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.