I can’t live where I can’t see my mountains. It’s a funny and a strange thing. I moved to Frederick, MD, when I was about seven. You could see the beautiful, rolling green of the Appalachians from my house, from the tree I loved to sit in. ‘I’m bored’ in the warmer months was usually answered with a trip into the leaf and stone of the local hiking paths, or perhaps to the lake or waterfall at Cunningham Falls. I spent my early summers building forts in the thickets nearest where we lived, riding my bike on the bike paths in the woods behind the college, making little stone dams in the local streams.
I ran screaming from this country when I was 18. I lived in Okinawa, Japan, for three years. It was beautiful, but I longed for the smell of leaves and moss, the shifting wind through the branches, the changing colors as the Wheel progresses. The strangest thing is that I had problems with time. My memories of Okinawa are out of order. As though without that green to gold to brown to bare leaf cycle, I am somehow left without a way to know when in my life there an event occurred.
I came home. We began in Northern Virgina and moved. And moved. And moved. Until we found a home where I can see the mountains. The Gambrill trail head is a five minute drive from my door. This is no accident.
The mountains are still where I take my pain. When I am broken open, bleeding tears and agony, I go to Cunningham Falls. I climb the waterfall, and find ‘my’ boulder, and it’s there that I pour out the poison in my soul, watering the stone with tears. And quietly, so gently, it’s there that the torrent of tears calms, ceases. Somehow, in that place that does not change, in that space that was there before me, and will be there long after I am gone, I remember myself. I find my center.
And I always considered this little quirk to be yet another one of those oddish things about me that I’ve come to accept rather than question overmuch. I’m weird. I’m wyrd. And I know it, and I don’t fight it anymore. So the pieces that don’t make logical sense just are.
I tell you this because that wyrd part of my nature seems to have found a prism in which to hang, an ah-ha moment that explains not only that practice, but reveals a much deeper well feeding that little curling green tendril of Other that runs rampant in my nature.
The Sacred Space Conference, an amazing gathering of Tribe intended for intermediate to advanced Practitioners, has a focus every year, and every year that focus, that theme, is different. If I could give you this year’s theme in a single word, it would be ‘Heritage.’ This year’s conference featured Appalachian root workers, carriers of the only magickal tradition that is truly American. Orion Foxwood, Byron Ballard and Linda Ours Rago brimmed with the green pulse of the mountains, deep as the caves, dark as the dreaming stones, yet shining with life, with magick, with depth. And the overall message was one of deep love of and connection to the land, and to our blood.
Heritage of place called us to wake up to the land on which we live. To embrace the spirit in the very earth we tread. To love our homes, and the practical matters of day to day life. What if where you live isn’t an accident? What if my need to live in visual range of the mountains, my best friend’s need to live in the desert, your need to be where you are…what if those things mean more than a proclivity toward a certain aesthetic? What if we’ve just forgotten? What if that quiet resonance got covered up with Work and Obligation and Hyperstimulation? Byron told us to go out and lie on the ground, to feel, to breathe. Orion told us to seek, to build, to connect. Linda told us to love, to honor, to learn. And my bones resonated with the message. That little piece of oddness in me isn’t so strange, as it turns out. These ARE my mountains. This IS my land. And I am a part of it.
Heritage of blood called us to wake up to the River of Blood that brought our drifting vessels of flesh to this moment. Try to imagine, for a second, the thousand thousand generations that fought so desperately, survived against such incredible odds, to bring you here. Just a few hundred years ago, to sit in a room and speak our truths would have seen us all hanged, or burned at the stake. Our ancestors fought for us to survive in a better world–they set their hopes as flickering lights into the River of Blood. We are the vessels now, but that River runs long behind us, and long ahead of us. We’re just ancestors enfleshed, navigating the hopes, dreams and sacrifices of thousands of souls.
You are intentional. There is no accident here. And even if your mind and memory do not know the names of relatives, or countries your ancestors come from, your blood knows. Honor the River. Let your soul guide you into remembering who you are. We all return to the River eventually, leaving our vessel to the good earth, to help push the other boats along. Lives are strung pearls. The River is the string.
The other Path weaving its theme through the Conference was of the navigation through death. Our people do not have churches or synagogues, and our Tribe is young. Pagan Death Passages are still new territory for us, one being bravely explored. M. Macha Nightmare and Selena Fox led these deep explorations into the mysteries of our last mortal transition. The most important pieces? If you are Pagan, and have a vision for the care of your mortal remains, write it down and tell multiple people where that information is. Make the plan. Have the discussion. Death is hardest on the living–TELL the people you love what you want for yourself. The other piece is for us as mourners. Grief takes as long as it takes, and it is different for everyone. Be patient, listen, and love. Seek out the voices of those who have explored this territory. There ARE rituals. There are prayers, meditations, practices, songs and stories to help us on our way. Go buy the Pagan Book of Living and Dying. That way you’ll have it should you need it. And remember that you are not alone. Our Tribe is beginning to include Death Midwives and other practitioners of the Veil. Reach out. There’s a hand on the other side.
Just like last year, I’ve returned home almost overwhelmed with new ideas, perspectives and techniques. I feel like I’m carting around a treasure chest filled to the brim with brilliant gems. Simply sorting through them all and finding homes for them will take time. There’s a new stack of books beside my bed, an expanded design for the next focus of my main altar forming in my mind and a deep hum of connection pulsing with every beat of my heart. I am renewed, exactly at the point when I needed it most. Gratitude is not a strong enough word for how I feel about the wonderful people who make Sacred Space possible. I can’t recommend the Conference highly enough.
To briefly borrow the parlance of our Appalachian presenters, y’all gotta try this shit.
(P.S. I am a note-taker. Let me know if you’d like the notes from the workshops and rituals I attended and I’ll email them to you)