Folks often talk about how they learned magick at the knee of their grandmother, but I’ve come to realize that while I have learned many things from my grandmother, the real metaphysical teacher in my life has been my grandfather. Though probably not in the way that most “witch history” stories tend to play out through personal myth.
First, some back story:
My maternal grandfather was a devout Italian Roman Catholic, a Marine in World War II, and had been on his way to being a professional baseball player when injury and the call to service changed his road. He was a civil servant in Philadelphia who knew everybody, took in dogs that didn’t make it in the police force, and grew basil, roses, and a fig tree out of the concrete backyard. He knew the in’s and out’s of the 9th Street Italian Market, and kept the basement bathroom stocked with liquor, though he rarely drank more than a beer while watching the game. (I’m sure my mother will correct me on some of these details, but this is how I remember him.)
He passed away in 2009, after suffering an neck injury in 2006 that affected his ability to swallow food and lead to his slow and eventual decline. Near the end of his life, and especially after, I began dreaming of him vividly, where we had long and extensive conversations about the nature of things. I feel keenly that the changes in my life that set me on my current path were through his guidance, but surprisingly – it’s not these afterlife tete-a-tete‘s that I’m referring to back in the introduction.
I think metaphysical insights are often delivered in the most mundane forms, and it’s those basic things he taught me as a young person that have stuck with me. I have collected some of these memories here to share:
“If you scratch a dog under their chin, you’ll be their best friend.” I have yet to meet a dog that this isn’t true for, and the same goes for most cats and horses. My grandfather said that it was because a dog couldn’t really scratch themselves in that spot. I’m not sure if that’s really true for all breeds, but dogs and cats aside – making someone else feel good in a way they can’t do for themselves sure goes a long way in fostering a relationship. It also means possibly putting your hand in danger if you’re not respectful or careful.
“Keep your eyes ahead of you and ears behind you, but also keep an eye on the sidewalk too – you never know what you may find.” My grandfather walked everywhere around Philadelphia, and was famous for finding loads of spare change and random lost treasures. So he taught me to be on the look out for possible treasures as well as uneven sidewalk, while also looking where I’m going, and to listen for people and things behind me. Whether negotiating a new city, or the woods, the advice holds true. Keep your wits about you, but don’t overlook the details because you never know what you may find.
“Sometimes desires and beautiful things have hidden consequences.” He never actually said this quote exactly, but I will never forget the time we were walking past a community garden, and I, a child of maybe 3 or 4, fell in love with the big beautiful sunflowers hanging over the fence. He knew who owned the plot, and so he plucked one of the gigantic blossoms for me, handing me the stem. The stem was surprisingly prickly on my little hands; I was shocked and dropped it. I remember feeling bad that I had wanted something, yet wasn’t resolved enough to carry it myself – and that he had picked it for me and it would stop growing. He probably carried it home for my grandmother to put in a vase, but I don’t remember anything past that moment – but I know he didn’t scold me. But I will never forget that feeling and sense of responsibility.“There’s no harm in asking, if it’s something you want that’s worthwhile.” My grandfather reveled in pleasing his only granddaughter. He took me on trips to tack stores and shops all around the Philadelphia area to aid me on my quest for model horses. When we traveled to Arizona to visit my aunt and uncle, he (along with my uncle) took us to Scottsdale so we could tour Arabian horse farms, including getting to see the newly birthed foals. If I wanted to visit Sunset Beach (North Cape May) to find shells and “diamonds” or the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor to see baby sea turtles, off we went. It may sound spoiled, but we shared so many educational experiences, exploring the landscape, and I carefully saved my own funds to pay for the things I wanted. If it was something directly under my grandfather’s control, he found out who to talk to, or judged where the line was and worked his way through it. I still follow his model today.
“Have wood and tools, will build imagination.” My grandfather may not have been an expert craftsman, but he was still pretty handy with building materials. When I was 5, my father and grandfather built me a little cottage in our backyard, where I spent quite a bit of the next decade using my imagination in. The Fates ushered a long line of “best friends” through my life at a quick pace. It seemed almost a joke – if I connected with someone, they were most likely going to be out of my life due to a move within the year – until I was 15, when we were the ones doing the move. With my brothers being 7 and 9 years older than me, I spent a lot of time outside, alone in the backyard, with my base operations being that cottage. I collected seeds, flowers, and peeled bark for “potions”, made moss gardens, and made friends with the snails. My grandfather also built stables for my model horses. While most other girls were playing out dramas with their barbie dolls, I was contemplating proper barn management and potential breedings. My grandfather especially loved making things out of odds and ends, as well as giving old things new life, instead of wasting anything. Which is most likely an influence on the reclaimed wood paintings I do today.
“Find Nature wherever you are.” My early memory of connections with nature all come alongside the figure of my grandfather. I explored the ocean from jumping off his shoulders into the breakers and digging up clams on the shore. I discovered the beauty of lakes and streams on our trips to New Albany Creek and Strawbridge Lake, crossing tiny bridges and studying the water flow. He taught me how to catch catfish by hand, and how to skip shells and stones. He showed me that even in the concrete jungle, you can grow thriving basil, fragrant roses, and a formidable fig tree. There is beauty everywhere – and you can find it if you put in some effort.
Through all of this, by his example, my grandfather instilled in me a sense of adventure, curiosity, awareness, responsibility, creativity, and confidence – everything you need to know work successful magick.