Friday, September 4, 2020

Tactical Withdrawal ... er, Retreat

My beloved annual Women's Goddess Retreat -- which held its first event in 2009 -- is a sacred pilgrimage for me. An act of cleansing in the holy waters of rebirth. I am washed there at the end of every summer with the saltwater of sanctified tears, blessed by a circle of women who are my Soul's Sisters. If ever there was a year that I needed to get away from the day-to-day stressors and just be among my Sister-Goddesses, 2020 has proven to be that year. And yet, with the cruelest sense of bitter irony, this is the year when joining together at our beloved Camp Midian could have been the most unwise. 

I'm not really up for the Great Mask Debate or the "Maybe We Could Have Spaced Out Far Enough to Be SAFE -- maybe sorta" speculation. Just, no. We gather in August in the Midwest in a shady spot under the trees (so we don't burst into flame or great drenched by downpours) with about 35 of us in a 20'x40' open air pavilion. We spend 3 days and 2 nights there, laughing, crying, singing, and sometimes therapeutically shouting and shrieking. Aerosolized droplets are a thing. Move us anywhere else and nature would overwhelm us (me). Spread us out, and we can't hear each others' quiet confessions, can't feel each others' tender revelations, can't see each others' heartfelt empathy from across the Circle that is our container. And then, what was the point of having risked the contact -- if we didn't make real, true contact?

And honestly, I know we would have flung all barriers aside if we had come together. We would have hugged and held each other. We ached for it. Still ache for it. We're all mourning it, even now. 

BUT! This isn't a post about the retreat that didn't happen! This is a post about the retreat that DID!

We didn't so much retreat into the woods this year, as made a tactical withdrawal -- into bedrooms and offices and sheds and whatever undisturbed nooks or slightly ignored crannies we could find in our homes for a "VR-WGR" (the virtual/online Women's Goddess Retreat). 

Utilizing MS Teams (currently free project management software), we had our traditional Opening, Closing, and Great Goddess Circles, as well as 4 other Goddess Circles (each with their own lessons and activities), and 5 video calls at scheduled intervals to give everyone an opportunity to check in and chat. Some of us chatted and had video calls in the in-between times, too. We even set up virtual merch space.

I needed it. We all needed it. I know others who didn't partake needed it (despite being unable to join for whatever reason), and I plan to make more online retreats available in the future. We all got so much out of the format. Online retreats will never fully replace my own need to dive into the cleansing waters of renewal and rejuvenation that I get from my long-standing local community, nor will it for others who have that strong local bond. But I am so encouraged by the opportunity to bring something of real substance to people looking for the sort of deep work, real connection, and authentic experience that they know must exist but haven't been able to find near them. (This is what I am passionate about, in terms of event creation, you guys!)

So this year, I tactically withdrew to the bedroom my daughter recently vacated and strategically plugged in -- instead of retreating to the woods and completely un-plugging. And it worked! I got what I needed. I am renewed, refreshed, and reinvigorated!

Thursday, August 20, 2020

All of Me

Real honesty time. I've had a hard time writing (and actually connecting on social media) since about 2016. There are a few interwoven reasons for that. The still-rippling trauma of my divorce in 2015 and the re-shuffling of priorities the following fall/winter are the big ones that spring to my mind, but the ultimate is that I have felt myself split and isolated. 

I've made no secret about the fact that I have anxiety, and like the character in this Tarot deck (Enchanted Tarot by Farber/Zerner), I have overthought -- and then become paralyzed with inaction over how readers view my brand. My BRANDS -- multiple. How my work will be received. How I can present all of that in a way to attract people who want to hear what I have to share. (And just let me say before I go any further ... blech. I legit HATE the marketing aspects of being an indie writer. The fact that I have to spend ANY time thinking about any of this dulls my shine just a little. I just want to write what moves me, and have it be found by people who would find it useful and moving. But that's not how the algorithms work. So ... marketing.)

When I first started writing and publishing, I was doing so as "Laurelei Black: Aphrodite's Priestess" -- and that is the work that drew readers to me. It was what made me different, special. It was my niche. I presented at festivals on topics related to Love Goddesses, sacred sexuality, and sex magic, and I got heavily involved with Babalon Rising (eventually becoming a Director). Khaire!

But ... I'd been practicing Traditional Witchcraft for  almost ten years already before I ever published about Aphrodite -- and working with Her for most of that time within both Craft and Hellenic models. I'm a Witch, folks, and not a particularly sugar-coated one (however "soccer-mom, Barbie doll" I may present). My path is Luciferian in nature -- as I seek enlightenment, empowerment. Gray path -- neither White, nor Black. Crooked path-- neither entirely Right Hand, nor entirely Left. I work with Spirits -- heavily. 

To that end, I've also published about the Craft, and done plenty of presenting from a Trad Craft model. I even now have a very witchy YouTube channel -- not to mention the glorious Book of Shadows pages I've been writing and selling  ages. (Super good reviews, if you're in the market.)

Never, at any point in my practice, have I left the Crooked Path of the Witch. However, I have agonized over not confusing or turning off one set of readers by over-exposing them to the other side of me. The other brand. The other Laurelei. (I've gone so far as to publish my witchy fiction under a pseudonym -- Delilah Temple -- which I will certainly maintain, just so bots and the very general public can handle it.) I feared that Aphrodisian readers would find Witchy Laurelei too frightening and dark, and Witchy readers would find Aphrodisian Laurelei too light and airy. 

Really, though, the division is stifling, time-consuming, and mostly a product of me reading too fucking much about marketing and branding from Pinterest gurus and Instagram experts (who may only have more followers than me because they paid for them). There are things I like about the visual concepts of "branding," but my personality and my Self are not so cleanly split. Yours aren't either, right? You like more than one thing. You have more than one aesthetic. Same here.

I've chosen a look for my shop (Blade & Broom), and I've chosen a look for my own personal web presence; but the person behind all of it is still me. And I, Laurelei, love both the color pink AND talking to certain demons. I resonate deeply with all the shades of copper verdigris and also have a deep affinity for bone collection. I giggle, scrunch my nose, laugh at my own jokes, go batshit over bunnies, flirt like I'm breathing, and curse a person five different ways for harming my Family. I grow healing herbs and talk to the Dead. I am more than one thing. 

I know what the core of my magic is. Who I am as an eternal being. I don't know that social media gets to have that from me fully, but if I can figure out how to share that -- as a way to connect more authentically with people who genuinely wish to connect in return -- I will do so. Because that remains my hope, really. That's why I write, present, teach.

To Be. To Share. To Connect.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Divorce, Relocation ... Pandemic!

*tap, tap, tap* Is this thing on?

Seriously, I pretty much abandoned all my blogs when Glaux (Natalie) and I divorced back in 2015, and I feel like I owe my readers an apology. I'm sorry, folks. The road got wonky, and I laid down some of the load for a while. I hope you'll walk along with me as I carry on. 

My husband (Joe -- the other partner in our then-poly triad) and I turned our attentions for a couple of years almost entirely to relocation to another city, grounding ourselves in work and my kids' schooling, and seeing ourselves move from "surviving to thriving." I continued to write -- just not on the blogs (this one and AFW Craft -- which is now an archive, as she and I have gone in slightly different directions with the Tradition and are keeping our work separate). 

What have I been writing? So glad you asked!

Back in 2012, we put out a set of Book of Shadows pages in my Etsy shop that were pulled from writing we had each done for the AFW blog, as well as some staples from grimoire lore.  We led with 100 BoS pages back then -- available in print versions. I've expanded that set to over 630 pages (now available in PDF form) -- all my own writing. I've even gone back and replaced Nat's writing and graphics, which was an agreement we came to after the divorce. Nor am I finished yet! I have a grand total of about 1,100 pages planned. (This was Joe's idea, that Nat initially curated from our combined work, and that I have continued to manifest in BIG ways. I continue to be proud of it -- and grateful for it.)

I also released To Call Ye Forth (Witches' Rune, book 1) since my last post. That was the novel I was working on. It's good (and affordable)! You should totally check it out! 

My grieving process from the divorce has been intense, though, and it has made writing harder than usual for me. Non-fiction has been easier. BoS pages (as well as the Red Thread Academy Foundations course, which I also made available about a year ago) have been easier to complete than baring my soul in fiction.  But really, even writing about the Craft tradition we created together opens wounds and feels intimate and dangerous in a way I have a hard time defining.

Add to these feelings the fact that I have been helping to run a Pagan festival space/community since 2014 (which always presents its own set of intense interpersonal dramas and logistical nightmares), raising teenagers (on graduated 2018, the other is due to graduate 2021), was the president of the PTSA for two years, found my perfect "real-world" career only to have my employer file bankruptcy while I was on vacation in 2018, for which my response was to start my own business doing the same work in 2019 (with stunning success, I might add ... except now there is a pandemic! (And I can't complain too loudly, because my writing and my business  -- and Joe's job -- have given my family a cushion. We're going to be okay, even if my little business doesn't recover from the pandemic.)

But ... it's been a lot. And I let things slip. 

Not my actual practice.

I'm still sorcerous as fuck. I'm still talking and working with Spirits daily. I still move in the Unseen. I just haven't been blogging.

I'm ready, though. I have so much to write, and I'm anxious and angsty about the quality (low/toxic) and quantity (high) of interaction on much of social media. So, I am going to focus my own efforts on creating and sharing. (Not so much THIS from now on. This "let me catch you up" BS. No. I want to share actual substance.)

Hope you're around for the ride, friend. I'm ready to dust this ass off and get back in the saddle. Let's go.