Tales From the Wyrd

October Hearts

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Hello Darklings,

You know the old adages about best laid plans as well as I do, and if you are even marginally aware of the socio-political climate, the way the cosmos is working on us, and you are a human living life, you might identify with what I’m about to say:

THIS YEAR HAS BEEN A FUCKING SHITSHOW.

And yes, there’s a part of me that cringes at the vulgarity of all caps, a part of me that says, “Please don’t swear like that, Allison, you’ll turn some readers off.”

But honestly, fuck it.

I’m turned off.

I’m angry as hell.

I am exhausted and jittery with anxious energy.

I am void of creativity and too full of it at the same time.

It’s complicated.

I know you know what that’s like.

My favorite month has been less shiny this year than I would prefer, and I am exhausted from my personal life to the continuing nightmare that seems to be unfolding relentlessly around us. Whether it’s the pending ecological doom that so many folks seem to be just waking up to, or the fact that we continue to prop up white supremacy and patriarchal values in our sociopolitical structures (and personal lives), yeah, this year has been a shitshow and things have not gone as planned… and our publication has been affected.

To say anything else would be a lie and I am so done with lying to make it look like we have it all together. We don’t have it all together. We are grieving, we are processing, we are gathering enough energy to keep going, we are trying to pour love into our local communities to shore up our resilience once more.

Our team has been struggling to stay on top of our “real” jobs, and struggling to make ends meet in myriad ways, and we are sorry to have needed to step away from this space to calm the waters. All of us wish this could be our primary job, but the bills need paid, and the mouths need fed. But that doesn’t mean this community isn’t important. It is. Perhaps more important than it has ever been.

So we are going to try to make the next two and half weeks, through Samhain and the first of November as special as we can. We all need respite from this year and all its sorrow, so please do not think we are turning our heads from what is happening around us — we are not, we are fully diving into the cauldron to see what’s stirring.

But in that dark space we all need comfort. We all need light, dark and shadow to make our lives whole, so we will try to provide that in this space for you. We know we cannot stop, but sometimes we must rest in order to keeping moving forward, so we will provide respite when we can, and try to move forward as much as we can as well. It is all we can do.

Please, if you have work that celebrates witches: their strength, their resilience, the multifaceted ways they appear in the world, their revolutionary power to shift and change and to rise from the ashes, please, send it our way (see our guidelines for The Archives here).

Forward we go, arm in arm. All my love, dearest dark ones, all my love.

Allison

Steps of Ash and Seedling

Emily Linstrom is an American writer, artist, and Pagan soul residing in Italy. Her work has been featured in a number of publications including Three Rooms Press, Nailed Magazine, A Women’s Thing, The Wisdom Daily, and Carve Magazine. She was the first prize recipient of Pulp Literature Press's 2015 The Raven short story contest, and is a regular contributor for Sabat Magazine, The Outsider, and Quail Bell Magazine. Additionally, Linstrom is a member of the faculty at the School of Witchery. You can view her work at: www.emilylinstrom.com and follow her adventures on Instagram at betterlatethan_em 

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Revisiting the Robber Bridegroom

in Light of #MeToo

Fairytales always fail us in the end. Let me rephrase that: popular fairytales, the ones hushed up and bleached of their truth like Hollywood scandals, will inevitably fail us, and with a smile.

I grew up with princesses raped and impregnated in their century-long sleep by the kind of prince who breaks more than a spell. I took my romantic cues from cinder girls beholden to abusive stepfamilies until fairy godmothers took pity on them. I swam with lovesick mermaids willing to forfeit their voices so they could dance on knives and sleep on cushions outside royal bedrooms like obedient canine bitches. I believed too early and for too long that wishing and doing were the same thing.

Red riding hoods cleaned and pressed of their menstrual blood, virginal hair so long and promising that a girl’s very future could scale right up it, sanctimonious frogs overstepping boundaries in the name of you owe me—these were the earliest tales I knew, painted in broad strokes for picture books or else breaking into song and dance onscreen. Their birds-and-bees origins stripped away, they were my beautiful but bad education.

Being the youngest in my family, my inheritance naturally consisted of hand-me-downs: too-tight dresses worn by my much slimmer sister, books she’d read, and toys she’d discarded in favor of more grown-up diversions. Among these effects was a small, antiquated book called Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm, adorned with macabrely gorgeous illustrations by Walter Crane. God, it was medieval. Something sinister tinged the already yellowing pages; sex sidled up and down the margins, coyly daring you to go there where context was absent. I was both fearful and fascinated. Here at last were Disney’s delinquents.

Of them all, one particular tale seized and sang to me. It seemed more cautionary tale than fairy story; it had gore and a beating heart and my kind of wedding. As I grew older I misplaced it somewhere in the flotsam and jetsam of childhood, till the time came when remembering was a matter of life and death.

Not so long ago, as I was nearing the end of my twenties, I returned to the most vital lesson of my girlhood, that of the robber bridegroom. I pushed my way back to that house in the murky green (Tori Amos sings a line from Black-Dove in my head: ‘in that tiny, kinda scary house by the woods, by the woods…’) and the goblin men who dismembered me there, taking what was mine under whatever pretense justified their actions, while my allies-in-waiting held back in the shadows. I swore to myself, to my former selves, never to forget again.

*

Once upon a time a miller had a daughter, because of course he did. The poor are always cursed with daughters, right? Which is why they sell them to the first bidder who comes along, even if he’s weird and the daughter’s intuition tells her something is wrong, terribly wrong. She’ll try to tell her father but he’ll brush her off, because what does she know, her silly instincts and primal wisdom passed down through generations of mothers still fighting for her in her blood?

Her betrothed comes to call each week, and she lets down her guard a little more each time—but only a little. He’s handsome in that roguish way most girls have a weakness for at some point; there’s an air of mystery about him that heightens the already heady aroma of grown-up initiation. She’s intrigued and maybe even a little in love, but the voice inside persists: there’s something terribly wrong.

Her betrothed complains that she never visits him, that it’s always he who makes the journey from his home deep in the forest and why should that be? After all, once they are married she will be mistress of his house. He insists that she visit the following Sunday, and assures her that he will sprinkle ashes along the path so she does not lose her way. Ashes.

Nope, says the voice. And so she stuffs her pockets with lentils and peas, and scatters them over the ash trail she is to follow. Eventually she comes to a solitary house in the heart of the wood, large enough but disquietingly gloomy. From inside a cage suspended above the entrance, a bird trills:

“Turn back, turn back, thou pretty bride! Within this house thou must not bide, for here do evil things betide!”

Undeterred, the girl goes from room to room. The house is empty. When she reaches the cellar she is greeted by a very old woman seated by the hearth. She inquires about her bridegroom’s whereabouts.

Illustration by Walter Crane (1845-1915) for  Household Stories From The Collection Of The Brothers Grimm,  published in 1882

Illustration by Walter Crane (1845-1915) for Household Stories From The Collection Of The Brothers Grimm, published in 1882

"Oh, you poor child," says the old woman, "where did you come from? You are in a murderer's den. You think you are a bride soon to be married, but it is death that you will be marrying. Look: see that large kettle of water over the fire? Once you are in your bridegroom’s power he and his band of men will chop you to pieces without mercy, cook you, and eat you. If I do not show you compassion and save you, you are doomed."

The old woman hides the young girl behind a cask as footsteps shake the boards overhead.

"Be quiet as a mouse," she tells her. "Do not make a sound or move from this spot, or all will be over for you. Tonight when the robbers are asleep we will escape together, for I have long awaited this opportunity."

The robbers—murderers we must call them now, for there is honor even amongst thieves—enter the cellar, dragging a young woman with them. This woman begs for her life and this only excites them more. They jostle and taunt her, and finally force her to drink three goblets of wine: red, yellow, and white. This, we are told, causes her heart to break. The men strip her of her clothing, and while the devout Grimm brothers don’t go into explicit detail, I think we can correctly guess what they each take turns doing to her dying body. They then chop her up, and order the old woman to prepare them a feast. One of the men attempts to get at a ring on the dead woman’s finger, and in his frustration hacks the whole damn thing off. The finger jumps away and into the lap of the hiding girl. They make a fuss over searching for it, but the old woman tells them to sit down, that the finger isn’t going anywhere. They don’t notice the sleeping potion she slips into their wine.

Once the murderers have passed out, the two women lock arms and flee that house of horrors. (Though it’s never specified, I like to think they paused long enough to free that helpful little bird as well.) As predicted, the ashes have blown off the path, but the peas and lentils have sprouted in the moonlight.

The young girl and old woman tell no one of what has happened, and on the morning of the wedding the bride is dressed and brought before her bridegroom and his “best” men. She actually goes through with the ceremony, and during the banquet everyone takes turns telling stories for amusement. When it’s the young girl’s turn she recounts a dream that unspools into the very events that transpired that ill-fated night. She assures her visibly uncomfortable bridegroom that it was only a dream, my darling. She smiles, and pulls the ringed finger out of her pocket for all to see—especially her father.

The groom and his men are put to death right then and there, which abruptly ends the tale. Except I include my own addendum. The old woman and young girl become ever-after sidekicks, and go on to pursue a life in lieu of knights in shining armor that apparently was of no interest to the Grimm brothers.

*

The tale of the robber bridegroom, like many of its Bluebeard counterparts, is all about what it doesn’t come right out and say:

That not all parents protect their daughters, either by choice or ineptitude. And so we become as changelings, and will never really be theirs again.

That every old woman was once a young girl, and likely passed through a hell of her own. Let us be grateful that the crone concludes the Goddess triad, that there is hope—and help—even in subterranean cellars.  

That not all allies begin as such. That some stand by for years, complicit, defending the deeds of husbands, sons, brothers, fathers; that a lifetime of bad education may well take another to undo.

That all women are gifted with an inner voice, a bird that beats against the bars of its cage crying out to run! run! when there is danger, despite a world that is hellbent on silencing it.

That we can’t always know for certain who means us well and who means to do us grievous harm, that sometimes the only way to find out is to put our trust in that trail of ashes—and maybe line our pockets with reinforcements.

That to be brave and clever isn’t always possible when the moment demands it, that our courage and wits can absolutely fail us, or are no match for our assailants anyway. That sometimes we have no choice but to remain in those houses, those rooms, by force or stunted in fear, our bodies exposed and under threat but all the while determined to survive. That sometimes pieces are taken from us, and all we can do is grit our teeth and pray there will be enough to escape with.

I had to retrace my steps of ash and seedling back to that house, to that capable young girl and her better-than-a-fairy-godmother, because she is possible; to that bird still calling out from within. Help me, says the young girl. Listen to me, says the bird. Let me help you, says the old woman. There they are, waiting for me with the patience of folklore. They don’t chide me or demand apologies, nor do they reaffirm what is already a fact: that certain men throughout my life have harmed me beyond repair or pardon. That while I entered their dens out of love, or work, or chance, or friendship, sometimes willing, sometimes unwitting, what they chose to do will never, ever, be my fault.

No, they are there to be useful, to be allies, without judgement or you-should-haves. They come armed with love and roofies to roofie the roofiers, inviting them with a smile to their own blood weddings.

When you and I are ready we too can lock arms and leave that house in the dark wood, that too many girls must venture into and fight their way out of. I am here, because I was there. And I will go back for you, whoever you are, again and again and again.

The End


No more. No more. 

H.K. Jedrzynski is a bi-sexual cis yarn witch who tries to write LGBTQ Urban Fantasy and lives with her girlfriend and her boyfriend in Las Vegas, NV. Together they have three children, three cats, and a dog.

Fury and wine pulse through veins so long unused that the traces under the skin had all but disappeared. Words like "Fuck" and "Off" screaming through red streams, igniting the soul.

The body, once dead, now moving of its own volition, the flames burning away the past, cauterizing the gaping wounds of heartache and torment.

Ashes, the remains of tattered emotional scars, rise from the heated skin, swirling, creating a dark cloud of Self Preservation.

Accusations of selfishness and declarations of eternal adoration, cajoling, stabbing, meant to hit insecurities with lasting, detrimental impact, are repelled by ash and flame, and alcohol.

No more will abuse control the body like it was animating a corpse.

No more will the Master of Cruelty have a foothold in this sacred vessel.

I am stirring, burning, sacred, and finally unapologetic for refusing to be used by the weight of criticism and derision and pain dressed as love.

Stumbling out of the dark and into polyamory (non fiction) (Transition) (Names have been changed by the request of the persons discussed)

A few months ago I was talking with my spouses about our worst memories, and I fell into my past, becoming horribly depressed trying to decide which was my worst memory. I’ve lived lifetimes of misery - first with my parents and then my ex husband, all of which were abusive. My brain provided a montage of horrific memory after horrific memory and I started to drown in them.

In an effort to find a life vest, I started of list of happy moments to fight my worst memories and spent time dwelling on the brightest spots - my counterspells, my torches in the dark.

Memories of holding my babies while they slept, of hearing their first words, watching them become independent little monsters. That day I had terrible bug bites all over my calves and stuck my leg on my boyfriends lap and told him to scratch for me. And he did, carefully around the bites in order to not make them worse. When I was sad about my kids having gone to their father’s and my girlfriend knocked on my door and asked to come in. I was laying across my bed and she asked if I always laid funny and I told her I do what I want. And then she asked if she could join me and my heart leapt. We laid there, with my head on her shoulder, talking about...US. Something that hadn’t existed until that moment. We spoke it into existence. The way it feels when my boyfriend kisses his wife goodbye, and then me too.

But the memory that burns brightest, that lets me summon my patronus to fight the dementors of post traumatic stress disorder, the counterspell that I have used the longest is this:

We had a girl’s weekend we had titled Sappho Extravaganza. The four of us had not spent time together, just us, ever. I was in the process of leaving my abusive ex and had never spent a night away from my children before. Only Luz and I had children and were married, she left her child and spouse at home too.

Reva had met Luz online years before and introduced her to Deirdre. Eventually Luz moved to Las Vegas and the three set up house - as friends. I met Deirdre at school - we took a Goddess Traditions class together at the community college and became family quickly. She introduced me to the other two. That was twelve years ago. Luz and I had slowly been getting closer over the last few years and I had developed one mad crush on her.

So when we checked into the two bedroom suite in June, I was excited and nervous. We got all of our things into the room. Luz and I walked to the market in the hotel lobby for smokes - we weren’t really smokers, but it seemed like something we would want considering the amount of alcohol we had brought. Walking next to her in the heat, the fragrance of the jasmine floating around us, chatting about nothing and about to begin a three day adventure was pure magic. It felt good. Felt right.

We got back and everyone had dinner - Deirdre made steaks and they were so good. We watched a movie, listened to EDM while coloring with markers and colored pencils. We talked about our First Times and Deirdre took a shower then walked around naked, looking like a goddess - soft and lovely.

We poured drinks and then drank them. Luz and I went out on the balcony to smoke. Buzzed and giggling, we held hands across the patio table, not looking at each other, the energy building between us. And then Reva came outside and we let go.

We had a fantastic time, children at a slumber party with no adults and a plethora of beer. I ended up giving all three of them back massages just to have and excuse to touch Luz some more. At 4 am, everyone started to crash. Reva to one of the bedrooms, Deirdre to a couch in another part of the suite. Luz and I stayed up on the other couch, now pulled out into a really uncomfortable bed, talking, inches from each other. And then she passed out too.

I stayed there, laying across the pull out bed, head level with Luzs thighs and staring out of the glass doors, past the patio, to the twinkling lights of the city below. I layed there, staring as the sun started to rise and the world was awash in grey light.

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It is the most beautiful thing I had ever seen: the sun slowly emerging over the curve of her hip, her black pants and studded belt hugging her curves exquisitely. Luz was glorious. Beyond her, the scroll work of the balcony and the light coming in over the mountains gave the impression of a black and white photo. I wanted that moment to last forever, to lie there and feast upon the beauty of the moment. I tried to take a photo with my mind. I felt more at peace than I had in years.

When the weekend ended, we went back to our lives. My ex husband spent three hours yelling at me for having actually gone on the girls weekend, telling me I was selfish and had abandoned my family for people who didn’t love me. I called Luz, crying. I held the memory of that sunrise in my heart. I existed through the next three weeks.

And then I moved in with Luz and her husband and their son. I brought a dog to a house of cats. I brought two more children to into the life of an only child. But they made room for us, in their lives, their home, and their hearts.

They knew how I felt for Luz before I moved in. There were no secrets. And eight months later, the three of us adults are in a relationship together. I’m more in love with Luz than ever before. I love her husband too. We work. We function. We are raising our babies together and the dog still chases the cats, and life is hectic and messy and deeply content.

And on bad days - days when the PTSD is haunting me and I feel like I’m shattering into a thousand pieces- that memory of the sun coming up over her hip and the smell of jasmine counters the trauma, fights it, beats it back into the corner of my mind where the abuse and cruelty belong.

The Key

Shawn is a kitchen witch, poet, and plant enthusiast who loves pies, books, ancient ruins, and old houses. She is also a founding member of the Hex Rated podcast. You can find her poetry on Instagram @blackbirdwyrd and more of her writing at pocketfulofvenom.com.

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As I wound my way down the Silver Strand Bikeway on Coronado Island, California, desperately wishing I had chosen to have, say, A BIKE rather than try to walk it on that unseasonably warm September day, I came across a message in chalk on the cement pathway: 

You Are the Key

That message, no matter who had written it, was for me.  Right then.  No one else. 

I had cried the moment I got to San Diego Bay.  I had cried with relief, with anticipation, with longing.  Who am I kidding, I cried a little when I got off the plane and smelled the amazing fragrance of California air, filled with flowers and sea breeze and promise.  I don’t know exactly what promise smells like, mind you, but the air was filled with nothing other than magic.  Every inch of my skin was tingling with what I knew to be true – I somehow belonged there. 

As a person who most of the time has felt like she belonged exactly nowhere, this explained my tears.  I have spent most of my time on this planet trying to be someone other than myself to feel like I belonged.  This often meant being more than just one different person – I needed to be one person for each different group of friends, another person for my family, and yet still another for work.  It was exhausting, it led to excessive and destructive behavior, and more than anything else, was a fracturing of my soul.  A soul I did not love or accept. 

The last four years have been a discovery of self – no rediscovery, because there was never an initial discovery in the first place.  After driving home late one night inebriated with my doggo in the car, I felt an outpouring of fear and remorse.  That feeling was replaced the next morning with the knowledge that it was high time I started a new chapter – one which did not include the cloud-ridden haze of operating under the spell of alcohol.  I never did use it as an occasional pastime.  I used it as one would use Thor’s fucking hammer to obliterate feeling.   ALL feeling.  That’s not to say I was a round-the-clock drinker – I wasn’t.  Yet.  When I woke up that next morning though, something inside me had flipped.  I’m a lucky one, so far.  No relapse.  No need to even touch alcohol now, because I know it’s not a solution for any of my problems.  Feelings, at first, were weird, hard, terrifying, impossible to name.  I’m getting better at this, but it’s a process.   This process has led me on a crazy, unexpected, and truly amazing journey, and it led me directly to that message in chalk on a Coronado Island bike path.  The message also included a chalk drawing of an actual key, and as I have developed an ongoing dialog with Hecate, this came as no surprise.  When I ask for signs, I usually get them, and the signs are most always incredibly, hilariously sarcastic:  YOU ASKED FOR A SIGN.  IS THIS CLEAR ENOUGH? 

It was.  In less than three months, San Diego will be my new home.  My husband and I are leaving Texas, where I grew up and have lived permanently for the last twenty years.  I have built a life here – parts of that life are mired in pain, regret, and sorrow, but other parts have been exhilarating and beautiful.  It has hit me only in the last few years that my deeper purpose is to integrate those experiences, both good and bad, to render myself and my soul complete and whole.  Everything – getting sober, taking chances, exploring my thoughts and feelings to whatever depths I am willing to plumb – is an act of integration.  Having this knowledge offers a new perspective; one that welcomes change while still fearing it, but knowing that I, all at once, shape this change as well as do not control it at all. 

That concept is hard to grasp, even now.  How can one not control anything but still shape the change in a life?  What I have begun to realize is that regardless of what I do, the universe will ultimately be the deciding force.  I can wield my power and magic as I see fit for any given circumstance, and I believe that the energy emitted from that exercise has value and purpose – but the natural and supernatural world that I move in has superiority over anything and everything I do.  It’s almost like, if allowed, we can work in tandem with the universe, as long as we are ok with letting go of our need to manufacture whatever we deem intrinsic – be that safety, money, love, et cetera.  I can manifest all day and night, if I realize that whatever is in my highest good will be the outcome.  I am sure you too have discovered that whatever is in your highest good may not always be the thing you think it should be. Or what you WANT it to be. 

But I digress.  This esoteric plane of thought can be brought into a more tangible, concrete example:  Last September, I made a trip to San Diego and fell head over heels in love with the area and with the feelings that were inside me while being there.  I know it is “just a place,” but it offered much more of some of the life qualities I seek.  I made baby steps to start putting energy into the universe that whispered, “I want to be here.”  The whisper became a voice, the voice became a shout.  However, I was not making any headway in a job search or a plan to physically GET there.  Suddenly in February of this year, an offer came for my husband.  There it was – nothing was perfect or ideal or the way I thought it would look, but there it was.  Once we decided to take that offer and run with it regardless of my situation with work, things just started falling into place.  I had no control.  Yet I shaped it.  I continue to shape it.  Is it messy?  Absolutely.  Am I frightened?  Of course.  I am physically leaving friends and family who have all been necessary for all the growth and progress I have made.  Through all of this, so many of those in my life that have been beside me continue to be right there, cheering us on, and wishing the best for us in our new home-to-be.  My physical presence or lack thereof will not change the bonds we have established.  Thanks to the amazing power of technology, I will still be able to talk to them, to see them on a chat.  It does not replace their hugs or their warmth, but they will be there for me. 

The transition of a geographic move leads me to examine other recent transitions – from destructive behavior to healthy behavior; from denying my soul to filling it; from never really pondering my actions or reactions to digging deep to discover the why of how I behave.  I cannot live inside myself without also examining the larger world around me – I am moved to tears then action by suffering and I am in constant awe of the beauty which can be found if I just take the time to look.  Once we give in to the idea that nothing is constant or permanent, that all is change, we can begin to accept it without judgement and go forward with intention.  The energy for all of humanity I want to emanate is that of examination of change, and how to move with the tide rather than against. 

Cypress

L. Harwyn is a genderfluid writing witch and intersectional feminist. Harwyn received her BA in creative writing with honors from Mills College, Oakland, California and attended Scottish Universities’ International Summer School for creative writing in Edinburgh, Scotland. Harwyn has been published by Tethered by Letters, Shoreline of Infinity, Nonbinary Review and elsewhere.

I sat under the cypress tree, looking out over the sand dunes, hot tears puckering my skin. It was October 2017, less than two weeks after our home burned down in a devastating California wildfire. I was mourning the loss of every little thing in our house and the innocent belief that climate change could be avoided. There was no doubt in my mind that the 80 degree temperatures in October, coupled with incredible winds, was responsible for the fire that destroyed thousands of homes and took lives from our community.

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The world was crashing down through the top of my head, like being pulled under one of the distant waves I could hear hushing and humming against the rocky shoreline. Behind me, stood the cypress tree, hairy limbs and perfect, round seedcones swaying above me. The branches creaked like rafters or sails and I found myself becoming quiet and listening to them scrape and groan against one another. 

I'd been working for months on acquainting myself better with the natural world and my own ancestry and woke one night from a fevered dream about the word "haegtessa," an Old English word meaning "hedge rider." I was beginning to walk this path with somewhat more certainty, collecting books and letting them sit boldly on my bookshelf, talking with more people about my beliefs and practices. So, when I looked at the cypress tree, I let my mind focus on the living being behind me, supporting my back while I wept. Looking at the rough, dark wood, I felt that I was sitting at a portal to the Otherworld and that this was an Otherworld tree. I felt comforted and whatever communion I experienced sitting on the soft bed of needles was incredibly calming and I found myself returning over the next few days, the pain in my heart seeping away as I sat under those low-hanging branches.

Thinking I was getting to know the tree behind my grandparents' house a bit better, I thought I should do some research on the cultural symbolism and beliefs about cypress trees.

If you're a magical person, this has probably happened to you before but I'm always somehow simultaneously validated and surprised when something I uncover in research confirms a magical experience I've had. When I looked up Cupresses sempervirens, I learned that it is planted the world over in graveyards as a tree of mourning. I had been drawn out to that lone shape in the sand dunes by sadness and had sat under a tree that has comforted mourners for countless centuries. What an incredible connection.

But my eyes widened as I scrolled further and read an anecdote, a few lines at the bottom of the Wikipedia page, under 'Other Characteristics.'

"In July 2012, a forest fire for five days devastated 20,000 hectares of forest in the Valencian village of Andilla. However, amid the charred landscape, a group of 946 cypress trees about 22 years old was virtually unharmed, and only 12 cypress were burned. Andilla cypresses were planted by the CypFire European project studying various aspects of the cypresses, including fire resistance."

I felt my heart quicken and that immeasurable sense of wonder that floods me when I feel like I've brushed against the supernatural. After losing our home to the flames, imagining all the ways that our things bubbled and boiled and fluttered and burned, after worrying about breathing in toxic smoke and the stories coming out of those who hadn't made it, friends who had narrowly escaped...I had sat down and prayed and wept under a tree with the ability to withstand and survive fire.

These are the moments when magic seems so obvious to me that I can't even feign sheepishness for the mainstream, wider world. There are mysterious things moving under the surface of what we know. The earth and something in my own knowing, somehow, were working together to heal my loss. I met the cypress halfway and she offered her medicine of grieving and protection from fire as only she could.

I felt renewed after this discovery. Every sense and emotion was heightened by shock and fear and worry in the days after the fire and this spiritual connection too was brighter, and more intense. At the peak of my grief, I took a chance and sat alone under a windswept tree. The swaying of its limbs lulled my heartache into quietness for a moment and maybe something in the cypress said, 'I know how to survive fire, and I know how to soothe sadness. Stay as long as you need." And I did.

ALL WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN THIS POST IS COPYRIGHT 2018 L. Harwyn. DO NOT REUSE WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM Lauren. VIOLATORS WILL BE HEXED. 

Listening in Color

Born with synesthesia, Deborah experiences color when she hears music. As a way to find healing and peace in her life she started creating mandalas based on the colors she sees while listening to a song. This not only became a cool gift idea for family and friends, but also helped her to manage her bi-polar diagnosis and the unpredictability of being a military spouse. Find Deborah at: @debbalynn on Instagram and on her Redbubble Shop.

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It’s happening again, but I can’t tell. I feel alive. I feel like I see colors the way they are meant to be seen. I feel like I can see the air breathing. The wind hums with my heartbeat and the trees sound like they’re singing just for me. I want to do yoga, I want to clean our house, I want to buy plants and completely re-do our yard. That part never lasts long, unfortunately. I wake up the next morning, and I feel so much anger it is scalding me and I am burning from the inside out. The world feels suffocating. There is not enough time, there is too much to do, and everything feels out of place. I am fighting with my husband, but I don’t know why. I am screaming and crying. A silent part of me watches as it’s happening, confused and upset. Suddenly, the angry part recognizes the silent part, and I am filled with terror. There are two of me! Which one am I?

In a panic, I put myself in the shower. I’m hysterical now, climbing out of the anger and into shame. I get out of the shower, and the world has lost its color. For some reason, I can hear every little sound, and it is deafening. My dog greets me in the hallway. I can’t pet him because his breathing is so loud it makes me nauseous. I open my bedroom door, and suddenly I am surrounded by thousands of sparkling fireflies. It is a forest of streaming, blinking, hauntingly beautiful golden lights. I reach out my hand hoping one will land on my finger even though I know they’re not really there. I hear a low, gentle whisper, “You’ve gone too far. You’ve shattered your reality, and now you’re stuck between worlds.” A shudder goes down my spine. Who said that? Was that me or my creator? I climb into bed praying the psychosis will pass and then spend the next week clawing my way out of a deep depression.

I was diagnosed bipolar several years ago, though I believe I’ve had it for many years. I didn’t start experiencing rapid-cycling and psychosis until my late 20’s and thankfully, I knew right away I needed help. When they said I needed medication, I gratefully accepted and thought that was the end of it, but it was really just the start. I had to uncover my triggers, learn about my biology, and dig into my ugliness. The latter being the hardest. We all have ugliness inside, the shadow self. Most of us bury it and try to hide it from others. When you are bipolar, that ugliness is rather close to the surface and always trying to gnaw it’s way out. It can feel like a portion of yourself is continuously striving to betray you.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot. I now know loud unexpected sounds, and abrupt changes in routine can trigger me. I also can’t have less than 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep or eat a lot of sugary foods, otherwise I risk a manic episode. Most importantly, I need daily healing rituals and a tender, empathetic approach for dealing with my shadow. For a while, I was content with my strolls through the garden and bubble baths, but eventually wanted something more creative to help with healing. This led me to start making art with another one of my conditions, Synesthesia.

Synesthesia is a neurological condition that creates a crossed response to stimuli. There are many different kinds, but I happen to have the one that makes you see color when you hear music. It’s unrelated to my bipolar disorder, but a little reminder that brain chemistry can be imperfect but still beautiful. As a way to heal and create sacred space, I started using the colors I saw in music to create mandalas. The process was so repetitive and ritualistic, but still fantastically creative that my mind cleared and my spirit soared.

I now run a small business on the side creating mandalas for myself as well as for others who happen to wonder what their favorite song looks like. It’s been a way to not only heal myself but share my healing with others. I am also happy to say I’m (mostly)  stable in my bipolar disorder, but only because I work at it every single waking moment of my life. My best advice to anyone else who has mental illness is to find your medicine, and by that, I don't mean just pills. We are mind, body, and spirit and each of those things need different tools for healing. You have to discover what heals all three and seek it out in every way that you can.  

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Words and art belong to Deborah and are copyrighted. Do not repost, reuse or in any way reproduce without Deborah's express permission. 

Requiem For A Dream

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Erin Duffy Osswald is a creatrix practicing the fine and healing arts. She leads sacred circles, celebrates rites of passage and guides personal spiritual metamorphosis. She is a ceremonialist specializing in Earth Medicine Practice. Erin enjoys a reverent life under the Big Sky of north central Montana. She writes at The Telling of the Bees.

I broke my own heart recently by falling head over heels in love with what I thought was the perfect idea. This great love propelled me to take an enormous chance and it convinced me so thoroughly of it’s beauty that I never really believed I could fail, but the risk didn’t pay off and I floundered in my denial for longer than I enjoy admitting. I was so lost because in the end I couldn’t bear to bury my dead dream. I cried through an entire season until one morning I woke up and somehow started to gently let go. I wish I could say I was propmpted by something heroic, but in actuality the pain I had been carrying was crushing me. I had to set it down. I was legitimately terrified by the emotional landscape I found myself in and for weeks I wrestled with one thought, “What in the hell have I done to myself?!” Initially, the concept of ever taking another risk seemed impossible to me, so I struggled for months learning how to take my lumps (accept my loss) and still get back in the saddle again (eye on the prize, darlin). If I was going to come out of this emotional nightmare of my own creation intact, I was going to have to mine the lessons out of my loss.

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Courage was required to take the risk and courage is what it has taken to heal my bruised heart. The root of the word itself comes from the latin Cor, meaning heart and does it ever take heart to live! Yes, we literally need a heart to pump oxygen rich blood through our body to keep our organs functioning and our bodies alive, AND we need it to be brave enough to keep showing up for LIVING, especially when we’ve taken some hard fucking tumbles. Our job is learning to tend the flame of our heart artfully and expertly so we do not consume ourselves with too much passion or snuff ourselves out through inattention. Having bravely searched out the trick to this balance, my priority remains keeping that flame burning slow and low in the aftermath of what the master class in life I just put myself through taught me.

There were days during my depression and recovery period when I just wanted to retreat to a nice hidey-hole and never come out again. My grief was only outpaced by my shame. Not only did I have a gaping hole in my chest (and by extension, my life,) there were also a handful of people who even knew about the risk I had taken. I thought, for certain, that risk taking and BIG living were no longer options for this gun-shy lady until I realized that I’m probably not old enough to be dead yet. This is the kind of thing one can learn in a hidey-hole because there is literally nothing in there except fear, delusions and mean voices who say the stupidest, most untrue things.

Somewhere along this journey, by the grace of the Gods I decided that I would continue to show up and feel and be and do this thing called life. That I wouldn't shrink from opportunities to grow and learn. I doubled down on my commitment to keep embracing the life I have and quit holding on so tightly to the life I’ve been dreaming of. I arrived at a place of trust in the unfolding of my process and in the knowing of my inherent bad-assery (one more level up on my shadow dancing). In short, I decided that my heartbreak would not break me and somehow I would eventually be ok. I was changed by this experience, but I lived to tell and the nuance I've gained makes my life fuller. Not easier, but, richer.

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It was only natural that the careful tending of my own heart would become paramount this past summer as the season of the Lion unfurled. The most precious seed I had planted at Imbolc did not sprout and I would not be rewarded with it's harvest this year. Not everything we sow will actually grow, this is sometimes the way of things and disappointment is always an appropriate response. The brave energy of Leo encouraged me to share my full heart, the joy and the sorrow and it reassured me that others vulnerability endearing.

Slowly, I began to open up about my grief, first only to myself, but eventually I could admit my pain to others. As the sun’s arc drifted south and traversed through the zodiac I was delivered, predictably, to a healing crisis as the sun entered the sign of the Virgin Priestess. It was during the month of the Virgo sun that I came to the safe harbor of acceptance. Casting out denial was imperative to my ability embrace beauty and possibility again which, thankfully returned as my sense of balance was being restored as the season of Libra dawned.

My heart has recovered enough to appreciate the ALL of what I have put myself through this year. As I make preparations for Samhain these hard won lessons serve as my strongest motivation to release my grasp when I feel myself reaching for a tentacle of my dead dream to hold on to. This year of bitter disappointments comes to a close and I remind myself it opens again just as quickly. I clear the space in my heart, made stronger by knowing how just how far it can stretch, and I cultivate faith that my heart's desire will somehow come to pass. It will be safe to risk again if I truly, fully, deeply and totally let go of how my most cherished dream could manifest. I know that in clearing the detritus out of my emotional space I make the way for infinite possibility, but if I hold on to stagnation, nothing new can ever grow. It is a paradox, but one I have faith in. I believe in the magic of the cycle of transmutation, from death all new life is reborn.  

To never have risked at all would not have saved my precious heart from breaking. That would have only been a slow and cowardly way to let myself down irredeemably, ultimately leading to a far greater loss, that of my own self respect. No, I did not hit the mark I was carefully aiming for and it’s arguable that my grasp exceeded my reach in the pursuit of this deep desire, but if I had never even tried I could have spent the rest of my life wondering about so many things. In the end, there is solace in knowing the outcome even if it wasn’t the one I wished for. It is no small thing to say I tried.

ALL WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY IN THIS POST IS COPYRIGHT 2018 ERIN DUFFY OSSWALD. DO NOT REUSE WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION FROM ERIN HERSELF. VIOLATORS WILL BE HEXED.