Postcard #16: Medicine Cabinet

The nicest thing about being sick, is to be at home and not have to worry about being anywhere else. I can reach into my own medicine cabinet and pull out just enough for what I need. But I do not have just any old cabinet filled with prescription drugs and cosmetics, I have a whole bathroom full of odds and ends, mostly odds.

This week I have been drained of poetry, my stomach has been tied up in an endless knot of pain from some kind of flu, and the only means of relief seems to be rest and fluids.  The last couple of days I have kept close to bed and stayed offline.  I hand wrote essays and concentrated on my painting.  A little bit of sewing seemed to help me keep my mind off the ache in my belly.

I always have a few roots, herbs, and oils to count on for any kind of little emergency. Plus I am an aromatherapy nut. My sense of smell is very strong and I connect some smells with different moods. Perfume oils and waters are essential parts of my nightly rituals. When I feel most distressed and ill, I will use everything in my power to take care of myself.  I just spray a little homemade perfume in the air or on my pillows and the scent sets me off into another state of mind.  I even make my own “potions” and tinctures to rid myself of bothersome things, especially the kind of things that distract me from achieving my goals the most: nausea, anxiety, and depression.  But what bothers me the most is little flu bugs that rot my gut, and allergies, aches and pains, those stupid things I cannot avoid that hold me back from doing what I need and want to do.

Besides taking my usual medications and vitamins, I dab my pulse points with a little lavender, lemon, and peppermint oil. I carry with me a tiny bag of five-finger grass and other small charms for good measure.  I say prayers, recite tiny mantras, and repeat rituals that, if you were to ask my doctors, keep me quite sane.  These are just a few small things some people would not understand and consider superstitious behavior.  Oh, but who cares?  This is my house. My rules.  My thing.  And, you know what?  It makes me happy.

I do not have to explain anything.  Never explain away the things that give you  hope and power.  Sometimes not revealing the mystery keeps things powerful. When it all becomes common, the spells get watered down, useless. It is like my father says, “Once you give away your secrets to just anyone, they will lose their power.”

So. When you come home to my place and dare to sneak a peek into my medicine cabinet, well…  First you will notice my extremely large collection of nail lacquer. But two shelves are especially reserved for my potions. You can tell a lot about people from looking into their medicine cabinets. I believe mine says I am a woman who loves her glamour and magic organized side-by-side.

I am feeling better now. This postcard is late. I have not taken very many walks outside, my photography is lacking fresh material. My strength is coming back, yet a lack of energy still pulls me under my blankets.  The sunlight has been teasing me, asking me to come out!  I have stayed in my nightgown and robe because every attempt I made to move around got me dizzy and sick.  As I revive, I hope to have a little adventure soon, but for now I am content to keep my adventures in my dreams.

Goddess Portrait: The Cailleach!

I have a personal relationship with my Gods. Sometimes they surprise me in my dreams. Sometimes they give me “permission” to draw and paint their portraits. This time one of them wanted me to paint Her as a self-portrait of myself. I was mystified and challenged by this.  Would I get it right?  Dare I do this?  I let my fears go and invited my passions to take over.

This is The Cailleach

Who is She?  She’s known by many names:  Cailleach Bheur or Carlin in Scotland; Cally Berry in northern Ireland; Cailleach ny Groamch on the Isle of Man; Black Annis in Britian; the Hag of Beare or Digne in Ireland.  Unlike how I have depicted her in my painting, she has been described as having one eye in the middle of a blue-black face, red teeth, and matted white hair.  She wore grey clothing, a kerchief, and a faded plaid shawl.

In my vision, I saw her reflected back at me in my bathroom mirror.  A ghostly image of myself that is not myself — the goddess looking at me with my own eyes — but just for a second.  I drew the face with eyes of snow, the skin as translucent and slightly blue like ice, her breast and cheeks like hills covered by snow, and her forehead creased like jagged rocks and boulders.  She would be dressed in dark grey, the color of old snow melting into mud.  Her hair like the whirling drifts of snow that make snake-like patterns in the air and over the ground when the wind blows the coldest.

I can’t describe Her better than how Sorita d’Este does in her book Visions of the Cailleach. In fact, I did not know much about the Cailleach (pronounced COY-lck or CALL-y’ach but I sometimes call her COY LUCK) until a year ago when I just heard her name spoken, read a very brief description of her as a crone goddess, and in my haste to come up with a simple Winter Solstice rite that would not take all night to perform, I evoked her.

She taught me a very powerful lesson: be careful what Goddess you decide to summon because she may end up really liking you and will decide to stick around for a long while! Also, do your research, please. Calling upon specific Gods come with consequences and will change your life in ways you may not expect.  How could I forget that?

The simple Winter Solstice rite included a performance where I dressed up in a black veil, called myself the Cailleach, and proclaimed I was the personification of winter. A student of mine’s daughter played the part of the snow maiden, a personification of the new year. I took off my veil and gave it to her as a representation of the passing of the old year, also symbolic of the crone giving her power over to the maiden. Two special things happened right after this: I stopped menstruating for three months and my student’s daughter started her menses.  Last year began with me going through all sorts of weird changes, possibly signs of early menopause (I had only just turned 40) including erratic mood swings, full body sweats, heat flashes, the works. That’s when I began to study more about the Cailleach, as well as more about what to expect in the years before menopause.  Cailleach began to speak to me as I endured the emotional and physical eruptions occurring within me, warning me of the next stage of life to come. Was I ready? Well, she’d make me ready.

As I learned to honor Her properly, and as I learned to relax into my age, I began to really appreciate and recognize the beauty of becoming older.  Becoming older does not mean I will become weaker or uglier.  I am not really going to “dry up” and lose all of my desire.  I told the Cailleach, “Okay, I understand it now, it is going to be great becoming a sexy old woman!” And then she showed me another vision of Herself…

This was a vision of the Cailleach I did not expect to see.  I have read stories of how she can renew her youth, where she is not always so old, or cold.  She is known to have many handsome lovers whom she often out-lives.  I saw her as having very fine white hair, her skin a warm milk-white, and her face a little plump, showing a fertile fullness.  She seems to be like a happy peasant girl ready for a roll-in-the-hay, but her eyes are other-worldly, her body glowing with an aura of enchantment.  I think she seems more frightening in this youthful aspect than as her older self.

In one brief legend I read in The New Book of Goddesses & Heroines by Patricia Monaghan, one in which I will retell here in my own words, she hires young men to help her repair her house. She promises them that, if they can keep up with her, she will pay them ten-fold after a period of six months. The men look at her. They see she is this old, bent, wild-haired, feeble-seeming lady. They estimate that it wouldn’t take long for her to lose her breath or hurt her back. They take her offer and celebrate at the pub because they think they’ve got it made. Oh, but they got it all wrong. The little old lady is fast and clever and strong. Soon the men get so caught up in their work they do not notice that this old woman is no longer so old. She has grown young as they grow tired. By the time some of them see this beautiful younger woman with the softest hair and smoothest milky skin, a few have fallen in love with her. She takes them as lovers, but they cannot keep up with her in love-making and soon expire. One by one, each man succumbs to her charms, but not before her house is completely repaired. By summer, she has nothing to worry about, and by winter she’ll have only need to gather wood for her fire.

So what young Cailleach says to me is I need is a few good men to rejuvenate me, eh?  *laughs*

Finding this goddess has been a treat.  I have learned so much more about her now.  I will reveal more gods with my paint brush.  Perhaps they don’t just speak to me.  Perhaps they will have something to say to you, too.

What did the Cailleach say to you when you saw her in my portraits?

Postcard #15: Goddess in the Woods

February at home has now begun to act more like February again. As I write, I am in blankets, hooded in a robe, huddled in front of my computer screen like a monk concentrated in prayer before an icon lit by candle flames. Words fail me right now. My thoughts run blank. I am not in awe. I wish only to speak in pictures. I must find a recent photograph that captures how it feels here right now. All I want to do is crawl in bed to draw and sleep. Outside is a world of ice and blue-black cold and hard snow pain. Next to the electric heat, my skin feels the dry sting. I can hear the song of the Winter Queen sing over the trees — a sound unlike the way the trees sway when in summer or spring — the wood groans, leafless branches squeak in the grip of the cold.

And then, as I page through the growing collection of photographs I have taken this winter, I finally notice her face… Why didn’t I see it before? Just a few days ago, I was compelled to take a photograph of the trees behind my apartment. I heard the wind howl and was just about to run back inside. Stung by cold, it is easy to decide to get lazy, and I was looking forward to just sitting around in my blankets. But the wind in the trees demanded my notice. I wondered if one of them was about to fall over. I stood for a moment to see which one was “speaking” yet then another swoosh of wind blew and more trees made that very sound. The evergreen branches shook off a fine layer of dry snow and I aimed my camera lens, taking several shots of what, as I later viewed on my computer, seemed to just be an image of several trees leaning over from the wind behind my home.

But in my boredom and chill tonight, my thoughts blanking out into ones later focused on magic and wonder, my eyes refresh and I see with dream-sight. She is there, that Goddess face, calm as a Buddha, pure as bliss, looking back at me, at you, at everyone… Just look a little closer. The wind moved the branches just right into the shape of her face. It may take a little while for you to puzzle it out right. Here is another shot, cropped as close as possible to the edges of the face, and framed just right.

Okay, so you may not see it. Yet some of you may. Let it be a gift. Be it from me or from the Goddess, a creation from my imagination, or a true manifestation in nature, or just a little coincidence — take, make, and nurture the magic when and where ever you find it!

Overcoming Whispered Bullying

I awoke at 4am today, tummy grumbling, heart heavy, and a mind full of dreams where I was fending off beautiful and dangerous butterfly winged insects from biting me. Those dreams are classic symbols of suffering from minor stress — pesky little things bothering me, yet I managed to keep them from biting me, which I take to mean I will bounce back from these distractions. There is no greater killer of passion than worries over money, health, and food. Anytime I am unsure I will be able to make it through one week, I lose motivation to do anything. Well, let’s just say I am great at starting things, yet then as the pressure from going without these mundane things I depend on to survive builds, the steam putters out, I don’t move around as much, and my desire is lost. How did I lose it this week? Well, it wasn’t just over being broke ass, oh, no, not at first. My pesky insects of a problem first came at me in the form of a group of young women laughing at me because I am a belly dancing fat woman.

For over a month I had been soaring confidently on this joyful high over belly dancing.  I have been doing well, too.  Building up my repertoire of moves, doing my best to follow my dance troupe’s choreography, and really happy to be making new friends, yet something had to set me back a little to test my strength.  Only a little something.  I know I will bounce back from it, but for now I have to bend in order for it not to break me like it has done me in my past.  All the ladies in the troupe have been very supportive.  The practice dance hall had become like a second home to me, a safe place for me to be myself, to move as I pleased, and not be embarrassed of making mistakes.  Mistakes are meant to be made in the process of learning the dance.  Being corrected and given criticism is essential to perfecting performance.  I enjoy the way my body has become more graceful and elegant.  Even while still at an ample size, I can hold myself with dignity, poise, and class, as if my fat were really made of fluff, and my belly nothing but a pillow.

When I dance, I forget I am fat.  As I move, I feel as if I have already lost my weight.  I do not lose my breath.  My heart beats faster, I smile more, and feel as if I have fallen in love with myself.  I watch how I move in the mirror, becoming more conscious of each step and each move I make.  I become oblivious to anyone else in the room.  Unlike being in a public gym, I am at peace in the little university practice room where I meet with my fellow dancers every Wednesday night.

Eventually some young women who use that room more regularly had to take notice that I was fat and they could not get over it.  They did not point at me and call me names, nor did they follow me around and harass me for being different.  They did something that irks and hurts me more than the obvious kind of bullying:  they whispered harshly about me with their attitude, their eyes mocked me, they were bursting with  laughter whenever I turned my back, they kept staring at me and then turning away when I looked back at them, their body language was all school-girl-giggles and pointing fingers.  But, on top of it all, was their false politeness, the way they pursed their lips to hold back how amused they were as they looked at me and addressed me, pretending to be respectful.  I gave them only one excuse — they did not know me — and that was all.  I did not show them any emotional weakness, but as soon as I left the practice room early to let them do their exercise routines, the peels and squeals of ridicule were finally released.

I did not cry about it for days.  I continued to practice at home, but my energy drained.  I did not want to step outside or go anywhere public.  I did a series of nude drawings of myself, trying to really confront my body head-on and not hide from my big belly.  But I could not block out what one of those college cheerleader girls said on my way out the door: “She looks like she’s pregnant!”  It made me feel like destroying something.  Well, I didn’t destroy anything.  However the defeated feeling I was left with drained me of joy and I hid in my home, suspending even the writing I had planned to do on this blog.

I can be brave at times, intimidating sometimes, but I’m an old softy at heart.  A man can reject me, but when I am put down by other women, it tends to hurt my confidence more.  I think this is because I tend to feel safer when I am with other women.  Regardless of age, and even though my friendships with women are not without drama, most women and girls warm up to me.  I also can easily make friends with men, but do not trust them as easily when they become affectionate.  With women I know that when they hug me and tell me that they love me, I can believe that they mean it, but men?  I need more time to believe that they are sincere.  I want to believe there are good men out there, yet I do not feel as safe emotionally with men.  I have had a lot of bad experiences with men.  I have been sexually assaulted, hit, cheated on, betrayed.  It is easier for me to expect men to ridicule me, and they usually do so, especially if I step inside a bar, or any social place, if I go alone.  So when women make fun of me and bully me, it feels more unexpected.  It just takes the wind out of me.  I expect women to like me more.  I should not be so sexist in regards to this matter, because there are no exceptions, all people have it within their nature to ridicule those who are different, or worse still like to put down other people who have it bad to make themselves feel more superior.

It would be different, I believe, if I could challenge such idiots to a duel of some sort to defend my honor, but, despite the ridiculous romantic side of me who wants to avenge herself in some slap-happy swashbuckling way, that would be just as idiotic of me.  Why should I have to prove anything to those girls too ignorant to see how beautiful I have become while dancing free and joyfully?  I have not felt so good in months!  And why should I let them spoil my good time?

During the days I took to mope about this, I missed out on a few public belly dancing events in town.  I became more frustrated with my weight loss process.  I cannot seem to manage to get past losing 20 pounds.  I feel like I am not trying hard enough.  Perhaps I need to stop giving myself such a hard time and let go of what those girls said.  In the end, it is not important.  It did not tarnish my honor or ruin my grace.  Months from now I will be fully decked out in silver coins and dancing with a wicked-looking scimitar sword.  I will be more awesome than they ever will be!

It is now after 5am and sleep is starting to pull me under my blankets again.  I am beginning to cheer myself up once more.  There is so much I want to do, so much I have to live for, and so much joy I want to share with you, yet this once I had to vent about this stupid, bothersome thing that has temporarily held me back from enjoying something I love.

Til then, I have to keep my mind on the prize, treat my body well, go back to eating healthy, and remind myself there are more important people — people who really love me and want to see me happy — who are on my side, cheering for me.

I just wish they were here right now.  I will think of them while I get back to sleep…  Let’s get back to dreams not filled with bugs, shall we?

Postcard #14: Puddled

What shall I share with you tonight?  Well, all the ice is melting as if every thing is weeping. The heavy snow has now all soaked the ground, full of pond-making, making me wish to fill it all with frogs. The roof is dripping and it all sounds like rain without the raining. Outside my door there are little rivers and lakes big enough for ducks to wade in, just enough for toddlers to drown in, and it is too warm to avoid stepping in them.  I wish I had Wellingtons.

February’s first week 2012 in northern Wisconsin has become something of an early spring, yet there is no green. It’s a soppy kind of warm.  It makes me feel muddy-cloudy as the puddles, or as muddy-puddled as the small, puffy clouds that cannot escape the teasing sunshine.  I do not mind the break from the cold, yet after the cards I pulled, and the visions I received on Imbolc (I have been meaning to write more on my predictions and magic, yet I am taking my time), I cannot help but sense a warning to not get too comfortable.

Yesterday I felt happy, now I am puddled.  Totally puddled.  That’s my new word for that feeling of in between happy and troubled, not enough troubled to be depressed, just a little doubt to hang a cloud over the happy.  I have gone from a confident solid to a mushy-melted self-consciousness.  What if everything I am doing still isn’t good enough?  What if everything I have accomplished will be as if nothing tomorrow?  What if I will never see you again?  What if you are not proud of me?  What if no one is proud of me?  What if everyone is laughing at me?  What if I have no genius, or Juno?  Did you know that the correct term for a women’s “genius” is “Juno” but it has been suppressed for ages?  Will that be the case for you, or me?  Never to be fully remembered, always to be this tiny mark, or no mark at all, an obscure figure barely celebrated (or not celebrated) like our Gods?

What if we forget each other?  What if every memory, every moment, every cherished thing we hold in our minds is just another castle of ice meant to melt and disappear in the sun?  What if we are supposed to be forgotten?  Like a ritual sand painting, a thing of concentrated beauty, created to be destroyed!

There is no forever.  This fact makes me hide.  It makes me feel as if I have already died.  Why stay alive?  Why do anything of importance?

But I do not care if there is no forever.

Puddles be damned!  The ice is water.  When it melts it does not end, it only changes back to its original form.  When we die, we go back to spirit, disembodied, electrical, like a bolt of lightning or a star, glowing at its brightest especially after it is dead.  Puddles will freeze back into the ice I’ll have to carefully walk over again.  February is not over.  Nothing is about to be over.  I am not lying to myself over this.  I will not lie to you.

Everything is about change.