"Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?"
That prompted a lesson on the lexicon of Earth-based religions. When we met she was more of a Witch and was even a member of a coven, but she never practiced Wicca, which is a specific set of religious beliefs and practices grounded in initiation into a specific tradition. Instead, she practices an individual and idiosyncratic path of Paganism, in which her main spiritual practice is shamanism, meeting the Goddesses, Gods and healing spirits in alternate realities and taking her spiritual beliefs directly from the spirits.
It was a trip to Rome when she was seven that made Caroline want to be Pagan. At the temple of the Vestal Virgins in the Forum Romanum, she realized how much she wanted a religion with goddesses, not just one, invisible God. I had a similar experience when I was eleven and visited Stonehenge. At the time, you were able to get right into the circle and even climb the stones. I sat there waiting to be contacted by the spirits.
I didn't end up pursuing a spiritual path, but Caroline began a journey that led her to study and work in many magical traditions. She is a graduate of the Three Year Program in Advanced Shamanism and Shamanic Healing, taught by Michael Harner and his Foundation for Shamanic Studies. As a shamanic healer, her initiations are given by the healing, compassionate spirits she works with, not from a lineage of humans who consciously founded a religion.
The opportunity to worship in more ways than one is something she likes and I respect about Paganism. If she chooses to worship the Virgin Mary and the Hindu pantheon, with a sprinkle of Santeria, well then mazel tov. Me, I prefer The New York Times.
Caroline says when it comes to religion I'm a conscientious objector, and it's true, I'm not a seeker. Although I was brought up as a Conservative Jew, went to Hebrew School three days a week and was even bar mitzvahed, I guess it didn't stick.
"Well, there were these Maccabees," I began, and proceeded to talk about the oil, the lamp, the miracle.until finally my Hindu hosts looked at me with puzzled expressions and asked, "But what was the passing over part?"
So, when I met Caroline, her religion wasn't exactly an obstacle. She showed me an essay she'd written about it, which I passed on to my mother. It was well written, charming and made me want to get to know the author, as they say.
|The couple leaps over a broomstick at their wedding|
From that beginning we've followed the Pagan/Jewish path in our own way. We celebrate Hanukah with our daughter Sophie, but we also celebrate Yule (Winter Solstice). And there's plenty of room in Paganism for Santa Claus, who comes early to our house, on December 21st. He's got company: the Spring Bunny comes on the Equinox and hides candy, just like an Easter egg hunt. Only our eggs are all read with magical runes.
Sophie has been watched over by a picture of Durga (the Hindu warrior goddess and one manifestation of 'Shakti', or divine feminine power) since she was in her crib. She thinks the tiger and the goddess with many arms is pretty cool. She also likes Ganesh, the elephant-headed god.
Of course, when Mommy has an altar that includes both Durga and the Virgin Mary, culture shock can ensue.
While visiting New Orleans, Caroline took Sophie into the Catholic cathedral in Jackson Square. Sophie looked at the statue of the Blessed Virgin and asked, "Where's Durga?" Caroline's answer: "The Blessed Virgin and Durga don't sit next to each other in this house."
Caroline does serious rituals too, of course, including public healing circles at a local Unitarian church on the Pagan high holidays. She and her magical familiy recently formalized things by founding a Pagan church. Sophie loves to go with Caroline to these rituals, where everyone dances, plays drums and invokes sacred spirits.
Do I really believe my wife talks to plant and animal spirits, journeys into spirit worlds and can do magic? I guess I've come to agree with Mr. Shakespeare - "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
Besides, she made my car invisible.
It was the first weekend we'd spent together, New Year's Eve 1990. I lived in the Dupont Circle area of Washington and parked my car on the street. Something had broken in the door and I was unable to lock it. I parked a block from my apartment and voiced a worry about the long weekend ahead.
"Don't worry," my new girlfriend said. "I'll make your car invisible. It will still be there, but you won't be able to see it unless you're really concentrating."
She walked around it a few times and chanted something I didn't quite catch. We went off and had a lovely weekend. When I went back to my car, I walked right past it. I didn't see it until I turned around and looked back.
Now, Caroline does shamanic healing and media activism for the Pagan community. Her biggest coup was when she got Pat Robertson to endorse Witches in the military! It all started when some Members of Congress were attacking the rights of Witches to continue their (constitutionally protected) right to worship on their bases. With some co-conspirators, she got a permit for a Pagans' rights rally at the Jefferson memorial, and distributed Thomas Jefferson's own thoughts on religious freedom:
"I never told my religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I have judged others' religions by their lives, for it is from our lives and not our words that our religions must be read."
I helped with the press release and several camera crews attended the event, including one from Pat Roberston's 700 Club. When the segment aired, Robertson looked in the camera and said he wasn't bothered by some Witches doing their thing in the military, and that they deserved freedom of religion. We put out a press release about that too, which provoked a lovely quarrel within the religious right. It was a good day for religious freedom in America.
Every Halloween, Caroline convenes a Samhain feast and ritual for the dead. She makes food offerings to the spirits of her ancestors and always includes things for my late parents, like those lurid marshmallow candies shaped like ghosts my father liked to eat stale.
Speaking of offerings, the other night, I said I was going to go have that last piece of cherry pie.
"It's not there," my wife said.
"Did you eat it?" I asked.
"Not exactly." I thought for about half a second.
"Did you give it to a god?"
"It's at the corner of Georgia Avenue and University Boulevard, with an opened beer, some beef jerky and a handful of pennies."
Oh well, spirits have to eat too, I guess. Why not?
I may change my views as Sophie gets older, but for now I'm content to raise Sophie Pagan/Jewish as opposed to Jewish/Pagan. More likely, she'll choose for herself what spiritual path to follow. I want her to have the option to be a bat mitzvah, a Pagan priestess or anything in between. Maybe next year we'll go to Rome.
My wife and her friends like to quote the Wiccan Rede: "An' it harm none, do as you will." That's good enough for me and I think it would be good enough for Moses. Or Muhammed, for that matter.