Owen woke up the next morning and opened the mailbox found that the manual had already arrived. Cool. He could get some reading in before Thursday and maybe impress his teacher. As he finished his coffee he realized that she didn’t have his address. Stupid. He panicked thinking that he didn’t have her phone number, then remembered that he did have her eMail and dug the ticket stub he had safely tucked away out of his wallet. He booted up the laptop prepared to send her an eMail only to discover that there was one waiting for him from her.
I’ll see you at your house on Friday @8PM. Please send me your address so I don’t have to wander in the wilderness. Let me know if something comes up and you can’t meet. I’ll make sure to check eMail before I leave home.
Well, that does make it easy doesn’t it? He sent a quick reply with his address and with his phone number, telling her to call him if she needed directions and to call before she left her house. He also let her know he had the manual but had only had a chance to flip through the pages not read it. Then he pressed send and shut the laptop cover and was off to the job sites.
The days flew by. They always did after Nola was out of the office for a day or 2. Thursday was Thanksgiving. Nola and her family spent the day on the NorthShore. Owen spent the day with his friend and colleague Roger at a large potluck. Before Nola knew it was Friday and she was heading off for the first lesson. She kissed her family goodnight in case the session ran late. She was lucky because she had a little less than 3 weeks of vacation to burn up and it was already late November. She had already planned on taking every Friday off through the end of the year, so it didn’t matter if the other Thursday classes went late, she could sleep in on Fridays.
She wasn’t kidding when she had said that new students took a whole lot of time at the very beginning. Once they felt like they had found “IT”, they wanted all of “IT”, NOW. Owen had already proven he had the fire. Meeting her at the airport! And he already had “the manual”. She’d have to wait and see if he burned out or burned in. With the way things had worked out so far, including her already planned time off it seemed like the Gods approved of her undertaking his teaching.
Once she had gone to 2nd she knew that she had a certain responsibility to teach and took it seriously. She had spent countless hours communicating with new students only to have them burn themselves out or hit a snag in what they wanted the tradition to be and what it actually was and end up “dropping out”, never to return. It seemed to be a part of the process. It frustrated many of those who taught, but strangely not her. She tried to give everyone who worked with her for any length of time what *they* needed. She hoped and was also pretty sure that they each took something valuable away from the experience even if they decided her path wasn’t their path. Sometimes you had to figure out what you weren’t before you figured out what you were.
Getting started with a new student was always an odd time. You never knew what they knew already and what they didn’t. She had found that when it came to her tradition that often it wasn’t what the student needed to learn as much as what they needed to unlearn. But everyone was different. Some read the book and thought they knew it all and so didn’t ask the necessary questions. Some read the book and parsed every paragraph looking for the hidden meanings and asked so many questions she wasn’t sure that they were really hearing the answers. Some just wanted face time or eMail time. Some were interested in 'smells & bells' tricks of the trade and magic words. Some were deeply philosophical and all in their heads. There were of course combinations of all of the above. In short anything was possible.
She drove past the front of Owen’s home slowly, taking a look at the kind of house it was, appreciating the large front yard and the balcony on the 2nd story which seemed like it might give a peak at the river. It looked like his architectural training had paid off. It was a great old house and it fit perfectly on the lot. It didn’t look crammed in between the other houses and as she drove around the block again saw that it had a gated driveway. How civilized. He’s right. He would make a fortune if he ever decided to sell it. It was dark but she could see the bell light glowing on the front gate so she looked around to make sure the street was safe, then got out to ring the bell. She had called Owen to let him know she was on her way and to make sure that nothing had come up. He must have been on the look out for her because she was ringing the bell as he opened the front door and walked to the gate.
“Well I see you do know your way around.”
“Yep. Great old house, mid 1800s? and I love the size of the yard.”
He didn’t expect her to be able to place the time period. But then remembered how much New Orleanians reveled in what was special about their city. Still placing a house she’d never seen before in the right decade when she had almost 3 centuries to choose from was pretty damn good. So he decided to ask how she knew the house’s vintage.
“Wow, that’s pretty impressive. How did you nail the construction period so quickly?”
As she thought about it she realized she hadn’t really thought about it. The timeframe just felt right. But the scientist in her searched for an answer. “Hmm, actually I’m not sure, but I think it’s the way the house sits on the lot, it has lots of room so it looks like it was here first. It’s a key lot isn’t it? And then there is the brickwork and the layout. The basic structure looks like 4 large square rooms on top of 4 large square rooms. I bet it has a large back porch and an upper balcony on the back too huh?”
He eyes got large as he said “Yes it does, but there are a few modern additions as well. I thought you said you had a degree in geology? It sounds like you have a degree in architecture and history.”
She wrinkled her forehead as if anyone could have done it, then shrugged thinking, well maybe not and said. “Nope I’m just a reasonably well read native New Orleanian who uses scientific field assessment skills almost without thinking about it.”
“Really? And what else can you do without thinking about it?”
“I’m still figuring that out.”
At that he opened the front door and said, “Well come on in and I’ll get you a glass of wine and we can decide where we want to settle for the lesson.”
The house was in great shape, the modern kitchen was across the back, complete with wine fridge and Viking range. There was a back porch, screened and it was definitely a large key lot with a large old oak in one corner. He loved how much she appreciated the old house. He was thrilled to have her here. But he was unsure of how this whole process would work and felt just a little unsettled.
They eventually settled in the living room with glasses of wine. He had the manual on an end table. There was a sofa and a chair and an ottoman. But there was also a large fireplace with a small fire going and large pillows on the floor. Nola couldn’t resist sitting on the floor and said: “Sitting on the sofa, seems a bit too formal and stiff, do you mind if we sit on the floor?”
Owen smiled and plopped down on a pillow and said “Not all.” and looked up as Nola kicked off her shoes off and settled down on a large pillow next to him.
“So student, where do you want to start?”
“Huh? Where do I want to start? Isn’t that a strange question for the teacher to ask?”
“Maybe. But not always. Sometimes new students have things that they have read or heard and they want to clear up things they don’t understand or don’t like”.
“Yes, really. But given that you just heard about this path a week ago, I guess it may be too early for you to have questions. But I thought I’d ask anyway. Have you had a chance to read the manual?”
“Ok, good, how far did you get?”
“Oh I read the whole thing.”
“Really? Well then, what do you think? Was there a particular part that resonated or confused you?”
“Well, I find the story of Aradia interesting. I like the idea that there was a real person oh so long ago that helped save what we have today.”
What she was thinking was he was holding something back and that something was the matter here. He seemed withdrawn reserved, perhaps less interested. Maybe this was an instance where he had read the book and found it less fascinating than he thought it would be. Perhaps he had changed his mind.
What he was thinking was that when they first met he had been strangely drawn. And being honest with himself, he still was. But he wasn’t sure if it was the path or the idea of finally finding someone he thought he could study and maybe practice a pagan path with or if it was the woman herself. And the problem with the woman herself was that she was married and that didn’t fit some of the things that he had caught himself thinking. He liked her. But he was no longer sure how he felt about someone who could be married and then do what she had already said she’d done for her 3rd degree and what reading between the lines of the rituals indicated she might do again. And he wasn’t sure if that was the place to start asking questions.
“Owen, What’s the matter here? Have you gotten a chance to read up and decided this isn’t a good fit for you? Remember I told you that I needed you to be honest with me. It’s ok if you think that this path isn’t for you. It happens. All you need to do is tell me and we can stop right now.”
What? Ok that did it. She had broken through his fog. He was aware and alert now.
“Oh NO, that’s not it at all.”
“Ok” she thought that sounded sincere but also that he seemed a little stressed.
“Is this a bad time, do you have something else you need to do, somewhere else you want to be? We can reschedule.”
He was still a thousand miles away, trying to find his way back. He had heard her and before he knew it the words came out of his mouth, “There is nowhere else I’d rather be right now than right here.”
She was thinking that this was one of the most exasperating men she had ever met and she seemed to have a special talent for attracting exasperating men. “If there is nowhere else you’d rather be, why does it look like you’re not quite sure you want to be here?" Then her intuition kicked fully in and said, "There is something you want to ask, but you’re not sure how to go about asking it. Stop thinking so hard and just spit it out. Then we’ll talk it through. I’ve got nowhere else to be tonight. I’m all yours.”
And his inside voice said, No you’re not and I think that might just be the problem. When I had you on the plane to myself it felt fun and interesting and good, but I’ve had a chance to meet your husband and I’m not sure how to fit him into this process. How do you make all this work in your head? Because I can’t make it work in mine.
She waited as he tried to work out what he needed to say.
“You know I keep going back to the phrase heterosexual religion and the fact that you are married and yet you’ve had sex with another man. And if what I think I’m reading between the lines of the rituals in the book are true then there’s a pretty good chance that sex could be a part of any number of rituals. How in the world do you make that work and be married? Jezz, I shook your husband’s hand.”
She sat straight up on the pillow and looking in his eyes she saw his anxiety. She managed to get out, “Oh. Wow. That’s honest.” And then remembered his Sagittarius rising and her own Sagittarius rising tendency to say exactly what she was thinking.
She then turned to the fire and looked deeply into it and tried to figure exactly where to start. He had jumped way ahead of where she thought they’d end up tonight. But she had seen his discomfort on the plane when he realized that he would meet her husband so the deep intuitive part of her wasn’t all that surprised. The real question was where to start to unravel the confusion in his head and how to go about finding the root cause of his anxiety.
“Nola, I’m sorry.”
She put her hand up slightly and said, “No, please don’t be. You did exactly what I asked you to, you asked about what was bothering you and you were honest. It’s hard to ask for more in a student. But you’ve skipped way ahead in the program and have rolled couple of issues into one, so give me a minute to figure out what I do next.”
He watched her think and then he watched her get up as she said, “You know I think I need to stand and pace a little. I knew you’d be challenging but whew, I didn’t think I’d break a sweat in the first lesson.” He got up too, not knowing what to do with himself. She walked to the fireplace and took a sip of wine and put her glass on the mantle.
He just watched her, feeling like an idiot and thinking she might just be planning to leave. When she caught the look on his face she laughed lightly but right out loud. He had no idea what to make of that and the new look on his face made her laugh again. So she crossed the room put her hands on his arms and said: “Relax, Owen. I’m not going anywhere.” and as she said it and touched him he did just that, he relaxed, realizing that he had been pent up all afternoon. When he relaxed she felt it. “Ok, good that‘s better.” They were close to the chair so she got him to sit on the chair and she sat on the ottoman across from him.
She wasn’t sure how but her intuition told her that the underlying issues here weren’t exactly what they seemed. Her intuition said that part of his problem was that he was jealous of her husband. But that seemed ridiculous. Yet her husband was definitely part of the problem in his head. Then it came to her.
“Owen do you know what my daughter calls me?”
And his brow furrowed because it seemed a ridiculously simple question, but he answered: “Mom?”
That’s right, she calls me mom, because to her I am and always will be her mom.
“Do you think of me as ‘mom’?”
And his face said another ridiculous question. But she looked dead serious. So he answered. “No.”
“Good” and she smiled and said, “I was hoping not." Then she asked another question,
“What do you call me?” And she was still looking him straight in his eyes, so he answered, “Nola”.
“Tell me if someone asked you who I was, what would you say?”
“Just work with me here, if I showed up at a job site looking to talk to you and then one of your workers asked: ‘Who was that?’ what would you say?”
“Well I guess I’d say you were a woman I met on my flight to Pennsylvania.”
“Ok, there you are. I’m just a woman. To them and to you, I’m not mom. When I’m at work in the corporate world I supervise a large team of people and I am the boss, not mom. Right here right now with you I am your teacher. Right now are you my student?”
“When you are running your job site, would it do anyone any good if they thought of you as my student or as your mother's son?”
“Do you know that there is a pagan practice of taking magical names, that pagans actually intentionally do not use their given names in circle.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of that. But Lady this and Lord that always seemed a little ridiculous to me.”
“Well me too and we don’t use those kinds of titles in Stregheria.” Then her intuition told her to do something not usually done, especially not at this stage of training “Do you want to know my circle name?”
“Ok. What is it?”
And she told him.
And he repeated it.
“mm hmmm, Do you know why we use circle names?”
“Well, no, not really.”
“It’s because when we are in circle, when we participate in ritual, we aren’t mom or dad or boss or son or wife or husband or anything else, we are our magical, pagan selves.”
And at that it seemed like the light bulb might just be coming on over his head.
“Owen, I’m going to the kitchen to get a glass of water.”
He started to get up but she said, “No, sit, think, I’ll be right back.”
He felt calmer. He was thinking that her touch seemed to have had a strange affect him. It didn’t take long for her to get a glass of water and get her wine glass off of the mantle and return to the ottoman.
She took a sip of water and then a sip of wine and put them on the side table next to him. “Owen, you really don’t know me very well. So it’s fair to wonder if I am trustworthy. I can see how a woman who does not seem to be fazed by the fact that she had sex with a man other than her husband, might appear to be someone who wasn’t completely trustworthy.”
He looked up at her and tried to stop her and say ‘no that wasn’t it at all’, and for an instant she wasn’t sure if she was on the right track. But she plowed on. “I think we need to start working on the Words of Aradia, specifically the ones on marriage, sexuality, love and freedom. This is so not where I usually start teaching. But apparently it’s where we need to be. Where is the manual? Ah right here. Good." And she flipped to the back of the book. "Since marriage seems to be part of the problem, let’s start with Aradia’s words on Marriage." Handing him the book she said," Here Owen, you read them out loud for us.”
He set his glass down and took the book and read:
“When a man and a woman join their lives together through ritual, and the love which they share, then they are linked to each other in another life to come.”
She put her hand on his arm and he stopped and looked up. She said, ”That sounds pretty serious, ‘linked to each other in another life to come.’ This means that when we marry, the Streghe believe that it’s not just for this life but for another one as well. Does that sound like the belief of a people who will take marriage lightly?”
And he said, “Well, no it doesn’t.”
“Yet being together, know that each of you must be alone.
Understand that even though you are bound together, let this not be as captives.”
And she put her hand on his arm again and their eyes met and she said,
“Together by choice, yet acknowledging that each must be alone, bound by choice but not captive.”
Then she nodded her head and he read,
“There shall always be others with who each of you may desire to share a closeness, either physical or spiritual. This is as it should be.”
And she touched his arm and he stopped and she said, “Read it again.”
“There shall always be others with who each of you may desire to share a closeness, either physical or spiritual. This is as it should be.”
And she nodded and he read,
“Let your love desire fullness of life for each other and also pleasure for each other. Honor each other with openness and honesty.”
She touched his arm again and said: “Openness and honesty. My husband knows I am a witch and he knows, just like you do, what hieros gamos is and he knows that I am now 3rd degree. We haven’t talked in detail about it, but he knows. And he knows I only recently became 3rd degree. “
And she sighed deeply as if she didn’t want to go on or know exactly how but then she did anyway. “Before I met my husband I had never been in love before. I had had lots of sex. I had loved people but I hadn’t been IN love. I’m a big Robert Heinlein fan and I always believed that I could love more than one person at a time. But then I met the man who is now my husband and I couldn’t imagine being sexual with anyone else or as deeply in love. He completed me. And then after a year, and this was before we were married, he left me. He said, I was too much, I was too loud, too bold, not gentle enough, not gracious enough and that he couldn't be happy with me and didn’t love me. And he totally broke my heart. And then 9 months later he came back. In his head it was now all good and he talked me into moving in with him, which wasn't that difficult because I had fallen for him hard and after 9 months had only started to feel human again. A year later he proposed and 9 months later we got married. And then a little less than 2 years later, he fell into a funk. He wasn’t working. He didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He didn’t want me to touch him or kiss him and one of the things that I loved about being with him was the warm and physical nature of our relationship. He eventually pulled himself out of it and about year later I got pregnant for Jamie. Then in 1998 the fact that our marriage is and always has been upside down finally got the best of us. I have the corporate job, I take care of mortgage and insurance and the ways of the world. I am the scientist. I am practical, I am the one who takes out the garbage and makes sure the laundry is done, makes sure the oil gets changed in the vehicles. He is the artist, he cooks because he likes to cook, but he didn’t think cleaning was necessary. He is a great and loving dad, but I made the doctor appointments and made sure that the kid got vaccinations and school uniforms. What I kept telling him was that I needed a partner, I needed help, with the laundry, with the cleaning, with the taking the garbage out, that taking care of all our worldly needs was leaving too little for me to give to him in our relationship, that we were out of balance. What he heard was that he wasn’t good enough.
He had a great run in a play and ended up winning a significant award as an actor & musician. Everyone told him he was very good and he was very good. At home his ego was bruised, elsewhere he was great. So part of him felt that the problem was me. I was never satisfied. I didn’t appreciate what he did. I was not the person he wanted me to be. One of the women who had been in the play kept calling him at home. I told him that she was interested in him and I was of course right. He had an affair and broke my heart. Again. Not because of the sex. But because of the horrible things he said to me while he was angry with himself and angry with me and angry about having sex with another woman. He said I was too hard on him, I worked and didn’t have anything left for him and he was angry that I couldn’t be the warm, loving woman he wanted because I was working too hard. He essentially blamed me because he was unhappy in the marriage and because I was working too hard to put a roof over my daughter's head and his too for that matter. And while I knew he was having sex with another woman he wouldn’t admit it or at least didn't right away. When he did, he essentially said that it was also my fault that he was having sex with another woman. I was nothing short of totally devastated. I did NOT want the man I loved and the father of my child to feel this way about me. I barely functioned and only because I had a child who had just turned 3 who needed me.
But here is the surprise, his having sex with another woman, helped him find a balance he had been unable to find another way. Sex with her woke him up. He saw that what he was doing and saying was actually able to seriously hurt me. It took a few months but he found his way again and to decide, again, I was what he wanted. He’s become a better person and a better partner every year since. Now he finally seems committed to me and IN love with me again. And now after all of this, what I know is that I love him. I know that he is good for me and has been good for our daughter. Sometimes I am IN love with him but there is no doubt that I love him.
She had been watching him all along and could tell that he had heard and understood every word. She paused and then concluded, “Sorry I know that’s a lot to dump on you at one time, but well my intuition says you may need to know this to understand me and to work through what you are struggling with.” She gave him some time to think about that but could see that it already seemed to have made a difference. “Please keep reading."
“Because you have joined your lives together, you are sanctuary and comfort for each other. Together shall you stand in all things, for you are true friends”
And she touched his arm again and said, “And we are now, true friends.” then nodded for him to continue.
“You are together because of your love, and you remain for this reason. Yet if this reason for coming together is forgotten, or fades, then it is well to part if needs be such. You do not honor the joining by remaining without love. Neither do you honor each other.”
As he finished he sat back and looked at her.
And she asked, “Too much information?”
And he said, “No, your intuition was dead on.”
And she smiled and reached for her glass and took a sip and said. "Let’s take a break, I’d like to get some ice cubes for my water and then find your bathroom. Then we can start back with Aradia’s words on Sexuality.”
And he smiled and said, “That should be a little bit more fun.”
The chair and ottoman set up worked well so they settled back in. She opened the manual and asked him read again.
“The sexual power of a man or a woman is the strongest power that may be raised from the body. The Christians teach that sexuality must be repressed, and thereby rob people of their personal power.”
He stopped and looked up and she said. “The strongest power.”
And he said, “this is one of the reasons why I told you the one thing I know is I’m not Christian.” and they both smiled.
“Do not be confused by the duality of sex, for it can be physical alone or it can be spiritual alone. It can also be both together.”
And he looked up again and she said. “What I love about this is that it acknowledges that sexuality can be only physical, which is fine and fun. But that it can also be spiritual alone, which is more difficult but just a beautiful. But when it is both together it is sublime.”
And he smiled at that and continued reading,
“Share your sexuality with whomever you may, in whatever manner you may. For all acts of love and pleasure are rituals to the Goddess and to the God.”
And their eyes met and she said, “’nuf said.”
“It has been written that you shall be free, and so shall you be free in body, and mind and spirit. Be not like the Christians who teach shame and modesty and false morality. Blessed are the free.”
And their eyes met again over the word Christian, his with a twinkle in them.
“You have heard it said the homosexuality is unnatural, yet I say to you that heterosexuality is likewise unbalanced. Everything is masculine and feminine in essence, and all bear the divine spark of the God and Goddess within them. Realize this, and do not exalt the one above the other. A Strega must live with inner and outer harmony.”
And he looked up a little skeptical.
And she said, “We all have the capacity to carry masculine and feminine aspects. I have masculine capacity, it is part of why I function well in the corporate world, why I can appear tough and scary” and his brow wrinkled because he didn’t see this in her, “or taller than I actually am” and his eyebrows rose because he had noticed this on first meeting her. "I am also feminine but I’ve had to work harder at it than many women do. It is about finding balance. Someone's preference for sex partners is only one aspect of who they are. The key is to find your masculine and feminine balance and harmony of spirit.”
He read again,
“You have heard the Christians condemn adultery, and say that the spouse is the property of the other. Yet no one may rightly dictate the will of another. Do not confuse love with sex or sex with love.”
And she said, “Do not confuse love with sex or sex with love.”
And he finished up with, “Remember that pleasure belongs to everyone, and rightly so. Therefore harm no one through you own will, nor place your will above another's.”
She took a sip of her wine and smiled and said “you were right more fun. Ready to go on to Aradia’s words on Love?"
He nodded and started reading.
“Love is the gift of the spirit's blessings. It is the emanation of spirit within. Love is the Great Attainment.
Receive love when it is offered, and offer love regardless. Yet do not allow the duality of love to cause you despair. For love can lift up you heart and it can likewise drag it down.”
And he looked up and said, “you totally understand this don’t you? You’ve lived this.”
And she just nodded.
“Accept love in the manner in which is comes to you. Do not possess it, or attempt to control it or shape it. For love is free and shall come or go in its manner.”
He looked up and she said, “Read that part again.”
“Accept love in the manner in which is comes to you. Do not possess it, or attempt to control it or shape it. For love is free and shall come or go in its manner.”
And she said, “Words to live by.”
He said “What’s next”” and she said “Aradia’s Words on Freedom.”
“We have been enslaved. We are persecuted, hunted, and murdered by the Christian Church.
We are outlaws."
And he looked up, liking the idea of being an outlaw, outside the law, and smiled at her.
“Because of our plight we have come to know the meaning of Freedom. To be free is the essence of life.
Freedom allows the mind, body, and spirit to be rid of shame, guilt and restriction (which the Christians teach).
The freedom to act as you desire, harming no one by your deeds, is the gift of Freedom. The Old Ways free us from the restrictions of society and the expectations of other people.
Therefore you shall be free. And as a sign that you are truly free, you shall be naked in your rites. And you shall sing, dance and make love.”
And he looked up, put the book in his lap and leaned forward slightly and said, “Ok, I think I get it.”
And she leaned into him and said “Good” and kissed him on the forehead “then that seems like a good stopping point for tonight.”
He sat back in the chair and was oddly relaxed and happy. She noticed that all the tension and uncertainty seemed to have dissipated. “Owen.”
“Take some time to read over these words again before next week. Rather than me doing all the talking, I’m hoping next time you can share your thoughts. I think it would also be kind of fun to go over the altar configuration so that we can do the Winter Solstice Ritual and Full Moon Ritual in December. Are you up for that?”
Then she reached over and grabbed the glasses and stood up. He did too and they walked to the kitchen. They dropped the glasses in the sink and she picked up her purse and they walked back to the living room where she slipped on her shoes and said, “Next time we can sit on the floor.”
And he said, “You bet.”
He walked her to her truck and gave her a hug before she got in saying, “See you in a week.”
And he thought, a week, why do I have to wait a week? I've just learned more in a few hours than I've learned reading the manual or in a life time come to think of it. There is no way I am going to make it through waiting a whole week.