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BURNING AND BIRTHING IN THE CAULDRON: Losing and Rediscovering my Spirituality through Pain

by Ilyssa Silfen

I’ve bled approximately 180 times since my first moontime at 12 years old.

It wasn’t until I was 18 that I began truly engaging with Red Tent rituals and actively cultivating a relationship between my blood cycle and my Witchcraft practice, but after 16 years of bleeding, I got arrogant.

I believed that I knew everything there was to know about my cycle and its place in my spirituality.

I believed that 16 years of bleeding and 10 years of actively engaging in Red Tent rituals gave me all the knowledge and wisdom I needed.

I knew when I was fertile and when I was going to bleed without any outside help (no basal body temperature readings or complicated graphs necessary, at least after a few years).

I performed my monthly Red Tent rituals consistently and articulated beautiful, flowery words about my womb as the cauldron of creation from which all life and magick spring. I believed that was enough.

And then I got pregnant.

Image Source (actual picture of the pregnancy tests I took)

Those two pink lines are scary enough even when you do want kids. I, however, do not.

And for 12 years of my life, up until this May, I was successful in my endeavor to remain not pregnant.

Then, two weeks after Beltane, my breasts started hurting more instead of less, I began feeling food aversion instead of ravenous hunger, I could smell EVERYTHING, my moods began swinging harder than Tarzan, and my moontime didn’t show when it should have.

I had had late periods before. I had even had a few pregnancy scares in my early college days. But I knew immediately that this was not normal.

I was just shy of five weeks pregnant when the pregnancy tests that were supposed to rule it out told me otherwise.

Two days later, I did a ritual where I called on my matron Goddess Sekhmet, the women of my mother line, and the spirit of the life within me.

I asked Sekhmet and the women of my mother line for strength and healing, and I sent my love and blessings to the life within me.

I told him (I had a very strong feeling he was a boy) that I loved him, I was sorry that I couldn’t be his mother, and I hoped that he would reincarnate elsewhere and live a full and happy life.

At the same time, I affirmed my right to bodily autonomy and declared that I did not have to see this pregnancy through if it was not of my choosing.

The next morning, I scheduled the abortion. By 9:30 that night, I would miscarry completely.

I expected the physical pain that accompanied the miscarriage process.

The cramps felt much like what I imagine miniature labor pains would feel like, particularly the downward pulling sensation at the base of my womb as I got closer to passing the embryo.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional pain and the deep separation from my spirituality that would result.

I felt that, because I wanted to have an abortion to begin with, I didn’t deserve to grieve the miscarriage.

Consequently, I bottled up my pain and sadness and, at first, I thought I was being strong.

I thought that by refusing to acknowledge the source of my grief, it would eventually go away on its own.

I should have known better, but as far as I was concerned, I was getting through it just fine. What I didn’t realize was that I was about to slide into a darkness with which I was unfamiliar.

As the weeks went on, my rituals became lackluster—that is, when I could be bothered to do any.

I visited my altar less and less until it ultimately went untouched. Dust began to accumulate.

I stopped visiting my sacred spot in the park. I stopped visiting the Mother Tree in said sacred spot where I do my outdoor rituals and offerings.

My Red Tent rituals lost their spark—I did them out of a sense of rote obligation rather than pure joy.

And somehow, despite all that wisdom that I thought I had, I failed to realize that my unrecognized grief was the source of this disconnect.

Instead of acknowledging my wounded womb and actively working to heal it, I began nursing on that wound like a newborn.

To no one’s surprise, rather than strengthening myself with this “nourishment,” I lost thirteen pounds as I sank deeper and deeper into the sadness and depression, finding a macabre sense of comfort in the tears and the emotional agony.

image source

The darkness was all-consuming, and for a time I truly believed that my spirituality would not survive this dark night of the soul.

A couple of months later, I dragged myself to my altar to perform my Red Tent ritual. I found myself rolling my eyes, both internally and physically, when I talked about my womb as the cauldron of creation, and it stopped me in my tracks.

I took stock, then, of my spiritual practice since the miscarriage, realizing to my horror that it had all but disappeared.

How was it that I had allowed something that I held so dear and so sacred to fall so far by the wayside?

It was at that moment that I heard my womb screaming at me to just fucking listen to her already, and I comprehended just how deep in the darkness I had fallen.

I was terrified of allowing myself to truly feel the source of my grief and sadness, but I knew then that I had reached a crossroads—I could either face my wounds and actively work to heal them, or I could allow them to fester and irrevocably poison me. I knew what my choice would be.

I decided to trust my Witch’s instincts and tentatively opened my consciousness up to my womb then, and the first thing I felt was resentment.

Even though the pregnancy was unwanted, I found to my surprise that I felt betrayed by my womb.

How could I possibly consider it the source of all life and the cauldron of creation when it had released my child into the world too early for it to survive?

Simultaneously, how could I feel betrayed by my womb when I didn’t want the pregnancy to continue in the first place?

I sat with this feeling for a while and, through conscious prayer, meditation, and ritual, I began to understand the root of my separation from my spirituality.

My Witchcraft practice and my connection to nature are deeply tied to my blood cycle, and so if I truly believed that my womb had failed me, it only made sense that my spirituality would suffer as a result.

Through my tears, I dove deeper into my womb, and I began to understand that even though my pregnancy did not last long, there had still been life in my womb, even if it was only for a short time.

Without any help from me, my body instinctively changed to accommodate that life, and I was able to navigate those changes with an intuitive knowing.

Through my brief pregnancy, I was given a small taste of the pure, overwhelming power of creation, and it opened my eyes in a way that I had not ever expected.

Then, through the miscarriage process, my womb became a source of life, death, and rebirth. It gaveth (life), it tooketh away (miscarriage/death), and then it gaveth back in the form of my moonblood (rebirth).

I understood deeply, then, that the cauldron of creation doesn’t just endlessly pour out life—it is also where we return when we die so that we can be reborn.

Death feeds the cauldron so that life can continue.

I understood deeply that my womb had served, however fleetingly, as a vessel between the spirit realm and this realm, and then it served as a vessel for the return of that spirit to the other side.

In turn, my spirituality had gone through that selfsame cauldron—the path that I had walked for so many years no longer existed.

It had burned to ash in the cauldron and been reborn as something entirely unrecognizable, but exactly what I needed.

image source

My first completely normal moontime arrived just shy of three months after my miscarriage, on Lammas, and I found myself actually wanting to engage in a Red Tent ritual out of celebration.

It is not a coincidence that I began to reap the harvest of my dark night of the soul on the exact date of the first harvest of the year.

In fact, the timing was one of the signals for me that my initiatory experience was complete and that I was now in the stages of integrating that energy (consciously and subconsciously) into my spiritual practice and my emotional body.

I had a vision during that Red Tent ritual that I was a snake buried underneath rich, dark earth. As I wriggled my way to the surface, I shed my skin and left it in the Earth as an offering as I slithered away.

When I opened my eyes, for the first time since I miscarried, I felt pure gratitude. I felt pure joy and connection. I felt like maybe, just maybe, the darkness wasn’t permanent after all.

And you know what? It wasn’t.

 

About the Author:

Ilyssa Silfen is an openly Pagan administrative assistant at the College of Staten Island. She earned her Master’s degree in Liberal Studies, with a concentration in Gender and Sexuality Studies, at the CUNY Graduate Center in October 2014. She has been a practicing Pagan for the last sixteen years and has been a devotee of Sekhmet for eight. She enjoys spending her free time ranting on her blog “WTF – What the Feminist”

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