I was participating in an anointing ceremony run by the owner of an apothecary in the western Carolina mountains. We were standing amid dusty bookshelves in the backroom library of a shop that specialized in witchcraft. Taxidermy crows gazed upon us from their perches above stacked references to exorcism, druid history and homeopathic yoni care.
We stood in a small circle, this one-time coven. Myself, dressed in the all-black hobo chic that is my go-to for travel; Heather, a tall, prim woman who left quickly thereafter to relieve the sitter; Katie, the cherubic apothecarist who convened the event; and Magic Beans.
Magic Beans was pixie sized with ginger hair and a backpack that smelled like salami from a trip to Whole Foods prior to this workshop, which was intended to be a study in aromatherapy through the lens of female archetypes.
We’d taken a scent journey through the archetypes, scribbling our association with each locally handcrafted fragrance on card stock embossed with gold. We’d learned the seasonal association of each archetype, and discovered that November was ruled by the “Wisdom Keeper”, the crone who exists embedded deeply in nature, in the soil that gives life because it is fertile with centuries of dead things, transcending mortality on her own sequoia-scale time. Her scent was woodsy and deep with hints of flower magic, and we stood holding hands as Katie anointed us with her oily essence.
We’d quickly been given a call-and-response chant to repeat as we were anointed, but I’d only half listened and hadnt absorbed the details, so when she came to me I blurted my affirmation way ahead of time. Though in a compassionate circle of wisdom keepers, I still flushed and stammered, joked and apologized in the face of humiliation.
I left that witch shop and North Carolina weeks ago, but those 5 seconds of hot awkwardness ripple the pristine surface of an otherwise flawless excursion. This could be the Wisdom Keeper reminding me: no matter where you were when you embarrassed yourself, no matter how gentle the faces of understanding were, the memory of cringe hangs with you like the smell of sweaty processed meat in a backpack.