Freedom, Drumbeats, and Birthday Magic
Birthdays. Some people love them, some people hate them, we all have them – mine was last weekend, on the 22 June. At the beginning of sensitive Cancer season, on the day after the summer solstice, I turned 39. It always fascinates me how people treat their birthdays, and there’s no right or wrong way to react to getting older. Personally, the last birthday of a decade means a lot to me, especially in relation to those things I am forever obsessed with: learning, transformation, and growth (my three meanings of life, really – we all have to find a meaning somewhere, I find it there). And this year, it has a lot to do with freedom and open paths, too.
People think of milestone birthdays as the round numbers, or the ones where you become legally old enough for something, but for me it’s the 9-ages. 9, 19, 29, and now 39. For one thing, 9 is a spiritual number to me, but admittedly I’m not sure why – I suppose I learned a long time ago it’s 3x3 and therefore magical, and it stuck. But the main reason is, when I’m approaching the end of a decade (rather than beginning a new one) it feels like the right time to look at where I’ve been and where I’m going. At 9 years old it was less pronounced, I’m sure, but at 19 I was starting my adult life in a new country (it went pretty badly but I’m still here – many lessons were learned, of course); at 29 I was in the middle of my Saturn return and looking to the future, fixing where I’d gone wrong – aiming for the further education I wasn’t participating in at 19, knowing I needed to improve my writing and get my work out there, admitting I was not healed from trauma (after at last getting clear that I was suffering from it in the first place – trauma is weird like that), and recognising my flaws and all the places I needed to do a lot of work. 29 was hard. (It was far harder than turning 30, which was one of my best birthdays and a pleasant turning point.)
39 is less of an anxiety mess than 29 was, but as usual this 9-birthday is examination time. I posted the photo below to Facebook a month or so ago, with a vague caption about how this image is the most ‘me’ I have ever been. This ties in nicely with the birthday. It isn’t about the clothes I’m wearing or anything – it’s the body language, it’s knowing how I feel in the photo, and to some extent, it’s about my tabor (a medieval-style drum). We know the cliché about “marching to the beat of your own drum” and for me that’s true right now. Only not marching… more like dancing.
It’s useful to acknowledge how hard it is to be yourself when you’ve had other people telling you not to be for a very long time. So many people experience this, far too many in fact, and that’s really why I’m saying all of this in the first place. If we lived in a world where everyone was kind and encouraging to one another, we wouldn’t need life coaches, we wouldn’t have to be nudged into our authentic selves. I’m not an expert in those things, but I am someone who has experienced abuse and control, and I know first-hand it’s hard to live freely once you get out from under that kind of treatment. I also know it’s worth trying and pushing through.
My tabor symbolises that hard-won freedom to me, because this photo made me finally realise I have any freedom at all. There are a lot of things I love in this world; this is just one small slice of it. Sadly for most of my life well into my twenties, the books, clothing, music, and so on I was ‘allowed’ to consume were tightly controlled in one way or another – there were times if I wanted things that made me happy, and decided to get them, those things quite literally went into the bin (along with my self-esteem). And for roughly 27 years, something like playing a drum just for fun would’ve been met with criticism, control, insults, and ultimately would not happen. I never felt I could say “you know what would make me really happy? A tabor. I want to play medieval percussion and dance barefoot in the dirt like every day is a festival.” – even though it was very much something I wanted to do. But at last, this spring… I did just that.
And I’m learning Norwegian for no other reason than I like it, and because learning languages relaxes my stressed-out autistic brain. And I’m taking random courses in history and heritage subjects, because I want to do a full MA in one or the other in my forties, and let it lead me somewhere I’ve not yet been. And sometimes I still find it confusing and astonishing that I have remembered how to do things I want to do without asking permission.
The world is a chaotic place full of problems, yes, but it isn’t because one person is living in a more joyful way than they ever have, breaking away from people who either imply they shouldn’t do things, or openly control them. The earth won’t stop turning for others if you’re happy. If it does, the problem is theirs, because seeing other people happy is brilliant and beautiful.
Go get a drum of your own. Bake cookies. Start worshipping dark goddesses, casting spells, howling at the moon. Learn salsa dancing. Woodworking. Get more tattoos. Wear clothes from the 1970s every day. I don’t know – something. Maybe you don’t do your something because you were bullied out of it, or maybe the world just makes you feel like you shouldn’t (it does that sometimes). But unless your something is actively harmful (which is rare), there is no reason you shouldn’t be doing it. You can trust me because, according to my teenage sons, I’m getting old. Maybe, but at least I’m dancing my way to 39 and beyond – barefoot, to the rhythm of a medieval drum.
(And before I forget, to anyone else with a birthday during the upcoming Cancer season: have a happy one. Try not to drown in your watery moon-being tears and all that.)
Born in Southern Ohio, but settled in the UK since 1999, Kate is a writer, witch, editor and mother of five. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, and the founding editor of four web journals and a micropress.
Her witchcraft is a blend of her great-grandmother's Appalachian ways and the Anglo-Celtic craft of the country she now calls home – though she incorporates tarot, astrology, and her ancestors, plus music, film, books, and many other things into her practice. Her spiritual life is best described as queer Christopagan with emphasis on the feminine and the natural world. She believes magic is everywhere.
Find Kate on twitter and IG - @mskateybelle - and at her website.