Hades does not want your suicide [poem]

put down the shaking pill bottle
the sharpened blade
the loaded gun
I don’t need you here yet child
your willingness to join me is an unwanted offering
I do not want this sacrifice of young flesh
harvested before its time
I have never asked
for the blood of the living to feed the dead
I will never ask for you to lay your body
across my altar like a feast
for the ghouls haunting your heavy heart
I prefer you breathing
crying and screaming or numb and silent
but always breathing
you will stand before me when your day comes to pass
not a second sooner
do not try to cut in line to get here
I do not want you yet

-poem by Larissa Lee
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hard won gifts from the dead [poem]

I’ve always had this weird relationship with the dead
one where I stand here
reaching back in time with my gratitude
sometimes wishing I could speak with them in person

for example
the first man to guide me along my spiritual path
died as I was just learning how to read
his books would come to me
in those twilight years between childhood
and adulthood
opening my eyes to the wonders of nature and magic

my grandpa died and taught me a lesson too
the news of his passing
a message passed across the ocean to me
I cried and promised him that
I’d end the strained silence between my dad and me
before it was too late

and then there was a miscarriage
an unexpected loss that scooped out a part of me
and made me face the lies I told myself
about motherhood and femininity
and my own dreams

later I cried for the girls who killed themselves
after violent hands took from their bodies
and the bullying outweighed their will to keep on living
they taught me how to weigh my own words
against the pain they may cause
to remember their power to hurt as well as to heal
and contrary to my naive heart’s belief
you really can’t save everyone

the dead are beyond this place
their souls somewhere only death can take you
but the lessons they’ve given me are hard won gifts
I can only repay by living

-poem by Larissa Lee

Cernunnos [poem]

I met you in a circle
arms crossed over your chest in prayer
as you called my name

Cernunnos Cernunnos Cernunnos

it was strange
the way you showed up unannounced
a new voice in a crowd of familiar sounds
I watched you closely
heard the way your pulse sped
when the priestess spoke of me

come by flame
come by fire
come now whom we desire

you wanted this
wanted my presence
as you celebrated the turning of the wheel
so I came
stood by and played witness to your quiet intensity
witches come in so many different flavors now
each unique in their own way
you gave solemn worship by the altar in sunlight

lord of the hunt
lord of the field
lord at whose altar we kneel

but your body
danced around the bonfire at midnight
with wild abandon for me too
this
this is why I kept coming when you called to me
not for the candles
or the offerings of cakes and ale and roasted meats
I came for the untamed in you
I will always dance with the wild ones

-poem by Larissa Lee

a thank you note to my high priestess [poem]

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we met in a coffee shop
a circle of pagan people gathered
to make new friends and chance connections
you looked past my bright eyed innocence
to see the potential priestess beneath my still waters
I looked up to you
priestess and teacher
my guide into a wider world of magic
than I’d ever known on my own
you earned my respect
spun lessons into my life
while providing a safety net in case I fell
you became a friend too
when my heart grew love so big it birthed a tsunami
you showed me your ocean
taught me how to measure the waves
and how to avoid drowning in them
in the years of magic and mayhem that we call life
you lifted me up
told the gods I was worthy
even when I wasn’t sure it was completely true
when your life crumbled
like brittle sun-baked paper in your fingers
your survival showed me how to find purpose
how to grab life’s lessons with both hands
and shove them into place
until life returned to beautiful again
what I’m trying to say is
thank you
there are no words powerful enough
to truly explain my gratitude
for your presence in this
crazy ritual I call life

-poem by Larissa Lee

My Gods [poem]

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my gods are not kind and
they don’t care about you or
me. they want entertainment and
sometimes pleasure and
maybe helping us can bring them that but
most times watching is better. and
they watch your life crumble when you pray and
your desperate calls mean nothing, because
they know you will survive and
recover without their intervention and
that’s easier. always easier. and
sometimes they are terrifying and
harsh in their disinterest, but
invoking their involvement can be worse and
a bored god can be malicious and
you remember why we stopped the sacrifices and
closed the temples. the belief didn’t leave but
instead was replaced by reality. and
we figured out that the gods don’t care, because
the gods are not kind, not really.

– poem by Larissa Lee

We All Started Somewhere

We all started somewhere.

Walking the pagan path may be a family way-of-life for more people today, but back in the 1990s and early 2000s it was a personal choice. You had to find your way home, often with minimal guidance and a lot of luck.

This is my story of “coming home”.

Living in California during the mid-90s, I was really into magic. Sabrina the Teenage Witch was my thing, The Craft (movie) came out, and Harry Potter was soon unleashed upon us all. I enjoyed writing little rhyming spells, LARPing with friends (not that we called it that at the time), and mixing rainwater into potions for fun.

In 1999, I was a middle school student in Kentucky. A high school girl who spoke to me from time to time at the bus stop mentioned this book she’d found in the school library. It was “Wicca” by Scott Cunningham, and it spoke to me from the first line. I self-dedicated within a week.

My parents weren’t religious, so I managed to avoid that drama. Instead, I enjoyed going to my friend’s youth group meetings while simultaneously praying to the Lord and Lady at night. There were a couple of books at the public library (under 133 in the Dewey decimal system, I recall). The only one directly related to the growing pagan movement was “Spells” by Matthew Green. I almost memorized the book cover to cover, though it was full of witchcraft (i.e. spells and charms) rather than Wicca (the spiritual practices).

I faced little issue as a Wiccan in my early years. In high school, I had a couple of friends who weren’t allowed to have my over anymore after I was discovered to be a witch. It hurt, because no one had ever disliked me before; I didn’t understand why I was the perfect influence as a straight-A student with perfect attendance one minute, the devil’s minion the next. That seemed… silly. I hadn’t stopped being a good student or well behaved all of a sudden, but you’d think I’d taken up smoking pot or drinking by the way their parents reacted sometimes.

I found myself fascinated by every little piece of paganism I ran across back then. I didn’t have internet at home, just a computer with Windows 1994 that I used to write and play Tetris for hours. If a friend printed out a copy of some spell or ritual for me, I cherished it; who knew when I’d get to see something new again. I even snuck a chance to print the long version of the Wiccan Rede poem while at my dad’s office one day; he was mad, because that crap was printed under his login and blah blah blah.

For a while, I had about 95% of the Wiccan Rede poem memorized by wrot, largely due to rewriting it over and over for myself in notebooks and on new copies for friends. Not having a printer meant handcopying everything I wanted to keep for myself, which made me willing to admit the brilliance of “ancient” practices like forcing a new coven member to handcopy the coven’s BOS themselves.

Anyway, I ended up teaching various people along the way. They were curious, mostly, and I don’t think more than one or two of the dozen actually remained pagan after experimenting with me. It’s not for everyone.

At the start of the new millenium, we moved to Germany (Army life, yay). I became more solidly pagan when surrounded by the gloriously weird people of my high school. I taught a few more people, led and joined teenage circles for moons and sabbats on a regular basis. I wrote my own rituals, with all the bells and whistles. I danced in a circle until the energy crackling across everyone’s skin and made us moondrunk. It was beautiful.

Coming stateside again was hard, because we moved to El Paso, Texas. Catholics, everywhere. I returned mostly to my little broom closet, but it was more an act of antisocial behavior than any real attempt to keep a secret. I tried out a local pagan CUUPS group, but they were too anti-Christian for me. I found a pagan-ish store that sold incense, herbs, and candles. I waited.

I got married and moved to Germany again (Army life, round two). My then-husband switched from Christianity to paganism for me, without my request and of his own free will. That didn’t go well. I didn’t do much in the way of practicing, because I was a new adult dealing with a new marriage, deployment, and the adjustment of living overseas once again.

I got divorced, returning to Texas to start over. There’s a lot of life drama in between there, but it had little to do with my spirituality (other than remembering I didn’t believe in cursing or hexing others just for being jerks). Once life settled down, I found a local coven and joined.

I learned, and I grew. I initiated, and I taught. I led rituals, and I helped others lead. I left for a while, disillusioned by circumstances I couldn’t control. I returned, ready to wipe the slate clean and try again. And I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

And now I’m turning 29 in February. It’s been 16 years since I started down the pagan path, about two decades since the interest in magic and nature budded in my heart. I’ve never left my path, not completely. I’ve taken breaks where I didn’t do much in the way of practice outside of the occasional candle or prayer. But all in all, I came home to the gods and stayed.

As I research my move to Washington for the spring, I’ve discovered that the most abundant members of the local pagan community are 16-18 years old and full of spunk. At first, I wanted to roll my eyes as I saw a 17-year-old boy starting up a coven in the small town I used to visit during the summers. But then I remembered…

At age 8, no one would’ve considered the choosing of a pagan path as valid or mentioned it to a girl with leaves in her hair and flowers in her heart. At age 12 when I dedicated, I would’ve still been seen as too young to be taken seriously as a follower of anything, old gods or new. At age 16, the very thought that I bothered to try teaching others about a path I’d barely walked would’ve been laughable. At age 21 when I initiated, I still recognized the way my youth could and sometimes did make it hard for older pagans to take me seriously.

I have to remember those times. *We* have to remember those times.

Why?

Because a person’s age isn’t all about the number of years they’ve lived in this particular body. Because they can be wiser and more spiritual than the oldest members of our community, sometimes. Because they can be lost and hurt by our lack of faith in their budding spirituality. Because it isn’t our place to judge the path another person chooses to walk.

I repeat: It isn’t your place to judge the path another person chooses to walk.

We all started somewhere.

On not truly being a “peaceful person”

I am an agent of peace, but I am not a peaceful person at heart.

You see my patience. I calmly explain things to someone, things they’ve been told before. I give second, third, and fourth chances to people who ask for them. I allow things to slide, things you might find hurtful or frustrating or infuriating.

You don’t see my violence. It’s in the way my jaw clenches when I have to repeat myself (again), the way I consciously unclench it and force my voice to remain level. It’s in the way each lie and misstep is filed away in my mind, the way those chances I give are laced with mistrust. It’s in the way I swallow pride and anger together, the way I allow words to wash over and away from me without reaction when a reaction is what they want.

I am an agent of kindness, but I am not a kind person at heart.

You see my gentleness. I accept new people into my life when they enter the lives of those who matter to me. I brush off discomfort and social awkwardness to make others feel welcomed. I speak up for giving people chances, even people who I wouldn’t be friends with outside of whatever specific situation we find ourselves in.

You don’t see my ruthlessness. It’s in the way I watch new people like a hawk, recording every mistake and bad choice in case they need to be sent away. It’s in the way I question everything about a new person, my guard always up even as I hug them close. Why would I trust someone who isn’t mine, who wasn’t brought into my life by my own choosing? It’s in the way I knowingly allow others to try and fail at life, rather than stepping in with guidance and support to get them through hard times. Sometimes I take great pleasure in someone’s failure, even as I help them stand back up.

I am an agent of calm, but I am not a calm person at heart.

You see my serenity. My voice and mind are so quiet and still, my ears open and listening to other’s opinions before making my own. I sit to myself and seem at ease, my eyes skimming a book or my phone or even the crowds around me. I hum along with the radio and let traffic just be traffic, steadily making my way to my destination without issue.

You don’t see my anxiety. I judge others on their opinions, and sometimes my silence is less about listening and more about deciding if they’re worth speaking to at all. The quiet ease I show is often a mask, as inside I’m screaming and aching or empty and lost; my depression is quiet, too, you know. My fingers tell everything to my journal, every honest and hateful thought; I filter nothing from myself, and the words I write are drenched in loathing. I move from place to place and goal to goal with very direct intent, and my decision to flow with and around life’s “traffic” is the reason I get what I want more often than not; people do my will long before they realize I want it done.

I am an agent of darkness. We all are.

I used to be so frustrated with myself. I thought I was broken, that something in me was violent and feral and nothing like my mother’s groundedness. I thought my actions meant nothing when my feelings and thoughts were so dark and negative. It took years to recognize that the choice of peace and kindness over anger and violence wasn’t meant to be easy. The good in me is the desire to continue choosing peace, to continue making the harder decision to be kind, to continue walking softly through this life. Making a choice to be peaceful when it goes against gut reactions is “being the bigger person”, struggling for maturity when instinct screams for anything but.