The woman beside her passes my mother the conch shell full of blessed water, flavored with a pinch of black salt to represent earth (or the "body of my Mother" in the parlance of the ritual). My mother holds it as though it were a dead animal, looking askance at me.
"It doesn't burn," I say from the other end of the circle, provoking laughter from the rest of the attendees of this new moon ritual.
As though this might all be a trick, she tentatively dips her fingers into the shell as she had seen those before her do and touches it below her clavicle. It is obvious she is going through the motions; she feels nothing and I would not expect her to. She shoots me a look as if to say "Satisfied?"
Though my father has been active in the Episcopal Church all my life (to the extent that he runs a youth group), my mother is a lifelong atheist. The closest to spiritual guidance she ever offered me was that I shouldn't believe in God, but I was forbidden to believe in Satan. There were occasional mentions as to the limitations in communicating with the dearly departed shortly after their deaths, but I always understood that she could condone a soul without any other divine infrastructure.
All this does raise the question of why she is here tonight, dragging along with her my younger brother Bryan. Since parting with a long time friend, my mother has been a bit lonely and said she came to this circle to support a friend, Kari. Kari is of a witchy inclination if not outright Pagan, though I do not talk with her enough to figure out her particular path. If sitting in this circle counts as a social outlet, she is willing to begrudgingly consider it.
Next comes the incense, representing air and the spirit of my Mother, so one can smudge oneself. As glowing red bits have scorched holes in the tapestry on which we sit, I remind my mother that this blessing might actually burn her. This time, her glance means, "Smartass."
Later on in the ritual, she pays me back for my quips by implying to the group at large I had teenage orgies. According to one of the Annies, I enrubiate as I explain there was no sex or loss of clothing.
"No," my mother says, "they just cuddled, which is worse."
I have long seen my spirituality as personal, to the degree that I harbor a slight mistrust for anyone who practices similarly. It is as though they are admitting to have on the same underwear I do. It may be true, but I don't like to share these details with strangers. As such, it never occurred to me to want a family member in circle with me. I managed my Paganism quite well on my own. Though I may have regrettably pestered a few high school friends with the shininess of my beliefs, I have had a decade to have internalized the lesson that it is special to me because I do not foist it on who would not value it as I do.
Days later, my mother will blame her cold on the witches and says she will not be returning. I would expect no different.
Soon in Xenology: Amber. Hull.