Divided for Love’s Sake – Reconnection and Commitment

August 4, 2010 by  
Filed under featured

Divided for Love’s Sake - Reconnection and Commitment

It is sadly true that in many pagan and magical communities, individuals who have much to gain from working together are spending too much time and energy in pointless arguments, paranoia and hostility. We’ve all seen it — the “witch wars,” the malicious gossip, the fragmentation of communities over issues both great and small. Writing about the disconnections we encounter, as I did in the last issue, can seem like nothing more than complaints and accusations, but it’s necessary to look at our communities and groups with discernment, and to be honest about what we find there.

I feel this is doubly important now, because of the fractious and divisive tone the over-culture has adopted. You see it everywhere — from political discourse to mundane interactions. Media portrays a country divided, with the rhetoric running hot, violent and hyperbolic. Casual violence — in word and gesture if not outright blows — seems to be in the air we breathe. There are many reasons for this, but the illusion of separateness is at the heart of this phenomenon. Only by refusing to view other beings as worthy of respect, forbearance and compassion are we able to do and say the hateful, hurtful things that have replaced common civility in public discourse. I’ve done this myself, and I know it was my inability to trust, my unwillingness to see others as more than obstacles in my way, that was at the heart of my hatefulness.

Lately I found myself becoming enraged at the terrible traffic in my neighborhood, and “talking smack” about mutual friends with a colleague, for no reason at all. The negative emotional charge behind my reactions to both these events was shocking to me, and caused me to look further. My feelings of powerlessness and incompetence were at the base. Disconnected from my own sense of power and worth, it was an easy task to disconnect the very real humans in front of me from their own right to courtesy. Lacking respect for myself, it was easy to deny it to everyone else.

Alienation is the primary mental state of our culture, and the mechanisms that should be acting to bring us together are instead fostering the alienation and isolation, the outright paranoia of the other. “We” (i.e. “us”) are not “them,” and you can’t trust them. This wariness may be a logical precaution, but as magicians, we have to see look more closely at this message. Fostering this illusion of separation and hostility is in the interests of the dominator culture for various reasons — it distracts us from important things with red herrings; it discourages the building of alliances and coalitions; it reduces public discourse to the most infantile of bickering. All of this distracts us from the most pressing matters that demand our attention. We as magicians must be able to peer through this illusion of separation to see things as they are, connected in a web of interdependence so subtle and grand that we can only perceive tiny portions of it.

Connection is the natural state of life, not isolation. Predator and prey, seed and sower, flower and pollinator — it’s all about relationships and connections, give and take, a delicate balance that demands participation from all beings.

Of Wolves and Willows

I heard a report on NPR years ago that brought home to me the vast webs of connection that all Earth’s species share. In a move that is still controversial, wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park. Years later, biologists assessed the wolves’ impact on the terrain.

What they discovered surprised them. Creek beds that had been dry for years were suddenly full of water and wildlife. With wolves absent from the area, the elk had come out of the high country to graze in the low-lying willow stands along creek beds. Thus stripped of cover, the creeks would dry up. But with the wolves back in the landscape, the elk retreated back to the hills, and the willows were able to reestablish themselves, bringing along mink, otter, frogs, amphibians and songbirds. No one could have anticipated that reintroducing apex predators back into their former food chain would reestablish songbirds and crayfish as well, but it was true. We removed the wolves from the landscape long ago to serve human needs, and there were negative consequences we had in no way anticipated.

If those connections are rampant in the natural world, why do we think they don’t apply to us humans, and to human interactions and endeavors? The over-culture wants us to believe they don’t. Case in point: Many years ago I attended a lecture by Robert Bly, poet and a founder of the Men’s movement, and Deborah Tannen, linguistician and feminist scholar. The media hyped this event as the “battle of the sexes” and a “shouting match” between two polarized opponents. It was nothing of the kind. It was a lively discussion about gender, sex and power, where the tone stayed respectful and amiable, even when they disagreed. Bly and Tannen were able to discuss sensitive topics without degenerating into name-calling or antagonism, and were able to find more common ground than not. But that illusion of separation was what local media chose to focus on — men and women have different agendas, therefore they cannot be on the same side. Since they disagree on some things, they must disagree on all things, and what’s more, they must also be determined to destroy the other’s credibility. The over-culture sees anger and antagonism as logically following any kind of difference — if people aren’t the same, they must be in direct competition. This assumption that everyone is in an adversarial relationship has had a negative impact on all of us. This philosophical stance informs our thinking, if even on the most subtle level. It is our responsibility to look for a higher truth, and to find ways of coming together.

Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis

This is the promise of the Aeon. If we live in polarized times, with the discursive pendulum swinging wildly from one extreme to another, we as magicians have a responsibility to find that new middle ground that is informed by both the wisdom and follies of the past while creating something better. With clear-eyed discernment and openhearted compassion, we see through the illusions of separation, and resolve them in our own psyches. It is our responsibility to look beyond mere surfaces and to not fall prey to the prejudices and hatreds socialized into us. Each conscious soul must part the Veil of this illusion themselves, in order to fully integrate this lesson. The illusion of separation exists as a test to us and a challenge to our imaginations, to see if we can transcend our pain and powerlessness, to create something better. After all, we are divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.

How do we get past this illusion of separation? Through engagement with the “real world,” the mundane, our dharma. For the next month, try to discover those connections in your life that are rendered invisible. Where does your tap water come from? Where does your garbage go? Where does your food come from? How well do you know your neighbors, your town? You might be surprised at the answers. You might also find new ways of connecting with the world, with other people, new ways of creating a better, more conscious life. And wouldn’t that be powerful act of magick?

©2010 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Further Thoughts After the Women’s Voices in Magick Panel at Pantheacon 2010

May 3, 2010 by  
Filed under culture, sexuality and gender

Further Thoughts After the Women's Voices in Magick Panel at Pantheacon 2010

At the most recent Pantheacon, I was honored to participate in a panel of authors who contributed to Immanion Press’s recent Women’s Voices in Magick anthology. It was a real treat to be able to take part in a lively conversation on the state of contemporary occultism with women from a diverse range of magical communities. Celtic Reconstruction, Thelema, Chaos and experimental magic were among the stated approaches used by such notable occultists as Erynn Rowan Laurie, Kat Sanborn, Amy Hale, Lupa, and Jaymi Elford. Despite the disparity in our training and in the communities and Gods we choose to serve, there were a number of common threads in our discussion that I feel shed light on compelling issues of contemporary magical practice. Since taking part, the issues have been much on my mind, and I present some of my thoughts on these topics as well.

Heterosexism, Privilege and Magick

All of us affirmed our affection and respect for our male colleagues, mentors and teachers. We expressed gratitude for their guidance and friendship. But in examining our personal experiences with sexism and heterosexism, it was starkly obvious to all of us that neopagan culture was not immune from either of these ills. It has manifested for us, both subtly and not so subtly. All of us have had to deal with criticisms that our hobbies, interests and life’s work, were not “natural” for women. These are not the attitudes of conservative family members, but rather those of our contemporaries and magical peers. We were told that there was something exotic, unusual, or just flat wrong about a woman Thelemite or Chaote. In those circles, we were either tokens or dupes. We’ve been told that we were doing our magick “incorrectly.” One woman spoke about how she and the other women who founded their tradition now feel pushed aside by male colleagues who monopolize conversations and blog threads with arguments among themselves, while ignoring female voices. Many of us spoke about feeling the hostility of male colleagues in traditionally male occult societies, and feeling distrust from other women occultists for working magick outside of a traditionally female context (Wicca, witchcraft, etc).

We all agreed that we had felt, at one time or another, reduced to sexual and biological objects. We were made to feel, by male colleagues, that our function in our spiritual community was to be sexually attractive and available to men, and if we weren’t, this was interpreted as somehow hostile on our part. To encounter this type of attitude in what we had hoped would be safe magical space is disheartening. What made it worse was the not so subtle message in many magical communities that women’s secondary status is “natural,” that it is somehow “natural” for us as women to serve men in all things, because that’s “how it is in nature.” In addition, this “natural” heterosexism asserts itself as phobic against homosexuality and transgender. “Nature” is used as a litmus test for what is “natural” in human sexuality; therefore, heterosex is privileged above all other sexual expressions for being more “natural.”

This construction of human sexuality is faulty and reductionist, and owes far more to the hidebound moralities of our dominant / dominator paradigm than to reproductive biology. This model is limited because it’s couched in polar binaries only, and even in context of so-called “fertility religion,” it provides an incomplete vision of the natural world as a source of gnosis and connection. The mysteries of egg and sperm, of seed and pollen, are ever present. They are primal forces, the engine that runs our planet. These energies are the forces of creation and destruction that we all engage in, everyday, with every breath: they are not exclusive to one sex, gender or orientation. The deepest human need has ever been to understand these forces, and the religions of these mysteries have ever tried to explain the infinite to finite human minds. The male-female heterosexual current is only one iteration of this primal energy. It’s a powerful one, and it is self-evident. From an evolutionary standpoint it has been wildly successful because it yields the greatest genetic diversity. But it is only one of many currents that energize our planet, our natural world, and in no way does it demand the type of oppressive constructions that culture puts on gender and sexual orientation. These are not natural; these are merely prejudice.

It is one of the more demoralizing tricks of the dominator paradigm to take the entire range of human enterprise, experience and emotional potential, divide it in half, give half to one gender and half to the other, and then expect whole, integrated adults to emerge. The most ancient, and truest, magical injunction remains: Know thyself. We cannot be fully human if we accept the limitations of dominator gender roles without question or complaint. As women magicians, we all had felt at some time pressured to abandon our magick in order to conform to someone else’s vision of what a woman should be. Rejecting those values is part of our commitment to our magical work.

Sex, Pleasure and Consequence

Despite having overcome our dominant culture’s sex-negative programming, we all felt that we had all been sexually objectified at one time or another. In many ways, the pro-sexual attitudes and relaxed sexual mores of Neopaganism have been just as limiting to women occultists as the anti-sexual stances against which many occultists have rebelled. Again, this is a reductionist attitude in which women are relegated to only those roles which serve men. Promoting sexual “liberation” for women serves heterosexual male interests, by encouraging and privileging (pressuring) women to be sexually available. This also manifests in how sexual or love Goddesses are lavished with devotion and reverence, while other Goddesses (mothers, crones, virgins, warriors) are given short-shrift except in women-only ritual contexts (Dianic Wicca, Goddess worship, etc).

The reclamation of sexuality as a sacred act of pleasure and connection is a central tenet of many occult traditions. Certainly for me, who follows the path of the Qadesha (sacred harlot), sexuality acts as both a sacred mystery and spiritual practice. Sexual pleasure can be a conduit for gnosis and connection with our most sacred selves and deity. But often the hedonism of Neopaganism frames sexuality as a purely physical pursuit. It sets up sexual pleasure much as the dominant paradigm does, as a commodity, something superficial, available upon demand, and having no consequence. (This is why the dominant paradigm really has no interest in what women occultists are saying. The vision of a sacred sexuality that we espouse cannot be sold to us, nor can it be purchased from us. Therefore, it really has no assigned value in the larger culture.)

The lie about this reductionist vision of sexuality is that sex is reduced to something inconsequential and tame, and it absolutely isn’t. Sex is full of peril: the peril of connection, of vulnerability, of the very real life and death consequences of . . . life and death. We as human beings have by and large removed procreation from a direct line to reproduction, and medical technology has mitigated much of the risk of childbearing. But those risks, that peril, have been part of human sexuality from the beginning and are encoded deeply within us. (Could the intensity of sexual pleasure be evolutionary coded, in order to offset the pain, danger and risk of childbearing?) Sexuality is more than just “scratching the bunny itch” and a sexual philosophy that diminishes that fact is ultimately false. Sometimes this fact is lost in the hedonism.

An example of this is a Beltane ritual I attended years ago, while I was quite pregnant. Our hosts were gracious, their home and grounds lovely and private, the ritual was beautifully executed. But I became profoundly uncomfortable by the “sermonette” in which our priest discussed the “universal” sexual dynamic of the female enticing the male to chase her till she catches him, which is present in the mating habits of all animals everywhere all the time. I found this fairly reactionary, of course, but as the evening wore on, the vibe became even more sexual as folks got flirty, then lascivious. As it was Beltane, it was considered perfectly appropriate. But once the vibe became licentious, I found myself pointedly ignored. My pregnant state put me outside the “fun and games” — I was no longer sexually available or accessible; I was “spoken for,” not by a husband, but by my unborn child.

While it may seem intuitive to consider a pregnant woman sexually unavailable, I don’t feel it was respect for my relationship status that had this effect. I believe I was ignored because I was a reminder of an aspect of sexuality at odds with the vision of the no-strings, sport-sex that was being celebrated that night. The risks, perils and consequences of sex can transcend the momentary pleasure we are driven to experience, and I was a very present reminder of those consequences. It also hints at old concepts of a divided female sexuality, in which the sexual is degraded as selfish and debauched, and the mother is admired as purely spiritual and selfless, almost virginal. This is ironic, of course, in that the only way to achieve becoming a mother is through that nasty sex. It’s this type of cognitive dissonance that keeps women occultists and witches from feeling fully empowered in magical community. The new boss looks remarkably like the old one.

Women’s Space or Ghetto?

With so many magical spaces and communities being so hostile, what spaces can we as women occultists create? This was a conflict we had all had: finding that the magical communities and work that we were most attracted to, were not necessarily welcoming to us. Specifically, our male colleagues were hostile to our participation, and demanded that we conform to perceived “male” standards of practice and conduct. Even the magical spaces that we and other women created, we could be displaced out of by our male colleagues taking control of the intellectual space. This type of dynamic happens both online and in person. As the group space becomes fractious or argumentative (as will happen when fine points of doctrine are debated endlessly, or when individuals assert their authority or their place in hierarchy), women tend to feel silenced — they do not wish to step into the fray, and feel ignored when they try to redirect the conversation. As a result, many women occultists feel compelled to go “underground,” to create a parallel conversation among themselves only, in order to speak more freely and push forward their own work.

There are benefits and liabilities to this approach. Certainly, this type of woman-only space has been vital in fostering the work of countless women magicians, and is at the core of feminist activism and Goddess spirituality. Its value, its necessity, to the women who feel silenced outside this space, is incalculable. However, by not speaking outside these safe spaces, female voices become more absent where they need most to be heard. These spaces can become ghettos, where women’s creative expression is tolerated at the same time it is barred from the more prominent position in culture that it deserves.

The challenge for all of us — as magicians, as conscious individuals — is to continue to create the work that is sustaining to us and supportive our communities. The stakes are incredibly high — we are all of us engaged in creating culture that is healthy, sustainable and flourishing. This work of generating culture is now inextricably linked to our survival as a species. We have to work together, and seek connection, and look beyond the minute differences that keep us isolated.

©2010 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

The Magick of Christmas: Renewal and the Aeon

The Magick of Christmas: Renewal and the Aeon

As the Year darkens and grows cold, and as we fall into the depths of the oncoming Winter, we perceive a drop of bright energy in all the chilly gloom. The Winter Solstice season has traditionally been associated not with darkness and despair, but with hope, renewal and light. We feel a deep acceptance of limitation and loss that allows us to surrender into the dark, surrender ourselves and our dearest attachments of ego to the Source, in order that we may be renewed. This energy is manifest as the Solstice dawn lights up the depths of the barrow at New Grange and paints a piercing sliver of light known as the Sun Dagger on the stellar calendar at Chaco Canyon. These observances morphed into the ancient Roman celebrations of the Saturnalia and the Kalends, and found their most recent expression in the dozens of celebrations of the Christmas and New Year season. The Winter Solstice is as close to a global holiday as we Earthlings have, and these metaphors of renewal, rebirth and undying light persist through millennia.

I feel the relief and repose of the land as it goes fallow, of life turning itself gently inward against the cold. It’s reassuring, in its way. As I fall into the growing dark in the weeks after Samhain, I find myself craving sleep, craving tranquility, craving my meditation mat. I’ve brought my harvests in, I’ve fed and praised my ancestors, I’ve done my divinations — all that’s left to do is to drop into my tenderest places, and dream. It’s the time of deep mystery, of silence and stillness and of great joy blooming in the dark and cold.

Sadly, the beginning of Winter as it manifests in our culture and time most certainly does not support introspection or slowing down. The things I dislike about this season — the frenetic crush of activity, the pathological drive towards consumption, toxic family dynamics, the unnecessary glorification of Christian culture — are largely avoidable, so I consciously try to spend my energy wisely. But given the psychic overload of this time it’s no surprise to me that many people claim to despise the whole Christmas season. I certainly hated the whole Christmas season for many years. But I didn’t really want to hate it. I loved Christmas as a kid, and not just because of all the gifts. I wanted to reclaim the Winter Solstice for myself, to honor what I felt were the important lessons of this time. I had to rediscover the magic that I had resonated with so strongly as child.

My earliest memory of Christmas centers on the story of a magical quest. The story of the Nativity, as I learned it, was always couched in magical terms. The story began with the Magi king Melchior, noting the Star in the Eastern Sky, and obsessing over its meaning. I was fascinated by heavenly portents and the wise astrologer-king who alone could read the signs and felt compelled to follow them. I was thrilled by the perilous expedition to follow the Star, and moved by its surprising end: the birth of the Child of Grace in the humblest surroundings.

This is why there always seems to be magick afoot on Christmas Eve. When I stopped celebrating Christmas, I continued to feel that sense of wonder and expectation of joy. In tracing the pagan roots of Christmas traditions, one finds that the Nativity story is just the most recent iteration of this myth. In neo-pagan celebrations of Yule, this child of light may be evoked as Llew, Attis or Horus. This Child is the new Aeon coming about, the resolution of the Dyadic pair into something greater than the sum of its parts. This is the Mystery that the Magi were seeking. This is the promise of renewal that speaks to us from the dark.

Seen in this light, the Nativity myth takes on added depth. Christ’s parents symbolically occupy places on the Pillars of Severity and Mercy, but by moving towards the Middle Pillar they are able to give birth to a being who balances that polarity. Christ’s foster father, Joseph, descendant of the line of King David, is an exemplar of the Law as handed down by his forefathers, representing Logos (logic, law, the written word). As such, he stands firmly on the Pillar of Severity. According to the Law, he could demand that his bride-to-be be killed, since she is pregnant but not with his child. He is moved by compassion to spare her in defiance of the Law. Mary, on the other hand, has long been a symbol of the selfless devotion of motherhood, placing her on the Pillar of Mercy. Yet by embodying the Child’s physical being, she is also condemning what is mortal and human in him to torture and death. From her position on the Pillar of Mercy, and in contradiction of every maternal instinct, she offers her child to expiate the world’s sins. The resolution of these two opposites is the child Christ, who unites these principles and offers up a vision of a perfected Universe that neither paradigm could have predicted.

These potentials exist in every one of us, for all of us are seekers, all of us stand in our turns on the Pillars of Light and Dark, and all of us struggle to come to balance. We all spend time as logical beings trapped in our own histories, cultures and heritages. We are all beings of compassion who give of ourselves. And we are all Children of Light, emanations of the heart of flame that burns in the core of every star and in the soul of all who live. “Every man and every woman is a Star.” We as magicians are always seeking the Star which is our most perfected, essential self. We seek it as the only reliable guide to the Aeon, to the promise of a renewed World. This is the potential of which every Solstice season reminds us, and that we cannot help celebrating, in some small way.

©2009 by Leni Hester.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.

Leni Hester is a writer, ritualist, Witch and scholar. Her latest work is included in Women’s Voices in Magic from Megalithica Press (out November 30). Her work also appears in the anthologies Pop Culture Magick and Manifesting Prosperity from Megalithica Press, and in various pagan magazines including Sagewoman, NewWitch, Cup of Wonder, In a Witch Eye and Pangaia. She practices Transformational Magick and serves the Orisa near Denver, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

Lammas: Abundance and the Courage to Receive

Lammas: Abundance and the Courage to Receive

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

—Antonio Machado

Now is the time of the embarrassment of riches.

Summer heaps abundance upon us — an abundance of heat and sunlight, of long golden days that stretch into steamy twilights, of the fertile Earth heaping the treasures of flower and fruit for all to see. In the garden, the tomatoes weigh down the vine, the zucchini and pumpkin push their creepers further out as their fruits swell obscenely, the apple trees groan under their burden of ripening fruit. Insects swarm, the animal babies of Spring are seen following their mothers. All the unrestrained living of our living world is in full force. Summer pours its blessings on us all in a wealth of light, heat, blood and chlorophyll. Every leaf, every fruit, every branch has rushed out to its furthest edge of ripeness and splendor — we are at the zenith of the year’s productivity and about to tip over down the other side.

It’s easy in the crush of such overwhelming growth to forget the scarcities of winter, its bitterness and the emptiness of the land. It’s also easy to forget that the balance to all this abundance and grace is sacrifice. The Sacrificed King is slain to provide for his people, as all life depends upon the eternal cycles of life and death and life again. This sacrifice is not always easy for us to comprehend, and makes us feel uneasy and perhaps guilty. We must not forget that “sacrifice” means to “make sacred” and an integral part of the sacrifice is our humble willingness to receive the blessing of this gift. In receiving it, we become witnesses to it, and if we do not shirk the responsibility that this gift incurs, we enter into an eternal contract with the Mystery. We are changed by receiving this grace. It requires courage to accept it.

I have lacked this courage. Despite my belief in the overflowing power of the Universe to provide, and faith in my own ability to manifest, somewhere deep inside I don’t truly allow myself to receive the abundance that I know is immanent. One of the most important, and most uncomfortable, lessons I’ve received this year, was to have my inability to receive shown to me. I had booked a night at a retreat center and spa to recharge myself. This was a gift to myself — 24 hours of silence, of water and sand, of being intimate with myself in ways that the crush of parenting and working full time had made almost impossible. I desperately needed the down time, but for the first two hours I sat by the tide pool in my bathing suit, unable to stop fretting about my kids, my work, my responsibilities elsewhere.

I was unable to be present with the gift I had given myself, and was ruining my own mini-vacation because I could not accept the gift of time, silence and luxury. No one was denying me this but myself. Somehow I was more comfortable feeling stressed, anxious and angry at trifles than I was letting go of it all and taking in the healing of salt air and hot water. In moving through my mundane life, I had been pushing through, trying to hold myself together and all I had really accomplished was to close myself down. I needed the courage to give myself permission to be at rest, to not be dealing or in charge, to not be productive, to simply let myself be and allow myself to be at peace. It was scary to let it go, I felt vulnerable, but in letting go I was able to finally open to the blessings.

The image that came to my mind then was the yoga Warrior pose (asana): one knee forward, one back, arms stretched out, the chest open and vulnerable. The Warrior is not closed down and defensive. He pulls his shoulders back, which opens his chest, then his heart, generating strength out of vulnerability. The heart grows stronger, the spine lengthens, the blessings of the Gods pour down. It takes courage to receive grace, to incur the responsibility for receiving it, for being called upon to be present and mindful of it. Our culture does not teach this type of gratitude, because gratitude dispels the illusion of disconnection and isolation that supports its dominator paradigm. Meat comes from the store, water from the tap, power from the switch — how these things got there are invisible processes that do not importune us with questions about their true cost. We do not need to be mindful of the true cost because we do not have to raise the animal we eat, or carry the water we drink, or generate the power we use. Because we are encouraged to remain in our illusion of isolation, the real costs and liabilities of these things are never really known to us, and we cannot be appropriately grateful for what we have received. It takes courage to see things as they are, to see what things truly cost, and to willingly acknowledge our indebtedness.

Earlier this summer I was the recipient of profound grace, with all its perils, when my family bought our first new house and prepared to move in. The house had been vacant for at least two years and a large colony of wild honeybees had made their home in the upstairs dormer window sill. It was the bees that had first made me seriously consider this house. The first time I went to look at it, as I stood on its crooked front stoop, I asked the house “What do I need to know about you?” whereupon I heard an intense buzzing. Looking up, I saw several bees flying in and out of the window sill. As a Priestess of Ochun, I was immediately attentive. Bees are her sacred animals, and since she is a household Goddess, I had requested her help in securing the right house.

Relocating the bees was the first thing that happened once the closing papers were all signed. None of the options for moving them along were easy or cheap, but the only effective method was the also the most ethically sound. I had no intention of just exterminating the bees, of course, but I found it ironic that even if they were simply gassed by an exterminator, the entire nest would still have to be removed, the space cleaned out and rebuilt, and that would not be the end of the problem. “Oh, poison just makes them mad,” said one bee keeper, and makes things even worse when the bees inevitably returned. Having someone remove the bees, relocate them to a new hive and remove the nest was going to incur some casualties among the bees, but it was the best solution for us and for the bees.

The morning the bee keeper came was cloudy and cool, a perfect day for the removal. It occurred to me that in agrarian communities, June was traditionally the time for setting up housekeeping as couples were married, and also for wild bees to swarm. This was also a time when bees could be put into hives where the honey could be more easily harvested. Honey has a long and venerable history as a medicine and treasured delicacy. I was reminded that in ancient times, before humans learned to keep bees and had to raid wild nests, honey was more valuable than gold. I had a perfect and safe view through the window as the sill was removed, hundreds of bees alarmed into defensive flight, and when the rotted wood was lifted out, a flood of gold poured out like treasure. It did really look like treasure being pulled out of the ground, as the dark wood gave way to ivory colored wax pulsing out liquid amber. The comb glowed like it was lit from within, its life force (ache’) so strong that lit up a dark overcast morning. The nest was a few years old, the slabs of comb three feet long and more, several inches thick, crawling with thousands of bees and just dripping with honey.

Over forty pounds of honey and comb were taken out of the wall, and a large healthy hive was relocated. The sill was repaired and I could go forward with other necessary repairs. I could not help but feel sad for the bees as I watched them crawling around, disoriented, on what was left of their home. It was obvious they were traumatized by the invasion. A colony is organized by function and none of the bees could perform their work. The defenders were overmatched by the human cutting into their precious hive; the comb builders could not build comb and the nectar collectors had no place to return to. I considered how, like many families in the recession, they had lost their home, their life’s work and their savings through no fault of their own. I learned later that this was a recurring narrative for the house, having been foreclosed once before. We had purchased it at a steep discount from a family who could not continue with their plan to fix and flip it. So this house had an unfortunate history of its inhabitants investing big and losing it all. This gave me pause, made me feel somewhat guilty and also concerned about my own fortunes.

I realized that this sacrifice was also a blessing. In Santeria and Lukumi, the ritual libation (ebbo) is sometimes covered in honey as a final touch of grace, and my house had, at great cost to the bees, been blessed by a wealth of honey poured on it. As witness to their sacrifice, I had to honor and acknowledge what others had sacrificed for this house, which made it the wonderful safe place to raise my family. I had done plenty of magick to find the right house at the right price in the right location, and this house had everything and more — I knew I had been divinely led to this house, and I felt deeply that the house itself longed to change its narrative of loss and disappointment. We had been brought together for our mutual good, and every sign, omen and touch of grace was a blessing. I had been reluctant to make an offer on the house because it just felt too rich — everything too perfect, the view too great, the yard too nice, etc. I had to acknowledge that this was not too good to be true — it was just challenging me to accept something this wonderful, and to accept it humbly with an open heart.

©2009 Leni Hester
Edited by Sheta Kaey

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