A Simple Spell to Stop TrumpCare

A SpellTo Stop TrumpcareNow that the Senate has forced a debate on the ACA repeal, we may only have a few days to stop Republicans from stripping up to 32 million Americans of their healthcare. (For those of you who vote Republican, consider this an invitation to think deeply about what your party has become. Is this really what you had in mind when you registered to vote? Might this be an opportunity for you to help bring the party back from the brink?) In addition to calling your senators, hitting the streets, and taking action in other ways–see, for example, Indivisible’s new tool for people in blue states–here’s a simple spell to help stop TrumpCare from becoming a reality.

You’ll need:

-A piece of paper
-A jar
-pins, nails, or other sharp things
-Noxious substances (bleach, urine, rancid food, etc. ETA: Please check for chemical interactions before mixing any substances together. You want to poison the bill, not yourself.)
-Painful or forceful substances (Cayenne pepper, blackthorn, etc.)

This spell is a modified witch’s bottle. Technically we’re trying to banish the bill, but since the moon is waxing and we don’t have much time, the focus of this spell will be increasing the backlash and negative consequences for trying to push through the repeal. We’re aiming to make it so toxic that Republicans lose any incentive to keep fighting for it.

Procedure:

Start by writing “TrumpCare,” “ACA Repeal,” or any other description of the bill that resonates with you on the piece of paper. Put it at the bottom of the jar.

Next, take some of each ingredient you’ve gathered and drop it into the jar on top of the paper. Make sure the words are covered completely. Imagine the bill and its proponents being smothered under noxious elements. If you’re feeling rage or courage or fierceness, pour that in.

As the situation develops, keep adding ingredients to the jar. You can add them once a day if you like. You can add them every time (powers forbid) the bill clears another hurtle. Keep adding them until the bill dies or the jar is full. If you fill it, set it aside and start another. If we win this battle, empty the jar and burn or bury its contents. Of course I don’t have to remind you to be careful when handling harmful substances.

Please share this spell widely so that we can combine our power. Or if you don’t share it, at least perform the spell. Or if you don’t perform the spell, work some kind of magic and take some kind of action. Your life may well depend on it.

Cross-posted at Pagansquare.com.

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Tarot and Self Care Part 1: The Queen of Swords

In this series, I’ll be talking about how to use tarot as a way to meditate on and form an action plan for self-care. In the first few posts, I’ll use the four queen cards to demonstrate how to use a card as a focal point for coming up with self-care strategies. Then I’ll introduce a few simple spreads that will help you figure out what self-care you need.

Why the queen cards? Because the Queens often symbolize one’s inner life, which makes them useful lenses for self-care. If the King of Coins tends to the external world of the kingdom, for example, creating wealth for those around him, the Queen of Coins keeps the castle’s coffers full. (Yeah, I know, it’s totally sexist. I’m heartened by the increasing number of non-patriarchal decks out there, but we’ve got a ways to go.) They don’t symbolize your “feminine side” or your mom or your wife, though–they’re an integral part of your psyche, no matter what gender you are.

By examining the function of the queen, coupled with her suit, we can open up some useful strategies. You can also look at the queens in your deck and get more meaning from their gestures, environments, and other details.

queen of swords

Image: Queen of Swords card from the Swiss 1JJ deck, with onyx crow and metal hand.

So! Let’s start by meditating on the Queen of Swords. I chose to start with her because she represents the aspects of self-care that aren’t always obvious, but are absolutely necessary. When we think of self-care, we often think of treats like manicures or retail therapy. But simply treating yourself whenever you feel unwell isn’t just a strain on your wallet, it’s not going to solve the root problems that are causing an illness or imbalance. (That’s not to say manicures don’t count as self-care! It’s just that there’s more to it.)

In reality, self-care is any self-initiated activity–pleasurable or not–that keeps us emotionally and physically healthy. Taking your medicine is self-care, even if the medicine tastes icky. The Queen of Swords comes in when we need to figure out the best way to keep ourselves healthy. The swords suit represents intellect, justice, and honesty, but also conflict, distance, and war. Pretty startling array of meanings, right? But let’s see how they play out when the Queen of Swords shows up for self-care. Here are the activities I came up with when meditating on her:

Cutting through delusion. If you’re ill or run down, maybe you need to be honest with yourself. Are you engaging in activities that are unhealthy? Are you working too much? Eating junk? Are you telling yourself something’s worth it because it feels good in the moment? The first step might just be admitting that there’s a problem.

Fighting for your rights. Maybe you know exactly what the problem is, but you’re being forced into unhealthy situations. It might be time to take up arms (figuratively, I hope!) to protect yourself. Just make sure you know the difference between self-defense and aggression.

Forming a plan. Sit down and write a self-care to-do list. What do you need? What needs to happen for you to be well? Seeing it laid out in writing might help. Here’s a Buzzfeed article on how to use a bullet journal for mental health! The Queen of Swords loves bullet journals.

Keeping appointments and commitments. I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and keeping appointments can be damn hard. The Queen of Swords implores us to come up with strategies to make it easier. If I need to make a stressful phone call, I make a cup of tea and go to a quiet room. My husband sets reminders on his phone for when to take his medication and go to bed.

Distancing yourself from toxic people. Blades keep people at a distance (if those people know what’s good for them!). If there’s a person who keeps barging into your life and making you unwell, maybe it’s time to stretch out your sword to keep them away. Again, self-care isn’t always cheerful and fun. (By the way, the National Domestic Abuse hotline is 800-799-7233 in case you need it.)

Carving harmful habits out of your life. If you have an addiction–to alcohol, to social media, to work, to sugar, whatever–make breaking that addiction a priority. If you know that you respond in an unhealthy way to a certain situation, like screaming at drivers who cut you off, then commit to changing that behavior.

Tending to your immune system. The swords, when they act as a means of self-defense, correspond to the immune system. Is your immune system weakened? Are you constantly getting sick or battling chronic illness? Take note of this.

queens of swords

Image: Queen of Swords cards from the Motherpeace, Sun & Moon, Smith-Waite, Hidden Light, and Pagan Otherworlds decks with crow feather and athame.

Overall, swords cut things away, clarify, and make space. What do you need to cut away? What needs to be crystalized? What space needs to be made?

Now it’s your turn! Pull the Queen of Swords from your deck or find her on the Internet. Put her in front of you with a notebook and pen. Grab a book on tarot if you like (Joan Bunning’s Learning the Tarot is a great place to start) and read up on her. What images, themes, or ideas in her card pop out at you? How can you embody her?

Remember, these ideas are starting points, not quick fixes. The Queen of Swords can help us diagnose a problem and start to address it, but she can’t jump out of the card and heal us!

Next up, the Queen of Cups, who can guide us through the aspects of self-care relating to water, emotions, relationships, and intuition. Stay tuned!

A Good Haul

A black oil diffuser, a red candle, a small Shiva lingam stone, and two boxes of incense.So I went to the shop I mentioned in my last post. Because it was a lovely little place with a very friendly vibe, I’ll go on the record as stating that it’s Spirit Dreams in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Don’t let their website fool you! They had lots of nice thingies. The neighborhood was great, too.

The one problem was that they tried to get me to believe that dark pink chime candles were red, but I’ll forgive them for that.

Anyway, I found some thingies there. A little Shiva lingam (which, perhaps blasphemously, I associate with Cernunnos). Their one remaining red chime candle, which I’m burning for the Morrigan. Morning Star incense–my favorite kind–for a little cheaper than it is in LA. And, most excitingly, the very oil diffuser I’ve been searching for for months. I like soapstone diffusers and I found a beautiful one last summer, but it turned out to have tiny cracks in the basin that caused leaks and made it unusable. That particular one was the last one Whole Foods ever sold, so I couldn’t exchange it for another. My local shop, which I otherwise love, has some ceramic diffusers, but they’re not much to look at. This little diffuser, in addition to being exactly what I wanted, was discounted because of a chip in the top. I saw it and instantly identified it as mine.

So now I like to think part of that powerful call I felt was my own little diffuser, waiting for me to take it home.

But, like all supply runs I make, the trip has me mulling over my relationship with stuff. We’ve all heard that saying: “The only tool a Witch needs is her body.” Yet Witchcraft is the most stuff-oriented religious practice I know of. We collect so much stuff! In my last post I said that I was really tired of stores being used as community centers, and I mean it–but that doesn’t mean that I don’t look forward to browsing in the shop whenever I go to a ritual. I get excited when I run out of candles or incense, because it means I get to buy more! Whenever I come into a little money, I immediately earmark it for the latest thing I want: at the moment, it’s an Artemis Ephesia statue and a wide-frame drum.

I don’t like this about myself. My mother is extremely materialistic, very into shopping. I once had a friend who kept her wish list pinned to her wall so she’d never forget about anything she wanted. I know a guy who bought a second computer on a whim. A thousand-dollar computer! Studies show that buying things releases dopamine; the act of taking a thing into your possession makes you feel physically good. That’s why people crave it so much. That’s why so many people consider shopping a pastime.

I really, really don’t like this about myself.

For a long time, I lived a very ascetic life: the only recreational items I ever bought were books. When my jeans grew too worn-out to wear anymore, buying new ones was a fraught experience, laden with stress and guilt. I didn’t want to become my mom. I didn’t want to be like other people.

But gradually I realized that starving myself of pleasure wasn’t bringing me any great sense of peace or joy. If anything, I just felt guilty and self-flagellating all the time, appalled whenever I saw a thing and wanted to own it. So, eventually, I eased up. I allowed myself to want.

I wonder: why are we wired to want stuff? Why the dopamine rush when we get a thing? What does acquiring things do for us evolutionarily?

I wonder: how has Capitalism perverted what might be a normal impulse in living things? What would ravens’ caches look like if the ravens’ entire economy hinged on gratuitous consumption?

I wonder about these questions when I think about the stuff component to other religions: Judaica stores, Hindu murtis, Christian icons. Even Buddhists usually set up a little altar. Yes, I know, images and objects help focus prayer. But everyone wants the best images. The best objects. The most beautiful, personalized, and perfect things. In many cases, the biggest and most ornate.

I think Witchcraft, with its emphasis on magic and the tools and props that go with that, presents more of a risk than many other traditions of compulsive materialism, of addictive shopping. It’s something we Witches have to wrestle with. But I also think those impulses–those feelings that this thing is calling me, that it wants to be with me–are worth listening to. As guilty as I often feel after I spend money on myself, I can’t remember the last time I bought something that I didn’t use and love.

When I start to feel really guilty about my latest shopping trip, I remind myself that I only spent 17 bucks. People spend that much on lunch.

May you have no more and no less than the best, most perfect treasures in your home.

Pagan Blog Project: Grey Magic (or, how to avoid a cult)

When I first started searching for other witches in my area, I went to Meetup.com and subscribed to a bunch of the Pagan groups. One of those groups called itself “The Positive Magickal Community” or something like that. The description on the group’s page was lengthy and terribly written–it was easily 2-3000 words and after struggling through it, I could barely tell what the group did–but I didn’t want to judge a group by whoever was in charge of its Meetup page, so despite that initial red flag, I joined.

You know how Meetup groups can ask potential members a few questions to get a feel for them? Usually it’s 2, maybe 3 questions: “What brings you to this group? What’s your favorite thing about X?” Partly these questions can be used to screen people; mostly, though, I see them used as ways to build a little bio for each member. It’s nice to click on someone’s name and see how they answered the questions. Well, this group had a full-length quiz. One of the questions asked me to define white, grey, and black magic.

I’d never heard of grey magic, so I made a guess: it was magic that focused on neither harming nor avoiding harm, but rather achieving a neutral outcome. I submitted my answers and moved on to the next Meetup group.

A few days later, I got an email from the organizer. The email stated that she did not do emails. Every potential member had to talk to her on the phone. Oh, and she didn’t do phone dates. Every potential member had to be available whenever she happened to call them. Could I give her my cell phone number?

At this point I started having some significant reservations, but I hadn’t yet met any witches in LA, so I clung to the hope that this was perhaps a normal group with an eccentric Meetup organizer. Over the next few days, I missed call after call from the organizer–she only called during working hours and grew increasingly annoyed that I wasn’t answering–but she finally managed to catch me when I wasn’t teaching or in a meeting. I went into a conference room. There was a problem with my application, she said, concerned. Could I clarify my thoughts on grey magic?

Sure. I basically reiterated what I’d said in the quiz. I admitted that I didn’t know much about it.

“Ahhhh,” she said, suddenly understanding. “Okay. So there’s a big controversy going on right now in the magical community over grey magic. Some people think it’s okay to just get whatever they want and not worry about who it hurts. Some people think it’s okay to just bounce energy back if they get hexed. But that’s not okay! Grey magic is basically black magic in disguise! And our community only practices white magic! Do you understand?”

“S…sure?” I said. Big controversy? That sounded like a big heap of baloney to me.

“So what are your thoughts on grey magic now that we’ve talked?” she said.

“Well…” I decided to take her at her word for the time being. “I suppose I don’t see much point in it. If someone hexes you and you bounce it back, then they haven’t learned anything, and they’ll probably just become an even angrier person.” Despite my best efforts to sound thoughtful, I could hear superstition coming out of my mouth and it felt creepy. “To me it violates the Jewish imperative to repair the world.”

“But do you think it’s okay?” she pressed. “Would you ever do it?”

Again, I took her at her word. “No,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “You’re in. But–I need you to do one last thing for me. I need you to go back and change your answer to reflect what we just talked about. Okay? Because I don’t want any ambiguity influencing our community.”

When we got off the phone, I decided that I’d try one meeting, and if it was super creepy and weird, then I never had to go back. I went back to the quiz and, to humor her, changed my answer to talk about how awful and evil grey magic is, and how no smart person would ever use it.

What followed was a series of experiences so bizarre they were almost comical. The organizer posted private events on the Meetup page, but hid the member list so no one could tell who else was in the group. You weren’t allowed to RSVP through the site–you had to call her and wait for her to call you back. (That was another rule she had: she had to be the one to call you. But no phone dates!) You had to attend a Dance of Universal Peace first, so that she could get a sense of you in person. Then you’d finally be allowed to attend a Positive Magickal Community event. I went to the damn Dance of Universal Peace and met her in person: she was dressed head to toe in velvet, with about a dozen charm bags hanging off her belt. Clearly she was protecting herself from a lot of hexes.

By this point, she’d been stringing me along for about a month, and I still hadn’t met the actual group. My hopes that the other members were sensible were rapidly dwindling, but when she finally offered me the coveted prize–an actual ritual with the actual group, at which I’d meet the actual people!–I decided to give it a try.

Then I found out that each ritual cost $20 because she needed to rent a massage table. Then I asked her about the childcare she’d mentioned at one point and she sent me an angry email telling me the deadline to request childcare had passed, and she was tired of irresponsible parents.

By the time the day of the ritual arrived (I had no idea what kind of ritual it was going to be, by the way–that information was classified), I desperately didn’t want to go, but I’d already hired a babysitter. I was on the verge of canceling and doing something else with my morning when I got three emails and a call from her simultaneously.

“You’re in another Meetup group!” she cried, outraged.

Yup. It was true. I was in two others.

“Some of the people in that group practice GREY MAGIC!” she said. “I can’t be interconnected with those people! As your teacher, I need you to dissociate yourself from them!”

By this point I’d decided never to interact with her again, so it was more out of morbid curiosity that I let her continue her rant. When she finally reached a pause, I suggested that I might not be a good match for the group.

“I think that intellectually, you’re not ready to commit to us,” she said, seething.

It was more about family-friendly rituals, I said, to be polite.

“You’re still exploring intellectually,” she said. “I’m going to remove you. From. The group. Okay?” She said it slowly to make sure I understood the implications.

When we hung up, I’d never felt so relieved.

A couple of weeks later, when I’d begun to meet other witches, I spoke to someone else who’d tried to join. “They had this grey magic question,” she said. “I answered that true magic isn’t any particular color, and I got this really nasty email saying, ‘you are not on a positive life path!'”

The other witches gasped and laughed, appalled. I told her my story and we all bonded over it.

I fear this post has gotten really snarky, so I’ll stop here, even though there were many more disturbing things about the group. So what are the morals of this story?

1) Always trust your instincts about a group. Don’t let wishful thinking get you caught up in something that doesn’t feel right. I know, this advice is obvious. But it’s so easy to forget when you’re in the middle of a situation. If the group demands exclusivity–especially before you’ve even met them–they’re no good. If a total stranger suddenly starts calling themselves your teacher, they’re no good. If they withhold more information than they give, THEY ARE NO GOOD.

2) Never, ever get mixed up in a group that’s obsessed with “white magic.” This person’s most prominent trait seemed to be that the more she committed herself to positive magic, the more bitter and angry she became. Trying to purge yourself of anything negative will only ever lead to frustration, and the more you dig into it, the more that frustration will make you lash out at other people. This person had a frightening desire for control over the people she interacted with–and every time I spoke to her, it seemed like that control was constantly beyond her grasp. She was a deeply unhappy person.

Was this group a cult, by standard definitions? I don’t know. I think it would have been a more clear-cut cult if this person had been more skilled at controlling people. I think she was striving to completely control the thoughts and actions of everyone in the group, but she couldn’t figure out how to accomplish it.

3) I still don’t know what the hell grey magic is supposed to be. Yes, I’ve googled it. Look, any practical spell is going to run the risk of having an adverse effect on someone, just like going to a job interview impacts someone else’s chance of getting that job. If you need money or whatever, add a modifier onto a spell like “may it harm none” or “for the highest good of all.” Then stop torturing yourself over the billions of lives you just ruined with your all-powerful magical abilities.

I’ve refrained from posting the organizer’s name, because she still has my phone number and I don’t want to draw her attention to me. The Meetup group doesn’t seem to exist anymore. But if you’re in the Los Angeles area, please, be cautious.

Pagan Blog Project: Fantasy

So I’m a Witch. I’m also a fantasy writer. I’m also a fantasy reader. This poses problems.

I don’t think I need to tell you about the enormous overlap between Pagans and fantasy enthusiasts. To some extent, I think it’s a healthy and predictable overlap: we like nature and ceremony and fairies, and fantasy fiction provides them in abundance. But I also think we always run the risk of letting our love of fantasy bleed into nostalgia and wishful thinking.

For instance, right now I’m reading a terrific fantasy novel: Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier, a Druid in OBOD. The novel is about pre-Christian Celts and Druids, and is super good, and you should go out and get a copy right now. Obviously I can’t speak to Marillier’s intentions when writing the novel, but I have noticed that so far, her portrayal of Druids is pretty idealized. They’re wise, they’re aloof, they feel most comfortable outdoors. That doesn’t ring true to me. Druids were (are) flawed, messy human beings, just like the laypeople around them, and I’ve never known of a religious order that didn’t deal with the same conflicts and politics as lay society. Reading a novel in which my co-religionists are portrayed as spiritually perfect makes me deeply uncomfortable. (Let me stress, though, that I’m only about 50 pages in, so maybe things get messier.)

Then there’s my own fiction. In the YA novel I’m working on, people pull energy out of the earth to work magic. (Rule number one of fantasy: you gotta have your magic system figured out, otherwise you end up with a world populated by superheroes.) I write a scene in which people are pulling up earth energy to work magic…and then I go to a Reclaiming ritual in which I ground myself to raise a cone of power. I write another scene in which characters pray to their gods in the woods…and then I go do a devotional in the local state park. My Paganism isn’t usually on my mind when I work on my novel, but then I look back on what I’ve written and the influence is unmistakable.

And then I think–does Paganism influence fantasy, or does fantasy influence Paganism? I’ve known people for whom it’s the latter. Sometimes I fear that I’m one of them.

Because here’s the thing: I want my spiritual practice to be beautiful, and I want it to be green and numinous, but I also want it to trouble me. I want to learn to let go of craving and clinging, to avoid spiritual materialism. I want to find a power in myself that will change the world around me, rather than lead to self-absorption. I want to honor the gods, not turn them into trinkets.

I want to engage in spiritual play, but I don’t want to play pretend.

I suppose the best way to avoid nostalgia and wishful thinking in my fantasy writing is to focus on telling a good story, with flawed characters in an imperfect world. But even if I manage to keep my spirituality and my fiction separate, readers will still bring in their assumptions (if I go public under my real name, that is). Notice, for instance, the assumptions I made about Juliet Marillier? I don’t know if I would have noticed her treatment of Druids if I hadn’t read her bio before starting the book.

In the meantime, let me stress that Flame of Sevenwaters is fantastic* so far and you should read it. And I hope whatever you’re reading at the moment is giving you pleasure and joy.

* No pun intended.**

**Aw, heck, who am I kidding? I totally intended that pun.

Keeping it light

Every so often, I get a little too attached to magic. In Buddhist terms, I cling. When that happens, I get yanked back.

I’ll try to describe what happened to me the other night while adhering to the fourth pillar of the Witch’s Pyramid: To Keep Silent. Basically, I’m making a pretty important career move. I’ve worked hard on this for years. I’ve honed my materials. I’ve practiced and practiced and practiced. But this career move is infinitely difficult to accomplish, and there are so few available spots that it doesn’t really matter how skilled or talented you are. In the end, a lot of it comes down to dumb luck. Last time I attempted this move, luck wasn’t on my side. In fact, I had the stupidest, most hair-pullingly bad luck you could imagine. I depended on a third party who wasn’t good at their job and they let me down. I did my best, but it didn’t matter–this person had too many things on their plate, and I’m the one whose hopes were dashed.

So this time, I decided to turn luck in my favor.

A few months ago, I started planning a spell. I was as thoughtful about the magic I planned to work as I was about the materials themselves. I thought through the procedure. I thought through the ethics. I planned it out in detail. I decided to use a sigil in the spell, and oh reader, I designed the most beautiful sigil.

Finally, when my materials were ready to submit, I queued up the emails I needed to send and prepared to go work the spell. My plan was to send them as soon as the spell was complete. But then, just as I was about to go up to my ritual space, I realized there was one teensy little change I needed to make in a document.

I opened up Word. It froze. I rolled my eyes and force quit it. Then I opened the document–this very large document is the lynchpin of my entire application, by the way–and Word froze again.

My heart sped up. I tried a previous version of the document. Word froze again. I downloaded the document onto my husband’s computer. His Word froze, too.

The file itself was corrupt. Both versions were corrupt.

I panicked.

There was never any chance that I’d lose the document completely–I had it printed out. But I had to send it soon. I couldn’t retype the whole thing. My husband and I tried everything we could think of to recover it, but nothing worked. Every time we opened any version of the file, Word would freeze.

I finally went to bed strung out on fear. I could barely sleep. I had one last hope: that the version on my computer at work would be safe. But by now I was convinced that there was a bug in some early version of the file, and that every version I’d saved since then was now corrupt. Was it a time-sensitive virus? I had no idea. Needless to say, I didn’t do the spell. All the ingredients were ready and waiting, but I knew I was too frazzled to work any good magic.

The next morning I got to work and had to do breathing exercises before I could bring myself to open the file.

It worked fine.

I laughed to myself. I think I almost fainted. It worked fine!

The file was okay!

Now that I could think more clearly, I searched the Internet for the problems I’d been having and found out that Word for Mac has a tendency to freeze when opening large documents. The fix is simple: turn off spelling and grammar checks, and then open a new blank document. Close the new document without making any changes. This triggers a routine that frees up memory.

I thought, briefly, about performing the spell after all. But I didn’t. I just sent those emails off, with no ceremony and no second-guesses. By then, the message was clear: Someone Big didn’t want me mucking up fate with magic.

Because Word had never done that to me before. And what are the odds that it would do it for the first time on two computers at once? Right before I was about to do the spell?

I’m so happy with the sigil I created that I may still do a version of the spell, just to give myself a little boost. But I learned my lesson. When I formally studied magic for the first time, my teacher told the class that we need to keep spells light. We shouldn’t get too attached to the exact results we want. We shouldn’t get dogmatic or superstitious.

Keep it light, Someone Big was telling me. Don’t go pinning all your hopes on a drawing and some herbs.

I sent the materials a couple of days ago and already I’ve gotten a couple of positive signs. The chances that I’ll accomplish this career move are still exceedingly slim. And oh, Gods and Goddesses, I want it so much. I’ve wanted it for almost twenty years.

But I have to keep my grip on my desire light. If I don’t get this thing, I’ll be crushed. My career may not recover. I know this. Better to deal with the possibility now, though, than be blindsided by it later.

At the very least, I created a lovely little sigil. And that sigil, at least, will always be mine.

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.