Mine has just passed on January 15, but as I began to weave my thoughts on what the day might look like, I quickly realized that I have no birthday traditions. Birthdays have always been the lowest day of the year for me–for one reason or another, I have cried every year on January 15, from a friend’s death by anorexia to the shock of life not wanted (I was months late and had to be forced from my warm womb-cave). During my teenage years, my eating disorders and suicidality culminated on my birthday, and many failed suicide attempts on this day make it even more bitter. Many magicians and polytheists consider their birthday a festival day, but I am lucky just to survive it. This birthday was very trying, between being confronted by my childhood sexual abuse to finally facing a present verbally abusive situation, but I have the strength to endure, to say what must be said and do what must be done, even if I must suffer in the immediacy so that I can lead a healthier life, something I am very thankful for. My birthday is my yearly rebirth and renewal, and my ability to overcome and gain strength from the trials of this January 15 are a very good omen for the year ahead.
Many Tarot readers perform beautiful spreads for the months ahead on their birth anniversary. Perhaps my favorite which has very specific assignments (I usually prefer to read without assignments) is the Romani spread, an enormous and highly versatile reading that is so expansive that it is read in both columns and rows. In my preferred version, the cards are drawn in three rows of seven signifying the past, present, and future. It is then read as a narrative, in addition to the seven columns being read, from left to right, as indicative of the Self and that which is of most importance to the querent at this time; one’s environment and relationships; one’s hopes, dreams, and fears; that which is already known–even if the knowing is being suppressed by the querent–things that are in progress (and their success or delay), failures one bears, and the true concern; the Wyrd and cosmic implications; the near future; and the distant future, which may include twists of fate not yet known.
New Orleans has its own birthday traditions. Birthdays last for a week in the Crescent City, and during that time one pins a dollar bill to their shirt to let everyone in the city know that they’ve just become another year older. Strangers, upon seeing the dollar bill, wish you a happy birthday and give you another dollar in exchange for a hug and a kiss on the cheek, so that by the end of the day or your night-time partying, you might end up having earned hundreds just for having survived another year in this wild place. (Our roommate’s husband was shocked to learn only a few days ago that this isn’t a tradition anywhere else, but of course it isn’t: what’s true in New Orleans is true nowhere else.)
I have never understood the tradition of birthdays. As a child I found it morbid that we would joyously celebrate being a year closer to the grave, and absolutely hated birthday parties (but politely tolerated them anyway). As a woman, I’ve spent my birthdays in isolation, succumbing to or staving off depression. This year I was tested and prevailed without resorting to that sort of misery–and only for that reason does it seem fitting to honor it, and to thank those among the gods, dead, and spirits who aided me in finding that strength within, like Crow, who always makes his presence dramatically known at the right moments, and on my birthday this year came to my home and looked me straight in the eye until I’d acknowledged and thanked him. I am being brought back into the fold, I thought to myself. And so tonight I honor life: I will go gallivanting through the city, I will indulge and make mischief in streets and graveyards and in candlelight, I will make new friends, I will make love wildly, my cheeks will grow red and warm with drink, but I won’t forget to spill some sherry and leave a piece of chocolate for those whom I have to thank for reaching this point in time and space. Last night, with the blessing of Henbane and the guidance of horny Papa Legba, gentle Psychopomp-Saint Petronella elevated me to sainthood, but others were outraged–not because I am a pagan, but because of my self-indulgent lasciviousness. I will give them something to be outraged about.