Postcards from Home #4: Glorious Quietude

I experience much more in the quiet than I do in the loud places. Silence is actually filled with more sound than you think. Even deep in the woods as I sit at the butt of a tree trunk, there is no such thing as true and complete quiet. The forest floor is buzzing with activity, the wood of the tree at my back is humming with life, the sky above dotted by birds and broken by planes, the air all around me full of the echoes of the cars and people beyond the shelter of the branches. My tranquility is artificial. I’m tricking myself to believe I can escape from the business of being human. I like to think I can divorce the rat race and walk a Hermit’s path, that the world is beyond me and I’ve moved away from the need for company. I’ve grown accustomed to being alone so much, my solitude has become a security blanket. I cling to my isolation even when happy, crazy events stir up distress in me. My comfortable, simple life cannot always be quiet. No matter how hard I make it that way, it’s not meant to last. I have to succumb to being human, letting myself be embraced and touched, and as soon as I quickly get used to that exhausting, dizzying, laughing roller coaster ride of an experience, it is gone as suddenly as the guests had arrived. Quietude can come back as an explosion. After the silly storm of friends and family coming home to make a mess out of the areas I had meticulously cleaned in preparation for their arrival, the place is immediately silent. Yet it is a different kind of quiet after they are gone.

My home has been revitalized by the uproar of their presence.  They have left this place as quiet as it was before, but now home feels as if it has been filled and used.  This place has not just contained myself and my cat anymore.  It has served a purpose other than being a hiding place.  It has become a living space once more.  I can sink into bed and really relax into the quiet; a quiet that is not silent but glorious!  Filled to capacity with the pleasant phantasms of my loved ones, the walls splattered with the echoes of their voices, and the furniture saturated by their love.

Before anyone comes to visit, I make sure my home is the place where anyone, no matter what state (even when it’s messy) it’s in, would not only find comfort away from their home, but also be surrounded by everything that is “me” — this is why I love it when I have a guest every now and then — to let them step inside my world and escape theirs for awhile.  That’s how I feel whenever I visit other people; I feel like I am entering their world and leaving my own, I sense memories and emotions in the walls and furniture, it is almost like trying on someone else’s clothes, but more like slipping on their personality.  A visit can be an uncomfortable experience depending upon the personality.  I often wonder and worry how other people feel when they step inside my world.  Is it too quiet?  Is it too boring?  Is it too over saturated with spirits?

Today what I know is this: I am left alone today soaking in the glorious quietude at home knowing that I won’t experience this everyday, so I best experience it as much as I can before my mood slips and slides into darker, or lighter, episodes.  Today we are even keel.

Today at home, if you were here with me right now, we’d share some lemon mint tea and read our fortunes in the branches of the naked trees outside my window.  Since you are not here, I saved you the effort of coming all the way out here for a visit and brought the trees to you in a photograph.  The branches were extra talkative this morning, especially so after my guests left.

What do you see coming soon?

The Witch Who Ruined Thanksgiving

I didn’t mean to do it, but it happened. I did not meet my mother’s expectations. The year was 1990 and I finally had an apartment all to myself. It was the first time I offered to host a Thanksgiving dinner for my family. My mother had been longing for the day when I would do all the work for the holiday.  I thought I had it all figured out. I made a list of everything I could remember was traditionally served for Thanksgiving; butterball turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and my mother’s favorite, squash made extra sweet with lots of brown sugar! But I wasn’t the cook my mother was.  I should have asked her for help.  My exuberance to please my mother overtook my reason.

You would think I would have been a great cook. My mother’s side of the family is Austrian-German, a proud people who love to create feasts as much as they love to eat them. Every one of my grandmothers and aunts had their own specialties in the kitchen. I was expected to follow suit, of course. My mother was an expert at putting together fine dishes seemingly out of little to nothing. She had a special kind of magical talent that insured we’d never go hungry even on the slimmest of budgets, and our family often had to rely on charity and we even occasionally grew our own food to get by. I remember the days when we had to subsist on powdered milk, peanut butter, and mac and cheese without the milk to make it, but somehow Mom would figure out a way to make each meal taste better.

I never learned how she did it! Cooking never interested me much. I think my mother would have taught me better if she had the time. She was a busy lady, a single mother with several jobs, constantly on the move or on a mission, working at church and getting us kids involved with volunteering for charity (even when we were starving and broke ourselves). My talents lay in the arts and humanities pursuits. My nose and fingers were smudged with ink. I was never alone without a book to read, or a blank notebook to fill. I even made my own worlds and drew maps. I could barely boil water and toast bread!

The year I was 20 marked a significant time for my mother and I. Just months before Thanksgiving, I revealed to her that I was a Witch. I decided to never lie to her about my beliefs, however it was difficult to get her to understand my choice of religion. We were in a very delicate situation. I really needed to impress upon my mother that I loved her, that my religion had nothing to do with rejecting her. I was under a lot of pressure!  I spent the night before Thanksgiving up til the wee hours figuring out the meal plan.  I did everything right except for one very important thing:

I did not thaw out the turkey over night!

I started the thaw early in the morning at 6am, however, remembering just in time (or so I hoped) and went back to bed.  I forgot to set my alarm, but it was no bother because my mother and brother arrived EARLY.  I had expected them to come over in the late afternoon or early evening.  No.  Mom came at 10am!  Most of what I had prepared was in the refrigerator, the turkey was thawing in the sink and still very frozen.  I wasn’t dressed, the table was ready, but not set, and the look of disappointment on my mother’s face soon grew to rage when she quickly made her way into my kitchen to see if she could do anything to help.

“You haven’t thawed out the turkey yet?!”  She cried, “Don’t you know by now how to do that?!  Now we can’t have any turkey!”  And when I say she cried, she really cried.  Hot tears streamed down her face, she threatened to walk out and go home.  My brother sweet talked her into staying for a little while.  “C’mon, Mom,” he patted her shoulder, “it’s not that bad!  We can watch a movie…”

“This is the FIRST Thanksgiving in this family WITHOUT A TURKEY!”  Mom sobbed and my heart just sank.  I tried to soothe her by saying that I didn’t expect she’d arrive until evening.  She told me that I didn’t understand.  “It’s still frozen, Val!  What were you thinking?!”  I began to cry at this point.  My poor brother was now stuck with two upset women screaming at each other!

I don’t remember exactly what my brother did, but he managed to get my mother and I to laugh.  He has always been good at being silly, silly to the point of painfully annoying.  Soon my mother rolled up her sleeves and worked her magic in my kitchen.  She took that pathetic still rock-solid frozen turkey, threw it in the oven, and got it to thaw completely in two hours.  During those two hours we did watch a movie, came back home to really cook the turkey and warm the rest of the food, even made gravy (another thing I forgot to make!), and somehow Thanksgiving was saved.

Sad to say, I believe that was the last year my mother, brother, and I spent a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner together.  The next few years would be spent volunteering at churches, feasting with friends and their families, and then the next decade we would spend Thanksgivings in the nursing home with Mom.

The last Thanksgiving I spent with my mother was, regretfully, rushed.  My brother and I purchased pre-made dishes from a local grocery store to share with Mom. Yet in the last year of her life she no longer had teeth to chew, so much of her food had to be mushed.  Later he and I spent the day watching movies.  We don’t really have a tradition anymore and it has ceased to be a real holiday for us, yet not for any unforgiving or ungrateful reasons.  We’re American Indian and favor more of a harvest celebration, yet we’re introverts, too, content to spend the holiday alone.

This year will be different.  This year I’m reuniting with my cousins and starting a brand new tradition.  I believe my mother would be very pleased, especially since they know how to cook and maybe, just maybe, that will finally rub off on this little Witch!

Hope your turkey is thawed and juicy.  Yay.

Postcards from Home #3: Sidewalk Shadows

Sometimes when my heart is too broken and I believe I will die, the shadows themselves bend over me to comfort me…

I hold on to trees, like hugging them, as if to encourage them to always stay there. I think nothing will ever take them away from me. Yet this July a freak wind storm blew away some of my best tree friends. I was devastated. What made home familiar was destroyed in a matter of seconds. Before I sought shelter during that storm, I quick took a look out the window and saw the trees flying. Branches danced and tilted down to the ground and my heart raced like it does when it breaks.

It was hard to let go of the trees. Some of the fallen ones today still lie like discarded lincoln logs along the creek. I still run my fingers along their trunks, remembering how they felt when alive and humming. Even after the fall, the trees have a new life, their trunks are crawling with all sorts of tiny creatures. Now that we are in November, just the other day I could hear insects crunching inside the fallen wood and rodents leap along the dry leaves, darting in and out of the dead branches. The dead will provide a lot of shelter for them all when the snow comes.

I used to call the trees “mine” but they never were. This is how it is with friends as well. I can call someone I love “my” someone but really they can’t belong to me. I can’t hold them or keep them, that’s not how relationship is meant to be. Even if they submit to my embraces, the togetherness does not last and only seems it can turn into forever. Perhaps in my imagination, but not…

No thing lasts. Everything changes. All things that live must die. Even this photograph will fade. I will disappear. You will be gone. Nothing, not even dust, will someday remain. And so, while I am alive, I hurry to get things done, but I am not satisfied. I still haven’t lived or done enough yet. Especially haven’t loved like I’ve wanted to yet. Yet there are no guarantees I will have tomorrow like I have today.

I love my friends so intensely, when I let them go it feels like bits and pieces of myself have been launched out into space. I never know how far these dear little lovers will go or if they will come back or even think of me while they are gone. I feel so small while they do their grand things up there among the stars. In my eyes they shine, or they are the very light in my eyes shining when I smile, and I cannot stop loving them, even when it hurts me to the point of wishing death. Yet is this really separation? I realize that can be an illusion. No one has left me for outer space.

I liken loving a friend to loving a wild animal. To keep them caged will only lead them to resent you. I must love them from a distance. Let them roam the world and read about them in magazines, watch them in the news, and write poems about them. Even when I want to feed them, care for them, tuck them into bed, pinch their cheeks and kiss them, I can’t. It’s not good for them. Not good for me. They are most happy with me letting them go free. And maybe, just maybe, when I least expect it, they will drift back into my area and pay me a visit…

But friends aren’t wild animals! They are people. Having an emotional attachment should be a life-affirming thing and not a death-inducing burden. We can’t rely on them to always be “there” but when they are not, there are always echoes and shadows — the traces of them they have left behind that we can hold on to that can comfort and remind us that while they are gone, their love never leaves.

Self Interview, pt. 2: My Life with the Gods

Religion has always been very important in my life. I am very devoted to my Gods. Gods? Did I just read that correctly, Valentina? You may wonder. Yes, you did. I don’t worship one big Father God in the sky. I am a Polytheist, I believe in and worship multiple gods and goddesses, and I respect and revere the gods of many cultures and places. Yet there is much more to my beliefs than just that simple explanation. I have Animistic and Pantheistic leanings to my beliefs as well. Let me explain… I believe in non-human spiritual beings and gods, and that sometimes the Gods and the Universe are the same. Human beings aren’t the only ones with souls. The Gods do not always wear human masks or appear human at all, sometimes they aren’t even animals, they inhabit things and places, arrive and announce themselves as natural phenomena such as thunder or gusts of wind, and they can even be present in plants and inanimate objects we’d never normally associate as spiritual.  Most people do not, and can not, believe and perceive the Divine. I have discovered that the Gods are not some distant powerful beings existing in Heaven. Divinity is not always a personal, anthropomorphic, or creator entity either. At times I have sensed the presence of the Gods as forces beyond or outside of the universe, as well as within it, and they are also the universe itself all at once. Perhaps They are existence — the essence that makes up our souls to begin with. Leading me to say next that Panentheism may also be what I believe; that not only do the Gods exist, but that they have personalities, they inhabit every part of nature and the universe, perhaps are the universe and our souls’ genesis as well, yet also are endless and existing beyond our universe. Truth be told, the Gods are SO not human and beyond our understanding, in order to comprehend them we see the Gods in Our Own Image or as a reflection of ourselves.  God did not make us in His or Her image.  We are too little.

Second to the Gods are other just as powerful and important spiritual beings who exist in and share this world with us.  A Divine Presence can be found anywhere and be in anything, but most people don’t think such things are possible. Until something odd or unexplained happens, something that can’t be debunked by science, and therefore frightening to experience because it seems to exist beyond our senses, people will never experience the Gods or spirits. But even if that Divine Presence can’t be seen, and can only be felt or heard, existing only in a seemingly disembodied state, is it really something that lies outside of nature? Is it truly SUPERnatural? What someone would think is a “ghost” may actually be a visiting God who has never forgotten the people who once lived in the place where They were worshiped, or the so-called spirit could be a deified ancestor connected to an old house a family owned for many generations. What’s a deified ancestor?  A great grandparent or other loved one’s spirit who, in life, did great deeds or was famous, connected to a family or has become a legend in history, deeply regarded as an important person to the point where this reverence has given them a Divine Presence.  One of your ancestors, even if they weren’t well known, could have had such a deep connection to a deity in their life that the God associated with them has become a sort of family guardian angel, but much more powerful.  Even the place where ghosts are said to haunt may have its own Divine Spark — not just a connection to a God, it has its own consciousness and personality, and only by going there can we experience Them.  The spirit-place is not a ghost tied to a physical place because of a bad memory, nor are they the trapped soul of someone who doesn’t know they are dead, They are content to Be, and even if that place is destroyed and another building put over it, They never cease to Be.

Places aren’t the only things that can contain consciousness and power, the elements of nature also exist with their own personalities. Known as Elementals, Devas, or Nature Spirits, They are like little gods but quite unlike people. Witches are taught to respect all forms of life, even the unseen are called by name and remembered, we even thank them and ask permission from them when we cut wood, draw water from a well, or blow out the flame from a candle. One could go paranoid thinking that there are spirits spying on us everywhere, looking in on us, touching us while we sleep, taking naked pictures of us while we shower… But it’s not crazy like that! Spirits in the world are as common as squirrels and mice, but how often does one of them get up close and personal and sleep with you? I don’t know about you, but as far as me and my house is concerned, the rodents and spirits here are content to stay in their designated corners, if you know what I mean. Since we share this world, it’s only fair to make sure that what I do doesn’t hurt them as well. Same goes for the spirits. If you’re kind to Them, They will make luck good for you.

Supernatural living beings only seem “super” to us because they defy what we believe is normal, logical, and proven to be real. I can’t prove to you what is real, I can only state what I have found to be real.

How did you come up with these beliefs, Valentina?
Personal experience, first figuring it out and thinking it was something new and uniquely my own, then later after research and, even later,  meeting other people from different cultures who practiced other religions.   Finally I met the right teachers at the right time.  Even my “bad” teachers gave me examples to learn from.  Disillusionment was a great teacher of mine!

I had visions from an early age on through adulthood. I talked to a lot of spirits who were my imaginary friends that kept me company when I was lonely.  I also believe that it was something innate or inherited, passed on to me from my Menominee heritage.  Yet even that can defy explanation because I didn’t grow up on the reservation.  I grew up with my mother.  My parents weren’t together. I was brought up the very “white people” way, possibly the whitest way I could have been brought up.  I didn’t start to explore what the Native American Church was all about until I was a young adult, but I never grew accustomed to the taste of peyote. I can have visions without it.

I could also have inherited some of my intuition and love of religion from my German ancestry as well.  Perhaps there were, long ago, witches in the Belt family…  who knows?  From both my parents, I got magic in my blood.

I didn’t come up with my beliefs, nor did I create them, and I never was right or wrong, it just was.  I didn’t follow any one book or path right away. Eventually Wicca or Witchcraft fit me fine because of its feminist and Goddess emphasis.  It felt like home and that’s where I stayed.

What was your childhood like and how did it influence your religious beliefs?
My family traveled A LOT and we were never in one place for longer than two years or so. My mother was always on a mission to save souls and our lives revolved around religion. Everyday was an adventure, but growing in unstable and ever-changing environments took a toll. Every time I made friends, I had to tell them good-bye. I never got to have the kind of life-long friends most people cherish. So being in that whirlpool of agitated social circumstances, exposed to many different kinds of people who needed help, I started to pick up on little subtle things in these unfamiliar places. I did my best to follow what my mother taught me like every good daughter should, especially since it was all I knew. Also since I was a lonely kid who had a hard time making friends because of all the moves we made, it’s no wonder I tended to attract spirits who knew I could see and hear them. I tried to ignore the spirits, but it was too easy to befriend them because they were fun!  I had a hard time articulating what I was perceiving, and when I did report to adults what I experienced, I was scoffed at or, worst situation ever, punished for communicating with THE DEVIL! Because any powerful unseen spiritual being I talked to that existed outside the reality of the Christian faith was deemed demonic and unnatural. But to me these beings weren’t evil or abnormal, they were just living beings like everyone else. Sure, I had a lot of imagination, and occasionally I dreamed up silly things, but I had real visions I was forced to keep to myself. It was only when I got into college that I started to formulate intelligently an explanation for my spiritual experiences.

To tell the truth, I grew up in college!  Even before my mother was moving us from state to state preaching the word of God, she worked at colleges.  My earliest, fondest memories are all from times spent in classrooms and being surrounded by students from all walks of life.  When Mom had to work late, my brother and I got to attend special classes for the kids of college staff workers. Right after school I’d go straight to Cardinal Stritch University and got to learn how to draw from life. This encouraged a lifelong interest in and helped me develop my talent for art.  I find more comfort being in a college atmosphere than being in a church.

What was your childhood religious education like and how did your mother influence your spiritual beliefs?

 I was very curious as a kid because I was forbidden to know more about the world, and yet my mother would let me spend a great deal of time in the public library. My Mom was a single parent and she would’ve never got a higher education if it weren’t for donations from her church. When she went to Central Bible College, I was just about to turn 12, we were uprooted from a nice Milwaukee apartment to a shabby one room trailer that looked like a tin can! This sudden shift from inner city life to one smack dab in the middle of Springfield, Missouri (the buckle of the Bible Belt) was not an easy adjustment. Mom was often very busy with missionary work and her studies, so “my babysitter” was the student library. Even though it was a religious institution’s library, there were plenty of books about world religions, philosophy, and cults. Most of the books were all written with a very biased, Christian point-of-view, much of the literature were all warnings about what to look out for about other religions and how they are all going to Hell for leading people away from Christ, but not all of them were so jam-packed with foreboding. It took me many years to really understand what I was reading. Eventually, come bible study time at church, I began to openly question the material I was told was the only way, truth, and light. I couldn’t believe that all other people in the world were wrong. How could God create it that way?  It didn’t make sense.

I grew up strictly Pentecostal Christian. My mother was a very devout Born Again Christian, and a very active member of the Assembly of God church.  She made it her life’s mission to preach the word of God. I was brought up in a household where religion was a lifestyle and a job, not just an every Sunday worship event. We went to church four times a week! Mom did her best to make sure I was never exposed to any other beliefs and religions. We weren’t allowed to watch TV or listen to secular music. Everything was Jesus-centered and it was really hard to be a child with an intuitive imagination like mine in that kind of atmosphere.

While some kids were focused on homework after supper, I had double the amount of work to do because I also had to study the Bible and memorize scripture.  Wednesday nights were Bible Study and it was serious business.  It wasn’t just a group of Christians gathered around for fellowship, pastors and deacons volunteered extra time to help us go deeper into the word of God.  It also wasn’t just the King James Bible we studied, there were other versions, many different translations, and I even got to be exposed to a little bit of Hebrew.  All of the studying had to do with how to apply what was written in ancient times to modern day living.  It was also like group therapy, too.  Kids and adults were encouraged to let their emotions out, confess their sins openly, and ask for forgiveness.  This could be very depressing!  But then towards the end, the service would shift into rock-and-roll gear.

The most enjoyable part of my religious education was getting to PRAISE THE LORD.  This meant a lot of singing, dancing in the aisles, clapping, and playing music.  I was never able to read music, but I could carry a tune well.  Even though the music was often sappy, in the church choir you could become the congregation’s star!  It was better than karaoke because I actually got to really learn how to perform and I was given lots of practice time.  Church provided musical education for free.  All you had to do was bring your enthusiasm and talent.  If you proved to be good at it, you were asked to sing during prayer services and other functions.  This was a huge honor.  Some of my proudest moments were the times when I got to sing during a baptism and after a New Year’s Eve service.  It seemed to me that there was a bit of showmanship in our church services.  For many years I got to go on tour with my church choir and sing solos as if I really were a star.  Every Christmas and Easter there was a church musical.  My brother was usually the one who got all the big parts, so sometimes I was content to be in the background, but eventually it got very annoying.

If you were a girl, you weren’t allowed to do things the boys could do.  One thing that was very strongly encouraged was that the men were “the promise makers” and that women, according to God, were created second and therefore were the handmaidens.  Instead of being encouraged to be a strong, independent kind of woman, I was taught to be more submissive and that the greatest thing to expect in life was to become a wife and mother.  Nothing more.  I had a problem with that!  I envied my brother because, since there was such a focus on nurturing the more masculine values, this meant the boys got to go on adventures like camping trips and cave exploring, while I often was bored waiting around for them to come back.  But that was the least of my grief.  I wanted to do more, be more, look forward to a future that did not mean I would have to revolve my life around a husband and children.

I also think I was too smart to submit.  I was taught not to question things, but that’s not what I learned.  My mother’s example of being actively involved in church, above all, taught me that a woman could lead and make a big difference in other people’s lives.  She didn’t have to be under the thumb of a husband to accomplish this sort of mission.  My mother helped build churches!  She sacrificed her time, energy, and even her health and her children’s comfort all for the sake of God.  Sure, I grew angry about it, even jealous of the people she helped, but in time I appreciated the positive impact my mother made.

Eventually I would discover the rest of the world, and come to spiritual conclusions of my own without someone converting me or convincing me to believe against my conscience.  For many years I felt a little guilty for leaving my mother’s religion because the conditioning — that upbringing — the education side of it was so emotional, it polices your every decision and action, so whenever you dare to think beyond it, the community that drives it shuns you and then makes you think God will turn His back on you, too.  So wrong! Such a misunderstanding and so sad.

It was also very hard to be myself because my mother was so devoted, so spiritually strong, and such a gifted counselor, she was like a nun or a saint. I felt depressed when I couldn’t share with her my spiritual experiences. I had to respect her beliefs even though she couldn’t even imagine how I came to mine, nor could she ever respect or tolerate mine.  She was my biggest religious influence, but she wasn’t my most negative one.  Even though I would become pagan, I am still my mother’s daughter, I still have that little preacher choir girl within me who looks up to her Mom, and in a very real way, she’s also why I’m a Witch.

What do you remember about your earliest experiences with the Gods? What God/dess did you meet first?

From a very early age on, I had spiritual experiences that I could not explain away, experiences that were pleasant and natural, friendly even. I had a lot of invisible friends and talked to them for hours. I was the kind of baby that was always making noise at night, later I grew to be a child that seemed to talk to herself a lot at night, but I was really talking to my friends! I didn’t know to keep this to myself. I didn’t think it was strange. Mom didn’t pay it much mind until I wasn’t growing out of it. “Who are you talking to all the time?” She’d sneak into my room to try to listen in on what was being said. I told her “Isis” and she was all instant worry. “Where did you hear that name?” She tried to keep her composure and carefully, sensing that she was unhappy, I said Isis told me who She was and that She was here to help us. At the time it was the mid-70s and one Saturday morning show was a spin-off of Shazam! called The Secrets of Isis (later called Isis), so it would not have been that unusual for me to have heard this name before. But I wasn’t allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons. The only way I could have seen the show was when I spent a weekend at a family friend’s home, or when a babysitter spent the weekend while Mom was busy at a church retreat. My mother was prepared to go on the war path if that were true! But when Mom asked me to describe to her who Isis looked like and if she was from the Devil or not, I was punished for my answer.

The first time I EVER heard the word “Goddess” and the plural form of god “GODS” was from my own mother’s mouth. I had only ever heard the word GOD. “Jesus doesn’t want you to put any GODS or GODDESSES before HIM!” My mother cried as she spanked me and then ordered me to stand in a corner. As I wept, my face firmly planted against the wall, I was determined to talk to Isis more often, but make it less obvious, and find out the truth behind all things.

I had described Isis as like an angel, but She was almost like a woman wrapped up in many wings and Her wings were like the sleeves of a robe. The sleeves were multi-fold, moving, breathing in and out as if Her wings acted as lungs, but lungs that were arms. The wings were gold, almost liquid, transparent, definitely not feathers, more like living light. At first Mom thought I was describing just an angel, and she would’ve been pleased to leave it at that, but I wasn’t finished. Isis also had cow’s ears and very large, wide eyes almost like an owl. Her feet and legs were like the roots of a tree but not rooted to the ground. As she opened and closed Her wings, inside She had multiple breasts.  She wasn’t human, no, not at all.  But She was all kinds of lovely and I looked forward to Her visits.  After telling my mother a more childlike description of what I wrote just now, Isis didn’t come back as often, and eventually it seemed like She was nothing but a dream.  I had other Gods to talk to, yet as I got older mundane life became more important and there seemed no more time for me to spend in solitude like that, talking with the Gods.

Did you ever have an experience with the Gods inside a church?

Sort of. I remember going to a Christian rock concert, the first live concert I ever attended, Petra was the main act, and I looked around to see no one was dancing to the music. I think I was 14 at the time, I loved music, loved to sing, and was finally discovering secular pop music (thanks to my junior high school pals). I really wanted to cut loose and DANCE! How could anyone resist dancing? I prayed to God and asked, “If you’re here and you are holy and full of power, then enter me now! Let my dancing be everyone dancing!” So I jumped up from my seat and, despite my youth group pastor ordering me to get back, I ran up in front of the stage and just exploded into a dance. I remember members of the band really appreciating my enthusiasm. One of the guitarists moved with me, we went back and forth, head-banging a little bit. I took some glances back at the audience, no one was joining me in this dance. I almost started to feel dorky, but then… I felt a jolt of energy go up my spine and I started to spin like a top. It was like I was flying. I was no longer aware of where I was or who I was, I just WAS and it was all JOY. I don’t know how long this lasted. Then I heard a cry. It was a woman crying out as if she was in pain. I suddenly had this vision of a feminine figure wrapped up in fire. Her hair was all fire, her skin was all aflame, but she wasn’t burning. Around her waist there was a very large snake she wore as a belt. She floated above the audience and began to touch each forehead with her fingers of fire. The vision was a split-second sort of happening and then I stumbled into a chair. I came back into my own clumsy human consciousness to discover I was now in a crowd full of dancing people who were all “on fire” with passion, jumping and putting their hands up, but not in a holy-roller fashion. This was something beyond Christianity, it was more primal. As I regained my balance and wondered who the woman I saw was, one of the associate youth pastors from my church took hold of my arm to indicate to me that it was time to leave. We had to leave a bit early to beat the traffic, but I think my pastors were a tad uncomfortable. I later found out that I accidentally exposed my panties while I was dancing! So, yeah, no wonder I found myself surrounded by a lot of guys, too. I hadn’t even noticed. I was too much in the spirit!

How could you tell if you were seeing a spirit or a God? How could you tell it was good or evil, or just your imagination?

In the particular experience I mentioned above, you have to remember that I came from a Pentecostal background where I was taught that the Holy Spirit descends and “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” Acts 2:3. The Holy Spirit was always described to me as a being of fire touching the foreheads of worshipers, setting them “on fire” and compelling them to speak in tongues. The Holy Spirit, to me, was like a God or Goddess, a spirit being with a personality and purpose that directly interacted with people. But I do not believe she was the Holy Spirit spoken of in Christianity. I believe she was something far older and existing far beyond the understanding of Christians who were tapping into her energy. I knew she wasn’t my imagination, but I also knew she seemed to be the personification of the music I was dancing to. If she was seen by the audience, they would’ve ran away screaming, thinking she was demonic. She felt good to me and didn’t seem to be harming those she touched. Before I identified with Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft, I tried to fit these spirits and Gods into the context of the Christian experience, even exclaiming to my peers that I saw an angel of fire, yet this was only half true. I knew it was something deeper.

Was it a hallucination? A sign of mental illness? Was I imagining things and saying I saw them to get attention? No. I would experience hallucinations and mental illness later in life. The distinction between a true vision and just a dream is simply this:

There is an intelligence behind what you see that communicates with you inside of you and all around you when you experience a personal relationship with the Gods. A figment or fancy is empty, void of character, there is no life, just vapor, and it fades leaving you cold. You can’t interact with the dream. But the Gods move you.

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There is SO much more for me to share that I have to break it up into other parts and/or subjects. I could write more about my experiences with the Gods, yet it will just take me too long, plus much of it is far too personal AND I have to ask permission.  I have to be careful about what Gods I talk about, not out of fear of them, but out of love and respect for them.  Also to talk about them is to invoke them and invite them in.  I have to be willing to take on the consequences of letting that happen!  There is another reason as well, to keep the mystery of them sacred.  I certainly don’t want to spoil the discovery of the Gods for other seekers, or set false hopes and expectations, much less invite ridicule.  I cannot give someone else Divine Revelation anyway, I can only share with you what I have done in my life to foster my relationships with the Gods.

After reviewing what I’ve written here, I realize I have delved more into my early spiritual experiences and my religious upbringing, yet I’ve barely scratched the surface, leaving no room at the moment to talk about my present relationship with the Gods. I want to share the joy of my everyday practices, too, yet this also might get too personal. Do I really want to expose my private self so much? I have to think about it a little more.  I want to share, but not OVER share, a tendency I developed due to living too much in solitude.  Yet it is in solitude that one can best listen and communicate with the Gods!

Coming Soon: Living with the Gods: The Witch’s Path

(or something titled like that because this Witch is still formulating what she is going to write next… which may change with my thoughts, and I am a poor editor of my thoughts!)

Postcards from Home #2: Willow at the Shore

This is where I took you with me today:

I hope you don’t mind that I included myself in this photograph. I could not resist standing under the willow tree at the shore. If it wasn’t cold, I would’ve tested the water with my toes. I came almost too close to the water and a couple times the wind tried to steal my shawl. A few seconds later, a young doe darted out of the trail that runs along the shore. She was tiny, barely a yearling, and we looked at each other for a long while.

This was how the sky met the land this afternoon:

And this was how the sky above me began to darken just before my walk back inside:

On the trail out, I could not help but look up and admire the way the naked tree branches seem to appear like dancing partners:

Today would have been your kind of day. It was wet, but not raining. The sky was reluctant to let the sun break, yet what little poked through touched the clouds with enough gold and peach to make one almost forget it is November. It has been sadly quiet in the woods lately. The geese haven’t been visiting like they usually do. I think they found a better place to be. Occasionally I hear a lonely honk or two early in the morning, signaling to me that I have forgotten to go to bed at a decent time. These days I have felt the need to stay up and write and create and think as much as I can.

Because I don’t know when I will see you again, so I have to get everything out as soon as possible, as impressive as possible, just so you don’t miss anything before you disappear. Or what if I disappear?  I have to leave these little moments, like tender bread crumbs, behind me just in case… so no one forgets I was here.

But I fear these bread crumbs are too tasty and will be quickly devoured by all. I should plan on making more…

Self Interview: A Portrait in Words

I thought long and hard over the questions I would answer as an introduction to myself.  It’s like creating a self portrait, but in words.  I had to edit down some of my answers because I can tend to go on and on and…  lose track of time, and purpose, and energy to the point where I soon find myself asleep with my face pressed into the paper of the blank journal I keep at my bedside.  I want to write with a purpose.  I want to make not just a good first impression, but an enduring one that shows a true reflection of my personality. I want to make friends.  I like to talk about myself and share the stories I have to tell that I think are really awesome.  I think you will like me and what I have to say.  I have a lot to share!  So, without further delay, let me ask what I anticipate you might ask me if we were sitting across from each other sipping some hot tea and nibbling some cookies on a November midnight.

What is an average day like for me?

Quiet. I spend most of my time alone. I get up and do the usual things people do, except I turn on the radio instead of the television. I listen to WPR to catch the news, later to listen to classical music. I got into the habit of listening to the radio while working retail. Soon radio became a type of security blanket for me at home. I like having it play in the background while I’m doing dishes or drawing. I have no fixed schedule to keep to, so my days are pretty open and I devote my time to volunteer work, helping out friends, playing with my cat, making art, writing, and living well. I take a walk everyday through the woods, but on days when the weather is too wet or cold, I’m more than happy to stay in and read a book.

What do I do for a living?

I am unemployed but that doesn’t mean I don’t work. Nor do I struggle too much financially, as long as I keep to a simple budget. I am disabled due to several health conditions that are quite manageable but make it difficult for me to keep a steady job. I don’t like using the word “disabled” to describe myself because I don’t consider myself crippled in any way, but let’s just say my mind works differently and I’m more sensitive than the average person. What I do to augment my income is I sell my artwork and occasionally receive donations. I would love to eventually become more self sufficient making money at what I love doing. For now, my situation is the best for me because my medical expenses cost more than I can pay even if I was gainfully employed.

What do I dream of doing for a living?

My dreams become goals. When I dream of something I want to do, the desire to do it hurts so much, I can’t keep still, I have to make it happen or I stay miserable. The more miserable I am, the more unhealthy I get. So my goal is to get healthy enough to eventually be with other people, record their stories, and draw/paint their portraits, just shine a light on them! I just got done with a project in association with the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa where we sought to preserve and revitalize the Ojibwe language by publishing the first comic book to be printed completely in that language. Ojibwe and other tribal language books have been used for children and adults to study from, but never has one been produced completely in the native language without any English translation. We made it that way to entice people to learn the language first so they can figure out the story. I want to do more projects like this, but much of the work doesn’t bring me a lot of profit. I don’t mind it because I really get paid with the satisfaction of knowing I am helping Native American kids who were like me, the ones who grew up separated from their culture and without the stories, language, and spiritual practices of their people. I also want to prevent that happening to people from other cultures, but my talents lie within the arts. I may not be able to save the world by making pretty pictures, yet maybe I can inspire a nation.

What kind of friend am I?

I am very loyal, to a fault. I have my shortcomings and sometimes say the wrong thing, but ultimately I don’t do a lot of rejecting. I’m a loner, often not that outgoing, so when I’m at a bar or a party, I seek out a person who seems to be too quiet and get them to talk. Or I just talk to them til they are forced to talk to me! I am sympathetic to outsiders and wallflowers because I’m like that, too. However, I can go against my nature and pretend to be very extroverted, usually by talking very loudly, telling an obnoxious story, or doing something ridiculous in order to be the center of attention. I like to entertain, yet when I do that I’m not really being myself. My friendship is best enjoyed when things are intimate, when I can really sit down and talk face-to-face with my friends. I like looking into their faces and reading their body language. I pick up on subtle and secret things about other people. I don’t mean to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but sometimes telling them what I’m feeling gets me into some trouble… or it cements our friendship forever.  I’m a very sensitive person, too, so I react emotionally and feel the need to comfort my pals, yet because I’m sensitive, I don’t provide a lot of physical affection.  My way to comfort is to talk.  So, let’s talk a lot!

What is my ethnic background?

I’m a little cauldron mixture of things…  I am one full quarter Menominee Indian, a little less than a quarter L’Anse Chippewa, but I’m one complete Anishinaabe Woman! My great (4x) grandfather was Charles Michel de Langlade who, even though often depicted as a white man, was part Odawa and had many native wives before marrying a white one (some he remained married to while married to her!). He was given the title “Father of Wisconsin” but really he was a rebel against the British and Americans, preferring the company of Indians and loyal to the French. So I have that little salt sprinkling of French on the Indian side of my family! But since the marriages between white men and native women weren’t always recognized, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, you won’t find the names of my great grandmother or Landglade’s granddaughters in the history books. Someday I want to change that.

As for my mother’s side, I’ve inherited a German-Austrian heritage. My grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in the early 20th century. I was told that my German great grandparents came to this country to keep my grandfather from being drafted into the German army. If I remember the story correctly, the first born sons were usually sent into the military, but with WWII coming up and all those nasty politics Hitler was spewing, the Belt family made the right decision.

I inherited from both sides of my family a deeply spiritual lifestyle. My mother and grandmothers were all very devout, be they medicine women or Catholic, religion influenced the people in my family.

Why am I single?

I haven’t dated in many, many, MANY years simply because no one’s been awesome or honorable enough to be my boyfriend. Those who have, however, did so in ways that made them undesirable! Last time a man chased me, he was overly forward and demanding, not nice at all. He thought harassing me into going out with him was the way to go. No, thank you. Other than that, I don’t get out much. Dating intimidates me. It’s like stage fright.  I panic.  I especially hate blind dates. I tried dating online, and even went to meet someone a couple years ago, but he wasn’t very nice and left me with the bill. I try not to think about it anymore. I think about other things that are more pleasant in my life. I no longer feel desperate to find a mate. I’m older now, too. Most people who are my age are too busy in a profession, are married anyway, have children, or come with a poor attitude about their life. Dating today is not like it used to be when I was in college. It’s too casual, too ambiguous, too much focus on sex and instant gratification. If someone really wants me, they have to really woo me now to get my attention. I think I deserve that. I’m a woman, not a toy.

Why do you like being single?

Because there’s no one telling me what to do! That’s what I hated about being in a relationship when I was young. Men dominating my life and me not knowing I had the power to tell them to back off. Even though my ex-boyfriends loved me, they felt this obnoxious need to take care of me and do too much for me, especially without consulting me. I almost married someone who wanted me to fulfill a very traditional housewife role for him. He came from Italian roots where the women cooked and didn’t have to work and made the babies. When he told me how many children I was going to have for him, that was my cue to leave! It was difficult because I loved him, yet I squirmed under his control. I can’t imagine living that kind of lifestyle.

I genuinely like living alone because the only person I have to answer to is me. If something is dirty or if I put something off, it’s my fault and no one’s going to be there to gripe at me for it. I have plenty of space and quiet. No interruptions. More freedom. No pressure to please someone else or keep to a busy social schedule. I can decorate the way I see fit. All my clothes and furniture smells like “me” and I can burn incense and perform ritual whenever I please without a big production or protest from someone else who wants to get involved or who’d rather not. Everything is simple, easy to maintain, and, sure, it’d be nice to include another person, but it would be a stressful adjustment for me to make now.

What don’t you like about being single?

The way some people think something is wrong with you if you have no partner or children. Like you’re missing out on life if you stay alone. I didn’t realize how controversal keeping to a single life can be. By the time a woman reaches 40 and she’s not with anyone, not even a sex buddy, they wonder if you’re wounded, lost, or just really very sad. They never care to think that living alone can be very liberating and wonderful. Usually I don’t care what people think, but I want to, for the record, say that my life is not a tragic one where I pine away day and night longing for a lover or a baby. My “dream lover” isn’t typical either. I’d rather date a person who likes their aloneness, too, and instead of having babies, I’d rather make books together. Oh, and we wouldn’t have to live together either. Now a lot of people would find that all kinds of strange, yet I’m not normal, I guess! There aren’t a lot of men who fit that bill, too. Most want a woman they can have children with, or some kind of family future, yet that’s just not me.  Men just don’t get interested in me in that way. Like the guy who walked out on me on that first date. Once he learned I’m not looking for marriage and family, it was a deal breaker for him.  No matter how pretty I am, or how nice, he considered me a useless woman.

The only other thing I don’t like about being single is that sometimes I discover something so wonderful or fantastic, but there’s no one around to immediately report it to! I have my cat, Mr. Snuggles, to talk to, but he doesn’t speak human. Sure, I can get on Facebook or blog about it, yet there’s nothing like that instant gratification of seeing the look and understanding on a friend’s face when they are standing there right beside you! I miss that.

What do I dream of doing that I haven’t yet tried?

Travel without a group and just explore a place completely on my own without a schedule, or even a map, and just rely on my own wits and soak in the atmosphere at my own pace without having to accommodate my fellow travelers.  Every time I go on a trip with other people, I get irritated and feel like I’m being pushed this way and that against my will.  Just as I get used to a place, someone interrupts my concentration and the break in focus sends me into a panic.  Crowds and strangers often overstimulate my senses, making me dizzy.  I have to take things in slowly.

In September 2010, friends invited me out to South Dakota for a few days, but our time was very limited, especially when we got to visit Deadwood.  A friend got sick and our trip was cut short.  I felt like I had just met my new true love and had to say good-bye in the same heartbeat. I think if I had been there completely on my own, with plenty of time to really take in the sights, say weeks ( ! ) maybe I’d have a perfect time of it. I was never a big country western fan or an Old West history buff, but I loved HBO’s Deadwood. Even though the city looks nothing much like how it was portrayed in the TV series, it’s still a small town with everything within walking distance.  And what an endurance course it is to walk around there!  The hills are very steep, you really have to pump your knees and thighs, but that clean air!  As you take in gulps of air while you get a work out walking up and down those hills, you breathe in amazingly fresh air.

I would love to do an artist’s residency or retreat there! Why? The place is full of ghosts! The hills are saturated with the sounds of a different era intermixed with modern day people, making for a very fascinating dynamic. Look in the faces of the residents there and you can recognize in them their Old West ancestry. The people could just as easily look right at home in 19th century duds as they do in 21st century clothes. I want to go there to record ghost stories, draw portraits of the people who live there, commune with the spirits who happily dwell there, maybe participate in some paranormal investigations, and get to know people there really well so they’ll let me see the hidden places the tourists aren’t allowed to explore.

When I was there for the first time, I was surprised at how “at home” I felt there. I had no panic, no discomfort, no sense of having to constantly look over my shoulder, and I didn’t have any problems with climbing those hills. Of course I visited during a time when it was just about the off season and the last of the tourists were milling through the thoroughfare before summer’s end, but I had the sense that this historic town has a lot more for me to discover. While I was there, I kept dragging behind the tour group, totally in a daze, paying more attention to the voices of spirits all around me who seemed so very pleased to speak to me that I was lost to the living! Armed with a digital camera, my batteries kept giving out even though I had just replaced them. I didn’t manage to capture any ghosts on camera, but I talked to them with my thoughts and promised I would return. I actually felt really “loved” there, too. It made me wonder if I had spent a past life there.

Who do I want to meet?

This will sound crazy, but I want to meet more spirits… and experience the Gods of different cultures. Less crazy, I just want to go out and meet my friends all over again, too! Especially ones who have passed away and are no longer in this world. I know, sad, right? But it’s true. When I’m away from my friends, no matter what separates us, I always think of all the things we didn’t get to do together, then I make the decision that next time it’ll be done. But once we meet up again, something always comes up that is better to do! So everything eventually works out. I don’t really want to meet anyone famous or rich. I like my company sweet and personal.

How am I feeling right now?

Hungry. I fasted today in an effort to detox. I’ve come down with an annoying cold that is stealing away my voice. Even though it’s late, I am about to indulge in a sandwich and watch a movie to distract myself from feeling hopeless. Besides hunger and being sick, I am a little sad. I am missing one of my best friends. I’m anxious to get over my cold quickly and wish I could fly or teleport so I could just pop on over to where he’s at and steal a hug from him. But what keeps me from feeling completely sad is a happiness inside that gives me the gut feeling that I will see him again soon, perhaps more than once! That’s my intuition, not wishful thinking. I checked. Spirit’s never lied to me before. So I need to stop worrying I’m going to miss out on catching my friend before he leaves. Other than that, I am tired, yet restless. The cold slowed me down and I think about all the things I wanted to do today that I had to put off for later this week. Oh, well…

What am I looking forward to?

Getting over my cold! I hate being sick, and yet I look forward to spending a few days in bed. I’m going to catch up on some drawing. I have too many blank spaces in my sketchbook that need filling. I am also working on a film noir kind of character for a comic art contest. Though I just have the bare bones of the model drawn now and need to flesh out what kind of person she is and in what world she belongs to and what kind of adventure she’s having… *quick intake of breath!* I’m letting her pose speak to me. I’m starting to get all kinds of ideas. I love that. I think I have great chances of winning the contest, but even if I don’t win, it’s going to be a lovely way to meet other artists.

Next:  Self Interview pt. 2: My Life with the Gods

A Postcard from Home

This is what home looks like where I am:
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When I’m really lucky, on early mornings in November, I wake to scenes such as the one I photographed above.  This isn’t a nice stock photograph I posted off the internet.  This is a very real place.  It’s where I live. Well, next to where I live! My backyard is Schmeekle Reserve, a nature sanctuary, home to all kinds of wildlife and outdoor classroom for University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point students.  The lake pictured here is Lake Joanis, a 24-acre man made seepage lake that once sat on infertile land. It’s amazing to think that 40 years ago this place looked nothing like this!

I was prepared to give myself a “self interview” tonight but I did not anticipate how long it would take for me to decide how I was going to make this blog look. By the time it came time for me to get some self reflection brewing, my energy dwindled.  If I didn’t have any plans in the morning, I’d stay up a few extra hours to write.  Yet a mind refresh is in order.  I best have a lie down or risk writing poorly.

I am feeling lonely at the moment.  So I am sharing this postcard from home.  I will share a scene like this each week, just to give you a taste of what the world looks like from my view, where ever I am.

Some of my thoughts on being home:  No one expects to get lost when they are home.  Most people associate familiarity and security with being home. Is home where the heart is?  Maybe home is just the place where you can find your heart after being everywhere else in the world.  Home is the place to hide your heart, keep your life from getting stolen, save your love for a rainy day… When I stay alone behind the walls of this home of mine, secluded, in the shade of trees, buried in the comfort of my cat’s fur, I can’t imagine finding my heart anywhere else.  I want to be home all the time so much, that where ever I go, I carry home within me so tight that it must shine out of me.  I can be anywhere as long as I have home inside.  Having home makes me attractive and strong. Take me along for a ride, but bring me back home, and maybe you should stay a little while with me.  Home is the quiet pause after and before work.  The gentle place, the soft space, not just the launching pad or the safe landing, the one place no one can take away from you, even if you have to move.  No, home is not where the heart is.  The heart is home.  It is the seat of being and feeling. You can build it everywhere, as long as your love resides there… and waits for you to come.

Coming tomorrow night: My Self Interview, pt. One