Austerities are for the obsessed, the unhinged and the desperate. But it sure does get someone’s attention, doesn’t it? It’s sort of like stalking the universe* until She’s forced to notice you. That kind of passion, that kind of desire starts fires that burn everything down to the ground.
Well. At least we can see the moon.
Austerities are often ignored as a magical working possibility because let’s face it, it’s a lot more fun and a lot easier to light some incense, do some chanting and set a pretty altar. Rituals make you feel warm and cozy inside, rituals make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Austerities? They do the opposite. They shake up your ant farm, they make you feel the hollow of hunger inside your desire, they make you feel everything you don’t have, they make you face every broken puzzle piece inside you and then smash each busted piece into sand particles for good measure.
Austerities are not for vague fancies like, I wish I weighed five pounds less. I wish I had a date on Friday. I wish I knew how to walk in my d’Orsay Manolo flats instead of falling out of my shoes like I’m new. To walking. At 35.
No. Save it for your full moon circles.
Austerities are for psychos, closers and psycho closers.
Like Lady Margaret Beaufort.
A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes. A Coup d’état Requires Planning.
If you are not familiar with Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen (book or mini series), here is a super brief primer.
Most succinctly, the actress chosen to play Elizabeth Woodville in all her magic hair and artistic nude glory:
The actress chosen to play Margaret Beaufort in all her rabbity, twitchy magnificence:
TL;DR/W – Historically speaking, Elizabeth Woodville’s mom, Jacquetta of Luxembourg was besties with Queen Margaret of Anjou who seems to have been a terrifying Queen on all accounts. Jacquetta married well and then told everyone to kiss her ass and married for love, marrying Richard Woodville who had a significantly lower title than she did. Jacquetta stood trial for witchcraft twice and didn’t bat an eyelash. Her daughter, Elizabeth Woodville was barely titled and managed to snare the king in marriage because she was so beautiful and possibly Because of (Witchcraft) Reasons. The Woodvilles changed sides from Lancastrian to Yorks shortly before Elizabeth became Queen. Most people hated Elizabeth Woodville (a trend that would be repeated for Anne Boleyn for many of the same reasons two generations later) because she was the epitome of nouveau riche and was considered to be marrying far above her station. Still. Clever, foxy, vivacious and married a king.
Most modern historical dorks/historical fiction geeks would want to be Elizabeth Woodville because. . .see Magic Hair Reasons.
I wanted to believe I would be one of the Rivers/Woodvilles, all cunning, gorgeous and magically delicious. I had half convinced myself that’s where I would have aligned until I watched the movie and saw Margaret Beaufort.
Margaret who was considered incredibly pious and likely fasted often, took vows of chastity (. . . while married) and often felt guided by God personally. As I watched her twitchy, stuttery plain (for an actress) self on the screen, I realized with despair that I would be Margaret Beaufort and not Elizabeth Beaufort if the actress’ portrayal was accurate at all. Because . . .that would be MedievalDeb – weird, single minded and overcome with anxiety.
Don’t despair, other Margarets. In all likelihood, Margaret was probably considerably more charming and more well liked in real life. Because she had to be to get away with the shit she got away with. Namely, taking her son Henry VII who was a distant (at best) claimant all the way to the throne and founding the Tudor dynasty. She had to have her hand in a lot of pies and play out many intrigues on both (York/Lancaster) sides to be able to get to the top and smile all the way. In Philippa Gregory’s fictional version, she believed she was especially chosen by God to be the mother of the next king. Sounds super crazy when your son is like tenth in line to the throne right?
There is historical documentation that Philippa’s version may not have been too far off the mark. According to Bishop Fisher,
‘She which as then was not fully nine years old, doubtful in her mind what she were best to do, asked counsel of an old gentlewoman whom she most loved and trusted, which did advise her to commend herself to Saint Nicolas, the patron and helper of all true maidens, and to beseech him to put in her mind what she were best to do. This counsel she followed and made her prayer so full often, but specially that night when she should the morrow after make answer of her mind determinately. A marvellous thing! That same night, as I have heard her tell many a time, as she lay in prayer calling upon Saint Nicolas, whether sleeping or waking she could not assure, but about four of the clock in the morning one appeared unto her arrayed like a Bishop, and naming unto her Edmund bade take him unto her husband. And so by this mean did she incline her mind unto Edmund the King’s brother and Earl of Richmond.’
She married her last husband for political reasons and came up and fell down a bunch of times before her son was able to win the crown on the field of battle. Not many people besides Margaret believed that Henry would become king, including her last husband who switched sides on the field of battle to support Henry in his only direct battle against Richard III. She lost and gained her fortune, she rose in favor and she fell in favor so many times that she must have become accustomed to it and just learned to live with it, whether she was riding high or face first in the mud.
Being called pious during that time was impressive because most people in court went to church every day regardless to personal spiritual belief as it was both a social and spiritual obligation. She must have been praying a lot and likely fasting as well and probably attending Mass a lot along with acts of charity. If she wasn’t fixed on her path, she probably would have liked to do other things in her spare time. Maybe more needle work, more singing and dancing, becoming even more educated than she already was, long walks in the garden, whatever. The point is she was so determined to become the mother of a king, she gave up making a love match in her last marriage, she gave up whatever hobbies she would have enjoyed and likely often gave up eating.
How badly do you want your heart’s desire?
She Would Eat Nothing But Air Until He Was Hers
Catholics aren’t the only ones with one track minds. Way before Jesus came along to the party, Hindus practiced tapas. Tapas means to generate heat. If your austerities become a bonfire, the Hindu goddesses tend to take notice. Tapas could be anything from giving up meat all together, standing on one foot for days, sitting in front of a hot bonfire during the hottest part of summer, generally intentionally giving up or doing something that you find very difficult to do to reach your personal goals.
One of my mentors always cringes when we tell Parvati’s story. On its surface, She sounds like a desperate boy crazy girl who keeps coming back for boy inflicted punishment. In Her first incarnation, She was Sati. Sati goes to marry Shiva. Shiva runs with a really rough crowd, cremation ground bros that look like they were part of a Guillermo del Toro movie. Sati’s dad starts talking a lot of smack about Shiva and his crew and Sati is so embarrassed She sets Herself on fire. Shiva goes completely batshit crazy because he loved Sati and goes on a rampage, refusing to willingly part with Her body. Eventually, Vishnu is able to take Sati’s body for burial and talks Shiva down. Shiva doesn’t want anything to do with the world anymore, so He goes into a catatonic meditative state.
Parvati’s parents wanted Her to marry someone who wasn’t in a coma with really ill kempt dreads. Like . . .anyone else. But Parvati was determined to marry Shiva and wouldn’t hear of anything else. She starts performing tapas to get His attention. Her parents figure, she’ll grow out of this. But Parvati is so determined that She will marry Shiva, nothing can stop her. She stops eating meat, then She stops eating rice and then She stops eating leaves until all She eats is air. Years go by and Her austerities become more and more intense until finally she wakes Him up and They get married.
My mentor thinks this is an awful lot of work to get a boy to notice you. I always point out a few things which she respects if not agrees with:
1. She decides She will marry Him. This is nothing short of revolutionary in 2000 BCE, especially in mythos. Mythos is where revolutions are made.
2. She basically takes “The Boy Part” of the story in every way – She wakes Him up, She basically goes off to the mountains/remote dojo/all the training boy montages in movies and becomes completely badass. Like, She’s not even technically a goddess yet but She’s all, “Nope! I’ve got this! Fuck off, family. I’m doing me!”
3. My take away from the myth is always, If you want something badly enough, nothing can stop you. Not your parents, not social convention, not even a sleeping God. And that’s super hardcore.
Do you want your heart’s desire badly enough to risk everything?
Your soul and your body are your own, and yours to do with as you wish.
In the movie Secretary, Lee takes a position with Mr. Grey’s office to become his secretary. They slowly embark on an affair where she is his submissive. When Mr. Grey starts to get attached to Lee, he immediately fires her and cuts off all contact from her. Lee tries to lead a “normal” life without him, only to find that she can’t be happy without him. As she is about to marry another man, she goes to his office in her wedding dress and refuses to leave. He tells her to stay seated. She does exactly what he requests. She doesn’t eat, she doesn’t get up, she pisses through her wedding dress for a few days. People come to see her and either express admiration, concern or anger at her decision to obey Mr. Grey. Mr. Grey comes back to the office and they get married and live kinkily ever after.
Secretary is also a very love it or hate it story (movie), even within the kinked community. I happen to love it because, again, even when everyone is telling her to give up, she doesn’t. People who don’t care for a kink dynamic, especially a female submissive one (and I get it, we’ve all fought really hard not to have to be utterly dependent on a husband, brother or father) tend to get stuck on the aspect where Lee obeys. Again, I get it. But Lee doesn’t just obey, she decides. She decides to obey Mr. Grey, she decides not to accept him having unresolved feels about his kinks, she decides to accept him as a faulted human, she decides to stick the landing not just to obey him but to show him that their love is worth any austerity.
I mean, in real life don’t do that with other people because it makes you creepy. Creepy with a no contact order on you. Mythos and fiction may be where revolution is dreamed, but you need to live in your actual world which means: no means no. Fin. But for your inner world? Your own personal flora and fauna? Get it, girl. Get. It.
Do you want your heart’s desire badly enough to make hard decisions?
Live it. Learn it. Love it.
Sacrifice and austerity gain results and the attention of your goddesses and spirits. It’s why Catholics sacrifice something for Lent, it’s why Buddhists go on retreat, it’s why Jews do Yom Kippur, it’s why Muslims do Ramadan, it’s why Hindus do tappas. If everyone else got the memo, why are Witches and Occultists so late to the party?
Sometimes it’s small austerities. I sit at work with a bowl filled with delicious chocolates on my desk. My coworkers are in constant shock that I can handle it. I offer the sacrifice of not getting all Tasmanian Devil on the bowl as a sacrifice to Lakshmi. I sometimes sacrifice blood, though rarely.
Sometimes it’s bigger austerities. Juice fasting for a day. Giving up red meat. Giving up booze. Giving up gossip. Giving up television. Just make sure like any vow that you set a time on it that you can handle or not only will you not receive the favor of your goddesses and spirits but their wrath, too. It’s okay to set boundaries, too. Like, “I’m giving up red meat except when it’s a hospitality issue.”
If you feel resistant to austerity, contemplate why. And then try one big one and one small one and see where it gets you. If you don’t gain any insight, wisdom or boons you don’t have to do it again. Hell, you don’t have to do it at all. You’re the captain of your own ship. But is what you’re doing working? Because if you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten. Sorry.
What will you find in the hollow of your hunger? Who will you become?
* Before I get nine million emails about how stalking is a serious matter, I’ve been stalked before so I, like, know and stuff? I can’t please everyone all the time without becoming completely watered down. In the words of Maureen from Rent, “Ever since puberty/ Everybody stares at me/ Boys, girls/ I can’t help it baby/ So be kind/ And don’t lose your mind/ Just remember/ That I’m your baby/ Take me for what I am/ Who I was meant to be/ And if you give a damn/ Take me baby or leave me”