Well, damn. After a month of gatherings, rituals and even a good ol’ fashioned Halloween shindig, this witch girl is whooped. Somewhere in the middle of all this Pagan hubbub, I heard myself say (with my mouth!) to a student: I’m taking November off. From everything. (Reminds me of a Facebook meme that states: I never think before I speak. I like being just as surprised as everyone else at the shit I say.) The sweet, thick relief that came immediately after sunk down into my psyche like a warm bath . . . yes, down time. And was followed immediately by a healthy dose of mama guilt. Then the thought of chickens.
Yupper. That’s how this Southern Mama rolls. Go with me here.
There has been some contention of late here at my little Indigo Sky Farm that chickens should be pushed and plied through winter for their eggs. We purchased the appropriate heat/spectrum lighting and I researched until my fingers bled on how to “manipulate” my flock to produce at the time of year in which they would rather (literally) chill. Something in my bones resisted the research. Something felt unnatural about the whole shebang–it smacked somewhat blasphemous in its techno-tastic ability to force their cycles for our epicurious palettes.  And, I reckon, I felt badly for the old gals. I’ll harvest a chicken when their laying is done . . . their life cycle finished . . . but this one didn’t smell right to me. Took a hot minute to figure it all out, but then . . .
The hens started to molt. Feathers just a’ blanketing the coop. So, I closed the computer, headed for the local Feed and Seed and got schooled by an Ol’ Timer that the late fall (and its molting process) is all about shedding off the old and gathering new energy for the next spring. Critical energy. In fact, iffin you push yor’ chickens to “over winter,” you decrease their overall laying life–which is why commercial chicken farms only “farm” their chickens for about a year before heading off to ye ol’ axhouse. According to Mr. Feed and Seed, “ain’t nothing right about it. Shouldn’t fool with it. You ain’t God.”
Um . . . anyway . . . (snort)
Turns out, if the natural process of rest, restore and kicking it again does not hanker to disruption. You short-change Mother Nature? She short-changes you. Tit for tat. And so, when I felt my “molt” coming on it hit me: I’m risking my “laying life.” Yup. I’m a chicken in this scenario. Here are the eggs I have given for the year: magic teaching, private lessons, long hours of pushing for the “aha,” long moments of sloshing through pains and triumphs, salt circles and initiations. University teaching, online teaching, homeschooling the Olympic Eye-Roller teen. Raising chickens, dogs, herbs and tomatoes. Writing a blog, a book, maintaining a Pagan Facebook group and starting a Pagan church. Buying and restoring an old house, holding together a marriage under the most strained of circumstances and cooking like I’m getting paid for it. In bacon. (The exchange rate is higher down South, I tell ya.)
Now, I can’t count enough biscuits for all the times I’ve heard: An exhausted teacher is no good to anyone, including herself. As my sista would say: true story. Then why, pray tell Batchildren, why do we not take that advice for our own selves? The easy way out would be: we are just so damn noble that we would wear out our best Sunday shoes for a soul in need. Ahem. Bullspit. Mayhap some of us givers and leaders are a “might” noble, but that ain’t the crux of it. Naw. Let’s shoot for butter, not margarine, shall we?
We are control freaks. Yup. I said it. We think that they can’t make it without us, they will go astray while we rest, the world will come to a screeching halt and everyone will run willy nilly into the night. Nekid. In striped socks.
Now, come on. I see you wrinkling up that nose–but you know it’s true. You’re face is gonna stick like that. Think with me here: so what if they do? We’ve got bail money. Some of ’em would look cute as hell running nekid in socks. I say, put yor’ feet up, pour yourself some sweet tea and grab your camera. The alternative is YOU running nekid, with an ax, hollering on about the end of time or some such. Exhaustion=insanity and a trip to the white jacket runway. (Or at the very least, a comatose state that will entice your friends to find the permamarker.) And still, we push through our molting season, refuse a natural cycle of rest and recharge and end up burning out. Powdered eggs, anyone?
Somewhere in this whirl of chickens and eggs, a voice inside me said: She is speaking to you. I closed my eyes and saw a wind of white hair, gnarled hands knitting a death/birth (ah, it’s the same thing!!) tapestry around my shoulders, the smell of snow on pine. Farm animals, wood animals, gathering at the base of mountains. My sister said to me: Hen wife. That name your husband couldn’t pronounce, but knew to say, at our last group. And there she was, Cailleach, waiting for me to say her name in Gaelic reverence: Kay-och. Ah. There, now. The most ancient of Celt Goddesses, the Mother of all, the midwife of death and life as one.
I’ll be a deep-fried chicken. She was there all along. I should have known Her smell, should have paid attention when I had a spell of accidental ovamancy the eve of October 25th. Lemme tell y’all a little story, Southern style.
That Thursday, I was still reckoning with a reality blast of news that shook my ongoing midlife crisis and turned my world into a cluster-cluck matrix of WTF. On the heels of that (still secret) news, my heart was breaking at another revelation. One of my magic babies, one whom I would have never foreseen betraying nor injuring my tribe, had done just that. In spades. All of my students, my sister, my sons, my daughter and my friends were hands down done with the twenty-year-old child. All refused to commune back at my hearth if the child were to continue to abide within its sacred walls. Charges of a cornucopia of deceit, theft, sexual manipulations (even with my underage son) and just outright malicious asshattery emerged–all unrelated, all unknowing of the other–and there I stood. On the tele with my beloved Atlanta student, I chewed my tongue bloody over dropping the sword.
(Cracking that week’s gathered brown eggs from my own chickens for dinner)
Me: It’s as if I have to choose between everyone in my life . . . or X.
Maddie: Yup. Looks like it.
(Hmm, I could use one more egg–there’s a fresh dozen from Kroger in the fridge, lemme grab it.)
Me: It ain’t right to have to decide this. But I cannot let her poison the whole tribe.
(Cracks white commercial egg into the bowl of farm fresh sunshine.)
Silence . . . as that one white egg spilled putrid, rotten poison in red-orange swirls throughout my beloved, healthy eggs.
Me: Maddie, you won’t believe this.
After the tears had subsided, that beautiful bowl of egg heaven was flushed, wasted, down the kitchen sink. No way to spoon it out–the alien egg had infected them all. Right, then. Right. Doing the hard thing, again. The magic student had betrayed the universe, was not who we thought she was and belonged to the Dark Side. (Y’all, is it just all too Bill Cosby of me to think I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out?) Yup. It cleaved my soul, but she had made those abominable choices, spat at our sacred community with her pretty mouth and broken oaths as brutally and callously as her frame could muster. She was not one of us. That time had died, kickin’ and screamin,’ and I was the last one to realize that it had no pulse.
So mote it be.
And somewhere in the air, She rasped at me in a voice not so benevolent, not so malevolent, but rather just ancient and thick. Cailleach. My Goddess of coming winter and midwife of impending, necessary death in order that the seed might crack, grow and reach for a new sky. It doesn’t escape this old hen’s attention that She is echoed in the art of Cherokee medicine women who ease birth, officiate death and negotiate with the spirit world in both its dark and light forms. Perfect balance. In Gaelic folklore, She is the creator of mountains–therefore, by proxy, the creator of valleys.  As y’all know, I recently blogged about valleys–particularly the new one my ass was wallowing in–and it suddenly occurs to me that valleys are birthed by mountains.
Well. Smack my ass and call me Irish. My valley was surrounded by my mountains, crafted by a wise old Gaelic mother, just . . . for . . . me? Turns out, it was just molting season–the death of one cycle insuring the birth of another, healthy natural one. I ain’t about to pump artificial light from aisle three of Lowes into this dark valley on account of it needs to expire; it must if I am to reach that fine ass mountain over yonder.
Though I walk through the Valley of Death, She is with me carving mountains with the winter sweep of her hand, carving futures with her cold breath. Cailleach is my doula, my midwife, the Ancient One without whom I could not fathom the gift of a Rocky Mountain High view . . . so much more sacred for the valley of ashes that vein its feet.
Anyone need a bushel of chicken feathers?
1. I have a secret I’m just chomping at the bit to tell y’all, and it would fit perfectly here. If it works out, remind me to revisit this post.
2. Sliabh na Caillech (in the County Meath) translates literally to Mountain of Cailleach.