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Long Dark Solstice of the Soul

Two years ago on the Winter Solstice, I took a leap of faith that cost me everything. It took me a long time to write about this, because it’s personal and a bit raw and embarrassing, and because it doesn’t make anyone look good.

I was in the dark for a long time, when I look back on it. But you see, and this is why I’m telling this story, you don’t realize it at the time – you’ve been in the dark so long you think you’re just blind, or that’s all the light there is. Dim, dreary, fumbling amongst shadows, knees skinned to bleeding, exhausted but still upright and stumbling along. That was me. I forgot life could be any brighter than that.

I should explain. I’m that girl who thinks she can handle anything. I grew up a tomboy, grew up wilderness camping with my dad and wandering the woods outside our mountain house alone. I learned hammer and nailgun and socket wrench and tire iron. Because I didn’t want to be a helpless female. I admired Disney villainesses and adventurers and heroes and serial killers. Queen Boudicca and Joan of Arc were my heroes. You can’t scare me.

In my late 20’s and my 30’s, I was living the strong-woman life. I was the breadwinner in my marriage. I was involved in leadership in my spiritual community, I had students, I had co-founded a Pagan sanctuary, built a stone henge, hell, built an empire almost. I was a priestess of a war Goddess and talking to the world about autonomy, strength, courage, warriorship, sovereignty. But I was in the dark and running blind.

Art by Aunia Kahn

This is the part where I have to bite the bullet and tell it to you straight out. I was busy showing the whole world how strong, independent and powerful I was, and all the time I was living a lie because I was living with a verbally and emotionally abusive partner, and I was letting myself be bullied, belittled, tormented, controlled and undermined every day. I was eggshell-walking around the rage triggers and justifying it to myself. I was appeasing and apologizing, promising to change myself and become better. I was apologizing just to stop the fighting even when I didn’t think I was being the crazy one, until after a while I was so used to being wrong that I didn’t know what to think, and maybe he was right and I was the crazy one. The confidence I displayed to everyone was a lie. I was deep in the dark. For years.

And I stayed there that long because I was tough, goddamnit. I could handle this. I could not fathom the idea that I could be that pathetic woman who stays with an abuser. That could never happen to me. This was something else. It wasn’t abuse, we just had a really dynamic, fiery partnership. I was a strong, independent woman. And that is why I’m telling this story now. Because strong women have this blind spot and I have now seen it a couple more times in friends of mine. Our self-image as strong women who wouldn’t put up with that leads us straight into the trap.

I was deep in the dark and I stayed there for years, stumbling along. Honestly, I have no idea if I would have saved myself, or how long it would have taken me. What happened is that two years ago, She stepped in.

People who work with the Morrígan have observed that starting in about late 2010 or early 2011, She started to get more active and more insistent with Her priests. That aligns with what happened to me. I had been a dedicated devotee for over a decade at that point, but something big shifted in 2011 and She started wanting more from me. I struggled all that year to understand what She wanted, to step up, to deepen my service, but I felt profoundly confused and in the dark, struggling to translate and visualize what I was supposed to do. My narrowed, starved sense of self no longer had the imaginative capacity or the courage to visualize the horizons She was trying to push me toward. I simply could not imagine being the person who would do the things She was showing me.

Late in 2011, I think She must have got impatient with me, because the visionary possessions and intense dreams kicked in, She sent a long-estranged old flame who was also Her priest to remind me what human interaction should look like, and when I still wasn’t listening, She turned to fits of simply screaming inside my skull. And, you know, I’m not actually stupid, and I finally did get the message. The message landed in mid-December, after a particularly brutal episode of traumatic verbal rage from my partner, which broke through my protective prison of denial with the realization that I’m NOT the crazy one. THIS is crazy. And the next time I was at my devotions, She was there, and huge, a presence as still as the pillars of the earth and as undeniable, and She said, CHOOSE. You cannot be My vessel and do My work while you are selling out your sovereignty. I require a vessel with structural integrity. You need to choose: stay broken, or be whole and do My work.

The long darkness finally broke and the light came streaming in. On the eve of the Winter Solstice, I made a commitment to Her and to myself. I committed to honoring Her in my own sovereignty, and to reclaiming my integrity. I made a pact that starting on the Solstice, I would give myself three months until the Equinox to renegotiate my life in alignment with my sovereignty and my needs, but if it could not be so realigned, I would get out. By Equinox, I would be my own being again and free to do Her work, whatever that cost me.

I am here to tell you that it cost me everything, and it was the best bargain I ever made. Over the next year, I turned my entire life inside out. I used to joke to friends that the Morrígan ate my life… but I wasn’t really joking. I dissolved my marriage, moved from remote wild mountain to city, lost my job, started an entire new career, started a business, and founded a priesthood of the Morrígan. Most of 2012 is a kind of hurricane in my memory. And I would do it all again if I had the same choice given to me. I have never been happier, healthier, freer, or felt more solidly in line with my life’s purpose.

Why did I tell this very personal story on my very public blog? Well, because it’s the Solstice and it’s on my mind. But also, because like I said earlier, I think that the trap I fell into can happen to a lot of us, and not just women, either. And the more we don’t talk about it because it is embarrassing to us, or because we don’t want to make our partner/abuser look bad, the more there is a culture of silence about it, the more that blind spot can operate to hide the trap. One of the reasons I did wait this long to talk about it is because I still share a lot of friends with my former partner, and I’ve felt uncomfortable about making him look bad or poisoning those friendships for him. But you know, this happened to me. To us. It was real, and I doubt he is any more glad of it than I am. And I don’t think people like him who find themselves becoming abusers are helped by the culture of shame and silence either. He is not a monster, he is an evolving human being like the rest of us, and he got lost in the dark too.

And the other thing I want to share from this is about courage and destiny. Meeting your destiny may cost you everything else. And my friends, if my case is illustrative at all, it is WORTH EVERY PENNY. Not every risk that comes your way is destiny calling you. But if you find yourself huddled up inside, in the dark; if you find yourself wondering how you ended up here because it doesn’t feel like your story; if you find yourself turning from opportunity because I can’t, I could never do that, not me… then start looking for a risk. Start looking for something that terrifies the fuck out of you, because that terror is your calling, it’s the light breaking in. And above all, if your Gods offer you a hand, take it. Take the risk, do not look back, do not worry about the cost or what you might lose because there is nothing, nothing, nothing worth letting your soul die in the dark for. And because stepping on the path of your destiny is a life-affirming act, and the Gods love a courageous heart, and the life force will answer and rise in you, and something new will rise and take the place of whatever you have to let go of when you take that leap.

Blessed Solstice to you, and may the light of courage always return for you.

Don’t Let Go: A personal reflection about art, destiny, and sovereignty

Yesterday, I spent all day at work making art. Then I came home and went straight to my desk, on fire to make more art. When I looked up, it was nearly midnight. I still wasn’t tired.

I always knew that art is what I was meant for. I was avidly drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. It was a defining characteristic of my childhood. Long before I had any other ideas about identity – before it had even remotely occurred to me that I was a Witch and a Pagan – I knew what I was. I was an artist.

But here’s the thing. It took me until my late thirties to find the guts and the strength to make this my vocation. In my teen years, art was pretty much all I did. And then I reached that age where people start asking you what your plan is in life, and no one wanted to hear me say “artist”. I was told (by the person closest to me) you can’t succeed; no one makes a living just doing art; you’ll be broke and miserable. Art is a hobby. It’s frivolous. It’s a luxury. You can’t expect to just do that. You need to choose something more adult, and just do art in your spare time for fun.

So I did. I let myself be persuaded to set aside what I had always known I was meant for, and pick another career. I changed my major in college, and I did another six years of schooling and got my degree. Went to work in a government office. I continued to think of myself as an artist, but art was squeezed in as a hobby, in my side moments between working full-time, commuting, and everything else. Art became the periphery of my life, and the office was its center.

I did that for ten more years. Until I didn’t.

The job evaporated and I was at a crossroads. I let it all go and ran full tilt toward what should have been my center of gravity all along: Art. Was it scary at first? Hell yes. But pretty soon I started to realize that there are all sorts of ways that art careers can be made, besides selling paintings in the fine-art world. Animators, art teachers, designers, illustrators, tattoo artists, CGI artists, concept artists, comic book artists… I started to realize that I’d been sold on a narrowing of imagination. I had allowed myself to be diminished, not just by giving up a part of myself, but by internalizing a shrunken image of the whole world I live in.

Why did I do that? How did I let that happen to me for so long?

Many reasons. I was young and naive. I had poor emotional boundaries. I was easily influenced by people close to me. I was in a relationship with an imbalanced power dynamic. I let myself be told, instead of listening and then weighing the decision for myself. A host of reasons that really boil down to one thing: I was too young to know what sovereignty was, or to notice that I’d given mine away. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I began to understand what had happened to me as an issue of sovereignty.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t un-see it. It now seems to me that personal sovereignty is what our lives are made of. That it’s really all we have. Fate, or chance, or whatever you like to call it, will cast us into all kinds of circumstances over which we have no control at all. What is ours is that right to exert agency for ourselves, to choose our way forward through whatever faces us, to choose for ourselves how to respond. To live by our own lights. Ancient cultures often framed this in terms of a heroic ethos, in which it was understood that even if fate took all other options from you, you could always exercise the choice to die well, and that to do so was to exercise the ultimate sovereignty. People in circumstances like mine are privileged to not have to frame this in life-and-death terms, but I think the ethos of free will and sovereignty still has merit and applies.

I’m now speaking from a place in which I’m doing the work I have always known I was born to do. I am building a career in art, through a combination of tattooing, fine art and crafts. I am thriving in a way I never have before. The way has opened to me. I think it was always open. I just didn’t dare take it before.

What’s my point? How is this relevant to you? Are you wondering if this is leading into vapid inspirational platitudes like “If you can dream it, you can do it”? No, it’s not. I can’t say that all paths are open to you to succeed at whatever you want. I’m not telling you that you can make your dreams come true no matter what they are.

photo courtesy of Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons

What I am telling you is: Don’t let go of your soul because someone told you that you couldn’t or shouldn’t be that. Don’t let go without at least trying for yourself, without getting your feet dusty attempting to climb the path. Don’t give your sovereignty away. Don’t let go of your soul.

Don’t let go of who you are. I’ve said before, everyone has a destiny, and your truest sovereignty is to hold to that, to fight for it.

I’m speaking this urging with compassion; I don’t sit in judgement of anyone. Any one of us can wake up realizing we’ve given away our sovereignty in little profound ways. Any one of us can wake up realizing we’ve let other people choose our destiny for us without a fight. I let that happen to me for a decade and a half. If this is you, don’t judge yourself, either. Just start now. Reclaim yourself. It is never too late. It is never too late.

Because this isn’t just about doing what feeds you personally. The world we live in desperately needs people to fight injustice and oppression, to fight destruction and degradation, to speak the truth, to stand up for what’s right. Where does that start?

Who will fight for you if you can’t fight for yourself? Who will you fight for, if not yourself? Who will right the world if the world is filled with people who have given all their power away, who are trudging exhausted down a path that isn’t their own? How will you be of service to the world if you’re drained from doing the wrong work?

This is how you can be of service: Find out who you are and what your destiny is, and then give it all your heart.

 

The Cry of Destiny

Today I have some thoughts to share about destiny. This post has actually been brewing for some weeks before I found the time to write it down; if you’ve read my postings before, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a writer only after my other vocations, and sometimes the blog goes by the wayside while I’m busy chasing my destiny. So then, on the subject of destiny.

From Failias was brought the Lia Fail, which is at Tara, and which used to cry out under each king who assumed the sovereignty of Ireland.
The Four Jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Yellow Book of Lecan

We might tend to think of destiny as something rare that belongs to special people, those who are ‘chosen’ for some greatness that is beyond the reach of most of us. Destiny might feel like a concept for heroes of myth that seems out of place in our ordinary lives. But this is not so. Everyone has a destiny on them. You, reading these words, you have a destiny on you. Simply put, your destiny is that thing you were made for. That thing you are uniquely equipped and gifted to do, that without you will not be complete; and that you
will not be complete without doing. I really want to emphasize this, so I’ll say it again: There is something unique and meaningful that only you and no other being can give to this world. I don’t care who you are or how empty you may think you are of gifts; this is still true of you. Whatever that thing is, that is your destiny. It may be subtle; it may not be the kind of thing that is recorded in history books, but it is a destiny, and it is meaningful and it is yours.

Do you know what it is?

If you don’t, isn’t it perhaps time you should find out?

Let me put that question another way. What have you got to do that is more urgent or more important than discovering your life’s purpose? If you can answer that, you may already know your destiny.

If not, here are some things to contemplate. The Lia Fail, the Stone of Fal which was also called the Stone of Destiny, would cry out under the true king, who held the sovereignty of the land. Sovereignty is the holding of power by virtue of right relationship to its source; in the case of an Irish king, the land itself. So ask yourself: In what place does the rightness and truth of your action cause such power to flow through you that your soul cries out? Have you felt that? That was the cry of destiny. If you have never felt that, if till now you have only heard the silence of the stone, it may be time to seek new experiences, try out new ways of serving the world until the cry comes. Drew Jacob, in his Rogue Priest blog (which I highly recommend), talks of the heroic path, and his first piece of advice for those who have not discovered their heroic purpose is to travel. If travel seems out of reach because of cost, and it may indeed be for many of us, there is still nothing stopping you from going out of your established routines and experiencing something new. I would add that service is more likely to open us to destiny than pleasure. We find our purpose, paradoxically, by going outside of ourselves.

The next thing I want to make clear is that destiny is not fate. It isn’t predetermined. It’s what you’re meant for, but you can fail to fulfill it, or you can choose to ignore it and do something else with your time and life energy. We are all endowed with will, and if we’re diligent at liberating ourselves from social and media manipulation, we can even aspire to possess free will (or even better, be possessed by it). I do not believe in fate, at least not in the fixed sense.

So – your destiny is not predetermined: It is yours, but it will not just happen to you. That is one way that we differ from the people in story. We must court destiny like a lover, or a muse; chase it like a quarry; most of all, serve it. This is work. Nothing is born without labor, and this thing you have within you may take a life’s labor to bring forth. This may be why so many of us prefer the aimless comfort of the consumer life to the purposeful striving of the destined life. It is hard, and it’s scary, too. Dedicating yourself to fulfilling your destiny means sacrificing some things you might otherwise put more of your life energy into, things that are easier and more comfortable. Things that are more predictable. Most frightening of all, there is no guarantee of success. You might spend years serving this destiny, only to see it partially born; it may not come to fruition or be recognized for its value until after your death. It is up to you, and the allies and resources you can muster, to fulfill your purpose and give to the world what you have to give. And to do so we have to struggle against not only our own fears of failure (or fears of success), but against very great and subtle forces in our civilization that derive enormous profit from an aimless population accustomed to thinking themselves small, and content to fill their longing for meaning with stuff. For all these reasons, it may be easier not to know your purpose. And as I said, you do have that option. You can turn your face away from destiny. But I will venture to say that it will haunt you until you step into it.

Why do I care so much and why am I lecturing you about pursuing your destiny? Well, because I myself have been haunted by a growing sense that difficult times are coming. That is to say, difficult times are here already – most of us know at least a few people who are out of work; costs of living are rising faster than incomes; the unsustainable economic and political structures of much of the Western world are beginning to crack; and in the US at least, we are seeing clearer and clearer the emergence of the national security
police state. I have a persistent sense that these are signs of harder times to come soon, that our lives will get tougher for a while before they get better. And my Gods, most especially the Morrigan whom I serve most closely, have been haunting me too, with a message that I need to be doing anything I can to help prepare our people for difficult and transformative times. That we, the spiritual-minded and magickal folk, have something needful to offer the world in these crises, but that we are not ready, and that unless we can get prepared to ride the tides of change, we can’t hope to help the rest of the world through it.

To explain what this has to do with destiny, I will quote Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Informed by his experiences observing what inner powers helped people to not only survive in the hells of the concentration camps, but even find the strength to help others, he wrote:

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946.

And elsewhere in the same book:

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”

In other words, the human being who knows her purpose, who knows she has a destiny to fulfill, carries that meaning within her like a talisman, and through that can find the strength to survive anything. She can bear almost any conditions. She has heard the cry of the Stone of Destiny, and so the strength of the stone is hers, the grounding force of sovereignty. My friends, this is how heroes are made. How kings and queens are made. This simple thing: the knowledge of one’s destiny, and a commitment to it. That is all it takes.

Don’t worry if you aren’t ready. No one ever is. The cry of the stone will carry you, and you’ll find a way.