Two nights ago, I drowned.
It’s one of my worst fears, to drown in dark water and not knowing what lurks around me as I struggle to break through the surface.
I didn’t experience the drowning, though, only dreamed it, but even in the dream I didn’t feel myself dying. There were pictures of me instead with my hands pressing against thick glass over a pool, my face contorting in pain as cold water burned my lungs. Finally, my face relaxed as if I had accepted my fate and waited for the darkness.
The darkness came and in the dream I woke up, still alive. My hair wasn’t damp, and my lungs were clear, so how had I survived? My dream-self suddenly remembered that before I ended up in the pool I had found a door behind my dryer, one I had never seen before. A dim light came from the other side of it through a window that was stained a smoky yellow. This door had led me to my death, but I still reached out and grabbed the knob.
It was then that I woke up, in the real world and in my real bed, and all I could think about were the photographs of my face as I struggled to break free from water. I got up to use the bathroom and then returned to bed, and though my eyes were heavy with sleep, I was afraid to shut them because I knew I would open that door again, but the rest of my night was dreamless sleep.
The next morning, I kept seeing my contorted face from the dream, but it didn’t scare me; if anything, it fascinated me. It had been a while since I practiced lucid dreaming, so maybe that’s what it was. I willed myself out of the water and back into bed, but I was still curious about the door behind my dryer. Was it curiosity, or was I prepared to lucid dream again, just to see if I could keep controlling the outcome.
One aspect of training your brain for lucid dreaming is to write down what you experience right after you wake up. I kept a notebook by my bed for a while…but nothing ever happened. I didn’t dream, and if I did it was such an insignificant one that I couldn’t remember in time to put on my glasses, turn on my lamp, and pick up a pen.
After I clocked out of work later that day, I rolled one and put on my raincoat. I put in my ear buds and listened to my Pagan playlist as I smoked and walked in nature. The dark clouds were making chase with the bright rays of the sun but couldn’t quite catch up while the subtle drums of the Kore chant and the wailing vocals of Wendy Rule reverberated in my lit-up brain as I walked. I stopped every now and then to go off the paved trail to the edge of the creek where puffs of dandelions hid. And of course I plucked a few and blew the seeds into the cold wind. They alighted toward the rain clouds that were still chasing the sunlight.
That night, as I was coming down and my cat was in a perfect loaf on the ottoman, I decided to meditate, something else I haven’t done in a long time even though I told myself I should do again. It’s quite a human pitfall, isn’t it? To tell yourself “You haven’t done that in a while. You should do it again soon!” We all know how that goes, though. It’s like a book you find in your favorite shop, and you bring it home and set it on your end table so you can read it later. Then you get distracted either with your family or social media, and hours become days become months. You can guess how many unread books I have that are now stuffed in boxes.
I turned on my tablet after putting my ear buds in again and logged onto YouTube. A friend had introduced me to a channel called Willow Bend Zen. The host, a velvet-voiced woman named Ariadne, records mostly guided lucid dreaming videos but hidden amongst her catalogue are guided meditations. I found one that was supposed to spark your creativity, and Ariadne told me that I was going to connect with my inner child so that my imagination could awaken again.
It sounded too good to be true, of course. I always had trouble meditating because my body becomes restless, and my mind tends to wander. However, it would end up being the deepest I had ever traveled into my subconscious, and I’ll admit that I was quick to credit the THC that was draining out of my brain, but through the smoke I found a child.
It was my six-year-old self.
She was playing in a clearing surrounded by tall pines, and I recognized it as the same one in which I used to play in the piney woods of East Texas. She was dancing to music only she could hear, spinning around the trunks of her fortress, knowing she was safe in her wild-ling ways as her whirling connected her to Nature. I never knew that’s what I was doing at the time; I just felt like playing.
Where did that wild child go, and why did she stop dancing?
We locked eyes and her face instantly broke into a smile. She ran to me and put her tiny arms around my waist, and her fiery spirit flowed into me, straight to my heart. I could feel her joyous energy pulse through my veins, and my heart pounded as I held her.
I wanted to speak to her, to ask for her help, for in her innocence she seemed so wise. But she could sense this and took me by the wrist and led me to the creek I used to play in, only this time when we climbed over the felled barbed wire fence, we came upon a wide flowing river where a boat waited for us on the bank.
She looked back at me as she pulled me to the water, and for a moment I was afraid, remembering how I had drowned the night before, but she pressed her cheek to my hand, assuring me that I was safe. She hopped into the boat as I pushed it into the water, and we paddled against the gentle current. I can still hear the water as I write this, the birds singing above our heads as sunbeams poured through the lush needles of the tall pines around us. I remember their scent drifting in the wind as we paddled toward the other side of the stream.
Suddenly, I saw a figure standing between the trees, waving at us. My young charge saw them and squealed with happiness, and she smiled again at me. I knew this was someone she wanted me to meet, someone she knew would help me.
The figure carefully moved down the hill toward the bank and a sunbeam traced their long grey hair that flowed behind them. They wore a thin, green paisley wrap over their shoulders, and I could see the glint of an amethyst pendant around their neck as we paddled closer.
My younger self suddenly jumped out of the boat and strode through the water in an excited bounce, making the stranger laugh. It was familiar sound and I paddled faster to catch up as I watched them help her out of the water and into their arms. Their laughter broke through the bird-song as my shoe got stuck on the muddy bank.
The stranger took my hand and helped me out of the mud and onto the grass. Our eyes met and I saw that I was looking at myself – much older with soft creases at the eyes and mouth, a face full of trial and error, but one that was content.
She smiled and I could see my mother’s eyes shining at me. I saw my grandmother’s kindness, my aunt’s joy. I could see all the women in my family in my own face for the first time, in a face that was older and crowned with grey hair.
We stood on the bank as three but connected as one. It immediately brought to mind how we Pagans view the Goddess: as three but one. Maiden, mother, and crone.
I couldn’t tell if my older self still practiced as I do now, but there was a witchy quality about her, from her paisley shawl to the sandals on her feet. To the way she blended with Nature and how my younger self had noticed her before I did.
Innocence knows what magic looks like, after all.
With our younger self still perched on her hip, she opened her free arm to me, and my heart filled with a new energy. A bright light came from our chests and both encircled and connected us, reuniting me with what I had lost and what was yet to come.
After a moment, we looked at each other and smiled as the birds came back.
Ariadne’s voice told me that she was grateful that I listened to her, and she wished me nothing but bliss. When she grew silent, I was left with the sound of a gentle stream and the warmth that had enveloped me in the vision ebbed out of me.
I came out of the meditation in a sleepy daze. I looked at the clock and it was only 7:30, and the sun was setting over the rain clouds, finally succumbing to their pursuit so that my side of the world could sleep. And I slept hard, though no dreams came. Maybe my energy was shot so much that my brain decided to go to sleep, too.
Our brain is a mysterious thing. One night I’m drowning and the next day an envisioned stream helps me find stillness.
This morning, I made coffee and before I began writing I shuffled my Rider-Waite Tarot deck and as I did, two cards fell onto the table, insisting they were meant for me.
You can believe what you want about Tarot reading, but more than likely what you’ve heard is wrong. From the lies of close-minded zealots to the films that present it as a portentous practice that brings about bad luck. However, the Tarot is a positive practice, and I’ve been better for it. It’s been almost a year since I began reading and learning for myself; it’s a way to connect to my intuition. It sharpens it like a dull blade that gets left at the back of a kitchen drawer.
The first card was The Devil.
At first glance, The Devil card is dark. The early Christians took our Pagan fertility gods, the ones that stood proudly on hooves while donning magnificent horns (the Greek Pan) or antlers of a stag (Cernunnos of the Celts, a deity I revere) and turned them into heartless devils. They took these beloved deities and shrunk them down to red-skinned, pointy-eared demons with bifurcated tails and permanent frowns. They encased them in fire and stained them with sulfur, and added the tattered wings of a bat for good measure. This was just one of many tactics the early Christians used to convert the Celts, making a sin of their gentle gods while appropriating their equinoxes and solstices to align with the life of Christ.
The Devil card isn’t evil, but it’s a warning against giving in to human nature, like the temptation to get too comfy. There is a man and a woman under his pedestal with chains around their necks, but the chains are so loose that they could easily take them off any time, yet they choose to remain bound. It’s easy to stay in a routine that makes life comfortable, but we should take caution to what keeps us bound to it. As of late, my work life has become part of my home life, and because of that, since I’m on the computer all day and my brain feels like it’s working overtime, my creativity is shot. The books I’ve been writing have sat on my hard drive for months, and when I think about working on them, I immediately feel tired. I don’t even have the energy to read someone else’s book. It’s going to take a great deal of discipline and all-around faith to snap myself out of it.
That’s where the second card comes in: the Page of Cups.
In the Tarot, Cups are represented by the water element, and I’m not lost to this coincidence of seeing water yet again. The card depicts a young man dressed in bright blue garb as he stands on the bank of a flowing river. He holds a golden goblet in his hand, and in it is a fish looking back at him. The Page is a beginner who thinks he knows everything about the task at hand; but the suit of Cups represents human emotions and matters of the heart. This Page in particular is about to be given creative opportunity.
The Page is me.
My guided meditation connected me to a younger self that wasn’t afraid to use her imagination. As we grow older, that imagination dims but it never burns out. It waits for fuel, and the Page holding a priceless cup with a fish inside it is telling me it’s time to give in to my imagination, to fan the flames, to become fearless as the fire grows. I have told myself I need to change something, but I never put forth the effort. The same fears show up: What if I fail? What if what I put out to the world isn’t good enough? Who will ever read it?
And why should I try in the first place?
This blog has been quiet, I know, but if you’re still subscribed to my updates, please know that I’m grateful and honored by your patience. I have been thinking about revamping this site, to write more about what I’ve been learning and practicing lately. It will be miles different from my much earlier posts, but there is so much I have learned that has helped my spirit during this past year. It hasn’t just been learning to read the cards, but also of practicing my own form of magic, reconnecting to nature and to the deities of my Celtic ancestors. I have discovered Taoism through Alan Watts and Stoicism through Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. I have deleted my Twitter account and have logged off Facebook and Instagram, though I may be logging back onto my witchy account (I’ll post it in the sidebar if you wish to follow it).
I’m not asking you to believe or approve of my new practices and craft, but since I have learned to not feed into the crowds of agreement and to not fear the mob majority, I have learned to open myself up to others instead and listen to their stories – to their points of view – and though I may not agree with most of them, I believe that I have become a better person just by listening, not just to others but to myself as well.
I know why I drowned two nights ago. The message was loud and clear in The Devil card this morning. I need to break free from my self-doubt, from my fear of being myself. The Page of Cups has reminded me that the water (my emotions, my heart) is just fine.
To quote Alan Watts in one of my favorite lectures: “You let go, you give yourself to the water…then you find that the water holds you up.”
I am a child, a woman, a crone. I am The Devil and the Page.
I am the water…and I know I will not drown.
The author has been practicing witchcraft for nearly a year. She calls herself a Kitchen Witch but wouldn’t sneer at being called The Witch of the Wood. She is learning the art of Tarot reading, tea blending, and trying to keep her cat from climbing into the bathtub with her. She also dabbles in Stoicism and often wonders what Marcus Aurelius would think of Twitter.
As above so below; as within, so without. So mote it be.