Alchemy

June 9th, 2024

Alchemy – Temperance
By Bonnie Tarantino

When I was young, my parents were involved in what was called the Pentecostal movement or “The Jesus Movement” in the catholic church. The main message of this movement was Love and Peace and they challenged any aspect of the church that focused on sin and damnation or the need for absolution and conversion. This wave of ecstatic and feverish love of Jesus came when hippies were protesting and begging for love, not war. This was also a time when a psychedelic revolution opened the minds of people all over the country and allowed them to peek behind the veil of conservatism and create social movements of change and mental health awareness. My parents, however, were not hippies. They were more of what my dad called “sock hoppers.” They brought up the rear of the 50’s generation with my dad getting out of the Marines just before the Vietnam War could grab him and pull him into its hell. On April 4th, on the year of my birth, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Just two months later, President Kennedy was assassinated. I was born on June 22nd. My Mom says she remembers nothing scary about those times except wanting to be a good mother and wondering if my father was coming home or “getting a drink with the boys after work”…again.

My Dad, however, was always home on Wednesday nights. On Wednesday nights, my parents hosted a “core” prayer meeting. The folk mass in our catholic church (called the “holy rollers” by the traditional Catholics) was held in the basement with nuns who threw off their veils and wore Birkenstocks, along with long-haired priests who played the guitar and hand drums. The core meeting was a breakout group of parishioners who wanted more time evoking, praying, and enjoying the ecstatic gifts of the holy spirit. My parents offered to hold these core meetings in their home. To get ready, we would move the furniture and drag the dining room chairs out into in the living room to build a circle around our big soft rug, a rug my toes can still feel if you say the word “shag”. Genie-like table lamps were carefully lifted, end tables were moved, and the lamps reset to a slightly dimmer light. Strong coffee was brewed next to a coffee cake just for the “guests,” and smiling “Jesus loves you” mugs were put out. My mother fed, bathed and put us to bed right in time for the lights from the cars to fan across the bedroom ceiling I shared with my sister. Our favorite couple, Aung Ro and Uncle Nick, would arrive early to help set up. Aunt Rose and Uncle Nick had kids that were full-blown wild hippies and budding hard rockers who cultivated weed in their massive family vegetable garden right under their innocent parent’s bowed, devoted heads. Aunt Ro and Uncle Nick welcomed our innocence while also having much to pray about. They would sneak in despite my mother’s pleading not to wake us and told us with neck kisses that we were “delicious”, “precious,” and “gifts from God.” Uncle Nick would make us laugh with a light tickle and an occasional toss across one bed to the other. Aunt Ro would follow up on my mother’s behalf, calm us all down, and shoo Uncle Nick away. Then Aunt Ro would place her hand over our hearts and have us say our prayers. Aunt Ro taught me to listen for Jesus knocking on my heart door. She would say, “Let Jesus into your heart, and you will always be able to talk to him and ask him anything. He will keep you safe and show the way.” I found this incredible easy visually to do and still enjoy the feeling of the divine in the quiet chambers of my heart. Over the years, I have continued to listen deeply to my heart and have never felt alone when I pray. Aunt Ro is now 90 and wields the rosary like a ninja. To this day, she is called in when the shit hits the fan. Uncle Nick watches from above, now part of the swirling lights that pass over my bedroom ceiling on nights I can’t sleep.

After all the guests arrived, the house would quiet down to a hush as someone read from the bible. Next, prayer requests were read for the week. Sometimes, I would sneak out and crawl down the hallway of our ranch home to look at the group. There, people sat with their eyes closed, nodding as they listened. The center of our living room looked like an orb of attentive light, a small solar system of vibrant potential. As the light grew, some people’s hands would raise up as if filled with helium. I could feel the warmth emanating from their exalted hands and quietly tip-toed back to bed to avoid disturbing them. Right before falling asleep, the murmur would grow. The group would pick a person and “lay hands” over them and begin to pray and “thank Jesus,” “please Jesus,” “we ask you Jesus,” “thank you, Jesus,” and in this hum, someone would begin to speak in tongues. This sound was like heading right into the center of a beehive. The hum would build, and the house would light up. Imagine a swarm of fireflies mixed with the buzzing of cicadas; imagine a circle of swirling light building over the house. This is what it would feel like in my little 6-year-old body. The intensity would increase, and the light would amplify and build until I was in my own version of rapture, sometimes even feeling like I was floating, filled with the breath of the divine. I called this the center of my heart, the garden of God. There, I would fall deeply into what I defined at the time as the love of the holy spirit.

Somehow, this brought a balance to my little life. Left me feeling for days like I was in the center of a great wheel.

These prayer meetings went on in our house for many years, and many spontaneous healings occurred. Miracles. It was a foreshadowing of my life’s work ahead. This early activation trained me to look and watch for light, listen for the hum, and feel the hints of rapture. Because of this, I expected miracles and saw them. Because of this, I paid attention to how people generate energy, move energy, experience energy, control energy, evoke energy. Because of this, I always knew my center verse when I was off or disconnected. I didn’t know it then, but at six years old, I began training in Alchemy.

When I was ten parents moved from this small Jesus-loving town in upstate NY south to a larger metropolitan city outside NYC. White Plains did not have the Pentecostal movement. Instead, my Dad began making “good money,” and we headed right into a period of materialism as President Carter was ushered out and Reagan was ushered in. The mostly Irish Catholic church we joined had a great folk mass with wonderful musicians, but as far as lighting up the house, it fell short. It was then that the Iight began to show up in other places. One day, standing on top of a mountain while skiing, a found myself off-trail a little bit. The light poured through the trees, my body shimmering in profound light and warmth. I knew, somehow, I had arrived in the temple of my heart. I felt this same feeling while floating on my back in the ocean one hot summer day, while riding my bike on an empty road at sunset with my front basket filled with wildflowers, while picking tomatoes from my mother’s garden and listening to the cicadas as the sun melted into the sky.

Unlike the little town upstate, White Plains was a very culturally diverse small city with many different races and cultures and many people practicing different religions. In my old town, everyone went to the same church. Now, people went to different kinds of churches; some went to synagogues, and some even went to something called a mosque. When I reached my 13th year, I was invited to many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. My first Bar Mitsvah brought me for the first time into a synagogue. When the Torah was ceremoniously brought out, and the canter began to chant, the light began to build up around me, and the energy began to hum. Over the head of my little Jewish friend, in his little man suit, the light was weaving strands of love around and through him, claiming him, building him. A cocoon of strange Hebrew letters pulsed and sparkled around the Bema, where the Ark of Law was unveiled. All eyes, all love was upon my friend who had now crossed the sacred threshold into being a man. Right in the middle of it all was what I knew to be the Holy Spirit—the center of the wheel. I sat for 14 more Bar and Bat Mitzvahs that year with a desire to unlock the sacredness I felt and a curiosity to understand why the “holy spirit” was hanging out in a synagogue. The one thought that helped was, “Well, Jesus was Jewish”.

Another time I went to an evangelical church with my friend Conrad. Together, we sang and stomped our feet till we felt so much joy we fell over laughing in it. He said, “Girl, you got slayed good in the holy spirit. Thank you Jesus!” And I agreed. I got slayed good in something and felt like I could fly home. Conrad loved to wear bowties and could talk about girls and clothes and hair like no girl I knew. He had a big heart and big love, a wickedly tight perception of people, along with a laugh that could take down anything dense and hard. In time, I would learn that as hard as he tried, he could not take down the homophobic culture of his church. In time, he learned to carve out his own temple with a God who understood his greater capacity to love.

Another friend invited me to Florida for spring break during my senior year of high school. Mistakenly I thought we would roam the beaches in bikini’s and find a few cute boys to party with. Instead, her evangelical sister kept a tight hold on us with the promise of a big concert she had tickets for. It wasn’t until we got into the parking lot of an arena that I realized she was taking us to a an Advent of God megachurch event. Willing to open to love and light, we made our way to our sky-high seats. An artist named Phil Driscoll opened and performed “Amazing Grace” on his trumpet to thousands of born-agains. The pitch and tone of the sounds broke my heart open into a million diamonds of light, and I sobbed and sobbed over this great love that poured through me. While enjoying these fireworks of light, a part of me felt a great sadness that people who were capable of generating such great love could also often choose to preach words of judgment, fear and hate in the same vein. A part of me wanted to go up and grab the mic and set the lot of them free, cut the cords that tethered them to their incongruent dogma. The other part of me saw their journey as perfect and as it should be as they worked out their personal demons of damnation and sin.

Another high school friend named Babak invited me to his home for Ramadan. Babak and his family had to flee Iran after they realized that at age 13, Baba had been recruited into a terrorist training gang. After they found a gun in his backpack, they packed a few things up and left in the middle of the night and made their perilous way to the States. Three years later, they safely celebrated the breaking of their sacred fast around a table filled with Babak’s American friends. In the spirit of Ramadan, we, too, fasted that day. Babak’s father read in Arabic from the Koran and prayed and offered blessings. Again, the light began to increase in the room, the energy built, and I found myself in the temple of my heart. I closed my eyes and let my deep hunger and thirst smell the exotic bouquets of nutmeg, cardamon, sumac, butter, and rice. I opened my eyes and looked at Baba’s mother, who now had the choice to cover her head if she pleased without fear of persecution. Gazing up, I found her eyes upon me and noticed how she had one hand on the back of her daughter’s head and one on her heart. There, the light streamed from her heart into her daughter’s body. Her eyes filled with tears as she looked at Babak. She then looked straight into my own heart. For a telepathic moment, I felt the heart of a mother whose children were sparred. Truly sparred. It wasn’t until years later that I understood what it meant for her as a woman and for her 10-year-old daughter. I wondered what it was like for her to see me there, with only a life of opportunity ahead and nothing to fear. Years later, on Facebook, I learned that Babak’s father and brother were both captured and imprisoned. Babak, now a lawyer, spent eight years tirelessly working to free his father and brother. I like to imagine his mother whispering ancient words of prayer, her hands filling with light, her heart reaching across thousands of miles through cell walls to protect and bless him as she did me. Her love pulling her family into the center of her great love.

I continued to forage for light and listen for the hum of the sacred here and there, but mostly in high school, I put my head down, played sports, immersed myself in school activities, and did my best to get into college. At some point in high school, while rolling around half-naked in a tent in the woods with a boyfriend, I accidentally found a different way to access light. Sexuality is a powerful alchemy that requires a respectful partner and a lifelong willingness to train. Sexual alchemy is and of itself another story.

When I arrived at GW as a Freshman, I was curious about this course called yoga and added it to my electives. After my first class, the instructor guided us into savasana, a deeply restorative pose. Suddenly, I found myself in the rafters, gazing down at the class. In this altered state, I suddenly remembered that I knew this language, new this way. I saw in my mind’s eye a ninja flipping, a yogi floating, a medicine woman shape-shifting. Diving back down into my body, I had accessed something old and new simultaneously. I asked the teacher if she would train me, and with a sparkle in her eye, she said she would. For years after that, week after week, I would take the metro up to her home to train privately with a small group of people. There, I began my journey into understanding the chakras, the power of the breath, and the deep inner space of meditation and the asanas. I learned that chakra meant wheel of light.

At the same time this was all going on, there was great turmoil in my personal life. I was in a deep and alluring codependent relationship with a young, unstable man. One day, he yanked the twisted cords of our love, crushed and betrayed me. That was the day that, all at once, the lights shut off. After that day, no matter what I did or how hard I tried, I could not hear the hum, feel the love, or see the light. I decided that I could not live this way and began to plan my death. I knew I could not live on this earth without having a plug into the sacred chambers of my heart. I had for a while mistaken the plug to the universe for seduction and poured my energy and resources into trying to endlessly please and fix my broken boyfriend. He left me instead with my heart shattered and confused and a perception that the people around me were unreliable and either mentally off balance or struggling with addiction. I went home battered and suicidal for Christmas break and went through the motions of helping my mom set up for a Christmas party. The party began and I could hardly taste the food or enjoy the lighting of our massive Christmas tree. My Dad came over to me with his new friend and introduced us. She said, “Your dad told me you are having a hard time.” I nodded, trying to hold it together. She said, “I am a reiki master, I can see your light is very dim. May I help you?”
I said, “I just can’t see or feel the light anymore.”
She said, “I know.. you are in your dark night of the soul. Instead of looking for the light, you are in a deep initiation. You, my darling, are ready to discover that you are the light. May I touch your back?”
I nodded
There at the bottom of the stairs that let up to my bedrooms, right in the middle of a chaotic Christmas party, this woman, whom I never met before, put her hand on my back. Slowly the light rose in the room all around me. Like a secret dimmer switch, her hot pulsing hand called me back into my center. My heart felt as if she was stitching it back into place. Then my breath fully returned to my body. Finally, I noticed that in the room before me, everyone I loved was laughing and singing along with a jolly priest who effortlessly played our family piano. His huge beautiful,bravado voice called out to me, urging the crowd to sing with his huge open heart and a playful silliness, “This little light of mine.. I am gonna let it shine.”
And at age 21, with the turn of an alchemistic switch, my journey as a Reiki master began.

So what is alchemy?
Alchemy is the study of light. It knows where to hum is. It is feeling for when your body taps into the holy and when it is shut down and off. Alchemy is learning that you are the source of light, that you are made of the divine, that you can manifest not only through thoughts alone but also through all your senses. Alchemy knows where your fire is, where your earth is, where your air is, and where your water is at all times, both outside of yourself. Alchemy is unplugging from the unreliable and ever-changing human web of light and consciously plugging into the greatest and most organized field of light and wisdom you can summon. Alchemy lets everyone off the hook. Alchemy is learning how to see multidimensional light and allow others to find their way through the dark until they find their own dimmer switch. Alchemy is how we love, how we learn, how we create, and how we deconstruct. Alchemy is temperance. Knowing just how much and just how little to let shine. Temperance is difficult to master when we have no training in forging for light, seeing the light, and ultimately being the light itself. The center of the wheel is a path we must all find for ourselves with many twists and turns and, ultimately, many hard challenges.

The secret name for this card is Daughter, which reconciles and brings forth life. This deeper meaning suggests the hidden mystery in tempering our desires and emotions while keeping one foot grounded in the world and the other in the great mystery.

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