But as I was thinking (and laughing) about this incident, the value and beauty of having this connection with my mother was not lost on me. My mother's family is predominantly from Calabria, Italy, and she grew up in southern Italy, splitting her time between Naples and Palermo. I remember that she used to describe southern Italian Catholicism as "pagan Catholicism," which always had an excitingly subversive feel to it. She rejected the sense of male dominance in the Catholic church, but always held a deep affinity for Mary, and she has an entire wall of her kitchen dedicated to images of the Virgin and Child. Really, this "pagan Catholicism" was just syncretism, where an older religion or spirituality has been woven into the dominant belief and practice of the region. Common people never stopped believing in things like the evil eye, or seeking remedies for it. During one of my mother's visits home she brought me back a cornicello - a small red horn used to ward off the malocchio, which is a common talisman.
It was also my mother who introduced me to Tarot and oracles as a kid. It wasn't a formal introduction, it was just "there." She would read for me on occasion, or for friends, or sometimes other family members. Her cards always felt like a great mystery to me, and in my younger days I stuck to learning her animal oracle deck, which I adored. Tarot study, for me, would come later.
One of my most powerful memories with my mother (in terms of spirituality) was the night she took me to a ceremony when I was maybe 13 or 14. It was held at a social justice and environmentalism center outside of the city where we lived, deep in the heart of a forest. I honestly can't say I know what the ceremony was about or what the purpose was. What I do remember was being amazed at the powerful energy that united all of the people in the circle. At one point we were all chanting, and we started out very loudly, and at some point we all naturally started chanting more and more softly, until at the exact same moment we all stopped. It was about at that moment that I snapped "awake" and realized that I had been in some sort of altered consciousness with everyone else. I was in awe at how everyone seemed to be so connected, and it was all non-verbal. Later we all sat and ate together in potluck style, and I remember telling someone about a strange and striking daytime vision I'd had, and he was the first person not to look at me like I was a little crazy.*
I grew up with the powerful, embracing spiritual openness of my mother (who also was involved in aspects of feminism and the Goddess movement), and also very entwined with indigenous American culture and spiritual practice (and the rusty, dusty, bittersweet reality of reservation life) which all impacted my development. I met my husband when I was 24 years old, and one of our instant connections was some sort of spiritual resonance. I remember the first native dance I brought him to, and how moved he was by the drumming. He said it felt that although he was sitting still, something inside of him was dancing. I guess that sealed it!
My husband was raised in Cuba and Santería was the spiritual practice he knew. His grandmother was a seer of sorts, a card reader who spoke frequently with "her spirits." When Jorge and I moved in together our respective alters sat side by side, a mix of Elegua's stone and shell face, metal tools of the Warriors, offerings, stones, abalone, sage and sweetgrass.
|Dancer of Yemaya|
Through my husband I came to know aspects of the orishas, and have introduced them to our own children. Today Santería is a home for me, and I have great love and respect for the orishas, who feel like my family, and the practices associated with this religion and spirituality. Ten years after we first moved in together Lukumí forms a central part of our household, and our Warriors sit side by side behind our front door, while my stones and sweetgrass decorate my boveda, in another part of the house. My husband is leaving in a few days for one of his periodic visits to see his mother, and he's made a special mission for himself - to find and bring back his grandmother's cards for me. I was touched and honored.
Two or three different branches, or lineages, of religion, spirituality and practice have converged in my household, and as the years pass, the union, and the nourishment it offers, becomes so much deeper. I'm happy to have this legacy to pass on to our children.
*The vision occurred when I was walking home from middle school with two friends. We came to a point in the walk where one friend would start heading off in another direction, so they stopped to chat for a minute. During their talk, I sat down on the grass by the curb to wait. I felt something strange in my pant leg, so I reached up and pulled out a hand full of earth worms, all cut up and writhing around. I was horrified and threw the handful down in the dead grass and jumped up and shouted to my friends what had happened. I thought they'd be horrified too, but the big shock came when they looked at me like I was insane - I wasn't expecting that. I looked down and there were no worms anywhere to be found. Then I realized it hadn't happened at all, at least in real life. I walked home in a daze, and wondered for a long time what the hell that was all about! Now I understand that earthworms are about the power of regeneration and growth and healing, which was an apt message for me at that time because my parents were going through a divorce. There may be more to it, but at any rate, it would have been wonderful to have understood that at the time.