Shopkeeper Sagas: The Old that is Strong Does Not Wither

Shopkeeper Sagas: The Old that is Strong Does Not Wither March 14, 2019

Occasionally, the gods talk to me, as in…a two-way conversation.  I call these my “burning bush” moments. They are few and far between, but are pretty low-key events when they happen.  However, this one time, I’d traveled a very long distance on a kind of Spiritual Pilgrimage, before I could have this level of Divine argument. It was like an epic quest, just like in the mythologies of old.

Through these Shopkeeper Sagas, I’ve been working through the lines in the The Riddle of Strider that was found in JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, telling the stories of the catalyzing events leading me to open my metaphysical shop, take oaths as a priestess, and offer spiritual and psychic services as my full-time job.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

The Old that is Strong Does Not Wither

For context, I’d opened my shop in 2009, and taught Witchcraft throughout 2010-2011. At Yule of 2011, I was gifted with a Moon Crown by a neighboring Coven, who made a grand gesture of recognizing me as a priestess like themselves. They tried to convince me that, despite being a self-taught eclectic, they recognized my attainment as equal enough to be welcomed into their temple. However, this was never a title I had used for myself. While I was touched, I didn’t quite believe them. I still felt like an imposter. So, 6 weeks later at Imbolc of 2012, I made this dedication:

“Great Spirit, Goddess, God, The Two Who Move as One! I call upon your Guidance. Help me to follow my Wyrd this turning. I dedicate my Great Work toward accepting and growing as your priestess. Help me to fulfill your calling with grace. I will listen, and I will write for you, if there is a book to be written. May this be for the Highest Good, Harming none. Blessed Be.”

Wyrd Pilgrimage

A few months later, on a July afternoon, two of my coven-mates and I packed up and headed for the Sirius Rising Festival at the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, New York. We were going there to meet friends from a Blue Star BTW Wiccan coven that we’d met at Beltane, and had been in the “seeking” stage of training with their High Priest over the previous few months.

Mind you, we were already self-initiated in eclectic Modern Witchcraft, having been in practice for decades between us. As for me, I desired to know the difference between the two sides of the Craft. Also, I’d allowed myself to be convinced of my lacking in legitimacy because I had no “lineaged initiation” by any British Traditional Wiccan Priest/ess.

I’d long considered myself a panentheist, having had no particular old God or Goddess yet tap me on the shoulder – yet. This Wiccan priest was far more of a devotional polytheist, whose practice was based more in worship, than in magick. So I was curious to explore that aspect of their Craft further, too.

For the first time in my witching career, a bonefide Wiccan Priest offered to train me in their secret ways, so that I’d know what wasn’t in any books. Considering my dedication at Imbolc to follow my wyrd, and learn the ways of the priestess, I went with the flow. The plan was that we would get to the festival, complete the initial requirements, and then the coven would hold a dedication ritual for us while there.

However, I was in an internal struggle over some things that I found to be inconsistent in their teachings. There were niggling things just not sitting right with me about this Priest.  Red flags were raised.  I’m a rather academic occultist who does her research, which I wrote more about that research quest in my article, Digging up Roots in the Garden of Witchery.

So, I’d done a lot of reading about the history of their lineage back to Alex Sanders.  Frankly, I was not convinced that their legitimacy was any more so than mine. Yet, I was seeking guidance, and asking questions before I made a final decision. Despite my concerns, the travel plans were already made. So, off we went, following the breadcrumbs dropped along the witching way…

Sirius Rising Festival, Sherman NY

The Sirius Rising festival was an excellent experience and I made great new friends! I got to hang out with some pretty (in)famous pagans and take lots of great workshops. The best part was the deep conversations and bumming ciders off of Jason Mankey of Raise the Horns. We even went on a road trip to a spiritualist meeting at the Lilydale Community and posed for pictures with Raymond Buckland’s corvette (though we never saw Raymond.) It was good pagan fun!

During a Blue Star rite, the High Priest invokes the God Herne, and with hair-raising Divine power whispers a message in my ear: By the waterside, you’ll know. Despite that experience, I was getting more red flags to run, than to stay. I’ve written more about those here. As the week wore on, the coven gently nudged us for a decision about whether or not they should be planning our dedication rites. So, after returning from Lilydale on that misty afternoon, my circle-mates and I went for a walking meditation through the tall grasses of the Spirit Shrine’s labyrinth.  There is where I had my “burning bush” moment.

Burning Bushes

So there I am, in walking meditation through the wet grass, descending deeply. I see myself standing at a crossroads in my Spiritual journey and I’m asking the BIG questions of Spirit about whether or not I should proceed with the dedication, or retreat altogether.

From the depths of my soul resounded a big, fat NOPE. <Frustration!> In my mind I bark, Then WHY IN HADES WAS I LED DOWN THIS PATH ALL THE WAY TO NEW YORK STATE?!?!?!  I exploded with indignation at the gods. I do believe there was stamping of feet involved. I threw a right proper temper tantrum inside my head!

GRATITUDE!!!! the Gods bellowed

I feel a hard yank on my solar plexis that rings through my body like a cosmic gong. I’m now both floating and compressed, my body is a swarm of bees flying through the labyrinth. They answered my tantrum with an energetic spanking!

Gratitude, they say, that their faithful priest did as he was led by inviting me there and challenging my preconceptions. Gratitude that I faithfully followed the path as I was led, and that I learned what I needed to learn to get over the bullshit self-doubt that had dogged me for a decade.

Shazam, y’all!

If you are curious, arguing with the Gods is a very effective way to experience the…um…visceral quality of interconnection.

From there, full-color visions erupted in my mind and flowed like a movie. I heard Them speaking–in plain English–in my mind, and we have an interactive argument about all kinds of questions I’d had over the weird history of Wicca, and the flawed humans who brought the movement to light through mistakes and deceptions.

The short story is that the pagan/wiccan movement is coming into NEW form exactly as the EVOLVED Gods wish it to form. Each of those flawed human beings heard Their whispers, felt Their nudges, and followed the wyrd  of destiny as the Gods willed it to flow – in the direction of our evolution. If an incorrect hypothesis by Margaret Murray created reverberating change for the betterment of mankind – and the origin story lies and showboating of Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders brought those new ideas to modern awareness – then I could trust that They intended that to be the result. None of this happened by accident.

Someday I will elaborate on those messages further, but I’ll have to try and paint the images first. Until then, know that my inclusive panentheist paradigm of Divine Love was affirmed without any shadow of a doubt.

Spirit Shrine, Sirius Rising, 2012

The Commission

Among the visions, I argued over Their need of “Worship” from the priest/esshood, in the way that the Blue Star coven was teaching. That parasitic concept of feeding the gods energy had bothered me ever since my childhood in the Southern Baptist church. They acknowledged that was how things were arranged in the ancient past. The direction of energy flowing from earth toward the individual gods and pantheons as “worship” was how they grew in power and distinction. But with that power, we all then evolved.

They acknowledged that it was still asked of some witches and pagans, like the Priest who’d offered to train me. However, that was NOT Their commission for me. They asked that I do Their work in the middle world; To instead become a conduit of Awen, or Highest Divine Inspiration, and turn that Spiritual Source of power flowing back toward earth through more practical means.

The voice, which I perceive as a multi-harmonic chorus, asked me to accept that I am Their priestess, and commit my hands, feet and voice in service to the middle world; to help heal people and the earth itself. They commissioned me to be Their warrior of Divine Love, to bring society back into awareness of their interconnection, and train others to take up this Work.

The pond under the tree in the Spirit shrine. Each candle is a wish lit by the celebrants and left there during the night.

Of course, trying to put those visions into words, and not come off as a lunatic with a messiah complex is a challenge. But there it is. Honestly, this sort of thing happens to witchy folks all the time. Through my work, I hope to make this level of interconnection with the Divine the norm, rather than a miracle.

This life-changing vision happened while quietly walking through the tall grass with my friends. The three of us arrived at the center of the shrine, which was still under construction for the ritual to be held there the next night. There was already a coi pond liner filled with water, and staged with an arrangement of stones and moss – in the daylight, it was very clearly a new addition to this field – which illustrated the point of my vision with clarity.

It occurs to me that Herne, embodied within the Priest, had told me days before: “By the waterside, you will know.” And here I was by the water and I knew. I mention this to my coven-mates, who each recall their own cryptic messages from Herne, now making perfect sense by this wee fake pool of water. Huh! 

I left the labyrinth with a decision not to dedicate to training in the BTW coven, yet with renewed respect and gratitude for their good work in the world. I’d received my sacred mission as the priestess I already was. In short, it was time to take up the responsibility, to be fully public and stop apologizing; it was time to own it, criticism by others be damned!

Heron Michelle at the Spirit Shrine reflecting pool 2012 “By the waterside, you will know.”

Priestess dedication at the Spirit Shrine

I returned to the shrine the next night (after the community ritual there was complete) when all the candles were still alight. I performed an esbat with my witch sister, Kayla. I finally consecrated and put on the moon crown that was gifted to me the previous Yule.

There, I took my oath to Spirit and became Their priestess. The rite was simple and unpretentious, with a stick of incense jabbed into the moss, the black water of the reflection pool, the damp earth beneath us, and a thousand tea light candles to bear witness. We held a simple feast of a granola bar and some mead, and then laid out a tarot spread to receive further guidance.

I consider this to be the outer acknowledgment to my inner ordination. While I’m very grateful my witch sister was there with me in that sacred space, no human was an intercessor between the Divine and myself. My ordination was direct from Source, just as I’d seen in my vision.

In the 7 years since, I’ve completed the 2nd and 3rd degree requirements laid out by The Sojourner Tradition, and undergone additional rites of initiation in beautiful High Ceremony. But to me, those were merely a public renewal of the simple vows I took on this summer night in New York, sitting on the wet ground wearing a pair of dirty jeans.

Jason “Pan” Mankey and Heron Michelle, Samhain 2016 Visit in North Carolina

The Great Work of Magick takes time

Also note, that at Imbolc of 2012 was the first time I offered to “to listen, and to write a book.” I wasn’t even blogging at the time. But within a few months, I was invited to Brushwood, where the Wiccan priest introduced me to Jason Mankey. Jason was the very friend who would encourage me to start a wordpress blog and start writing about witchcraft publicly. When he became the Patheos Pagan manager, he gave me the chance to write this Witch on Fire blog, which eventually came to the awareness of a Llewellyn acquisitions editor, who offered me a book contract. It took 6 years, but I followed my wyrd all the way to New York one summer on what seemed like a fools errand, and now here we are. This is the way the magick works, my witches!

The Old that is Strong Does Not Wither

I chose this line of the Riddle of Strider to name this story, because the take away for me is that the Old Gods, and the old ways that we excavate and practice as witchcraft and neo-paganism were strong, and they did not wither. Neither did they go dormant. They evolved, and They are not the same beings as in the ancient world, no more than we are. They continued to grow and strengthen in the liminal, shadowy places. They continued Their influence subconsciously through art and inspiration, even when the western world was being strangled by the Abrahamic conquerors.

These “old” ways and philosophies are now reemerging into wide-spread conscious awareness, in their proper time. It was a twisting and strange process to get here, carried forward through the deeds (and occasionally misdeeds) of many faithful people. However, it flows with the Divine Wyrd toward a more rarefied existence for us all. Those Witches and Priest/esses who’ve heard the phoenix-song of the Old Ones, now play midwife to that rebirth in this time. May we carry that torch into the future with clarity.


About Heron Michelle
Heron Michelle is a witch, high priestess, mom, artist and shopkeeper living in Greenville, North Carolina. Connect with her on Facebook: Witch on Fire: Heron Rising Services, and follow her on Twitter @HeronMichelle13. You can read more about the author here.
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