And then sometimes, there is simply real life.
There is the precious gift of spending time engaged in deep communication with everyday women living spiritual lives the best they can while also caring for families, pursuing careers, celebrating victories, mourning sorrows, and some days, just doing the best they can to remember to breathe in and out from the first buzz of the alarm clock till the moment their heads hit the pillow at the end of a very long day.
The Holy Days of my tradition, the Avalonian Tradition, are the Fire Festivals of Calan Gaeaf, Gwyl Mair, Calan Mai, & Gwyl Awst; days I mark with ritual & contemplation as I move through the Avalonian Cycle of Healing each year. Before I came to join the Sisterhood of Avalon, I used the general Pagan Wheel of the Year to guide me through the seasons, but my chosen tradition doesn’t observe specific rites on the Equinoxes or Solstices. Several years ago, I began to really miss marking those four days in some manner. This desire to observe the passage of these days outside of my Tradition gave birth to the courage to live my faith in a more public manner than I previously dared to, living in a conservative southern state.
What if I invited some friends over at the Equinox or Solstice? Would they come even if they weren’t Pagan? Could I create an evening that still made everyone comfortable? Would I risk offending someone or losing a friend if I made my Paganism overtly public knowledge? The more I considered the idea, the more two opposing groups of thoughts emerged- fears at how an invitation to something like this might be received across different social circles & a strong sense of knowing that whatever those fears, I NEEDED to do this. So, with a decent dose of anxiety, I assembled a guest list, selected a date, drafted a detailed, but playful invitation, and followed that calm, but insistent voice inside me that said this must be done.
The first Witch’s Night In, as they came to be called, was a mostly casual, social gathering, but was also a smashing success. No one condemned me for the invitation, although I did get a few polite declines. The women who attended ranged in age from their mid-20s to their mid-50s, with myriad experiences and backgrounds between them. Mostly Christians, Pagans, agnostics or atheists, we all thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company that evening. I offered to read cards for anyone who brought me something sparkly and invited anyone who was interested in doing so, to bring items to contribute to building a seasonal altar. Everyone brought food and drink to share. The spread was decadent and the conversation was nourishing, lasting well into the night. My sky did not fall the next morning. I was a public Pagan and still welcome in my community. I even received several messages thanking me for an outstanding evening and asking when the next “WNI” would be. Encouraged by this, I began holding them quarterly.
As my Witch’s Night In gatherings became a regular occurrence in my community, I began to see how, in some small way, this little gathering was a return to the days when one would periodically seek out the village Wise Woman for healing or counsel. Except, in this case, the most phenomenal thing was occurring. Witch’s Night In was empowering all the women in attendance to be Wise Women in their own traditions, serving each other and their community. This sharing of such fertile wisdom in sacred, interfaith space across traditions began to cultivate understanding, compassion, & peace in our small corner of the world. In that space, we began to engage deeper, tougher topics together. We created a space where a woman from one faith tradition might be able to ask a woman from a very different faith tradition any questions she might have about her practice. I continued to read cards for anyone who asked me on those evenings and we built some truly beautiful community altars as the seasons turned. Without fail, the day before WNI, the list of attendees would begin to fluctuate wildly. Yes RSVPs became No, No became Maybe, Maybe became “Could I bring a friend?” But no matter what, during the gathering, I could see how the right combination of women had been brought together at that time, in that space. The immanent magic of WNI blossomed and grew.
Two years later, my husband took a promotion, moving us across the globe very quickly, from the US to Australia. At first, there was little time to think of anything but establishing the bare minimums of family life. Once we were settled in and I had enough presence of mind to realize a Solstice was coming, the same urge, the same soft, but firm voice reasserted itself. However, so did the same fears. These were all new women- from all over the world and a wider array of competing faith traditions. Would advertizing my Paganism affect my husband’s new position? My children’s social network? I took my concerns to my altar and was reassured. Witch’s Night In Down Under was just waiting for me to manifest it. Again, I assembled a potential guest list, poured all my wit and lyricism into an invitation, said a prayer and hoped for the best. I wondered if the same magic would be able to reemerge in a completely different location and how these WNI’s might be the same or different.
This heavily industrial town in Queensland is an intensely multicultural place, with international companies bringing in employees from all over the world. In the sacred space of that first gathering, women from Australia, the United States, the UK, New Zealand, Indonesia, & Malaysia attended and it was a truly beautiful evening. Since that first gathering, women from at least over a half dozen other countries have joined us. Within the container that Witch’s Night In provides, Pagan & Muslim, Christian & Hindu, Druze & Wiccan, can come together, learn from each other, listen and be heard as they speak with the voices of Wise Women in their cultures and their faiths. Our activities are more varied now too. Sometimes, I still read cards. A favorite activity in the past, has been reading our tea leaves together. Another time, we drew labyrinths & mandalas. Occasionally, we simply eat, drink, and share our lives; our stories.
There are structures & tenants. There is tradition, doctrine, & ritual. There are pictures of perfect spiritual practice.
And then there is real life.
These women, from all over the world, have taught and continue to teach me about the beauty and strength inherent in their unique, diverse spiritual lives. For every woman who has ever been to a Witch’s Night In and every woman who might one day join me in that magical space- wherever in the world I can continue to create it, I am grateful. I am blessed by the time spent in the company of these Wise Women, every one.
Kate Brunner is a freelance writer & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is an American expat, living in Queensland, Australia and homeschooling her children, with the world as their classroom. Before motherhood, Kate earned a Bachelor of Arts from Tulane University, while studying Economics, International Relations, & Religion. She then served four years as a logistics officer in the US Army after which Kate became a doula and holistic birth educator. She is a regular contributor to The Sisterhood of Avalon’s online journal, The Tor Stone and is active in the Red Tent Movement. Kate volunteered in Houston as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas. She enjoys international travel, perfecting her cooking, reading great books, & having fascinating conversations with friends, old or new.
Categories: Belief, Feminism, Friendship, Goddess Spirituality, Healing, Interreligious dialogue, Pagan Holidays, Paganism, Relationships, Sisterhood, Spiritual Journey, Women and Community, Women Mystics, Women Religious, Women's Spirituality