Seasonal Salon

From One Priestess to Another

Every year CNN celebrates heroes.  Combing the continents they travel the world looking to find people who have given selflessly of themselves, on some occasions, to the detriment of their own safety.  Their heroes are extraordinary folks, everyday people doing extraordinary things to change the world” as CNN describes it.  And what these heroes do is a wonderful thing to see.  It gives hope and inspiration to us all.  It sets us apart. 

As a community, the women of the Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess, International are an exceptional community. I so value the things I have seen and learned from the priestesses of the Congregation and community as well.  I realize the privilege of knowing and being part of such a diverse group of women, each so accomplished in many ways. This is a recounting of one of them.

In August Hurricane Harvey roared through the southern US coastline causing great devastation.  The Congregation has a community of priestesses and congregants who live in the cities and suburbs of Austin and San Antonio.  We were relieved when we received word that they were safe and their families as well. 

And, then the unbelievable: later that same month, we became aware of Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm that was to cut a swath through the Caribbean, ripping her way through Florida and the Keys, and a number of islands including Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks, Caicos and Puerto Rico. This massive storm would destroy everything in its path; it’s 30-foot waves causing catastrophic damage, flooding and devastation on numerous islands.  Puerto Rico in particular was in a state of emergency with several thousand people in shelters and thousands more without access to clean water.  More than a million were left without power, while hospitals were running on generators.

We were fearful for the safety of one of our Priestesses.  Nereida lives in Puerto Rico.  She is wonderful, brilliant, loving, positive and selfless.  All who have met or know her would agree, she is an exceptional woman and a true Priestess.  However, we heard nothing from Puerto Rico as all power and communication across the island had been knocked out.  The reports and videos coming to us through news channels were not reassuring.  We continued to keep Nereida in our thoughts, surrounding her from harm.  And so, deeply concerned and rightfully fearful for her safety, we waited. 

It was not until days later, on September 7 when one of our priestesses saw Nereida had somehow managed to post on Facebook.  “The storm has passed,” Kip relayed, “and she is safe. No lights or water, but ok.”  The collective sigh of relief heard across the ether was palpable.

Then, 11 days later on September 18 this alert came from our Priestess Skip “Puerto Rico is preparing for another hurricane, so please keep Nereida in your prayers. I talked to her yesterday and she was in good spirits, although she still doesn't have power but the water is on now. She was planning to secure her house and go to stay with her friends. Projections show the storm arriving in the southeastern part of the island and going diagonally to the northwestern part before moving on. That should keep the worst part away from her.”  Again we held our collective breath.

Still trying to recover from Irma, many in Puerto Rico continued to be without power, supplies, water or food as now Hurricane Maria was approaching this wonderful island.  A state of emergency existed and evacuation orders were issued in advance of Maria.  Announcements were made that more shelters would open.  The island braced for another onslaught.

The devastation left behind by these storms was catastrophic.  Hundreds of thousands of people were without power, clean water or access to food with many more now living in shelters and what remained of their homes.  We feared for the safety of our priestess and friend as we began to hear of the devastation across the island.  Only recently did we learn the death toll reached well over a thousand owing to the storm’s wrath.  Most likely, that number is even higher.

We heard nothing for 2 days and then on September 20th, Skip surfaced again with news from Nereida.  “She is safe. Much of the island destroyed, but she is safe.”  Four days later on the 24th we received word Nereida had returned to find her home had survived, the power was out, but she was safe.  A number of us asked if we could help, how we could help?  Could Skip find out what she needed… was it money, clean water? Supplies?  We would be happy to send whatever she needed.  Skip said she would ask at their next check in and get back to us.

By September 26 we received yet more news from Skip.  “I talked to Nereida tonight; she found a functioning cell tower & we had about 9 minutes before the call dropped. She was in good spirits considering the situation & said that they really need the army to come in to handle the logistics of getting the power & water services functioning again. She asked that we call Congress or the White House to get some action. Her house is undamaged but she's still staying with her friend until she has power & water. She is concerned about one of her sisters who she hasn't been able to contact, so she's going to take food & $ to her tomorrow.

“Nereida is working with some friends in Florida to identify some groups helping women & poor communities; I'll pass along any information she sends me.”

The next communication was sent to us via email:  “Nereida is back at home, she has a generator so she has limited electricity to run her fridge and have a light in her bedroom at night. She has what she needs but would like to help some women and children who have no access to cash; many of them are on public assistance and food stamps but their independence cards are useless without electricity.” 

So, here it was. Nereida had decided something needed to be done, but not for her, rather for those in the most need around her.  Knowing there were women and children living in the remains of what had been left behind by Irma and Maria, she determined to find out how she could help by looking for people who were horribly impacted and marshaling forces, she determined to get potable water and food and whatever else they lacked to wherever they were.   

The only thing Nereida truly wanted was to make certain that people and families had the most basic and necessary requirements of shelter, clean water and food.  Amid such devastation this was the help she was asking for. Next Skip took this a step further and handled making Nereida’s initiative known to the Priestesses of RCG-I and going one step further, to the women attending the annual RCG-I Hallows Gathering in October, Skip then  took on the organizing and announcements were made and funds raised to send to Puerto Rico so Nereida could purchase bottled water, food and supplies and deliver them to families so in need not only of supplies but of the concern and compassion that came with them.

On November 24, Skip sent the following message to us:

“I received this message from Nereida expressing her gratitude for the efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico. Nereida also sent a lot of pictures of the journey she and her niece, Carole, took to deliver the food and supplies. I'm sending the pictures in separate emails; they are amazing.”

 And from Nereida, this:

 November 19, 2017

“I want to thank RCGI and all the priestesses and sisters who contributed with money or sent energy, good intentions and magic for Puerto Rico.  My work as a priestess in my community after the Hurricanes Irma and María has been offering post disaster crisis intervention and counseling.  This week however you have given me the opportunity to also bring material relief in the form of food, personal hygiene and cleaning goods to rural poor areas.  My gratitude for your help is deeply appreciated because I was the one who got to listen to their stories, received their gratitude, hugs and blessings.  So I became a bridge between you and my community and I received love from both ends.

“Funny Note: A group of women asked me “Are you from a church? Which one?”  I smiled and said - Oh no we are witches!  They all laughed and a woman said, then May God bless the witches, we need more of them.”

So, CNN you do have your heroes. And they are truly wonderful people, there’s no denying that.  And yet, I think of those of us in the Congregation and community who through the years have the privilege to know and spend time with remarkable women who are giving, compassionate and generous souls.  One such is a fine and notable woman whose name is Nereida Serrano of Puerto Rico. 

No offense to CNN, but Nereida Serrano, you are my hero.

 

Susan Grossman is a practiced ritualist in the Midwest Pagan Community immersed in the history and beliefs of the ancients with specific attention to folk and earth magicks and their practical use in every day life.  An ordained priestess of the Re-Formed Congregation of the Goddess, International and faculty member and co-Advisor of the Women’s Thealogical Institute, she leads workshops on ritual, magick and feminism, is the creator of a feminist board game and is currently working on two books. She lives in a suburb of Chicago with a cat that practices cord magick and a rock and roll parrot that loves rocking out to Aretha, Annie Lennox and the Stones.

 

 

Editor’s note:  At this writing, one-third of Puerto Rico still has no power and the Corps of Engineers reports that power probably will not be restored until May.

Furthermore, the tax bill passed by the US Congress on December 20, includes the following: Puerto Rico is now considered to be outside the United States, and, as a “foreign country,” a 12% tax will be in effect. The governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla says this legislation “kills off any possibility that Puerto Rico will ever recover from Hurricane Maria.”*

 

*Source: Rachel Maddow Show, 12/20/2017

Category: Winter Solstice 2017