A Promise to a River

Wilbur-River

When you tour around to various magic-themed festivals as much as I do, you end up participating in a lot of community magics. Which, of course, I love. Sharing in ritual is a wonderful way to strengthen ties and build lasting bonds with the people you meet, imbuing a talisman with memories and insights from the festival experience. I always make an effort to participate in whatever magical intent the organizers have prepared for us.

Such was the case a few weeks ago, when we played two festivals on consecutive weekends in Ontario; Spirits of the Earth and Kaleidoscope Gathering. At Spirits of the Earth’s closing ritual, we were each given a stone with an 8-rayed star painted on it. We were to imbue the stone with something we wished to manifest, a goal or yearning that we would carry forth into the world, fueled by the inspiration of the festival. Then we were to cast our stone into a body of water.

A fairly standard bit of magic, as these things go. The spirit of nature, in this case the soul of a river, invigorates our talisman with its own properties, and we benefit through the linking. We offer our stones to the water; a lake, a river, an ocean, as a way for nature to witness our desire, to accept it into her. To attune ourselves to the rhythm and flow of the natural world is to open our souls to her, and an open soul has a much better chance of crafting a fulfilled life. I link the sticky emotion of my desire to the stone, and then offer it to the river, that she may enliven it with her own essence, that our mingled essences will bring the wisdom of the river to my heart’s desire.

Such were my musings as I realized, the next weekend at the Kaleidoscope Gathering, that here I was, in the presence of the perfect river. I had been swimming in the glorious Bonnechere River every day, so a relationship had already begun. As I was scheduled to make the mad dash back across the country the next day (and thus have a significantly higher concrete to water ratio) I decided this was the right moment to cast my stone to the waters.

So what was my intention? Often, I take every opportunity, magical or otherwise, to boost my earnings, as keeping enough money coming in to continue this “musical ministry” of ours is an ongoing challenge. However, this time I felt secure enough in that regard to turn my focus on another issue. I want to gain more mastery over my health. I want to keep myself fit enough to do this work for years to come. I need to find ways of getting enough exercise on the road, and I need to make sure I have healthy food prepared ahead of time so that I can avoid eating junk. My voice is very dependent on being well rested, on my muscles being toned and strong, yet relaxed, and on allergies not being triggered. Exhaustion definitely takes a toll on my voice. And yet exhaustion is difficult to avoid on the road.

So my wish was to have my voice working in prime capacity at all times, and to find and develop the habits that would most support this. For when my voice is on, I know that it is a gift. It is a tool of magic that can enchant and captivate, and if I can enchant and captivate with consistency, the money will be there.

I spent time in meditation, and then I waded into the river and cast my stone, asking the river to help me. I then swam and surrendered myself to her totally.

A short time later, I realized something. I hadn’t merely asked the river to help me, to open me to insight and guidance that would lead me to vocal and physical well being. I had also made a promise to the river.

I had made a promise to uphold my end of this bargain, to actively commit to finding ways to maximize health on the road. It is not only what the river can do for me, it is what I am pledging to do, as the river is my witness.

This is what a reciprocal relationship with nature looks like, at least in part. If I believe in the soul of nature (and I do), and the soul of this particular river, enough that I find worth in asking it to witness, to hold my prayers, to lend me its life force, then surely I must also see that asking the river for its attention compels a certain respect on my end. What effort, what direction of life force am I throwing in with my stone, that makes this more than a meaningless gesture? If I ask the river for her gifts, I must also agree to put my own skin in the game. I am making a promise to this river to cultivate my own human vibrance, that my voice stays supple and strong enough to sing to her when next I see her.

I would not expect my new river friend to magically solve my problems for me, any more than I would expect a human friend to do so. We all know the frustrated therapist, at her wits’ end because those she counsels won’t do the work. And yet, too often we forget that the magic we cast doesn’t just happen, well, magically. Our magic deepens and supports our work, but it is still our work to do.

So Bonnechere River, here is my pledge to you. In exchange for your inspiration, for your delicious, electrical life force, which invigorates me anew every time I see your picture and remember you on my skin, I commit myself to actively refining my health, so that I am a finely tuned machine, able to deliver songs that set spines tingling whenever they are sung. I will demonstrate this commitment to you by writing and recording you your very own song. I thank you for your gifts, Bonnechere River, and they will not be taken for granted.

The Green Album is Here!!!!

Green-Album-Here

At long last, the collaborative project Winter and I have been working on for the better part of a year is available to the public!

The Green Album is a collection of 14 songs by 14 Pagan musicians written exclusively for the project, with the theme of love and reverence for the earth, and with 25% of the proceeds going toward the Rainforest Trust.

We chose the Rainforest Trust for their high Charity Navigator rating, as well as for their collaborative spirit, partnering internationally with other groups local to the endangered areas they work for.

Artists featured on the Green Album are:

Ginger Doss
Wendy Rule
SJ Tucker
Bekah Kelso
Tuatha Dea
Damh the Bard
Kellianna
Celia Farran
Mama Gina
Brian Henke
Spiral Dance
Sharon Knight and Winter
Murphy’s Midnight Rounders
Spiral Rhythm

Working with the artist of the Green Album was collaboration at its finest! Every artist involved exemplifies the “co-operation not competition” ethos, which made this project a joy to work on, and has strengthened bonds of friendship that will last a lifetime. Winter and I are truly thrilled to have been part of this, and I hope it will be just the beginning of an ongoing tradition of musicians coming together to put our ideals into concrete practices for making this world a better place.

Would you like to make your own contribution to the Rainforest Trust while treating yourself this fine collection of new songs?

Here’s how you can get a copy:

COMPACT DISC:

CDs are available exclusively through the individual artists. We each have a limited number to sell to our circles. If you buy from Winter and I, we keep the 75% of the sale not designated to the Rainforest Trust. If you are planning to see us along our tour route, you can pick up a copy at a live show. (Our tour dates can be found at http://www.sharonknight.net/tour/)

However, if you will not be seeing us soon, you can also order it via Paypal. Send $20 to sharon@sharonknight.net (Please select “send money to friends and family”, rather than “Paying for goods and services”). Include a note to let me know it’s for the Green Album, and to confirm your address.

We will sign it upon request, and get it out to you promptly!

DIGITAL DOWNLOAD:

Digital downloads are available immediately through CD Baby, and can be gotten right here: http://www.thegreenalbum.net/home.html

We are very excited to share this project with you!

Much love from the road! xoxoxox Sharon and Winter

Martha Stewart, Fireflies, and The Soul of Business: An Epiphany

IMG_1389

There’s a feeling I get, that I have always gotten throughout my life. It is the feeling of warm summer nights, running carefree and barefoot as a child. It is the feeling of dinners outside at a long table, of convivial conversations and laughter, of sneaking scraps to the dog, of fireflies and candles and twinkling lights strung up around the garden. It is the feel of hot jasmine tea on a misty day, of a huge soft towel after emerging from a hot tub. It is the feeling of solitude and quiet, the feeling of sand between my toes as the sea rolls and crashes nearby.

I have always called this feeling the “Martha Stewart” feeling. The feeling that life is good. That there is enough. There is enough money. Enough security. Enough love. Enough kindness. It is the feeling that the world is a friendly place, a safe place to relax and laugh and create, a place to share good meals with friends and family. In this feeling, there is room for a big table in the kitchen. Or a beautiful garden with matching dishes and beautiful place settings. It is the feeling of plenitude, the “Good Life”.

This feeling represents “home” to me. And yet, it has been elusive for much of my life. For a long time, I associated this feeling with family. Since I was estranged from my family for many years, I have spent much of my life with a sense that I am outside of this feeling. That the “Martha Stewart” quality is simply not available to me.

Around the time I began making gentle inroads toward healing with my parents, I owned a home. This home had a dining room, and I hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners there. For the few years we owned this home, I felt like the matriarch, able to provide the “Martha Stewart” feeling for my family. We had a big table that fit 10 people. We had matching dishes. We had convivial conversations. But I wasn’t able to keep the house, and in losing the house, I lost something far more dear to me than 4 walls. I lost the sense of pride I had in being able to provide a gathering place for friends and family. I lost my ability to provide the Martha Stewart feeling.

I associate the Martha Stewart feeling with families that were not broken. With having enough money to create the sort of life that you see in Sunset magazine. I had neither of these things, so I tried to forget about it. I tried to be grateful for what I did have, and make do with that.

I went through my life, creating a world for myself within “alternative” communities. “Chosen” family. I strove to create life on my own terms, building a career as an independent musician, and doing reasonably okay with that, though the money won’t be getting me a house with a garden here in the San Francisco Bay Area any time soon.

At some point, as part of this “Building a business-crafting life on my own terms” thing, I decided I needed a manifesto. All the cool kids had one. The entrepreneurs who inspired me, who were doing what I wanted to do, and whom I was modeling my own career path on – the Chris Guillebeaus and Leonie Dawsons and Danielle LaPortes – they all had manifestos.

I decided that Neofolk Romantique needed a manifesto. So I wrote one and put it up on my website, and not much came of it.

I would still dream of the Martha Stewart feeling. I have Pinterest boards of beautiful homes by the sea – the modern day equivalent of Sunset magazine – and I find it relaxing to look at them, in the same way it is relaxing to imagine winning the lottery. You don’t really think it will happen, but you still enjoy the feeling the fantasy gives you. Since currently my life is very nomadic and I don’t have much of a sense of home, I suppose the boards fill a gap. I can flesh out with imagination what feels lacking in my “real” world. It is a way I can bring the Martha Stewart feeling into my life even though I may never have it in my reality.

Usually, I go about my life being thankful for what I have and working like a dog to grow it. I try not to covet what others have, and I try not to dwell overly much on the Martha Stewart feeling. For that is not my life. That life is for somebody else, I reasoned.

Then, the other day, I came across a collection of writings by a woman named Hiro Boga. A teacher’s teacher, Hiro Boga is the mentor of women whose businesses I admire, women like Danielle LaPorte and Leonie Dawson. The mentor of my mentors! I needed to check her out. I quickly realized working with her is beyond the scope of my financial ability, but I could afford one of her books.

So I bought an eBook, called Soul Business.

In Soul Business, Ms. Boga talks about our businesses as having their own souls. Our businesses are entities that we can communicate with, make pledges with, form relationships with. We can agree to take care of each other. Such a lovely, refreshing idea! I think of my business as something I forge from the fire of determination; the lone hustle, hard and relentless. I approach my business more like Mad Eye Moody approaches the Death Eaters; requiring “constant vigilance”. As much as I love the idea of the “soul” of my business, I act as though I don’t trust her. I treat my business as a house of cards that must constantly be fussed with to ensure it doesn’t fall over. I haven’t really thought of her having a soul of her own. I’ve thought of her as having a “vibe”, of representing who I am at my core. I have a strong sense of my “brand”. But I had not taken that extra step of seeing my business as having a soul. Of being a presence that can stand up on her own and let me know what she wants.

This notion felt completely natural (of course the vibe of my business, my brand, would have a soul) and completely eye-opening at the same time. My goodness, I treat my business as this fragile thing that will crumble the second I relax, instead of a friend who’s got my back! I immediately felt so much less alone.

And as this epiphany washed over me, the Martha Stewart feeling came rushing back to me.

It is the feeling of fireflies and secrets and whiskey-warmed belly laughs.

Words from my Neofolk Romantique manifesto! I realized that I had thought about this manifesto all wrong. Like a commodity. Like a business transaction, a thing I had to do to compete with the hip entrepreneurs of my day. A thing to get done and cross off my to-do list. Like a notch in my belt.

I had short-changed my manifesto, and missed the entire point of writing it. That manifesto is nothing short of the soul of my business, the quality that I have always longed for and felt was so elusive.

And then I realized what must surely be obvious to you already:

That Martha Stewart feeling, the Neofolk Romantique feeling, is not something to be attained outside of myself, touched only through glossy magazines and dreams of other people’s lives. It is not dependent on money or my parents approval. That feeling lives inside of me, and it always has.

This seems so obvious now, and in some ways I always knew this. But I also held it outside myself, only mine as some sort of material reward for being “good” or “successful”. And I now realize I don’t have to hold it outside myself as some sort of reward. I can allow it to blossom inside me and live in my heart forever, starting right now. I can make friends with it as the soul of my business, as the soul of Neofolk Romantique, which guides everything I hope to offer the world. Every song, show, workshop, piece of art, is merely a vehicle to share this feeling with others, to begin the convivial conversation. It’s as though I have been pushing it away because I believed it could only come when I had the means to have a big table in the garden. But I can create this anywhere and everywhere. And indeed this is my great gift to the world. This is what I am truly offering, this secret window inside my soul. My “offerings” are only the means of delivery.

I need never be separate from this feeling again. And I needn’t be lonely with longing. I simply need to own that this feeling lives within me, and it always has.

It as been a long time since I’ve read something that has sparked such insight, and I really needed it! Sometimes the “Aha!” moments we need most are the ones sitting right under our noses.

I am very thankful for this book, and I urge my fellow entrepreneurs to read it. I’d be curious to hear what sort of changes you experience, considering your business as a Being with it’s own soul.

Curses, Redemption, and Death: A Cinderella Tale

Michelle-Couchot

Michele Couchot June 13, 1944 – March 9th, 2016

My stepmother died Wednesday March 9th, at about 2:40 in the afternoon. My feelings about this are…complicated.

She was beautiful. She was also treacherous.

I remember the first time she came to our house for her first date with my Dad. Her hair was a little longer than in this picture, but other than that she looked just like this. I was captivated by her beauty. I had been without a mom for 2 years. I was 7. I looked up at her and said “Are you going to marry my dad?” She smiled, a dazzling smile.

She married my Dad.

I think my Dad was eager for his daughters to have a mother. Possibly he was too eager. Possibly he rushed in when he should have been cautious.

My stepmother was many things. Beautiful. Seductive. Talented. Vulnerable. She was a ballerina. She was a teacher. She knitted beautiful sweaters. She was extremely graceful. When she was happy, she radiated an ethereal light.

She was also a narcissist. And very certainly bipolar. She and my dad would have raging fights that could last for weeks. Sometimes these fights turned physically abusive. My sister, stepbrother, and I would cower in our bedrooms.

This abuse would also get turned on us kids. My stepmother would make it very clear that my sister and I were not her real children, and her cherished son was favored above all. I kept my head down and tried to stay out of the way. In this way, I avoided physical abuse. Mostly. Mostly the abuse was verbal, and that was constant. You would never know what you were going to get when you got home from school. Being ignored was the best you could hope for.

Sometimes there was kindness. Christmas was a time of joy. (Usually after an epic fight). Love was expressed with an absurd number of gifts under the tree. Christmases at our house exemplified the “Me” generation in grand fashion. Stuff was a token of love. But there was also kindness. Loving words. Laughter. My stepmother radiating her ethereal light. My dad elated to have this light shining on him. From Christmas Eve through Boxing Day, we were a real family. Almost three whole days of good will, before it would all start again.

My stepmother was sickly. She was in and out of hospitals always. She became anorexic. My Dad turned the other cheek at the abuses she heaped upon my sister and I, telling us we should be patient with her, she was sick and needed our support. He abandoned us to her abuses, which were sometimes sadistic indeed. No marks were made. Child protective services would probably not have taken us away. Humiliation was more her thing.

Usually it was my dad who lost his shit and turned to physical abuse. I do not ever remember him like this, until he married my stepmother.

I ran away from home when I was 15.

But first I tried to negotiate with them, to allow me to become an emancipated minor. I would stay in school and get good grades, I promised, and I would work after school, and get my own apartment nearby. I would still be in their lives, just not living under their roof. This was a legal arrangement you could make at the time, to be recognized as an adult at 16 instead of 18, if you met and maintained certain requirements, like staying in school.

They wouldn’t have it.

I could no longer bear to live with them and their horrific fights. I felt overwhelmed by feelings that if I didn’t get away from them I would turn out like them. So I forced the issue. I had to run 6 times before they would finally leave me be.

I thought it would be uncomfortable for 6 months, or even a few years, but once they saw I was getting good grades, working, and being responsible, once they saw I wanted to spend Christmas with them, that I wanted them in my life, they would come around. They would realize that it wasn’t much different, that I just moved away from home a few years earlier than normal.

That’s not what happened. They held a grudge for years. They got me fired from every job I got, threatening my employers with legal action, telling them I did not have a work permit. Which I didn’t. Because they wouldn’t agree to sign one for me.

I didn’t stay in school. I lived on the street. I slept in parks, storage units, garages, laundry rooms, friends’ cars. Sometimes men offered to let me stay at their houses. But not out of the goodness of their hearts. I usually chose the park. This went on for two years. Then I fell in love and moved in with my boyfriend. I was 17.  When I turned 18 and was able to participate in adult society, things got better.

My parents didn’t speak to me for twelve years.

My sister also ran away. She was 13. Things were harder for her than they were for me. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that without her big sister at home, she would feel even more vulnerable and want to run herself, but it didn’t. In my own panic, I abandoned her, just like her mother and her father had. I have carried guilt about this my entire life.

My stepbrother didn’t fare well either. My perception was that he was the spoiled child so he would get whatever he wanted. This was not his perception. The family pretty much came unglued once my sister and I left. The aftermath was not awesome for my stepbrother. The violence escalated dramatically.

My parents ignored all attempts at reconciliation. This was excruciating for me, for, despite the abuse, the humiliation, the cruelty, they also created a beautiful home. With normal things in it like ballet lessons and road trips and visits from grandparents. Like tea time and warm cookies and British comedies on the telly. There was a middle class when I was growing up, and we were in it. There was the possibility of a loving home, like the Brady Bunch, if only I could be good enough. But I never was. Christmases without my Dad were so painful I can’t even begin to express. I remember one Christmas, when I was about 22. I came home to where I was living at the time – I can’t remember where I’d been, with my sister maybe – and the entire house was empty. My room mates were all with their families. My boyfriend was with me, but he went to sleep right away. And the darkest loneliness and abandonment washed over me then. I thought it would crush me, snuff me out of existence entirely in its utter despair. I felt outside of everything good in life, a loving family completely unavailable to me. I have felt this many times since.

I remember another time, living on the street, when I was about 16. I had been sick for a month. Somehow I heard my parents were going to be away for Thanksgiving, and I snuck into the house. It was raining and I needed to be warm and dry, and to eat real food. A house sitter came, and I freaked out, and hid in the closet beneath the stairs. The house sitter freaked out too. Different lights were on. The dog was in and he was sure he had let the dog out. The house sitter – a friend of my brother’s – and I had a good laugh about this many years later! Living on the street was rough, but I was far more afraid of my parents, and what they would do if I came home. So I never did, not when they were there.

My parents finally began to come around when I got married. Yes, in case this tale sounds familiar, I did marry the handsome prince. I invited my parents to the wedding, and they came. The first step in healing began that day. The doors were open for me to resume a relationship with them. I was so grateful. But also cautious. For a few years we visited them and had Christmases with them. Things seemed better. The violence seemed to have subsided. Then they moved to Portland. Because it was more affordable. But also because my stepbrother was there. For my stepmother, everything was about her son, (whom I’ll call James), and my dad blindly followed. He was the good child, the one who did not run away. Of course they would move to Portland to be with James, even though my sister and I had only been renewing our relationship with them for a few years. All the old hurts were so easily triggered, the reminders that my sister and I were second best.

I was glad to come back into their lives, and so was my sister. But my stepmother still monopolized so much of my dad’s attention, we rarely got any time with him. All visits were constantly consumed with her medical needs. Even when we made it up to Portland, Dad was so distracted catering to her that there wasn’t much time to just sit and talk.

Then my Dad got cancer. He died 5 years ago, on February 10th.

Shortly before he died my stepmother was away in a convalescent home for some illness. I had a few days just with my dad. We talked about everything. We cried a lot. We forgave each other. We were both filled with regret that we hadn’t done this years earlier. Late though it was, I am so profoundly grateful to have had that talk. He died a few months afterward.

Fast forward to the current era.

Winter and I rented a cabin by the sea for a few days, a much needed vacation after a very busy season. The minute we returned to the land of cell reception, there was a message from my sister, with “bad news about our stepmother.” I figured she had some sort of medical event, maybe a stroke. I did not expect to be told she was dying.

Winter and I immediately turned around and went to Portland to be with her. No one had thought to call her son, James, who is now living in Boston. Or even message him on Facebook. I did. His phone was disconnected. He hadn’t posted anything on Facebook in a month. I sent him Facebook messages anyway. I didn’t hear back. I stalked his Facebook friends. I found someone I vaguely remembered him dating. I contacted her. Luckily I remembered correctly, and she is now his girlfriend and I was able to get a message to him through her. I arranged money for him to fly out. I needed to negotiate this with my mom’s power of attorney agent, who has no love for my brother. She said if I was sure this is what we wanted, she would release some money to get him an airline ticket.

I wasn’t sure. Is this what Michele would want? Or would it cause agitation for her? She and James have had their own issues over the years, and were not entirely on good terms. Was I interpreting her desires correctly? Or was I projecting my own self-importance onto the situation, thinking I knew what she’d want? Was I projecting what I would want? How can we be sure we are interpreting the wishes of the dying correctly? She couldn’t squeeze my hand. She could barely open her eyes. My brother wasn’t sure he wanted to come. He wasn’t sure he’d make it in time. We agreed we would check in the next morning.

That night I saw her Advance Directive paperwork on the table. In the section where it asked who she wanted with her when she died, my brother’s name was listed. My name was not. This should not have blindsided me, but it did. Completely. All my abandonment issues came flooding back, threatening to drown me. I am nothing, I don’t matter, I have no family, no mother who loves me. She didn’t even want me there. What the hell was I doing there? Trying to make myself the hero? The good child? Trying once again to get approval that I will never, ever attain? James should be here, not me.

I began to second guess her expression when Winter and I arrived the evening before. When we arrived we announced our presence – the dying can hear right up to the end, even if they can’t do much else. She opened her eyes a bit and looked glad, but then bitter, as though she were angry or afraid. I thought it was that she became aware of her situation, but now I wondered if she was disappointed that I wasn’t James.

I tried not to make this into a thing, but by the next morning I was so triggered I could not find my center at all. I was afraid to go into her room. I considered just going home. I felt ashamed, like I had no business being there and it was just my ego, thinking I am some great “Midwife to the Dead” and I was making her death about me and I should just go away. I was interjecting myself where I wasn’t invited. I decided I would try and talk with her one more time so that I could let James know her condition, and he could decide whether to come or not. And then I would go home.

I went up to her room. I asked her if she wanted me to get James out here. All I could do was try and read her energy, what little expression she was able to make. I felt something in her surge, as though she were trying to scream “yes, yes!” Even though her PoA agent was saying “I don’t know know how you can interpret anything from her, she is just lying there” and the nurses saying “It’s hard to say what she wants”, I felt strongly that she wanted James to come.

I called James and told him I thought he should come. His name was on the list. It was his mom. And everything she has ever known or loved is going away, forever. She hadn’t seen him in three years, and of course she would want to hold his hand one last time.

We bought the tickets. He would take three different planes, and be traveling for about 10 hours. Would he make it in time? Was I interpreting her correctly? Or would there be angst between them? Was I being irresponsible with my mom’s money?  Was this the right call?

I wasn’t sure. And meanwhile I was struggling with my own emotions. My own fear that I was meddlesome and unwanted.

I tried to just be present with her, and throughout the day, I began to calm down. I sang to her and she seemed to appreciate that. I talked to her, telling her about various family members and what they were up to, and that seemed to bring her comfort. I began to feel that, even though I hadn’t been on the list, she was grateful for my presence. My sister’s daughter called her, and she was visibly glad to hear her voice. She sent pictures from New Zealand, and my stepmom tried to sit up and look at them. She wasn’t able to but this made it clear she could hear and understand what was being said. A hospice nurse came in for the night. My mom’s vitals were stable, and I felt I could get a few hours’ sleep. I was staying in a spare room at the assisted living center where she lived, so I was right down the hall. At this point, I thought she would make it until James arrived, and I felt much more relaxed about things. I told her I was going but that I was right down the hall, and got the distinct feeling that she really didn’t want me to go. A slight flicker in her facial expression. I promised I was close and the hospice nurse would call me if anything shifted with her. Perhaps she did want me there, after all. Perhaps my emotional scars are not the sum total of reality.

I went to bed at 10pm. They woke me up at 12:30 am. Her oxygen levels were falling. My brother wouldn’t arrive for 11 hours.

Winter and I went to her. We wanted to make sure she had family with her, even if she couldn’t make it until James got there. She had definitely taken a turn for the worse. I talked to her. We had been telling her James was coming but at this point we felt we needed to give her permission to go, that she didn’t have to hang on if she wasn’t up for it. So we did. We sang to her and held her hand. All the nurses said she could go at any time. Around 5:00am I went back to bed. She was completely out of it and she had the hospice nurse until 8am. So I set my alarm for 7am, got a bit more sleep, and returned before the hospice nurse left. I sat with her, sometimes talking, sometimes singing, sometimes just holding her hand.

Sometime between 8am-9am, her breathing became considerably more labored, more agitated. The nurses said her systems were shutting down, and automatic functions weren’t happening automatically so much any more. Like breathing. It seemed to me that she was forcing herself to keep breathing out of sheer will. It was still at least 5 hours until my brother would arrive. I told her once again we would all understand if she needed to let go, and that we all loved her. She just kept breathing. Incredibly labored breaths, like she was running a marathon. For 5 hours. I would tell her each milestone of James’ arrival. “James is in Seattle now mom”. “Less than two hours to go mom”. “Well you’ve made it this far, you may as well hang in there at this point”.

Watching her in this state, breathing like that, as though it was taking everything she had to hang on, for 5 hours, was excruciating. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, holding space for her while trying to keep my own emotions grounded. Trying to be the psychopomp and the family member at the same time. By now it was very clear that yes, she was hanging on for dear life to see her son one last time.

James arrived in time. We spent some time with her all together, and then I left them alone. She died an hour and 20 minutes after he arrived.

At this point, I allowed myself a moment: I fucking called it.  If I wasn’t confident it was the right decision at first, I most certainly was by the end. My willingness to trust my judgement went a long way toward facilitating a good death for her. I say this not so much to pat myself on the back, as to remind myself that facilitating death is something I can do. And something I want to do for others.

So now it’s done. I served in my role as psychopomp. I was able to interpret what needed doing even when those around me didn’t know what to ask for. And now I can deal with my personal emotions.

Is it terrible to admit that relief is part of it?  And not just relief that her suffering is over. Seeing her at rest after hours of labored breathing was a relief, certainly. But also, I realize I have been holding my breath since she married my dad all those many years ago. I remember their wedding day, and I remember a sense of foreboding. It seemed too fast. There was a “be careful what you wish for” quality in the air. She married my father, as I had asked, and a nightmare ensued. A nightmare that destroyed our family.

I loved my dad more than life itself. And I lost him the day she married him. I know that her cruelty toward my sister and I was jealousy. She wanted all his attention for herself. And she got it. I am certain she fueled the fire that kept him holding a grudge years longer than he would have on his own. Losing his relationship with his daughters destroyed him. I believe it put him in an early grave.  He told me, that day a few months before he died, when we finally had some time to talk alone, that he probably shouldn’t have married her.

So there was relief. A sense of  “It’s over”. My stepbrother echoed this, unbidden by me. He said “Is it wrong to feel that the curse is broken”? In a way, the terror she wrought did feel like the doings of a beautiful, evil witch out of a faerytale, who ensnares a man and holds him in a trance for years while the stepdaughters are slowly eliminated, while their father is driven to madness and ruin.

Her own son was hurt too, slowly withering from a poison not meant for him, but leeching out into his air nonetheless.

So yes. It does feel like a curse was lifted.

But it is too late. It is too late to resume my relationship with my father, for he died first. There is anger here. Anger, and loss, and regret.

These are the emotions that have compelled me to write. A curse lay upon our family; a curse of heartbreak and betrayal, of ruin and madness. A curse of guilt and regret, of abandonment and worthlessness and black bottomless despair. A curse of failure and wrong choices and hopelessness, of never belonging. A curse finally broken on the merciless wheel of death.

Do I sound heartless in the face of death? I am not dancing on her grave by any means. Compassion won out. I know she suffered too. She had her own childhood horrors, and unless we come to terms with our damage, we pass it on. She apologized later in life, more than once. She mellowed out considerably after my Dad died, and I came to enjoy who she was in the last few years. I forgave her, of course I did, though I can never get those years back. I had genuine compassion for her in the end. I did not play the martyr. My desire for her to have a good death was sincere.

I did love her, as I loved my dad. When she was joyous, she was beautiful. When she was dancing, she was beautiful. When she was excited about one of the many trips she took with my dad, she shone. She was capable of sweetness. She was capable of remorse. Her apologies were genuine, and I accepted them wholeheartedly.

Healing was possible, with both her and my dad, before they died. I am very thankful for this. Now, both of the parents who raised me are gone. I don’t know that anything has ever made me feel more like a grown up. I don’t even know what this means yet, or what this “It’s over” feeling will grow into over time.

I do know that my sister, my brother, and I can now be free of who we were in relation to them. We can be free of the grasping for approval, the never feeling enough. We can define our lives on our own terms. We always have, of course, but we were compromised. Those hooks were always there.

I know that I like who my sister and brother have become. Survivors. Strong. Compassionate. Committed. These are people I want to know, people I am proud to call family. I know that something has come full circle, and that the feeling of brokenness I thought I would never be free of has begun to heal. I know that I am capable of doing “family” after all. This is something I thought was simply not available to me. For the first time in many years, I see a glimmer of possibility, that it may not be too late for me to experience a healthy, loving, supportive family. Even the bleakest pit of despair can eventually turn in upon itself and be swallowed up by hope, light, and love. There is always a chance for redemption, though it may be years before we can see our way through.

If you have read this far, I am moved. I don’t know that this will have meaning for others. But I know I needed to write it.

 

Racism is Not Welcome Anywhere in my Sphere of Influence

Handschlag [ (c) www.BilderBox.com, Erwin Wodicka, Siedlerzeile 3, A-4062 Thening, Tel. + 43 676 5103678.Verwendung nur gegen HONORAR, BELEG,URHEBERVERMERK und den AGBs auf bilderbox.com](in an im auf aus als and beim mit einer einem eines * & der die das . ), Bevoelkerung, Bevölkerung, Gesellschaft, Gesellschaftsschichten, Haende, Hand, Hände, Koerper, Koerperteil, Koerperteile, Körper, Körperteil, Körperteile, Leute, Mensch, Menschen, Person, Personen, Darstellung, Darstellungen, Gebärde, Gebärden, Geste, Gesten, gestik, Gestiken, gestikulieren, Hände schütteln, Händeschütteln, handschlag, Handzeichen, Koerpersprache, Körpersprache, Mimik, Freund, Freunde, Freundinnen, Freundschaft, Anderartigen, Anders, andersartig, Auslaender, Auslaenderin, Auslaenderinnen, Auslaendern, Auslaenderpolitik, Auslaenderproblematik, auslaendisch, auslaendische, auslaendischen, auslaendischer, auslaendisches, Ausländer, Ausländerin, Ausländerinnen, Ausländern, Ausländerpolitik, Ausländerproblematik, ausländisch, ausländische, ausländischen, ausländischer, ausländisches, Aussenseiter, Auswanderer, Auswanderern, Auswandern, Außenseiter, Begriffe, Deutschkenntnis, Deutschkenntnisse, Eingewandert, Eingewanderten, Einwanderer, Einwandern, Example, Fremd, Fremde, Fremden, Fremder, Illustration, Imigrant, Imigration, Imigrieren, Immigrant, Immigration, Immigrieren, Migrationspolitik, Minderheit, Minderheiten, Minderheitenpolitik, Minderheitenproblematik, Multikulturell, Multikulturelle, Multikulturellen, Multikultureller, Multikulturelles, Nicht deutschsprachigen, Probleme, Soziales, Sozialpolitik, Sozialwesen, Staasbuergerschaft, Staatsbürgerschaft, Symbol, Symbol Foto, Symbol Fotos, Symbol Photo, Symbol Photos, Symbol-Foto, Symbol-Fotos, Symbol-Photo, Symbol-Photos, Symbolabbildung, Symbolabbildungen, Symbolaufnahme, Symbolaufnahmen, Symbolbild, Symbolbilder, Symbolbildern, Symbole, Symbolen, Symbolfoto, Symbolfotos, Symbolisch, Symbolische, Symbolischen, Symbolischer, Symbolisches, Symbol

I can barely believe I need to write this. I can barely believe there needs to be a special group called Heathens United Against Racism.

But apparently that is the reality of where we are at this moment in time. So I post this that my community will know in no uncertain terms where I stand. This post is in response to this recent post by Steve Abell, Steersman of the Throth: “Letters from Midgard: Yes, Enough”.

I could make this easy on myself and say “What John Beckett said”, because damn, he nailed it in his recent writing, “Racism Cannot be Tolerated”.  But I prefer to take the time to find my own words. This is what I have to say in response to both of the above blogposts:

I have had an uneasy relationship with Heathenry for about 12 years now. Its power is undeniable. Its Gods and its inner landscapes are both beautiful and terrible. And yet, its willingness to accept racism as a defining feature among some of its practitioners is utterly abhorrent to me. It makes me ashamed to call myself Heathen. So I often don’t.

The Blood and Soil nonsense needs to be abolished. It is hurtful, exclusionary, and completely fallacious. We humans have been nomadic since forever. We’ve been intermingling with one another since we dwelt in caves, so the thought that there has ever been any sort of racial purity is ridiculous.

Also, Gods have called to people across cultural boundaries for as long as we have record of people experiencing Gods. Who are we to second guess the choices of Gods?  It is laughable to think this is our decision to make. Aside from the absurdity in such thinking, this attitude in no way demonstrates the hospitality that Heathens boast of.

The kind of Heathenry espoused by Stephen McNallen makes my skin crawl. I want as far away from it as I can get. However, I am unwilling to cede the ground to such views and let them poison something so breathtakingly beautiful. So I stay, that I may be part of defining a Heathenry I can be proud of.

I don’t know Ryan Smith well. I don’t know Steven Abell at all. But to suggest that Ryan is too extreme in his condemnation of racism while Stephen McNallen is a friendly fellow to chat with is everything that is wrong with Heathenry. Personally I think an aggressive stance against racism is called for. People are being killed over it. If you don’t like Ryan’s methods then come up with your own. But do something, because racism is poisoning the well.

I am glad HUAR exists. I wish it didn’t need to. The fact that some felt a need to create a group to demarcate those of us willing to stand against racism is telling indeed. The day we don’t need a special group, because the word “Heathen” itself already includes within it a bold stance against racism, is the day I will wear the banner of Heathen proudly.

I can’t stop people being racists. But I don’t have to tolerate racism, or welcome it at any events I produce, sponsor, or attend. Racism is not welcome in my sphere of influence in any way.

Standing up for true Heathen hospitality by welcoming and defending ANY person who is genuinely drawn to Heathen traditions is the kind of Heathenry I want to be a part of, and one I will help to create.

– Sharon Knight

Seven Creative Ideas for Summoning the Solstice Spirit!

christmas-tree-outside

Yesterday we put up our Yule tree, which is always the moment each year when I feel I’ve entered the season. So I’ve decided it’s time for my annual “I’m a Pagan who loves Christmas” post.

This isn’t going to be about “tradition”, and the subsequent nifty list of all the ways Christmas comes from Pagan roots. Nor is it going to be about how the holidays have lost all meaning because they’ve become a consumer orgy. Those posts are well represented, and don’t need another contribution from me. This post is about the one quality that has always defined the winter holidays for me, and has kept the wonder and magic alive through a wide range of circumstances: Good Will.

Good Will. Boy does that seem in short supply these days! People are stressed. Broke. Uncertain about their futures. The world seems filled with hate. It is so easy to throw up our hands and give in to cynicism. People suck, so why bother with anything?

And yet. We can make choices about how we shape our world, even if they are small. They needn’t cost much money, or time. They can be simple acts, humble and without fanfare, that nonetheless bring a sparkle of Good Will to the recipient, thus increasing the overall spirit that the holidays were meant to invoke.

Here are a few ideas that will make you and those around you feel good even when you are broke, strapped for time, and discouraged with humanity in general.

1.) Remember the true spirit of giving:
Giving does not have to mean going into debt so that you can pile all the cheap plastic crap from China your shopping cart can hold onto every person whos name you remember. Giving doesn’t have to involve spending money at all. Giving of your heart, your imagination, your attention, will be far more meaningful to your loved ones in most cases. You can write a blessing or wish for a loved one on nice paper, with colored pens, in your best handwriting, and roll it up into a scroll. You can write them a song. You can bake cookies. You can decoupage pretties onto a plain notebook to make a special journal. You can paint a rock with “I Appreciate You”. You can give them a small candle with a card that says “As this candle burns, remember my love for you”. You can even just take a moment to look them in the eye and tell them you love them. Any talent you might have can be turned into a simple token of appreciation that lets someone know you are thinking of them with kindness.

2.) Include those who are alone and sad
We’ve all heard the reminders that the holidays can be a lonely time for people. Perhaps they are estranged from family, or their partner has died, and all the warm, fuzzy talk of family and good cheer only triggers the lack of these things in their life. Know someone in this situation? Invite them over. Bake them some cookies. Invite them to tell their story. Let it be okay if they aren’t brimming over with good cheer. In this situation yourself? (I know I have been!) Can you organize a gathering for folks who are in a similar situation? If that seems like too much, or you don’t have the space, can you volunteer at a homeless shelter or retirement home? Giving to others what we want for ourselves often increases it in our hearts as well.

3.) Create a Festive Atmosphere
One of my favorite parts of the winter holiday season is the tree! The idea that the world is a cornucopia of abundance and plenty is an ideal I hold dear to my heart, and I believe we can create this world by learning to live sustainably, and working to create societies that benefit all its members instead of just a few. However, if you don’t have room or money for a tree, or just don’t like the idea of trees being cut, you can create this feeling in a variety of different ways. You can collect pine branches and cones; wrap small candles with sprigs of holly; boil clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon to fill your home with fragrance; cut snowflakes out of printer paper and hang them around your house. You can write blessings and wishes on these snowflakes and put them in a pretty bowl for guests to select, like a holiday fortune. Pinterest is our friend. Search Pinterest for “Holiday Decorations DIY” for a truly abundant selection of ideas for creating festivity. You can even host a craft night, and invite your lonely friend.

4). Practice Kindness
If ever there was a good time to remember that practicing random acts of kindness does not have to be relegated to the “tired cliche” bin, but is in fact, always in style, the holidays are it! Good Will exists because we bring it! Pay someone’s parking meter. Buy the eggnog latte of the person behind you. Open the door for someone with a heavy load. Pick up a thing they dropped. Buy a homeless person a sandwich. Or just say something kind to them. Send a card to this little girl. 

5.) Give the Gift of Attention
Is your mom always rubbing her neck? Give her a massage from you. Sister seem stressed? Ask why, and then offer to help. You can present your offerings in the form of a pretty gift certificate, so your recipients have something fun to open. You can gift a few hours of house cleaning, or a home cooked meal with with plenty of leftovers. When we give the gift of our time and attention, we help our loved ones feel seen and supported, often without spending a dime.

6.) Send a Love Letter
Write someone a letter telling them all the things you appreciate about them. Or simply, some good things you are wishing for them. Perhaps the lonely fellow who lives in your apartment building. (Bonus: Invite him to craft night! If he isn’t creepy).

7) Question Tradition
Are you really obligated to make a huge dinner for relatives you don’t relate to? Who decided this? Can you change it? Take a year off? Ask someone else to host? There may be reasons why you can’t, but often we find ourselves doing things out of habit, never even questioning the status quo, and a few minutes of reflection may reveal that there is more wiggle room than we had assumed. When we are doing things out of obligation rather than joy, we are missing the point, after all.

These are just a few things off the top of my head. I know how easy it can be to get entrenched in emotional baggage around the holidays, and forget that we can shake our holiday routines up a little if we want to. We are only limited by our imaginations, and I hope my list sparks your own list, that we all continue to inspire each other to sprinkle the faerie-dust of love, connection, support, empathy, and Good Will into this big old sometimes-scary-and-sad-but-always-breathtakingly-beautiful world!


Want more creativity?

Join Sharon and Francesca in:
The Enchantment of Creativity
Jumpstart your creative flow in 6 weeks this January
An online course with Sharon Knight and Francesca Gentille


 

The Porcelain Princess Music Video is LIVE!

The first phase of the Portals vision has been realized! The Porcelain Princess music video is live!

We filmed it over two days in July at SF Oasis, a drag queen cabaret. It was great fun, and a wonderful team of folks came together to lend their talents to the project, making it so much more than I could have imagined! I am so thankful for everyone involved! This is the spirit of collaboration in action folks, and thus the spirit of Portals; that when we all bring our inspiration together, we can make something so much more than we can do just on our own.

Without further ado, I post it here for your enjoyment. You can also view it directly on YouTube and subscribe to our channel, right here:

https://youtu.be/KptG3ONbYe8


 

Portals Featured Sponsor: Ancient Ways

Our penultimate Portals sponsor has been a pillar of the Bay Area Pagan community for decades. As the producer of the most highly attended Pagan gathering in the USA (and possibly the world), Pantheacon, you could say that Glenn Turner knows a thing or two about building community. Since that is the central theme of Portals, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Ancient Ways, “Oakland’s favorite Pagan metaphysical store and candle shop”.

Ancient Ways has been a metaphysical destination in Oakland since before I became interested in such things, and that was some time ago! I remember, in days of yore, heading out with a friend for a day of adventure we called “Occult Bookstore Day”. We’d hit Field’s Books, Curios and Candles, and The Sword and Rose in San Francisco, and sometimes the Psychic Eye as well, but generally we preferred our occult stores a little less corporate. From there, we’d head over to the East Bay to visit Ancient Ways, along with a few others tucked under freeways or down alleys.

30 years later, Ancient Ways is the only one still standing.

To what might we attribute Ancient Ways’ success? I believe it is the strength of community building that makes or breaks any business. And Glenn Turner, the shop’s proprietress, has been doing that since she founded the Ancient Ways Festival at Harbin Hot Springs in the late 80’s. I have a special place in my heart for Glenn and her efforts to bring people together, for the Ancient Ways Festival was my entry point into this wacky world of witchery, and I haven’t looked back since. Much of the support Winter and I receive for our music comes out of the the Pagan community, and I thank Glenn for opening that door. The Ancient Ways/Pantheacon clan remains my core community to this day.

So what nifty things can you find at the Ancient Ways store? Well,  they’ve got a large selection of metaphysical staples: candles, oils, incense, and herbs, with skilled practitioners on hand to help you use them effectively. There is an entire wall of books, as well as jewelry, statuary, clothing, and tarot cards; they’ve got a full arsenal of tools for the modern practitioner of arts arcane.

They also offer readings every day. Of particular interest to me is the spiritual consultations offered by none other than the legendary Luisah Teish. Luisah is a well respected Yoruba priestess and author, and has been an icon here in the Bay Area for as long as I can remember. From the description on the Ancient Ways website, these readings go deep. Be prepared to delve into your soul’s journey!

If you find yourself near Oakland, pop in and infuse your life with magic!

You can visit Ancient Ways at:
4075 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609
510-653-3244
http://ancientways.com

And of course, we’d all love to see you at Pantheacon!


DISCOVER THE OTHER PORTALS FILM SPONSORS!

Each of these Portals sponsors has been hand selected by me as someone I would feel proud to showcase. They will each be getting a feature here over the next few months. Click the banners to visit their pages.


Musings on Home in a Changing City

Photo Jul 24, 10 25 17 AM

We are wintering in a city I no longer recognize. San Francisco struts mockingly across the bridge, flaunting its facelift and its newfound wealth, as it slowly creeps across, promising to envelop the side of the Bay I call home into its ostentatious fold. I bide my time, each renovated house as sand in the hourglass, signaling my time here is coming to an end.

Let the new tech-gold miners cast their hopes and dreams amidst this net, as they live in tents hoping to climb high enough up the ladder to pluck the promised fruit. No, that life is not for me. I made my choice long ago, and as a result, the road is more home to me now than any place I know.

So I bide my time. I spend my days creating layered songs in our recording studio, weaving  together strands of musical beauty from musicians far and wide, cobbling together rent from whatever we can find.

As Portals enters its final phase, something is ending.  I taste the dregs of my life here,and I wonder what is next. I know that song will bring it, whatever it is. I know that there are many more adventures on my road, but I don’t know what they are. I suppose if I did, they wouldn’t be adventure!

It is strange to realize that you are perceiving your life as no longer your own, but a veneer over what is real. That is how life in this city feels to me now. It no longer reflects back to me my inner landscape, my values and priorities, as it once did. Home is an extension of our innermost soul, I have always thought. This place has been that to me, my entire life. Now? I don’t know. Only that being on the open road, singing songs to people each night, opening up portals of beauty and wonder and magic for people as we go, is the closest thing to that feeling I currently have.

All of you, whom we have sung and played for, and will sing and play for again; when I look out and see your faces, that is when I feel at home.

You are my home.


 

Portals Featured Sponsor: Coventry Creations

jackiandpatty

Jacki Smith (left) and her sister Patti.

These shining beacons of good vibery are the owners of Coventry Creations in Ferndale, Michigan.

I met Jacki last year at the Earth Warriors Festival in Ohio, and took to her right away. She is just the kind of woman I admire; a feisty redhead with an inspired business savvy, she has carved out a life on her own terms, through creativity, passion, and ingenuity. Back in 1991, Jacki was studying herbalism and aromatherapy, and decided to make candles infused with herbs and oils to give as gifts. The quality of these candles was so high that several folks encouraged her to offer them for sale. Reluctant at first, she decided to give it a try. Patti came on board a few years later, and Coventry Creations has now sold nearly 2 million candles worldwide.

Coventry Creations is committed to handcrafting their candles locally, and has continued this tradition for over 20 years. The quality, scent, and beautifully designed graphics of their candles surely have helped them become so successful, but it seems to me that the core of their success is really the enthusiasm and genuine passion they bring to their creations. Says Jacki, “At Coventry we see magic as the moment when you move past your limiting challenge into the healing that manifests the life you desire. Magic is our passion, and we live that passion in every candle, message and fragrance we create”.

Both sisters believe in the power of creating a vibration in harmony with your intention as the way to facilitate changes that bring you closer to the life you desire. The scents, colors, herbs, and words used when crafting each batch are  carefully chosen and focused on as each candle is created. Jacki and Patti bring their own sense of magic to every candle they create.

The way they describe it is downright musical!

Jacki has always been drawn to candles as a tool for intentional magic, for the moods they create are conducive to a meditative state where we can more easily slip beyond the grasp of our self imposed limitations and into a place of true healing.

You can read more about her candle magic philosophy right here.

candles-burning

Look at these beauties! They smell as good as they look too.

In short, Jacki is a rockabilly badass who lives her life in screaming color. She brightens up the day of anyone who comes near her, as I have witnessed personally on numerous occasions. If I were looking for help getting out of a funk and back into a sense of personal power, I would trust Jacki as a guide wholeheartedly.

BONUS: Jacki has lent her mojo to Portals on several fronts, having supported our campaign both as Coventry Candles and as The Candle Wick Shoppe. She pledged at the Custom Song level, so I will be writing her her very own song of celebration, magic, and love of the earth, which you will surely hear by year’s end.

I hope you will give her the warm hospitality our music and arts tribe does so well, and give both her sites a visit.

Here are her details:

Coventry-Portals-AdsJacki Smith;
Enchantress, President and Trouble Maker
Coventry Creations, Candle Wick Shoppe and Type 40 Sales
248-545-8360
www.coventrycreations.com   Products for your soul!
The Seeds of Magic are found in your imagination and planted in your deeds.

Candle-WickCandle Wick Shoppe
175 W 9 Mile Rd
Ferndale, MI 48220
248-547-2987
candlewickshoppe.com

From Candle to Reiki; from Mojo to incense we are your feel good store. Visit our new “spiritual apothecary”  filled with  unique gifts, candles, oil and incense and experience our Reiki Healing Center and our new Mojo Bar. We have the remedy for what ails your soul!


DISCOVER THE OTHER PORTALS FILM SPONSORS!

Each of these Portals sponsors has been hand selected by me as someone I would feel proud to showcase. They will each be getting a feature here over the next few months. Click the banners to visit their pages.