On Sunday, December 23rd, one of the strongest, most intense, women I have ever known passed from this world to the next after a hard fight against cancer. In the past four years she had fought and beat cancer four times, but this fifth round proved insurmountable. My life will forever be poorer without her in it, and I miss her very much already.
I met Christine, affectionately nicknamed "Herb Lady", about 7 years ago through my friend's store. There is no one else quite like her, with her ascerbic opinions and take-no-prisoners attitude. At first I couldn't tell if she liked me or hated me but over time I learned that being blunt was her approach to everything; if she liked something she said as much and if she didn't like it then she made that clear. You never questioned where you stood with Christine or wondered if she was being honest with you. Over time it became an endearing quality and I learned to appreciate her unique approach to life.
Christine, who was an excellent herbalist, taught me to identify plants, especially herbs, that grew wild in Connecticut. Because of her I know Woody Nightshade when I see it, and can identify Mullein and Mugwort. She also taught me ways to use the things I found, especially for healing and magic. At random intervals she would appear with her arms full of Wormwood, Mugwort or Sage from her garden and talk to me about how to dry and use them. Every year she would bring me homemade smudge sticks, sometimes plain Sage, other times Sage mixed with Rosemary or Lavender, insisting that the plants from her garden were better and stronger than any sold commercially. Several times she brought me cuttings to try to root out - Black Nightshade, Wormwood, Mugwort - and would hover over me as I tried to properly wrap the cut stems in wet paper towel. Sometimes I could get them to grow for me, and sometimes I couldn't, but she never stopped helping me try.
Christine was a witch and Hecate-woman. Her recitation of the Witches Rune would raise the hair on the back of your neck and she knew her spellwork like few other people I've ever met. Although I did not always agree with her I had an immense respect for her and learned a great deal about the practical, hands-on, magic she practiced. She could make incense, powder, and spell candles like no one else, and she taught me how to use these things in new ways. Because of Christine I began to think out what I was doing more and make my own ingredients and components, instead of flying by the seat of my extemporaneous pants all the time. In 2006 Christine, who followed a blend of modern Wicca and her own family style witchcraft, asked me if I wanted to be initiated as a priestess of Hecate; this was an enormous compliment from her, as she might occasionally offer to initiate someone she had taught into witchcraft but rarely acknowledged that a person was already a witch; deeply honored I said yes. Although I have no other connection to that pantheon and my own focus is firmly elsewhere, I have never regretted that decision and it led me, eventually, to co-creating a Witchcraft Tradition at Hecate's direction. The ceremony itself was deeply moving and, like Christine herself, not quite like anything else I'd ever experienced.
Christine made jewelry and spell candles, among other things that were sold at the store. She also often made special things just for me, bracelets and necklaces of stone beads, a ring, and a spell candle dedicated to Macha which she later gave me the recipe for. These tangible reminders of her will be cherished now, as I cherish the memory of every conversation and every kind thing she ever did for me.
No one else I've ever met had the same inherent concern for helpless or outcast things. When she found a cat, dying from an infected wound, she took him to the vet, even though he was half wild and she had no money to spare on a stray. When she was out of work she began caring for two elderly sisters who needed someone to check on them and handle able bodied tasks around their home. When her ex husband became sick and needed somewhere to stay she took him in, caring for him in his own final days. And she took my friend and I under her wing with a tough love mothering that was impossible to resist.
In many ways Christine was more like family than a friend. When I had a cold she would pull out a mix she called "nose oil", splash some on a tissue, and make me hold it under my nose - and it never failed to clear my sinuses out and let me breathe no matter how stuffed up my nose was. When I sprained my wrist in an accident she appeared with a quart-sized freezer bag full of powdered Comfrey and not only explained how to make a compress out of it, but insisted I do so immediately and wasn't satisfied until I had my wrist slathered and wrapped to her specifications. Every Sunday that I was at the store she would bring me the newspaper and, usually, something to eat, and we would chat about life and magic. Every year she sent my children cards on Halloween and made them gifts for Yule. For many years now we traded witchy-themed novels back and forth, discussing the plots the way some people talk about popular TV shows. Sometimes we chatted about sewing and where to get the best prices on material; Christine was a talented seamstress who sowed some of her own clothes and made everything from dolls to small bags to use for charms. She talked about her past, her husband, her children, as I shared stories about mine. The night her ex-husband died after his own fight against cancer she called me and told me that she felt that Hecate had come and helped him cross, at the end.
I and another close friend went and visited her a few days before she passed. She was in pain and on a constant morphine pump, but she was happy to see us. She held my hand and wouldn't let go and tried several times to say something, but we couldn't understand what she was trying to say. We sat with her, watching Dark Shadows on a laptop because it was one of her favorite shows. Several times she dozed off, but we stayed until she woke again. She asked a couple times if I was there, and I reassured her I was, all the time holding her hand. Despite it all when she did speak she retained her unique sense of humor and was obviously still herself; I was glad for that. When we finally left I knew it wouldn't be much longer, but the news of her passing was still a shock in a very visceral way. I can't imagine life without her there offering advice, lending me witchy novels, and showing me the herbs that grow all around us.
She was a teacher, a mentor, and above all a friend, and I am a better person for having known her.
May Hecate hold her; may the Goddess's torches light her way.