(the above photograph shows six different bars of homemade and hand-cut soap, displayed on a white sheet with some white queen anne’s lace flowers for decoration…like a still life artwork)
A few years ago, I was teaching a beginning sign language class for a local community college. I had around twenty students in my class, two of whom were a young couple in their mid-twenties. When they walked into the classroom on that first night, I got this strong feeling that they just might be of earth-based spirituality…I can’t explain exactly how or why I felt this way – it was just “one of those things”…call it intuition, if you wish.
My suspicions were confirmed on the second night of class, when I noticed that the gentleman was wearing a pentacle hanging from a chain around his neck. During our class break, I walked up to the couple, and signed (or gestured, to be more accurate) to “Hawk” how I liked his pentacle. At first they were both taken by surprise, but then when I showed my own pentacle (which I kept hidden under my shirt), the two of them broke out in big smiles. It turned out that they were members of a nearby coven, and had in fact heard that there was a “Deaf Witch” living in the area, and were hoping that perhaps after taking a class or two, they might be able to meet her and invite her to join them at one of their coven events. Little did they know that witch would end up being their teacher!
Thus began a friendship between me and Hawk, along with his wife…a wonderful young woman named Willow. They proved to be excellent students who picked up the language quickly, although Hawk at times had to struggle to get his fingers to work properly. On more than one occasion, they would invite me to join them for a drink after class, and we would sit around discussing various topics and laughing over our jokes. One night they even bravely showed up at the local Deaf Club, and made a genuine effort to communicate with some of the members there, although I could tell they were a bit overwhelmed by all the flying hands around them.
Their coven was putting on a special ritual for the Sabbat of Beltaine, which some of you might know as “May Day,” since it is celebrated during the first week of May (traditionally on May 1st). Hawk and Willow asked me if I would come and join them as their guest for this event, which would include a special workshop, the ritual itself, dancing around the maypole, and a Beltaine Feast. I told them that as much as I loved them and was honored to be invited, that there was a big difference between sitting in a bar having a casual conversation with some beginning sign students, and trying to understand what is happening at a large gathering – where there is a lot of group interaction, information being exchanged, formal presentations, etc. The two nodded their heads a little sadly, and indicated that they understood what I was saying.
Then Willow shyly and hesitantly asked “if we provided an interpreter, then would you come?”
I smiled and nodded my head. “Certainly! But be forewarned, I doubt you will find anyone willing to do this for free, and interpreting services are not exactly cheap.”
Willow’s eyes lit up, and she gave me one of her wicked little grins. “Don’t worry…I’ll figure something out.”
Knowing Willow, I wasn’t about to ask!
Immediately, Willow went back to her coven, which was already aware that she and Hawk were taking a sign language class with a Deaf Pagan instructor. She stated that the two of them really wanted to see me come to the Beltaine Festival, and explained my communication needs. Then she described her proposed plan for meeting those needs, which was unanimously endorsed by all of the members.
First, all of the coven members (which totalled around fifteen people) agreed to donate two dollars each towards an interpreting fund. They knew this wasn’t going to be enough, but at least it was a start. Then they decided to set up a “donations table” at the Festival where visitors who came to participate would be able to give a few bucks towards the fund as well (the Festival was free to the public, but “love offerings” were certainly welcomed).
But this was only the beginning. It was the second part of Willow’s proposal that was especially innovative.
Going around the circle, each member pledged a certain item or service that would be donated as part of a “gifts-in-kind” payment in exchange for interpreting services. One by one, they came up with ideas for what they could give in lieu of the money which they couldn’t afford.
Then armed with her list, Willow made a call to one of the interpreters on the list I had given her. This interpreter wasn’t Pagan – in fact, she is a Christian who teaches Sunday School and occasionally offers her interpreting services at her church. But she is also a skilled and ethical professional; a generous, loving, and open-minded individual; and a good friend. Regardless of her own spiritual beliefs, I trusted her to work with me and the Festival coordinators to provide the best services possible, and felt she would be willing to consider such an assignment and possibly reduce her normal hourly rate.
When Kim answered the phone, Willow introduced herself and explained that her coven really wanted me to attend their Beltaine Festival, but while they understood and respected the hard work involved in providing interpreting services, they were just a small local coven – of which some of the members were living on limited incomes – and really didn’t have the money to pay the standard hourly interpreting fee for such an assignment. Willow then read off the various items on the list, and asked Kim if she would consider a “gifts-in-kind” arrangement – more or less a form of bartering.
Kim was touched. It was clear that a lot of time and effort had gone into trying to come up with a solution which would work for everyone, and several of the items on the list did sound quite enticing. A little mental calculation and it wasn’t hard to figure out that the cost of the items would be comparable to an actual cash payment. She agreed to accept the assignment.
At the next sign language class, Willow came bounding up to me in breathless enthusiasm:
“We got an interpreter! Now you have to come to our Beltaine Festival!”
I was flabberghasted. I had no idea how Willow managed to pull it off, but I certainly wasn’t about to miss this event! The three of us – Willow, Kim, and myself made an appointment to get together and discuss the actual Festival plans, that we might be able to develop a sign vocabulary, determine appropriate times for Kim to take needed breaks, etc.
I had a blast. There were about thirty to forty people there all together, and everyone just really had a great time. The coven members were all very nice, and Willow and Hawk had given them a “crash course” in sign language so they could at least introduce themselves, say a few words of welcome, and sign the basic parts of the ritual. The ritual itself was beautiful…the workshop was interesting and well presented…dancing around the maypole was loads of fun (even if we did screw up and get the ribbons all tangled)…and the food was delicious. Even Kim remarked later that it was one of the best assignments she had done in a long time, and she was so happy to have accepted it.
Ohhhh…and what exactly did Kim end up receiving? As best as we can recall, payment included:
* a free one-hour massage given by a coven member who was a licensed massage therapist
* a $20 gift certificate to a coven member’s book shop
* a 20% discount at the local natural foods store (where one coven member works)
* several jars of home-grown and home-canned fruits and vegetables, plus a little “certificate” to come out to the farm later in the summer and pick a basket of veggies
* a couple of loaves of homemade bread, made with organic grains and flours; along with a jar of homemade preserves and a dish of home-churned butter
* free baby-sitting service from a former kindergarten teacher (and we all know how hard finding a good babysitter can be!)
* free lawn service including cutting and raking the grass, weeding, trimming the bushes, and planting some flowers in the planters (as a single mom, Kim appreciated such service!)
* a basket of homemade bath items; including bars of soap, bath salts, homegrown loofah sponge, and a homemade candle
a number of other items, too various to mention…and approximately $60 in cash
Frankly, I think Kim got a pretty good deal.
This is just an example of what can happen when a Deafie, an Interpreter, and a Coven get together to explore the possibilities, instead of arguing the impossibilities. I’m not saying it will work for everyone, or every situation…but I would like to think there is a lesson to be learned here.
“Magick is the art of creating possibilities.”
There was magick in the air at that Beltaine Festival.
(the above photograph shows a close-up of a woman lying on her stomach on a massage table, a white bath towel wrapped around her head and another towel wrapped around her midriff. Her shoulders are bare. There are hands reaching out in the photo which are giving her a massage on her shoulders.)
The names here have been changed out of respect for the persons involved.