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Pagan Crisis of Faith: Transitions of the Soul
Maggie was a strong woman, a sagacious Witch, and a devoted mother. I just never expected our friendship to be so short, or for her to continue to be my mentor from beyond the grave.
We first became acquainted online on a Pagan Mom forum. Her tongue-in-cheek sense of humor stood out, making me laugh and think at the same time.
She was deeply committed to her family and her spiritual path. She possessed qualities to which I aspired, and I wished I could get to know her better. With both of us active in the New York City Pagan community, it was only a matter of time before we met.
We ran into each other at a Beltane festival. She had mousy gray hair, unstriking features, and wore an old T-shirt and jeans. At first glance I thought her a "plain Jane," but on closer look I could see that the Goddess within this woman was so close to the surface that She shone through her bright eyes.
That First Beltane
She proudly introduced me to her 6-year-old daughter. Emily was like the sun- a radiant, golden child- and Maggie was the universe that revolved around her. Whenever Emily spoke, she gave full audience. If Emily were in reach, she tenderly stroked her hair. Emily was music, and Maggie delighted in the dance.
She was nearly twenty years my senior, but a bond cemented upon that first contact. We held hands in the circle as the drummers pounded out a primitive rhythm. Neither of us could take part in the Maypole romp; she had severe asthma, and I was pregnant. Instead, we danced slowly on the outskirts of the pole weavers, she with her maracas and me with my tambourine, going at our own pace. Afterwards, we picnicked under a tree. Maggie patted my swelling belly as I spoke with anticipation of the birth.
"Emily is growing up so fast," she said, her voice the raspy whisperings of an autumn breeze through an aged oak tree. "I want to savor every moment."
Unfortunately, seeds in some grounds fail to germinate. Maggie would have loved more children, but she did not dwell on it, content to enjoy the one she had.
"Nursing is my fondest motherhood memory," she admitted. "When Emily was weaned, we held a private ritual. I offered her a cup of milk, representing the nourishment she had received from me as a baby, and gave her a cookie to represent the sweet nurturing to come. Rites of passage are important; it helped make the transition easier."
We met again on the Summer Solstice in a botanic garden, celebrating the zenith of the Sun Lord's strength in the lush greenery. I complained about my mother, who was opposed to my being a Witch.
"I was raised Jewish," she confided. "We go to Shabbos at my parents' house on Friday nights. Most of my family doesn't know we've been Pagans for nearly 20 years."
"Don't you want them to accept you for who you are?" I asked.
"They do. I'm still the same person I always was. We're not obligated to justify our spiritual journey to anyone. I don't like to put myself in a position where I have to defend my beliefs. The Goddess knows my heart. I don't think She would want me to martyr myself at the expense of a peaceful relationship with my family."
I admired the strength of her convictions. My own insecurities always drove me to be more rebellious and defensive than I was proud to admit.
We talked about her summer plans to take Emily to visit her friend Carrie for a few weeks, and then head to Florida. My summer would be busy, too, as I was entering my eight month of pregnancy. As the shadows claimed the day, we promised to spend more time together when autumn came.
A Song We Sang
It's a Boy!
A Happy Occasion
When next we spoke, I was lying in the hospital with my day-old son in my arms.
"Congratulations!" She sang.
"Thank you," I chirped, happy to hear from her.
I rattled on about my beautiful baby, my C-section, and the terrible hospital food. Of course she wanted to know how the nursing was coming along, and counseled me with La Leche League tips for good post-surgical positions and how to sooth sore nipples. She told me how much she and Emily enjoyed the visit with Carrie.
"We're leaving for Florida the day after tomorrow, and when I get back, I'm coming to see that baby!" she promised.
"I can't wait," I told her.
I Didn't Believe It At First
Bad News Comes
The morning after I got home from the hospital, I received a phone call from a friend. "I was just on the boards and someone said Maggie died!" she cried, sounding more confused than convinced.
"No," I explained bemused, "I just talked to her. She's in Florida."
"I hope I'm wrong," she replied, still perplexed.
"I'll call you back," I told her, hanging up the phone.
I lunged to the computer. I came to a post from Maggie, timed shortly after I spoke to her, announcing the birth of my child to our friends. Her excitement for me made me smile as I began to tear. Please, I kept thinking, let it be a mistake. Then I found it. A post announcing Maggie's death.
It happened the night after we spoke. Maggie was bathing Emily, when her husband, Dave, heard two cries- a groan of anguish, and a frightened shriek. He rushed to the bathroom to see a pale Maggie on the floor. She thought she had broken a rib, a great pain having burst through her chest. The next few minutes, I was told, were a frenzied blur- a panicked call to 9-1-1, Maggie being swept away by a dizzy hurricane of EMTs, while Dave looked on helplessly. Maggie was gone before they reached the hospital. Her last words were, "Tell Emily I love her."
Depression Sets In
Crisis of Faith
I had always accepted, even found comfort in, the cycles of life and death. When my own father had died the loss was painful, but I was able to accept it. In Maggie's death, I could find no solace.
I missed my friend. I missed all the things we would never do. I grieved for Emily, deprived of her wonderful mother at such a young age that when she was older, she would barely remember the warmth of her arms. I mourned for Dave, having to sleep ever after next to an empty space that would serve as a reminder of the void in his life. The thought of their days bereft of her tender smiles made my heart ache.
Most of all, I anguished over Maggie's loss. How could the Powers That Be allow such a devoted mother to be ripped away from a child after only six years? Could there be a loving Great Spirit if It could allow Maggie to miss out on the thing she so wanted- to raise her daughter? Maggie had been cheated! She didn't deserve to be snatched away from her family! My faith began to crumble, as I questioned how a demise like this could be considered "natural." Death was a cruel taker, and a Goddess who could let it happen could be nothing more than a compassionless phantom.
For the next couple of months, outbursts of uncontrollable sobbing often overcame me. I could barely sleep at night. If there was a movie or news report on television about a mother or a child dying, I was inconsolable. I couldn't bear to let go of my baby, afraid to put him down for even a nap. I would repeatedly lurch out of bed at night to make sure his stomach was still rising with steady breaths. I was reluctant to let my daughter go out and play. I was afraid to leave the house, paranoid that I would be hit by a car, or fall down the stairs and break my neck. I began writing letters to my children, so that they would have a way to get to know me if I died suddenly.
My doctor wanted to prescribe anti-depressants, but I was afraid they would have an adverse effect and kill me.
Samhain rolled around- the Wiccan Sabbat for honoring the dead. I set a picture of Maggie on my altar. It has always been a night of laughter and tears as we passed on stories of past generations. This year, I was filled with bitterness and despondency, the memories bringing me no smiles or comfort.
A Surprise Visit
A Mystical Experience
In bed, I tossed and turned for hours until I slipped into a dream. I was in the gardens where I had last seen Maggie. Emily was there, laughing, running through the trees. Suddenly, Maggie was there, too. She looked so beautiful and peaceful, glowing with white light.
"Maggie!" I gasped, "You're here! They told me you died!"
"Not really," she reassured me. "I'm always going to be here. I don't want you to worry. I didn't have to leave Emily; I'm still watching her grow up and I'm not missing out on anything. I'll always be with her."
She hugged me, and I woke up. A floodgate let loose- no heaving or wailing, just a stream of cleansing tears washing my sadness away. I drifted back into a peaceful sleep, for the first time in weeks.
When I rose, I felt more rested than I had in a long time. I was inclined to dismiss my vivid experience as a dream, though it made me feel a calm I hadn't felt since August. The storm of emotions was finally passing.
Life After Death in Wicca
In Wicca, there are no easy answers to what happens after we die. There are no scriptures that tell us definitively about this last great mystery. However, there are many perspectives that are valid within the framework on our faith.
To learn more about those perspectives, you can find them in my article:
I decided to go online, and immediately received an instant message from Maggie's friend, Carrie.
"Last night I had a dream about her," she typed. "She told me that she was okay. She looked so beautiful, so at peace."
My breath was sucked out of me. I began to entertain the notion that it wasn't a dream, that Maggie's spirit was really all right and still with us. How like her it would be to worry so much about her friends that she would cross the veil to comfort us!
I found a renewed faith in the immortality of the soul. Devastating as the loss was for us, Maggie didn't lose out on anything. She was not ripped so viciously from Emily. Her spirit would ever be in the wind blowing through Emily's hair, the sun streaming on her face, and she would continue to embrace the child in an aura of love for the rest of her life.
Maggie's path had crossed mine for a reason. Rather than curse the brevity of it, I began to embrace the joy we shared. Her memory serves as a role model for me, as she was an example of the kind of woman I strive to be. Having her friendship for even a moment was as blessing for which I am grateful.
I held a small, solitary ritual for Maggie. By candlelight, before the curling incense smoke under a waning moon, I cried, sang, and said good-bye.
A wise woman once told me rites of passage are important; they make transitions easier.
What About You
Have you ever had a crisis of faith (whatever your religion)
© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright