by Ashara Mayim
This past Yule, I had the opportunity to visit the Thunderdome and make ornaments to offer to the large tree on display in Old Gretna. As many activities during the holiday season, it was an evening filled with laughter, warmth, and the joy of being together. We talked about our ornaments and their correspondences as we lovingly crafted our offerings to the newborn sun god. It was a precious memory I will treasure forever… but not for the reasons you might think. What made that evening unique wasn’t the laughter, the music, the warmth and the wine. It wasn’t being with my chosen family or the heartfelt hugs I got from Tabitha. It was what came after that froze that evening in my memory forever. Because after the love, the joy, and the warmth, there was the cold. There was pain.
We had an unusually cold winter in New Orleans this year. Surely you remember the ice falling from the sky and the city shutting down due to the frigid temperatures. I am quite sure Pete and Renee did not mean to schedule our crafting extravaganza on a night where it was in the low 40’s, but there we were: wine in one hand, ornaments in the other, braving the chilling winds to offer our ornaments to the newborn sun king.
Sometimes, hard things get easier as you go. When I work out, I hit my stride as I warm up and I can relax into the movement. The hardest part of cleaning my house and doing dishes is convincing myself to get up and get started. Walking in the freezing cold, I can tell you with absolute certainty, does not get easier.
It doesn’t seem very far from the Thunderdome to the tree in Old Gretna when you drive. It’s one minute, perhaps two, to get there. But when you are walking in just above-freezing weather in only a light jacket and a Mardi Gras cup full of Reisling to warm your steps, it is a significantly daunting task.
“This isn’t so bad,” I remember commenting when we first stepped out into the night air. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation, only that at first it was loud and jovial. We exchanged playful barbs at each other, talked about who would run out of wine first, and teased Pete for insisting we walk. As the cold began to bite our skin and chap our lips, though, the conversation tapered off. When our muscles began to tremble and we watched clouds of breath billow out from between our trembling lips, all I could think was, is this really worth it? How much further? All I want is to go inside. The warm house I had left in favor of this journey consumed my thoughts. My body hurt so much. Did I really want to give my gift this badly? But then it hit me.
The ornament was not my gift. My suffering was my gift.
And it was through that pain I found a deeper mystery hidden in this experience. The Sun God that night taught me about balance, polarity, and acceptance of my own situation. It isn’t about resisting the pain and wishing for something different. It’s about finding the beauty and wisdom in what is presented to me, no matter how painful. As I stood before the tree, offering my ornament to the child of light, I felt hot tears of gratitude land on my cheeks and grow cold with the wind. And even in the stinging of tears on my cheeks, I relished in the experience. I accepted the pain. I allowed it to teach me, and I am all the better for it.
As a culture, we shun pain. We run from it like the plague. If it’s unpleasant, we reason, it must be bad. “If it’s not fun,” everyone insists, “then why are you doing it?” I see it in pagan circles as much as I see it in mainstream society. “Beware of your shadow! You must overcome it!” “I banish all negativity from my life!” “I’m sick! Send healing!” I see pagans speaking about balance in their lives, yet at the same time they strive to escape unpleasantness of pain and suffering. They forget that both are necessary if they are truly seeking fulfillment and enlightenment in their lives.
We ask for “love and light,” but do we ever take a moment to embrace the darkness in which we find ourselves? Do we ever take a deep breath and simply sit with our feelings, no matter how unpleasant they may be? Shadow work is spoken of in pagan circles with trepidation and hushed whispers. We say we believe that we are expressions of the divine and that all is holy, but do we live our lives as though that is true? Can we accept that those “ugly” parts of us embodied by the shadow are just as sacred as the faces we present to the world?
I see so many witches standing in one spot. “I must remain in the light! I must live from a place of love! I invite only prosperity, only health, only pleasure into my life and banish all else!” But that is not balance. That is stagnation. All things have opposite extremes. The secret to balance is not staying in the middle, but swinging like a pendulum. We must always move, always push the boundaries, always grow…and always accept those experiences. We walk the crooked path. This is the way of Wisdom. This is the way of the Witch.
Life springs from the darkness of the womb of the Great Mother. Even in the heat of the June afternoon, we can hear the slightest whisper of darkness and cold. It is our job as witches to walk the world between. Learn the secrets in things unpleasant and unexpected and relish the blessings you find along the journey.
Blessed be, travelers.