Sunday, June 17, 2007

Cat's Spiritual Journey, Part II: Coming Home

All posts in this series:
Part I: Getting (and Losing) That Old Time Religion
Part II: Coming Home
Part III: The Fool's Journey
Part IV: The Underworld
Part V: Seven of Cups
Part VI: A Letter and a Kiss
Part VII: Morticia Loves Gomez
Part VIII: Nora
Part IX: Felicia Hardy and the Tower of Babel
Part X: When Babel Fell
Part XI: Community 2.0
Part XII: This Forgiveness Stuff

So, now... where was I, before I so rudely interrupted me? ;)

When we eventually left graduate school, my then-husband and I settled in a small town in Vermont, where he was hired on to teach in the electrical engineering department of a small college, and I began looking around for work--in social work, not in law. Things were pretty much perfect: surrounded by beautiful countryside, saving our pennies for the down payment on a house (which we eventually bought together), planning a family, and starting to build our individual careers. We practiced amateur astronomy (I under his careful tutelage) and moved from watching Sagan's Cosmos to James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed, and began the quest for edible pizza in Central Vermont. Life Made Sense.

And then two things happened that changed all that: I got pregnant, and I found a book.

I got pregnant, right around the time I discovered Lost Mountain Books, realized that I couldn't stand my job (or the wierd twinging in the ribs my pregnant body decided I would have anytime I sat for more than twenty minutes or so) and quit.

I've always been a bookstore groupie. But when you're living in a tiny town where you have no friends, no job, and you discover that the local bookstore not only has excellent books, but friendly owners and serves the best coffee within twenty miles, well, that bookstore becomes pretty important. Marie and Kevin were my first real friends in town. Sometimes they let me babysit the bookstore for them when they had to travel, in exchange for book credit. They would special order titles for me. I began to spend a fair amount of time there, perched up on a stool next to Marie, who was also pregnant, chatting about her son Christopher's potty training and manners.

And that's when it happened. Remember how flaky I thought all those sisterhood-is-beautiful feminist Wiccans were when I first encountered them? Well, I wasn't pregnant then. Now, sitting next to Marie while she minded the bookstore, I felt this wierd, wordless connection between us. Something about my pregnancy and hers, developing side by side, changed how I felt in ways that just didn't fit my picture, then, of who I thought I was.

The second happening, as I said, was a book: a book club copy of the 1986 edition of Margot Adler's 1979 classic, Drawing Down the Moon.

By the time that book arrived in the mail, Hillary had been born. I remember sitting out on the balcony behind our house, breast-feeding Hillary, and reading and reading and reading. I still have that original copy--I picked it up and paged through it, just now, looking for the particular words that did it for me--that breathed out that I had come home. I can't find them; I can find the stars and asterisks and underlining I added to the book, especially in the resources section (incredibly scanty by today's standards). But I really can't find any single set of words that led to that powerful feeling. I just remember setting the book aside, bringing my daughter up to my shoulder to burp her, and looking incredulously out at the horizon, whispering, "You mean there are more of me?"

And that was when I became a Pagan--again.

After all, Paganism was what I'd even called it, when, as a child, I'd tried to find some way to connect to the things in the world that had a spiritual pull for me: rocks and hills and trees. (Especially trees!) And here were people who not only felt as I felt, and responded to the same longings, but came together in mysterious and possibly ancient ways to celebrate them. It was breathtaking.

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis's second Narnia book, Prince Caspian, which captures the longing I'd felt for so many years. I'd suppressed it, sublimated it with a love of science and the mind, but as soon as I read the stories of others who had felt what I had felt, it all came back in a rush:
...Lucy's eyes began to grow accustomed to the light, and she saw the trees that were nearest her more distinctly. A great longing for the old days when the trees could talk in Narnia came over her. She knew exactly how each of these trees would talk if only she could wake them, and what sort of human form it would put on. She looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face, and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty old man with a frizzled beard and warts on his face and hands, and hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which she was standing. Ah!--she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, the lady of the wood.

"Oh Trees, Trees, Trees," said Lucy (though she had not been intending to speak at all). "Oh Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don't you remember it? Don't you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come to me."

Though there was not a breath of wind they all stirred about her. The rustling noise of the leaves was almost like words. The nightingale stopped singing as if to listen to it. Lucy felt that at any moment she would begin to understand what the trees were trying to say. But the moment did not come. The rustling died away. The nightingale resumed its song. Even in the moonlight the wood looked more ordinary again. Yet Lucy had the feeling (as you sometimes have when you are trying to remember a name or a date and almost get it, but it vanishes before you really do) that she had just missed something: as if she had spoken to the trees a split second too soon or a split second too late, or used all the right words except one, or put in one word that was just wrong.


Even the longing was precious to me.

I love the world. I just do... and all I ever really wanted was to be able to talk to it, and to tell it that--and to have it answer. I wanted to live in a living and spirited world, not a dead, material one. And at last it looked as if there was a way.

What came next would be simpler today, when a budding Pagan can just hop onto The Witches Voice, surf on over to the Witches of the World contacts page, and start emailing people. Simpler--but not simple, even now, because for every solid Pagan circle or grove you find online, there must be three that are either pompous, or disfunctional, or fraudulent, or (most commonly) defunct. Pagans form groups and communities quickly and easily, but we tend to overidealize them (maybe it's that coming home feeling) and then blow up at each other when the inevitable disillusionment follows. And we're new--really new--so that it's hard to find elders who really are. (It wasn't until I became a Quaker that I had much experience with being guided in my spiritual growth by people who were actually significantly older than I am. I know that Quakers often bemoan our graying population...but this has it's up side, too.)

The first Pagan "teacher" I found was a jerk. No--really. One of those folks who invent fancy sounding titles for themselves, talk endlessly about how important they are and how many important Pagans they know, when all the time, their main spiritual interest is in being admired and jumping the bones of young women like me. Ick.

Happily, I kept looking. Eventually, I encountered a human interest story about this fellow named "Kirk White,"of all the ridiculous monikers--clearly a pseudonym (White Church the Pagan leader, yeah, how clever). Only it wasn't--I'm not sure how long it took me to figure that out. He actually lived only one town over from mine, on a rambling old farm that had been in his family since the Revolutionary War, and he was (and is) one of the kindest, wisest, and funniest human beings I have ever known. (You haven't lived until you've stayed up until 2:00 AM with this guy, making stupid puns and singing even stupider filks.) Kirk had been searching for and cobbling together Pagan community in Vermont since his college days, and it was he who invited me to my first ever Pagan ritual, a summer solstice ritual and camping weekend on his farm.

To say that I was afraid to go would be understating the case. On the one hand, I was going to meet real Pagans for the first time ever, and I was desperate to make a good impression. On the other hand, I was more than a little nervous. Who were these people, anyway? Sure, none of the books I was reading supported the idea that anything unsavory was going to happen that night, but how did I really know? I made sure my husband had the contact information for where I was going before I left that afternoon. I remember talking with him about when to notify the police if I didn't return!

When I got there, needless to say, I didn't find anything that was remotely scarey, except for the Pagan tendency to arrive late and not plan ahead. The day proceeded on PST--Pagan Standard Time--and the mid-day ritual honoring the Sun at his strongest actually happened at dusk, with fireflies twinkling around us. There was also a full share of Lame Ritual-itis--I contributed to it myself, when I was asked to help "dance" the circle (rather than casting it).

But there was also music--Jeanne and Kirk, both future covenmates, singing together The Pretenders Hymn to Her--and ritual that really, really worked. I remember Lindy S. drawing down the Goddess... and being able to feel her aura suddenly become much, much deeper, and almost to see it, deep indigo and violet, rushing up from her head and shoulders to touch the sky.

I left as people were setting up their tents in the darkness (typical Pagan planning!), and Kirk showed me down the hill in the dark. Neither of us had a flashlight, and the pine woods we passed through were dark as a cave by then. But I didn't mind in the least, because, really, I knew about being lost, and that night had been the opposite of being lost. That was the night I was found.

(To be continued...)

5 comments:

John said...

and,and? arrrrg you disappeared! :-)

Pagan Quill said...

Wow. This is very beautiful...

Reminds me of my own story.

--Derek

Kate said...

One of my favourite parts of the Narnia books...so many, many times I've felt the same, if I'd only just done one tiny thing differently...

Michael said...

Cat,

I'm glad you're posting spiritual journey stuff.

It was being invited onto a panel discussion of spiritual paths at Yearly Meeting in 2000 that got me started seeking a way to talk about "native religious languages."

That exploration has evolved into my current The Empty Path blog...among other things.

My favorite bit from your post:

"Even the longing was precious to me.

"I love the world. I just do... and all I ever really wanted was to be able to talk to it, and to tell it that--and to have it answer. I wanted to live in a living and spirited world, not a dead, material one."

This captures it exactly!

When I catch myself noticing the special vibrancy of the world at twilight, or of trees in the wind, or of rain, that connects me all the way back to childhood, when it was still "all right" to actually believe in magic.

Yes, longing for the world to be alive, not merely a scientifically decipherable set of phenomena.

Thank you, and

Bl├ęssed Be.

Broomstick Chronicles said...

Cat, thanks for all these juicy self-revelations. As always, your writing is elegant and probing. Wish I could read more blogs. You seem to be on quite a role this Summer. :-)

Looking forward to seeing you in August.

Blessings,
Macha

Share it