Celebrating the Divine Mother on Mother’s Day

This morning I woke up feeling the slight pull of depression for no apparent reason. My life is going well, I love my job, my daughters are with me this weekend and it’s been a good one, and I’m feeling good health wise. So why the depression? Then I remembered that tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

If your mother is wonderful and you have great memories to celebrate, Mother’s Day is a fine day to do that. If you have this kind of Mother’s Day, I am happy for you.

If your mother was less than wonderful, or has passed and you miss her greatly, or you are wanting to be a mother but you can’t be, it can be a terribly painful holiday. The greeting cards, advertisements, and hearing about everyone else’s wonderful Mother’s Day plans don’t help.

In the true Reclaiming Tradition, I am going to re-create this holiday to serve my needs. May I present Mother’s (Mother with an extra-big capital “M”) Day. As in the Divine Mother, the Goddess.

And here’s why I need to do this:

When I was nine, my family experienced a tragedy that cost me my both my brother and mother. My brother was dead. My mother was still alive, but I was no longer allowed to see her. I remember that first year, when I was fourth grade. I lost my mother in September. In May, my teacher asked us to write a poem about Mother’s Day and how painful that was. It opened a barely-healed wound.

Because I was the only surviving child of a very busy and somewhat “tough guy” father, I spent a lot of time alone. I often took long walks in my neighborhood’s green belt, or even just sat under the giant ash tree in our back yard. And one day as I was sitting there, I became conscious of the Great Connection. I felt the pull of nature. I saw the Web. I felt held by the Web, and by the Mother. I did not know Her name back then, but I felt Her love, Her holding of me, and my place in Her family. She saved my life. Many times, She saved me. She saves me still.

The final connection came when I had the opportunity to aspect Earth at one of our community rituals about a year and a half ago. When I opened myself up, what filled me was pure love, the Mother’s love. And when people came to me and I held their hands, and that love passed into them, most of them audibly gasped. They could feel it, too. The Mother’s Love is real. And it is within us and all around us.

I became a mother myself without my mother being there for me. When the kids were older and repeating the Mother’s Day school crafts (some things never change) and came home with paper flowers and cards for me, I was both moved with joy, and I felt sadness at remembering my childhood self who never got to do this.

When my tiny firstborn daughter was set on top of my now-empty womb for the first time, I looked her over. She is of mixed heritage and has taken on more of her father’s darker features than my light, green-eyed ones. But there! Her toes! She has my toes, the same curves, the same shape. She has my barely-there little toenails. And though it has now been 16 years since that moment, I still sometimes smile at recognizing my own self in part of her when I see her toes.

And my second daughter– she has the hands and feet and body type of her father’s side. But she has the same brain structure as me, in the way she often struggles to learn differently in the exact same way as me, and my mother before me. And she has my heart. Love is her super power. She loves deeply and hurts deeply. She is an empath like me.

I think of the Divine Mother, and what She must see in me, as Her daughter. Not only the flesh and bones that are made of the Earth, or the fire in the energy-houses in every cell in my body, or the air that rushes into and out of the caverns of my lungs, and is dispersed throughout my body as carried by the rivers within, or the electric sparks of nervous synapses. But also my heart. My growth.

And just as I often watch my children experiencing something for the first time—their first time splashing in puddles after a rain, their faces light up at their first live concert, their first time broken-hearted after having a fight with their best friend– I imagine that the Mother watches me. She lives through me. She sees the world through my eyes. My life individual life experiences add to the Whole.

As a mother, I have to know when to rescue, and when to stand back and let life teach my daughters by experience. They are now at that transitional stage, or rather, we are. They are walking ahead of me and I am holding back. It is hard, but it needs to happen for them to grow. They know I am there when they need me, and that gives them the confidence to walk ahead. I love it when my daughters have a moment of joy and they smile and then they turn to me and say, “Mom, look!” and they want to share that with me.

And when I have joy, I am sharing that with the Mother, and I am enhancing the whole Web. I take the time (or try to) to celebrate the gift of being alive. The smell of coffee in the morning. The deep sincere embrace between friends. The pleasure of playing my favorite music in the car while driving to work. The divine act of making love.

And like I do with my own daughters, sometimes She stands back and lets me walk my own path. It often hurts, the process of growing. But in moments of pain, if I remember to allow myself to trust, the Holy Web is there to catch me when I fall. Even in my suffering when I often feel I am alone, I am not. All I have to do is look around me, sit with Nature, start to see the Web.

Motherhood is a sacred thing. The bringing forth of new life. The breast that nourishes us. The soil that holds the roots of growth so that we may spread ourselves upward. We are our Mother. She is Us. Let us celebrate Her on Mother’s Day.

Questioning Forgiveness

I am in my 40’s now, firmly in middle age somewhere between the “mother” and “crone” stages of life. One would think I would be wiser, more practiced at the processing of grief and pain and anger and forgiveness. I am a witch, after all. That implies wisdom. And people who have heard my story often state that I have lived several lifetimes in this one. But I struggle still with forgiveness. Oh, I struggle! I am an expert at holding grudges.

I think back to all the times I was hurt. Intentionally, unintentionally, selfishly. And all the times I’ve had to rebuild my life and move on. The last incident, the one that has prompted this deep exploration into the idea of forgiveness, is still too fresh to elaborate upon. Let’s just say it shattered me to my core. Again. And I know it won’t be the last time I will be hurt or wronged.

I need to find a better path of recovery for next time. Because there’s always a next time.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The first time I was severely hurt was when a man who was a friend of the family murdered my six year old handicapped brother. I was nine. The world as I knew it, the proverbial rug I was standing on so securely, was in one motion ripped out from under me. Child Protective Services was involved. I never again saw my friends, my home, my neighborhood, and even lost my beloved little dog. Not to mention my only sibling at the time. In addition, I was removed from the closed religious community of my mother and placed into the secular world of my father. Culture shock in every way possible.

How does one survive this and go on? Being a child, I had no choice but to go on. I was enrolled in a new school. I was given new clothes to wear (pants for the first time!). I grew into a woman without my mother around. My father was harsh and militaristic. Although he had the best of intentions and I know he loved me, he had a funny way of showing it.

Later, after I was a mother myself, my dad made amends with me. He truly apologized and meant it. We healed and had a close relationship until he died suddenly at the age of 59. I am so glad we were in a good place when he died. If there’s an example in my life of true forgiveness, it was between me and my dad.

My mom and I have both tried to repair our relationship as adults. She is not the person she used to be. I had to set boundaries, including a ten-year period where we did not speak at all. Although I love her, I still keep her at arm’s length. Is this true forgiveness? Not really. It is tolerance for the sake of love and doing the right thing.

Next was a twenty-year marriage that ended in divorce. The marriage started well enough, with love and hope and promises of a good life together. And then I became a stay at home mom of two kids (one with medical challenges). I don’t think he could adjust well to this. He coped by going back to how he was raised. He became rigid, controlling, and emotional abusive. I found myself a woman in my early 40’s with two kids, starting over. Again.

And then there is this most recent thing that happened. I entered into a situation with pure love, great trust, hope, and the best of intentions. Then a problem emerged that took on a life of its own. I thought love would be enough to overcome it, but it was not. This one hit me hard. I was caught off guard, emotionally open to all the love and pain. I loved fully. I grieved fully.

Just when I would think I was over it, it would hit me again and I’d spend more time being heartbroken and angry. I wondered when the pain would end.I would be angry at myself, that I “should” be over this by now. That I “should” forgive.

As I was having another depressive episode triggered by this situation, I remembered years ago when a friend pointed her finger at me and commanded, “Witch, heal thyself!” Indeed, I am not helpless in this situation. I don’t have to carry the victim’s burden and pain forever. I walk the Witches Path. It is a path of shadow work, finding truths, and then casting those truths into the bright sun. Step by step, I make a new path.

Step 1: Examine the meaning of “forgiveness”

As a child, I was taught that in order to be a good person, I was required to forgive, even embrace and love, my enemies. I was taught: Colossians 3:13: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” And Matthew 6:15 “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Merriam-Webster says forgiveness is “the act of forgiving.” It’s something that is done actively. It’s a conscious effort. It’s hard work (damned hard work!). To forgive is to “to cease to feel resentment.”

The main problem I have with “forgiveness” in the definitions above is that it requires the victim and perpetrator both be involved in the process of healing, even if only in the mind of the victim. The victim must forgive (let go of resentment towards) the one who caused so much pain. Maybe they just want to focus on healing their wounds instead of thinking of the one who caused them.

There is guilt factor here, too.If the victim continues to have occasional thoughts of resentment, it makes the victim feel they have failed in the act of forgiving. It also denies them permission and room to be angry.

Step 2: Allow anger to happen.

Anger can be a good thing. It validates feelings and allows me to express them. I am still learning to be comfortable with anger. A good fire has a purpose. It should be allowed to blast up to the heavens, and then burn down to glowing coals. I think those coals are those of resentment, and it’s okay to let them glow a bit. They are living reminders of the lessons learned, the wisdom earned.

It is hard for me to let anger die down once its ignited. Sometimes compassion towards the wrong-doer tempers resentment: they had good intentions that went poorly, they were not being mindful of my feelings, they were immersed in their own problems. But big infernos are directed towards the person who hurts me with intent: who knowingly manipulates me, lies to me, abuses me! This burns my heart! Especially if this person is someone who supposedly loved me, who hurt me when my heart was open to them. This shatters me.

Step 3: Seek the support of friends and community to witness the pain

In the rebuilding of my life, I embraced– and was embraced back by– a beautiful community of friends and spiritual companions. And I did a difficult thing. I reached out to them as I felt myself retreating into the darkness of grief. I suffer from depression, always trying to put it in its place on my good days. On my bad days, it takes over and pulls me down into a dark spiral.

This time I started to reach out to my community in my desire to heal and be pulled out of the spiral. Sometimes I told them I was having a dark day. Other times I just started a chat with them about neutral topics, or checked in with them on their problems.

At one point when I was in the deepest throes of my anger and pain, I reached out to my inner circle for help. I needed to be heard. Many were shocked by the intensity. I even shocked myself! I allowed my tears to flow freely. My friends, my tribe, they lovingly witnessed those tears. They held me, and protected me, and offered healings. They helped me bank the fire.

What was left after the healing was a strange kind of indifferent nothingness. This created space for wisdom and joy to return. It created space for me to breathe.

Step 4: Let go of the expectation of an apology.

This one is so hard for me. Probably the most difficult step of all. I was raised that people who hurt others should apologize and make amends. That’s what good, decent people do.

In childhood the teacher would make the perpetrator say “I’m sorry” and then the victim would have to say “It’s okay” when neither of them really meant it. The best part of this for me as the childhood victim was knowing that my perpetrator was caught and people saw what they did. In real life the perpetrator often gets away with it and even continues to hurt others with no regrets.

I realize now I would rather have no apology than an insincere one. And that expecting one stops me in my path of healing, and makes me dependent on the actions of the person who hurt me. I need to stop giving them power over me.

There is power in letting go, walking forward.

Step 5: “Walk forward, always forward”

What came out of the most recent heart-breaking situation was the ability to truly express my full anger for the first time in my life, and being truly held by my community and friends.

In exploring this topic of forgiveness and healing, I asked several people in my life what worked for them, and what it meant to them. One friend’s words became my mantra when I started to look back and feel pain again: “Walk forward, always forward.”

I know my journey is not done. The answers I have found are not wrapped up nicely with a bow. They are messy answers, uncertain, not fully or satisfactorily defined, imperfect. As is life.

As a Witch who walks the Path with all its shadows and light, I accept this truth. And I keep walking.

Trusting the Labyrinth

This is the year of the Labyrinth. It is the theme of this year’s upcoming California Witchcamp. When one goes to Witchcamp, one must be prepared to dive in. I already feel it pulling me in.

We are born into the Labyrinth, into its twists and turns. Most people, naturally, seek a solid place to stand, building a life that is secure, unchanging, and safe. We allow ourselves to settle into our chairs, enjoy the view. And then along comes something outside of our control that changes everything. We fight it, we beat at it, we resist it, we grieve it. And eventually we realize that in order to survive, we have no choice but to turn the next corner. The Labyrinth insists on it.

This is not to say we are helpless. Anything but! We can make good decisions and unwise ones. As Witches, we know that we are interconnected in endless ways, that we can gather energy like a fisherman’s net and cast it out again into the world. We can, to some extent, change the course of the Labyrinth. But still we must walk it. We build houses that sometimes crumble. We fall in love with someone who proves false to us. We grieve the deaths of loved ones. We feel anger. We find it hard to forgive. We are human. And, Blessed Be, some of us are Witches.

What sets us apart as Witches? Before I was as a Witch I prayed to God to make my path smooth, without further pain, without illness, and though loss was inevitable, I prayed for as little of it as possible. And then those prayers failed me, and for a time I lost faith in that Divine Being that I once called God.

And then I became bitter, as many do. I lashed out at God. I lashed out at the fact that no matter how hard I tried, the Labyrinth kept twisting and turning and making my homes crumble. I fought. I became rigid and resisting of change. The Labyrinth fought back. It bent me. Eventually it broke me.

And then I stopped fighting. Defeated. Afraid of feeling anything. Some people are stuck here. No longer growing. Afraid to. Growing hurts. It’s uncertain. It’s scary, and there are no guarantees that the growth will lead to greater security. Some people stay here, paralyzed, their whole lives. But I became restless.

I decided to stand up, dust myself off, and walk forward into the unknown. This is the moment I became a Witch.

I am learning to accept the twists and turns. I’m learning to accept the dark shadows, the sharp corners. It is my choice to keep walking. There is power in being able to choose. I have found bravery to look deep into the shadows, for there is wisdom to be found.

This is not to say I am not afraid. On my worst days I am pulled down by my depression, a constant companion who waits to surge forward when I’m not on guard. Even on my best days I know I’m taking a Holy Risk to walk into the unknown. Or known. Sometimes the shadows are my own. I look at the unflattering reflections of myself. I look fully at myself, and I seek to change myself, to grow.  This is a brave thing.

Since embracing my path as a Witch, I see connections. I see “coincidences” that remind me I’m in the place I need to be at this moment. Even in painful moments, for we must walk through pain even as we walk through joy.

And there is joy to be found there too! The joy of growth, leaving burdens behind, curiosity as to what is around the next bend. Looking forward. Finding my tribe, my people, my Loves.

Where once I lost my faith because God did not hold my hand and ensure a smooth journey for me, I have now regained my faith. I have faith in the process of the Labyrinth. I have faith that each step, each turn, each time I think I am close to the center and then am turned away again, it is where I am meant to be at that moment. I am held by the walls of the Labyrinth.

And what happens when the Labyrinth travelers reach its center? What happens when they reach the place where they can go no further, and they sit for awhile. Then what? Some people believe that’s the final end of the journey. Life stops. They go away. Some people believe it is a gateway to a holy paradise, where all their loved ones gone before are waiting. Where they finally get to see the Divine face to face. And that’s all fine and good for them.

But I am a Witch. I believe that I am the Divine in briefly human form. She sees through my eyes what it is like to be human. She feels what it is like for me to walk on gravel with bare feet. To have my heart torn out with deep grief. And to fall in love. To wrap my body around another in pure passion. To hold a newborn baby in my arms. To help someone stand up after they have fallen down. To give. And to feel helpless, so that I must learn to receive. That was the hardest lesson of all for me. To receive. To trust.

And at the center of the Labyrinth, when I finally reach the center, I sit for awhile and reflect on my journey. Then I let go this life with my final breath, and I dive back into the mystery of the Labyrinth. I become that newborn baby held in someone else’s arms. And when I learn to walk again, I will walk the Labyrinth. For to walk the Labyrinth, to leap and dance in the Labyrinth, to stumble and limp and sometimes crawl in the Labyrinth is to live life fully. I trust in the Labyrinth. I trust in the Witch’s Path.