This is a multi-part discussion on families, Family Covens and covens: what makes them different, what makes the similar and what makes them stick.
**Trigger Warning** This first section deals with biological families and may have triggers for readers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, past instances of child abuse, or incest.
Last night I was talking with a petitioner about the difference between Family Coven, families, and general covens. As usual, words failed me. There are mysteries in the Craft, and nearly all of them are the indescribable energetic workings and connections that must be experienced to be understood. For me, the energetic difference in Family Covens, families, and covens of a more traditional make-up is one of those mysteries.
Part of my struggle is knowing that how I frame my past and present involvements with family, covens, and Family Covens taints how I experience and then describe the energy of those groups. What I delineate as “family” is inexorably linked with parents who consistently abused, molested, raped, mentally alienated, and emotionally manipulated me. “Families” are not units where you go to be safe, nurtured, and unconditionally loved. They are the root of generations of abuse that is tied up with ancestors struggling to live in the Deep South married to ancestors who drank and raped their daughters.
I can see my husband and his link to his family where love and honor are part of the commitment they all have for one another. I cannot find myself comprehending his childhood. He played in the woods of Virginia. I hid in the woods behind my house to avoid beatings and molestation. He ran with “the boys” of his small town. My girlfriends would later identify me as the reason they were raped by my father. His childhood is one that was filled with adventure in caves and on the stage at the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Theater, with a father with whom he sang and played instruments. The most cherished memory I have of my biological family is a snap shot of us riding to my grandmother’s house singing four part harmony to a tape in the tape deck… one time. Just once when no one was yelling or hitting or fighting, and the harmony was more in the connection between the southern gospel music we sang than the people singing it. This single idealistic moment was shattered when my biological father suggested we start a gospel family quartet. No one sang after that out of the fear of the fighting and yelling such a proposition would create, more than we already dealt with.
Many years later, I would break this tenuous harmony completely when I energetically divorced my biological family. I changed my name. I privately and publicly disavowed them. I began to write down all their secrets and prepared to expose them through book form. I do not consider myself one of them any longer. They are they and I am not.
Yet, in the smallest recesses of my brain and heart, I know that blood is thicker. It is a kind of blue slime that once it has dribbled upon your skin at birth, once you have shared blood with the mother who gave birth to you, it is an energetic tie that only death can sever. Others may only be able to see it in black light, but I know, no matter what, it is there staining my hands, my body, my heart, my mind, my spiritual references. It is a constant pull and push on everything I do, everything I aspire to do, everything I hope for all the members of my blooded family and my spiritual Family Coven.
As I joined the world of Wicca, I found myself settling into relationships that mimicked my abusive past. If there was a crazy High Priestess out there, I would find her and align myself with her. If she was married to an abusive man? Even better! I was comfortable in drama and chaos. I sought it out, and it was easily attracted to me. Now the slime was green and I volunteered to paint myself with it. Where the blue of my biological family’s blood mixed with the green of an oath taken in circle, my body was painted a sickly aqua highlighting past bruises being recreated in my present.
Later I would end that cycle and begin to teach. Here again, I began to bring into my life people with emotional issues. Further, I proceeded to utilize some of these precious people to work out my own emotional issues around power, emotional manipulation, and possession of a sense of self importance. For some of these people I would become just as abusive mentally, emotionally and spiritually as my biological family was to me. For those I attracted with their own problems, I would slip back into the role of codependent participant in maintaining their spectacle.
I couldn’t seem to identify these people until they were creating drama and difficulty in my life. Some of these people would taint me with the passing color of red, and my interaction with others caused a blow back of yellow dots on the background of my mottled skin. After some years in the Craft and a lifetime with my biological family, there was no me left, only muddied layers of slime covering up who I was, who I thought I would be.
So, I started by deliberately sloshing off these layers. Ultimately, I think, I did it backwards. I started with my biological family. With the help of my husband and my certified counselor, we identified the low-lying anxiety I lived with on a daily basis as being connected to my interactions with my biological family. We had co-signed a car with my biological parents and in the guise of teaching us a lesson, the deal had been done in such a way to keep us tied to them and the vehicle for as long as possible. The feeling of being trapped reminded me of all the times I had hid in closets to try to escape the pounding belt or raised fists. I felt the suffocation of blankets holding me down in the dark while I waited for my father to come to my bed.
One day, I had my counselor read a letter from my biological mother. She had written it to me years before while I was in the midst of a divorce to my first husband. I had given it to the counselor because I was afraid of what my biological mother would have to say to me. In it, she exposed a truth to me that has held up under years and years of therapy and personal soul searching: blood is. It would be upon my skin and taint me as a child of that biological family until the day I died. This, she proposed, is why I had to find my way to some kind of peace with them. I had to find some way to have them in my life and forgive the transgressions of our shared past. Yet, that feeling of fear, suffocation, violation cultivated during years of abuse would not go away. Though I knew that black light would always expose my connection to those people, I could not find any peace, love, healthy relationships, or stability in my life while they were in it.
Blood is–I concluded–not enough.
I conducted a private Divorcing Ritual, and then I wrote in graphic detail and submitted to Family Court the reasons why I was giving up my birth name. I kept my first name, the one my biological family hated and never called me. I changed my middle name to reflect the rebirth, the fresh spring of life and love I would cultivate in this new incarnation. I took a maiden name attached to the most loving human being I had ever known, the one who sent me cards on my birthday and little gifts in the mail because she thought of me, full candy bars on Valentine’s Day and sessions of crochet she and I had shared. She had given birth to the second most loving human being I knew, and becoming her sister in truth was just as precious as gaining a mother. I toyed with taking two maiden names, and I think I wasn’t strong enough to identify myself with a healthy father figure despite having one in my life (although my name would have been more of a mouth full than it is now!). I am a Nettles, bound in as permanent choice as I could make it, to my mother and her daughter, my sister. A step away from the blooded family who brought my physical form into the world and then violated all the bounds of family. Blood is not enough, but it leaves a stain that no amount of energetic working will ever get out. There isn’t bleach strong enough.
Once I had knocked down the blue of my blood so that only odd refractions of light here and there could identify me as part of my biological family, I set to work on those green spots I had picked up all those years ago. I started with meditation and contemplation regarding the two most influential spiritual teachers I had when I first came to the Craft. The High Priestess had labeled me an oath breaker when I left because I had sought severance from her without an in-person visit, and our dissolution created a situation where I withdrew from other commitments I had made to a larger community. I felt she had betrayed me on a visceral level. She felt she had acted out of protection. Time had healed those wounds enough so that I could look back upon her and see her relationship to me for what it was, an attempt to finally get the acceptance of a mother figure in my life.
When blood is not enough, emotional anemia is inevitable.
Your head may know that your biological family is toxic, but your heart will long for the love and acceptance it never got. Little boys and girls will always want their mommies and daddies, and if they do not have them, they will pursue avenues that fulfill these roles. I felt that my first high priestess was married to an abusive man; in truth he may not be. He yelled at me and physically intimidated me out of some misguided belief that I needed toughing up. Truth was, not having had any training with women suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, not having any training in counseling battered women, I am sure that his intention was pure. Just like my high priestess’s intentions were pure.
Pure intentions are not enough.
Leaders have an obligation to have the proper training to deal with those who come to them for guidance. They should be able to identify those who need specialized help and have resources to direct those persons to. They have an obligation to create a larger community filled with other leaders who uphold beliefs through word and deed. Leaders are seekers’ and students’ safety net in this uncharted world of spiritual mystery. Leaders should not tolerate in their homes, in their friendships, and in the larger community behavior that is harmful to the leader or their charges. For me, my first and second high priestesses did not fail in their intentions towards me. It was a failure of execution. I would strike out from these well-meaning women and proceed to fail in my own execution. It is true that I was better at identifying people who had special needs; however, my own hubris caused me to come to some harsh realizations.
Pure intentions may not be enough, but condemnation will do a great deal more damage.
In my zeal to avoid failing victim, again, to people who spoke one truth and lived another, I destroyed my honor, my intention, and caused harm that I pray every day has been healed through miraculous intervention of the Divine. Goddess knows that the lesson I learned was difficult enough. Living with the knowledge that I have deeply harmed others in my learning leaves stains of yellow dotting my pocked skin. These splotches are on top, and for my spiritual eye, a constant reminder that condemnation should never be a tool utilized by spiritual leaders.
If not intention and condemnation, what about love?
It was all those fiery reds on my skin that made me think of love. The biggest failing of some is an all-consumption of emotion: Love taken to an extreme, love above all other things, love that left one in a blinding rage and everyone around them in awe of their hearts’ capacity. Most of the reds in my life needed no revisiting, because the partings had been just as fiery as the relationships. Bridges were burned on both sides and unlike those yellows, the parties left each other believing that “My path and theirs just don’t move together anymore.” A lot less “You suck!” was involved. In truth, the reds on my skin make me smile. They represent a burning love that is not passion for passion’s sake. It is some innate being within them, as if upon their birth, they glimpsed the purest of emotions and then spent their lives trying to find it again. This love they exemplify brought me a greater understanding of all my teachers. Sometimes love can be blinding and addicting and comfortable, like the love of a child for mom and dad.
Blood is not enough. Love is not enough, either.
This discussion will be continued in the next installment. Please subscribe to the RSS feed to automatically receive it.