A brief interlude from my travel journals
It’s quite humid today in my house, and very warm. For the past few months, workers have been (very, very) slowly renovating the house’s façade, a project my husband had been hoping to have done for years now. It was much needed, but it’s meant many of our windows have been sealed off, our backyard looks like a war zone, there’s scaffolding everywhere, and we’re woken at 7am each weekday morning to the sounds of scraping and German pop radio. Also, it was supposed to be only a six week project, but we’re now in week twelve and it’s far from completed. It’s not been the most pleasant experience.
I’ve been back now for a few days from my trip to Greece, and I still have at least one (and possibly two) more journals to publish from it. We arrived exhausted but happy Friday night, though my husband’s recent stress-caused very poor health confined him almost entirely home for the weekend to rest. I, on the other hand, immediately started trying to catch up on three weeks’ worth of missed work and gym time.
I noticed yesterday that some very profound things had changed about me during that trip which were gradual enough that I hadn’t tracked them until just now. One of those things was an almost unnoticed change to my daily prayer rituals, as there are now three (-ish … I’ll explain this later) more gods in my litanies, as well as an ancestor I don’t yet know who’s been recently watching me quite closely.
I lost weight (one and a half kilos of it) on my trip, and I lost a travel keyboard, and I also lost a nagging sense of fear and uncertainty which had really become quite onerous before I left. I can easily replace the keyboard, but I’ve no intention of replacing those other lost things. They were too heavy to carry around anyway.
Really, the couple of months before this trip weren’t the best months for me. Often it felt like the only real joy in my life was the gym, the only time I could be myself and feel as if I didn’t have to take care of anyone or anything except myself. During the trip I’d found myself suddenly crying a bit when someone remarked about how I go very, very far out of my way to take care of others and asked how I “really” felt about this. Those tears were apparently my answer.
I had a dream some ten years ago, which was the previous time I found myself in this pattern. In that dream, I was cutting off my fingers. Not because of some masochistic impulse, nor by accident: in fact, people needed my fingers. Just one finger at time, of course, and their reasons for needing that finger sounded to me perfectly understandable. So I’d lop one off and give it to the person, and then someone else asked and I did the same.
In that dream, though, a final person asked me for a finger, and this time I would get something really generous and kind in return, something worth much more than the finger I would lose. I was thrilled to make this sacrifice, and completely ready for it, no longer afraid of the pain the amputation would cause because I’d been through it so often. I raised my hand, preparing to give over the finger, and then realized I had none left.
At that time, I was a social worker, and also an activist, and also a union representative. I was living in an “anarchist commune,” which of course meant no one else but me was doing the dishes, cleaning, or even buying groceries. I was in a relationship with a man I deeply loved but who had problems and needs far beyond the capacity of any lover, friend, or family to address, and he was deeply reluctant to go to therapy. I was tired, stretched thin, and also trying to start a writing career while all this was happening, and there was absolutely no space for myself.
I didn’t have another dream like that this time, as I’ve learned to view myself reflectively enough not to need horrific images from the unconscious realms to prove a point to me. And though it’s not quite as bad as it was then, it’s felt similar enough that I can see I’ve some adjustments to make before I start lopping off my fingers.
The hard part for me has always been seeing something which is needed but not knowing how to say, “I cannot fix this.” One example of this sits like a tragic monument of human indifference on the hills behind my house. The neighboring dairy farmer had received a large sum of money from the government to plant young trees on his land, along with barriers and supports for those trees to protect them from grazing. They — hundreds of them — were planted a few weeks before summer solstice last year, right as the heat of summer really began.
I was initially quite excited at this, and happy there was real human effort towards restoration of the ravaged pastures. This excitement soon turned to frustration and a bit of horror, once I realised that the farmer had made no provisions to actually water the trees.
Of those hundreds, only a small handful survived.
I could have watered them all, of course, carrying buckets over barbed wire fences, past nettles and thistles, and up hills covered in cow shit. I even tried, before understanding that the effort to save even half the trees would have taken an entire day. So, instead, I watched in horror as they were all left to dry out and die, and beat myself up quite severely for not saving them.
I said there are “adjustments” that I know I need to make, and this slow tree massacre is a good way to explain one of them. I don’t know enough people here in Luxembourg whom I could have enlisted into such an effort. Something like this would have been an ideal project for an intentional community (a local pagan circle, witch coven, or druid grove). There’s nothing of the sort here, and no one else to build such a thing besides me.
That’s where I’ve realised I should re-direct my efforts, away from trying to solve individual’s and specific crises and instead towards cultivating a group that can do those things better.
Perhaps that’s one of the key insights I’ve learned from my time on Patmos with Black Elephant. I’d forgotten how really powerful intentional gatherings of people could really be, and I think the last time I really felt this was when I was part of an OBOD grove in Seattle eight years ago. And speaking of OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I’ve decided to become more active with them, especially since a friend of mine in Burgundy is now organizing collective meetings of the French-speaking groves in Europe.
The (neo-1)pagan insight regarding the “wheel of the year” is that certain moments and states recur in cycles or spirals. Much like being on a Ferris Wheel, each time your carriage reaches a specific point, you get the same views of the world around you as you did last time. However, each revolution shows you something a bit different, since the world isn’t stationary. People are in different positions, the light is slightly different, and you are a little different.
So, last summer solstice I was trying to figure out how I could possibly haul 1000 liters of water through cow pastures and up hills to save several hundred trees alone. This summer solstice, looking at the skeleton of those trees, I’m trying to learn how to plant something that changes the last word in that question to: “with others.”
The official pre-order announcement for my book, Here Be Monsters, should be posted soon. You can already pre-order it via its Penguin / Random House distribution page through multiple retailers. Bothand wrote very kind endorsements for it.
Several people have asked me to re-activate my Patreon page, as they prefer to support my work that way. You can get all the same benefits of a Substack paid subscription there at the same price levels, but you will also have access to other methods of payment rather than just credit card. It is now re-activated, so if you prefer to use PayPal, Venmo, ApplePay, or any of the other payment methods that Substack doesn’t accept, you now have a way to become a paid subscriber, too.
As mentioned, more journals will be published from my Greece travel, and I forgot to publish a recent essay in The Mysteria series a few weeks ago, so that will go up tomorrow. I’ll also start a new book club series, likely in October after a short book release tour. If there’s a book you’d love us to discuss for it, please tell me in the comments!
Though this circling or spiraling framework is a much older insight than any of the modern iterations, it was taken as so obvious that there was never much need to even speak to it.