Pagan Blog Project: Dear Isis

Dear Isis,

I’m one of those devotees. You know the ones. You do them a favor once and then they think you’re their best friend. They become your groupie, follow you around, give you things you didn’t ask for and don’t really need.

Last year I needed something important, so I started drafting a spell. I’d been planning to work with Inanna but she directed me to you: “You’ll want Isis for this,” she said. “What you need isn’t really my specialty.” I hadn’t really thought about you for years and years–not since our Egyptology segment in sixth grade, I think–so the dream I had, with instructions on the work I needed to do, came out of left field. You know you’re doing your witchcraft right when you encounter surprises. Spells that shoot off in an unexpected direction. Dreams where you wake up and think, “that didn’t come from me.”

So I began my work with you. It was absolutely the right work to be doing, much better than the work I thought I’d do with Inanna. I’d just come back to witchcraft after many years away–oh, it felt so incredible to be back!–and you were the first deity to ever show up to one of my rituals. I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

But it took me awhile to realize that you only intended to work with me that one time.

See, I’d absorbed this idea that everyone has to have a matron goddess. Rationally I knew that wasn’t true at all, but somehow I couldn’t shake the idea. So I decided that my matron goddess must be you, since, well, you helped me with that thing I had to do that one time.

I read books. I did devotionals. I found primary sources, hymns and artwork. But I couldn’t figure out why nothing felt right, why my devotion to you seemed to clash with my devotion to my practice.

In hindsight, I think it was because you were pretty well-stocked on priestesses and dedicants. You had the Fellowship of Isis. You had the Kemetists. You’re one of the biggest, strongest, most beloved goddesses in human history. Your practices were well-established.

And the practices of your followers just weren’t right for me. I finally learned what the call of a goddess feels like when I heard the call of the Morrigan–a call that instantly integrated itself into the work I was doing, a partnership that, as surprising as it was (me? dedicated to a battle goddess?) clicked. There was no jealousy on your part. Just a gentle parting. With love and reverence, I took your image off my altar and placed it in my book of shadows.

I’m absolutely certain you and I will cross paths again, and I look forward to that day. Isis, you are so beautiful. You have my love, my admiration, and my gratitude.


Naming the Goddess

I’m both a hard and soft polytheist. That is, when I’m not in ritual, I have a hard time believing that the gods are distinct entities–and I don’t feel any particular need to believe it. The gods can be avatars of one presence, they can be archetypes, they can be characters in myth. But when I’m in ritual, I believe in them absolutely. My Younger Self takes over.

But I’ve always had a tendency to over-analyze things, and I find that lately I’ve been falling prey to this perception that not only do I have to decide whether the gods are distinct beings or avatars, but I have to choose which ones I’m going to dedicate myself to exclusively. Now, this is 100% the product of my own anxious mind, but it’s fueled by two common perceptions in the Witchcraft community:

1. One should develop some sort of relationship with a deity before asking them for something.

2. One can have a matron/patron deity if one wishes.

My anxiety distorts these beliefs into the following:

1. No god is going to want to even speak to you, let alone help you in your magic, until you’ve thrown yourself into devotionals for them for years and years.

2. You have to dedicate yourself to one deity (or a male/female pair), otherwise you’re just a dilettante.

Partly I have trouble with these two beliefs because Paganism doesn’t have the wealth of theology of organized religions to draw on. When I feel confused, there aren’t that many sources I can turn to for guidance. The ancient texts often don’t have the benefit of modern interpretations, and the modern texts are crowded out by Wicca 101 books. Another reason I have trouble is that the anonymity of “the Goddess and the God” or “the Lord and Lady” is what turned me off to Wicca. I needed deities with personalities, stories, characteristics. And while I found that in Cernunnos (to me, his imagery tells his story: his animals, his antlers, his torcs and coins), the Goddess has remained frustratingly elusive.

At the core, though, a lot of my trouble has to do with the fact that I secretly have very low self-esteem. Deep down, I don’t believe I’m worth the gods’ time. The idea that they would actually want to help me is something I can’t wrap my head around.

(But when my toddler asks me for help, aren’t I delighted to offer it? When she wants to put her socks on her stuffed bunny, don’t I jump at the chance to do it for her, even though from my perspective it’s ridiculous?)

I think another reason I feel a need to name the Goddess, or worship her as a particular avatar, is that the Whole of Creation just feels too big and abstract to connect with. I have no problem thinking of it as feminine–that’s a huge part of what drew me to Witchcraft–but asking it to join my little circle, inhabit my wee altar? Other people might be fine with that, but it just doesn’t click for me.

And yet no Goddess avatar I investigate feels right. Isis has helped me a lot, and she has been described as “all that is, that has been, and that will be”…but when I think of her, I think of the mother by the Nile, searching for her husband’s body. Inanna and Artemis have their own distinct histories, their own unique adventures. They’re worshipped as mother goddesses, but they’re not all-encompassing. It doesn’t make sense to me to worship any one of them exclusively.

And yet, for some unfathomable reason, I feel like I have to.

When I do my daily devotionals–which, by the way, have changed since I wrote about them, so I plan to write a followup–I start by re-dedicating myself to the Goddess, and follow that by praising specific deities. I have to work through my fear that the deities are unhappy about coming second. Isis, in her original form, never claimed to have created the universe. Every goddess with a name is the daughter of an older deity, whether by bloodline or evolution.

When I get tangled up in this pantheon or that pantheon or this or that reconstructionist practice, I have to remind myself of why I’m doing this. I’m doing it to feel the Earth more deeply. I’m doing it to celebrate the divine feminine. I’m doing it because I crave the sensuality of magic.

What if all the goddesses are worshiping the Goddess just as I am?

I’m curious–has any other witch out there worked through problems like these? How has your practice evolved to temper them? How do you come back to center when you feel yourself getting lost?

May you feel your practice deeply and with certainty, in whatever form it takes.

Where there’s fear, there’s power.

When I was little, I was scared of the moon.

My bedroom window had venetian blinds, and every night the moon was out I’d position myself in whatever corner of the bed that I had to to make sure the moon didn’t shine through the slits in the blinds. If I caught a glimpse of it, I’d jump with fear and throw the covers over my head. I was terrified of that moon.

Really, though, I was scared of everything as a kid. Obviously I was scared of the dark. But more than that, I was scared of being alone. If I had to get something from my room in the middle of the day, I’d ask my mom or my babysitter to come with me for fear that something would pop in at me from my window. Once I asked my mom to come stand in the doorway of the bathroom during the 90 seconds it took me to pee and wash my hands.

To this day I’m scared of looking through telescopes. I love stargazing and take my telescope out to the patio several nights a month, but in the moment when I lean down to put my eye to the eyepiece, I still feel that gut-wrenching dread. I think of the third corner of the Witch’s Pyramidaudare, to dare–and breathe in strength as I bend to look at Venus or Jupiter. But the terror is still there. I googled it and found out that I’m not the only person afraid of telescopes.

When I was little I saw a ghost in my room: a human-shaped shadow that squeezed my shoulder and faded as I turned to look. Was that the origin of my fear of being alone? It was shortly before I began sleeping in my mom’s bed every night.

In many ways, fear defined my childhood. In many ways, fear has defined my life.

*  *  *

According to Starhawk, we witches have a saying: where there’s fear, there’s power. (Starhawk is thus far the only witch I’ve actually heard say this, but I’m a solitary, and I don’t get out much.)

A few months ago, I worked with Isis for the first time. I’d begun having dreams about Isis, so I knew going into this spell that she was waiting to work with me. I knew shit was going to get real.

In the spell, I had a glass of wine to use as a libation. I didn’t realize, though, that the light from the candles was refracting through the glass and creating circles on the ceiling. I only looked up after I’d cast the circle and invoked Isis, when I had worked into a pretty good trance, and when I saw those circles on the ceiling, I jumped out of my skin.

Where there’s fear, there’s power. That irrational fear was my signal that Isis was there. Yes, Isis is lovely and motherly and nice. But she’s also a big power.

I’ve wondered where my fear of the uncanny stems from. A simple explanation is patriarchy–my moonly womanish sense of Goddess love was perverted by et cetera et cetera. But that explanation feels like an ill-fitting sweater. It does the job, but…it just doesn’t sit right.

This fear came from somewhere, but I doubt I’ll ever know where. Because where do you pick up a fear of telescopes? How exactly does that happen?

Where there’s fear, there’s power. To be honest, I think that’s the best explanation I’m ever going to get.

When I was giving birth and my daughter was crowning, I could feel myself on the verge of tearing and I kept holding back. “It hurts,” I finally cried. “Push through that,” the midwife said. I knew she was going to say that because that’s what they said in my childbirth class. I’d learned ahead of time that the only way to end the pain of labor was to push through it. (It’s the type of wisdom that seems really obvious until you have to use it.) So I pushed. And I tore. Tearing is no fun at all, but my daughter was born and labor was over. I would much rather have a daughter than be in labor forever.

So that’s what I tell myself when I feel that fear, when I know I have to Dare. Push through it. Push through it. Push through that fear and touch some of that power.