“Are you sure/That we are awake? It seems to me/That yet we sleep, we dream”
The Summer solstice is upon us. The longest day of the year if you are in the northern hemisphere. This year on Ostara, I happened to be at home rather than at work. It was a lovely spring day and I opened all the windows in my house as I cleaned and pottered about. I burned incense inside and out. Taking the day to spend at home and contemplate was a treat and I secretly resolved to do this on the Sabbats more often.
It can be daunting to attempt ritual or ceremony, I sometimes feel pressure to ‘do witchy things’ and then when I fail I feel like a fraud. One’s practice needn’t be elaborate and active spell work is not always what is required. This Midsummer I choose to gather herbs in my garden to make pestos to store in the freezer to bring a burst of green power when the winter sets in. I might even gather some yarrow and wormwood to make charms. Mostly I want to just be in my garden, my personal liminal space, and see what messages I may or may not receive.
I include here a beautiful piece from my friend Becky Beyer over on Blood and Spicebush since she describes the time of Midsummer more eloquently than I could. Blesse be and happy solstice.
It is thrilling to see the work of one of my favorite witches be lauded and applauded. Pam Grossman’s book “Waking the Witch” came out this month and has been generally praised. As longtime listener of her podcast The Witch Wave, and a big fan of her collaborative project “What is a Witch’ with Tin Can Forest, I was eager to read her new book, as were countless others.
There are some who are dismayed at this rise of the Witch, one notable being Steven Pinker. Pinker last week Tweeted that he was disappointed the New York Times had published an excerpt from Grossman’s book because the excerpt was a “credulous account of witchcraft (consistent with its sympathetic stories on astrology)” he ended the Tweet with, “What’s going on at the paper of record?” Grossman retweeted Pinker’s post stating that he had misinterpreted her work, which he had. It’s sort of funny as well, that in denouncing Grossman’s work he had posted a link to the excerpt, thus promoting it.
Still, the desire to debunk the spiritual and ‘woo woo’ is interesting to me, because so many do it with such passion that they clearly take it somewhat personally. The irony here is that they often like to paint themselves as being rational, whereas we ‘dummy new agers’ are not accepting scientific evidence or letting our emotions run away with us. When we try to explain why we believe in the unseen, and the experiences we have had that make us think there are more things in heaven and earth etc., we are told that this can’t be proven, we are gullible, it was JUST A COINCIDENCE. So let’s deal with each of these.
If something is proven to be real then fine. If something can’t be proven either way, why do we have to dismiss it out of hand? It is a given that science is about evidence, things than can be proven and explained. Except that is not the case. Theoretical Physics often works in, well, theories, ideas, what ifs, as do theoretical arms of Mathematics. The clue is in the definer 'theory'.
I have been receiving more and more possible premonitions recently, and let me state they are not always welcome (meaning they are NOT wishful thinking on my part). I can’t prove they are premonitions and I also have no solid evidence that they are not. So what? Maybe it’s a coincidence. How can we determine one over the other? Believing in coincidences is, well, a belief, but in my opinion it is a rather dismal belief and I am at loss as to why we choose the boring choice over the one that leads to other ideas about the self and the world in which we live. I think we choose to believe in coincidences because we are afraid of what it means if there are things we can’t control (which of course there are) and/or we don’t want to seem gullible. Gullible means someone is quick to believe something, it’s more than that though. It’s a judgement, a belief if you will, that if you believe in say, astrology then, you’ll believe anything. And, if you are willing to believe anyone, then you are easily manipulated. No one wants to be gullible, so then, don’t believe in that stuff, OK?
Except the spiritual community does not have the sole franchise of gullibility. I see it all the time in white people, especially males. Belief in a fair, impartial justice system or belief in an equal society based on nothing other than the fact that it works for them. Sound familiar? It may work for you as a person of privilege, but to assume that it therefore is true is gullible because there is no proof that your experience would be the same if you were from a group that is systemically marginalized. When Trump was elected, many white people, (and yes, mostly males) either came out screaming in horror at being lied to by a bad guy and the bad guy winning OR smugly stating “calm down, it’s going to be ok.” Even I as a white woman was amazed at the gullibility of these positions. I also saw how dangerous they were. The first revealed just how impressionable these people were and the second was plain complacency in the face of real danger. I may believe in magic but I’m not a political dupe!
With Pinker it’s not too surprising as much of his career is about debunking theories. Yet why did he feel that denouncing this one was worth his time? What was the point? Is it a coincidence that a well known writer, presenting as a white cis male sees fit to attack a woman who's just released her first book and identifies as witch? Actually, I think the point was to attack the New York Times rather than Grossman in this case. If such a hallowed paper as the New York Times sees fit to publish something by a witch, then whatever is next? In turn that is insulting to Grossman too.
However the attack only stands up if you agree with Pinker’s stance, and you’re willing to overlook the fact that he didn’t get the point of the article. He would want you to do just that, because that’s the only way his Tweet makes any sense; by turning a blind eye to the reality of what Grossman had written, the reality of her words in favor of the personal resentment of Steven Pinker. How’s that for belief in a belief?
It’s a not an uncommon paradox found in Pagan communities that, though it’s an earth based religion, many of us are not outdoorsy or into nature all that much. I have counted myself as such a paradox, especially since moving to the US where the natural world has more hazards than in my native UK. For instance just yesterday I casually moved a pot in my garden only to find a baby snake under it. And in western North Carolina we also have bears, and poisonous spiders, let alone the fact that the landscape is so vast and underdeveloped that you could go for a pleasant wander in the woods one day only to get hopelessly lost, with no cell network. You could die out here. In Britain my biggest fear when going into the countryside was other people with their annoying dogs, I never encountered so much as a crabby badger.
While it is unlikely I will ever want to live out in the wilds of Appalachia, I have a renewed love of nature as I see it in my own garden.
In May my daughter underwent heart surgery to correct a defect. It went smoothly initially, but was still a major event that brought us face to face with our vulnerabilities as human beings. On returning to our lives, my husband and I both turned to the garden, a welcome contrast to the artificial environment we had been existing in for a week while our daughter healed. It was also a place where we felt in control, this I think was especially true for my husband who set about weeding and mulching with ferocious intensity. Suddenly our weedy yard seemed full of possibility and was as far removed from doctors, IVs and wounds as we could imagine.
I ended up developing a little rockery but the more I did so, the more it became an altar as well, partly of its own will. When I got the message that this was what it wanted to be I continued with developing it, adding candles, a cauldron, etc. Now I am slightly embarrassed it took me so long to figure out what that scrappy little patch should be.
Not soon after this project, we discovered that our daughter had a post-surgery condition that would need immediate treatment and we raced back to the hospital. That was a couple of weeks ago and now we are supposed to be getting back to normal. This has been harder for me than I had assumed. The altar has been my support in this time as I come to terms with what we have been through as a family. It has also helped me re calibrate as a witch. This sweet patch is a portal and a refuge. I continue to develop it with found broken ceramics and rocks and my daughter has added all her painted pink rocks. Friends have given us items for it too.
Spending time here has helped me develop a connection with nature I can handle and in so doing has helped me reconnect with spirit. I watch insects on the rocks and the smoke from my incense dance in the wind. When it rains I go and observe the changes it brings to the plants and crystals. It reminds me daily there is more and there is change and that peace can be found.