Experiencing the song

Cat Chapin-Bishop, guest blogging at the Wild Hunt, made a fantastic post about ‘why don’t we write more about what we experience’, and less about the mechanics of how we do things.

She’s right. It’s something I struggle with, too, because I describe the essential tension in my religious life as an Air-Water problem: I am inclined to be intellectual, to be hands-off and analytical, to look at information and knowledge, and books, and words, but sometimes have problems diving in and experiencing and flowing and feeling. (I come from British parents who rarely expressed emotion: I learned a lot of it very deliberately as a college student and adult.)

It’s no surprise that my strongest primary deity affinity is to water deities (and a specific one in particular, but in general? I’m fond of them.) It’s taken me several years to get a grip on this, but it’s been good for me, every step of the way.

In honor of Cat’s post, a few memories and experiences of my own. A couple I want to come back to in later posts, but a glimpse now will give some idea.

My first Pagan ritual, ever was MIT’s Samhain ritual in 1997. I was still Catholic at the time, and it was a particularly bad year for remembering my father (who died Nov. 3rd, 1990). A friend invited me to join her at MIT’s ritual. I went from playing piano for the Catholic mass that evening to getting on a bus to meet her.

I don’t truly remember the ritual. The memories are lost in the twist of the spiral dance, the endless harmonies of a hundred singing voices, in the careful step in the dim light down into their basement chapel, thick with incense smoke. Part of my brain, even then, was comparing it to what I’d read about, and to the rituals I knew – but part of it was far, far away, dancing, and singing, and tasting the sweet tang of the pomegranate.

My experience now tells me it was a beautifully done large public ritual. But the important part is that it worked. It helped, it eased, it did things deep inside me that I didn’t know needed doing.

Some years later, in the summer of 2001, I went to my first Sabbat with the group I initiated with and trained with, and have only recently left.

We were outside, in a valley in one of the local city parks, away from the crowds, at the height of midsummer. I remember a little about the ritual (and I took notes on it at the time). But what I remember, what sticks with me, years later, is the rainstorm. One minute it was clear, then cloudy, then there were drops of rain.

And then, this being Minnesota, there was a downpour, three minutes of hail, and then everything cleared up and blew away. The ground was damp, but barely muddy, but the shimmer and the shine on the grass was breathtaking. It felt fresh and clean and gorgeous, and like anything in the world was possible.

After ritual, I remember sitting on the ground, and talking to people in the group about anything and nothing in particular, of sharing food and laughter, and knowing that – whatever else happened – some of these people were going to be very important to me.

There have, in fact, been many more rituals, with many more stories. I’ll leave most of those for another time.

Two dear friends, one of them my HP, and the other a widely-respected teacher with a rather different approach to some of what we do – got married. It was the best wedding I’ve ever been to. (Granted, I haven’t been to a wide range, but this – it’s hard to top.) Amazing people, and incredible amounts of love, and fantastic food, and people honestly and truly joyful to be there.

It also made a decision much easier for me.

I remember sitting at the table over potluck afterwards, talking to people I knew (because I did not – and I regret this – have energy to go be social with all the fabulous people I did not know). My husband and I had been seeing if our relationship was fixable, and in the midst of all that joy, and all that love, and all that community, I looked around, and knew my marriage was over. That while it had some good in it, it lacked that essential spark and joy.

What amazes me is that it didn’t hurt. I didn’t even feel like I should have done more, or that there was anything I needed to do. It was just done. I was just done. It was time for it to be done.

Moments in the kitchen: Many of my fondest memories of the last two years are of a particular kitchen table. For over a year, I’d meet L (who was first a dedicant the same year I was, and who is now my co-conspirator in the shiny new coven) at her house, to pick her up before an evening meeting with the group. In her kitchen – which glows with light and looks out on her garden – we’ve drunk cups of tea, snacked, and talked about everything, nothing, and the whole scope of the world in between.

I come away from every one of those conversations refreshed, renewed, delighted with some new insight or idea or concept or way of looking at the world, because although we have very similar training, and while we have a very similar take on the power of discussion and conversation, we actually have some fairly different views of how the universe works. Doesn’t matter: we can still work in ritual very well together.

My Craft life has brought me a number of relationships and people I treasure and love – but this one is particularly near and dear my heart, because there’s nothing else quite like it.

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