At the Crossroads: Anyone Bring a Flashlight?

A day in the life of one witch’s attempts at community organizing, group leadership, public Paganism, and joyous shenanigans. Balancing inner work with external obligations, a professional career with public Paganism, and a full social calendar with gratuitous amounts of sleep.

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Lessons.

I recently facilitated a large, public ritual at a local state park.  A lot of friends and old regulars came, and we were lucky to have a few new faces, too.  One of our surprise guests was a young mother who we have known for a few years but don’t get to see very often.  She comes to events when she can, but I really only end up seeing her once a year or so, at most.  Much to my surprise, she brought her kids with her to the ritual.  They’re sweet, clever little devils, and they have a history of being somewhat rowdy and in need of a lot of re-direction.

The children came rushing up to the altar as soon as the family arrived at the park.  This was one of those moments where Childless Trivia thought in panic “Ooh... right… kids…!”  I took time out to speak to them about the altar, making it very clear to them that they could look to their heart’s desire but touching was absolutely forbidden.  The children nodded solemnly and then went to go play on some rocks, immediately forgetting about candles, statues, and various other temptations.

Now, I work with kids, but I’m CBC – childless by choice.  That is to say, I’m comfortable with children but I’m not accustomed to having them around in my personal life.  But with Mom’s permission I invited one of her kids to help me with the ritual, asking them to pour offerings of grain and helping hold items for me when I needed an extra hand.  Having help was actually pretty useful, and the ritual went quite well and it was a very lovely day.  One of the single dads in the group clearly had a great time playing with the kids in the river, and our gaggle of crones was delighted to have children running around.  Even my husband, who is pretty ambivalent about little ones, commented to me after the ritual, “It sure was nice to have those kids around.”

I had used jelly beans for a mindfulness exercise in the ritual, and immediately after the circle was opened the adults and children scrambled around the altar.  Everyone went bonkers tasting different beans and digging through the bowl to find the perfect flavors.  Those of us who weren’t having fun with the jelly beans sat around, potlucking and talking and gossiping.  It really was a lovely afternoon.  Eager to have some cold water, I wasn’t paying attention, so my “no touching the altar” rule was nullified, at least in regards to giant bowls of candy.

Ooops.

During the ritual we had invoked goddess/mother energy, and for that I use a wooden spoon that had been given to me as a gift many years ago.  The spoon/wand had come to me when I was really in need for some momma-goddess love.  I had finally had enough of the coffee business and I was about to start graduate school.  I wasn’t at all sad about leaving the coffee shop, especially because I was under the impression that all of the customers hated me.  (I had replaced the beloved previous manager, who had been fired.)   Much to my surprise, on my last day of work, a very sweet regular gave me a wooden spoon.  It had been made from reclaimed wood and etched with the image of a cute and friendly owl.  I knew right away that this spoon would be my new magical wand.  Over the years since then it has been with me through many rituals, and it’s sat on countless altars, near and far.  I was very excited to use it that day in the park, especially because I love using a spoon as a tool to honor the Divine Feminine.

Well, at some point after the ritual, one of the children found my spoon.  They snatched it off of the altar, and went into the woods to bang on a rock.  It wasn’t until the majority of the guests had gone home and some of us were cleaning up that Mom gasped and cried out in shock. “Oh nooooo!”  

I stood at the altar in shock as Mom handed me the wand/spoon.  “I am so sorry,” she said, and her voice was very heavy.  The child looked at me, scared, eyes wide, waiting to see how I would react.

I was stunned.  The edges of the spoon/wand were chipped and splintered, flaked with deep grooves.  I stared down at the spoon/wand for a long time, running my fingers over and over the jagged edges.  I knew that even if I sanded the splinters back down that the energy wouldn’t be the same.  It wasn’t destroyed, just… different.

Mom was waiting for me to make my move, and the child’s eyes were so large and full of fear.  I didn’t like that look. 

I took a deep breath and asked the kid, “Do you remember when you first came, and I told you that you could look at the altar but absolutely could not touch anything on it?”

Kiddo looked down at their feet.  Oh yeah.  They remembered.

I explained to them how special the spoon was for me, that it had been a gift, that it was a magical item, and now it was much damaged.  The child said they were sorry.  Mom apologized over and over, too.  “Trivia, I’m so, so, so sorry,” she kept on saying.  And then, desperately.  “Can I replace it?”

At those words I felt a lot of emotions swelling up all at one time, and it was very hard for me to sort them all out. 

No, this item cannot be replaced.  It’s not that it’s a cute spoon with an owl; it’s that it’s this spoon with an owl.  We have a history together, me and this wand.  That special energy and those beloved memories are irreplaceable.

The child was clearly ashamed of themselves, and I felt shame, too.  This is the risk of public ritual, and I took that risk and I should have known better.  Really, who knows what will happen to beloved magical items when we remove them from the safety of home and take them on adventures with us?  Over the years I’ve seen statues broken, paintings vandalized, and items stolen from altars.  I’m lucky I have made it this far relatively unscathed.  Here I was, in a public park, with a group of people, with potential strangers all around.  Anything is fair game. 

Mom and I also spoke to the child about how inappropriate it is to touch other people’s magical items.  Mom explained that the child is forbidden from Mom’s altar, and that’s the same for all people’s altars.  We talked to the child about touching people’s magical stuff, reminding them that not only will they get in trouble and hurt someone’s feelings, but they run the risk of getting some nasty magical goop or miasma all over them if they aren’t careful.

The child listened to us with wide eyes.  Mom continued to be mortified and apologetic, and I was trying to be kind and gracious.  But inside I was screaming.  I was so furious.  I was at a place beyond anger and I just felt cold, numb fury.  Later that evening I ranted to my husband about this child’s behavior, but I stopped because ranting wasn’t making me feel better.  Once at home I unpacked my ritual supplies, sat with the spoon/wand for a long time, and then finally placed it on my altar.

This has been a lesson for me, for sure.  I’m so pissed off about this kid.  Who would take an item off of an altar and smash it on a rock until it splinters?  But also… who brings beloved magical items to a public ritual in a state park and is surprised when children do dumb things?

In the future I’ll be more careful.  I’m not accustomed to having children at my rituals and I need to work on some skills and techniques for dealing with little ones.  I need to establish magical rules, specific boundaries, and clear expectations for all guests – adult and child alike. 

And maybe in the future I’ll think twice about bringing my personal tools to public rituals.

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Trivia is a social worker, freelance writer, minister, and priestess. She loves to have a good adventure. Follow her exploits on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TriviaXRoads) and on Tumblr (http://triviaxroads.tumblr.com/)!

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