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
It is somewhat difficult for me to remember the main ritual of the Twilight Covening of 1990. I was only partly there for it...and partly I was in the Otherworld, riding on a big, black horse, curled safe and tight in Herne's warm cloak.
The main ritual of Twilight Covening is always a collaborative affair; clans work together to contribute various elements to it, and the ritual framework is always similar--a journey, a quest, in which the celebrant encounters challenges and overcomes fears and doubts in symbolic form, culminating in a central celebration, something very pretty, with firelight and drums and beautiful ritual props and costumes. I remember the bare bones of the ritual well enough... stumbling along in single-file with the members of my clan, blindfolded at certain times, and being given tokens of the horned god at the end of our communal quest. There was also an individual vigil involved, a period of silent waiting, blindfolded, curled up among tree roots on the forest floor, which was, for me, probably the most important part of the ritual, because it was there that I had most of the vivid inward experiences of Herne.
Of the symbolic challenges, I remember almost nothing. Of course--I'd had my challenge already, and it was much larger than those that were part of the ritual itself! I do remember that, during the blindfold vigil, as night was starting to set in, there were voices passing close to us where we lay still in the underbrush--other Pagans, pretty clearly sent out to be tempters, talking about how the whole ritual was over anyway, hadn't it been a bust, such a waste of time but there was hot fresh gingerbread in the dining hall, and they were all going right there to get some. My biggest concern at that moment was not to laugh out loud, so great were my feelings of joy and triumph.
Time passed. More ritual. We reassembled eventually at the central firepit, singing and invoking the horned god--as Herne, specifically. We sang:
Hoof and horn
Hoof and horn
All that die will be reborn.
Corn and grain
Corn and grain
All that falls shall rise again.
I've never done drugs or even much alcohol, so I have little to go on here, but I'd have to say that it was a lot like being very, very drunk, or very, very high. I've rarely felt that pumped up after ritual since (though, once after hearing some powerful vocal ministry at NEYM last year, I felt something very like it) and I wouldn't say I'd like to. But the surety, the certainty, that I was where I belonged, doing what I was meant to be doing... that was magnificent.
The God was invoked, into a tall, physically imposing priest from the EarthSpirit community*. I don't know if he was actively drawn down or not...but I do know that the God was there, at least for me. We formed a long, snaking line, and the ritual became a procession up to an archway of autumn oak branches. One after another, we met and were greeted by Herne, and presented with a Tarot card to embody the wisdom of winter"--something to take us through the coming months.
A hundred voices sang together, weaving into a round that rolled on and on:
Herne, horned one,
Hunter 'neath the Northern sun,
Watcher at the Gates of Winter,
Flame on the Wind.
My card, when it was put into my hand, was perfect. Seven of Cups. Dangerous choices.
Do you remember the feeling you had leaving school on the last day before summer vacation when you were eight years old? That is what I was feeling at that moment. Choices! Freedom! Victory! And the drumming began, and the glad dancing and conversations, and little crowds forming to go and enjoy that gingerbread that really was available, fresh and hot, in the dining hall down the hill.
But before the transition to celebration and feast had really begun, I turned around to find Afagddu standing right there beside me.
Before I could say a word, he was almost babbling, words tumbling over one another in a rush. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry; I thought I was sorry before and I really was sorry but now I'm really really sorry because look what I got... THIS! And Afagaddu held out one shaking hand, with a Tarot card in it.
The Ten of Swords.
The God of the Hunt works fast. Holy crap.
Then came the freaky bit.
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes, when it's needed, priestesses talk about drawing down spontaneously--finding the Goddess suddenly just there and talking through them, no invocations needed. Well (taking a deep breath) right about then, Rosie more or less elbowed me out of the way, like an experienced driver taking over the wheel from a new one: a sort of non-verbal "Move over honey, let Me drive." Suddenly She was just there, and I was a passenger looking on.
And She reached out--
and She put Her hands on Afagddu's shoulders--
--And She pushed down--
And then Afaggdu was just kneeling there on the ground in front of me.
And then She bent over him, and I thought for one queasy moment She was going to kiss his forehead and I kind of wanted to get the hell out of there, but then She--
Drew a banishing pentacle on his forhead, helped him up, and sent him away.
What the hell???
Fortunately, Peter came walking up to me before I fell down. Well, OK--not literally. Probably not literally. But it was good to have someone standing next to me who seemed pleasantly, sturdily there, and who could guide me carefully down the steps and into the dining hall where there was light, and happy people, and food to eat. Grounding, yes--not just for beginners anymore. Right--let's ground, shall we?
Grounding: wrapping up all that Otherworld directness by bringing the self and the self's energy back to the body. I'd been doing it for ages. Hold a rock in the palms of your hands. Lie flat on your back and let the energy drain into the earth. Hug a tree. Visualize. Eat a meal (the heartier the better).
It was in the dining hall that I discovered that I could not eat, and that the lights were too bright and the conversations too lively. I'm very glad that there were no "grounding police" on hand to attempt to force me to gag down a square of over-sweet gingerbread, however. My reality testing was fine (though I suppose my parents and some of my cowan friends might have questioned that) and I was increasingly comfortable in my own body. I just needed to come back gradually.
Sometimes, when you've been gone a long way away, it just takes a while to get back.
In fact, it would be weeks before I would be eating entirely normally, building up slowly from fruits filled with lots of water, to vegetables, simple grains and starches, proteins... Something like coming back after a long illness, gently. I think I might have managed some cider or a mouthful of fruit at that point, and then Peter very kindly took me for a long walk along the lake shore to talk about our separate ritual experiences. Just moving was good, not to mention talking quietly with a friend.
He told me that he'd glimpsed Afagddu with me from across the circle, and had been standing ready to intervene, until he saw that I clearly had things under control--what on earth had I been doing?
I explained. We walked more, and talked about Peter's life and mine--his past Twilight Covenings probably; his grandmother, whose health was failing; friends of his who were also at that year's event. I don't remember anymore, and neither does he. I do remember sitting on a bench next to him, feeling sleepy and contented, watching mists rising in ghostly tendrils over the lake. Perhaps an hour later he gave me a cookie--a Keebler elf cookie, as I remember--and, after a bit more conversation, he headed off in his own direction.
I was sorry to see him go, and I felt a pang of lonliness for a moment... and then, suddenly, the night seemed very tender and kind around me, and I thought, well, Peter is Herne's priest, but Herne Himself is right here. And I strolled past campfires and lit up buildings, listening to forest noises and laughter over the lake, and, at last, the sound of one of my cabinmates, playing the classical guitar.
It was Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, which has always been one of my favorite pieces. I stood in the shadows for a few minutes, just listening. It felt like a love song, from the god of the hunt to me.
When I finally went to bed, I felt entirely blessed, completely at peace.
The peace lasted a while--the whole long drive home, in fact. But, once home, I had to turn and face the music. Having immediate help and support from gods was terrific, of course... but, it turns out, it didn't get the job of healing done for me.
Perhaps it sounds odd, to those who have never experienced anything similar; perhaps it sounds odd to those who have experienced things that were far worse. But I was showing all the signs and symptoms of someone who had just experienced a traumatic shock. The experience with Afagddu had come at a moment of unusual openness and vulnerability, and maybe that was why it left such an impression... but for whatever reason, it did leave quite an impression.
I was in pain--physical pain--quite often. The back problems I have today began in those few weeks. The muscles along my spine, and especially near the heart and sexual chakras, were a tight, bunched-up, gnarly mess. (Go figure.)
Worse than that--I'd been through an experience that was tremendously important to me, and I needed to talk about it. But whenever I tried, my body temperature would plummet, my teeth would chatter, and I would be fighting spasms in my back, just trying to get the words out. The same thing happened whenever I tried to set pen to paper. I did; the journal entry I wrote on that one weekend alone is about twenty pages long. But I could write only in short bursts, and then I'd have to stop, wrap up warm, and drink something hot.
Friends and covenmates were as supportive as they knew how to be. Within a day of my return, I'd told Kirk and Amy (newest member of the coven and Kirk's future wife) about my weekend. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of their living room, and having to tell them explicitly to please bring me a blanket so I wouldn't shiver; could I have some hot tea? and, please hug me now... It was hard for all of us (true Yankees that we were and are) but they were right there with me.
Brian, passing through my neighborhood one day, stopped at my house to trade backrubs with me, and if I couldn't explain to him how hard it was for me to give comfort in return for receiving it, that was not his fault--I didn't know how to tell him how awful I felt. Doug and Kirk both cleared time for long, supportive phone calls and lunches with me when we could get time away from work, and the male members of the Church of the Sacred Earth pooled their resources and created for me both a ritual to affirm my right to safety in my body, and an athame to symbolize it. Lindy, the closest thing I had to a High Priestess of my own, gave support and counsel, and comissioned the creation of a beautiful scabbard for that new athame. Everyone did what they knew how to do. And it all helped--though none of it was a quick fix for what ailed me. It was just a very difficult time in my life.
In retrospect, the fact that I was getting so much more support from my friends than from my husband was probably not a good sign for my marriage.
(To Be Continued)