem for a Squirrel

Content warning—description of animal death

For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I wanted to share the ritual I enacted after witnessing a violent squirrel death. This is the second dead animal I’ve come across in the last month; I also found a robin outside of my door which had likely passed from West Nile virus. Just as I try to drastically reduce my consumption of animal products, my access to their suffering has increased.

Witnessing Wildness

As I walked with my dog, I hear a ruckus in a neighbor’s tree. My pup and I stopped to see what was causing all the commotion. Unexpectedly, three squirrels came hurdling at least ten feet from a nest in the tree and plopped on the ground. One landed with a smacking sound. My brain tried to sanitize what I’d just seen by telling me it was like a mother bird pushing her offspring out of the nest, even as I stood there covering my mouth with my hand, eyes bugging out. A single squirrel that remained in the tree squawked in victory.

I kept walking, believing everything was alright. As I passed the house on my way back, two neighbors came out, staring at the tree. I went over and explained what I’d seen. One of the men remarked that a squirrel, the one that landed with a thud, seemed like it might be dead. Before I could react, the other man started kicking and stomping on it. He kicked it into the bush where I could now see it. Its body laid there, still and silent. I felt sickened to my core and helpless. I was confused by the ambiguity of his actions—unsure if he was trying to “put it out of its misery” or if it was merely stunned and could have recovered. I left the scene but what I’d observed bothered me the rest of the day.

Words of Mourning

I decided to hold a small ritual to mourn the squirrel. Its manner of death was so abrupt and violent that I intuited on a visceral level the fear people have of ghosts and spirits who linger, unable to move on to their next destination. I’ve always conceptualized funerals as events designed to help the living grieve, but now I’m not so certain that they are the only ones in attendance. I burned some palo santo, lit a candle, and recited the following chant:

May Earth cradle.

May Air free.

May Fire guide.

May Water heal.

May your essence, emanating from Source, spiral its home in the cosmic web.

I also lit a candle outdoors the next day to finalize my actions. It flickered on and off like a heartbeat. Each time I thought it had been blown out by the wind, its flame started anew.

When I walked by the place of passing, the squirrel was gone.That is, its body had been removed or resurrected; I didn’t have a strong sense of its spirit either, but the tree, now empty, felt closed-in and shadowed to me.

We pass every day near places where violence has occurred, often on a much grander scale than what I saw. We can do all we are able to stop these types of events. When they do happen, how do we integrate them into our experience? How do we heal them and ourselves of our participation in them? How do we remember and honor those who have passed?

goddess spirituality, inspiration, life, pagan

Honoring Limitations

Today would typically be my next post for #GoddessingSelfCare Sunday. Unfortunately, my workload and health issues have piled up to the point where I feel like my day-to-day is a never-ending series of obligations. As a result, I need to slow myself down and respect my own limits. I want to carve out more time to dig into my spiritual practice so that what I write come as much from a place of authenticity as possible. I will still be blogging, but I am now planning to post about once a week, with additional posts as I am able. Looking forward to our continued conversations!

life

The Mother of Mirrors and the Ungrateful Child

I’m interrupting my normal themed posts in order to share a part of my personal journey as it relates to mental health and being a trauma survivor. This particular post does not have a focus on spirituality, but I will be seeking out themes to which I can make a connection. I would welcome any comments about how what I shared impacted you or if you find yourself relating to any of my experiences.

“Yes,” he said, “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

― G.K. Chesterton, The Innocence of Father Brown

My mother remains a mystery to me. I lived with her from birth into young adulthood, but I never glimpsed behind the mask of mirrors she projected. She kept everyone at a particular distance; close enough to control but not so close that any vulnerability or genuine emotion was expressed. She would let me sit next to her and then unexpectedly shove me away.

She hid her true self under a mask of a loving, caring parent, when in fact she alternated in private between terrorizing, smothering and manipulating her charges. As soon as the phone was hung up or the car door shut or the last guest left, her polite, demure demeanor instantly transformed into an enraged, overburdened and abandoned character. And even this was a mask for whatever deep shame and revulsion drove her psyche, tossed aside for another version as soon as it suited her. She would scream and cry for days during her cycle, and, when asked what was making her depressed, would respond by saying “What do you mean? I’m always happy.” Every time I thought I saw her, she shifted and another mirror appeared.

What (not who) was I to this woman? I think I was an extension of her that she despised but needed, or maybe despised because she needed. She desired to possess me. I was to be her servant, happy that she allowed me to exist to ease her suffering. But of course I could never get it quite right and could never win her affection. She didn’t just fail to love me; she actively hated me. Had I stayed at home into adulthood and done nothing with my life aside from making a meager financial contribution and orienting myself towards pleasing her, she would not have made any effort to push me towards adult maturity. One of my greatest emotional burdens is that I’ve seen some of my siblings come close to this destiny after I rejected it. I was the oldest so the task fell to me initially; when I finally said “no more,” she simply adjusted her aim and found another target.

I’ve hesitated many times to share my experiences for fear of being called ungrateful and being judged for my estrangement from my family. Something settled anew in me when I decided to own it. I am ungrateful. Ungrateful for being sexually, emotionally and verbally abused. Ungrateful for being mocked and ridiculed every time I expressed an opinion. Ungrateful for being treated like an object or as an appendage. Ungrateful for the breadcrumbs of attention I was thrown, for which I was expected to grovel.

I want to wear my inner strengths that she labeled ungratefulness, entitlement and selfishness as a mantle; I would not be a fully functioning or even a marginally functioning adult without them. For wherever I am over-confident or proud in my everyday life, I offer myself grace and succor. To the parts of myself that are filled with shame and self-doubt, I extend hospitality and shout a message of “You are important!” “I see you!” “You have a right to exist!” to quiet the inner critic who wishes them gone.

I cobbled together a person from the fragments of my shattered mind. The embarrassment I’ve felt for my Frankenstein creation is being steadily replaced by an abiding sense of astonishment that the stitches are so well placed and the parts amble in a coordinated fashion. She broke me apart, seeking my soul, but I hid it away and now the rest of me—my mind, my body and my heart—have also been reclaimed as my own.

A major task of adulthood is making sense of our childhood, integrating the disappointments of our parents with their strengths in order that we may form our identity, develop close relationships and caretake the next generation. I cannot do this very well with my mother. I do see how hard she worked and I value the perseverance she instilled in me. I wish to feel sadness towards her limitations without being consumed with guilt, but she blamed me ceaselessly for her suffering without considering any of her own flaws. I wish to forgive her, but she never acknowledged that she did anything wrong towards me. I wish to connect to her, but she always kept me at a distance. I wish to focus on the silly, joyful, carefree times, but she didn’t allow herself to indulge in them with me.

So the best I can manage is acceptance. I accept that I’ve never really known who my mother is, that she’s existed in a kaleidoscope of interchangeable facades, and that she has been incapable of loving or even of seeing me as a person. I wish I could experience a genuine moment of humanity from her once in my life, but I accept that I will instead treasure every single one of these moments I’ve co-created with those who do love and care for me.

life

Two Books That Mattered: Losing the Faith of My Fathers

I shared some of my personal journey towards Goddess Spirituality in a recent blog and want to fill in the next chapter for the inaugural #Thealogy Thursday. I want to note here that I believe there are many legitimate pathways to spirituality and faith; I don’t think mine is the only road that should be traveled. I do not intend to suggest a false dichotomy; many of the individuals I know who practice Goddess Spirituality incorporate it into their existing faith traditions.

Plenty of people who come from the same religious background as the one in which I grew up are happy and healthy in their view of the world and I see no need to challenge them. Unfortunately, the only picture that was painted of those for whom it wasn’t a good fit was that of rollicking, horny, intoxicated fools who were destined for the pit. I can assure you I am none of those things, not by choice but by nature.

Intertwining events marked my final journey away from the belief system in which I was raised. I attended a religious discussion group in which the topic of women’s role in the faith was raised. I was heartbroken to see good people, people I respected, come to conclusions such as thinking that it was in the best interest of female rape victims in antiquity to be married off to their abusers. For the first time, my conceptualization of the Holy Book of my people turned from being an idea that mankind had misinterpreted it to keep women in their place to awakening to the realization that, as I saw it, sexism was baked into the content of the book itself. All the misogyny and hypocrisy I’d witnessed growing up wasn’t a fluke or personal failing; I saw it cradled at the heart of the fundamentalist faith system.

The second experience occurred in the same time frame. I visited a bookstore—one of those used bookstores where there’s just enough filth and dinginess to convince you that you are taking a part of the person whose used book you are purchasing as well as the book itself home with you. I came across Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman. I know the historical accuracy of this book has been questioned, but it shed light into a completely different world for me, one where I wasn’t second class spiritually and where the body and soul of womankind also mattered. It would take a lot more living before it really settled in, but, for the first time, the voice of Goddess rose above a whisper for me.

I didn’t experience a lot of emotional upheaval during this transition, as it was mainly an intellectual reformation rather than an impulsive, feeling-based reaction. The primary change was the double-life I’d been leading—outwardly judging others morally while inwardly feeling acceptance of them as regular human beings—was no longer needed. I didn’t have to divide the world into believers and non-believers. I got to think for myself and experience relationships in all their humanness instead of a conversion contest. Best of all, I came to see that I have as much time and space as my lifetime allows to explore faith, belief, meaning, and Deity, and to then fashion my personal truth out of that experience. I believe everyone should have the same freedom.

life

Three Witches I Met Along the Way to Goddess Spirituality

Pilgrim’s Progress, a 17th century tale by John Bunyan, allegorically recounts the experiences of Christian on his spiritual journey through places such as the “Hill of Difficulty” and the “Slough of Despond.” I encountered this story repeatedly as a child and was left feeling inadequate and condemned. Afraid of God and afraid of myself, namely, of my own capacity for evil. My walk has been redeemed, but not by the religion of my youth. I didn’t know when I started out that I was walking towards Goddess, but she’s met me in unexpected ways again and again.

Only She Speaks

As a child in an ultraconservative Christian church, women were not allowed to preach. God had ordained men for this task. In the 20+ years I attended the church in which I was baptized, there was only one exception to this rule, and she was a witch. Well, a former witch. I have no idea where this woman’s life intersected with that of my church’s, nor why she was chosen, but she was allowed to give the sermon one Sunday when I was a child, scaring the hell out of me. She described having sex with Satan himself and walking around with other witches to look for holes in people’s spiritual defenses of their houses in order to lay a curse.

I promptly swore off Halloween for many years and was terrified of the witches out there, just lurking. Through my adult eyes, I assume she might have been involved in some kind of practice of the Great Rite that went badly wrong for her, but, where I was from, we took it at face value. She had been a witch, and witches were evil. Women, really, were especially evil ever since Eve took that first bite. Womankind could speak only to condemn herself and her fellow sisters in sin.

Ghosts In Here

I have very few dreams from childhood that have stuck with me, but one that remains is layered with meaning. I was running, terrified, through a house with greenish-blue walls. Bad, dangerous men were outside chasing me. I entered a room with an old woman rocking in her chair. She sat faced mostly away from me with a woolen shawl gathered around her shoulders. I jumped in her lap, scared witless. She started to turn towards me, saying “There are ghosts in here.” I asked her how she knew. As she replied “Because I’m one of them,” her face settled on me, and I realized she had no pupils. Milky white eyes that saw nothing gazed at me and I startled awake, no refuge to be found.

For many years, I viewed this as a metaphor for mother and grandmother in my life, willfully blind to the sexual abuse I was suffering at the hands of my male relatives. Seeing but unseeing, aged and useless for defense but offering the shroud of protection and the lap of hope.

Now, through bewitched lenses, I’ve opened to a more complex interpretation. The crone unable to act yet full of insight. Telling me exactly what was happening in my life within two sentences. Letting me know that which seemed familiar and comfortable might not be a safe place after all. Keeping my eyes wide-open, unable to look away from the horrors the men “outside” continue to enact on women around the world.

Go Home, She’s Home

When I was 19, I faced the deepest dive into depression I’ve had thus far. Every day, I plotted how to kill myself. I settled on jumping off of a bridge, one that I drove over every day. I was still involved in the church and shared openly about my suicidality with some of the young women there.

Soon after this, we had a church potluck. After filling my plate, I tried to sit with the other young people, but no one joined me. I was alone in my hour of need. My 19 year old, depression-addled mind couldn’t see beyond that moment, and I snapped. I left—fled really—and drove towards my house in a rage-die now mindset.

As I neared the intersection where I needed to make a decision to either drive home or drive to the bridge, I heard a voice, clear as day, in my head. “Go home.” Instantly I thought of someone I could reach out to for help, and positive steps I could take. It was the thinnest the veil has been for me; darkness and death were within reach but She pulled me back out. I soon left behind the home I was raised in along with my abusive family, but I continue meeting her at the crossroads and she keeps calling me to my spiritual home. The wise woman unshackled from patriarchal religion that keeps her blinded and frail. She stands in her power and she guides me onward.