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Alchemical Prayer

by Oak

It was somewhere after one in the morning when I awoke to the loud and persistent sound of an alarm.

I sleepily grabbed my alarm clock and kept pushing down the off button. Finally, I threw it across the room. The sound persisted. Thinking it was one of my eight-year-old son's many watches and gizmos, I staggered into his room. The sound was down the hall. I went there. Flames danced on my dining room ceiling. They swallowed up the walls. Our altar to the dead was being consumed by fire. It was a dream. It was my life. I ran and shook my son, my son who can sleep through anything, even a shrieking smoke alarm. I shook him and miraculously he woke in an instant. Run, I said, run down the back stairs. Wake Patti and Karl. Get everyone out of the house. It's on fire. Casey did not argue or fuss. He sat up with wide awake eyes, got up and ran to the downstairs flat.

Soon, we were all standing on the sidewalk across the street in various states of undress. I had on only my leopard print flannel pajama top. I would run back into my house twice more; once to put on pants and once to find our two beloved cats. I am told that when I ran to find the cats, I ran straight up the front stairs and through the fire. I don't remember this.

I do remember the neighbors gathering, bringing us blankets and words of comfort. I remember gazing up at the smoke and flames. Remnants of a nursery rhyme kept running through my head. My house was on fire and the children did not burn.

Bay Area writer Anne Lamott has said that her two favorite prayers are "help me, help me, help me" and "thank you, thank you, thank you." Standing barefoot on that cold November sidewalk, watching our home ablaze, hearing the fire truck sirens screaming as they drew near, and holding my son close, those two prayers simultaneously suffused body and soul, blending and becoming one powerful alchemical prayer. All photographs of our beloved dead were gone, along with my favorite paintings, my cabinet of essential oils and the good upholstery of our comfortable living room. All the objects I loved were going up in flames, yet the beings I loved were alive and unharmed. My heart stretched with grief and gratitude.

After the hoses quenched the flames I was left with my home standing, but severely damaged by fire and smoke. The fire marshal asked us what we thought caused the fire. Being Witches, we of course had theories. Casey thought the ancestors were mad that George Bush might be president. Karl believed the house spirits were upset that I had recently painted the kitchen and hallway and ignored the other rooms. Patti and I had a few nights before done a Feri invocation at the Spiral Dance. Patti thought the fire was a sign that we should not do Feri magic together. My partner of twenty years had recently moved out. I thought perhaps the fire was a cosmic joke to rib me about worrying about the impending division of furniture and CDs. That worry had certainly gone up in smoke. The break-up of our home and family was now made physical. The fire investigator would later ascertain that magical theories aside, the material cause of the fire was a halogen lamp.

My astrologer coven sister Reya had told me of the power of the Uranus transit I have been going though, saying this year was like the Tower card in the tarot for me. Old structures were coming down and my life was undergoing a shake-up. Looking up at the smoke pouring from the broken windows, I found myself wishing for a little more metaphor in my life and not so much mythic literalness. As the years have gone by in my devotion to the Craft, the story line of my novel life has become a living example of magical realism. Although at times (like when my house is on fire) I fantasize a civilized quiet spiritual life as an Episcopalian, for the most part I am grateful for this wild ride.

As a Witch, it is normal to look for the meaning and cause behind plot twists and turns in one's story. When the Tower hit my life, I had to ask if some of the upheavals were caused by structures I had built on shaky ground. If you build on a flood plain, it stands to reason you will eventually flood. On the other hand, the most carefully built structure can still be hit by lightening. As a Witch, I strive to work in harmony with the elements while acknowledging their power. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions are inevitable. Natural disasters are just that — natural. As I continue to sift through the wreckage of the past year, I realize that some of the structures and thought forms I had built were fundamentally unsound and bound to fall apart in the slightest storm. Other areas of my life I had build on solid ground with good structural engineering, yet these too came down with a bolt of lightening.

My son knows more about the Tower card than any child should. He has dwelled there for too long. Sometime in spring Casey and I will move back into our reconstructed home. It is my hope that we both will rise from the ashes of our past like the mythic phoenix and that Casey will remember that destruction leads to creation. I tell him stories of challenges leading to treasures. Mostly we try to breathe, cry and laugh. As Wavy Gravy said at Woodstock, "There is a little bit of Heaven in a disaster area." It is here that the prayers "help me" and "thank you" meld magically together. It is here that the fancy magic of aligning the three souls and cleansing the chakras, goes flying out the window, replaced by moment-to-moment gratitude for being alive, acute awareness of the beauty of the senses, and a strong sense of the Fool's surrender. With open arms, I feel myself free-falling, asking the elements and that which I call Goddess for help, and more than anything, whispering thank you. Thank you very much.

Magical Concoction

for fighting fire and surviving times of trauma

two parts Hydrogen
one part Oxygen

Mix these two together and you have a miracle. This will put out fire, quench thirst, and when warmed up and put in the bath will revive flagging spirits. Even without essential oils.

Oak (aka Deborah Cooper) is a seasoned Witch, psychotherapist, aromancer, and artist. She has been a San Francisco-based Reclaiming Witch for almost two decades and is a complicated Aquarian.