freelance writer, editor, journalist, author
“The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.” – Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
Spiritual awakenings are funny in that they can happen at any given moment – in church, in the car, in the plumbing section of Home Depot. They sneak up on us and seize our minds, bodies, and hearts. Then they send us soaring at lightening-speed into another time and space where everything is suddenly crystal clear – for only one moment. When we return an instant later, we are more confused than before but forever changed in some indeterminable way.
My spiritual awakening happened in high school after reading The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The novella blew my mind and kept me in philosophical ecstasy for weeks. I jumped at any and all opportunities to discuss the story’s deeper meanings. In hindsight, I probably lost a few friends that year, and it was no coincidence that it was in the same year that I earned my reputation.
From that point forward, I was known as the enigmatic, artsy girl who was unofficially voted most-likely-to-be-a-poet. Not a bad reputation by high school standards.
To this day, The Heart of Darkness stills sends my heart a-flutter. The book essentially deconstructs human society. It not only challenges the morality of European Imperialism, but it also breaks down deeply rooted Western cultural constructs such as good and evil. It posits that our values and ethics are social impositions rather than anything signed, sealed, and delivered by an absolute natural order of existence or some supreme being with a playbook. We, humans, have determined what is good and what is evil. We have constructed our reality.
See, it blows the mind.
Shortly after reading the book, I started my writing career. I wrote fictional tales about horribly impossible and depressing situations that ended with a twist of hope. Most of that work was ignored; up until I wrote a suicide story. That one landed me in the counselor’s office where I yelled, “No I’m not going to commit suicide! Have you not read The Heart of Darkness?”
There was an implied teenage “duh!” in that outburst.
So there I was, an enigmatic future poet and angst ridden teen, feeling totally ready to birth my spiritual body. Considering my ethical world had been created solely by art, literature, philosophy, and science, I had nothing to go on except a secular world view. In many ways, I was lucky. Unlike many Pagans, I didn’t have to shed a religious belief system before entering into a new one. I just had to step in and see how the water felt.
Not long after the “Suicide Story” incident, I began to journey through the thick forest of the Occult. First I dabbled in astrology. I can remember working through what seemed like endless hours of painful mathematics to produce one single birth chart. When I had enough money, I finally bought an astrology program and a computer to go with it. After awhile I expanded to tarot, palmistry, scrying, astral projection, and crystals. The world was my magical oyster and I was willing to entertain all it had to offer.
By that point I was well into college. During one summer break, I took a weekend house sitting job for a New York City lawyer. While staying in her Upper East Side apartment, I discovered some funny little herbs in tiny plastic bags. A neighbor, who had stopped by to check on me, said very casually, “Oh,she’s a Witch.”
I was struck. What?! A Witch? My mind was blown yet again! I should really consider myself lucky to have anything left at this point.
At the very next opportunity, I rushed into a Barnes & Noble and went straight to the Occult section. After careful consideration, I purchased Raymond Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. Sitting there on the muggy A-Train packed in with all the other tired commuters, I clung to my new book as if I was harboring the last Golden Ticket to the Wonka factory. This witch book was sacred, somehow, and filled with all the answers.
Unfortunately the book didn’t have any answers. At least not to the questions that I had yet to really ask. What it did have was a key to a door that led to yet another pathway of spiritual growth using the language of Witchcraft.
Not long after, I began to practice in earnest. Over the following year, I bought more books: Cunningham, Starhawk, Margot Adler and Silver Ravenwolf, for example. I organized my very first solitary Samhain ritual. When not attending to my film student duties, I dabbled in spell craft. Then, on one faithful day, I bought myself a silver pentacle and began calling myself a Witch.
It wasn’t until then that I realized the depth of what I was doing. This was more than just carnival games and Halloween hocus pocus. It was more than counter-culture and The Wizard of Oz. I found something powerful; something that I now defined as good even if the world defined it as evil.
After several years of solitary practice, I decided to join a Wiccan coven. It seemed the next appropriate step. I’ve was with that same group for more than sixteen years. The communal experience strengthened me, gave me tools that I could never have found alone and, most importantly, offered me a community of like-minds who were on a similar spiritual journey. Many of those people became treasured, life-long friends and family.
But the journey is not over. It is never over.
What I can say now, in clarity, is that it all started with that book – The Heart of Darkness. There in that place, where all the social constructs are gone, there is nothing but raw, unbridled, animalistic humanity – body and blood, love and lust, hate and rapture, and spirit. It is the elemental point of beginnings. It is only from that point that we can see the world for what it is – a stack of cards. It is only from that point we can see ourselves, explore our past and find our motivation. It is honesty at a critical level. Deep within the Heart of Darkness, we are pure. Coming out from that space is the journey of a lifetime – and it just may blow your mind.