Friday, June 3, 2011

The Half-Year of Living Covenlessly

            As you probably have noticed, I have been away from this site for a while.  In fact, I’ve been away from my coven leadership duties just as long.  What was at first a trying situation soon became quite nice.

            Allow me to explain.  And when I say explain I mean to bare my soul in all its gory glory.  Or at least, as much as I will ever know how to do for a faceless public.

            First came Yule.  Now Yule to our family is not a supplement to Christmas.  It is the true winter holiday complete with music, presents, games and a huge feast.  I love going all out for Yule and I generally overdo things by a mile or so.  But this past year I felt harried and late for all the things which usually give me the greatest pleasure.  The day itself was lovely, the ritual was divine.  But, through it all, something felt off.  I just didn’t get that spark.  You remember that wonderful, flighty feeling you got as a child?  That feeling of anticipation, excitement and sheer bliss that made you feel like a pop bottle full of fizz?  Many people lose that as they get older.  They get into the business of the holidays and forget all the things which once gave them wonder.  I absolutely hate when people say “The holidays are for the kids”.  That just means that they have given up on ever finding a child’s level of happiness for themselves.  I don’t want to do that.

            But somehow, this past year, while beautiful and rich in every way, left me sans spark.  It eluded me until the day ended.  And I was left with the question: what did I do wrong?  Wasn’t everything perfect?

            After all this while, I understand.  It was in my very efforts to be perfect, to make everything perfect, that I kept the spark at bay.  So that was my Yule lesson.  Next year I’ll learn from that and focus on the spark instead of the perfect mashed potatoes or the perfect number of cookie varieties.  

            (But keep all of this in mind because it will come around again in my story.)

            Within this span of time, our coven began to show signs of trouble.  The group, always a small clutch of Pagans in the decidedly non-Pagan area of rural central PA, was losing two more members.  Our membership requirements are more about dedication to working with the coven than tradition or prior knowledge so many of our past members have been of dubious training.  Comings and goings are nothing new to us.  I don’t really think that is too surprising for most covens today since it’s as hard to find a dedicated member as it is to find an inspiring coven to which to be dedicated.  But this was a bit different for me.  This time it was not only a group they were leaving but the entire Pagan community.  Somehow, they no longer wished to be Pagan.  They left the whole damn religion.  I was shocked, hurt and a little scared of what part my leadership played.

            So there I was asking those fateful questions again: What did I do wrong?  Wasn’t everything perfect?  

            It took some time but I’m sure you are following the answers at a much faster rate than I came up with them.  I had drained away the spark, in myself and maybe in the rest of the coven, by focusing on perfection.  Sure, being perfect in a group which holds meetings, magical workshops and large celebrations for each sabbat complete with music, feasts and memorized rituals is a little harder than perfection one day out of the year.  But that was always my goal.  I worked so hard at it.  Now, it may be that the couple’s leaving was a simple matter of personal issues coming to a head or it may be that the input we ask from our members was too much for them.  But though I may never know whatever it really was, the point is that it wasn’t working for any of us they way things were.

            So Imbolc came.  I hoped things would start to come back into focus.  I still carried that weight of failure but now cynicism was starting to settle in.  I tried to be hateful about our issues only in private, when possible.  We didn’t perform the group’s ritual but did uphold our own family traditions of the holiday.  I had to admit, it was refreshing to only have to concern myself with the one ritual instead of two.  

            And Ostara came.  I was thinking I might actually get used to this.  We held our own practices with the family but also held the group’s big outdoor ritual as well.  I noticed how little I worried about when it was just us.  We had our own tempo and I could just let the event play out in time to it.  And I was starting to get it: a coven isn’t defined by the number on the roster.  It’s the richness of their experiences together that matter.  I was starting to see that value.

            For Beltane, where this tale ends, our family skipped out completely on the concept of holding a ritual of our own and, instead, ran off with thousands of other happy folks to the Fairie Festival in Glen Rock.  We all got a much-needed dose of carefree pleasure.  We saw such wonderful examples of individuality and creativity yet no examples whatever of criticism.  It lifted my spirits considerably (as did the three shows we attended of the incredible Wendy Rule!)  It was great to think of myself as being totally without responsibility to anyone other than my family.  The only preferences I needed to concern myself with were those of my husband and children.  I knew and agreed with our tastes in foods, music, waking time/bedtime and even the pace at which we walked through the fair.  There were no meetings (nor the stress of realizing that one needs to be scheduled right away), no events to record, no website updates.  We just acted on our own behalf.  If we wished to attend a ritual, it would not be one I wrote, lead or provided all tools and ingredients for.  If we danced the Maypole, it would not be one of Artayous’ construction.  He would not have to erect it and I would not have to lead the dance.  Maybe it was this selfish irresponsibility I loved.  Maybe it was freedom.  Maybe it was that wonderful blend of each for which the Fay are so well-known.  Whatever it was, I was engrossed in it.

            The point of all this is that leading a group is a challenge that even a person who loves doing it will certainly stumble under sooner or later.  It’s nice to lay your burden down for a while.  But before I take this pack up again, I need to adjust some things.  I want to be sure that I only have what I need in this cumbersome pack and that, if I must carry the weight of many, I’m frugal about their options as well. After all, a coven leader carries much but she should never carry her coven-mates.

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