you and me

Coyote Medicine: How the Light Shines.

I tilted my head back and opened my eyes. The cold, clean snow seemed to sizzle as it landed on the stye in my left eye.

I had awoken to a beautiful snowy day in Sedona, Arizona to find my eye was red, swollen, and burning hot. The irony was not lost on me. My road to freedom was paved with scars, and I was scared out of my mind to look at the old wounds.

Searing pain emanated from the corner of my eye as images flashed in my mind.

My mother screaming she hated me. Me, as a teenager, curled up in the fetal position feeling utterly lost and desperate for guidance. The father with long blond hair and hazel eyes who said he would come back but never did. Waking to find a high school buddy forcing himself inside me after I had drunk myself into a stupor. The green eyes of the young man who held me while I cried. He later shared his own stories of pain, then in four years’ time, asked me to marry him.

Hot tears fell down the side of my face into my ears, but I kept my eyes open and the images continued.

The husband locked in his man cave night after night to smoke and drink with his wounds. My stepdaughter who lived 2000 miles away but needed a solid woman role model. The faces of my young sons who needed me to be stronger than these old stories. A vague sense of happiness. And then suddenly, the pain stopped.

I squeezed my eyes shut, and when I opened them, I saw a droplet of water hanging from a tree branch that looked like a tear ready to fall.

“The rain is over. You’ve worn the mask of sadness for too long. It’s time to let go,” I heard a voice in my head say.

Like a helpful visual to go with the message, an image appeared in my mind’s eye of the theater mask of tragedy and comedy. In that mystical moment, the symbol represented that both happiness and sadness are necessary to give the complete picture of life, like the two sides of the same coin.

Or as Khalil Gibran says in The Prophet, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?”

And then I felt the presence of something very potent, very powerful. Slowly, I turned around and saw a large, tawny coyote with black-tipped ears and tail, standing three feet from me. The coyote looked at me directly, intently — long enough for me to understand that he had sent the message.

Coyote medicine had long been my favorite tool in my spiritual practice that was a combination of Native American teachings, Buddhist compassion, and Witchcraft ceremonial mysticism. For over a decade, I used the mischievous powers of the coyote to create diversions to avoid pain or tell lies. I played the imp, avoiding the mantle of the leader I knew that I could be.

The trickster of the animal spirits spoke again to my consciousness. “You are letting tragedy define you. This mask of sadness has stuck, and is what you have become, your only story. That is not how you should use my medicine. Flip the story. Be happy.” Then the coyote turned away from me and skirted up the side of the hill.

I whistled to call its attention, hoping to somehow anchor the surrealness of this moment. The coyote turned and flicked its tail irritably, as if to say, “What? I’ve already given you my message.” Then he scampered off into the sagebrush and was gone.

Stunned, I stood on the red dirt path and thought about the diatribe of my painful stories.

To anyone who would listen, I spoke of my mother’s emotional abuse but never compassion for how the death of her mother affected her when she was eight months pregnant with me. Or how many times she encouraged me to never give up and always celebrated my victories. I waxed on about the hippie dad who seemed to love a road trip as much as I did, but never held him accountable.

I still listed past rape predators as if they had been consensual partners, even though I now hosted my full moon rituals and Sabbat ceremonies. I failed to see that I had grown up. I had become the protectress and woman I had called for when curled up in that fetal position. The coyote showed me the brakes under my feet and the cool, sturdy wheel in the grip of my hands. I could direct my own course.

I burst out in laughter. I felt a powerful surge through my veins as if my blood was on fire. I had taken this lonely walk during a girlfriends’ road trip to consider a proposition that had once seemed impossible. My first book, The Wicca Cookbook, had sold so well, my publisher asked me to write a book of spells for teens.

I was terrified because it meant I would have to seek out those fragmented parts of my soul and relive the pain to be healed and whole.

Now I knew I could do it.

I skipped down the dirt path flanked with the wine-red branches of the manzanita bushes, to find my sista girlfriends waiting for me by the car. “I’m going to do it. I’m gonna write that book!” They squeezed me tight in a three-way hug.

As we drove to the market, I leaned my head out the window and let the wind press against my face. I welcomed the frenetic desert wind as it blew my hair in all directions, covering my face like I was Cousin Itt on the back of a motorcycle. The rock formations reached for the skies like drip sandcastles I made with my children.

In the market, I met a man wearing a sunshine yellow shirt who said he wore yellow because it was his calling to spread happiness in the world. He asked for a pen to write something down. I dug into my jean jacket pocket and pulled out a pencil covered in yellow smiling faces. I grinned, knowing somehow the trickster coyote put it there. I gave the man the pencil, “This is for you, to help you spread more happiness.”

As he walked away, a photo caught my attention in a rack of greeting cards. It was a picture of a dewdrop with Cathedral Rock, a famous red rock formation, upside down in the background and a bright sunshine yellow flower in the foreground. I bought the card.

When I got home, I placed the card on my desk and dug out my yellow diary that I began on my eleventh birthday. I sought out entries when I lost my faith in my innate goodness, my connection to love, and my own precious divinity. I wrote affirmations, meditations, and rituals for criticism, teasing, apathy: 75 spells in all for the Teen Spell Book. It was truly the scariest thing that I ever did.

In fact, day the book was released, I got into an accident that left me with whiplash and a totaled car. Goddess help me, I had printed my diary. But look around, the spirits said. At signings in book shops, festivals of Faeries, Celtics, Scottish, Irish, and Renaissance, I began to meet people of all ages who let go of painful teen angst to claim their creative powers to manifest joy with the help of my book.

I’d set out to heal myself, and found my vulnerability and courage had healed others.

I met the other kind too. The kind that made me feel like I had to whisper the word Witch. Or better yet, let’s just not say it. But I kept talking and writing about the power of the Witch in the same sentence as infallible lovability, original innocence, and a Divine power to create a world of our choosing.

“You hold the paintbrushes to the canvas of your life,” I said at every event I attended, hoping to help even just one person reach for their dreams.

Over the next 18 years, divorce, poverty, and death of loved ones had built up a reservoir of anger and fear. It was time for the Goddess to work her magick through me once more. As the snow began to fall on the Eastern Sierra this winter, the publisher asked me to revise my beloved book.

With the uncompromising Goddess Yemaya etched into a gourd, a statue of Nike, the Goddess of Victory wielding a feather pen, and a red rock from Sedona sitting on my desk, I wrote The Book of Spells: The Magick of Witchcraft. Coming out of the broom closet in October, my new book offers new spells to take a bold look at the cracks in our armor that occur throughout life, not just the teen years.

Essentially, my book grew up, as I will keep doing for as long as I breathe.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen

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Jamie Della has a writer’s soul and gypsy spirit. She has been published by Southwestern American Literary Journal, Rebelle Society, Manifest Station, Riverdale Ave Books’ #MeToo anthology, and SageWoman Magazine. She writes a column for Witches and Pagans Magazine, and has authored eight books (published as Jamie Wood). Her Teen Spell Book will be reprinted by Ten Speed Press in Fall 2019. Her unpublished memoir, Listen to the Drum, explores the power and strength of female friendship with morbid humor, mystical insights and always raw honesty. She’s also a potter, retreat teacher, wanderer and hostess in the Eastern Sierra.

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