Twilight Times Feature
Southern Hemisphere Journey
A Southern Hemisphere Witch! A Northern Hemisphere Witch! Is there a difference? I first started questioning what it meant to be a witch living in the Southern Hemisphere about three years ago. As so often on a spiritual path, it wasn't a conscious question I asked, looking for a rational answer. It was a feeling, a longing, an idea that I couldn't get out of my mind and body.
I had previously awakened to the 'notion' of the Goddess and was experiencing Her as a healing force. Healing my body, emotions, and most importantly my disconnection from my mother and my disconnection from myself.
I was born into a family that was very self-contained. We didn't have much to do with our extended family. When I was young, we used to spend Christmases with my father's only sister, her husband, and their three sons. My mother didn't have much contact with her three siblings, and I still don't to this day. I suppose it's hand-me-down relationships. I have had little contact with them because of this.
We moved from Wellington, New Zealand to Christchurch when I was thirteen years old. My dad's parents were elderly and had died when he was in his early twenties; his parents were estranged from one another. I didn't know about this until a few years ago. My mother's parents were elderly as well, and we only had the usual compulsory visits with them.
On reflection, I suffered throughout my teens and early twenties because of this uninvolvement with my extended family. My parents didn't tell me stories of their childhood, of their families, or of their lives.
When I was pregnant with my first son, Daniel, my parents moved back to Wellington. This affected my need for a support system more than I knew. Having my son, and in three years another son, Morgan, I started looking at what stories I could hand down to them. I had none beyond my own childhood.
I started asking questions, which was a no-no in my family. I was met constantly with a reply of "I don't remember." This need inside of me for my history, and coming up against a brick wall everywhere I turned, spurred me on to discover the truth about my past.
Every now and then, I had feelings that my father's mother was trying to communicate with me. I'd had a few experiences connecting with people who had passed away. With both sets of grandparents now deceased, I wondered why it was my paternal line that was calling to me. My head was telling me I wanted to explore my maternal line. But I was getting no feelings there. My hunger for family connections was so important I couldn't help wondering if I had connected with the dead because I couldn't connect with the living.
Around this time, I decided to explore my roots through genealogy. I was fortunate there had been a family reunion, before my interest in my past, and my second cousin had sent me the other family line he had researched.
I was also thrilled that I had a few pieces of furniture and items from both grandmothers. They now took on a new meaning. My favourites were my piano and her jewellery box. The piano had been handed down from my grandmother to my father, and given to me on my twenty-first birthday. When I touched her jewellery box, I knew she was calling me.
One morning I bolted awake. I knew I had to find something in my genealogy folder, but I didn't know what. I spent about fifteen minutes looking before I found it. My parents had been married five months before I was born. My mother had been raised a devout Catholic. I pushed for the story and she finally told me, although she believes she had never hidden the truth from me. My Dad's mother was dying of cancer so my parents chose to hide me from her.
That news was one of those crucial moments in life, where so much makes sense. This also explained my visits from my grandmother. She had been trying to tell me that she knew I existed after all. I cried for hours over this connection with my grandmother.
My parents had just moved back to Christchurch, New Zealand, where I live, and bought a house about half an hour away from the city centre. It struck me at the time that my mother had chosen a house not far from the town where her mother was born and raised.
On one of my searches through my genealogy notes, I felt an urgent need to drive out to Hororata, the birthplace of my mother's mother. She had passed away in 1989. I had never been very close to her, but I felt that something was calling me to this place.
Ironically, on the drive out there, I had to pass my mother's house, and I felt a sadness that I wouldn't be able to share with her my quest for my roots, for some meaning to my life. If we'd gone together I would have repressed myself, and it would have been a cerebral experience. I didn't want that, I wanted to follow my instincts.
As I travelled, I envisioned my ancestors making this same journey from the port of Lyttelton, not in an air-conditioned vehicle, but by horse and cart. As we sped along the highway, I could not imagine what terrain and conditions these pioneers must have encountered and endured. The journey for them must have taken days, if not longer. Not to mention their arduous journey from England, by sea. I wanted to call "I'm coming, I'm coming!"
I found the quaint stone church with the graveyard behind it. I felt a belonging the minute I drove through the gates, passing the cenotaph out the front with my uncle's name on it. This sense of belonging contrasted with how little contact I had with my extended family.
I was thrilled when I found my great-grandmother's and great-grandfather's gravestone, my great-great-grandmother, and my great-aunt who had died at age one. Finally, I found my great-great-great-grandmother's grave, born in 1801. I knew only where these people had come from and what ship they had travelled out on. But to stand here before them was truly a sacred moment for me. This was my matriarchal line.
I am Kate, daughter of Faith, daughter of Mavis, daughter of Emily, daughter of Emily, daughter of Mary.
I have had many trips to this sanctuary since. Every now and then, I have felt this longing to travel there again to touch the graves of my grandmothers.
This experience raised many questions for me, questions of connection and disconnection. I thought about these people, my ancestors, where they had come from, and why they had come half way around the world to start over in a new land. I had more information to go on now. My longing replaced itself with names. Names of people and names of places. I knew places of birth and places of death.
What little knowledge I had of the old land, and the Celtic feelings within me, were validated by my connection to my grandmothers. I also felt such a sadness that I was living on land that didn't feel like my home. This was not Ireland, this was not Scotland, or England or Italy, the ancestral lands that were in my blood. This was New Zealand.
I began to resent New Zealand being such a new country. I loathed the distance New Zealand was from the birthplace of my ancestors. I envied the Maori people for having an earth-based spirituality that connected them to this land. I longed for the stories and the myths of this land to be my heritage. Papatuanuku, earth mother, was not mine to claim. Why did they have to travel so far away from home - to a new land?
So, I starting asking questions. I asked my husband, my friends, and my counsellor. "Do you understand why I feel torn? I don't feel connected to this land, I want to honour land back in Ireland, Scotland, England and Italy."
I received many answers. They said, "This ties in with your relationship with your father. You're still believing you don't have a right to be here." "This is your disconnection from your mother." "We are all one big global land, anyway."
I wanted to belong. I knew I belonged to the old land; to these people who lay buried an hours drive away, and I knew I belonged to my children. Around this time, a wonderfully spiritual Maori woman, Airdrie, moved into a house four doors down the street. We connected straight away and we had many long conversations into the night about her experiences growing up Maori in this land. I cried over the prejudice she had suffered and its long-term effects. She couldn't believe that a white woman could pay her so much attention. I started to take more interest in New Zealand's short history. I now read books that Airdrie gave me on the Treaty of Waitangi, when the sovereignty of this land had been decided. I felt a deep sense of shame over the way the European settlers had come to this land. They had bought, stolen, and seized the land by force from the Maori people, and we are still trying to deal with these issues to this day. The irony is that these wrongs can never be righted.
It dawned on me after years of feeling worthless as a woman, here was a woman four doors down who not only had to deal with woman's issues, but the ongoing effects of her ancestors having possibly had their tribal land confiscated. Now more than ever, I felt like a thief if I was to acknowledge Papatuanuku, she wasn't mine for the taking.
As a Pakeha (a European), my family has only lived on this land for one hundred and fifty years. I asked myself whether I was suffering the legacy of a new country. My great-grandparents had come out here and spent a major part of their lives setting themselves up. My grandparents were a part of this 'newness'. These folks had a strong work ethic that had been essential in their time, since there had been so much work to be done to set up the new country that was to become New Zealand.
I remember my grandfather reciting poetry by Robbie Burns, and listening to the BBC news on the wireless. Although he was born in New Zealand, he had a strong connection to Great Britain.
I had been attending seasonal rituals, not knowing much about their meanings, as I was more interested in exploring the ancient goddesses as mirrors for healing. I saw in the pagan community that we weren't celebrating the festival at the same time of the year as the public.
Last year I looked into the mindset of these early settlers when I wrote an article about our seasonal celebrations being out of synchronisation with the seasons. I finally grasped why we cook our traditional roast turkey at Christmas in sweltering heat. (It's Summer here in December.) Why we send Christmas cards with snowy scenes on them. Why we celebrate Easter; a time of birth and new beginning in Autumn, and Halloween in Spring.
I found this was the legacy of homesickness for the motherland. Arriving in a new land for these early settlers was either scary or alienating or disappointing for many of them. Did they really have time to celebrate anyway, or was life just too damn hard?
There was no adjustment by these people to the seasonal differences. It is mindless copycatting of the Northern Hemisphere, particularly with the increasing popularity of Halloween. It's also tradition. My mother cooked the roast for Christmas lunch, and her mother before her. Perhaps this detachment was still in my psyche from generations past? This was by no means a point of rest for me, but I was relieved to know that I at least had some explanation for these strange occurrences.
And what of the future? What if we dared to connect with this land? To truly listen to what she has to say?
New Zealand needs to claim who she is in every aspect. To honour these mountains, and to hear the stories of these rivers. If we connected with this land we would 'know' we were out of sync, we would 'know' because she would 'tell' us.
To me, Papatuanuku is the only name I can use for this land at the moment. I am still uncomfortable relating to her. I want to apologise all the time. There is so much that is rightfully Maori.
I have recently talked to Airdrie about these feelings of shame, and of not wanting to step on Maori toes. I am extremely sensitive when it comes to Maori 'ways.' I don't want to take what is not rightfully mine.
Airdrie told me that what I had to say was very similar to what many Pakeha people had talked to her about. Like her, she sees that it is time for me to stop being a victim of what happened 158 years ago when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.
This was a surprise to me. She was right. I had seen how she had suffered this legacy, but I hadn't seen how I had suffered as well. She told me that I, like her, was not to blame for the past wrongs.
I feel the energies of this land, and I know only Maori words to describe them. Is this not a gift I should receive with honour? I believe so. No matter how much I push away my love of the Maori culture for fear of offending, it creeps right back into my life, into my stories, and into my dreams.
Isn't this the way of the future as a nation? To integrate our two 'ways'. If we incorporate more of Maori earth-based spirituality into our white lives, I believe we shall come full-circle back to our ancestors, back to our roots, and back to some deeper meaning in our lives.
Kate Strong is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. She is also the NZ Representative for the Australian Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Most days she can be found cueing up to use the computer along with her two boys and her husband. She is most certainly an email addict.