My husband tells me this offhandedly, on his way out of the kitchen with the two boys, the screen door shutting firmly behind him. I open the cabinet, what looks for all the world like an altar to health and convenience and choices. Cough syrups and lozenges, prescription medication to manage my chronic asthma, tonics and tinctures in strange brown glass bottles sitting side by side the Tylenol and Motrin. This is, after all, the medicine cabinet of someone experienced with specialized medicines for serious chronic illness – but it is also the cabinet of a witch. I would expect some dark glass bottles and dried bundled of herbs and homemade balms and I am not disappointed.
I stare at the shelves running through the lists of things a family of four, with two active young children, might need to see them through the Winter. I know I can go to the store to pick up whatever I don’t have, but I don’t take that knowledge for granted the way that I did before Covid, before March of this year, before going to the grocery store became a fraught affair.
How to know, I wonder? How does one know what is needed? The irony of a professional diviner asking how one knows what is needed, how one knows anything really, is not lost on me. I have an answer. I wrote it down in my first book. Pay attention. That is what I have to do, what we have to do, ever and always, pay attention. I look again and wonder aloud: what is the medicine we need?
Candles flicker on the Ancestor altar and the air is full of the golden spice scent of marigolds. Soon I’ll add the sugar skulls. Soon we will write the names of the Beloved Dead on each one. There is one medicine we need, a medicine easily forgotten: the act of remembering. Remembering our Beloved Dead, our lineage of blood and choice, and all of the tangles and gorgeous colors it contains, the stories of our Ancestors.
My gaze drifts over to the charm bag that contains the first locks of hair from one of my baby’s head. We need the medicine of memory and also the medicine of possibility, of dreams, of aspirations. Those are carried in the words I write, the seeds we plant, the sparkle of a gorgeous boy’s eye when he wins the game, and the salty tears of defeat when the day was hard.
I tiptoe out into the garden under the waxing moon, sit on the wooden swing with my cup of steaming coffee and watch as the little opossum we rescued earlier this year noses about in the plants and then scurries up his favorite tree. When he was brought into the kitchen, furry body hanging out of our proud dog’s mouth, I thought for sure he was dead. Then I remembered that opossums are quite good at playing dead. Later that day I watched him move, thinking, mmm, surely his back is broken, this looks bad. A day of recuperation at our local Wildlife center, prayers to St. Francis, and now he is rummaging about the garden as if nothing happened. Resiliency then, that too is a medicine that we need to carry with us through the Winter.
This year marked my 40th birthday. I rang it in by standing in line for 4 hours so that both myself and my beloved could vote. A group of women stood behind me. They all wore black shirts with silk screened lace collars. The shirts said: “We are Ruthless” in a nod of respect to Justice Ginsburg’s recent death. They brought doughnuts to the party, knowing it would be a while before we could cast our vote. Commitment to the possibility of something better. There is medicine we need always, and with plenty of back stock.
The Full Moon is on Halloween. Every elementary school aged child’s heart swells as this undeniable, unbelievable, too perfect to be true, fact. It is proof among the dead grass, sticky caramel-kissed fingers, and October pumpkin-filled air, that magic exists. In this year of all years, that too needs to be carried forward. The magic of an October Full Moon hanging low in the sky as the goblins and ghosts come out for tricks and treats while witches wait for the new year to be ushered in.
Now I’m paying attention. Now I see what we need and I know what to do. In addition to the tried and true medicines of the body, I’ll gather up some further things: Remembering, Stories, Dreaming, Hoping, Resilience, Recovery, Commitment, Betterment, Magic. Pour them into brown glass bottles, braid them together while the leaves are still supple, make a balm with them for chapped hands and lips and souls. I’ll tuck them into the cabinets in between the pain relievers and the thermometers. Now we have the medicines we need.