This . . . is more magical than last year. These are the words spoken in my ear at the closing of our Pagans of the Deep South Annual Gathering. They tripped through my heart at the very moment that I wondered: should I just cease doing these? Do they even matter? (We all have moments of doubt, y’all.) The answer was clear enough.
It was fall, 2011, when I took my morning coffee into the back room and thought: I oughta start a group, something specifically Southern, more regional and more diverse . . . and about an hour later, we began our journey. Soon, a wile notion took root in my head that we (across a handful of states) should, I dunno, get together for a weekend retreat of classes and fellowship. By March of 2012, there we were: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana all leaned back in a chair watching the sun go down on our worn out backs. And happier than pigs in . . .
But then, this past year. We have truly gone through the trials and tribulations of maintaining a healthy, drama-monitored (ain’t nothing drama-free) group. Whilst I have chewed on a few tales served up to my table about the issues that can ensue when gathering Pagans (herding cats?), the idealistic ME refuted those horrors as possible in my own neck of the woods. Why, that couldn’t happen to US. Right? The hell it couldn’t. My dear brother and resident Salty Dawg warned me about this. And yet, I trudged my happy arse right toward “Pagan Community” with blinders on.
Within this last year, I have learned more than I would have signed up for if given the syllabus and a decent cup of coffee. Yet, I reckon it’s some down-home training that Big Momma is instilling in me and nobody gets out without a scar. Or ten. Lessee, lessons learned:
*Students, oath-bound in your tradition and in your stead, may break your heart. Saying “no” to those who are really not ready to learn will weed them out. You have to be prepared to see them rail, kick, cuss, curse and act a general two-dollar fool. And then you have to let them go. (They have more learning to do in their own hearts than anyone can provide in that moment.)
*While nonsensical, there may be other leaders in your region who are envious of your raised head. All kinds of asshattery might occur: the attempt to take over your seat/land/sons/glass of wine/students and what may have you. Weather it. Graciously say: thank you, but no. (Prepare for number one above.) It is OKAY to respect yourself enough to have boundaries. If those personal fences are that offensive to another soul, perhaps it’s their own egos (and fences) that need a bit of work.
*Don’t mind the little things. Laws, there’s enough shenanigans out there in groups and circles to pilot a series entitled: “As the Pagan Turns.” If it’s not critical, let it go. I cannot count the number of rude, careless, or downright pretentious slights I’ve seen slung about in the last year. Yes. They took your wine glass. Yes, she rolled her eyes. I know, I know. He posted a pic and blamed you for killing his plant. She wore High Priestess garb and knighted herself Queen of Butter. Whatevs. Let. It. Go. These folks are obviously working on something other than shadow work and good manners. Don’t follow them down that murky road by letting it get under your witch hat.
*Deal with the “big stuff” head on, but with tact. Tell someone if you are seriously, harshly offended—in the right way, at the right time, in the right forum. However, and I may not be in the majority here, but: do not, I repeat, do not allow anyone to harm your home, your students, your lifemate, your animals or your heart. Remove them. That’s right. Love and light? Let’s get real here. Banishing is an ancient art form and has a healthy, healing job to do. If your “light” is being snuffed out by some ego-driven, unbalanced prom king or queen (and if your Tribe is wailing from the injury) screw all that mess and clean out the riff raff. What follows will be the self-same bullhockey as Number One above; however, do this enough and all that will be left, and all that will join, will be sincere and honest thumpin’ hearts with a community purpose more versatile than Bisquick, baby. Do the job. Do it fair, but do the job. (Who knows? Maybe they’ll clean up their act one day and come back acting like they had good home training. Either way, get ‘er done. If you wouldn’t let yor child kick and rail in public, don’t allow anyone. Doing so might hurt you more than it hurts them–but leading ain’t for yellow bellies.) This one often will cause the occasional howl from a member who would put up with boot prints and cigarette burns on their granny’s best afghan. That’s their problem. You aren’t running for Most Likely to be Popular. You have work to do.
*Folks don’t naturally know Pagan etiquette. (My Tribe seems to be born unto it, thankfully.) Mayhap, some soul shows up and needs a little reminder about trash on the ground, interrupting a class, walking in and out of circle, talking on the cell phone during group, touching things on or around the altar (personal pet peeve of mine) and more. Politely clear them up, gently help them along, but if they continue: see the above. It may be that they have never had a teacher. It may be that they have never sat through a “Pagan Standards” course. It may be that they have only been part of groups that had a “Party Pagan” agenda rather than serious, spiritual work. It may even be that they are just an asshat. Investigate, mediate, regulate. In that order. (And haul off all WTF moments with trusted friends, only. No need to spread drama.)
I reckon this post could lead a body to the belief that our gathering wasn’t up to par, but nothing could be farther from the truth of the matter. It was gritty, salty work this year. We traversed mountains of mayhem and culverts of manure to be back in this place, some of us more than others. In the end: the cars started rolling in, the hugs and laughter and energy grew and prevailed even over late evening howls of the hounds. Classes built upon each other in such a natural manner that it appeared planned and workshops produced besoms, altars and sacred bonds. We had sunburnt noses, spilled wine, chill bumps, paint-streaked shirts and tired Pagan babies. My vows were renewed by two Priestesses who are the sisters of my heart over a smouldering fire. I watched my second-degree student work and laugh and grow even further towards that moment of her divinity and her own path of teaching and leading in the Gangani tradition. And . . . I felt guilty.
For in this last few months, I harbored the thought of . . . quitting. Leaders of anything are often the last ones thanked, the first ones on the chopping block and the only ones who are forgotten in the support blanket of Pagan fellowship. I missed my solitude. I missed having my own time. I suppose I longed for support, myownself. I missed my Grandma, who never missed the opportunity to tell me how important I was to her, how special my light was, how integral in her life my heartbeat had become. Leaders simply do not hear these words very often. There appears to be an assumption out there that we should give over our time, our energy, our land, our money, our lives to others . . . and more often than not, little gratitude follows the waves of criticism we earn. I have a handful of friends who were leaders, teachers and mentors whom have all now sunk into the backlight of our community out of dread, abuse, disillusionment or simple malnourishment of the soul. And my heart aches with shame when I remember my callous attitude towards their retreat: how could you? People need you. But recently, I have flirted with the cave and its cool, solid, seductive peace. And then . . .
A little girl of thirteen came up behind me in circle, placed her arms around my neck, and said: thank you. That was all. And that was enough—at least, for the time being.
Of course, I know that my Tribe loves me. I see it in their eyes and I feel it in their presence. But we all get tired, we all need support, and . . .
I know that they love me. They drive so far, hold on so hard, love so deep that there’s no question of their character or their motives. I suppose they do not need me, really, at least not in the ways that I thought my community might need me.
And so, I had begun the long winding down that would lead me to that retirement cave in which so many of my beloveds now reside.
And I might still put a pillow there soon. It’s just that . . .
No one ever got as close to reminding me of Grandma as that child did that night. My Gran saw inside of me and called it sacred. She made me believe in myself, gave me the love-stuff-sustenence to bear the weight of a callous world, infused me with granny mojo and home cookin’ and stories and faith in myself. She taught me to fight invasion, forgive frustration and nurture imagination. At times, those gifts were the only life jacket to buoy me against my own destruction. So, I will try to get up, be brave, be stronger and keep going for that one second of innocent, heart-felt Cajun gratitude.
And so, it was a child who led them. At least, for now.
Blessed Be, and Aho,