“Preppy” and “Pagan” cannot occupy the same sentence.
That’s probably what my mother would say . . . if she were still alive.
In fact, this book was begun while she was still alive, and when I was pregnant with my first and only child, a daughter who is now a teenager.
In 1998, Mom was still reeling from the death of her husband the year before, which I believe was a major contributing factor to her recurring hospitalizations with cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure. (Her cigarette addiction didn’t help.)
After this, what she called her “annus horribilis,” she was over-the-moon ecstatic to learn that at the “ripe old age” of 39, I had finally gotten pregnant. She had cried with me through my previous miscarriage in 1992, and now, finally, she was going to get a grandchild at last!
In December of that year, four months into the pregnancy (a month longer than the previous one had lasted), an amniocentesis procedure proved that my baby-to-be had no genetic defects — and would be a girl.
“Hah-Lay-LOO-Yah!” my mother crowed. A girl would be SO much easier to raise than a boy!
Although my pregnancy was considered high-risk because of my age, everything was going surprisingly smoothly. I had no morning sickness, and was able to keep working at my HR job until the week before my due date.
There was just one problem . . . my pregnancy plunged me right back into the same argument I’d been having with my mother for the previous 20 years: To abandon my predilection for Bohemian company and Pagan spirituality, and return to the Preppy, Eastern-Establishment high society that was my birthright.
Perhaps sensing that her time was short, due to her health problems, Mom’s elitist rhetoric took on a new desperation and urgency. “I don’t want you anywhere NEAR those KOOKS!” she would demand, no longer even bothering to be polite about it.
To be fair, I suppose she meant well: she wanted to secure my baby’s financial future, by having me and my then-husband live in the “right” neighborhood, sending our child to the “right” private schools, and associating only with the “right” people. By “right,” she meant WASPS, the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Eastern Establishment world of bankers, lawyers, doctors, captains of industry, “old-money” families, the nearest thing America has to an aristocracy. By no small coincidence, they were also “Right” (with a Capital R) in the political sense: Conservative Country Club Republicans. This is the Blue Blood world I was raised to belong in, as she never tired of reminding me.
The pressure was uncomfortable to say the least. As a woman long-grown, I shouldn’t still have been a slave to my mother’s approval.
To make matters even more confusing, she gave me a book to read: At the Back of the North Wind (1871) by Victorian author George MacDonald (1824-1905), widely regarded as the grandfather of modern fantasy literature. She had read it as a child, and it apparently was as profound an influence on her, as The Secret Garden had been upon me, in 6th Grade. “This isn’t Dr. Seuss,” she said. “This is real magick.”
She wasn’t kidding. The character of “The North Wind” turned out to be a Goddess figure. I immediately recognized which one: She was Cailleach, from Celtic mythology. Though George MacDonald was a Christian minister, he didn’t even bother trying to disguise her. He let her come through, in all her primal power.
In response, I wrote “A Fay in Philistia,” as the first chapter of a memoir with the working title of Being Fay. Philistia was a reference to the Biblical town, and “philistine” has long been a word used to describe people who are hostile to the cultural refinements of art, beauty, and intellectual discourse. “Fay” is a word I used as a synonym for “Nature Mystic,” someone with a keen sensitivity to the presence of spiritual entities in the natural world.
“A Fay in Philistia” retold my struggles as a delicate, magickal child, trying to survive in a cruel school. Mom loved my evocative phrase — and it gave her an idea. We had already agreed upon “Lily” as the name for my baby, but now she suggested the addition of “Fay.”
“Not only will it honor your ancestor, Lily Fay Cameron Tufts,” she wrote, “but it will be expressive of all the magical qualities we both hope she will have.”
Could she BE any more contradictory! Encouraging and sympathizing with my Mystical sensitivity, and the “Second Sight” which both of us had — yet, in the next breath, forbidding me to associate with others who also had it?
I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways! I had learned long ago that we Nature Mystics have to stick together, because nobody else understands us! Not the Logical Skeptics, not the Materialistic Establishment, and certainly not the Hyper-Religious!
Unlike most other detractors, my mother didn’t object to the Pagans on religious or theological grounds — what bothered her, was that they were the wrong Class. Bur I didn’t find my “tribe” until I was in Grad School, and I wasn’t about to give it up now, not even with a baby on the way.
So, for the rest of my pregnancy, I wrote more chapters of Being Fay, with the intention of showing how Nature Mysticism was a constant thread throughout my life, even before I met other “Green Hearts.” I was going to end it with an impassioned plea that I be allowed to keep my “dual citizenship” as both a Pagan and a Preppy — not be forced to choose between them.
For the first half of 1999, I managed to get the narrative as far as 1995, the point when I was starting a new job in the HR field — which also coincided with my promotion to High Priestess of a Wiccan Circle. Out of eleven planned chapters, I completed nine of them.
Then, of course, Lily Fay was born, and for the rest of 1999, I was a joyful new mother, wrapped up in my new baby and new house (which was, yes, in the “right” neighborhood of Roland Park, Baltimore).
And then my mother died. She never got to read the rest of my memoir — which meant, I didn’t have a chance to reach a final agreement with her on the issue of my “dual citizenship.”
And so the project was shelved. There was no urgent need for it anymore . . .
Fifteen years later, having lived as a single mother for the most recent seven of those years, virtually “unemployed” for six of them, trying to create my own economy as an entrepreneur, while still trying to provide as stable an environment as possible for my now-teen daughter — I ran smack up against the other Great Paradox of my life: namely, having to be both mother and father, for all intents and purposes. How to be strong and in control of my world, even though I am really soft and feminine at heart.
I realized I had gone too far in the “masculine” direction, the day she said, “I feel I don’t even know you,” even though, in reality, she knew me much better than she knew her father.
She believed this, because I barely talked to her . . . not because I didn’t want to, not because I didn’t care . . . but because life circumstances had forced me to become just like the fathers of a bygone era, “strong and silent” types, whose minds roiled constantly with thoughts of how they were going to keep their families financially solvent, yet becoming very practiced at not letting anyone see how worried they were.
Back when I had been Lily’s age, my mother and I had great conversations about literature, art, opera, ballet, history, gardening, everything under the Sun! Our arguments about Class didn’t become serious until my 20s. I still treasured those earlier times with my mother, because they were so rare. Not many young women get that kind of bonding experience with their mothers, and I wanted to give Lily that experience too.
“Look on the bright side,” I said to myself: “She wants to know me!” Gods, I have so much accumulated history, enough for several lifetimes.
But how best to unlock it, in a way that would make sense to her? When she went to see her father for visitation, she hated his pontificating so much, that I had avoided doing the same, lest she “block” me.
And then I remembered. Despite having moved twice in the interim, I still had all my notes from 1999, the original draft of Being Fay.
Dusting it off, with 15 years of motherhood under my belt, and so many bridges burned behind me, how would my life story sound now? In any life, things that seem like a big deal at the time, fade to a distant echo, while seemingly insignificant comments and incidents, turn out to be major themes. For example, my daughter knew next to nothing about my first husband, because the tribulations of my second marriage were so extreme, they drove out almost all memory of the first one! I would need those 1999 notes, to recall episodes like this.
Earlier that same week, the Pagan world was shocked by the death of Margot Adler, respected NPR Radio journalist and author of the groundbreaking Drawing Down the Moon, whom I’d had the pleasure to meet, way back in 1986, when I saw her at work as High Priestess at the wedding of two other Pagan leaders, Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter. Adler’s passing was the latest in a series of Pagan Elder deaths, people who had been in the vanguard of the movement in the 1960s and 70s, back when it was still very much closeted and misunderstood, when there was no Internet to help like-minded folks find each other.
With these losses, there is a risk now that we could “forget where we came from,” and lose the wisdom our Elders gained in their struggle for acceptance. While I am not one of those original pioneers, I am of the generation that immediately followed, who benefitted from their work. 2014 is the 30th anniversary of my introduction to the community, by way of going to my first Gathering in 1984, back when Gatherings were just starting to happen. That’s another reason why I’ve decided it’s time to tell my story.
So many people have written about how they they came to be Pagans after being raised in excessively strict religious families, it has become a cliché by now. But hardly anyone, to my knowledge, has written about the Nature Mystic experience from the perspective of Class Conflict.
Being Fay is now resurrected, revised, and brought up to date under the new title of . . .
Blue Blood, Green Heart: The Paradoxical Life of a Preppy Pagan