Down in the mud at Beltane

Some days I think that no one in her right mind would want to be a Witch and a priestess – unless, of course, she was called to it, and it was as much a part of her blood as the cells that carry oxygen to keep her moving even when she’s tired and heartsore.

Another family that my partner works with just lost a baby at term. It was one of those accidents that just happens; no one is at fault, there’s no real cause to look for. It just happened. I’m volunteering to help any way I can, and what I could do today was bake bread.

So I did: I took water, which is most of what we’re made of, and added salt, for the tears the family is crying right now. Then I added honey, for the sweetness and healing that will come later, and milk, for the nurturing the mother was going to give to her child, and the nurturing the couple needs right now, and oil to ease the transitions. Yeast came next, because baking is about life, in the midst of everything. And then flour: the body of John Barleycorn, whose offering of life sustains us all.

I mixed it, and when it started to stick together, I kneaded it, turning it, folding it, getting it stuck to my fingers, feeling it transform in my hands. And I sang: I sang my sorrow, and my concern, and my care, and my love, and my support right down into that dough until it was folded in among all the physical parts. I let it rise, letting the life of the yeast do what it’s supposed to, and when it had risen, I punched it down and kneaded it again, shaping it into a loaf. I laid the loaf in the cradle of its pan. When it was ready, I baked it, using the fire to further transform and then fix the physical form as well as to seal my intent.

And after I dropped it off for the family, I went to TRI to have a rest and talk with the Lord and Lady. I found a spot in my favorite corner of the island and was sitting on a rock dipping my toes in the Potomac, thinking about what it means to be a Witch and to live on boundaries, in the in-between spaces, when a family came by on the path. One of the little boys clambered up on top of some rocks and then jumped down again from about his height onto hard ground. He had a rough landing, but he didn’t seem to hurt himself, although my heart leapt up into my throat to see him do it. Then he started crying, and I thought maybe he’d bitten his lip – his father turned to him (had just been advising the other son not to climb on the rocks like that…), but the boy was crying too much to tell him what was wrong, and then I was moving, trying to get to them and mentally reviewing the first aid kit in the car and how quickly I could get to it if he had a serious laceration. It turns out he just bit his tongue, but I was at least able to tell his father what had happened, and he comforted his son.

On the way to them, I dropped and broke my sunglasses, and got one foot in the river’s mud, and I didn’t care, because as Nanny Ogg said, “Is a witch someone who would look round when she heard a child scream?” Of course she is.

As I continued walking around the island, I was acutely aware of the ways the rain and soil have been interacting lately; there was plenty of mud around, and while that’s not the first thing that springs to mind when I think of Beltane, it was obvious that the mud was part of the waking up of the land and the life just as much as the pretty flowers and new leaves. I thought about the ways that Witches describe themselves as living on the edges, or being there when life is on the edge, and things can go either way. Those edges aren’t a distant place on some far-away periphery, they’re the edges in the middle of everything, like the mud is the edge between the water and the land. As Granny Weatherwax would say, that is where the soul and center of Witchcraft is: down in the mud.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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6 Responses to Down in the mud at Beltane

  1. Vivienne Grainger says:

    I’m always glad to find another practitioner who loves Terry Pratchett. (Although I myself tend to be a lot more Granny than Nanny, I did find a puddle to jump in yesterday, and enjoyed both the jumping and the resultant wet feet thoroughly.)

    I too love bread, and the making of it; but I think you’ve altered my relationship to it forever with that lovely post. Hand to heart, indeed. Thank you for sharing.

    • Literata says:

      I think I’ve gotten more useful reflection and deeper understanding about Wicca, life, the universe, and everything from Pratchett as I have from any equal number of “nonfiction” books. :)

      Thank you for saying so about the making bread; I hope I haven’t altered the relationship badly by introducing too many reminders of sadness. If I were making bread for other purposes, the salt would represent to me the saltiness of our blood, as well as our tears, and as the most basic example of how we live in the mixtures, not any one of the Elements alone. Hugs to you, Vivienne, and a blessed Beltane!

      • Laiima says:

        I thought the metaphors and imagery for baking the bread were poignant and fitting. But I’m not a witch.

        • Literata says:

          I didn’t mean that to be exclusionary, Laiima – sorry if I did inadvertently. I’ve heard the “existing at the boundaries” meme about Witches and Witchcraft but not about Pagans in general. It’s also my personal belief that Wicca has particular implications about the work the practitioner does in the world, but those don’t apply to all Pagans. And, of course, my belief about those implications doesn’t make them apply to all Witches or Wiccans.

  2. Amaryllis says:

    Late to the party here, but I just wanted to add:

    I’m not a witch either, or a pagan of any sort, but I am a baker, and I thought your bread imagery was both beautiful and spot-on. Bread transcends cultural and doctrinal boundaries.

    And no wonder. Flour and water and salt, and the living organism that makes of the whole thing a new creation: bread is us, all right.

    Do you know the “Brother Juniper” bread books, written by the Eastern Orthodox baker Perter Reinhart? Full of bread metaphors, from a Christian perspective but pretty much applicable to every tradition that celebrates or mourns with bread: “If bread is central to festival, it is because festival is within bread,” when “not only the dough but the spirits rise.”

    • Literata says:

      Thanks, Amaryllis! I love that quote and will have to remember it.

      If you like Christian metaphors for cooking, you might enjoy Capon’s _Supper of the Lamb_ – it’s hard to find but has some nice work, including a paean to grapes, fermentation, and alcohol that combines ideas chemical and celestial.

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