Saturday, November 10, 2012

Samhain to Yule

  Samhain to Yule --The Journey Inward

Soul-searching N: A penetrating examination of one's motives, convictions, and attitudes.

A deep or critical examination of one's motives, actions, beliefs, etc.

Adj: displaying the characteristics of deep or painful self-analysis.

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003



In my last post, “When the Crone Pays a Visit, You’d Better Pay Attention,” I related my Samhain experience of a mandate from the Crone and a deceased  family member to “wake-up” and start the new year with a difficult and necessary spiritual house cleaning.  As anyone who has found themselves in my predicament knows, this is no easy task.    Shadow work, which could also be defined as soul-searching, is really a quest to find, acknowledge, and/or root out doubt, guilt, baneful thoughts/intent, self-loathing, and old grief  (just to name a few lurkers in my own dark places).  


Soul searching is fraught with danger and sacrifices, but also with self-knowledge and positive transformation.  As in any quest, the goal is to grow from the chosen initiate and become a hero/heroine.  We are, in a sense, on a quest to save ourselves from all that holds us back and keeps us form realizing our potential and doing the work we are called to do in this incarnation.  It’s hard to make spiritual progress.  It hurts to forgive and to ask forgiveness.  It is hard to commit—to become the hero/heroine of your spiritual quest.

 In Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the central character’s primary purpose is to separate from the ordinary world and sacrifice him/herself.  To answer the challenge, complete the quest and restore balance.   The balance I restore (see, I’m thinking positively here!) within myself will be reflected in my words and deeds and will (in a small way) resonate across many planes of existence.  My personal shadow work will involve ritual, meditation, and journeying to speak to my totem spirits and guides.  It will also involve reaching out and making changes in the way I interact with the physical world.

Quests also involve mentors, guardians, and guides. My mentor is the goddess as The Crone.  From our first encounter, she has provided motivation, insights and training.  The Crone is a tough coach. She  tets me, and expects hard work and commitment. But she also believes that her guidance will have positive results.  

Soul searching is a transformative process involving many steps.  Much to my solar Leo’s chagrin, my Virgo ascendant insists on asserting itself here.  Stripped down to bare process these steps are: initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and closure.  Because linear time is irrelevant to beings from other planes—and a mandate from a goddess is a very big deal--I have a strong, feeling that this quest is likely to be cyclical in nature and go on for a very long time.  As I continue on this journey, I will share my progress.  But for now—what I share involves: initiation--my  recognition that I have been selected to complete my quest; selection--my selection of an area I need to address; exploration of the sore spot in order to gain new personal knowledge; and formulation, when the seeker starts to evaluate  gathered information and a focused perspective begins to form. 

 For me, walking in nature is a meditative process.  I learn a great deal by being attentive to what I see and perceive physically and spiritually. I look for synchronicity (another Jungian term describing the alignment of universal forces with one's own life experience). I take in what I can and, later, meditate upon "co-inciding" events or alignment of forces in the universe to create an event or circumstance. Part of my quest involves becoming intuitively aware and acting in harmony with these forces.


The wrath of Hurricane  Sandy and the cold fury of the nor'easter that followed has --ironically-- been followed by mild, spring like weather--much nicer weather than we will experience in March and April. But the silence of the woods, the barren limbs, and the shorn stubble, and the sun setting before five o'clock in the extreme southwest reminds me that the Brandywine Valley is locked in The Crone's embrace. 

It is a Saturday in mid-November when I walk into our woods.  The woods are so still!  The breath of plants, birdsong, and the powerful energy of growth has stopped.  On the surface, like a blanket of snow, the earth is still.  A flock of black birds   perches upon bare limbs--dark, silent silhouettes.  Two women on horseback greet me and bemoan the overcast.  I rather enjoy the muted sky and the silence.  This is an excellent atmosphere for the shadow work which The Crone has charged me to complete. 


I clamber over the tree brought down by Sandy that keeps most people from taking this path; walk on past unharvested soybean fields where I stoop to pick up the blood-red and pumpkin orange berries of Bittersweet. Attentive to the changes of this cycle, I ground and center before turning a sharp left and walking down the steep path into the heart of the woods. Into the now barren womb.  This is the realm of The Crone.  The wise woman who understands the reality of letting goes of stripping away. The leaves are all but gone. The forest floor is carpeted with their fading golden and ruddy glory. 

As I walk the leaf strewn path I  speak softly of all that I was lost--my mother, father sister, brother--of all the old wounds that cause me to wake and cry silently in the middle of the night. I say, “I acknowledge you. I loved you. But you are gone." or "You hurt me," and   (most difficult) "I am guilty of inflicting this wound."  There is grief I must release or be forever chained to the past,  hurt that  I must acknowledge and release like leaves that flutter to the  earth to be renewed in soil and new life.

I walk and touch old griefs.  If I have done all that I can to heal a painful event—I must let it go.  If there is something I can still do—some swallowing of pride—some contact that would help heal a wound—I must think about how I can accomplish that task. Are these hurts monsters to be defeated?  Some are for sure.  Some, like my estrangement from my only brother, are griefs that I must acknowledge and accept.


There is beauty and truth in the severity of this season, as there is beauty and truth in the severity of self-examination. Bare, smooth silver limbs of beach and the rough, scored limbs of  huge tulip poplars are exposed. But there is harmony and stillness after the great storms of November passed.



Here is rest. Here is silence.  Every curve, knot, and twig--seemingly dormant--yet here too is life!   The silence is palpable as I leave the path and walk up the rise to the majestic tulip tree.  This is my friend.  Its deva calls to me. I place my offering of Bittersweet on a cairn of stones that I have built up over the years as an offering to the nature spirits of this sacred land. I run my hands inches away from its surface and feel its heat --the energy it has stored deep within. As I run my hands downward toward its roots and feel the pulse and energy increase.  Here is the hidden treasure--the heart and source of the tree's life.  It beats deep beneath the earth and deep within the bole of the tree. I place my hands upon its rough, deeply scored bark, close my eyes and feel and visualize the pulse of life--steady and deep.  I hail the presence of Tulip Tree and ask its blessing. As I open my eyes I feel the air pulse and shimmer. Rarely have I felt so at peace--so lightened.  My offering has been acknowledged.



I walk up the hill, turning once to look back--knowing that I have to move forward. I climb the rise leading out of the woods. As I reach the woods borders and look toward open meadow--I freeze. My eyes lock on the eyes of a solitary white tailed Buck who stares at me as intently as I stare at him. Is the buck a new totem animal that I need to journey to for guidance? He is the Horned God. -- The God of joyful virility, radiating power and life force--even here in the Croning months. But he is also cautious, poised to recognized and avoid danger. As he turns and bounds back into the woods, he reminds me that the life force is never far from us—but we must be poised and aware. I will take all of this in meditate, and journey, journal and continue on my quest

Sunday, November 4, 2012

When the Crone Pays A Visit, You Better Pay Attention

 Samhain 2012--I wake in pre-dawn hours, my heart pounding.  I've placed photographs of my beloved dead on my altar, placed welcome offerings of my dad's favorite candy and whiskey, and lit a candle.  I’ve  asked for my ancestors and any supportive powers to PM me in my dreams. I am anticipating something like the  warm and loving messages I received during Audience With the Ancestors, a Samhain ritual performed by my coven (Grail of the Birch Moon) and  member covens of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.  Something along the lines of" I'm fine," and, “follow the way of love.” But the Wise Woman, the Crone, (the matriarch of matriarchs) has visited me in the darkness of night, in the waning of the moon, bringing the chill of winter and a stern message.  It's not what I want, but it is the strong medicine that I need. 
I have never been a lucid dreamer.  So, when I find myself in my very own bedroom confronted by a messenger dressed in black who is--shall we say--brutally frank, I'm pretty freaked out.   First, the specter makes sure that I am icy cold (which certainly gets my attention), then she dissolves the headboard of my bed and tears chunks out of the  door to a very real crawl space behind it while my father (who passed in 2008)  tells me to "wake up."
 This dream is not a nightmare—but its message is certainly stern.  So, I wake to a room not quite as frigid as the astral room. When my heart rate drops to normal, it's time to figure out my spiritual game plan.
 As I’ve said, the crawl space is quite real and exactly where it was in the dream. There are a lot of things in that crawl space—old manuscripts, old books, old clothes, old memories good and not so good—things that I'm not quite ready to part with because they hold a part of me for good or ill.
As the space is behind the very large, very solid oak headboard of a behemoth bed, I can’t get at it without putting in a lot of effort.  I put that stuff there for a variety of reasons—nostalgia, the hope that they’ll be repurposed, and even (in the case of the manuscript)  because I couldn’t bear to look at it but couldn’t bear to throw it away either.
Clearly, it is time for me to do some shadow work. But I don't want to!  That's why all that stuff is packed away in an almost inaccessible physical space and in an equally inaccessible space inside of me.   I have a hunch that the Goddess and my dad expect a New Year’s cleaning that involves more than sorting through the tangible junk that lurks behind that closed door.
As I do a lot when I’m working through “things,” I take a walk in the woods and farmland around the Brandywine River Valley.   Sometimes, the land and the beings that inhabit it, have lessons to teach me. Sometimes the process of walking in the quiet countryside helps me find my way to an answer or at least  helps me pose questions that point me toward more clues.
 The woods have turned towards winter. A cold breeze rattles bare limbs.  Dry leaves spiral down onto damp, cold earth and fields of dun colored corn stubble. In the meadow, horses stand in groups, nose to nose. A maple tree felled by Hurricane Sandy lies across the path pressing down the electric wire enclosing the pasture.  It branches are filled with the tight knots of next year’s  buds-- life and potential that will never be realized in its current form--although it will be transformed and used. Nothing in nature goes to waste. 
Near the last unharvested soybean fields migrating robins chirp with alarm, then fall silent as a local red tailed hawk wheels overhead. I'm like the robin, chirping, alarmed. Then, silent...listening...watching.
The woods hold death and danger –felled trees, downed leaves, and the feathers left from a kill--this is a cycle. I must embrace this--for it is my story as much as the tree's or the bird's.   But it was also full of life. In strong roots that held firm despite Sandy's fury.  In the animals that are foraging or hibernating.  In the last red clovers blooming low to the ground.  In the Red Tail soaring high above crying its glorious “Keeyerr!”  I whisper, "She changes everything She touches and everything She touches changes." 
It’s time for me to touch, to draw out, acknowledge, and change. Nature is filled with harsh truths that I need to apply to my spiritual habitat.  I have held on to old grief and hurt too long.  I lock them away, unexamined, because they are too painful to acknowledge, but too much a part of me to easily relinquish.
It’s time to ground, center, pray for compassion and take them out of the darkness. It’s time to do the hard work of removing barriers that give false comfort and open the door to that shadowed place within myself.
Shadow work is as painful and healing as the nettle plant. Sometime the sting has to come before healing can begin.
When I get home, I know what I must do.  This is my first task of the new year. Mastering my fear, I must open physical and spiritual doors, reach into the darkness, and bring what I’ve stored and hidden into the light to be examined, sorted, kept or discarded. 
At fifty-two, (to paraphrase the Bard) I’m a tree approaching winter. A tree shaped and weathered by many seasonal cycles.  My roots are strong, deep, and I can withstand this shadow work.  But I am still a vibrant, sexual, life-embracing woman. I acknowledge shadows and darkness and will to examine the things that I have hidden with care…but I will not hide there –I will open the dark door, embrace the Crone and embrace this new and powerful cycle of my life.