Today’s prompt in the #30DaysofHecate “Sacred Pause Welcoming Hallowmas” is about imagining what Hecate looks like to me and how I would recreate Her artistically. It’s really interesting that this is today’s prompt because last night I had a great conversation with a very powerful witch and priestess of Hekate who told me many things about Her, how She is worshipped and perceived and where She comes from. She is most often portrayed in Her culture of origin as a Maiden goddess, the Lightbringer and Torchbearer and Guider along the pathways. I love that about Her, and I love that She’s a psychopomp, a guide of souls to the lands of the dead. I would write about Her youth and beauty and how it contrasts with the darkness and death around Her as She walks in the underworld, and I would write about how light shines from Her as if She herself is the torch. I don’t know Hekate myself, except as She is spoken of by others. I love thinking of Her as a goddess of crossroads; I think of Her whenever I see a y-shaped branch or twig that’s fallen from a wayside tree. I look at the fallen branch or twig and see which way it’s pointing, and use that as a guide or signpost to answer any questions I might have about which direction to take. I used to be afraid of Her because I believed what I had been told about Her as a goddess of evil and dark magic. I laugh about that now because those things I was told about Her were stories invented by men. Fear does not define a goddess. Hecate/Hekate is defined by the light She brings, by Her own magic and the witches who worship Her with their whole hearts. I hope to someday know Her better.
Hecate is at the crossroads, watching as I approach. I’m scared because of course I’m scared. I have no idea which way to go from here; I only know that going back is not an option. I must go forward but I have no idea what I’ll find when I get there, what I’ll need to help me when I get into trouble, what monsters there are and what heroes, who the Gods are of the new place and if They’ll like me, and worst of all, if I made the right decision in leaving everything behind.
I’m thinking of my ancestors right now, how they must have faced the same questions as they came to the United States from Ireland, for some of them (most of them) never to return, or even see the homeland again. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about moving out of the Bay Area because it’s insanely expensive to live here, and I don’t know if I can afford to live out my life in this place. What’s killing me is that my people on my mother’s side are all buried about fifteen miles from where I’m sitting right now, and if I leave, I’ll be leaving them behind. My ancestors from Ireland must have thought the same thing, maybe only briefly as they boarded the ships to come here because grief over the welfare of the dead is a luxury when faced with the grief over the welfare of the living. But then it occurs to me that migration is a trait of all beings on this planet: we all wander around trying to find the best places for ourselves and our families, and when we run out of room or resources (or both), we move on. We’ve left our dead buried all over the place over the last 150,000 years or so, so wherever I end up, chances are good there will be ancestors there for me to meet and revere, to aid and bless and honor and connect with.
I bring this all to Hecate as I approach her, and I notice now that I’m weeping. I can’t help it. Leaving has never been easy for me; I’m such a child of place and stable belonging that moving on is always a rough go. I remember moving-in day at college when my Mom drove me up to the freshman dorm, and right as the car pulled up to the curb and the young man waiting to help us unload the car grabbed for the door, I whispered, “Take me back. I’ve changed my mind.” So now I give this to Her, and I pray that She’ll help me focus forward, on the new life beginning, on the dawn at the edge of the hill up ahead of me. Help me have the strength to move on.
I stopped praying when I was nineteen. This was kind a big deal for me because I’d been praying to the Catholic God Yahweh, His son Jesus, Jesus’s mother Mary, and as many saints and angels as you can possibly imagine almost since I could talk. Church mattered to me; praying mattered. I would lie in bed and say decades of the rosary every night as a child during May and October because I felt compelled to, driven to speak to a God who, as it happened, never talked back to me. But it didn’t matter that He never answered (or at least never answered in a way that I recognized at the time, like a booming voice or via a fiery angel or something equally dramatic). I still had to pray because I was driven to. I felt like keeping the candle lit in my heart was more important than anything else, and prayer was the way to do that.
Dominican and Benedictine priests and nuns would come to my elementary school several times a year and sermonize loudly and at length about Holy Mother Church needing “vocations,” new priests and nuns, and had any of us heard “The Call”? That’s what they always called it, “The Call.” None of us ever raised our hands, sitting there in the drowsy afternoon church dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, because of course we didn’t. Who would? Those priests and nuns would come to our masses, yell at us for a little while, then let us go back to school with an admonition to turn off “Speed Racer” and “The Brady Bunch” and listen harder.
I always left these masses feeling sick with guilt, like I was letting God down profoundly and on every single level because I would beg Him to not make me be a nun. I didn’t want to be a nun, and every night for weeks after one of these visits from the Catholic Traveling Proselytization Corps I would lay awake racking my brains trying to figure out if God had called me and I was ignoring it because I was a bad kid. I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old when all this started, and to this day I couldn’t tell you what a call from God as those priests and nuns imagined it was supposed to sound like. Was God going to send an angel to me like He did to Mary? Because that’s what I must have been expecting, and it never happened. But I kept praying anyway.
I went to mass almost every Sunday and every day during Lent; I said the prayers, did the rituals, and received four of the seven sacraments. At some point, though, by the time I started high school perhaps, I stopped saying the Apostle’s Creed during mass. I got as far as “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord …” and I would stop. I couldn’t profess to the rest of it because I didn’t believe in it any more. I didn’t believe in what I began to see as Catholic exceptionalism (even though I didn’t have a word for it at the time) because I couldn’t understand how a God of love could exhort his followers to so much hate against their fellow human beings (and don’t even get me started on the millennia of institutionalized misogyny). I had already stopped saying the grossly anti-Semitic lines of the Good Friday service retelling Christ’s Passion because they were horrifying to me: pretending to be a Jew screaming for the death of the God I loved struck me at first as just awful, and then uncompassionate and mean-spirited toward the Jews living now who had nothing whatsoever to do with the death of Jesus, and then as just hateful in general and I didn’t want anything to do with it. But by my mid-teens, I stopped saying the Creed because it was asking me to agree to something I didn’t and couldn’t condone. I would get maybe fifteen minutes into any given mass and would start to cry. I couldn’t pray, so I would weep.
And then my Dad died when I was eighteen, and that was it. I’d had it. I thought that if the Church’s version of what happens to us after we die was correct, my Dad would be in Hell burning off some ugly sins – maybe not deeply in Hell, maybe just in a Hell-suburb or something because he wasn’t a bad or evil man, but in Hell all the same because he made some stupid choices and mistakes in his life and hurt his wife and kids. And I remember thinking, “No. Fuck that.” I didn’t know how it was in the afterlife, though, and I still don’t. But back then, awash in tsunami of grief and in a deep crisis of faith, I decided that God was gonna do what God was gonna do and my wishes and desires weren’t part of that algorithm, so fuck it. I was done.
I didn’t realize it at the time – who does when they’re eighteen and stupid? – but the death of my Dad freed me from the clutches of the Church and set me on the path I’m on now, searching for meaning and understanding in life. But I still wrangle with the Church because so many people I know, and millions more I don’t, adhere to its tenets. Most of my people are the ones I call “Buddhist Catholics” or “Compassion Catholics” or the “Service to All in the Cause of Social Justice in His Name” Catholics. I find I get along very well with them because I see the reflection of the Founder of the Faith in those practices.
Recently on Facebook, though, I came across something that used to rattle me as a child and still upsets me to this day. A person was thanking her Heavenly Father for providing her with a house here in the San Francisco Bay Area that was bought for her by a family member – and as real estate markets go, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that wealth must be involved with this family for one member to buy another member a house here. Now, don’t mistake my meaning: I think it’s a great blessing that they are able to afford such real estate, and it’s right of this person to offer gratitude. But here’s where my confusion comes in, where it’s always come in: this Catholic God is the same Energy, the same Being, the same Deity as the God of the Muslims, the same as the God of the Syrian refugees who are not only living in a terrible war zone, but they’re doing it without any homes at all and in most cases with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Millions of men, women, and children are utterly and completely homeless, possessionless, and in some awful cases parent-less or child-less. How in the world do you reconcile those two truths? How is that God so cruel, so divisive, so out of touch as to bless one small family with multiple homes in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world while millions of other families sleep in the cold on the bare ground, with nothing between them and flying bullets but that Deity’s apparently whimsical grace. Why would anybody worship such a Deity? I’m asking sincerely because I’ve always wanted to know: is your God responsible for your wealthy relation who can buy you a nice home in a wealthy town? Is He responsible for all your Grammy awards that you thank Him for, or your touchdowns, or your successful Internet businesses?
Because here’s the implication of all those prayers of gratitude: “Thank you for treating me better than You’re treating those poor bastards over there. Thank you for letting me be safe and rich. I must deserve it because otherwise it would be the other way around.” Every moment of gratitude to this Deity includes a sigh of relief that we are not as screwed as those people over there. Are we more deserving of blessings and goodness than those who don’t receive the new house or the Grammy or the touchdown? Does their God somehow love them less, those losers, and is this material success His way of showing it? Even though it’s the same God?
Or maybe God has nothing to do with it. Maybe praising a God or Gods like this is a way of letting ourselves off the hook for not helping others or not taking responsible action toward justice in the world. “God has housed me so I don’t have to worry about the homeless because if they were worthy, God would take care of them too.” Of course people aren’t consciously thinking things like this because I believe people are basically born good. What they are, though, what we are, is thoughtless. We don’t think about what we’re saying or what we’re doing (or not doing), and this thoughtlessness comprises many modern prayers and offers of gratitude.
Do you pray? Do you think about Who you’re talking to? Do you visualize that Deity, whether it’s European Wealthy White People Jesus or Radical Social Justice Person of Color Jesus or the Prophet and the One he spoke for or any of the hundreds of Forms of Odin or the Great Earth Mother or the Cosmic Void or Tara or Shiva or Aphrodite or the Orishas or the Forces of the Natural World or even the Elements themselves that form the basis of our Universe? What do you say? We reach for pre-ordained words and speeches because maybe we’re all a little bit lazy, but mostly because speaking to the Ineffable is overwhelming and at best intimidating. It can be terrifying to speak with a Power that could utterly destroy you with less than half a breath. Naturally we’re going to rely on what we’ve been taught to say by others, what’s been passed down through generations perhaps as the only right way to approach a Divine Force.
Except that that’s exactly why Jesus came in the first place: to destroy habit, to utterly trash what structures had grown up and over the flowering tree of faith in his homeland and had begun to stifle the life out of it. He came to breathe life and strength back into a crushed and oppressed people, and to tell them that speaking to God was as easy as quieting the mind and saying hello to their neighbors, or just taking the hand of a stranger. So here’s a thing to do: think not only about what you’re saying when you pray, but also about the implications of your words, the shadows that live between the hard edges of what’s spoken. And if you want to say “thank you,” by all means do so, but when you’re done, follow it up with some action in the world that passes on the blessings you’ve received to others so that all are equally blessed.
Imagine you’re Yahweh. How many times do you want to be thanked for a Grammy award by a guy who uses slave labor to produce his clothing line? How many times do you want to hear “thank you Heavenly Father” from wealthy Americans who live in homes big enough for extended families to live comfortably under one roof, who waste more food than some people eat in a year, who consistently support violent governments that spread warfare in poor places in the name of “arming friendly rebels” simply because they can’t take the trouble to educate themselves and vote from a place of responsible global citizenry? If you were Yahweh, you’d have stopped listening a long time ago too. You’d have just started gardening and growing really nice tomatoes, and you’d have left those noisy kids down the road to fend for themselves, paying no attention and not giving a damn in the slightest about Who stepped into and is currently stomping around in your large, dangerous, and utterly deadly Shoes.
Today I went to mass. I don’t usually go to masses unless someone I love is either getting married or being buried, but today was different. There’s a Gnostic sanctuary not far from where I live, and a friend of mine from Texas was in town today and wanted to meet there for mass, so off I went to meet her and check out the new Sanctuary.
A Gnostic mass is very different from the Catholic mass. For one thing, this Gnostic church celebrates wisdom, Sophia, from all sources, not just the Gnostic gospels. For another, symbolism of the Sacred Feminine is everywhere here. Below is a photo of the altar: not only is it beautiful with its candles and flowers and lovely plants with living ivy draping everywhere, but hanging above it is a painting of the Madonna and Child. There’s also a small statue of the Black Madonna below the painting, giving great resonance to the presence of the sacred Dark Mother in Her form as Mary Magdalene.
This tradition of Gnosticism isn’t mine, so I didn’t know the prayers or sing the songs. I sat in respectful silence in the darkened chapel and just let the beautiful singing and chanting wash over me. The whole setting was perfect even though just outside the doors were an industrial business park and a railroad junction. It was, it is, a small space of honoring our Holy Mother in the midst of a great, bustling, masculine world.
But perhaps I should go back a bit and explain things. I met my friend at the Sanctuary and we chatted for a bit before being allowed in to the Sanctuary. They had been having a singing practice prior to today’s Eucharist, so as we caught up and did our lady-chatting thing in the foyer, there was this ethereal background chorus of gorgeous voices drifting in from down the hall. Oh, and that’s another thing about this Gnostic Sanctuary: everybody sings. They’ve all got the most gorgeous voices, and it adds to the ceremony in ways that I’ve missed since leaving Catholicism behind. There’s a way that prayer drifts through the air differently when it’s sung than when it’s spoken, or maybe it just seems that way to me because I’ve never been able to carry more than three notes in my very limited vocal range. I’m loud, yes, and god bless the volume. I just don’t have melody or any sort of subtlety so I notice it when others do, especially when the surroundings are of the sacred sort.
The Sanctuary itself is cave-like, which is so perfect it’s almost ridiculous. When entering sacred space, one is basically entering the womb of creation into which intention is generated and supported. When one leaves sacred space, that intention or experience is “birthed” into being in the physical world of manifestation and we carry it with us when we leave. I remember first hearing this idea with regard to indigenous American practices with sweat lodges, and in pagan practices when casting circles. I’ve just never experienced it in a church of any denomination. Churches are built to have these great expanses of light, even during midnight masses with acres of lit candles everywhere. It’s almost as if the darkness must be banished from every corner of the church. But not in this sanctuary. It’s small with walls painted in dark shades of brick and brown, but the light shining on the altar and flickering from all the candles is softly gorgeous and creates an atmosphere of beautiful, quiet contemplation.
Tau Rosamonde Miller was the celebrant today. She is a soft-spoken bishop of the Gnostic church, and the Spirit flows through her in gently lilting, passionate language. She delivered a homily first, a quiet speech about what it means when we ask, “Who is God?” or “Who is like God?” It stuck with me most profoundly when she said that the idea isn’t to answer, but to sit with the mystery of that question, possibly because it sounded like such a Buddhist thing to say: do not reach for the answer. Do not grasp at words or language or discernable ideas, but instead, sit with the experience of the question. Sit in the mystery, and just be. The Divine in this instance, or rather, this instance of the Divine, may be the Word, but S/He is not knowable via the word. Perhaps this is where those who interpret the Bible in a literal way get lost: they think that because Jesus is known as the Word, and the Bible is a book of written words, Jesus must be the Bible and therefore to respect each Word is to respect Him. But that misses the point, if I am presuming to understand Tau Rosamonde correctly: Wisdom, the Great Sophia, She of the Darkness who is breathed into being, is experienced, not learned. And once we have that experience, once we have felt and known the Divine moving within us, we are called to share that experience with others, not by telling them about it, but by being it, by being love.
I was torn during the rite as to whether or not to take communion. As it happens, I was at a funeral mass yesterday for a dear friend who died of ALS in August. In that instance it was easy for me to decline to accept communion, not because I’m a “rebel” or anything, but because I try not to be a hypocrite. It would have been wrong for me to take communion even though I’ve received all the sacraments up to that point that would have allowed it (except I haven’t been to confession for decades and I hadn’t fasted that morning, so that should have let me out of it right there even if I’d wanted to receive communion). But Tau Rosamonde said that all were welcome to receive the sacrament at the Gnostic mass today, no matter what their background. So I went up and participated, ate the Body, drank the Blood. As I sat down, I experienced a moment of panic that the other Gods I worship would be offended that I had reached out in this way to the Christ, the One in whose name so many of them were driven underground and away from their Ancestral lands. I do a great deal of work with Odin these days, and have felt myself to be under His guardianship most of my life, so He was the main One I was afraid I had offended by receiving the Eucharist. I sat down and reached out to Him to check and see. Right at that moment crows began cawing back and forth to each other in the office park outside the Sanctuary, and in that moment I felt better. I did not feel His presence in that Sanctuary the way I do now as I sit here at my desk and write this, but I did feel that I had not given offense, like what I had done was sincere and an attempt to experience the Mystery as perhaps Jesus had intended it to be experienced before it became what it is now, a sort of corporate, fossilized, intellectualized shell that once used to contain something precious and beautiful.
As I left the Sanctuary after the rite was over, I felt almost drunk or high with the space of it (and here’s where I try to explain the inexplicable and end up sounding like a stoner doofus, so apologies for that) like I was a chubby space shuttle drifting through the space in the hallway and out into the Foyer where everyone had come to sit and chat and nibble on fruit and pastries that the Sanctuary members had brought for after the rite. Cakes and ale are always gonna be cakes and ale no matter what religion you’re in, right? And in true stoner fashion, I brought my chubby shuttle in for a landing in a tight wicker chair and helped myself to a handful of gorgeous red grapes that were the best friggin’ things I’d ever tasted in my life. You know how being high gives you the munchies (or so I’ve been told 😉 )? Well, apparently being sacred-space-high makes me really hungry for fresh red grapes. As I nibbled and listened to Tau Rosamonde talk about Sophia and mice and St. Francis and shoes and a hundred other things the group conversation touched on, I thought about Divine experience and how perhaps as a poet, it’s my job to try to give words to the inexplicable, that that’s what poets are for, and that’s what the gift of the Mystery is for.
But then again, this gift isn’t one we give, it’s one we live, and by living it, we give it.
Today I wrote a ritual drawing on my Tibetan Buddhist and Dharma Pagan Tara reverence practices (go to my sangha’s web site here http://www.skydancersangha.com/our-practice-1/ for more information about what Dharma Paganism is and what our practices are). I did this because I am exhausted, horrified, and sickened by how many people of color continue to be murdered by the very authorities that are supposed to protect us all equally. There are too many to list here, to our everlasting and terrible shame, but the most recent I became aware of this morning is Sandra Bland. It’s got to stop. The violence, the hate, the racism, has all got to stop. #SandraBland #SayHerName #Black LivesMatter
Because of this continuing shit show masquerading as police protection for people of color, I have decided to start a daily practice to the wrathful emanation of Tara who dispels all negativity: Jigje Chenmo, the Great Terrifying Lady Who Completely Destroys Negativity. You are welcome to join me in this practice if you like. Here is a link to a video of the SkyDancer Sangha performing the chant during our regular Tara Tuesdays practice: https://vimeo.com/133697125 This is the chant I use in the ritual below. Please do feel free to watch the full video if you like, or if you just want to hear the mantra being chanted, skip to 21:00 on the recording.
Ritual to Save the Black Innocents and Stop the Violence
What you’ll need:
- Candle of any color that carries significance for you in working with Deities of the dead
- Ritual dagger, sword, or knife
- Rock (this can be anything from your most precious crystal to a pebble from your sidewalk)
Place these items within easy reach. Perform three prostrations in honor of Tara Jigje Chenmo, the Great and Terrifying Lady Who Completely Destroys Negativity.
Seat yourself before your candle. Take three deep grounding breaths. Light the candle and say:
I light this candle in honor of those whose earthly lights have gone out. May they shine on in the Eternal Darkness that is the Blessed, Beloved Mother of All.
Set your intention for this ritual by saying:
I make this offering in honor of those men, women, and children of color who have died because of racial hatred, cut short by the fear and madness of those white people in positions of authority who should have protected them and lifted them up.
Call out to Tara Jigje Chenmo to awaken Her to your purpose:
Hail, Holy Mother! I beg you to hear my cries for justice. (Feel free to add whatever moves you to say to Her here, anything personal from your heart.)
I offer homage to Arya Tara, at whose lotus feet
the gods and non-gods make worship.
Homage to Tara, mother of all Buddhas,
who heralds freedom from limitation.
Homage to Arya Tara, a beyond-samsara goddess
whose form is delightful to perceive
and whose precious ornaments shine with splendor
like stars reflected from an emerald mountain.
Take up your mala and rapidly recite Her mantra 108 times to awaken Her:
OM TARE TAM SOHA
Once that’s done, put your mala in your non-power hand. With your power hand, take up the ritual dagger. With this dagger you will intentionally cut away all negativity and evil operating in police departments, government agencies, and courts of law like slicing through brittle strings that disintegrate at your touch. As you recite the following mantra, when you get to “BAM! HUNG! PHET!”, make slicing motions in front of you with the knife in your power hand. Do this in a back-and-forth motion three times (BAM HUNG PHET, 1 2 3, back, forth, back) and visualize cutting all evil and negativity away from those people of color who are being daily betrayed by authority. When you get to “SOHA…”, imagine a soothing balm covering them to heal their wounds.
Say this mantra 108 times:
OM TARE TUTTARE TURE SARVA BIGHNEN BAM HUNG PHET SOHA.
(Again, go to 21:00 on the video here if you want to hear the mantra chanted.)
When you finish, put the ritual knife and mala down, and pick up the rock. Say the following prayer into it (and it’s particularly awesome if you’re in front of an open window and can say this into the breeze as well as to the rock, but it’s also ok if not):
I ask this living rock, representative of Mother Earth, to ground this practice into Her body. May it be carried from here out into the world, stone to stone, leaf to leaf, tree to tree, breeze to breeze, droplet of water to droplet of water out into the great oceans and forests and cities of the world. May my prayer for peace and healing be whispered into every corner of this living planet. May all be at peace. May all know forgiveness. May all know love. Shanti. Om.
Then blow lightly on the stone. Hold it for a moment and imagine it as your Sacred Messenger, then place it next to the candle.
If you have time, sit in meditation for peace and healing for a few minutes. If you don’t, which is totally fine, go ahead and blow out the candle. As you do so, watch the smoke rise and say:
Take my prayers and my gratitude, Holy Mother. Love to You, love to You, love to You.
Thank you. May you all be blessed.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I would like to share with you all a piece I wrote and delivered at the “Sacred Mass in Honor of the Dark Mother” during Pantheacon this year as a Sister of the Order of the Black Madonna. The Order of the Black Madonna honors the Holy Dark Mother in all Her forms ancient and new, and we reach out to Her in this time of trouble and hope, of fire and revolution as the old ways die and new ways are born. We pray that all beings come into the light of love, compassion, and wild joy at being human and alive and together and free. We pray and we believe and we act as one. May all beings be blessed. May all beings be free.
“Salve Regina coelitum, O Maria! Sors unica terrigenum, O Maria!” For almost a thousand years, that refrain has rung through cathedrals across Europe and later Asia and the Americas, calling out to Her, imploring Her aid, Her mercy, Her intervention. Perhaps you’ve heard it? Or maybe you’re too young to remember those words. Maybe you’ve heard these: “Hail, holy queen, enthroned above! Oh, Maria. Hail, mother of mercy and of love! Oh, Maria. Triumph, all ye Cherubim. Sing with us, ye Seraphim! Heaven and earth resound the hymn: salve, salve, salve Regina!”
The Black Madonna has heard those words over and over in all Her forms and incarnations, even up to this very day: Our Lady of Czestochova, Divine Patroness of Poland and perhaps the most famous Black Madonna in the world, actually went on a world tour last year and was viewed by thousands of pilgrims here in California alone. No doubt She was regaled with a verse or two of the thousand-year-old Salve Regina. People come to Her from every corner of the world with prayers and their fervent beliefs, and She hears them all.
She is the Our Lady of Miracles who alone remained standing and whole when a chapel built by the worshipful hands of slaves (because nobody else would do it) collapsed around Her and all the other statues in that chapel were shattered. Their faith lifted Her up, and in return Her love brought believers from all over to their little town to worship Her and receive Her grace. She is Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart, the purest source of love there is, and considered by a highly patriarchal church to be not only directly linked to the divine Sacred Heart of Christ, but to be divine Herself, in that way. Love responds to love, venerates love, reverberates love; and therefore when She loves Her son as we love our children, our families, our beloveds, our friends and neighbors; and Her son loves her back, that constant back and forth flow of Divine love confers divinity on all who share in it. She is Our Lady of Sorrows because She was human and She knows what sorrow is. She knows what we suffer when we risk loving and reaching out to others, when we have children or when we don’t, when we offer our hearts and are rebuffed, when we fight our neighbors and break each other and mow each other down in our blind human fury. She knows and has been there, watching from the front row while Her son was murdered to prove a point—how many black mothers today can relate with Her, can She relate with, on that score? Too FUCKING many. She is Our Lady of Good Counsel, a beautiful miraculous vision that appeared in Italy back in the days when miraculous visions were much more common, and people believed in the ready availability of the Divine Presence much more than they do today—popes, artists, and kings visited Her then, crowned Her, worshipped Her, and sought Her counsel and wisdom. She is the Our Lady the Black Madonna, mother of slaves, mother of the dark ones, mother of the marginalized and forgotten ones—great goddess from ancient whispering religions who wears a new face for new times but who is the same old, old Mother, the same Crone Wisdom, the same sacred fire of passion and inspiration that inspired and blessed revolutions in Poland and slave revolts in Haiti, and who hides many MANY ancient and powerful gods under Her wide and flowing skirts. Mitochondrial Eve. Astarte. Ishtar. Inana. Kali. Lilith. Isis. Ala. Coatlicue. Gaia. Diana of Ephesus. Mary Magdalene. La Santa Muerte. Our Lady of Czestochova. We pray to you. We sing to you. Even today, as songs rise up that glorify murder and madness, if you listen you can hear the reverberation of Her worship gently lifting us up:
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me.
Shine on until tomorrow,
Let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music,
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.
I’m at Pantheacon, friends. For those of you who have never been here, it’s an annual conference that seeks to engage, entertain, instruct, and inform members of the Pagan community about each other with classes, workshops, parties, concerts, and rituals, and it’s pretty much a 96-hour party for those who attend and 12-month undertaking for those who put it on. (You can read about it at the Con’s web site here.) I love coming here. I’ve been coming for over a decade now, and many of my friends are here. I’ve learned a lot, grown, changed, and today I led a class in using charms and a hand-drawn compass to talk to our ancestors. Tonight I attended a panel about racism in the Pagan community, and I’ve got a lot stirred up around this issue that I thought I would get out of my system before I try to sleep.
Pantheacon does a lot of stuff right. Having, hosting, and holding space for panels like the one I attended tonight (hosted by Crystal Blanton and called “Bringing Race to the Table: An Exploration of Racism in Paganism”) is one of those right things that they do. I felt really challenged tonight because like almost every other white person I know, I consider myself a good person. I consider myself a non-racist ally to my brothers and sisters of color. I donate to causes, I challenge racist opinions, and I pray for change. So when Pagans of color talk about dealing with white pagan guilt, the overwhelming crush of do-gooder whiteys who can’t wait to tell them how much they suffer guilt for what people of color go through—with the implication being how good they are for trying—they can’t possibly be talking about me, can they? When Xochiquetzal Duit Odinsdottir says that she’s done offering absolution to white pagans, is she talking about me? Because maybe she’s talking about me. I’ve never thought of myself as needing absolution from a person of color because I haven’t ever considered myself a racist. I didn’t own slaves and none of my family did, although I do come from a long line of very racist Irish people. But not me. I don’t and didn’t and won’t ever use the “N” word. What if that’s not enough, though? Or more to the point, what if that’s not the point at all? What if the point is that whether or not I’m racist is the wrong question. What if I should be coming from the position that by virtue of my birth as an American descendent of Western European ancestors I am privileged, and my privilege is something that goes with me and is part of every breath I take. How much money I have is irrelevant. My zip code is irrelevant. What is relevant is that I don’t have to fight through a social construct of “we” versus “they” in which I am the “they,” because as a white woman I am automatically included in the “we.” I am not society’s Other. I am not the social antithesis, and THAT is my privilege.
One of the panelists tonight said that at the root of racism was fear, and that got me to thinking, “Fear of what?” We talk a lot about fear, but what does that mean? Are we afraid of other people? Am I afraid? What am I afraid of? And I felt it: a clench in my gut. There it is: my racism, a core fear that lives in my root chakra. What is it? I’m still working it out, but I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far: I’m afraid that I’ll be treated the way people of color are treated in this society. I’m afraid of having to be afraid of the police. I’m afraid of what it would be like to have to fight through bigots at polling places, or to have to deal with bosses who don’t want to hire me for a good job for which I’m well qualified because I don’t look “right.” I don’t want to be the Other.
And there, my friends, is the unpleasant and ugly truth staring me straight in the face: I like my privilege. And that is some fucked up shit right there.