Inspired by The Lily Maiden
“The Question of a Path”
Fiction. Based on a True Conversation.
by Lynn Duncan
This journal entry is inspired by true events. Some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and certain locations and events have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
For my entire life I have never felt comfortable in churches. For whatever reason I’ve always been uncomfortable in places that people worship. As an adult I find the idea of organized religion more and more hurtful than helpful. And so I am lost in the sea of religions and spirituality.
None of this really mattered to me until a few months ago. I flirted with Wicca, paganism in general. I spent time trying to quiet my mind. Husband seems to think that because I touched death so often when I was young that I would have an easy time being open to the other side of the veil. But that’s not true. It scares me. That comedic, overly hyped up Hollywood of what hauntings and the romantic notions of immortality do actually scare me. So much so that like a child I still refuse to sleep alone in total darkness. Part of me wants to believe in the other side. That sometimes spirits hang out when they have things left undone or unsaid. There is an energy that carries with arguments, or violent deaths. I felt that energy in my sisters home when she sent me on a mission to grab some of her things. I noticed the coats that still hung on my brother in law’s side of the closet. I was aware that my husband was still in the home and I could almost feel the violence there. I didn’t look at the driveway but saw the holes and dents in the garage door.
I remembered having dreamt of the Egyptians hall of the dead before hearing about his death.
I remember waking up at 3am every night for a month. Swearing something was watching me in the dark. I hid under covers trying to remain unseen.
I remember hearing the stories of my birth and how I should not statistically survived.
3 months early, 2 pounds 2 ounces. RSV the Flu and for whatever reason I’m still here. Being a skeptic.
I remember the disembodied voice saying “Finally” during a meditation.
I burn candles and incense because I like the smell.
I collect stones and crystals because I like how they look.
I went on my first guided meditation as a 10 year old girl. It was in a library book that I was borrowing. I imagined myself a lotus seed that floated to the bottom of a crystal clear pond only to grow and stretch skyward. Roots planting firmly in the murky mud below.
I purchase self help books and books on chakras and even a year and a day initiation book for Wicca. I have Scott Cunningham Magickal Herbs and Their Properties.
I recorded once the moon cycles in a beautiful hard bound book with a owl on the cover. A book I meant to fill with spells and observations and I never gathered the courage to cast a spell in my home.
I’ve saged the entirety of my home twice. Once when I moved in and again during Samhain. Halloween. The night of All souls. My fluffy Maine coon cat followed me around the entire time. Stopping when I did. Staring when my hands shook and purring when I decided I had finished. Husband and A call him my familiar. I think they read too much into it.
I have a friend in Florida who regularly asks me to read tarot cards for her. I pull them from the stack randomly. I ruminate on her and her looming decisions. I interpret the cards and take notes on my phone. She thinks I’m intuitive. A Powerful soothsayer. But I have yet to commit to a path.
I don’t look at what phase the moon is in and conduct spells accordingly. I don’t pray or make offerings to gods. I was even uncomfortable at a CUUPS meeting in New Mexico. But I still came home with more crystals, tea, and a tapestry than I had even thought I would want in my home.
My mother raised me in an ever rotating list of churches. All denouncing the devil and tarot cards and crystals and things like that. It wasn’t until my mother came out as having a girlfriend – though what she identifies as I have no idea – that we stopped going completely. The church didn’t want “gays” in their congregation and my mother so poignantly told the pastor “God don’t like ugly.”
In high school taking AP classes I learned that the Catholic Church had ordained slavery. As a confused biracial kid with no real home ethnically, I was outraged. Where was the love, the humanity, that the church was supposed to stand for? Even more recent the Holocaust. And then Rwanda and all other instances of genocide between then and now that continue. What happened to love thy neighbor? Why would I want to identify with a religion that let so much hatred and evil spread, that allowed cruelty and slavery, that put down women and the “other”.
I walked through New Orleans in October of 2017. I have never felt so at home before. Among the humidity, the smell of gumbo and cornbread. Jazz music that never stopped. The city that never slept. I stooped low in front of the Voodoo Queens final resting place in the cemetery near downtown.
The Lalaurie Mansion didn’t scare me but I felt sick walking by it. The atmosphere around it was oppressive to say the least. But that could have been the heat, 75 degrees at midnight can do that. We walked back again in the daylight and I felt that same sick feeling that dissipated as I walked down the street. Some unnamed person owned the home and was rumored to throw a great Halloween party. Oh, did I neglect to mention that I spent Halloween in the city where the dead outnumber the living? I spent the days before in the Whitney Plantation, walking past a catholic cathedral and learning about the Voodoo Queen who blended religion to suit her needs in a city that was incredibly blended. Spanish Architecture, French Language, Catholic Religion, West African Religion.
But the path can be blended right? I could pick and choose the path that sounds the best to me. Like the Life of Pi I could ascribe to more than one path at a time pulling out what I like and what I don’t like.
What if I never find a place? What if I’m destined not to have a path? What if this general grey area that I constantly live in is where I’m supposed to be? Blended path, blended culture right? Am I allowed to claim something for my own? Or am I not enough of anything to claim anything?
I’ve always asked these questions and more so now that appropriation has come to the forefront of our collective consciousness as a society. If I claim to be a witch am I appropriating white culture? If I claim to be a Hoodoo path follower am I appropriating black culture? Where is the middle ground? Does it matter because I am both? What if I decided to be just as varied as my perceived nationality?
Am I Mexican? – No
Filipino- Not enough to count and I wasn’t raised with that culture. I would be doing it a disservice by claiming it.
Egyptian- Technically… Genetically I am Nigerian. Not that I was raised with that culture either.
Indian- I’m not from that area of Asia and so no.
Hawaiian- No, I can pass though… I can pass for damn near everything. But nothing belongs to me.
I was not raised in a home where traditionally black american culture was thrust upon me. My mother was from Arizona and quite frankly she did a lot to protect us from the bad parts of that culture. I was raised around… well your typical blue-white collar Americans. I’ve not known what living in the “Projects” was like even when we were homeless that one time.
Gun violence was not known to me. That didn’t happen to us. All of my parent’s guns were in safes, and we barely knew about them as it was.
I didn’t know what a drug deal was until I was in middle school. Where the accusatory fingers were pointed at classmates for giving each other xanax and adderall to help study.
My grandmother -the only one I’ve ever met mind you- was a white old lady from Ohio. Born in 1933. My grandfather was gone before I had the conscious enough to ask for him.
My Mother’s family was adopted. That much I knew. But we lived so far from them I’ve never met them.
Auntie D. Auntie B. Cousin M. Cousin L. Second Cousin B. They were the only ties to “Black Culture” I really had.
I’ve never been to a cookout. I didn’t learn to do the electric slide from family members drunk on culture and the rich foods of the south. I learned from movies.
I had my hair braided one time. But my hair is so thin and so smooth it didn’t need to be tamed like my mothers.
My Body is not that of your traditional African Descended Goddess. Not truly. Half of me could be but its not. I’m missing that tell tale swoop from my back to my legs that supposedly defines blackness.
My skin is not that of a midnight sky or dark chocolate. Its caramel colored like sand. Small pieces of a larger whole. That whole being my actual identity. Who I am? Who do I belong to? Who was my pack? Who were or are my people? Who I am supposed to be?
Who am I supposed to be?
I stood on the grounds of the Whitney Plantation outside of NOLA. I felt the presence of my ancestors there. In every tree that held Spanish moss I saw a noose. In the fields of sugar cane I sense the danger of Alligators and a machete swung too carelessly. The call of an overseer farther down the line. I heard the moans of peoples divided originally by race, religion, language, origin lumped together in a sweltering steel box. Defined not by their complex social constructs, but the color of their skin and the continent they were stolen from.
I remember standing in that box. Looking at the chains that held humans to the walls to die of dehydration or starve before being sold to another interested human. Fear was stifling. Anger choked me. Hopelessness ate away at my soul. I was standing in the middle of the realization that I am half of this. Half of me subjected to unspeakable horrors. The other half holding the whip that drove on this institutionalized racism and ownership for nearly 300 years.
There was a bell. At the wall that separated the big house from the slave quarter. The tour guide told us it was used when something important was about to happen. When news was to be shared with the plantation. We were invited to step forward to ring that bell. We were to be told the truth of what slavery looked like with our own eyes. To remember who we were. Where we came from. What we had suffered, or inflicted upon others. But to remember the names of those before us. Not one person rang that bell after the tour guide. Everyone. I truly mean everyone stared at me, expecting me to reach out and embrace that moment. I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I felt that I was not strong enough in my identity as a black woman to take that back. I was ashamed as a white girl to presume to take that privilege from someone else. I was stuck in that swirling grey vortex of assumption that I was not enough of either to be considered anything. But I understood in that moment that as the product of both, I may have been the best person to do so. A glimpse at the future touching her past.
The tour went by in a blur of softly spoken words and choked back sobs. The names of all 100,000 slaves in the area carved in steel and stone. Cared for. Never to be forgotten again. Honored as they should have been. For they built our country, it was on their backs that our country was driven to greatness. Humbled, and then brought back up to be humbled again.
In that place where my duality was striking, I ached deeply for not knowing my mother’s family. Not by choice mind you. We search for them every day. I found a peace knowing first hand what half of my family went through to stay alive for as long as possible. How every action, every choice, every meal, every attempt to flee brought me one step closer to this side of the veil.
Maybe it’s my job to heal that hurt. That generational pain of men being torn from their families. Of women rising up to be both provider and caretaker that is so incredibly profound in black america. Maybe I’m supposed to look at my past and heal what I can. To teach my nephews to be loyal and how to love. To teach my nieces to be strong and remind them they are worthy of love. Maybe all I’m supposed to do is carry the names of those we ignored and forgot forward. Maybe the duality of my culture is to be a reminder of what intolerance looks like. A reminder that humans are humans through and through. That these ideals we’ve created for ourselves fall apart when we remember what defines a human.
Maybe that is the legacy of my ancestors. That humanity takes root even when there is nothing but darkness and pain. Maybe it doesn’t matter what path I follow. Maybe any path I choose will feel inadequate next to the knowledge that speaking the name of one long dead gives them a piece of their soul back.
So I’ll keep my crystals, sage and tapestries. I’ll walk a path that those that came before me would be proud of. The Freewoman Marie Laveau became independently wealthy and renowned for her practices as a priestess. She ascribed to no one set path but created her own. Her shop held a lively aura. The patrons were fed, those that could donated what they had and those that could not were not turned away. Tarot Card readers sat at small card tables outside of her store. Dancers flooded the street in front of the shop. The heady beat of drums, the shaking of rosaries and covered hair in colorful scarves pulled me to remember.
That my strength lies not in the culture I adhere to but the fire in my chest. The understanding of where I come from. What that truly means in a tangible physical sense. The knowledge that my ancestors stand behind me. Prideful at their descendant, recognizing her worth. Remembering to whom she belongs.
To nobody but herself.
Honor thy ancestors. Remember their names. But do not become trapped by their failures perceived or real. You are the culmination of all that came before you. Do not waste that gift.