The Bad Witch on The High Seas

Originally written on 7/19. Now that I’m back on U.S. soil with the internets, I will show you what I’ve been doing.

I watched the bayous slip behind me for several hours today. I kept thinking, “I have the sun (fire) and I have the water and I have the wind (air). Will I miss the earth?”

As an aging Sagittarius with mouths to feed and mortgages and tuitions to pay (and an airy spouse to keep on some kind of beneficent tether), I have had to learn to temper the blazing fire in me and become more practical, more pragmatic, more pedantic. My moon is in Gemini and the air likes to fuel my Sagittarian fire. However, as I work toward equilibrium with all elements, earth seems to win out more and more these days – which may not, in the end, be a very good thing at all.

I have the intuition and generosity of water, the bookish rationale and wit of air, the passion and inspiration and gregariousness of fire, but more than all of those things I am all about longevity. I tend to be tolerant of bullshit (to my own frustration). And I tend toward physicality in my expression of affection, in aesthetics, in emotional outlets, and in my sense of humor – which tends toward the lower stratum. (Like many folks of Scottish descent, TBW loves a good poop joke – but it has to be a *good* poop joke.) I can be very bull-headed indeed. But I am also very well-grounded. Fortunately, I don’t have any of the scarier earth problems like stagnation or agoraphobia. That would never do on a ship like this.

So, as I sit with the sun above me, the wind in my hair, and the uncustomary roll of water beneath me, I want to look at earth. More particularly my relationship with earth.

A fire/air native, you can imagine what a ball of intensity I was at twenty. Fiery red hair to boot. I had already lived through more commotion than most adults ever meet, and I seemed to burn the brighter for it.[1] I had become accustomed to the audible gasp folks made when I walked in the room. I perceived it a normalcy that traffic and attentions and great bodies of water parted when I walked past. Not because I was particularly more attractive than anyone else in the room, nor because there was anything especially charismatic about my demeanor: just because I was a living blaze of dynamism.

Eventually, I grew to realize that I couldn’t just pour out my energies unreservedly lest I deplete myself. I’m not sure when that happened. I was sincerely wild, rebellious, idealistic, imaginative, and entirely emotional. But unlike many fire/air natives, I was able to channel all of those qualities toward results.

Despite a family of origin where a high school diploma is rare, I had already had (and abandoned) a career in finance,[2] had already had (and abandoned) a military fiancé, had married a man I fell in love with (literally) at first sight and had three children with him and together we owned a home in a major metropolitan area. I had earned a double-major BA and an MA (without financial assistance of any sort aside from scholarships and fellowships), was teaching at a fairly-competitive private university, and was a published poet. I had also completed three of five arduous levels of magical training at the knee of my exacting mentor and had (momentarily) converted to Anglicanism and had become a postulant.[3] All before my thirtieth-birthday.

In my mid-thirties, I had moved a thousand miles from home, had earned a PhD, had published a number of academic articles, had resolutely returned to my Pagan roots, was elevated to the fourth of five arduous levels of magical training at the knee of my exacting mentor, and had climbed well into middle-class-dom.

At thirty-seven, I got tired.

Damned tired.

In my exhausted folly, I recklessly mistook age for wisdom and followed the bad counsel of an older friend to let the fire inside me erupt. Inside four months I was left with nothing but smoking ashes – even the bad counselor had deserted me. As a reaction, I used all the earth I could find to smother the flames I had brashly ignited. Terrified of backdraft, I built walls of earth to brace against the wind that swirled around me.

This is a fairly understandable reaction, no?

But the long-term consequences of burying my innate disposition in earth and stone have been a little more unkind than self-immolation would ever have been. About two years after the initial explosion and subsequent um . . . snuffing . . . we’ll go with “snuffing,” the residual effects of that short-term burst continued to decompose the landscape around me. So I threw waddle and daub at the problem.

For two more years I remained fearful of a sudden flashover, so I built my temple of earth, earth, earth. Then, not too abruptly, I realized that in meditation, I would “get stuck” in my third chakra. Know what I mean? If you do, then you do. If you don’t, then I can’t really explain it. Everything was quiet on the southern-front: too quiet. I had sacrificed my nature in the name of balance.

Eventually, I realized that pyrolysis was inevitable, even the earthiest edifice would eventually crumble. I was honest with myself. I knew what I was: unadulterated fire with an abundant oxygen supply. I realized that if I put enough earth on a volcano, it would blow sky-high at its inescapable ignition. So I spent two more years working toward digging at the embers of my being while maintaining a safe perimeter.

  • Silly as it may sound, I dressed as a phoenix for Halloween.
  • Silly as it may sound, I wept openly when Danerys Targaryen survived her own death-pyre and brought dragons back to The Seven Kingdoms.
  • Silly as it may sound, I asked for a Kindle Fire for Yule and got it – with a red case.

As most of you know, I had a shite week-from-Hades about a month or so ago. The unrelenting emotionalism of that particular roller-coaster-ride left a crack in my edifice.

Just enough for the smoke to rise and make the whole dadgum neighborhood smell like barbecue.

Just enough for the heat to make ripples in the air around me and flat-out-frighten the idiots who had been carelessly pouring gasoline around me for the past four years.

Just enough to make a whole group of cold and hungry folks (knowing the warmth and nourishment found in flames) come out of the woodwork saying: “Ooooohh” and “Ahhhhhh” and “Ohhhhhhh.”

Just enough to make me sit up and say, “Enough dirt, dammit.”

Just enough to land my ass on a cruise ship with no earth to be found.

This is the art that was just outside The Bad Stateroom.

So, as I sit with the sun above me, the wind in my hair, and the uncustomary roll of water beneath me, I want to look at earth. More particularly, at sloughing (some of) it off.

I think y’all might just be in for viewing a metamorphosis.

Imma toast this unfamiliar fruity little drink that my waiter, Fernando, just brought to me to the phoenix as she rises from the ashes. Join me?


[1] I grew up in Latin Kings’ territory on the South Side of Chicago but ran with a number of Satan’s Disciples just before the big war between SDs and Two-Six; TBW could whip a Two-Six-Folk gang sign like no other white-girl. We met in Brother Preacherman’s church and hung out in the church parking-lot; many of my other “brothers” became Evangelical preachers. This makes me giggle.

[2] For which I had a real estate license, a securities agent license (Series 63 and Series 7), and state and federal insurance licenses.

[3] That lasted about two years. Considering what I learned in those years, I don’t regret a minute of it.

Hunter Gatherer: A Mabon Reflection (aka: I’m Getting Too Old For This)

Autumn is upon us. I can feel it in the air, the season is changing. The songs of the birds have changed, the bugly activity in the yard has a different hum about it. The crops are in their final throes, ripening more quickly than I can gather them. Daily, something new has taken on a different hue. The deep green lushness of two weeks ago has mellowed into softer shades of chartreuse and yellow; soon there will be orange and red. The air is lighter and moves more readily. Everything is a little more insistent: change.

Change insists itself in the Autumn because without it, we would be overrun. (See “The Bad Witch at the Watering Hole”.) We need a little of the death of winter to make way for the birth of spring. Makes sense in my head.

My body feels it differently. This insistence often feels like a push toward death – not the ultimate death, just a little death – and, being human, I avoid death.

Except that death brings rebirth, right?

Autumn sucks for me. While I love the changing of the seasons, don’tcha know that every very bad thing in my life has happened in September. I have lost a baby in September; I have lost some of the dearest people in my entire life in Septembers; and I have – several times – lost myself in Septembers. And some of those losses have clung to me deep into spring.

But at the same time, I have had a child in September; some of the dearest people to me were born in September; and each time I lose myself a little, I find something to make me stronger. (Don’t we all? It’s called “breathing-in-and-breathing-out.”)

But this year, I can only quote John Berryman: “Nothing very bad happen to me lately.” So I have had time to think. The kind of thinking that can only happen when reflective rather than reactive. This year, my September is simply filled with the dreads of Septembers past. And I, aging as the year blowing briskly into autumn, feel the harvest.

My life is devoted to others. I am, after all, an American woman. I am a teacher – spiritual and secular. I am a mother – biological and metaphorical. I am a wife, a daughter, a baby-sister. Farming, gardening, animal husbandry (what a dumb word), domesticity, and nurturing round out my days. Joyously.

Except in September.

Maybe it’s the holiday (Mabon, Oshogatsu, Vernal Equinox, Cituua, whatever you call it) that makes me remember that we indeed “reap what we have sown.” And I start to think about what I have sown. In a life dedicated to giving, I  thought I’d reap more.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be maudlin or morose – my life is very fulfilling.

It’s just September.

And I have had a life of “fighting” for what I want and “working” for what I have. When surrounded by the philosophy that says, “No one is going to give you anything, you have to take it for yourself,” I screw my face up a little. Is that really right?

The Bad Witch doesn’t want to take. I’m not a taker. But I do have needs. Of course I need food and shelter and clean clothes and sex (thanks to The Bad Husband for supplying these). But I also need quiet, deep-down-in-my-brain-so-I-can-pray-for-days-on-end quiet. I need dialogue; I get to the point where I do all the thinking and find that having an equal to bounce my ideas off of relieves the anxiety that I may, in fact, be insane – quite a lot. I need validation – for the same damned reason. How does one “take” these things? Mustn’t they simply be “given”?

I don’t pretend to know.

I am luck. I get these needs met. Regularly. But I sometimes feel like I have to hunt them down. And right now, I just want to gather. Just sit for a minute and reap. Not because I’m entitled or because the world owes me, but because I planted it (and because September makes me tired). And because I’m getting a little too old for this. So I find myself wondering:

How does one receive without taking?

Is there even an effing difference? In the end, is accepting the same as taking? Linguistically, one is passive while the other is active. But are there any spiritually passive harvests?

When I receive the bounty from my garden am I not taking it? Don’t I have to put on some gloves, grab some scissors and a bucket and get my hiney out in the dirt? When I receive affection from my animals am I not taking it? I can’t really accept horsie affection from my bedroom, now can I? No. I have to put on my boots, grab a halter and lead-rope, and schlep my behind out into the (these days) boggy pasture, right? Then I get some good horsie-lovin’. When I listen to the advice of my higher-being am I receiving or taking? While, I will admit, he often comes to me unbidden (as I’m sure my horse would if she were not constrained by electrified fencing), if I really want advice, I have to go looking for it. I have to put on my metaphorical shit-kickers and go out into the astral pasture and wrangle an angel, right?

So if you, too, find yourself having a damn shitty September and wonder why you aren’t getting your needs met, ask what you’ve sown. Then grab a pair of sheers and get out in the garden and reap it. For better or for worse. If you don’t like what you planted, the good news is that there is another cycle coming and you can always sow something new. (Preachy Witch has left the building, I promise.)

Which is what I plan to do. The next season sees room for some low maintenance hydroponics. A lot more gettin’ and a little less tendin’. (Though there is some gettin’ in the tendin’ for most of us.)

The Bad Witch is thinking: air ferns . . . zen rock garden . . . sand box (covered to keep the cat poop out of course). . .