I’m old enough to remember a time before the internet, when being Pagan was more isolating than it is now. These magical devices we carry around with us, and our laptops and computers at home, enable us to connect to a world of other practitioners. One of the interesting upshots of this connection is that the mystics in the field can compare notes almost instantly.
Who are the mystics? They’re the ones that have a lot of contact with the Other – ancestors, gods, spirits, land spirits, fae, and all other manner of strange Beings. Mystics seek out liminal spaces and transcendental experiences. We do our best to look into more than one world and share what we learn from that experience. We’re all a bit odd due to the kind of work we do, but we’re tons of fun at parties.
Anyway, the mystical world within Paganism has been getting a message lately, and it’s about joy. So, I decided to do some journeywork to see if I could get any more information about this message. I grabbed my rattle and settled into meditation. When I arrived at my launch-pad space, my Place of Power, I asked my guide if she knew anyone who could explain a little more about the message. What follows is our journey.
The Words of the Spirits
We walked up the mountain, snow-capped peaks before us. “This looks more like Skadi’s realm than anything else,” I said. “Wait. Watch,” my guide replied. Then I saw it…golden light on the snow, and melted patches before me with bits of green poking out. We rounded a boulder and the path before us was bathed in the light. There was a Presence there – impressions of swirling hair and a flowing gown. She was too bright to see clearly.
I felt her hand on my chin first, tipping my head up so she could look at me. Then, she placed a snowdrop in my hand. This I could see clearly in the bright light, so I examined it and touched the delicate white petals.
“What does this have to do with joy?” I asked
“The flowers are not just beautiful. Without their pollen, the fruits of this world would not grow. The pollinators would die. All things would end. These gentle creatures are the beginning of the pattern of nourishment – the flowers open first. Without them, the food that feeds you would not be. Such is joy. It is the flower, the beginning of a pattern and interconnected web that creates strength and resilience. Without joy, the nourishment of other experiences and emotions cannot fill you. What is a life without joy? Hollow. One without joy is also without vibrancy, vitality. One without joy is also without strength.”
I could feel my jaw hanging open. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. “My gods. Thank you. What name should I call you?”
She pressed an egg into my hand, light purple with the Othala rune painted on it in black. “Call me Eostre. Your ancestors are calling you. Now go.”
I was carried downward, down and around, down to the gates of the Underworld. I spoke a litany of praise at the Gates of Helheim. They swung inward, and the goddess whose realm I sought stood before me.
“Hail, gracious one, guardian of the dead. I seek my ancestors today. May I visit them?”
“Yes. You may enter.”
“And will I be able to leave again if I do?” Helheim is familiar territory to me, but when I travel here I am generally in the company of a Seidhr team.
“Yes. You are protected here today. Bring your guide with you.”
I followed the path past the big feasting tables and into the village, winding through cobblestone streets, buildings lining the road. I found that my late Uncle walked beside me and I greeted him. He led me to a tall, sprawling house and through the door. I heard jazz floating through the air and realized I was visiting my father’s family: musicians for the last three generations. I am the fourth in the line.
I found my way to the kitchen. My grandfather and great-grandfather were seated at an old, linoleum table. I handed my grandfather the egg. “Grandpa Fritz, what can you tell me about joy?”
Both men laughed. My great-grandfather, Frederick, said, “We played through the Great Depression, Irene.” Grandpa Fritz spoke up: “We played with musicians we weren’t supposed to share a water fountain with, much less a song.” Great Grandpa Frederick spoke again: “When we had to wear the same clothes to the dance hall and just wash them til they were threadbare, when there were shortages of everything and travel restrictions, when every home had a garden because we had to, still we found time to come together to dance. To play music. To laugh and be in company. Why do you think we made it? The wars, the recessions, the hardship…we played music for people. We created spaces for joy.”
“It’s not just art, sweetheart,” said Grandpa Fritz. “Music is joy. Art is joy. It feeds the flame and keeps you warm when the world is cold.”
“And this is the message?” I asked.
“Yes. Dance together. Play together. It’s how we survived. Create spaces for joy and fill them with music, laughter, dance, and fun. The light shines brighter now because the world is darker. Seek joy, and share that light.”
I asked after my father. My grandfathers told me that they had him, but that the time was not right for me to see him. I felt tears sting my eyes. “The time will come, Irene, but it is not today. Carry the message. Go back now.”
I wrote it all out after I returned, cried for a while, and then walked away from the computer. My father’s death was recent, and my grief over his loss remains an ocean of tears that can easily surge. Today, after a night’s sleep, I can start unpacking this journey.
This is the message: Joy is the early spring flower that starts the entire cycle of life. Without joy, our other forms of nourishment are not as effective. Without joy, our resilience falters. Joy is music, art, dance, togetherness, and it’s what keeps us going through darkness.
Joy will not, alone, protect trans and queer-identified people from the wave of genocidal legislation being crafted against them. Joy will not, alone, return women’s body sovereignty rights to them. Joy will not, alone, protect black and brown bodies from the systems of white supremacy that poison the infrastructure and social fabric of the United States. Joy will not, alone, turn the rising tide of climate change.
But joy is the flower. It is the first link in the ecosystem of resistance and resilience. It is the necessary ingredient that starts the cycle of keeping us strong, vital, and energetic enough to fight the long, entrenched battle that lies before us.
Our enemies – the forces that seek to destroy, suppress, and control – also hate to see us happy. Spiteful joy is real, and is a weapon in its own right.
So, how do we create more joy? How do we make sure these nourishing blossoms open to the sun?
My grandfathers were specific – to them, joy was a community activity. It was linked to times of togetherness, of sharing music, dancing, and laughter. This is a reflection of the lives they lived. My grandfathers ran Dixieland Jazz bands in upstate New York (“Fred Grastorf’s Sax Sextette,” “The Revelers,” and “Fred Grastorf’s Novelty Dance Band” – both men were named Frederick Grastorf, Fritz was my grandfather’s nickname). They played the dance halls, fairs, and festivals.
It’s a different world now and we come together in different ways. As always, I have some thoughts:
- It’s time to bring back potlucks. Once upon a time, the Radical Faeries ran fabulous potlucks in DC, and I remember them as an absolute delight, full of laughter, conversation, and strengthening community ties. The weather is warming and we can plan for these to be outdoor activities. We have some time to get them on the calendar for summer and fall. Pagans, we can always add drum circles to these. Music. Dancing. Food. Laughter. The same equation my grandfathers followed, adjusted for our culture.
- It’s time to go back to entertaining. I think a lot of us (me included) were slow to pick up the threads after the pandemic. Add some game nights, fire pit nights, discussion circles…whatever you’ve got. No one cares if the house is messy, I promise. Shabby entertaining is the best entertaining. We need each other’s reality right now, not each other’s shiny-packaging-for-public-consumption.
- It’s time to make ourselves leave the house. Ash and I are occasionally asked how we keep the ritual and community schedule we do. I think folks are under the mistaken impression that we want to be as active as we are. Honestly? A lot of the time we don’t. We don’t want to leave our comfy couch, dogs, and beautiful old haunted house. But we also know that what we support and offer is needed. And, here’s the important part: when we get there, we’ll be glad we went. I’ve rarely regretted hosting a labyrinth walk or teaching a class. I’ve absolutely regretted bailing on a ceremony because I just couldn’t make myself get off the couch. It’s a willpower game, a knowing-you’ll-be-glad-later game. Get up. Go out.
I think individual, solitary joy is important too. I definitely hit the stand-up comedy collection on streaming services when I’m feeling down. Gardening brings me joy. Dancing around my kitchen to my Erasure playlist gives me joy. Walking the trails with my beautiful spouse brings me joy. But the specific kind of joy my grandfathers recommended wasn’t solitary, or even individual-family, joy. It’s community joy. It’s festivals, conferences, gatherings, circles, concerts…it’s times when we come together, and the specific moments in them when laughter and delight fill our hearts.
Joy is the flower. The flower feeds our strength. Our strength fuels the resistance.
And not for nothing – I looked up snowdrops. Do you know what they mean in the symbolism of flowers?
So, how do you want to cultivate joy? What are your thoughts about community joy, how to build it, or where to find it? Hit me up in the comments. This one’s going to take all of us working together.
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