Behind the Broom: What the Books Don't Tell You
Witchcraft Philosophies, Action, Leadership, Humor, Outrage, Awkward Mishaps, Lovable Lessons, and a search for Grace with a clumsy Witch.
Shadow Cats and Plans: When it *does* happen *here.*
It was spring, finally. The Westerosi-esque winter had finally departed, but on the first beautiful day NYC had in 2014, my partner and I were not frolicking in the park like the sane people, but wading through a "Hoarders" meets "Chernobyl Diaries" landscape: a scent memory that surfaces and spins at inconvenient moments like the little rainbow-wheel on a frozen Mac. Two friends donned homemade haz-mat suits made of shower caps and black plastic bags from the liquor store while our roommate followed us through the putrid maze, dabbing a "apartment-claiming" spell she'd whipped together made of vinegar and a dab of her own urine. She's never done a lot of spellwork before, but frankly, the New York Real Estate race will make a Witch out of anyone.
'I'm going to write about this, and I'll wish I were joking,' I thought as I watched the teenager from down the hall roll around on the linoleum in the hall, groaning, "I CAN'T! IT SMELLS TOO MUCH! I CAN'T!"
Our neighbor had been evicted and she abandoned 23 frightened, malnourished cats in a two-bedroom apartment stacked so high with years of garbage, walking through the halls required a weird little dance I'd only performed in Twister, before. Through a series of frustrating events, my partner and I ended up as wardens of the kitties. By the time we got into the apartment, the little ones had been alone for at least three days and there were no signs that they had any food or water during that time.
Hoarding is an illness: trash hoarding, animal hoarding...it's a sickness. She couldn't help it. Eviction is a symptom of a living situation gone horribly awry. The city made her leave. She couldn't help it. Neither one is a symptom of a character flaw. She couldn't help it. I didn't know the whole story. I couldn't judge. This is what I told myself as I trudged through the urine and feces mess to feed the hungry felines--many of whom were showing ribs. "Remember when you wanted to know about the nature of compassion?" the Goddess asked. "Find it for the lady who made your entire floor stink of cat pee. Find it when you look into their scared little faces. Look at all this and if you find compassion, you get a prize!"
SPOILER ALERT: I do not find compassion for my former neighbor before the end of the blog. Maybe in a sequel. I'll let you know.
Here's where it hurt even more....
Among the piles the neighbor left behind when fleeing the crime scene leaving were books on Egyptology and European folk practices. One beautiful book, a cloth-bound copy of Festivals of Western Europe sat abandoned on the floor--smeared with cat crap. The library remnants contained volumes I could imagine our local occult shop carrying. Not the paperback mass market ones (I say that in love! I wrote one like that!), but the expensive, rare books on display in glass cases. Our former neighbor was a Professor of Religion, but when we saw a few scattered ritual items about the place, she wasn't just curious.
It explained my dreams of lions beckoning and black dogs whimpering just before this crazy unfolded. I don't work much with the Egyptian Pantheon, but I believe I had a visit from Sekhmet and Anubis. Perhaps They showed up in a ritual my neighbor performed, took at look at the cats in squalor and decided to call the Pagans next door to take care of things.
I was already upset at the treatment of the cats. Abandoned or not, they'd lived with meager food and zero sanitation for quite some time. Animal Control and the ASPCA would eventually come and collect them. They assured us that after vet care, many would be put up for adoption. But it angered me that they had to go through the terror of capture and cage, the unfamiliar presence of shelters, and uncertain futures.
It upset me more that it appeared to be a Pagan woman who had done such a thing.
But the tides of spring dug out some of the most rotten skeletons from the most tightly-locked closets. Gasps of disbelief seemed to ring every time a social media screen was loaded: Leaders discovered to be pedophiles, trusted community members found to be rapists. When people said, "How could this have happened in the Pagan community?" I put on my favorite sage voice and said, "No community is exempt." But then I found myself asking the same thing. For well over a year, I knew the smell coming from the neighboring apartment heralded some sort of animal neglect. But unconsciously, I'd wrongfully labeled my neighbor as "Other," perhaps thinking that since I was Pagan, I would be kinder to animals than she. But she was no longer the "Other..." she was like me. Therefore, is there part of me that could be her??? (If you're wondering--reports were filed for months prior to the eviction, but this is NYC where everything takes a million years-and-a-day to get going.)
We want to believe "Our Tribe" is exempt. We want to believe we've found a place so light and bright that the horrifying parts of humanity's Shadow can't creep in. But Pagans, like members of all other religions, are human and when more than one human is gathered together, there will be problems of a varying nature. The broader the spectrum of human, the broader the spectrum of potential ugly spots and unfortunately, religion is a convenient blanket for many to hide wicked tendencies. There are golden lines to spout and cathartic rituals to lead. Most of all, there is the desperate want to believe that all is good under a specific label of "We Believe This!" and the wish to believe something is what can best hide the worst.
As a Witch, I recognize that I am a mammal--a primate to be exact. Human primates are curious, industrious, inventive. That's what I like about our species. We also set rules and boundaries, just to turn around and break them. I like that about us too, to a point. What's painful about our species is that we on one level seem to really want the best for all other creatures, while simultaneously harm or destroy them at the same time. This is the continual conundrum we've had since the beginning of time, nagging at our souls and inspiring philosophers. Sometimes I think we built organized religions or spiritual communities in the first place to create boundaries between what we find acceptable and what we do not. The slogan that appeared in the 90's (I think???), "Smoke doesn't stay in the smoking section" applies here, too. Labeling a faith, group, or belief sect can't keep the Shadowy parts of humanity away. The only thing that fights it is in how we address it.
I don't know if the "Know Ourselves" attitude would have been enough to prevent sexual predators getting into leadership. Then again, the "This can't happen here! We are not like them!" could be just the kind of shield the nasties need to get in. Yet again still, suspecting my neighbor was a practicing Pagan certainly wouldn't have helped me help the cats any sooner, but it wouldn't have been such a burn on my soul upon their discovery.
This isn't meant to smear the idea of "group" or "community." I am a fervent believer in groups and community. I don't believe that humans are meant to be lone creatures. Like nearly all other mammals, we are tribal. I don't want this blog to feed the notion that Paganism should be a solely independent practice and free of any organization or structure. (I wrote about why I think groups are important here!) That's not how humans operate. We operate in systems. If one doesn't work, we need to put a new one in place. But I think we create space for damage, either in our own selves or in our communities, when we believe that the labels of "Us--we don't do THAT" and "Them--they DO." We *all* have facets of our communities that do THAT. Is awareness part of "Early detection is the key?" Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, it saves us each a lot of anguish when the Shadowy birds cats do come home to roost and shit all over the place. We knew they were out there.
When they do show up, we can focus on the clean-up instead of the shock.
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