Full Circle

I’ve spent the last 30+ years trying to define my spiritual path.

I never was a traditional Christian, even as a kid. I felt like I was going through the motions while not fully understanding what the motions meant.

I had a really religiously confusing childhood. My father was a completely non-religious former Catholic, but he put me in Catholic school. Kindergarten through second grade. Formative years. I went to a staid Methodist church with my grandparents on Sunday and mass at school on Fridays. The thing that I noticed was the fact that the Methodists ignored Mary except for at Christmas while Mary was venerated at school every day, and Mary Magdalene, a “bad woman,” was a saint at school.

That conflict probably started the conflict in my mind that led me out of church. At school, we prayed to a beautiful Lady. There was a shrine to Her next to the playground. The stained glass windows in the church, the beautiful, European-style old church, featured women saints. The walls had little alcoves depicting the Stations of the Cross. My grandparents’ church was boring, except for when my grandfather got bored and started drawing little doodles on the notebook he kept in his breast pocket. The doodles kept me and my sisters entertained and relatively quiet.

At home, we had no religion, except for the holidays when my grandfather said grace before dinner. To this day, none of us can remember his prayer. If we’re ever called upon to pray before a meal, we just say, “What PawPaw said. Amen.”

My father couldn’t afford two private school tuitions, so when it was time for my middle sister to start kindergarten, my father put me in public school with my sister. It was a dreadful rending. I lost my best friend, my kind teachers, some of whom were nuns, the amazing old church, the shrine to Mary, the female saints. I didn’t understand the public school world. I was bullied. I don’t remember anything of the playground except that there was a big field behind the school, the grass was tall, and there was a hillock some distance from the school. Every day at recess, I started walking towards the hillock. Every day, I got about halfway there before recess was over and a teacher called me back. Now I wonder if that was a fairy hill, and that’s why I never reached it.

Third and fourth grade were misery. Then my father abandoned us and my grandfather put me and my sisters–I had two by then–in private school. In my grandfather’s mind, private school meant higher education. He didn’t know what went on at the school. We were taught that Catholics weren’t Christians and were hell-bound. I was a great reader, thanks to my grandfather, and I was already reading fantasy and science fiction. That led me to mythology, folklore, and witchcraft.

The books gave me back female divinity while the school tried to scare me away from it. Within a couple of years, I was reading about Gnosticism and Mary Magdalene while awkward practicing Wicca. I no longer practice or study Wicca, but I still have those old books, and I’m so very glad that the study of Wicca became the study of paganism and witchcraft.

And then I got angry with my Goddesses because I didn’t heal from a devastating illness that took my ability to become a mother. I married a man who was a Buddhist. I, of course, became enamored of Kwan Yin. He was a severe Zen Buddhist and mocked anything that elevated the feminine. I came to the point that I gave up Buddhism and tried to go back to paganism. He wouldn’t let me. A Divine Feminine scared him. His family was Protestant, his former in-laws Catholic. I went to a religious store and bought a rosary and a figurine of Mary. Rosa Mistica. I still have both. We didn’t talk about religion.

I left him when his abuse went from verbal to controlling to sexual to physical to life-threatening. Back home in North Carolina, it is best and safest to appear to be some variety of Christian, but Catholics still are not considered Christians. I continued to study Gnosticism until I got so confused that I stopped. I remembered Wicca, paganism, and witchcraft. I stepped back into that world. I was drawn to goddesses from the Irish and Welsh pantheon. It felt right. It still does. It is partially my heritage. It resonates in my bones. I started studying re-constructionist paganism. I tried to follow the Old Ways and it felt right, but constricted at the same time.

I met a few goddesses with whom I connected. I learned so much about goddess archetypes. I met a witch online whose passion was Tarot. I had the Rider-Waite deck. In discussions with her, I became more interested in Tarot and oracle cards. She told me not to assign specific names to the goddess image I placed on my altar so that I could call upon any Goddess using one featureless statue.

That did not sit right with me. I had already connected with Rhiannon and The Morrigan (I do not choose difficult goddesses, they come to me). I was also still interested in Gnosticism and Mary Magdalene. She dismissed that. I tried to. I tried to put Mary and Mary Magdalene away in a box, actually a box, with my little figurines and rosary. I spent the last almost four years building a strictly pagan practice. I used my container gardening skills to create a small meadow surrounded by trees, a holy place where I could go and be alone with my Goddesses.

The meadow remains and becomes better each year, but I’ve been driven inside by asthma and hostile neighbors. I created a little “outdoor” space on my big altar/shrine that takes up my dresser. I fell in love with an odd green statue of Mary that seems to me very pagan and reminds me of the Mary at the church school of my childhood. I have also, over the years, collected many angels, large and small. Please understand that, because I can so seldom get outside, my altars are outside to me. I bring in leaves and sticks covered with lichen and six clover to put in a vase because I can’t spend the day outside wandering or sitting on my fallen tree.

I spoke on my Twitter account about my inability to shake Mary Magdalene. Someone suggested that She might want to stay with me and recommended a book, Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God by Caitlin Matthews. I’ve started reading this book and immediately pieces began clicking in my mind. I look at my black angels and see the Black Virgin. I look at my green Mary and see the Great Mother. I see specific goddesses and archetypes (the Crone, the Cailleach,) the Fair Folk, the Queen of the May. In the little angel I finally took off the grave of my cat, Mika, seven years after Mika’s death, I see the Goddess of the Underworld. In a remarkably non-religious angel, I see Arianrhod transforming into a tawny owl. And there is Nemetona, or perhaps Rauni, emerging from a tree trunk. Does it matter? I thought that Nemetona came to me at that shrine to Mary when I was six years old. Maybe it was Mary, or Mary Magdalene, or The Goddess. I no longer believe in a strict reconstructionist hierarchy, although the knowledge contained in books about the subject is priceless. I find myself believing in a Mother Goddess, Gaia, someone who doesn’t carry the burden of a specific mythology.

I also still devote myself to Rhiannon and The Morrigan, who stand side-by-side on their own altar. And yet a tall Black Madonna and a relatively tiny black angel/fairy stand side-by-side on my big altar.

I read. I work spells. I follow each day’s astrological information. I have recently started studying Tarot and oracle cards in earnest. I am working on a story about a witch who isn’t The Chosen One and only has the powers she’s developed through years of study and practice. I’m tentatively working on art that might possibly one day evolve into an oracle deck.

I did the hardest thing this week. I placed a small statue of Kwan Yin on my altar. My ex-husband terrorized me into rejecting anything related to Buddhism. I altered a mala for Her. I put a jade pendant in Her image onto a rosewood mala. I’ve come full circle. I regret so much my physical inability to spend hours outdoors, but I celebrate moving past old fears, and making sacred spaces inside that feel like outside.

“You Can’t Be Poor If You Can Afford . . .”

. . . books, pets, a haircut, cosmetics, a hamburger, Chinese food, a DVD, clothes from a dollar store or thrift store, a gift on a holiday.

On this Easter Sunday morning, a lot of self-satisfied, false Christians, American evangelicals, are sitting in church preening. They’ll either go home to huge dinners or go out to eat. They’ll tithe in church, of course, because passing the collection plate is a huge see-me thing (my grandfather used to give me and my two sisters 50 cents each) but will they be charitable on Monday? Or Tuesday? Or next weekend?

Not a chance.

I have a big problem with American evangelicals, personally and generally. I live surrounded by them. I’ve tried to keep up superficial friendships with them just to get by, but I’ve had my life upended by one too many and now I’m done with them. They lie, dishonesty is second nature, they steal from the government (audit one at random) and they beat down the poor, relentlessly. They never made it out of the Old Testament. Where in the Bible did Jesus Christ say, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps?” He didn’t even say, “God helps those who help themselves.” That phrase didn’t originate with Benjamin Franklin, either. Variations of it are found in ancient Greek writings and in the Quran.

American evangelicals voted for trump. American evangelicals have always looked down on the poor. Evangelicalism is heresy according to the Bible. But the sickness has spread from the U.S. South and Midwest to New England and the Northwest. It’s a virus. It spreads like measles from a child whose parents were to ignorant to vaccinate him or her.

This isn’t a happy Easter post. It’s not even a “Happy Holidays to everyone” post from a pagan. It’s a damned pissed off post from an American pagan who can barely look at her beloved patron saint, Mary Magdalene, on Easter, because of the bastardization of what it is to be poor in the U.S. The blasphemy committed by U.S. evangelicals.

I don’t “celebrate” Easter. My enduring fascination with Mary Magdalene brings me back to my Catholic childhood every Easter. I try to make a special dinner for my mom on Christian holidays. I bought an Easter gift for my mom. She didn’t know. She bought me Easter gifts. I didn’t know. But we’re because we’re poor we can’t exchange gifts . . . except that we refuse to bow to evangelicals and we’ll have gifts on every holiday, because we refuse to be trampled underfoot by bloated bleating trash.

My mom has been having a very rough time mentally, spiritually, and physically for the last three years. I’ve been sick with shingles for almost two months. I went on Etsy and bought a folk charm for my mom, a bundle of rowan sticks tied up with red cord. My mom knew I had been longing after two Barbies at Family Dollar for months, but I didn’t buy them because they were $10 each. On Saturday, she saw them on sale for half price. We spent almost the exact same amount on gifts for each other.

But we shouldn’t have. Because we’re poor and we should have spent that money on–

Get over it.

The working/fixed income poor in the U.S. have very little bright spots in our lives. The government is actively and gleefully dismantling all our social safety nets: food, healthcare, housing. We can’t seem to fight back. We really don’t expect to live out normal lifespans anymore. Really. After I got shingles, I looked into the price of the shingles vaccine for my mom. It’s $150, and on back order.

So we exchange gifts that the bloated wealthy evangelicals think we shouldn’t have because We’re Poor and I remain resolutely pagan, except for Mary Magdalene, who I consider a teacher at the very least and really, a goddess, lied about, spat upon, defamed, dehumanized by the church. Later I will sit with oracle cards in hand and see if she has anything to say to me.

Right now, I’m boiling more eggs for the potato salad.

Changes Sneak In . . .

. . . like that stray cat you swear you won’t feed because you have three cats and two months later you have a fourth cat.

I found this picture while googling pagan altars:

Eclectic pagan/Wiccan altar featuring fairies, Madonnas, angels, and Hindu deities.

I love the aesthetic here: the colors, the figures, the crystrals, the shells. I’m a little confused by the combination of Hinduism and Christianity, but this is a very personal altar, so whatever suits the person who created it. At first I didn’t like it because there was, to my eye, too much of a mishmash of different traditions. I even complained about it some. But I kept returning to the picture, trying to understand why it’s so appealing.

My altar/shrine is neat, conforms to Irish, British, and Welsh pantheon, and is a bit cold. I rearrange it a few times a year but still have a cold, unsettled feeling. A former friend told me that I shouldn’t buy any type of altar figure based on a specific deity, that they should all be faceless, nameless. That didn’t appeal to me. I was drawn to two goddesses and now two more have come into my life. I have images of each, as statues or as prints. And over the last 30 years, I’ve accumulated Madonnas, angels, fairies, and even some Willow Creek figures (there are two on the altar above.)

I think my continued state of being blocked and accomplishing nothing with my spells and my fascination with the altar above is a message. “You wanted a Nice, Impressive, Proper shrine. It’s okay to rearrange that. It’s okay to play. It’s okay to do what you need to do to get yourself un-blocked.” I’m stuck in the house most of the time due to health and neighbors. I’m probably repeating that from another post. OCD is one of my health problems. OCD demands perfection from me in this, the most important aspect of my life. Formality. Other witches tell me that I must have this, this, and this.

I think it’s time for me to play a bit, and if I’m not too self-conscious, I’ll write another post with before and after pictures.

When a Deity Calls to You

A few years ago, a witch told me that I shouldn’t use images of specific deities on my altar. This was when I was leaving Christianity for the last time. I’ve been studying witchcraft, mythology, and folklore since I was a young teen. Back then, my mom was definitely NOT cool with me having an altar, so I created “stealth altars” using Dollar Tree Virgin Mary figurines, Christmas angels, objects that corresponded to the four elements (I remember a ceramic swan that I wish I still had) and anything else that completed my altar. One birthday, my aunt gave me an incense burner and brass bell that I still have and a windchime made up of hundreds of tiny brass-tone bells that disappeared over the last three decades. It was odd, the selection of gifts, because my aunt was ostensibly a Christian. At the same time, it was like she knew.

Life happened and I moved back in with my mom at age 37. She’s now interested in my path. I had been through a long and agonizing time of searching for my path. I got angry at the Goddess (I did go the nonspecific Lady figure route because I had no choice and because I didn’t know much about pantheons beyond the Greek and Roman, although I was always fascinated by the Fair Folk) and went looking for something else. I found Buddhism and became attached to Kwan Yin. I still have two beautiful Kwan Yins and a gorgeous jade Mala. At the end of my marriage, I was so afraid that I reverted to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. I started wearing a Miraculous Medal or a Magdalene Medal. I got away and thanked the two Marys.

In 2015, I had been friends with the witch who told me not to buy anything portraying a specific deity for a few years. That wasn’t me. I have to admit that my first three years of school in Catholic school left me with a love for images of beautiful Marys and saints. But I also had started delving deep into Welsh and Irish pantheons. I was drawn to Rhiannon probably because of the song but after reading about Her, I saw correlations in our stories, and elements of Her that I wanted to develop in my life.

I was also powerfully drawn to The Morrigan. As with Rhiannon, I bought books about Her so that I could cut through the misconceptions and understand why She might summon me. I had never seen a crow or raven before I met The Morrigan. Now I see and hear them almost every day. Am I possibly just paying attention now? Certainly, that’s possible. Or maybe they were always there and I didn’t know to look for them.

Last year, 2018, I bought a book titled Naming the Goddess and found the name Nemetona. It was as if something was tickling the edges of my mind, that I knew this name. Coventina. Sulis. But this Goddess, Nemetona, was associated with trees and groves and sacred spaces and as I said in my last post, I believe She was the Goddess I encountered as a child at Catholic school. I bought a book just about Her. The more I read, the more I felt that She and I were meant to connect again. I even found a tree Goddess doll for myself for Christmas that year.

Treesa Thornwillow

I feel Nemetona pulling at me powerfully right now. It feels like Rhiannon and The Morrigan are standing back quietly and allowing me to re-meet this Goddess, and this time to understand Her. I understand about sacred space now, that my home, my bedroom are sacred space, that my space has been violated over and over for the last 15 years. Maybe She has come back to help me heal. Maybe She has much to teach the little girl from the convent garden. I pray it is both.

This is my grown-up Nemetona, but I thank Her for also coming to me in a form that a child could love.

Earth Elemental by Sheila Wolk


I know that Nemetona wants me to come out to Her. I just don’t know where because things have changed so much. It’s not the same staring at a bedroom altar. I have a sacred space on my property, but it’s not private. No kind nuns will come looking for me if I’m not at my desk. Maybe those nuns were more priestesses than they knew. Maybe their motherly and tolerant treatment of a shy and troubled child was a form of initiation. I have no doubt that at least some of them hoped I would stay at the school and take the vows. I might have, if my father hadn’t moved me to public school.

I have only gratitude for those holy women who only once chastised me, when I pulled a fistful of rubber animals out of my pocket during mass.

I have a vision of Nemetona in my mind. I also have a detailed picture of The Morrigan that came to me in a dream. Maybe art is the way to connect. Maybe a few swipes of green and brown or a detailed drawing of a woman in bloody clothes on a battlefield, wielding a spear, is the way to reach them.

My Secret Spell

This is kind of a second test post and also putting advice into action. I asked for opinions and suggestions about this blog and got really the best advice: Try it and see how it evolves.

I have another WordPress blog that was attached to my main Twitter, but I have to say although IT WAS EASIER TO SET UP, I don’t like it. I was all over the place with content . . . when I remembered to blog. My interests have expanded a great deal over the last two years. I’ve reached the point with my vampire series that I need a line editor. I’m working on a pagan story. I’m passionately interested in paganism, Druidism, and witchcraft. I’m personally interested in re-constructionist paganism and the Irish and Welsh pantheons. I’m also fascinated with Nemetona, a Goddess who left traces in Gaul and Britain, perhaps known to the Romans, whose name is not Her name, but a name for Goddesses of sacred groves and sacred spaces (including the home.)

I believe that Nemetona came to me when I was a very small child at Catholic school. I used to sit and read in a grove of small trees next to the convent. The grove sheltered a small stone grotto that held a plaster statue of Mary. I always felt a protective feminine presence in that place. As a child at Catholic school, I of course thought that it was Mary. But last year (just last year!) when I was searching for Celtic goddesses associated with trees and I read about Nemetona, I realized that wasn’t Mary. That was Nemetona. She came to me gently in a place that was sacred and safe to me, and She left the impression of Goddess in my mind. I have never since been able to acknowledge any religious tradition that did not elevate a Goddess to equal stature with a God. Hence, why I am pagan.

I’m trying to reconnect with Nemetona, but I realize that She’ll have to come back to me if She chooses. I just try to recreate that place as much as possible, protecting my trees, sitting on a fallen tree and trying just to be, but it’s so hard as an adult.

I went back to my old school when I moved back to North Carolina and found that it had been sold because the congregation had grown so much that the church required a larger building. It broke my heart because I knew that something sacred had been there and was gone. I did capture these photos before the business that bought the church took the grotto and the representation of the Goddess away.