Here in the Northern Hemisphere today is the shortest day and longest night, it is The Winter Solstice. Within my body I treasure the darkness, that blessed and sacred time of rest and regeneration. And for me the knowledge that inside my face and neck and lungs there are cancer cells transitioning into death, releasing their life/light and going dark so that my whole body can be stronger and healthier is powerful magic and a joyful gift. Blessings this Winter Solstice to everyone who needs rest and regeneration, blessings on all who need cells in their body, or relationships in their lives, or larger cultural and political situations to release their life/light and go dark for the greater health of the individual bodies or the larger body politic. Blessings to my dear friends living in the Southern Hemisphere celebrating the opposite, the longest day and shortest night - may good things grow in the abundance of light in your hemisphere.
In my Christian Tradition we are entering the third week of Advent, the four week period before Christmas when we reflect on the gift of incarnation - the miracle of cells infused with The Divine living in embodied Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Joy is the word, the concept, the state of being we explore in this third week. This morning as I walked through our Farmer's Market I delighted in the joyful riot of color and texture of the persimmons and carrots, squash and chocolate, winter greens and honey. I delighted in the joyful mix of old farm families mostly of European ancestry, generations of folk who have migrated from Central and South America, hippy grandparents tending their hippy grandchildren, people dressed in the rich textures of sweaters and scarves, boots and velvet - all walking breathing living examples of that embodied Joy of The Divine. Blessings on that embodied Joy, blessings on the delights of carrots and velvet, sunlight and laughing children. Blessings on you may you see, taste, touch, hear, smell, and be Embodied Joy.
In my christian tradition we are entering the second week of Advent. It is a time when we read and reflect on a beautiful and revolutionary part of the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke found in the Christian Scriptures. The verses are known as The Magnificat and tell the story of a very pregnant, young, first century girl from rural Palestine journeying to visit her kinswoman, a very pregnant, old woman whose own pregnancy was a miracle. As the two women meet, the young woman says many things but these two phrases always strike me, the young woman, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, says "My soul magnifies The Divine... The Divine has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; The Divine has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." I am again reminded of what the Liberation Theologians in my Christian Tradition call "God's preferential option for the poor" that, based on Jesus teachings as an adult, individuals and whole societies will be judged by how they cared for their most vulnerable members, that political policies and institutional systems must strive for economic equality and steer away from policies that simply consolidate the wealth of a society in the hands of a few. Blessings on all who hear and heed these first century calls from the poor young teenager who was the mother of Jesus. No Justice, No Peace. Peace = Justice
In my christian tradition today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time when my christian spiritual community ponders our powerful mythological claim that incarnation - the embodiment of the divine in fragile human flesh - is possible. But first a young woman has to say yes to filling her life, her womb, her whole consciousness with this particular manifestation of "The Divine in our midst" growing cell by cell in her uterus, fed by her blood and willingness and hope for her baby, herself, her world. My dear beloved Jeff Spencer preached a sermon this morning on the Annunciation, the part of the story where the Angel Gabriel and Mary have their meeting. He touches on this 2000 year old story in the context of the current #metoo conversations and how important a culture of consent is, even between an angel and a young Palestinian peasant girl. This Advent I have the blessing of doing nothing but reading, writing, dreaming, healing and hoping. And so this week I will spent my time trancing and dancing with Mary as she enters this time of Hope. Blessings on my christian family walking this journey with me. Blessings on all people who hope The Divine will manifest in their lives. Blessings on all people who Hope.
I am infinitely awed by human bodies including my own. I revel and delight in the full range of embodied human experience. Now, in my late fifties, post-menopausal, I am experiencing another common embodied human experience, I have stage four squamous cell cancer in my body. This embodied human experience, for me, is also powerful, amazing and fascinating.
When I first got my diagnosis four deities with whom I have long relationships, showed up and offered to work this spiritual journey of embodied cancer with me: The Norse trickster god Loki, the Christian god Jesus, the Irish goddess Brigid, and The Virgin of Guadalupe. I gratefully accepted their offer and set up my home altar to welcome them. I poured a shot of Jameson for Brigid, some wine for Jesus, Tequila for The Virgin of Guadalupe, and cheap whiskey for Loki. I asked if they would surround me with a protective bubble and be my partners in this work whatever the outcome. Loki for the humor and curiosity, Jesus for the deep healing compassion, Brigid for the hard work of forging the tools I need for the journey, and The Virgin of Guadalupe for the continuity with my Spanish/Mexican ancestors who it seems have also struggled with this particular common human embodied experience of cancer.
I knew that as news of my diagnosis spread many people in the communities of which I am part would want to send their blessings, prayers, good wishes, and healing love. I know that those energies will strengthen my body and spirit. I also know from being a minister for many years and a witch for my whole life, that sometimes along with those good energies, people also accidentally send their own fears and anxieties from their own past experiences with cancer in their own bodies or the bodies of loved ones. That energy is not as helpful to me. There are also folk who feed off other people’s drama and my bubble helps deflect that hunger as well. My deity created protective bubble lets in what is healing and redirects or even transforms what is not.
Several friends have shared that they understand Brigid, Jesus and The Virgin of Guadalupe, but curious why Loki? My deep fascination with the full range of human experience may be part of why since I was a child I have spent time playing with Loki. My experience of Loki is of an insatiably curious deity as fascinated by the ever changing kaleidoscopic movement of time and all the beings interacting within it as I am. My experience of Loki is of a being who stirs up trouble not so much for the sake of making trouble, but out of a deep curiosity of how the other beings impacted will act and react. It has been delightful to have Loki along on this cancer journey, a kindred being with whom to step back and be amazed by the shifts and changes in my own body as well as the wildly choreographed dance number happening all around me as people move in and out my my inner circle to share love and support and medical care.
With Loki I am exploring what it feels like to have tumors pushing bones and teeth and flesh and nerves and arteries into new configurations there on the right side of my face and neck. What it feels like to have tumors laying in my lungs changing my very breath. What it takes to be infinitely creative in order to get food into my mouth held almost completely shut by tumors wrapped around my jaw. I am fascinated to see which muscles are working extra hard in my cheek and neck as I try to form words or even smile. Curious to learn what happens to other systems in my body when I use opioids for pain relief.
Loki is as fascinated as I am by the immunotherapy treatment I am receiving at UCSF in San Francisco. Unlike traditional chemo and radiation which simply goes in and kills all kinds of cells both cancer and regular healthy cells, immunotherapy stimulates my own immune system to find the cancer cells and put a cap over their receptors so that in effect, they starve to death and then become food for my healthy white blood cells. It turns out that cancer cells come and go in all healthy humans and when they show up, our own immune system takes care of them, unless our immune system goes off line like mine did in my forties, then when the cancer begins to multiply there is nothing to keep it in check.
So here I am in this slower pace of embodied cancer time where I am present in each moment and aware of the incredible amount of healing work happening in all my systems and on a deep cellular level. I have always been, and will continue to be, fascinated with embodiment, even this particular all too common experience of human embodiment called cancer. Blessings on all our embodied selves, blessings on the full range of human embodied experience. Blessings on your full range of human embodied experience.
There was a moment when I once again began to panic then was suddenly flooded with the grateful and strong presence of Descendants, the ones who may not even be related to me by blood but would benefit from research on the cancer cells being harvested from my lungs. At that moment, that moment of gratitude and strength from the future, this time the needle passed through the wall of my lung easily.
Even cancer can be, as we say in my Reclaiming Witch tradition, “witchyasfuck”. In my last blog post, “Lunar Cycles and Healing” I talked about the ancestral legacy of cancer in my family that I have been working as a spiritual practice, and in particular helping my restless ghosts be able to move on to transform into healthy ancestors.
I knew from the beginning this journey would be a powerful experience of my ancestors, particularly those who had died of the same or a similar cancer to what I had grown in my own body, but I was unprepared for the powerful presence of Descendants. In my Reclaiming witch tradition we often invoke Ancestors and Descendants in our rituals, especially around Samhain, that sacred dark and witchy time of year when the veil between the worlds is thinnest. We understand that both ancestors and descendants might be of blood lineage, but also of choice, spirit, and culture.
I was told that the squamous cell carcinoma in my cheek and two lymph nodes in my neck may have spread to my lungs, they needed to do a needle biopsy to confirm that indeed the nodules showing up on the PET/CT scan were cancer, and the same kind of cancer. I went in for the procedure in which I had to lay face down and be moved in and out of the scanner each time as they inserted the needle through my back into my lung millimeters at a time while I held my breath. Then they took another scan to make sure the needle was still on target heading toward a particular nodule. I had been in the procedure for about forty-five minutes and felt like I was calm and getting the hang of the rhythm when suddenly the needle punctured the wall of my pleura, which popped my lung and felt very different than anything had in the previous forty-five minutes. It didn’t hurt exactly but it startled me and I moved enough that it threw off the aim. They had to pull it out and even though I was willing to try again a pneumothorax began to form as a portion of my lung collapsed so they had to stop. Now I had a hole in my lung but we were no closer to knowing what the nodules were.
In the weeks after that they strategized different ways to biopsy the nodules but eventually said trying the needle biopsy again was still the safest way. I went in the day of the second biopsy thinking I was fine, but as soon as I changed out of my clothes into the ever so stylish hospital gown I began to have a good old fashioned classic panic attack - I went cold and began to shake. The nursing staff immediately warmed me up and with my mom at my feet and one of my beloved partners at my head, I eventually calmed down. I hadn’t realized how traumatized I’d been by the first attempt until I was finally able to release that energy through my panic attack. Because I had to be fully alert and awake to control my breathing during the procedure they couldn’t give me any anti-anxiety meds so had to wait until the panic attack had run its course.
Then they wheeled me into the scan room. This time I was clear with them that they needed to tell me when the needle was going to pierce my lung so I wouldn’t be startled. About thirty minutes in I began to feel cold again and that was when a voice inside my head said, “Last time they were only gathering cells for the pathology, this time the research team is also here to gather cells for the immunotherapy study.” That was when I was suddenly flooded with the grateful and strong presence of Descendants, the ones who may not even be related to me by blood but would benefit from research on the cancer cells being harvested from my lungs. At that moment, that moment of gratitude and strength from the future, the needle passed through the wall of my lung easily and they were able to get into the nodule and collect enough samples for both the pathology and the research, and out again with ease.
It is indeed the same cancer, which is good in that if it had been a different kind it would have disqualified me from the amazing immunotherapy study I am in at UCSF. As it is if the immunotherapy works then my own immune system will be stimulated to find the cancer wherever it is in my body and help it finish its lifecycle and pass from my body leaving me healthy and alive for many years after it is gone. I am so excited that Western Medicine’s cancer treatment has finally come in line with things we witches and mystics have known about healing for millennia.
Yes, even cancer can be “witchyasfuck.” Blessings on all our ancestral legacies needing to be worked out, blessings on all our descendants holding us in gratitude and strength if we have the will and courage to face those legacies. Blessings on all your ancestors and all their descendants.
It is no secret that we witches are deeply connected to the cycles of The Moon. We use lunar cycles to make decisions about planting and tending herbs for healing, food for nourishing our families and communities, and what kind of magic is appropriate to do personally, communally, or politically.
Right now The Moon in waning, going from bright and Full when she sits directly opposite the Sun in our sky, to completely hidden when She passes between the Sun and our home here on planet Earth. She is always there of course, but it is our perception our perspective that changes how much of Her we see. As witches we know that whether She is fully visible or completely invisible to our eyes, She is still there, powerful, beautiful, mysterious, our ally and partner in our magic.
And so this weekend as she wanes I will be working with seven other dear witches at my home to do a ritual of releasing and transforming a particular sad and painful ancestral legacy that has been in one of my familial lines for generations. A legacy of cancer.
For two years I have been uncovering a story that was hidden like the Dark Moon but still held great power over many generations of my family. This legacy comes from my great-grandma Josephine Romero Lindsey Smith’s line, has passed to her grand daughters my Aunt Hazel and cousin LuEllen, and on to my generation touching my cousin Albert and his son, AJ, and now I find has been growing in my own body.
Two years ago I begin working on researching a book about Great-grandma Josie. I had only one small court document hidden away for years by my Grandma Winnie telling the story of her family living in a refugee camp in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire, a sad story of her mother Josie dying of “a cancer of the throat” and the children being placed in orphanages.
Since then I have uncovered a long and rich story of Josie’s life as a child and youth in Alta California on Romero Hill in Spanish Town (near present day Montecito), then marrying and moving to San Francisco in the early 1880s. I have lived with her through the 1880s and 90s, and through to her death in October of 1907 through census records, newspaper articles, documents discovered at the California Historical Society in San Francisco and SF History room at the Downtown branch of the Library, hours of internet searches, history books, and novels of the times. As a witch I have tranced and danced and dreamed her story continually since I first discovered her. She has been coming alive in my DNA, in my collective ancestral memories, in the tilt of her head, the wildness of her hair, the depth of her eyes passed on to her children and their children, and their children, and sadly through the cancer cells each subsequent generation also grew in our bodies.
I feel deeply called to do this magic of legacy releasing. To fully see, acknowledge, mourn, and then release and transform this particular part of great-grandma Josie’s legacy while continuing to hold dear her life story and vibrant ancestral spirit.
I feel especially called to do this because I am a witch, surrounded by other kind, compassionate and powerful witches. I feel especially called to do this because I discovered that I was born in a hospital in San Francisco on October 23rd 1959 that came to be through the merger of several hospitals including the one where Josie died on October 25th 1907. I feel especially called to do this because I discovered that the new Mission Bay Campus of UCSF Medical Center where I began the journey of my own cancer treatment was built exactly over the spot where Josie and her family lived after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. I feel especially called to do this because my cousin LuEllen, from another part of the state and I ended up at UCSF on the same day at the same time, she ending her treatments, me going into them, both of us determined to change the outcome of the story. I feel especially called to do this to honor Josie, who died of “a cancer of the throat”, my Aunt Hazel who died of a cancer in her throat, my Cousin Albert who died of cancer in his face and neck, my cousin LuEllen who survived and Albert’s son AJ who survived, and my current experience of cancer in my face and neck. I feel especially called to do this for all of us and for generations of descendants.
And so on Sunday I will gather physically with six witches and one from a distance astrally to do magic under the waning Moon, to do magic of ancestral release and healing. Our intention will be:
"With love and compassion we see the ancestral legacy of cancer in Lizann's family and body and release it to be transformed by The Elements with gratitude for the wisdom it gave.” We will call on my dear allies The Moon, the compassionate Jesus, his mother as The Virgin of Guadalupe, The Celtic Goddess Brigid, the Norse Trickster God Loki, my ancestors and all their descendants. We will ground, cast a circle, open ourselves to the transformative power of Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Center/Spirit/Mystery. We will chant and drum, pour libations of whiskey, and trance and dance and laugh and release this multi-generational legacy with gratitude for the wisdom it gave.
If you would like to join us in this work and magic in spirit I invite you to light a candle, pour a shot, say a prayer, kiss a beloved from anywhere, anytime because what happens between the worlds is timeless and knows no bounds of geography and I and my ancestors would be grateful to you for adding to the magic.
Blessings on all our ancestral legacies may we come to release and transform the painful parts, and embody the joy and wisdom of the whole of it.
It began last November with a wound in my mouth. As close as I can figure I simply chewed up the inside of my cheek while sleeping. I, like many folk in my county, the USA, found last November a particularly challenging time as ideologies clashed, fury abounded, and tension mounted. I seem to have manifested that inside my mouth with the traditional gnashing of teeth, unfortunately a large hunk of tissue, muscle, and nerves were also damaged in the process. My dentist said she had not seen anything like it and suggested warm salt water rinses. I was a bit oblivious to the extent of the self inflicted damage in my mouth and perhaps in the larger fabric of my country.
By April the wound was healing badly, leaving scar tissue hardening in a way that had triggered more clenching, TMJ, and my lymph nodes had begun to swell. It was clear there were complications including an underlying infection in both my body and my country and that the 500 year history of racism, gender violence, and genocide on the North American continent needed to be addressed. I worked with my acupuncturist, my local herbalists, and even reentered the western medicine world and took a course of antibiotics for the first time in twenty-five years. The scaring and infection from years of wounding and complicated legacies from the long history in my nation were also becoming clearer even to folk who had benefitted from the injustice and trauma. I engaged with folk on the full political spectrum: locally, in my family, in my wider community, in my nation. Those whose families had lived the traumas, as well as those who had benefitted from the trauma, all now understanding that there was a huge problem, but could not agree on the causes much less the solutions.
By August the scar tissue in my mouth had hardened to the extent that I could no longer open my mouth wide enough to eat normally and was blending my fruit to drink it, blending my salad to drink it, and sipping mushroom and bone broth concoctions. The scaring was making it difficult to open my mouth and I was noticing difficulty in my diction and ability to speak, and my lymph nodes once again began to swell. I entered the vortex of western medicine and find myself poked, prodded, and scanned as the doctors try to figure out what is going on in my mouth, in my lymph nodes, in my body. Nationally we seem to be in the same place, the scaring and infection making it harder and harder to speak with clarity, harder and harder to address the infection and all the complications that have arisen from the initial wounds and traumas no matter how much we poke, prod, and scan ourselves and each other.
I have no ending to this story - to either story - I am not on the other side of the wound and its complications - we are not on the other side of our national wounds and complications. And so we persist, we continue, we struggle.
May we find unexpected allies and help in the persisting, in the continuing, in the struggle, in the diagnosing and ultimately in the healing and moving forward.
Here is a list of online resources and books I am finding helpful in addressing our national wounds.
In the Celtic Wheel of the Year here in the Northern Hemisphere we have turned to the first of three harvest festivals, Lughnasadh or Lammas. These three festivals (Lughnasadh, Mabon, and Samhain) happen between the Summer and Winter Solstices. Lughnasadh is a time of harvesting the fruits and vegetables abundant this time of year. Where I live in West Sonoma County California the stalls at the Sebastopol Farm Market are piled with blackberries, tomatoes, strawberries, lettuces, apples, peaches, corn, green beans, herbs... the colors and abundance of everything is intoxicating! Blessings on this time of harvest, blessings on home gardens and small farms where the harmony of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air dance with human tending and love. Blessings on every delicious bite we put in our mouth - berries straight from the vine warm and plump, corn lightly steamed and full of flavor, green beans so bright with green the sound as we snap them rings with the percussive music of this blessed Earth. May each bite you take nourish your body to live and love, work for justice and dance with celebration.
It is late afternoon and the slanting light is filtering through the redwoods. I am barefoot feeling the redwood roots intertwined and alive under the trail. We are laying a maze/labyrinth with rooms of challenge and healing for our community of witches of all genders to move though later this night as part of our evening ritual. I move off the trail and begin building a altar of bee healing, using a low redwood stump. There is honey to drizzle on skin with an invitation to feel its sticky goodness before licking it off, pieces of honeycomb to break off and roll around in their mouths, healing honey salve to work into rough skin, a lantern draped with a floral cloth illuminating this place since the ritual will be held after the sun sets in the west.
This year we are working the myth of Crete: of the maze/labyrinth, of Ariadne, of Theseus, and of the Minotaur. It is the fourth night and we have been gently uncovering the layers of the story, looking deeper than the later Greek myth of the hero slaying the monster, to the earlier fragments of the Minoan culture before the Greek conquerers came. Before the Greeks, Crete was place of 1,900 years of peace shattered by the twin tragedies of natural disaster (volcanic eruption and tsunami) and then Greek invasion. Before the Greeks, Ariadne was not just a girl with some thread, she was a goddess, the maze was an initiatory labyrinth, and the Minotaur was Asterion, the bull in the stars, a divine being. Before the Greeks, the Minoans danced with the bulls. Before the Greeks there were bee and snake priestesses offering challenge and healing in the labyrinth. Yet layered on top of the older stories is the myth of the monster in the maze. This week at witchcamp we live in the multi dimensional space where both are possible and this night over a hundred witches will enter the maze/labyrinth to see if they encounter a monster, or dance with the bulls, or both.
A few hours later drums call the witches to gather at the mouth of the maze/labyrinth. But we are not all there, seven of us are already at the heart of the maze/labyrinth getting ready to aspect the Minotaur/Asterion. In our Reclaiming Tradition it is common in rituals for some priestesses (of all genders) to aspect, a magical practice in which we channel the presence of a deity or quality. "Aspecting," says Reclaiming teacher Sage, "is a technique which allows participants to experience the presence of a quality, being or deity in an embodied, physically manifest way.” Seven of us will invite in the monster or the starry bull. Each of us has a Tender, a person who will make sure we are not lost in the aspecting, that The Minotaur/Asterion is gentle with the human priestess they will be living through and does not wander off into the woods. In the Greek myth 7 girls and 7 boys are offered as tribute to the monster in the maze, it is somehow appropriate that we also are 7 and 7.
As we hear the distant drums, our Tenders invoke The Minotaur/Asterion into us so that when the witches finally arrive at the heart of the maze/labyrinth they will encounter us there. I feel the energy shift in my body, I feel my nostrils flare and my sense of smell heighten. I feel The Minotaur/Asterion flow into me, to see through my eyes, to hear through my ears, to speak human language with my mouth, and begin to learn how to move my human body. I am still present witnessing the change from within my deep core. I feel a shift in my posture, a difference in the way I hold my head. I feel The Minotaur/Asterion reshape my body, The Minotaur/Asterion moves haltingly at first, fascinated with physical limitation, fascinated with embodiment. The Minotaur/Asterion begins to live me around the space, smelling the plants, the earth, tasting a bit of the sweet new growth on the tip of a lower hanging redwood branch. The Minotaur/Asterion is aware of my Tender and sniffs her, she is patient and allows that. Then The Minotaur/Asterion, getting used to vocal chords, says haltingly, “human.” She says, “yes” with a smile. The Minotaur/Asterion says, “fragile.” The Minotaur/Asterion becomes aware of another Minotaur/Asterion across the space and says, “Me” and begins to move toward themself. As the two Minotaurs/Asterions grow close they sniff each other then begin to nuzzle. Close by two more Minotaurs/Asterions are circling then begin to butt heads and wrestle. We slowly become aware of each other as one complete Minotaur/Asterion yet each a different facet of the whole of The Minotaur/Asterion.
The witches begin to arrive here in the center of the maze/labyrinth and begin to seek encounters with one or more of us. The Minotaur/Asterion living through me smells each person, gaining knowledge of who they are, of their fears, of their strength, of their uncertainties if they are facing a monster they must battle or a divine energy with which they can dance. The Minotaur/Asterion knows that if there is a monster here it is of their own making. Each human is different. The Minotaur/Asterion living me, meets each witch where they are and holds their gaze, dances with some, whispers words to others.
The fire in the center burns higher as all the witches arrive and the ritual continues. The Minotuar/Asterion living me circles round the fire and stops by certain witches and opens energetic portals in some near their throat, or heart, or solar plexus and then breaths hot bull breath full of strength, power, healing into those openings.
The ritual moves toward its end and one of the last pieces is for the 7 Tenders to thank The 7 Minotaurs/Asterions and devoke that energy/being from the human bodies of the 7 human priestesses allowing us to once more see through our own eyes, hear through our own ears, and speak with our own mouths. I feel the energy exit my body leaving behind bull wisdom and an ache in my back from my muscles moving differently. I miss the heightened sense of smell and the ability to know humans more fully because of it. I am very thirsty and drink the entire contents of my water bottle.
Later as the witches drift away from the dying fire I wander back through the labyrinth and stop at the bee altar. I drizzle a bit of honey on my hand and taste its sweetness delighted to be a fragile human living among other fragile humans. There is now a dance party happening back at the dining hall and I dance out my bull stiff muscles a bit until walking barefoot through the dark to my bed on the edge of camp. I fall asleep and dream of dancing with bulls.
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