The Message of Goddess Fortuna

I live a life of devotion. I love my Gods. Sometimes they talk to me in my dreams.  Since today is a very auspicious day, dated 12-13-14, I thought it appropriate to finally post a dream conversation I had with the Goddess Fortuna.  This is a re-post from my old Mindsay blog.  So posting this again, I hope, will bring you a great message, and us both wonderful luck.  Enjoy!

On the night of September 3rd 2009, I dreamed about the Roman Goddess Fortune (also known as Dame Fortuna).  The following is posted directly from my private handwritten dream journal.

“I am not Lady Luck,” she smiled, dressed in jewel encrusted red velvet and gold (as if she just stepped out of an Italian Renaissance painting) her hair colored amber honey, tied up in braids with ribbons of gold — real gold that shimmered like tinsel. Looking at her… she seemed ablaze with that gleam of gold, so gold it blurred my vision. When she talked to me, she was hard at work in, of all places, a modern morgue (or mortuary, it kept changing from today to ancient and back again) yet all the while, between the flickering back and forth of time, shifting of places, Fortuna’s golden aura made the room warm and comfortable. She was attending to the bodies — unzipping the body bags and decorating the dead with flowers, jewels, chains of gold, scented oil, rose petals… it was easy to breathe in the thick scent of myrrh, gardenia, roses, musk, incense…

“I am FORTUNE,” she sighed lovingly, firmly while placing daisies over the eyes of a dead man, “I am there at the end of life, but I am no nurse. I am the one with the job of making sure the lost and unknown receive a proper funeral — especially when there is no money or living people around to bid farewell to these souls. This is what you need to tell people, Valentina.”

She gave me a serious down-to-business look that sent a shiver through me.

“When a person — no matter what their significance when alive — passes from body to spirit without a funeral, it is as if they never existed. No one acknowledges that they lived. But this is not their fault. Death came to them inconveniently. It happens. However, it can be remedied. They do not have to pass into the next life without someone knowing who they were. Gods like me, we do not miss them. We grant these unknowns grace and peace — their bodies, their faces, their names, all these things stay a mystery to you, but we know them. This is perhaps the most important thing I do, providing a funeral when there was none.”

She paused while scattering more rose petals over the severely battered body of a woman. The woman is dark-skinned and Fortune’s light makes her broken corpse seem like a liquid black gold. Fortune’s eyes are moist with sad recognition. She briefly touched the dead woman’s head and the face reconstructs, glowing with Fortune’s golden aura so bright. “This one was stolen from her destiny, and enslaved by men. Her fate was entangled by money — as long as her body provided pleasure she made it with great ease, but the gold she earned never went to her. She could not own herself. In order to escape, she had to die. Her family does not know she died. She was beaten so badly, and on purpose, so no one can identify her. But I know her. See how beautiful she is? Death is kind to those who have suffered. Keep that in mind.”

I follow her as she moves on attend to other battered bodies, repairing them in death, touching and decorating each carefully.  I notice that behind her there rages a great, fiery furnace. There are two men completely clothed in black.  Completely void of any identity, they move like shadows, they are covered in a kind of opaque chiffon, wrapped up like mummies or ninjas, strips of the strange cloth cover every inch of their skin, it seems they are nothing but this fabric — without body and soul. Fortuna notices I’m disturbed by their presence.

“You see my workers?” She winks and smiles. “Pay them no mind. It is their fortune to carry the dead. They who kill cannot rise again to life until they answer for the burden of murder. Keep this also in your mind — write it down — share this — this is the killer’s burden. Murder is heavy on the soul. You cannot escape the fortune you take. Tell as many as possible. This should not occur anymore. People must know. Share what Fortune is telling you, Valentina, and your fortune will be assured.”

When I’m about to express some self-doubt, my thoughts are laid wide open for I stand before a goddess and she knows all. “Just do this, Valentina! You will see I will not forget you. You will prosper. This is not a fiction. Gold will follow these words.”

She says this as her workers, these shadow men, stir up the coals of the furnace. Quickly, they zip the dead back into their bags, some bodies into old-fashioned sacks, and one by one, the bodies’ are placed into the furnace like they are backing bread, beginning to melt into black puddles and then, without smoke, they disappear. When gone, there is no mess, no residue, no trace of them left behind. As the last body disappears, this place of death becomes cold and silver.

Funny how I associate “silver” with cold…

Dame Fortune blows me a kiss and sends me back to bed. Her voice is still in my head.

“I will reward you for following my wishes,” She said.

So let this be shared.  Let it be passed along.  May Fortune’s words of gold also be yours.

Thank you, Fortune, thank you.

**This dream was very important to me because, in the following year, my mother died, and it helped prepare me, in an unexpected way, for that life-changing event.  I began to understand more about life and death, yet also went through a series of emotional upheavals, that, I always discover, lead to breakthroughs (often our break-downs are breakthroughs in disguise).  Immediately after my mother’s death, when her body was sent away for cremation, I watched the documentary A Certain Kind of Death (about what happens to the dead with no next of kin), and not only was I reminded of this dream, that film brought me relief from my worries about what happens to bodies after they die. It’s the side of “fortune” we rarely examine — who will care for the physical parts of who we were after we’re gone, and will someone respect us when we’re dead? From what I saw in A Certain Kind of Death, even the unclaimed dead are treated with respect, a sobering prospect to ponder. One of my fears was dying alone and undiscovered like those stories you hear about in the news every now and then — no one wants to be known someday only as “that person” who died in a horrible circumstance where no one cared, or know someone who died alone undiscovered for a long while…  I truly believe the gods don’t forget us.**


The following is a list of the many aspects of this gracious goddess. Call upon any of her names below to ensure good fortune (derived from the page on Fortuna at Wikipedia:

Fortuna Annonaria brings the luck of the harvest
Fortuna Belli is the fortune of war
Fortuna Primigenia directs the fortune of a firstborn child at the moment of birth
Fortuna Virilis attends a man’s career, celebrated only by women
Fortuna Redux brings you safely home
Fortuna Respiciens — She is the fortune of the provider
Fortuna Muliebris is the luck of a woman (of note is the fortune of a woman in marriage was also Fortuna Virilis, tied to her husband’s career)
Fortuna Victrix brings victory in battle 
Fortuna Augusta is the fortune of the emperor
Fortuna Balnearis brings the fortune of the baths
Fortuna Conservatrix the fortune of the Preserver
Fortuna Equestris fortune of the Knights
Fortuna Huiusque Diei fortune of the present day
Fortuna Obsequens fortune of indulgence
Fortuna Privata fortune of the private individual
Fortuna Publica fortune of the people
Fortuna Romana fortune of Rome
Fortuna Virgo fortune of the virgin
Also something to note:
Pars Fortuna is your Lots of Fortune, or Part of Fortune; “time of birth” determining your fate that are calculated by the three degrees/angles of the major cosmic bodies that make up your Astrological natal chart — your Rising Sign (Ascendant), Moon, and Sun.

As you can see, the Goddess Fortuna, or Fortune, is incredibly involved in all aspects of life. The name Fortuna finds its root in the Latin fero, meaning “to bring, win, receive, or get”, hence why she was later associated with gambling luck. She was a very popular goddess in Ancient Rome, and today She is actively worshiped by Pagans, Witches, and many polytheists.

Awesome pages about the Goddess Fortuna and the people who worship Her:
The Obscure Goddess Online Directory: FORTUNA
Temple of the Goddess Fortuna
A Rite to Fortuna — Mirror of Isis, A Fellowship of Isis Publication

An art installment by Dawn DeDEAUX using imagery that is very close to my dream, so close it frightened me when I discovered it online: The Goddess Fortuna and Her Subjects In an Effort to Make Sense of it All — however it is a statement about

Beltane Wishes

Beltane blessings today and night to all I love: may your wishes come true and all hearts be light! ‘Tis the season to make merry (some to marry) and awake, revive the green and love for all of life’s sake. Shake off the dust, wipe clean a slate, who cares if our Spring is late! The Sun is in the heart and the party is up to us to start…

…even if your “party” just means you and your pet, or spouse, alone at home soaking in the quiet after long day’s long done. May you feast well and your sleep and good dreams be well won!

As for me, last night was Walpurgisnacht!  “Witches’ Night” means it’s a super witch-related fun night, nothing creepy (unless you count us as fairly nerdy).  All around the world witches were leaping over bonfires and dancing all night long.  My fun was to write a few sestinas (yes, I can write formal poetic forms, but I prefer free verse) as a divination exercise. I stayed up all night drawing and painting, and generally didn’t do a lot different than anything I don’t normally do. Not that I’m a boring witch, it’s just more peaceful being my solitary self!

Drink one for me, loves. And if you haven’t danced, get yourself out there! Go on…

Why You Don’t Have to be Ashamed of Paganism

Do not judge and you will never be mistaken. ~Jean Jacques Rousseau

If you are insecure about what you believe, much less what you practice, chances are you are losing your religion. Or perhaps the faith was not yours to keep to begin with? If you become embarrassed by the way your fellows worship, could it be a sign that you are simply prejudiced against your own kind, or that you really don’t belong? If you cannot join them, why are you there? Why complain and judge and spend so much time debating how they should change, when perhaps it is you who needs to make the change? If you are not dancing with your friends, the joy gets knocked out of you, and you cannot experience the joy the others are sharing. The only way to find your true way is to take a cue from your heart, step back, do not judge, and move towards that different beat calling you away…

If you find yourself ashamed of what you once loved, take it as yet another “ordinary” omen; you are growing into and beyond faith, moving past the surface you clung to, and soon you’ll prove to yourself what it is you truly believe. At some point we have to separate ourselves from the community we once identified with, and it is very healthy to become disillusioned with the behavior of our peers, especially when we decide it is time for us to create our own practices.  But it is also just as important to remember our roots, to honor where we have come from, and thank the people who fostered us during those early days when we first set foot on our path.

There are a great many young Pagans today who are ashamed of being associated with other Pagans and who are embarrassed by public performances of Pagan communities at Pagan Pride celebrations. This used to anger and upset me to tears. I took this as a terrible rejection, especially when close friends decided to no longer worship with me, or after many years apart I would find out they were not Pagan any more.  We would get into arguments over whose way of thinking and believing was more correct, or needed improvement, and we’d compare religious thought like who has more money in the bank.  I would tell myself that this is how we were showing each other we cared, yet we did was hurt each other and waste our time, time we could have spent building each other up instead of putting each other down.  With time, I’ve come to accept my friends’ choices to quit Paganism, not as a rejection, but as part of the personal spiritual journey they are going through. Who am I to judge them? And why should I care when they judge Paganism an embarrassment?  For I am certainly proud of it.

It reminds me of a time when some lesbians and gays would get embarrassed by all the flamboyant drag kings and queens on the floats at Gay Pride parades. “I don’t want people thinking that’s what we’re all about,” they would say, worried about the images of gays presented to mainstream America in the media.  It still pervades today among different subcultures across the world — we all get our panties in a bundle over stereotypes! So worried other people will lump us all in with the louder, weirder, crazier, fluffier, campy members of our little tribes that it keeps us from truly enjoying who we are and what we do.

The problem with letting this embarrassment get to you is the shame of it all. At the heart of being ashamed is humiliation and guilt: both are tell-tale signs that we make ourselves feel inferior to the point where we remain restrained by the anticipation of shame brought upon us by another culture we deem more powerful, all because we are guilty of belonging to a group we believe is without power. When we believe our community does not have power, we in turn believe we have no power when we stand with them, and we cease to believe our religion has no validity compared to other religions with less embarrassing behavior and practices.  When we are ashamed, we support powerlessness.  We cave in.

I am an invisible man…. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. ~Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man, 1952

The other danger of letting embarrassment rule your judgment is the way in which you come to treat other people — will you let yourself fall into the Hall of Assholedom?  Or love, respect, and wisdom?  The people we are embarrassed of, are people we make invisible.  We stop validating their feelings, experiences, thoughts, and rights.  We start to judge them, not for the friends they are, but as strangers you deem them to be.  Even if you know them, you stop seeing them.  You don’t know what level they are standing at, or what they’re going through, and they have no more importance.  Even if you claim to live by a code of honor and be the best human being you can be; if you hold any prejudice against a group for being different (that includes flaky), you best check yourself.  It is not righteous or heroic to bully a group’s right to worship as they see fit, and they will worship and behave as they will, with or without your approval because it makes them happy.  The same goes for any individual who is different than you, too.  Let them be different.

When in a group, it is good etiquette to practice as the group does, improvise when the time is right, share ideas, and speak up! If you do not like working with a group, don’t work with a group. To get along with others it is essential to let people be who they are. Let them tell you what they are all about. Don’t assume you know all about them just based on how they look or even what they say. They might be deeper individuals than you think. People always surprise me once I get past that first impression. Judge a book by the cover? Covers lie, my friend. Ask any best-selling pop fiction author, they usually never get to pick what art will grace the cover of their books, but the content may blow your mind every time.

If you judge people you have no time to love them. ~Mother Teresa

I tend to fall in love with people no matter who they are, regardless of age or sex, and want to adopt them all as my family. Perhaps I am unique in that sense. I have never really been ashamed of the silly, fringe, New Age-y members of our community, however at one point I was greatly annoyed to the point of irritation. I was in my mid-twenties then, found myself surrounded by adults older than myself who talked about Witchcraft like teenagers giggling about boys, as if it all were the latest fashion, and I immediately assumed these women were definitely not going to stick with “the program”. Then I realized what a waste of time it was that I spent complaining about them. As I whiled away the time groaning over their girlish behavior, anxiety ate at my gut and I could not relax. They were really having fun and I was rotting like a big poop.

Focusing instead on being more productive, plus cutting loose and letting my (to *gulp!* quote one of those New Age phrases!) “inner child” out to play, was so much better. I often liken our rituals to getting outside to play! When you feel ashamed, you won’t dance or laugh, you can’t do anything but stand there feeling the fool. When you are free from shame, you’ll not feel like a fool, in fact you will be far from caring whether or not someone else thinks you are one. This is when being part of a group helps loosen the inhibitions. You’re not alone at play! You’re among your own kind and we will not judge you… at least that is the way it is supposed to be.

Why else do you think we swear perfect love and perfect trust? That was not made up to procure fantasy.

You do not have to change an entire religion in order for one person, or a new generation, to feel comfortable and respected by the rest of the world. There are reasons why neo-Paganism is the way it is and why it will remain so. There are no rules other than:

  • Everyone has the right to follow their own Path
  • We believe in a Higher Power(s) — God/desses
  • Nature is to be venerated

So why worry about what other people think? When confronted with co-workers, family, strangers on the bus, or other silly persons who snicker at the religion I identify with, I adopt an attitude of being Un-Spookable, because ultimately my religion is a personal issue that is left out of their business (they can say whatever they want, but they can’t take it away from me and I shall not be bothered!). When I’m at a job, I’m there as an employee. I leave my private life at home. If someone brings up my beliefs, or anything else that is private, I do not discuss those things at a job. It’s not professional to get friendly like that. If a boss Googles me, they are sticking their nose in my personal business. It does not matter if I have made my blog public and that I call myself Valentina the Witch, that is my persona separate from any other job I’m hired to do. Yet. I have it easy. I’m freelance, it does not matter if I advertise myself as a Witch or not, it goes along with my illustration.

It’s weird that nowadays folks find it easy to make fun of Pagans and Witches then be afraid of them! There are still some parts of the world where announcing your religion of choice could get you killed, yet at least here we can express our spirituality as we see fit. In the late 1980′s/early 90’s when I first discovered Witchcraft, I saw a few Goddess-centered public rituals that were pretty damn intense that included nudity, fire, mud, and large statuary representing giant genitalia. Back then more people were spooked by Paganism not scoffing at it!  A lot of people liked the tenets of belief and practice, yet weren’t as brave or wild to invent such crazy performances, so even then there were people embarrassed by that. Thus began movements to tame down ritual into simple, child-like, easy-to-swallow forms for personal and public use.

Pagan religion, movements, traditions… they are always evolving, changing, rituals get rewritten, no one way is supposed to be the only way, you make your way of worship your own way.  This is not disorganization.  This is individualization.  It is the way all of religion is flowing into the future.

Most Pagans today find an introduction to our religion by books, or by websites, much of which filled with half-truths and myths written mainly to lead an individual to further study.  In our age with the instant gratification of information and popular spirituality, we have a multitude of authors (some posers, some true authorities) out there to test young minds.  Yet I find that part of being Pagan is discovering the truth behind the fictions we are given.

I once had a teacher who was a terrible drug addict and dealer! I did not know it at the time, but there was something about him that did not feel right to me, some of the things he said and did were off, and after finding out how messed up he was, I still walked away with mighty lessons. He taught me what NOT to do, but even though he was delusional, he was a powerful magician with years of herbal medicine experience and introduced me to other Witches who weren’t addicts who taught me more than he could. His behavior was appalling, and perhaps someone else may have walked away in disgust, never again to dabble in the Craft, but not me.  Even the worst guide can still be a guide.

Our thoughts are unseen hands shaping the people we meet. Whatever we truly think them to be, that’s what they’ll become for us. ~Richard Cowper

I find that often Paganism is a gateway religion for many seeking another path that is out there for them to discover and experience. Yet I would advise you all not to abandon Paganism for a passing fad, or continue to treat Pagans with harsh criticism because you have come to the conclusion that it does not work for you, or you find you do not fit in with the crowd. If any of you grew up in a strict religious family, or have ever been confronted with ultra-right-wing religious conservative people,  you would do well to remember how having their doctrine forced upon you felt. And the more someone argued with you, attempted numerous times to convince you how wrong you are, and policed your behavior with phrases like “you ought to be ashamed of yourself!” while you were simply just being different, the less you stayed within the church of your upbringing, and the less their words had any effect on you. Pagans are against that practice. Why?  Because we are not a religion that hates or inhibits anyone’s freedom.  We do not force people to stay in a religion that they are embarrassed of, or have out grown. If you must move on, please go in peace. We will not try to change you.  We ask nothing from you.  Just be yourself.

So, please, with all due respect, do not try to change us. Because we’re happy with ourselves. We’re not ashamed like you are. Don’t shape us into what you think we are. You might someday discover we never fit that mold to begin with. But we’ll forgive you just the same.

As for me, this Witch always has room in her heart for you, who ever and where ever you are, no matter what religion or subculture you belong to, and even if you think me silly and want nothing to do with me, I’ll miss you while I dance with the whole wide world under the pale moonlight!

Postcard #44: My Samhain

This is MY season, the in between time that makes shivers and tests your wits, when you can dance with monsters and dress like ghouls and if people look twice it is to admire your costume, and if you’re not looking weird, people wonder what is wrong with you. I love it because it’s home to me — a celebration of graveyard love, freak glamour, and treats — the one week in the year everyone wants to meet a real Witch, get their fortune read, make me their friend and buy me a drink. But mostly it is a date I keep with my beloved dead friends and relatives. Yes. If I cannot be alone, sometimes those spirits push me with people that they wanted me with, and such a thing happened this Samhain, I had a spontaneous reunion with my brother and father — and they did not pick on or yell at me once! I did not call them, did no begging for them to pick me up. I had consigned myself to a lonely night, but Dad dragged me out, then he pulled Star out of his apartment, and soon it was a family affair!  My tear-dampened heart dried up and got swallowed up by fire, turned pink and got all hot red like fallen in love, and excited as if going out on a date.

Even though it was not my choice to observe my new year and commune with the spirits at a local casino, I am a Witch and can make ritual and magic anywhere I am. I learned long ago that I need not even bring tools, set up an altar, or even recite fancy words to get my point across to the Gods. The point is to do something, show and live your respect, and the only way to do that is to create beauty from your heart and really put an individualistic touch to your magic. Well, at least that is how I roll.

Shine a Light, Any Light

Even though it was just a tiny tea light set in a lotus-shaped votive, and only used for ambiance during dinner at the casino restaurant, handled by many strangers and seemingly void of magic energy like a blade as dull as a fruit knife, it was a fire. I could not be home at midnight. Family came first this Samhain. I knew this was what my mother would have wanted, especially while I’m missing a friend. My Mom, if alive, and sitting across from me at that restaurant table, she’d force me to stop looking glum and go out to see a movie with my brother, or just do anything but not cry. She would sing “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…!”

So I shine a light, I hold the fire, any flame, and I look into it, and it is my doll-sized hearth fire, one I can hold in my hand. I can dance around it with my fingers and hum the songs all witches are singing all the world over this night and my heart cracks, snaps, flares up and roars like a match struck, and I’m lit up and glowing, snarling, rising up with trails of smoke. I’m not alone in the restaurant, but at that table, in my mind, I am anywhere in the world, even let myself feel as if in several places at once. My body is at the table waiting for her feast to come, yet my thoughts take different forms, like little ghosts of me in sparks, feeling like bits of me exploding in fireworks, the blood in my veins giggling with magic.

And no one notices. No one thinks I’m crazy or spooky. I’m just an ordinary woman sitting at a table. Everything is taking place in my mind. At home I would be at my altar, I would be dressed in a robe, all candles lit, and my place transformed into a temple.

A Witch’s Church is Anywhere

I can worship anywhere at any time, there is no space I cannot make sacred. I have the power to change the profane and ordinary into holy. This is why I do not need to make a permanent spiritual home, why witches and pagans can settle down and then take off for anywhere as they please. It is not because we are The Great Disorganized, it is because we have no need to make a building our singular place of power. That is why I can sit at that casino restaurant, look around and see past the trappings of commerce and notice beyond the surface images in the jazz age inspired decor symbols that comfort me, as if I were meditating at a temple.

And what spirits lurk here? Especially during All Hallow’s Eve when the time is ripe, the dead are most active, or so it’s said, and how can it be doubted when all of nature around us reminds us that winter will soon steal away the life from all we see?  I don’t like to think of winter stealing anything but making the days shorter.  I love the night, so I look forward to longer darkness, if only so I can have that hermit time to myself, when snowed-in days mean no-interruptions from neighbors and other outside world things.

The Fine Art of Talking to the Dead

People often ask a Witch about how to best go about getting messages from their dead loved ones, but what about talking to the dead? Does anyone consider the enormity of that? Unless you are someone who refuses to believe that the soul can linger after death and can have the willpower to manifest and/or communicate with us, it might not occur to you that communicating with the dead involves talking to them more than provoking them to speak to us.

Talking to the dead is not about getting them to talk back anyway, it’s about respect and honoring their memory. Even if you do not believe in ghosts, the ritual of visiting graves and paying tribute to the dead with celebration, ceremony, and other rites keeps the living ALIVE.

Talking to the dead is all about talking to ourselves, the parts of us that died when we forced to let go of someone we loved. During Samhain, as I gaze into the fire, whether I think it or say it aloud, I say sweet things to the dead, I tell them how life is, how much I miss them, how happy I am they are a part of me, that I am grateful I am alive because their lives gave me life, and how much I look forward to being with them some sweet day. To show I care, I set aside some food, something bio-degradable and edible for local animals (just in case a living creäture might get at the offering, because maybe a bird or squirrel will let your grandmother ride its body so she and it can enjoy the treat) that won’t also harm the environment (leaving a trail of Mountain Dew will dry up some plants due to its high sodium content).

One of the traditions I have adapted from my inter-tribal American Indian heritage is the practice of tying prayer bundles on tree branches, except the prayer is not only a prayer, but also offering and tribute all-in-one (which, now that I think of it, is exactly what prayer bundles are, really). I sometimes make them during Samhain, but do not make them bound by cloth, nor do I hang them from branches where people can find them easily. I place Kinnikinnick in small, rolled pieces of birch bark and tie them up along with dry pine cones filled with organic peanut butter and bird seed. These prayer offerings very quickly disappear.

Always remember the ghosts, because we may become them someday.

As much as I do not like to think I would willingly decide to keep myself haunting a single place for years and years, I would love my shade to appear in the nature reserve I love so much. What a legend I’d make! The Witch in the Woods all dressed in black wandering through the trees spooking the university students… um, I think I already do that and, yes, I’m still alive. *giggles*

All is a Journey, Therefore All Requires Journal Keeping

When I am finally alone, Samhain is all about Divination: The practice of communicating with the Divine (my idiom).

First I talk to the dead, then I talk to the Gods, then one or both of Them talk back to me, and sometimes They do not talk with words but with symbols, understanding those symbols requires Trance. I like to record the thoughts, visions, images, poetry, all that comes to mind in notes and drawings. My bedroom is a workshop for dreams.

Every Samhain I draw one card out of the 22 Major Arcana cards from the Tarot. This card will indicate my “fortune” for the upcoming year. Consider it a pre-2013 prediction. 2011 I pulled Justice, 2012 my card is The High Priestess, and 2013 will emerge… The Sun!

Outside of blogging, I do a lot of handwriting, in fact most of my writing is writing in notebooks and drawing in sketchbooks. I have many “secret” books of stuff, yet if I were to die tomorrow I do not believe my poor relatives and friends would make much sense out of any of it. Divination is very personal, and quite often I do not get premonitions of world events, only private events. This is year I thought I would try world predictions, but only one event happened that I foreseen and my imagination exaggerated it, perhaps because I may have been picking up on the anxiety behind the anticipation of it. It was about the solar flares and their effect on digital devices, but no major internet losses of data or massive power outages occured. However… now that I look at what has happened with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, I wonder if I was unclear and had seen something else.

Prediction is measured according to someone’s, or some thing’s, behavior, or what is likely to occur based on the previous actions and decisions a thing usually makes, and they can direct their fortune with their wits, but some things like forces of nature are complete chaos and can only be tracked as they happen. Having performed duties as an oracle for hire, and privately for close friends, I’ve learned that my specialty, even when I divine predictions for myself, are largely empathetic. Tarot is easiest because it is a tool that gives me a boundary. I can pick up information about people by handling items they have invested great emotional meaning into like jewelry or clothing, but it must be an organic thing, metal, wood, cotton, or silk, nothing synthetic, and yet… I can sit on a vinyl couch where someone just sat and pick up on their emotional crap, that is, if they are really emoting.

It is a crazy-frying-your-thoughts sort of thing, and writing about it eases that discomfort, helps distance myself from it all, and when I instead focus on myself, what I want, and what I feel, it keeps me together. Samhain is a super-charged time of spiritual activity because of its association with death and life, between two very drastic seasons. The time that falls into Winter is downright creepy, and Halloween is the much-needed “Christmas” of a darkening time when the cold-approaching makes people anticipate what the future holds. I wonder if the tradition of the casting of runes, bones, shells, and other divining tools started during times like this out of that sense of impending doom, when humans need to turn to the spirits and Gods the most for signs of hope?

But more than hope, truth. I don’t know about you, but it is the dose of truth I often seek. I want to know who is pulling the gears behind the curtain. I seek to know what is causing the problems I suffer from and how I can fix them. Perhaps knowing why can help me change a future I once thought fate and doom consigned me to. Maybe I should not give up on what I think maybe? So I shuffle the cards for myself and other people. We have ourselves a long look-see at all the alternatives, yet…

There are times when Spirits aren’t playing around, they won’t give excuses or alternative views, they know answers are asked, and the sugar-coating is only for the Trick-or-Treaters. I was always told that if you are going to give a powerful reading, best time is do it during the Hallow-In-Between time (again, my idiom) where the old Wiccan adage “during the season when the veil between worlds is thin” when Spirit and Physical shake hands for a short while. That creates a little bridge where you can take peeks into mystery and get some sense made out of life, or death (if the case may be).

And the Moon Shines like a Smile

The hours after midnight, between 3am and 4am is when the veil between the physical world and spiritual world is really the thinnest. This goes for any day, even beyond Samhain, yet especially on Samhain waiting through that night into wee morning is a vigil. I never sleep the night between Halloween and All Soul’s Day, I’m either celebrating with like-minded friends (not just the Witches) or at home alone singing and reading Tarot cards, and only sometimes I’m outside to drink in the smile of the moon…

I did give myself the chance this year to let the moon really shine down into me. I also directed Her light to cleanse my altar space and tools. I performed an uncrossing, re-activated so many things I left dormant out of everyday distraction, and got rid of the clutter that prevented me from saving enough room to invite the love I felt lacking.  The “universe” even helped getting rid of a manipulative gossip monger in my life, too, and re-connected me to two old friends I lost contact with!  How about that?

A Witch is never alone during Samhain. Even if she’s surrounded by cowans (non-intiate) can still observe her favorite holy day and not be alone. All over the world there are Witches connected by their common bond of fidelity and love for their beloved dead, be they ancestors, spouses, lovers, family, children, or friends, we have this spiritual matrix, it is a fire in the blood, music in our souls, and even if no one else can hear it, it is the song that never ends.

Etiquette for Witches: How to Get Along with Family

Today could be Christmas, or Easter,  Mother’s Day, or it could be any other holiday, or event, or just another get-together, and whether or not you’re a Witch, Pagan, or green-skined Fairy Godmother, your family and friends invite you home.  They know how different you are and you know how much they wish you were more like them, more normal, so this makes family-time stressful.  You could stay away, but that’s not fair to them, they gave you life, and despite your differences, they have loved you all your life.  You could be the stubborn one first and point out that today’s holiday celebration is based upon ancient pagan origins.  You could further spoil the day by proclaiming it’s all a Hallmark card creation to get consumers to buy unnecessary gifts for their loved ones.  You could even delve into a philosophical discussion where you explain to everyone why what you believe and think is valid and superior, but all that will do is just demean the people who just simply want your company.  But after you insist upon distancing yourself from your loved ones by being such a bore, they may regret their invitation.  Nonetheless, the invitation still stands, and you could really be the shock of the party if you come dressed in your best Gothic black, yet what you think is a way to assert your independence and artistic brilliance, comes off as being disrespectful.  Plus it’s just bad manners, isn’t it?  Have mercy on those you love!  Save the shocking outfits, the ceremonial robes, and chest-covering-Gangsta-sized silver pentagrams for rituals and festivals.  Even if all your Witchy get-up is really an expression of who you are, and you insist on  wearing it everywhere to show your devotion to your gods, you can always come up with a more tame version that your relatives will find more comfortable.  Remember that our families are the earthly embodiment of the pantheon of gods who gave life to All.  It is far better to treat your loved ones with kindness and think more about them for a change.  You can still be different and be together…  The key to honor is giving respect.

It’s About Family, Not Fighting

Even if they start a debate, it’s not up to you to finish it or keep it going.  Whenever you are invited over to anyone’s house, it’s best to respect them, you can still disagree and quietly thank them for sharing with you their opinion, but let the time be about togetherness.  My family is full of individuals who love to debate about politics and religion, perhaps this is how all families are, because when I think about it, those subjects are the two that get people most emotional.  I do my best to keep politics and religion out of my conversations with my relatives.  Like them, I feel it my duty to take a stand for what I feel is right and just.  They taught me well!  But I am much more liberal.

When a controversial subject is unavoidable, I try to steer the conversation into one where we can agree on something.  I have been pleased to note each time we get together, despite us teasing each other for being on opposite sides, that even my most conservative relatives and I can find issues we mutually support.  I find I don’t have to fight with them to get my points across, plus they do not have to argue with me to tell me what they think is right.  I also realize that we come from different generations, we have different experiences and interests, yet when you look at us you can easily see we are related.  Blood doesn’t wash off!  Even if any one in my family does not like what I believe or support, they feel the same way about me.  They see in me a reflection of themselves.  Our differences are necessary so we can learn from one another, not so we can fight and separate from each other in disgust.  To fight, instead of taking the time to listen and really appreciate where each other comes from, is to turn our backs on our ancestors and cut ourselves off from the source of our own creation.  The challenge we face is to overcome our differences, not get each other to convert the other to believe and act the same.  When we face this challenge, our bonds of love become stronger, and the stronger the family ties, the more respect is given and received.

Some people think it necessary to engage in heated debates in order to break common ground, but I believe such struggles are unnecessary.  There are more gentle and loving ways to overcome our differences.

Try to remember this no matter who you are interacting with.  If you want someone to respect you, act according to, and how you want to be treated.  If someone does not treat you as well as you treat them, take it as a sign to leave them alone because any further attempts to win them over will waste your time.  If family rejects you, they are hurting themselves because they are giving up the opportunity to be loved by you.  The same goes the other way around, too.  Of course in cases of abuse, the rule is get out and be with a family of friends who don’t hurt you.

Ways to Connect, Not Struggle, with Family

Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the last twenty years that I believe you will find helpful when you are dealing with the difficulty of relating to your family, especially in the years after you reveal to them you are a Witch (same goes for coming out of ANY closet):

  • Parents often blame themselves for the way their children turned out.  They wished you to grow up to be someone they wanted you to be, but you could not be that person.  You are proud and confident with who you are, especially if you have finally discovered who you are and long to share it with your loved ones.  But it is often very difficult for Mom and Dad to figure out how you got that way.  What did they do to make you so different?  If your parents are uncomfortable with what you believe in, what you do, and who you have become, it’s up to you to reassure them that you are still a good product of their upbringing, and above all, that no matter what, you love them.  Visiting them is tense because, even though they know you, they do not know any details about your spiritual life, and they do not know what to expect from inviting a Witch into their home.  Put them at ease with plenty of verbal reassurances.  Tell them, and mean it from your heart, in your own words, that they gave you a good childhood, taught you what you needed, and that you hold them in high esteem.  Don’t show up with butt-loads of over-information about your religion because this is too  overwhelming.  Concentrate on your relationship with your folks first.
  • Never let your family think you have abandoned them.  When you grow up to lead a very unique lifestyle and/or practice an alternative religion, they will expect you have done this in rejection of the background they provided for you.  If your family brought you up with a very traditional religion, they won’t see it as you turning your back on God per say, but that you have broken with tradition, which seems equals rejecting family.  They will wonder what made you change.  Who convinced you to convert to something new and different?  And what kind of person are you to have gone against your family?  You haven’t changed just because you practice a different religion, you are still the person they have always known, and no matter how unique you really are, no one can completely divorce themselves from their roots.  We all still carry the morals and spiritual lessons we learned.  This is something to point out to your family.  Share with them how you have incorporated lessons learned from the religion you grew up with with what you practice now.  All ways of worship have one or several things in common.  Find them!  Focus on what still spiritually connects you to each other.
  • Want to know one of the best ways to reconnect with your family after a long separation?  Before a reunion, put together a family tree and/or research your genealogy.  Discovering the deepest connections you have throughout history (if possible) teaches us all how intimate the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth are — something Pagans and Witches revere — and sharing this with our family also connects us to far more powerful and greater forces of this Universe.  Remember to consistently reinforce your blood and spiritual connections by honoring, not just your ancestors, but the family you have alive today.  
  • Make sure to keep past hurts and unresolved conflicts away from the dinner table.  It’s not only bad for digestion, it is just inappropriate.  If there is still bad blood between you, save it for a time when you can talk in private.  Let all talk during dinner be jovial and sympathetic, avoid controversial subjects, and even if you do not share your family’s interests, be there to listen for a change.  Sometimes all it takes to make your family happy is to just show up and be there!  So enjoy the free meal, sit back, and relax.  It’s time to give the people you love a break.  Oh, and remember to help out with the cooking and cleaning the dishes, too.
  • The key to earning the respect of your relatives is to take a step back, stop yourself from dominating the conversation and demanding attention, give them your attention, listen to what they say, let them talk first, and then respond kindly to their opinions.  Sometimes what they have to say will make you angry  and you’ll feel the need to correct them.  But wait a second.  Imagine how you would feel if you were in their place.  Realize how they must feel about you!  No matter how much the world may change, or how much information is available out there, there are people who will never change their mind and do not want to understand what you believe as something that is normal or right.  Being a Witch is still viewed as being the enemy in many people’s minds.  Some people wish to cling to their fears and myths, and they will also believe you cling to the myths, too!  No matter how much you strive to educate and enlighten, there will always be those who won’t like you because of what they think you represent.  Some members of your family are like that.  They will always dislike your religion, but if they truly love you, it won’t stop them from loving you.  Remember to do unto them as you would have them do unto you…  Don’t brow beat them into believing as you believe.  Because it’s the same for you, isn’t it?  You don’t like their religion, so why feed them the same story?
  • Never laugh at the questions family ask, especially if they are silly and based on common myths.  Also remember to not always be the one to initiate providing information.  Acting as a lecturer will make you the poop of the party.  You’re with family to have fun, not be a preacher.  Last thing anyone wants is be given a guilt trip, especially during a Christian-stolen Pagan holy day.  If your folks want to know, they can google it nowadays.  But if they really want to know the background, they will ask you.  When they ask to know what you believe and how you worship, that’s the best time to share with them your truth.  Be patient with them and forgive them if they misunderstand, or even make fun of, what you practice.  It is weird to them.  They mean no harm.  You are the only Witch they’ll ever know, and you owe it to them to act with compassion, swallow your pride, and suspend your criticism.  What you do and say matters.  Your example will be the one they will think of when other people speak poorly about your peers.  As a result, they may even defend you!
  • Do not make the people who love you pay for your principles.  Likewise, stop torturing yourself over choosing to practice your holy day over their holiday.  Also don’t make anyone, including yourself, suffer over your religious views.  Refusing to gather with your family because you reject a holiday or other tradition simply because it is not your own is one thing, but refusing to visit family because you think you will cause a problem?  Then you are your own problem, not your family.  No matter what the occasion, a family gathering is about togetherness, never really about the holiday itself.  You can still do your own thing your own way at home or with your peers later.  I have spent too many years unnecessarily alone thinking that my family did not want me around because I was a Witch.  I thought my presence in their lives would just make them uncomfortable and that it would be better for me to stay away.  Every holiday I would torture myself over making the decision to separate myself from them, but the truth was they did not care I was a Witch, what mattered to them was that I was still their little girl, Tina.  I am Valentina the Witch to anyone, but I’ll always be Tina the Girl  or Teena-Weena (my nickname from childhood) whenever I’m with them.  Being present in my family’s lives wasn’t just about doing a good deed for them, it healed me.  It no longer matters to me if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Solstice, it’s all the same to me because the season is all about being with family.
  • When a relative becomes abusive towards you for what you believe in, they are out of line, not you.  Do not attack them back and do your best to step away from the situation.  Confronting them in a violent way will not solve anything.  When they attack you violently, even if it is just verbal, it is unacceptable and you do not have to put up with that.  Tell them how they make you feel and stand up for yourself, but don’t stick around to let them continue to hurt you.  Something like this happened with my mother and I years ago.  I found that instead of yelling back at her, it was better to step away, let things cool down, and then have a decent conversation to address what was wrong later.  Most often the case was my mother’s anger was over something that had nothing to do with me, and I was a reminder of the rejection she felt when I told her I was a practicing Witch.  I could be just as confrontational as she was, too.  The worst thing to do is to attempt to force a loved one to accept your religion against their will.  If you love someone, what should really matter to you is that they are happy.  Love matters more than religion.  Love serves the Gods more than the human invention of religion.  How we treat each other should reflect this.
  • Dealing with an especially intolerant religious relative is a special spiritual challenge that you should bravely and lovingly accept with all your heart.  The more intolerant they are of you, the more they will teach you to be more tolerant of others.  The more they judge you and point out all your flaws, the less likely you will be to do that to others.  Or you could take the opposite route, you could take after them and become as big a bigot as they are, but hatred only begets hatred.  No matter how angry and hurt they make you, first realize a few important things…
  1. When they fight for your attention and make it their mission to “save” you, they do so mostly out of concern for your soul.  They believe you will be damned for all eternity.  They love you and don’t want that to happen to you.
  2. They will never give up on you because they truly believe you are in danger.  They are trying to rescue you.   Imagine that heartache.
  3. Fear keeps them from understanding and accepting you are okay.  Your soul is of great value, once lost it is gone forever.  Since you have chosen Witchcraft, they believe you gave up your soul to the Devil.  This is unacceptable to them.
  4. Hatred of the Devil keeps them vigilant.  Anything to do with Witchcraft is of the Devil, so for you to become a Witch means you are now on the side of the enemy.  Anything you say they will consider a lie.
  5. They cannot listen to you because they believe you have been deceived.  It is as if you have become delusional — you cannot be reasoned with — and yet they love you and wish to save you.  Imagine the pain and suffering they go through!
  • React with empathy, thank family members who pray for you, and tell them you will pray for them, too.  What?  They  probably didn’t know Witches pray!  Now there’s an opportunity to share what you do.  Remember to do this when you’re on the street and a Christian stops to witness to you.  Most people who do that do so because out of concern for your soul — they really want to help.  Only a rare few are truly bigots.  Thank them!  Don’t give anyone an excuse to dislike you and do not volunteer spiritual information about yourself.  Your relationship with the Gods is personal, and just as intimate as a sexual relationship with a lover, so why give away something that is too special?  Well, maybe it would be cool to share with everyone your awesome relationship, but there is a time and place for that sort of too much information exchange, right?  Use commonsense.
  • Fight an uncomfortable situation with good humor.  Have fun!  Be silly!  Did your family forget who you are when you told them you became a Witch?  Better go remind them how human you are.  Let them see you happy.  Show them how much fun being you really is.  It really is awesome being a Witch, isn’t it?  We get to do all kinds of interesting crafts and things.  We’re not serious and spooky, well, not all the time.  If you cannot be yourself around the people who changed your diapers, who can you be with?  Let go of your darkest cares.  Get over your ego.  A Witch’s life is one of joy!  This is no secret.  Pass it on…


I dedicate this to my Mother, the evangelist who taught me how important religion is, and why having a personal relationship with the Divine is so essential in life.

I also wrote this in dedication to the rest of my family — the people who have seen me go through many, many, many changes and who have been there for me even when I did not know they were thinking about me. Thank you!

No matter our differences, love is all that matters.

Black Cat Power, Part 1: Origins & Witches

**UPDATE 10/12/2014: This is my most popular and most visited article! In light of this, I fully intend to write more on this subject. Black cats are definitely very awesome. The much promised part two is already written, but last year after the passing of my beloved Mr. Snuggles (photographed below) I lost the cheer to write with my usual passion.  Soon I will write with celebration!**
What is up with black cats and Witches, eh? Why do we go so well together? Are we good luck? Or are we all bad luck?  What special powers, if any, do we share together?  These questions and more I’ve been asked, but one question I’ve been asked the most, one my mother was the first to ask me is, “Do you have a black cat because you’re a Witch?”   My answer comes with an embarrassed laugh; “No” and I didn’t quite know how to explain why.  Yet I understood why it was a common question,  considering that every Halloween the most recognizable cliché symbolic image is one that pairs witches dressed in black next to their faithful black cats. But how did that cliché get started in the first place? I don’t think it’s just coincidence or a pop culture creation derived only from Old English literature.  

I almost forgot it was Friday the 13th this last weekend until Mr. Snuggles and I, out for our usual walk to check the mail, were stopped by two of our neighbors.  The ladies excitedly remarked how awesome it was for me to walk around with a black cat on Friday the 13th, pointing out that I was responsible for allowing my black cat to cross their path. “Well, then,” I snarkingly replied, “better be sure to give ’em a cuddle for good luck. Mr. Snuggles is a ladies’ cat!” I then added that black cats bring speedy marriages to single ladies.  “REALLY?!”  They giggled with joy, not about to believe me, but, hey, it’s a nice good luck charm, in’it?  So they, never having heard about that legend before, and me always looking for an opportunity to tell a tall tale, indulged in the magic.  Mr. Snuggles enjoyed the women’s attention like any mister on the prowl would.  When I brought him home, his fur was thick with ladies’ perfume. That’s my little lover!

I’ve discovered that, stereotype or not, the black cat is not really associated with bad luck as has been believed.  What can be believed is black cats inspire mystery and power, and their long association with Witches both historical and mythical is no coincidence.  Black cats are the tiny ‘house panthers’ we invite into our homes, providing reminders of the great unknown — little shadows of the jungle beyond — and those eyes, those sharp claws, like sickle moons to poke the skin!  I don’t know about you, but my black cat, no matter how cute he is, is still wild and fierce, the hunter that never goes to sleep.  And I, his Witch, is a Daughter of Diana/Selena/Hecate, Isis/Bast/Hathor, and a host of many goddesses of the Moon, all of whom regard the cat as sacred representative of the Divine.  Together, cat and Witch, no matter the color of our skin and fur, go very well together.  But why specifically is the black cat most identified with the Witch?

How Black Cats & Witches Became a Perfect Pair

Black Cats

  • Ancient gods took the forms of, and were occasionally personified by black cats, specifically the Egyptian Goddesses Bast and Isis.  The Greco-Roman Goddess Diana Triformis and Tergemina — Selena/Luna (full moon, mother), Artemis/Diana (waxing moon, virgin), Hecate (dark moon, crone) — especially Diana often appeared in the form of a black cat.  Black cats, being the representatives of the goddess, get spoiled by the priestesses.
  • Associated with goddess Diana and many goddesses associated with the Moon, including a few gods who ruled the Sun, all cats became symbolic of fertility and women.  The Daughters of Diana, her priestesses, dressed in black robes, some made from the skins/fur of black cats for their powerful association with the goddess.
  • Black cats symbolic of magic and darkness after the goddess Diana, who later would be known as Queen of the Witches, when her cult went underground and eventually faded from history.
  • Before the Dianic cult is dead in the north, Rome became Christian and soon anything having to do with the pagan gods must be done away with.  The Black Cat, symbol and companion, often personification of the goddesses of fertility and magic, soon gained a bad reputation.  No longer a symbol of life, the black cat became harbinger of bad luck and death.
  • Domesticated and no longer revered as gods in fur coats, cats had a job: to get rid of vermin.  This gave them the power to protect the homes of humans from parasites and disease-carrying rats.  They also had another job: provide companionship to the lonely, becoming the favorites of the widows and elderly.  Women especially loved their cats, so cats became known as “house cats” just as wives are “housewives.”
  • Black cats were accused of being Witches because; they had black fur,  they had strange sexual lives, they howled, they were scary, their growl was otherworldly, women kept them as pets, women talked to them.
  • Black cats are thought to be Witches in animal form and are hunted down and destroyed by the thousands.
  • Black cats are thought to be the personification of the Devil.
  • Black cats hunted by gypsies and sorcerers for their magical properties.  It was believed that they had psychic power and were the preferred form that demons and other spirits liked to possess when called upon to complete a task for a magician.

Witches

  • People revered the Sun and Moon and considered them gods.  Later the followers of lunar and solar divinities associated specific animals with them.  The cat, particularly the black cat, represented the Moon.  People domesticated cats not just because they were good at keeping vermin away, but they made great companions.  Roman goddess Diana transformed into a black cat several times, becoming her priestesses’ favorite temple consort.
  •  The ancient Dianic Cult (possibly ones like it) spreads throughout the known world, going as far north as the British Isles.  Goddesses from other cultures could be easily identified with the Virgin Diana.  Her priestesses wear robes of black, black representing the color of the earth, womb, and the night sky.  Black cats were revered for this holy association.
  • Diana’s religion went against patriarchal rule because its chief leaders were women.  The Daughters of Diana go underground and worship in secret.
  • Celtic version of Hecate (Diana’s crone form) known as Nicneven was worshiped when a multi-cultural intermixing of Celt, Goth, and Roman faiths were accepted.  The Diana/Hecate cult survived “with considerable vigour” in Scotland until the 18th century, but was fading before the Medieval persecutions.  Hecate/Nicneven could transform into creatures — a black cat come to visit could be the dark goddess come as a warning of death to come.
  • After ancient pagan mystery cults fade into obscurity, and/or their followers wiped out by invading cultures, some evidence suggests that their healing and magical ways were passed down between women.  The cures and spells were called Witchcraft by the Saxons who had a distaste for it, considering it treason and a sin.  It wasn’t punishable by death until the 13th century.
  • Women were accused of being Witches because; they had sex, they gave birth, they lived longer than men, they seemed to love animals — especially their cats — more than they did their husbands.
  • Women are accused of being Witches mostly because they are women.  They are said to take the forms of black cats nine times in their lifetime.
  • Witches are thought to commune with the Devil who takes the form of a black cat.
  • It was believed that every Witch was supposed to have a black cat present with them at all times.  A spirit assumed the body of the black cat to perform the Witches’ tasks of maleficia against their neighbors.

The Witch & Black Cat Share the Same Fate

Both the Witch and the black cat have their origins in ancient religions where they were revered, later to be much maligned in folklore and superstition. They became symbols of evil after people let themselves be ruled by fear of the Devil. Women were most accused of Witchcraft, and black cats were usually accused to be their accomplices by the Church, an institution that adopted ritual and creed from solar and lunar theogonies where the fertility symbols of woman and cat were regarded as sacred (even though women were not often considered citizens in patriarchal cultures that worshiped multiple gods). The Church was zealous in its war against the traditions and customs left remaining that it could not assimilate into its theosophy. Any practices not officially sanctioned by the Church were so illegal, not only were they a sin, they were punishable by death like a treason against God. In the Medieval period, suspected witches and their black cats (including any other animals associated with them that had black fur) had to be tortured and destroyed because they were the last remaining icons of a dreaded past that could not completely be vanquished. Perhaps it was feared, more than the Devil, that a revival of the pagan faiths would lead people to discover links between the Virgin Mary and the Virgin Diana, and worse yet, realize that Christianity was the same in essentials as the religions of antiquity?!

If the Witch and her Black Cat shared the same fate at the stake, what future do they share today? Well, modern Witches love their animals, no matter what the color of their fur. Even though we are far removed from the persecution of the violent past, we now live in an age where the image of the Halloween witch and black cat are cartoons — cute or grotesque, few people are aware of the history behind the symbolism and just accept it as harmless fanfare. Are we honoring the women and cats who were sacrificed by dressing up in a mockery of them? Are we not perpetuating the centuries of degradation by continuing the custom of parading their homogenized image everywhere on Halloween? Or am I taking this all too seriously? I just don’t want to consider it a joke.

The Black Cat and Modern Witch Relationship: Are We True Familiars?

Go ahead and roll your eyes at me, but I am a modern-day Witch living with a black cat. We are familiars in the sense that we are like two peas occupying the same pod. We may be a walking stereotype together, but I didn’t plan it that way. Mr. Snuggles found me late one Midsummer’s Eve 2008 (I’m telling the truth) while I was on a walk around the block. I was very depressed that night, wishing for true love, and he came leaping out of the darkness with high-pitched cries of distress. No sooner did I turn to him, did he jump up on my leg and climb up into my arms with a heart racing so fierce, I thought he would burst. Needless to say, my rescuing him was also his rescuing of me! He had fallen out of a window and was lost, desperate to find home. I was feeling empty and lonely, desperate to find someone to love. Later I would save his life when he nearly died from an infection, and he would save mine when I nearly fell into a diabetic coma.

An animal familiar is not a spirit familiar.  Even though there is a history of diabolical spirits conjured into the bodies of black cats, and into other animals, used by sorcerers to do their bidding, such an idea is not only frowned upon, it’s just not done today by Wiccans and other magicians.  The modern Witch loves and takes great care of her animals.  Animals are considered our equals on earth and even the ones we eat we believe should be treated well before we take them into our bodies.  Each animal has within them power and abilities we do not possess, so when we do eat them, and wear their skins as covering, we engage their spirit, and their special qualities pass into us temporarily as a gift from the sacrificed animal.  But don’t get the wrong idea about that, we do not sacrifice animals, we do, however, believe that some animals sacrifice themselves so we can survive. Animals have souls like we do and they can reincarnate just as well.  We need to honor them as we honor all life.

A belief passed down to me from my Menominee father is that our ancestors can come back to us in the form of animals.  The short life span of animals explains why they can only be with us for only a little while.  The animal/ancestor temporarily lives with us to look after us and give us the comfort we needed that they could not give us because either they were dead before they got to know us, or because they didn’t give it to us while they were alive.  The Great Spirit allows this to happen in order for their souls to make amends, and for us to find peace when we feel most alone and sad.

The 21st century animal familiar is not a spirit at all but an animal who forms a psychic bond with a human being.  The animal chooses whether or not they want to have this very close relationship with us.  Not all animals are so interested because they are average creatures who are more into doing the things their species like to do.  An animal familiar shows more than average intelligence and feels more at home with human beings than with other animals.  They are rare individuals with unique abilities that set them apart, or even above, members of their own species.

The modern Witch cannot will or “call” an animal familiar, it comes of its own will and appears unexpectedly in one’s life.  It may even disappear out of our lives unexpectedly as well.  Furthermore, the animal may seem to reappear or be reincarnate in our lives again in the form of another animal that closely resembles it years later.  The last four cats in my life have all been black cats that all look the same.  Friends think this is particularly weird!  But I do not visit the local shelter to pick a cat, nor do I adopt one based on the color of their fur, and I don’t deliberately choose one that looks exactly like the cat I had before.  I let the cat decide if they like me or not before I bring it home.  My cats are not slaves to me.  I don’t keep them like pets, I pretty much treat them like “people” in fur bodies.

Familiars are not pets.  I don’t believe animals should be pets either.  But I’m not above it all to rule out all the mundane reasons why my cat found me when he did and why we bonded so well.  But (go ahead and roll your eyes again, laugh, too) I’ll take one step further and tell you that the relationship I share with my black cat is a true love as real and special as a romantic one.  I consider Mr. Snuggles like my child, but he’s also my companion, my little lover who is constantly at my side.  I wasn’t sure he would be a magical assistant until he decided to participate in ritual.  He does not always want to get involved, but when he does, it amazes me.  When he began to do this, I improvised rituals to include him and it enhanced the experience and my awareness.  Psychically we have lent each other our consciousness.

It may sound crazy, but I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, or impress upon anyone that what I have with Mr. Snuggles is real or not.  We are simply a Witch and a Black Cat in love, and our relationship works whether or not you choose to believe in it.  No matter!  I listen to Mr. Snuggles and watch his responses.  His senses are sharper than mine and he tells me things with his body language and infinite tones of “meow” about what is going on around us.  Sometimes I feel very clumsy compared to him.  He’s smarter than me, I swear.  I could keep you up all night talking about him.

So, What’s Up with Black Cats & Witches?!

A few last-minute quick facts as to why this image is so common:

  • More black cats survive in a litter more than do cats of any other fur color. This may be due to a stronger immune system, or the color may help them hide from predators.
  • Black tomcats are more successful hunters because they blend better in the shadows. There may even be more black toms because there are more black cat survivors in a litter.  Maybe they’re the toughest, too.
  • The fear that black cats will be abused keeps them from getting adopted, especially around Halloween. But statistics show that it’s not only black cats, it is ALL cats in general who get abused EVERYDAY for no reason. Adopt a black cat because they are more common than you think and end their shelter time because they will be there longer than the rest of the strays.
  • The Black cat is a symbol of anarchism used by Industrial Workers of the World to warn employers that they better back off from messing with their employees.
  • Black cats were they symbol for not just revolutionaries, but Bohemians in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century. Witches, too, have notoriously hung out with the counterculture crowd, so it’s no wonder having a black cat around further pushes the point that all things related to the black cat are cool, daddy-O!
  • Long after the devilish stigma, Hollywood turned the image of the Witch and Black Cat into both a horror and cartoon icon, further implanting, along with literature, the idea that all witches have black cats. From this idea spread many stories about all kinds of fantasy witches and their faithful black cats, so popular that even today’s Wiccans think they’re cool.
  • A pop culture over-saturation of gothic and swords-and-sorcery fantasy sexy witches with their black cat familiars adds more fuel to the fire of imagination about the stereotype. Even though it can be annoyingly trite, Witches young and old today are still attracted to this fairy tale imagery and can’t resist using these images as their avatars online.

As usual, I have gotten overly prolific about this subject material, so I’ll have to break it up into two parts. Coming next: Black Cat Power, Part Two: All the Luck!

Resources:
The Cat in the Mysteries of Religion and Magic, by M. Oldfield Howey, pub. by the Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1930
The Secret Doctrine by H. P. Blavatsky, pub. by the Theosophical Publishing Company, London, 1888.
The Book of the Dead Trans. by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, M.A.,D.I., L.D., pub. by Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, London, 1923.
Celtic Researches by John Davies, pub. about 1630.
Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft by Sir Walter Scott, pub. by John Murray, London, 1833.
The Witch Cult in Western Europe by Margaret Murray, pub. by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1921.
Legends of the Gods by E. A. Wallis Budge, M.A., etc., pub. by Kegan Paul, Trench & Trubner, London, 1912.
The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft by Rosemary Ellen Guiley, pub. by Facts on File; 2nd edition (1999)
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, pub. by HarperOne; 1 edition (November 30, 1983)
The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects by Barbara G. Walker, pub. by HarperOne; 1St Edition edition (November 2, 1988)
The Once and Future Goddess: A Sweeping Visual Chronicle of the Sacred Female and Her Reemergence in the Cult by Elinor W. Gadon, pub. by HarperOne (November 29, 1989)

Therapeutic Magic & Mental Illness, an Introduction

**UPDATE 10/12/2014: When I first wrote this introduction I thought I had all my ducks in a row on this subject, but the research and concentration needed to completely cover what I intended to finish could not be done in a matter of weeks, let alone years. Now I do not know if I ever will. However, this was a great start!**

“To be bewitched is not to be saved, though all the magicians and aesthetes in the world should pronounce it to be so”  — George Santayana The Life of Reason: Reason in Art

In the early days of my magical practice, I was taught that in order to perform magic well, one should be of sound mind and body.  Beyond this, in order to perform magic safely, one should be calm and clear of mindgive generous offerings to all spirits and always have complete confidence.  In fact, you can have low self-esteem about your looks, but can never have a bad opinion about yourself when working magic.  When you set out to cast a spell, you must put all of your confidence into it. Not everyone can draw upon that kind of inner power because they are unaware they have it to begin with.  It takes time, discipline, and practice to get to a level where one can achieve reserves of iron will power.  Yet even the best of us aren’t like that all the time, just only when we are working magic.  There are those of us who are flawed, we need more work and time to accomplish raising power.  Then there are those of us who perform beautifully because our minds are wired differently to work best in that dream state in between states of consciousness where confidence and belief in endless possibility flourishes!

Some of us don’t know how to use our weaknesses as assets, we only think our best abilities are going to be our forte.  We struggle because we can’t believe anything is possible in the face of what we can’t do.  We get stuck in the how and why, not the “do” of it.  Even some teachers think they are supposed to fix us once they know we have problems.  Yet we are not the sum of our problems.  Problems are the doors to our power.  Didn’t you know that?

The stigma of mental illness is a powerful one, enough to convince even the most intelligent and kind magus that the insane are a spiritual threat more dangerous than a malignant spirit.  But magic has always been about changing and creating things to better humankind, to gain power over problems and make solutions, and why not heal and train a tortured mind to overcome disorder?

The Unacceptable Ones

The most undesirable candidates to learn magic, from what I remember, were  the mentally ill.  People with these problems are not so readily recognized at first meeting.  Many folks with mental and emotional problems are often rejected from their own subculture before they even get the chance to identify with said subculture.  Some understandably so, others perhaps unfairly.

The most common undesirable are the ones who immediately make outrageous claims like talking to unicorns and turning into werewolves, to less outrageous delusions like claims of speaking with berries and trees and angels, etc…  Whether or not their condition is real, or if they’re just simply being visually creative, the stigma of mental illness alone is disturbing enough to separate them from any circle.  Witches and magicians are not psychologists, and therefore are not qualified to diagnose mental illness, yet they all have the right to choose whom they will teach and accept into their private circles.  This is acceptable, but we should endeavor to understand how common some disorders are, how they are treated, and in what ways magic can assist people coping with their disabilities. Beyond that, we must no longer see people as the sum of their problems, we need to look beyond ‘the crazy’ and treat them with respect and understanding.

Just as mental illness is not a result of evil spirits possessing the body (as once believed in primitive times), but caused by dysfunctions of the brain and body, magic is not a miracle cure, nor is the medicine one takes to relieve it.  A cauldron’s brew of therapy, a medicinal regimen, physical exercise, proper diet, good sleep habits, a regular daily routine, assistance and counsel of doctors (not just from a psychologist, but psychiatrist and primary care doctor) is even more required to handle an illness.  Adding magical practice to the treatment one is already receiving is just another way to get healthy, but with the kick of getting into the heart of the patterns and cycles of one’s thoughts and consciousness.

It’s Medicine, not Poison

I have seen and faced more prejudice over using prescription drugs to treat disorder than over having a mental disorder itself.  You would think that taking medicine to take care of yourself should be indication to others that you are taking responsibility for your problems, especially so when along with medication you are actively participating in therapy and practicing meditation.  It’s one thing to have a problem, but when some ignorant few see you taking your medication, they’ll want to know why.  First of all, your medical history and your medication should not be public knowledge, that is confidential.  Even when involved in a spiritual group, it’s rude for it to become an issue.  However, I have experiences where instead of asking me what it is I’m taking, some people have made assumptions, and soon gossip built up enough drama to dissolve our connections with each other.

The use of drugs is no stranger in the practice of magic, in fact the mind-expanding, experimental drugs of generations before ours used them to achieve spiritual experiences and to produce visions.  But that all came with a cost.  Many caused damage to their minds that they could not reverse.  The idea of using drugs to heal now comes with the fear of chemicals inducing more disease.  There is also fear that mind-altering drugs open up the consciousness too dangerously wide, leaving the student vulnerable to hostile, lower spirits who can cause all kinds of mischief and chaos.  The New Age belief in natural cures over standard western medicinal ones only makes things worse for those of us who, out of real necessity, must rely on chemicals to support our very natural bodily functions to help us cope with our problems.  The drugs we use are helpful, not like the recreational drugs, home-grown or not, people without mental illness use at a risk to their mental health in the name of expanding their consciousness.

There is no magical drug to help anyone project the spirit into the astral over night, however my experience with peyote was intense and did work for me right away.  Yet I was not disciplined for that challenge and I believe I have spirits to thank for keeping me safe.  My first out-of-body trip was forced upon me, without guidance it was like being tossed into the void without any hope of return.  Peyote, like any drug, should never be taken without the guidance of a professional healer, not distributed on a whim without spiritual purpose.  In fact, I don’t recommend any spiritual use of drugs either.  The best ways to alter consciousness are the natural, harder, more meaningful ways to get it done: go into trance the old-fashioned way, dance into a trance, get your ecstatic joy on!  No drug can provide that reality.

When I take medicine to cope with my illness, I’m not using it as a crutch, nor am I depending upon it to cure all my ills.  Drugs that help the mentally ill aren’t able to do that.  It would be nice if they could, but if wishes were fishes…

From Problems to Powers

I am a Witch with several functional mental disorders that are often exhibited in annoying, irritating, and confusing ways that make it difficult for me to relate to other people.  Over years of treatment, I took ownership of my problems, gained valuable coping techniques, formed healthy habits, and know when to turn to professionals and check myself into the hospital when I’m at my worst.  My condition is not as scary as it seems and it does not interfere with my ability to practice Witchcraft, in reality, if anything, it has enhanced my abilities.  Once I learned to regulate some emotions, I can also draw upon them and use them to direct a lot of power into my work.  The overwhelming passions that have so often hurt me are ones I don’t have to let torture me when I can direct and project them into something useful.  I have come to the conclusion that Witchcraft remains a magico-religion incredibly beneficial to its practitioners and clients who suffer from even much worse problems, yet I am just one case.  I can only estimate what other mages and Witches have done to help heal people with disorders much worse than my own.

I write from my own personal experience and I do not claim to be any kind of  expert or professional in the mental health field.  I can only share with you what I have found works for me.  More extensive research should be cared out by professionals who are sympathetic to and/or are magicians themselves applying the art and science of magic to use as therapy.

Magic transcends and transforms, what a powerful way to supplement medicine!  And even better, it reinforces self-confidence, too.  That is much-needed in a struggle for order over one’s thoughts and emotions.

Is Magic the Way to Sanity?

I asked a friend what his thoughts were on the mentally ill practicing magic. Eight years ago, after my diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization, I went through a brief period where I worried if it was wise for me to continue to practice magic and provide magical assistance and spiritual counsel to others. I thought that my condition would make me less credible as a Witch in the court of public opinion. It is common knowledge in my town I am a Witch, so would having a disorder soon make it seem that, just based on my story, all Witches are crazy? As time went on, the thought of no longer doing what I loved made me more depressed. Practicing magic isn’t just some hobby that makes me happy, it keeps me sane, and I believe it can help others, too. My friend also agrees, yet one should never thrive on magic alone…

Whether someone who is mentally ill should practice magic is a highly personal choice. In my limited experience of working with schizophrenics, the mental illness makes it harder for the practitioner to tell what is objectively real and what is in their head. However other practices like meditation can actually be very helpful. I was able to work with one schizophrenic and develop his meditation practice to the point where he could control whether he was hallucinating.Drew Jacob, altmagic.com

There is more than one way to create peace of mind, sometimes one has to apply many different ways to get at least some semblance of peace. As I look into the many ways of magic, I turn to Witchcraft’s The Eight Paths of Power, with number one being MEDITATION. Meditation is often confused for mere intent or concentration, but really it is all about disciplining the mind and conditioning it to better regulate one’s thoughts and emotions. I’ve always thought it a tad incomplete to just term meditation as forming the will to power. Meditation is needed to become not just a good magician, but a healthy person, because it is the method to reach into one’s center of being to create calm, practice silence, become more mindful of one’s behavior and speech, and condition the self to act more out of this center of calm. The calm that is created aids the Witch (or patient, or anyone!) to have more control over the mind and body, to recognize unhealthy behavior and change it to more constructive modes of behavior — it is not just some superficial form of “asking the universe for something until you get what you want because you wished really hard for it”, it requires deeper understanding and years of commitment.

There are no immediate results with meditation. It’s not really even mind control in the cult sense of that term either, because you can still react with emotion, you are not programming yourself to become a robot, meditation just helps to better filter the overwhelming aspects of emotions that can keep us in prolonged states of suffering. Emotions and thoughts are slowed down so you can better deal with them and experience a better quality of life. In magic, meditation helps us to develop a process where we can better direct the power of our previously out-of-control emotional and thinking patterns towards a goal we don’t just want to achieve, but one we can achieve no matter the obstacles. The steps we take to make a spell work, supported by symbols and physical cues (like scented oils and incense for instance), helps to kick-start and maintain this process.  Chanting and ritual further increase the power that meditation starts.  It is the basis for all magic, and healing the mentally ill who need extra help coping with dysfunctional mood and thought regulation.

I will address, in future, each Path of Power as defined by Witchcraft, using it as a guide to suggest and share ways I have used to help me cope with my own struggles. I might add a few more ways I’ve discovered and improvised, too.  Please share with me any ideas and suggestions of your own. Consider this a work in progress. I hope it will help inspire you to write about ways you have utilized magic to heal your own heart and mind.

Magic just might be the right therapy to support sanity, but you don’t have to be crazy to reap its benefits!