The YOGURT Trial
I was attending Carol Downer's class on self examination, with my specula, to detect yeast infections. She told me you don’t need to get expensive drugs to cure it, just use yogurt in the vagina, and that will clear it up.
I thought about it a little and then watched how she prepared the dose of yogurt that she could spoon into my V.
I decided to be first. It was a story that I shared with millions of women, the overpopulation of one bacteria over another, in our lady parts. A common infection; you can get it from men who don’t wash up before sex.
“I'll do it !” I said, and got up on the table. Carol then very respectfully opened me up and inserted the yogurt into my V with a slim little spoon. It felt soothing. “Great feeling!” I reported to the group. The yeasties didn’t quite go away, and it was too bothersome to spoon yogurt in there several times a day by myself. At night, of course, it leaked out on the sheets. During the day, others remarked that I smelled like a salad. I talked to the women a little bit, and then left. I think this was on a Monday, my usual staffing time.
A couple of weeks later, I hear that Carol had been arrested. What for? She was reported for practicing medicine without a license. I didn’t think twice about this. She may have gotten busted for the abortions we did on Wednesday nights, in the back of the Women’s Center. Once a week, there was a doctor who pulled up with a medical van. The women waiting had been already counseled, and medicated with painkillers. The explanation of the procedure also took up time; finally the client could go in. The doctor took vitals, asked questions, and assured the patient it would all be fast and good.
And that was it. But the ”fast” came to a crawl, when a woman broke out in a cold sweat. There was no way to get around it. Time slows down with that kind of pain. I had no idea. I held the hands of many of these women, and heard their stories.
This is the place where patriarchy can, and often does do the most harm. Under the guise of a heterosexual society, girls were told that they didn’t have a life without a boyfriend. So, in school, where the sexes were mixed as they entered puberty, girls had to compete with each other for boyfriends. This competition included wardrobe, and hair styling, but didn’t include good grades in math or science.
In Hungary, we were not together with boys until age 18, (University freshman age) when we had a little more of an idea who we were. We competed with girls for academic reasons. And wisely, the school required all of us to wear a red apron that was uniformly ugly, enforcing female equality. Nobody looked good in our red uniform apron. It reached past our breasts, covered the entire body, and tied together in the back. The focus was always on grades. We had a lot of writing to do, reciting to do, and then tests, every week. Those of us who had gotten at least two excellent grades, from two different subjects, come Friday, had our names read aloud to the entire school. We felt very honored. This happened to me only twice, in Geography and Literature.
I loved this honoring system.
It was in this environment that our teacher, once brought in “tapes” to show us. Not to play them, no. Just to touch them, and marvel at how technology had advanced to such an insanely high level, where they could record your voice on these tapes. I remember when I held the tape in my hand. It was a smooth, light brown, plastic-feeling thing. We never got to hear from the tape; this was just a demonstration. But something got very happy in my heart. I thought, great! Inventions like this will be fantastic. I had a sense that I’d be working with tapes, recording one day.
But I have digressed. Back to the charges.
I was not hard to find. The woman who brought the law down on Carol, could easily identify me by just saying that Carol had put yogurt into the vagina of a woman with a European accent. Carol's lawyers found me, and asked me to testify in court for the defense. Of Course, I said yes. But inside, I had this uneasy feeling; I had never been in court in my life. This was a bit too sudden, after all, I was not yet a full fledged, feminist activist; I was just starting out on my own feminist education. But life didn’t wait.
My day in court was embarrassing, to say the least. I felt that maybe it was all on me, to make Carol go free. This was a heavy burden. I liked the woman. I thought her story about needing an abortion, and not being able to get one, was a compelling story. She already had many children. She had great pain from a botched abortion. She had almost died. But Carol and I didn’t hang out together. She had her staff, the inner staff, whom she was friends with. We were not really friends. I supported her cause, not the individual, but now those tables had turned. I was testifying for her, about my vagina. This had become very personal.
I told them that yes, I had this recurring yeast infection, and wanted to find out if a natural agent would do the trick, to rebalance the inner flora of my vagina. “Did it help you Ms. Budapest?” the Prosecuting Attorney wanted to know. I gulped. Then I lied a little. “Oh yes, it was soothing, and I think it helped me a great deal.” I didn’t disclose that I could not really use it, because the yogurt leaked out of the vagina, and made me smell like a salad.
I worked for Carol for a while as her publicist, and on Wednesdays, I was there for the abortion clinic. When Roe vs. Wade was passed, and abortions became legal, I quit my publicity job for Carol. She didn’t need to hide anymore. Abortions were not really my beat. I have never needed one. I had two pregnancies, and two live births. I just wanted women to have that right over their bodies, as a principle of freedom.
The world of the Courtroom was very elegant. Wood covered walls, big California flag in the back, the images of the Goddess Minerva and her bear, visible as large as humans. They didn’t really know their mythology. If you asked a Californian-- do you recognize these symbols? They would say-- the bear yes, but Minerva… Minerva who? I felt comforted by seeing these symbols in the courtroom.
The same time abortion was legalized, the right-wing, who'd just lost their power over woman’s lady parts, got very, very angry. Their leader at that time, some guy named Vigorae, started compiling the mighty right-wing mailing list. This, they used against Democrats in elections. I brushed it off. Not my fight anymore.
Instead, I started thinking about what I did want. My fight was with the male gods, and their effect on civilization.
The male God’s religions piled an unbelievable amount of lies into the brains of women. For example, what does it mean, self created male god? He had no mother or father? Unnatural to say the least. Women hoped that if the men behaved as Jesus would, they would not be beaten, raped, and forced into unwanted pregnancies. This worked out for men all the time. Rape? It was her fault. They felt that a male god would always be on their side. Men holding together against women. This sexual war between the sexes, was most visible when you looked at the rich and powerful people. All male. The poor and abandoned women, with many children, had to carry-on on a shoestring. Deadbeat fathers were the norm. Not until President Clinton started hunting them down, did males have any reason to be fair with women and their own children.
It was a time when all kinds of new, woman-centered creations started to sprout, like healthy weeds. At an unrelated meeting somewhere, I was asked if I was interested in starting a new business. I was introduced to Annu, who wanted to start a business for women, but didn’t know what kind. She had already found a space on Lincoln, a store front. Lincoln was a very well-traveled road, led directly into the LAX Airport. It had good foot traffic, bus connections, etc. When Annu and I went to see this space, it was an abandoned Chinese Laundry. It had tall windows, and lots of room in the back, as well.
We could rent it for $350 a month, a good price. Annu had a friend, Lettie, who lived there, for now, with her son. The phone was installed already, there was light, and cooking on hot plates, if needed. Next door, was a very good Mexican restaurant. “Annu, tell me please, how is this place up for rent, when somebody actually lives there?” I asked. Annu felt the pressure, because she liked Lettie. “I like Lettie. She is a feminist. Her son is going to live with his father, and she wants to get a place on her own.” I responded, “That’s wonderful. We have to give her a deadline; She looked very moved in.” Annu conceded, “I'll tell her then.” I moved forward, “Thanks. Now, let's talk about how we are going to make a Chinese laundry into a Goddess magical shop.
Soon after this, I bought paint, and started painting the walls a bright, melon color. Janet came by, and helped out. Dana came too, and the Goddess connection was working. We painted for a while. When it was finished, I wanted to turn the top part into the temple, by writing the names of the global goddesses all around the walls, up high near the top. Isis went up first. Then Diana. Then Demeter, Kore, Sarasvati, Pele, Innana, Danu, Bridget, Pecht, Skuld, Habondia, and The Fates.
The vibe had changed, from all these sacred names. It was a temple, with Lettie still living in the back. Her son had gone on, to daddy. She didn’t really want to leave. She wanted to be part of this enterprise: The Feminist Wicca, La Bruha Feminista, as a live-in.
“As a What?” I said. “No way.” Annu, too, said that it would not be professional! For Annu, this had to be a real business. That was her feminist goal, to be a business woman. My goal seemed to be to torpedo the male god's third eye with my arrows of insight. You don’t bring down patriarchy with wars and armies, but with better stories, better mythology, and the truth. “We need to see if information can be monetized,” she added. “What information? Do you mean the deepest of all data, that we carry in our genes? Mythology. Goddess Mythology. Feminist Witchcraft?” For me, here was a chance to be the first ever, with a magic shop and bookstore combined, focusing on the Goddess and women. Nothing to sell to Satanists.
A Dianic Center.
Annu took on the finances and I would look after getting supplies for the shelves.
“Ah… sorry, what shelves? We needed more money. Dana paid in a share. She was good at acquisitions. She worked for Safeway. This was both good, and not good. She could not guarantee her hours for the store, because Safeway might summon her back to work. This became a constant irritant.
Dana had had her eyes on Janet for a long time. Janet was way out of Dana’s league. Janet was not fond of Dana, but never underestimate Yoga at the crack of dawn, when all defenses are half mast. One early morning, after Yoga, as the sun was slowly rising, Dana humbly offered a massage to Janet. This massage felt so very good, Janet relaxed and gave over her body to Dana. Dana took advantage. After that they became a couple.
What Dana couldn’t do with words and wooing, she achieved with Kundalini Yoga. Made total sense. The store was open, with the New Moon’s blessing, 1972. We had few items to sell, but lots of spirit and support from feminists and the neighborhood. Black women practitioners started checking out the white girl’s magic shop. They sampled the oils, the candles, and bought a few items to try out. But almost everybody, always asked, “Do you give readings here?” The answer was “no, we don’t.” “Why not?” the customers demanded to know. “It's because, I don’t know any readers,” I would reply. “Well, what about you? “ they wanted to know.
I started feeling very uncomfortable. Actually, I knew how to read cards. The Tarot Cards, which is a sophisticated deck of symbols. It takes a bit of work to get good at it. I had studied it all in Port Washington: daily readings on friends, and political questions. How could I have forgotten about it? Oh yes, because it happened in my earlier life, and all that stuff was locked up in a mental box, never to open again. But we needed money.
Annie Doczi was in the shop every day; she was a young friend from the Women’s Building. I started practicing on her. Annie was always in love with women: some much older woman, some totally married to somebody else. Annie came in with different obsessions daily. She was a challenge to read Tarot for. The Tarot you see, is not so much interested in sex, and how to find some, it's focused on the inner life of humans. The cards talked about transformations, like from one destiny, into another. Annie then recommended me to her friends, and I started building up my clientele. I was still too humble to ask for money. I felt I was not good enough.
But then the readings started making sense. I just interpreted the symbols, nothing pulled out of my ass. Slowly, I realized from the feedback of my clients, that I was actually nailing the truth. This woman needed education, to become herself. That woman needed a new husband, another woman needed to leave an abuser, another needed to drink healing teas, in order to conceive a child. Everything was in the cards. It led me deeper into astrology. It made me more confident. I realized this tool was indispensable, for women, counseling each other. There was no need for priests, or shrinks, or phony psychic readers. The tarot was clean and beautiful and wise. We put up a handwritten sign that said, Tarot Readings, ten dollars. I had a couple of women, whom I read to, who made different deals with me. One was involved with the stock market. She would just ask me, “Should I buy into Stocks now, or wait until later?” The answer was later. This woman made a LOT of money on that decision. Next time she came by, she handed me a stuffed envelope. “It's your share of my winnings.”
What? I looked into the envelope; there was eleven hundred dollars in it. Wow!
“You deserve it. Now, lets answer me another stock market question.” As long as it could be answered with a simple yes or no, no matter what the subject was, the Tarot could advise about it.
And so, I became a very sought-after Tarot reader. I was famous for telling it like I saw it, no stock answers, and no promises of tall dark strangers for lovers, or winning the lottery. The rotation of life, the quantum leaps of fate: unexpected outcomes quite often occurred.
I never told my people that they were cursed, no matter what their malady was. No hexes to remove, no hex-removing spells to pay for. A couple of months went by. I used the money to stock our shelves with books about folklore, and spell books by Marie Leveau. Now, we looked and smelled like a great temple- conscious little shop, on Lincoln, in Venice. Good times.
Annu was happy with her business. She kept our books, she could even be in front of the store, but when it came to go to Watts, where our supplies came from, Annu was bereft. She was nose blind. She could not tell the difference between Rosemary and Oregano. When it came to oils, she could not distinguish between Frankincense and Myrrh. I had to go with her to Watts, to the House of Bombay, for supplies. The House of Bombay was freshly painted, a cheerful, pinkish-red. This was the only building in Watts, with new paint added, twice a year. Otherwise, Watts was run down, and reeked of hopelessness. But their magical caseworkers, as they were referred to by all, were there in front of the building, standing in line, before they opened, at nine am. By the time I got there from Venice, clear from the other side of the world, the caseworkers were already heading home, with their shopping carts filled up to the top, with candles and incenses, oils, and magic floor wash.
It puzzled me, “How come they use caseworkers (Magic Mamas), instead of casting their spells themselves? White people, other than the feminist witches, were not using their magical supplies. I was an anomaly. But spirituality united us. We wanted to talk to our ancestors with the finest of incense, and wear the most honorable scent on our cloth. We were bathed in this milieu of cultured use of nature as magical tools. It was a time of tolerance toward everybody’s religion.
“Do what you want. Don’t try to pin your trip on me,” was what we practiced.
First time I went to the House of Bombay, I asked for Rosa Ava oil, which was used to attract something, or somebody, to yourself. The intentionality was up to you. It was a very powerful rose scent, and if you put it on your skin, it would linger there for months, no matter how many showers you had taken. It was worn on handkerchiefs, or on one’s feet, (depending on what you want to stick to you). You created your words, whispered it over the magical items, burned your candle, drummed, and danced.
Many, many women didn’t have a private space in which to cast their spell. Some left candles burning in their bathtubs. It was, at least, safe. But, caseworkers, would dedicate themselves, to your spells. They would gather the ingredients, create the temple in their own home, inscribe your name in the candles (that you had bought), use the scents, and petition the spirits, to assist you in difficult times. This was a highly paid occupation.
The lady brought it to me, and I checked my bottle. A couple of sniffs, and I smell alcohol. It's an extender, of the oil. “Please, can I have it undiluted? This has alcohol in it,” I requested. They looked at me, and realized that I was someone with a pharmacist’s sensitive nose. “Thank you so much. Don’t worry, I can deal with the pure Rosa Ava.“ From then on, they didn’t try to dilute our oils. This is the reason that today, some 45 years later, I have oils from my old shop, The Feminist Wicca, which still smell wonderful, and aren't rancid. These formulas were guarded by the families who made their living creating them. I hope they never die out, these indigenous, home-spun, magical supplies. A lot of perfumery techniques were used by the ancients (harvesting, pressing, and crafting, herbs and flowers).
I was told that the House of Bombay's mother-house was in New Orleans. There, they were buying from individuals from old, perfumery families.
When we had finished gathering our supplies, Annu drove us home. It was a chance to talk. She told me The Feminist Wicca was breaking even, but she suggested that we educate people about what was good for what... give workshops about how to use our store. I was happy to give classes on tarot, spell casting, and mythology.
It was at the back part of our store, where the Chinese Laundry workers used to clean everything in steaming tubs. The washing, and drying, were intermingled in the same space. Not anymore.
We replaced everything with our herbals, magic beads, and dried herbs. We arranged all of our backup herbal supplies in huge glass containers, lined up on shelves like little soldiers. We labeled the herb's names in big letters, and used small letters to explain what they were used for: HYSSOP (to purify space), COMFREY (to nourish the blood), CHAMOMILE (to calm the nerves), NETTLE (to prevent joint pain), COPAL (a very superior scent), FRANKINCENSE (high temple incense, powdered, and in beads).
This was a true Witch University: this shop, and its manifold ingredients. All of plant life held more than just medicinal properties, They also were great with occult powers.
I learned that Geraniums, for example, draw wealth and health, and protection to a home. These plants were guardians in front of the homes in Europe, and on the window sills of the banks! This same legendary knowledge connected us to Mexicans, and all of South America. The plant called Ruta (or rue) grew its strange little yellow flowers in the gardens of women, because it was used to bring on the menstruation when it was late, a home remedy against getting pregnant. Nobody needed to know, or to interfere. A cup of Ruta and the womb would release its contents. Vanilla created a home-sweet-home feeling. Rosemary promoted loyalty. Rose, of course, promoted love.
Our store now smelled like heaven. Each time a woman would enter, the first thing she would say was “Hmm, this smells like heaven.“
The second, was “I have come home.”
Copyright © 2018 by Zsuzsanna Budapest