Childhood Lessons

I was raised by three very ecologically friendly people: my mother, my stepmother, and my father.  Mom is a practicing Buddhist who honors every life form as sacred.  Dad taught me “tree magick” and how to talk to the trees and plants.  My stepmother, Sandy, is an ardent animal lover and has been known to spontaneously rescue and adopt lost animals.

The other day, I found Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who on YouTube.  It made me think about how my family has always taught me to respect nature.  When I was little, my parents watched nature documentaries with me.  They bought me books on animals and took me to the zoo and parks a lot.  Dad took me on nature walks and taught me about science.  As a young Wiccan, I was taught how to keep in balance with the Earth’s energies and to work with the elements.  Rather than ritual work this just means understanding how humans are a part of nature rather than being separate from it. 

I remember one day when I was still very little, my mother took me for a walk by my grandfather’s house.  She held my hand and pointed out the changing of the leaves, telling me that the dying leaves would replenish the soil and so help to continue the tree’s life cycle.  She told me that the squirrels were gathering food for their long winter’s sleep.  Then she pointed out this little patch of green moss, growing on the side of a rock wall. 

“Look, Tara.  In here are whole little worlds unto themselves!”

Being about four or five, I reached out with my little hand, felt the moss and proceeded to flick it off the wall.  Astounded, my mother tried to tell me that that wasn’t nice, but it was so sudden that she couldn’t help laughing a little bit, which made me laugh too.  After I had gotten over the giggles, she said that I had just sent someone else’s universe flying and that we just didn’t do those things.

Soon after, my parents read me Horton Hears a Who.  My father gave each character a distinct voice, which was his particular talent when reading aloud.  However, Mom and Dad always discussed whatever they read to me, so we had a nice talk about respecting the Earth.  Then I remembered the poor little moss and felt guilty.  Mom said that it would grow back, but not to do it again.

So, years later I don’t think it odd when I try to save a spider that has crawled into my bathroom even if I am scared of them.  Or that I talk to other animals and plants as if they were people.  After all, we all call the Earth home.  I find that this helps give me a positive outlook even on the dreariest of days.  I can look up at the sky and release my mental troubles.  Everywhere I live, there are trees who I think of as dear friends.  The rain and snow are replenishing spirits.  The winds refresh us and help seeds find a home.  Water keeps us alive.  Nature gives us much to be thankful for and it would be wise for us to learn how to work with nature instead of against her.

Here is a video of a song that I was taught as a child.  It is called “We All Come from The Goddess” and it is about our connection to everything in nature: We All Come from the Goddess.


Why I Write about Mom or Whose Kid Are You, Anyway?

Growing up, almost every day was “Take your daughter to work day” for me.  Once my grandfather passed away, I spent most of my time after school in my mother’s store.  She always set up a table for me in the back so I could do my homework.  If she couldn’t find a babysitter, I’d be there again on Saturday.  When I was younger, I would bring some toys with me.  As I got older, I passed the time reading and talking to her employees.

I have seen her counsel many people.  Mom’s customers are more than just clients.  Many are close friends and some even become like family to her.  One of the things that I also saw her do was create beautiful art.

Leaning over a counter, X-ACTO knife in hand, Mom would carve intricate pictures of her own design into large, wax candles.  Next she would pour some scented oil into her palm and spread it all over the candle.  She would finish by glittering the candle, sprinkling some flowers and honey into the bottom of the glass as an offering to the spiritual forces, and setting the finished piece back inside. 

At one point, she tried to teach me the ways of the business.  First she showed me how to make oils and baths.  I was good at mixing the different oils together.  “She’s my little chemist,” Mom said proudly.  After a week, we found out that I have really sensitive skin.  “Okay,” Mom said.  “Enough oils.  I could use some help making incense though.  Just make sure you wear gloves.” 

Mom didn’t always wear gloves, so I hadn’t thought of it before.  Her skin never got irritated from the oils.  In fact, her favorite gift is a bottle of perfume.  Even if she already has one on, she’ll open up the package and start liberally applying the new fragrance. 

In order to make incense, Mom would get out disposable aluminum baking pans.  Then she would pour the desired scented oil into the bottom of the pan.  The next step was to take “punks” which are unscented incense sticks and bathe them in this oil.  This is a very delicate process.  If you oversaturate them, they will fall apart, but you have to make sure that they are submerged long enough to fully absorb the aroma.  Then you take a bunch of them in your hand, shake off the excess oil and leave them standing in an empty candle glass to dry.  Bag them before they finish drying and you have a big mess.  Working with the incense gave me sinus headaches, so finally Mom put me to carving candles. 

Opening up her Enchanted Candle book, she’d tell me to pick a design.  I usually chose one of the love formulas or something else with a large shape that was easier to draw.  Then she’d give me a smaller candle to practice on.  I’d try to imitate her style, but usually I would end up with some form of unrecognizable scribble.  After painstakingly carving the little chubby votive candles, I would take some oil and try to glitter it.  Inevitably, the glitter would spill all over the place.

“Have patience, Tara.  You’re shaking the vial too hard.  Do it like this,” Mom would say, demonstrating how I was supposed to do it.  Then I would try her way and nothing would come out, so I would shake it again.  Finally, in frustration, I poured the glitter all over the wax paper, put the candle in the center and rolled it around like I was covering it in flour.  I brought my creation over to my mom, stuck it in a holder and lit the wick. 

The candle started to spark, the glitter catching on fire as the flame quickly spread down.  “Oh, goodie,” Mom said.  “You made a firecracker.”

After a while, I just gave up.  Clearly, Mom had not passed on these particular gifts to me.  I was like the athlete’s child who couldn’t hit a baseball if it were the size of a car.  I imagined situations where a witch’s child was stirring a potion, only to have the cauldron blow up Looney Tune style.  So, instead of trying to memorize my mother’s formulas and learn how to draw her candle designs, I just write about her.

What kind of witch am I?  My wand is my pen.  Coffee is my potion.  The stories are my spells. 


Invoking Me

When my mom hit thirty, she became obsessed with the idea of having a baby.  Before that she had wanted a store.  As a witch, my mother has a way of working with energies to help draw things into her life.  Of course, she doesn’t always get exactly what she expects, but by putting out the effort, she often achieves something akin to her desires.  Either that or she just nags at the gods until they give her what she wants to shut her up.  Perhaps it is a bit of both.

Being her daughter, Mom likes to talk about me a lot.  When I come into her store, I am often greeted with, “Oh, you’re Tara!  I’ve heard so much about you.”  I smile and nod, but usually I have never even met the person before, so I don’t know what else to say besides a polite “Thank you” and “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” 

One of my mother’s favorite stories is the one about my conception.  Every mother has a story about their child’s birth or the pregnancy leading up to it.  My mother has a story about how she went about getting pregnant.  As she puts it with all of her Bronx attitude, “I invoked you!”

Mom drove everyone crazy trying to get pregnant.  She even did a special ritual during the May Pole which in Wicca is a fertility rite and celebration of the coming of Spring.  When nothing happened for several months, my mother became very impatient and decided to go visit her growing agitation upon the Hindu gods.

My mother is a woman of many faiths and religions.  Over her life, she has practiced Wicca, Buddhism, and Santeria, just to name a few.  July 4th, 1984, my mother went to the Hindu temple in Queens to pray to conceive a female child.  Prepared with offerings, she entered the Shrine of Lakshmi and performed her full mantra 108 times.  She made a sacred promise that if she became pregnant with a female child, she would name her after Lakshmi’s sister, the Buddha Tara, “She Who Saves.”  After performing the ritual, my mom started to back out of the shrine when she heard a male voice whisper behind her, “Lady Rhea!?  Is that you?  Come out very slowly.”  It was one of her customers.  Smiling, Mom backed out of the temple.  As she did so, she passed over words etched into the marble: “Priests Only.”

“Oops,” was all my mom could say.  She had meant no harm or disrespect.  She had innocently crawled into the shrine to make her request, figuring that she should be as close to the statue as possible.  That day happened to be the temple’s anniversary, so the priests were too busy running around and attending to various celebrations to notice.  According to my mom, she felt like her whole lower body was vibrating with energy for the remainder of the day.

That month she got her period and figured that she wasn’t pregnant.  She cried so hard and so long that a neighbor came over to see if she was sick.  Then a few weeks later in August, Mom started to feel a little funny, so she went to the doctor to get a checkup.  They called her back the next day to tell her that she was pregnant, but it was hard to tell just how far along she was at the time.  The day after I was born, her obstetrician told her that he had done some calculations and had discovered that she had conceived on July 4th, the same day that she had prayed to Lakshmi. 

So, I was named after the Green Buddha Tara, “She Who Saves.”  Was it an answered prayer?  I like to think so.  Just as other women have prayed to Mother Mary for a child, my mother prayed to Mother Lakshmi for me.  She specifically asked for a female child and here I am.  She has been devoted to Lakshmi ever since.  As my mother would say, “It is auspicious.  There are no coincidences.” 



Growing up Witch

“My mother is a witch.”  The words do not mean what they first seem to say.  My mother is one of the most kind and loving people that I know.  Still, while growing up I was wary of telling people about her religion for a variety of reasons: 

  • ·         I figured that they wouldn’t understand me. 
  • ·         I knew that many people would not understand what it meant to be Wiccan and Pagan.
  • ·         I had a hard time explaining just what Wicca and Paganism is.
  • ·         Based on previous experience, I didn’t want to deal with people’s reactions.

I was very frustrated growing up because I did not have any way to explain my life to the other kids around me.  While most of them were celebrating Christmas and Chanukah, I was celebrating Yule.  Easter didn’t mean going to church, it meant welcoming spring and the awakening of the Goddess from her winter sleep.  While my friends went to Catechism on Sundays, my coven family met once or twice a month to hold circles in my mother’s house. 

When I was little, I did not mind or even seem to notice these differences, but the older I got, the more difficulties arose.  I had to figure out where I fit in with my mother’s religious lifestyle.  In the meantime, late elementary and junior high school introduced me to the world of religious discrimination.  Sometimes it was innocent.  I wore my pentacle (five-pointed star) necklace to school and the other kids mistook it for a Star of David. 

Other times it was cruel.  After reading an abridged version of The Crucible in my sixth grade reading class, I pointed out that the people in the play were not actually witches.  When the teacher asked me how I knew this, I said, “Because I am one.”  Then I began to talk about how my family and I were real witches and to explain what that meant.  This resulted with the horrified reading teacher almost never calling on me again and the kids taunting me during recess that my family did terrible things like drinking babies’ blood. 

By high school, the Harry Potter series had come out and Charmed was a hit show.  Unfortunately, I had spent so much time avoiding the negative people that I took very little notice of these things.  When other teenagers heard about my mother’s store and wanted to talk about what it was like to be a witch, I shied away from them.  I wanted people to be friends with me because they were interested in me as a person, not because they thought my mother was cool.    

It is amazing how things shift and come full circle.  Once again, I am at peace with the differences between the religion I was raised with and those of others.  I have found that there are many similarities between Wicca, Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism.  I have explored Christianity and other religions that are of interest to me.  Having grown up without this background, I felt that it was important to be able to understand where other parts of society come from. 

I do not see ritual practice as necessary.  I only participate in circles or attend church when I feel the desire to do so.  I believe in multiple gods from various religions, the existence of a greater positive force in the universe, and have a deep sense of my own spirituality and soul’s path.  I respect the beliefs of others and do not feel that this limits my own in any way.     

I have found that humor and writing are a great way to share experiences and help people open up to each other.  In my Gay Family Life blog, I talked about what it was like growing up with a gay parent in the 1990s.  Now, I want to share another aspect of myself.  I want to talk about my life and experiences being the daughter of Wiccan high priestess, Lady Rhea.  As my mother, she has given me a strong foundation in empathy and compassion for others.  From her oils to her Enchanted Candles to the endless tarot card readings, my mother has combined art, spirituality, and counseling into her practice.  While different, my mother and I are also similar in many ways.  We both believe in dreams, spirits, reincarnation, faith, and the forces of the universe.  Our life stories interconnect, so that in telling you about her, I shall also end up telling you a great deal about myself.