The Call of the Otherworld
During my early adolescence, the call of the Otherworld intensified to such a pitch that I had a very hard time being present. Vivid dreams assailed me, astral projections, and visits from the horned Spirit of the Woods upset my sleep. Perhaps my imagination was merely fueled by the constant reading of fantasy and fairy tales, combined with my taste for the supernatural. These pastimes may have contributed a great deal to my susceptibility to the Unseen. This was the 1960’s remember. In rural Massachusetts, my experiences were way beyond the pale. Nobody understood me — or maybe very few.
I used to walk down a woodsy road that ran between two reservoirs. Open on the sides facing the road, they were bounded on the further sides by tall hedges of arbor vitae. These trees were so old and tall that I could see the tops as I approached. The subtle movements of their leaves had a powerful, trance inducing effect on me so that I felt as if I was going through a doorway into a different dimension that existed close to the real world, but was more vivid and beautiful. It was pleasant in the summer months to lie in the lush green grass beside the water and watch the birds and small animals and the arbor vitae. I was convinced that the trees spoke, that they were aware of my presence, and that their movements expressed feelings and intentions. They explained things to me about nature, and revealed certain spirits that would show themselves briefly before backing away again into the shadows.
One day I remember very clearly that I decided I was a Pagan. I knew the experiences I was having were spiritual, but no one ever spoke about things like spirits and nature in church or in catechism. Obviously, the trees were not Catholics so maybe they didn’t count. I struggled to find the word Pagan. I didn’t really know what it meant. But atheist and agnostic didn’t work. Witch was too strong a word at the time.
The Magic of Old Cemeteries
The new neighborhood we moved to when I was eleven had a few things to make up for the loss of the woods and the sawmill road. Cemeteries. They were very old. One was along Main Street and held the graves of the local blue-blood families (Protestant with Mayflower ancestry). Minute Men who had met to plan the Revolution on our village green over 200 years ago. Fallen English ‘Red Coats’ from the Revolutionary War, were also buried there.
There was another cemetery further away. I had to walk down along road that went through the woods to get there. This cemetery had many old graves. They still outnumber the new ones. I used to wander around, enjoying the sense of history, the quietness, and park-like beauty of the place. I always thought my attraction to cemeteries was because of a streak of melancholy stemming from my old French Catholic roots and the somber atmosphere of New England. Now I think I was picking up on ghosts, or sensing the ‘betwixt and between’ nature of a place that trembles between the worlds of the living and the dead. Such places are a threshold to the Otherworld.
There was another, hidden, cemetery in the woods far off the reservoir road. It had a high stone wall around it with a wrought iron gate we called Spider Gates. The graves inside were extremely old. We partied there as teenagers but did not damage anything. In those days we respected those things. I can only pray it hasn’t been seriously vandalized since then, for it is a very mysterious, Gothic place with a reputation for weird goings on including blood sacrifices on Sacrifice Rock.
Sometimes I would just find a lone grave in the woods from the 17th century or so.
I just made me aware of how old my home town was. Something about stumbling on a grave in the woods makes the person under it more real than words written in the pages of history books.
My Discovery of Tarot Cards
The circus occasionally came to town. I was privileged to see the Flying Welenda’s trapeze act. I still remember how astonished I was watching the women stand on their heads on the trapezes, their blond ponytails hanging down, and their legs in splits — all without a net!
There was an odd circus that came once and camped in a clearing in the trees along the road leading to the reservoirs. They had a row of tents pitched. I remember them vividly: cream colored canvas, with peaked roofs set against a green background of pines and arbor vitae. Though it was twilight and the show was over, it seemed as if the Circus was still open for business in their camp in the ring of trees, because when I went to check them out there were other visitors milling around. There was a kind of side show, if I recall, but I had no money so I couldn’t go into the tents. (After reading Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, I now know what must have been going on, but back then it was way over my head.)
Circus people hanging out in midst of the trees was an odd sight. Some of them were still in costume. This image left an indelible mark in my imagination and still crops in stories I have written over the years. In the middle of the grass a skinny guy covered in tattoos (extremely unusual in those days) smoked a cigarette while he talked with an acrobat in a tutu. There was a woman sitting under a tree dressed as a Gypsy. She had some cards spread out on a table in front of her. I stood looking down at them and she began turning them over. Unlike the playing cards, or Old Maid cards, I was used to, these had pictures on them that looked like illustrations from a story book. They appealed to something very deep in me. The images were enigmatic, inducing a sense of wonder and curiosity that other artwork did not. I don’t remember much else, except that I wanted those cards.
Many years later, I was given my first deck by my boyfriend, J.B.
I used to summer for a weeks in Ogunquit, Maine with a group of other kids from my High School. This was the mid 1970’s when the beaches were wild and free, the Victorian and Edwardian hotels elegant and few. Cat Stevens had just released the evocative Moonshadow, and water beds were a novelty.
Here is Cat Stevens circa 1976. Moonshadow was a background song for one magical summer by the sea. Check out my post John Barleycorn is Dead for another magical song from this period.
During my first Ogunquit summer, I remember going along a wooden boardwalk with a small string of shops on one side, their white paint weathered to gray. My walk was stopped, at the very end, by a closed door. I was so struck by it that I still remember it after all this time. I can only figure out that it was a sign for me, so it stayed in my mind until I could understand what it stood for. The door was white and had a life sized red hand painted on it, fingers together pointing up, palm facing out. There were lines on the palm with little symbols, as a palm reader would use. There was nothing else on the door except a small sign saying Do Not Disturb.
Someone later told me that there was a man in there who read Tarot Cards, but you had to give him money. Not having that, I couldn’t go in.
But the seeds were being planted….
New England Witches
As girls, we gathered in the woods and played at witches. Sometimes I knew the magic we did was real because it overpowered me, and made me wild. The sea at twilight had a powerful effect when we called out to spirits, or sent wishes on little paper boats on the waves. I wonder if any of those girls turned out like me?
It being New England, there were always spooky rumors. Tales were told of an old lady who lived in certain very creepy Victorian house nearby. One girl told me that she and her friends went there, and the lady invited them in. Inside, the walls inside were painted black, and there was a black cat on the sofa. The old lady asked my friend to sit down next to the cat. When she reached out to the pet it, she found that the cats was stuffed! The lady gave them tea and told them she was a witch and that she came from a long line of witches who had lived in that house for generations…
This was said in all seriousness, how could I doubt? Dark Shadows was on TV. It was an era of spookiness!
I wrote my first short story when I was eight about fairies living in a fallen log in the woods behind our house. I always won prizes for stories in school, and my finished my first novel in my teens. Of course it wasn’t very good, but I was totally into it. In my first year at Worcester State College, I took a supernatural writing course and wrote an ‘evil child’ story. I can’t remember the story, but the professor, an old lady with a silvery bun and a penetrating gaze, looked at me strangely suggested I go to the library do some research in The Encyclopedia of Magic and Experimental Science. It was an unusual assignment. This encyclopedia took up a whole shelf! But started to look through them and became totally enthralled with the early volumes on Magic, discovering pages of fairy lore, folktales, hauntings and fascinating ‘superstitions.’ It was here that I read that the bite of a red haired person would drive you mad!
In retrospect, it became clear to me that this lady professor of mine was probably a witch, and saw in me a kindred spirit.
I also started writing my very witchy poetry at this time. I couldn’t even think of other subjects. My poetry professor told me about the ‘Collective Unconscious’ That led to my discovery of Jung. Jung’s ideas began to have a strong influence on the way I looked at spirituality and magical perception. Jungian Psychology became very fashionable in the 1980’s, and it was difficult to see things any other way. I had to go to Europe to break out of that box!
It was in this year I also had a powerful past life memory that I wrote about on the blog under the title Death in Art.
I was always drawing images that I felt came out of the land and the woods. They had fairy tale themes, but I wasn’t conscious of that. I drew mysterious figures in the woods, standing among candles in the snow, wearing sweeping cloaks. Even a man coming up from under a snow bank with a candle in his hand, and a ‘black man with a black book’ standing inside a circle in the woods like a figure from a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
When some of my art work was compared to the Pre-Raphaelites,I looked them up. I had to agree, for there was a strong romantic and mystical quality to my art. I became so smitten with the Pre-Raphaelites that I began to wear my hair long and curly and dressed in the Victorian vintage clothes you could still find back then in second hand shops.
In retrospect, I realize I was seeing spirits and that some of those drawings I made about them were psychic impressions that I mistook for imagination. I know this because I later learned who it is that lives underground, and who the ‘black man’ is, and how past lives are experienced.
When I get my pictures out of storage, I will post them on the blog.
All these things may not seem particularly magical. Maybe they are just imaginative.
But it shows a predisposition towards the mystical, and an innate attraction to the unseen that would lead me to the full blown knowledge that I carry the Witchblood.
Most of my drawings throughout my teenage years were self portraits. I didn’t know this consciously, but those wild haired women in wind swept cloaks standing under the trees at the edge of an abyss filled with stars, were alter egos of mine — signs telling me who I was and what I was born to do.
This isn’t me of course, it’s Monica Belushi. But you get the drift!
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