Philadelphia and What I Found There

Earlier this month I spent a week in Philadelphia with a dear friend of mine for her birthday. I haven’t been to Philly in years and found myself quickly falling in love with the city all over again. I’ve lived in Virginia my entire life and have spent the past ten years calling a very, very small mountain town my home. To say that city life is wonderfully exotic and exciting to me is an understatement.

The city is alive and vibrant in a way I wasn’t expecting. I’ve been to large cities before – DC, Chicago, Las Vegas, Montreal, Dublin, London, New Delhi, Hyderabad – but this is my first trip going on my own with the opportunity of wandering around by myself, learning to navigate and not get hit by traffic (spoiler alert: I was successful!). Also, staying with my friend kept me out of the touristy part of town; though I’m sure I still stuck out like a sore thumb at times, I really began to appreciate the rhythm of the city and the life I found there. I had no tour group to travel with, no conference to attend, no study abroad program to keep pace with. I went because I wanted to go, I explored because I was curious, and I had Thai food for the first time in my life. (Spoiler alert: I loved it!)

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Brighid and Me

Light me as Your lantern,
Play me as Your harp,
Keep me in Your mantle,
Guide me to Your hearth.

Brighid has been part of my life in some way, large or small, since November 2010. I had just been diagnosed the month before with dysthymia and started medication for depression for the first time in my life. I’d started therapy at the beginning of the new school year at a new school, having transferred away from Bryn Mawr after serious depression and anxiety tanked my sophomore grades and led me into dark places. At that point I’d been a Pagan for three and a half years, give or take, and while I had some passing experience or at least familiarity with a variety of Pagan traditions I was still lost, confused, and hurting for the assurance and rightness I had felt as a Baptist growing up.

This is not a story of how I found Brighid and found my faith. This is not a story of finding surety and strength in the darkness. This is not a story of spiritual awakening and enlightenment. This is not a story of coming out of the woods and into the light. It is a story about the blessedness of being lost and meeting myself on my level, where I was — not where I thought Deity wanted me to be. It is a story about not having to be found before understanding that Deity could find me. And it is a story about how Depression Is Okay and like with any serious issue, mental health issues do not go away with the introduction of a new relationship.

Brighid did not “cure” my depression, nor will She, nor do I think She plans to, nor do I want Her to. I have depression and anxiety. They are part of my neurochemistry and genetic makeup as much as my PCOS, my family history of diabetes and cancer, my gender identity, my eye color. I am depressed. I have depression. These things can be managed and I want Brighid’s strength and comfort, but I do not want, nor do I need, to be fixed.

I think this is something to keep in mind when I think about perhaps the core symbolic imagery I associate with Brighid: the transforming fire that exists at the hearth, the forge, the fire of inspiration, the fire of cleansing and healing. Transformation, healing, and home can all exist with our cracks and pains and baggage. We can cultivate these attributes without waiting for being “fixed” or being “ready” or for “the right time.” I used to think of Brighid and depression in terms of Brighid healing my depression away, of Her taking me over Her forge, heating the impurities from my body, shaping me with swift, precise blows, plunging me into the water, and I would be reshaped into something new, something better, something in Her image and of Her making.

I don’t think that’s what is happening or will happen. Not that the forge metaphor is something I’ll throw away entirely — not that I don’t need Brighid’s transforming and loving hand to guide me. But this isn’t a matter of being made better. It’s being made whole. And it’s not a completely passive process. Brighid will not do the Work for me. She can assign me the Work, guide me, and walk with me, but it is my Work to be done.

Imbolc is always hard for me because February is not my month. Bryn Mawr, my first college, has a freshman initiation ritual called Hell Week in February which really fucked me up and felt more like hazing (and completely non-consensual) than anything celebratory or welcoming. It’s why I transferred away after sophomore year. So in many ways I look at Imbolc not as a happy festival, but as the festival before my unhealed traumas re-emerge for about a month. Ostara then becomes my renewal, my safe-again-for-a-year time when I can finally relax and put my hurts back into a box. I don’t think I’m ready to put Hell Week behind me — I’m not even sure if I want to heal — but I don’t think it’s coincidence that Brighid came into my life not long after my depression diagnosis, nor that Her holy day is in the month of my greatest trauma and depression.

All of these things are okay. I am okay. I do not need to be ‘fixed’ of my trauma before coming to Brighid. I do not need to be ready to face my demons before seeking or deserving comfort. I do not need to wait for the inner impulse of faith before acting on faith. And maybe this has nothing to do with faith at all. As much as I want to have trust in Brighid, I also know She needs to put Her trust in me. That’s how I want my relationships to function, involving deities or not.

Balance

Balance is something I have yet to master. Not that, I suppose, balance is something one masters or achieves with any finality. Balance is an ongoing process, a response and something to respond to. Balance is ma’at, a concept I’m struggling with as I come to terms with my new Kemetic faith. Balance is Brighid, the flame at the heart of three circles forming a triquetra, the still point of a turning universe.

This has something to do with ma’at. Come back when I’ve figured out what that is.

Balance needs to be fluid, dynamic, constantly moving and transforming. Life is a dance of energy, and I mean that on a physical, sub-atomic, I-learned-this-once-in-high-school level. Even things that appear rock solid and eternal are, in actuality, nothing but electrons swinging wildly around a nucleus. Circles and spirals and patterns that are constant, yet ever-moving; the journey of the solar barque and the swell of the moon to fullness; the Flamekeeping of Brighid’s devotees overseen by the Lady Herself on the 20th day, after which the cycle begins anew; Zep Tepi, which exists/existed/will exist in all the times that ever were, are, and shall be.

Balance is neutral in the sense everything affects balance and balance affects everything, but balance is not neutrality. Neither is balance stasis; there is a difference between the balance of a ball at the top of its arc, just before it begins dropping back to the earth, and the complete stasis of a photograph of that ball, removed from context, time, and life. This still photograph of a ball is stagnant and lifeless, useless for instilling any understanding of a real ball. True balance lies within the juggler keeping each ball in motion, a whirl of chaos hiding years of practice and ingrained muscle memory.

Balance is also tension, conflict, the keystone that only holds up the arch because of pressure exerted on other side. (Or something. Dammit Jim, I’m a blogger not an architect.) When I did more Druidry things, balance became the interplay between the Three Realms — Earth, Sea, and Sky — and the interconnected web of relationships between the Shining, Noble, and Mighty Ones. Politics, essentially. With Brighid, balance is the cruel heat of the smithy: the harsh clang of hammer against anvil, the merciless plunge of metal into waiting water, that creates the beauty and strength of skyforged steel. Balance is the fire-in-the-water, the dance of stars and the space-between-stars, the Woman Who Is Three and the Three Who Are One. (And perhaps this speaks to the balance of my Kemetic Orthodox studies, where Netjer is One and Many at the same time, both and neither at once.)

This has nothing to do with ma’at but I wanted a second picture. Pictured: the Skyforge from Skyrim, a not-so-subtle Pagan allegory.

I am craving balance and stability in my life. I feel incredibly inefficient spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, grammatically… I feel myself sliding towards stasis and not-being rather than the natural pause and, well, balance of balance. I just wish I knew how to cultivate it.