Haters Gonna Hate

Yesterday a young, dynamic, new friend of mine posted on his blog that he was done with witchcraft. Definitively and decidedly done. His post is down now, so I won’t bother to link to it. It was a problematic post in many ways, hurtful to his allies and dismissive of his own considerable talents. Yet there were some hard truths about the witchcraft ‘community’ in his post, some of which I want to address here, because he is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to struggle with not feeling potent enough, talented enough or magical enough.

I have struggled with my place in witchcraft for many years. In fact, I am not a natural joiner and generally feel like the odd one out no matter where I am. Over the years I’ve realized part of this is cultivated, as an act of self-protection. For a long time I was too Christian for the Pagans and too Pagan for the Christians. For the style of witchcraft I practice I tend to think I’m too happy, too ‘normal.’ I don’t wear enough black or pentacles or go to Renn faires. Other than children, I can’t grow things at all. I wear jeans most of time, I listen to cheesy pop music and opera, and I watch a lot of cartoons with my kids. It’s not a Dark Pagan Life most days. It’s silly to get hung up on external trappings, but it’s so easy to do.
Albrecht Durer's Four Witches, also known as Vier Hexen, 1497.

Albrecht Durer’s Four Witches, also known as Vier Hexen, 1497.

And then there are the doubts of magical efficacy, or growing understanding and connection to whatever spirits or gods we choose to work with. Feeling as though we have power in this world and can create change in our lives according to our will is, in my experience, an important part of the magical life. Sometimes it feels like nothing shifts, we’re still stuck on the same issue we’ve been stuck on for years, or our spells don’t seem to work. These things can suck the joy out of our devotions and practice.

I think these feelings are normal. I felt similar things when I was singing and when I was in graduate school. I’m going to let you in on a secret: all of the people I know who hold PhDs (and I know a lot of them) have said they have felt like a fraud at some point. Clearly, these doubts apply to the best of us.

That said, there are some serious poseurs and jack-asses out there. The internet is full of them, no matter the community. The wider world of Paganism has a love/hate relationship with exclusion and inclusion. I find Traditional Witchcraft to be particularly persnickety. Some of this is due to the inherent nature of keeping oaths and not passing along publicly information that can be misconstrued or damaging to those who don’t understand. This can sometimes make people feel that they are not ‘worthy’ enough for the ‘secrets.’ Yet some people have a way of communicating arcane wisdom without excluding.

Some Big Name Pagan authors love to write with purple prose and in such a way that any reader not within the author’s immediate circle will be obviously excluded. To those authors I ask, why write at all? Just send out your stuff on email lists and be done with it. But some authors, Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold being the first that comes to my mind, have an ability to keep obvious secrets yet write in such a way that any thinking witch or magician at any experience level can access something of worth.

Sadly, there are always going to be people out there trying to keep others down in order to build themselves up. They feel special because they think they have something that others can’t have. I myself have struggled, wondering if I have the Magic or the Juice. I’m only just getting over that. I have long been too up in my head. I still can’t trance easily. I don’t see the dead. The gods don’t talk to me often. I’m more a mystic, a thinky theologian, than a shaman. And right now, shamanism is hot.

But Trad Craft and the public face of it, is not the only kind of magic out there. I am finding my own magic. You, dear reader, have yours too. Maybe it isn’t Traditional Witchcraft. Maybe it’s Buddhism or basket weaving. There is magic in almost anything. That thread weaves and that hum and thrum beats in the trees, in the waves of incense smoke, in the melodies of Schubert lieder. In my eyes, magic is an approach to life. In my studies of religions over the years, I have seen that all of them have magical lines, and those lines share certain aspects or techniques. There are many cooks, painters, singers, gardeners, parents, teachers -anything!- that have that magic in them and their lives. And plenty of Dark Witches and High Magicians that have none.

So here’s my pitch to the struggling: don’t give up on magic. Don’t forget those moments that rang true for you. Don’t discard the experiences that spoke to your soul. Get back before your altar (whatever that is). Get back to your basics. Cling to your truth, your experience, and the Magic will you lead you true.

In the meantime, fuck all the haters and poseurs. I don’t have time for them. I’m too busy living my kick ass life.

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Into the Woods

I went to Canada, into the woods, and thought I was going on vacation. How wrong I was.

I expected fun, laughter, and trees. I got all of that. Fun was had, in a variety of forms. There was laughter. The grey mists against the deep greens of the trees and floating on the surface of the lake fed the Alaskan part of my soul. The camp site was not as spectacular as I’d hoped and the food wasn’t very good. But it was the surprises…… Oh, the surprises.

Lake Sasamat

Lake Sasamat

The first great surprise was mead. I’d never had mead before. It seemed like every Canadian brought mead, most made their own, and it was good. One new friend is an exceptionally gifted mead maker; his pomegranate mead was divine. It made a fitting offering to the Red Goddess. I also discovered something called St. Germain, which tastes like spring flowers at sunrise.

The second surprise was meeting the founder of the Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan Studies. Many Pagans are very smart and well-read, but I wasn’t expecting to get my academic geek on.

The third surprise was the rituals. I have mixed experience with ritual. Most of it bad, bland and ineffective. Occasionally, distasteful. Thankfully, the main ritual leaders, the Coru Cathubodua, come from Anderson Feri backgrounds (as do I) and so their style was familiar and welcome to me. The main ritual, while not particularly spiritually profound for me, was perhaps the best ritual theatre I have ever experienced. It was not all that elaborate, rather the simplicity of the ritual allowed the power and beauty of bodies, chant, and fire to express the heart of primal Paganism.

The last ritual I attended was the Women’s Mysteries ritual. I was doubtful. I love being a female bodied, child-bearing woman, but I loathe gender essentialism and the false dichotomy that ‘women’s mysteries’ and ‘men’s mysteries’ all too often entail. I need not have worried. The ritual was beautiful, powerful, profound. I think each woman stood taller and stronger afterward. Another surprise here, besides having positive ritual experience, was that I felt the Blessed Virgin make an appearance. After such a long absence, she snuck up on me and asked that I recognize her. And then the starry crown she wore, bathed in blue, merged with the Red Goddess, and I learned of her/their power of Love. She gave me much to think about, to feel about, to sort out.

Lastly, my single greatest surprise was the community. Community has long been a source of confusion for me. It is a core value for me. I am fiercely loyal and love strongly. The older I get the more I realize just how little we ever do on our own. We rise higher because of the tallest around us, and we all suffer and struggle a little more if those around suffer and struggle. But moving around makes it hard to commit. These days my strongest community are my liked minded friends, but we are spread out over the world, interacting through blogs, email and Facebook. I have missed in person connection something fierce. While I expected to meet new friends, I was not expecting to find what can only be described as a home.

The Canadian Pagan community of lower BC is unlike any community I’ve ever experienced. I was overwhelmed at first. I realized, at 37, that I am introvert. It took me a full 24 hours to feel comfortable. In fact, on my first morning I sat by the fire for three hours wondering why I had come and wishing I was back at home. I felt like I had crashed a family reunion. I felt uncomfortable including myself in other people’s conversations. They all knew each other so well and were so happy to see each other.

And then….. I clicked in. I inserted myself when I could. I chose a few people to go deep with. I let myself be confused. I forced nothing.

While there was a certain amount of cliqueishness and some obvious snubbing (no community is perfect, sigh), I felt an acceptance that I have rarely seen at other similar gatherings. I could be as bold or as shy, as wild or as tame as I needed to be; the other attendees accepted and encouraged each person to have the experience they needed to have.

I also witnessed leadership that greatly impressed me. I saw the strength of this community in their firm commitment to their vision for the Gathering, fully committed to where they’ve come from and their ideals, but equally committed to growing the community and encouraging diversity. The fact that people from as far away as Montana, Minnesota and Arizona have made this group in Canada part of their spiritual community speaks the loudest to me. I already drive 140 miles round trip each month for a tiny community of fellow students and my teachers. Now I ask myself, am I willing to drive 4 hours each way for a larger community?

I don’t know if I want to commit to that. But if I choose to commit to this community, I feel like I would be welcomed with joyful, open arms. I get the strongest sense that if I choose to commit the rewards would be great. I look forward to seeing how these new relationships and connections develop and unfold in the coming months.

I went into the woods, and magic was made, woven, consumed. I went into the woods and did not get a vacation, I found something far more transformational.

 

 

Maxim Monday: Be (religiously) silent

I love this one.

Spring is in full swing here in Olympia. New colors from fresh blooms appear each morning. The sun’s heat is gaining in intensity, despite the bitter the breezes. The lilacs are blooming, although I can’t smell them because my sinuses are blocked up. That makes me sad, since lilac is my favorite scent. The birds are raucous in the twilight periods twice a day. Everything is a cacophony of scent, sound, texture and color.

But I’ve been feeling a little quiet lately. Not withdrawn so much as wanting to be in my body. I want to be outside listening. I don’t want to be on my computer, on the phone, or in the car. I don’t want to talk as much, nor overthink things. In some ways this feels akin to being religiously silent.

There’s a place for silence. Last week I wrote about the importance of listening to everybody. Good listen requires silence. Today’s Maxim builds on the encouragement to remain silent in order to listen and encourages us to remain silent for silence’s own sake, for the mystery of the void.

I think of being religiously silent in many ways. There is the wisdom of not speaking of things we don’t understand, or not speaking of treasured things to people who would mock, exploit or treat casually what we hold dear. There is the wisdom in remaining silent lest we break oaths or reveal secrets and mysteries. On a shallower note, we could view this Maxim as a way to appear more ‘advanced’ and wise than we are. There is a saying, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” But more to the heart of things is the quote from Proverbs (17:28): Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Silence creates a void, a pause. As a singer I learned the importance of the pause, the rest in between notes. It creates a dramatic effect, but also it is in the space between notes where music might be made and felt. The same goes for meditation: the pause between thoughts and/or breaths is where peace and enlightenment might be touched. That void is important in the “passive” acts of reception, but it is necessary too in the “active” acts of creation. We must create space for something new to form, emerge, take root, or be gifted. Silence is often that space.

I used to struggle with this. Oh, how I struggled with rest, space, silence. In the last few months I have seen, felt and understood the beauty, necessity, and wisdom in these things.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

What I’m reading

I read a lot. All day long I’m reading, whether it’s blogs, Facebook, actual paper books, on my nook, to the kids….. I tend to be rather obsessive with my subject matter, too.

Forgive the cell phone photos....

Forgive the cell phone photos….

Niki’s books
The upper left corner is Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft, which I recently finished and reviewed here.

The upper right is Elizabeth U. Harding’s Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar. I’m glad I read this, even though it had several chapters that I skipped because I didn’t care about the founding of the temple. However, reading about Kali pujas in their native context was both interesting and informative.

The lower left is Lee Morgan’s The Deed Without a Name, another book on Traditional Witchcraft. I finished it a few days ago. I am not sure what I was expecting. This was far more poetic than I was expecting, as informative as I was expecting, and in some cases quite different from my personal experience. I do not feel qualified to say much more about this book – either from a scholarly stand point or a practitioner one.

The lower right book is yet another book on Traditional Witchcraft, Children of Cain by Michael Howard. I’ve only just started it and I’m in the second chapter. I like looking through authors’ end notes and bibliographies before I begin a book; that helps me see their large picture agenda, where they got their information, and a bit about their thinking. I noticed this book has a 50 page glossary! Whoa. I contemplated jumping straight to the chapter that talks about Victor Anderson and the Feri tradition, but I’ve chosen to read chronologically.

What I'm reading to the boy

What I’m reading to the boy

What the 4-year-old is reading

My son loves to listen to chapter books. I’ve been reading him chapter books since he was an infant. We recently finished Farmer Boy, the third book in the Little House on the Prairie series. They’re so wonderful to read aloud. Very simple writing, yet engaging. A few nights ago we started Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. It is a story composed of tales and poems. There’s a lot of history and symbolism that goes straight over his head, but he’s engrossed.

During the day we are whizzing through the Shaman King manga series. Since I took this picture we finished book 4 and are on book 5! I have been pleasantly surprised to see how much of the shamanism is based on actual lore and legitimate research. Right now the main character, Yoh, has to battle an Ainu. There are, of course, gross liberties taken with the shaman powers, but overall, it’s a great conversation starter with my son about magic, the spirit world, and how and why we seek power.

IMG_0420

What the girl is reading

 

What I’m reading to the 2-year-old

She’s getting interested in books. She has limited ability to sit and listen to chapter books. She loves to listen to the Shaman King books – of course, they are graphic novels so she follows the pictures. The two board books in the picture are on heavy rotation right now.

 

 

 

What are you reading right now?

Apocalyptic Witchcraft

I am a tremendous fan of Scarlet Imprint, publisher of fine magical books. Their books contain more than occult information, more than poetry, though they are certainly full of both; they are bound spells. I have read several of Scarlet Imprint’s works. I don’t always agree with the authors in their fervor or specifics, but I usually agree with the general themes. I almost always find myself thinking about their ideas long after I’ve finished a book. I’m still chewing over XVI, which I read over a year ago.

When I saw that Scarlet Imprint would be releasing Apocalyptic Witchcraft, by Peter Grey, I knew immediately that I had to have a copy. The book aims to serve as a rallying cry to those who would embrace a living witchcraft as a means to rebel against the status quo. I am completely on board with this mission.

Of the doves edition; taken from Scarlet Imprint's website

Of the doves edition; image used with the kind permission of Scarlet Imprint

Scarlet Imprint, as an entity, judging from the works they publish, and this book specifically, aims to push the magical community toward action in the world. While we need skill and abilities that allow us to function in the mainstream world, our task is not to cozy up to the status quo, but wreak havoc and defend our chosen values. This book is the least hippie call to action against environmental pillage I’ve read.

I feel that the less said about any of Scarlet Imprint’s books the better. They are best experienced first hand (and there are a variety ways one can do that – super fancy, fancy, paperback, and digital editions, an option for every budget). I will say I was gripped by the writing, entranced by many of the ideas, and still a little confused at the end. But then Grey warns the reader on page i that he ‘does not aim to please.’ ‘This is not a how-to book, or a compendium of folk remedies, nor is it a list of rituals for you to follow, nor strictly history.’  (pg i)

Grey situates witchcraft not historically, but contextually. Yes, witchcraft is skill; yes, it has history and lineages; but that’s not what is most important. The core of witchcraft is ‘a force, not an order. Witchcraft is rhizomatic, not hierarchic. Witchcraft defies organization, not meaning.’ (From A Manifesto of Apocalyptic Witchcraft, p 15) How shall we use that force? Why shall we grow? What is our meaning?

The book speaks primarily to people who travel a path of Traditional Witchcraft, though it does not exclude other like-minded people. Grey expresses the core nature of witchcraft, though not through the lens of lineage, techniques, or historical developments. He focuses primarily on poetry, blood, and transformation. It’s a strange book. It both doesn’t seem to fit all together, and yet hangs together beautifully. I need to read this book a few more times.

The extended chapters on poetry, especially that of Ted Hughes, and Grey’s way of unfolding history feel a little meandering. The opening and closing chapters were for me the most powerful, and I wanted more of that. However, I will follow Peter Grey down any rabbit trail any day of the week. His meanderings have more fire and poetry in them most of what I read about magic combined.

What does ‘Apocalyptic Witchcraft’ mean? I’m still not entirely sure. I do know it means action and fearlessness. It means enfolding art into whatever it is we do. It means embracing magic as a philosophical, artistic, and practical way of living – not just as a spiritual orientation. I know Grey is tapping into a Current that is pulling many people forward right now. I feel it, too, though I am not able to articulate it in any way at this time. Ultimately, each of us will need to find out what apocalyptic witchcraft means for ourselves. Good thing Peter Grey is pulling us forward with his vision and art.

Being a householder

In my last post I talked about the possibility that if reincarnation was a real thing then my previous lives most likely included several rounds of being a monk and/or a nun. Those past lives would explain my fascination with, inexplicable love for, and extreme weariness with Christianity; my intense longing for the contemplative life and for a spiritual tradition; my obsession with books and learning; my inner conflict with discipline; and my vehement chaffing at rules and orders of any kind.

I also struggle with a more modern conflict: that of being a mother. As a feminist, a mother, a spiritual and religious practitioner, and a white person of middle class standing in the 21st century, I feel a keen unease with my current status of Homemaker.

I’ve recently decided to step away from calling myself a stay-at-home-mom. It has connotations of being an upper middle class kept woman. The language heightens the isolation of stay-at-home-parents, and we are certainly isolated enough. Its passive language implies that we don’t do much, that perhaps we sit around, sequestered, eating bon bons. But homemaker, householder, implies to me craft, creation, effort, the holistic life of a Home.

As a householder I keep house; as a homemaker I make a home. I keep it tidy, clean and organized. I plan and cook three hot meals a day for at least four people. I make sure we are clothed in items that are clean and that fit reasonably well. I change diapers. I sort our things and make donations to organizations. I protect my home. I make it welcoming to those who would join us in good faith. I find ways to observe the seasons, the turning of the Wheel of the Year, and various other holidays in a way that we can all engage. I keep track of playdates and preschool plays and doctor’s appointments. I teach boundaries, numbers, and letters. I read to and tickle and kiss. I make a home.

Home

Home

These things are really unsexy. Most days they are terribly dull. Some days involve too much snot and too many tears. It’s not complicated, though it is complex. It’s not intellectually stimulating. I never need to dress up. It’s really pretty boring.. Though this doesn’t diminish the value of the work.

As a modern feminist, I sometimes wonder if this is the wisest use of my ‘best’ years. I’m over-educated for the job. I don’t get paid, and with my resumé I could make a nice yearly income elsewhere. Aren’t I holding up some mid-20th century patriarchal fantasy? I have many, many thoughts on these things, thoughts that tip into my radical political leanings, thoughts that aren’t quite appropriate for the blog post at hand.

What is important is that while my temperament isn’t ideal for this job and my many of my professional skills are languishing, I see this job as one of my most important – and that’s not just lip-service to ‘oh, aren’t you so noble for raising the next generation’ platitudes that often get thrown around when this topic is broached.

My job as a homemaker forces me to make my spirituality a priority. I don’t have the luxury of uninterrupted time. I have to choose when and if I’ll sit in front of my altar. I have to practice in the midst of chaos. There is no quiet. I have to bring my gods with me into the kitchen, the grocery store, the bathroom, the car. There is no separation between holy space and family space. I have to explain to tiny people what it is I’m doing, and why. I have to apply my magical skills to my kids – for healing, for nightmares, for self-possession (four-year olds have none, just saying).

This job is harder than being a priest. I’m not saying that being a priest is easy! Being a quality anything takes effort and time and skill. But being a householder involves being a priest AND a homemaker. I have to be priest of this temple I create and keep AND I have to be in the world. I make all things sound in the midst of the noise of life. I hold space for the holy while my kids are having tantrums (or while I am throwing an internal tantrum, sadly all too common these days).

Most of the time I forget that I’m a priest. Most days I’m just cooking and cleaning and wiping noses and butts and I don’t think about holding space or blessing the meal or making anything holy. I forget. Many days I’m not much more self-possessed than my son. But sometimes I see the magic. The curl of the incense reminds me. I see my two-year old bowing in front of Ganesh. She takes deep breaths and smiles. Sometimes a meal is particularly joyful and nourishing and I feel the magic that is made at the table.

Stirring the pot

Stirring the pot

If as a monk or nun in past lives I’ve learned how to have one kind of community in my practice and worship, to take orders from an abbot, to have vows of silence, or to lead a flock, to be separated from the world in the seeking of the Holy, I am learning now about a different sort of community and isolation, to take orders from my Self, to take different sorts of vows, how to lead a different kind of flock, to be in the world and seek the Holy.

Sometimes I sit in my altar room after the kids are asleep and I make Formal Magic. These muscles don’t get flexed very often, and when they do they feel creaky, but enthusiastic. But mostly my home is my temple and my daily life my practice and sweat, blood and tears my offerings.

Imbolc

Tomorrow, or maybe the day after, or sometime in the next week to ten days, depending on how you follow these sorts of things, is Imbolc, cross quarter Sabbat of Celtic origin and propagated via Wicca and various witchcraft traditions.

I have tended not to observe this holiday very much. I resonate a lot with all things Celtic, but I admit I’ve been intimidated by the heavy academic bent to much of Celtic Reconstruction practice. Now, I’d like to expand my practice and start incorporating something festive into this dreary part of the year.

Bridget – either Saint Bridget from the Irish Christian tradition and/or Brid from the earlier pre-Christian Irish tradition – is the patron saint of this holiday. The historical person of Bridget dates to the 5th century. She established a convent at Kildare, supposedly on the site of an ancient holy well, and the nuns there kept guard of a flame that was never allowed to go out. Brid, as goddess, is the patron saint of three of the major aspects of witchcraft (in my opinion): poets and communication between this world and the Otherworld; forge and smith, those that make weapons and tools, and warriors; and healers, herbalists, and midwives (birth is a liminal space of its own). All of these involve fire, which is Brid’s sacred element.

Fire brings transformation, illumination, and heat. It refines and inspires. Metaphorically, we can ask Brid to light a fire under us! With this element we can cook, warm ourselves and our family at our hearth, forge the tools we need, light our way, and the fire of our spirit is what creates art.

I don’t have a relationship with Brid. It’s strange to me that she is a central figure of this holiday and then is generally forgotten about for the rest of the year. (I’m guessing Celtic Recons have more of a working relationship with her.)

On Saturday I’m heading to Seattle to observe the Sabbat with my teachers and fellow Feri students. We’ll call to Nimuë, another figure I don’t have much experience with or knowledge of! This time of year we look toward the light, and heavens know I need more light in my life! despite being a pretty happy, cheery, silly person, I take myself way too seriously. I love my ‘dark’ goddesses and gods. But there is light in everything. Light and dark exist side by side. Even Kali – she of terror, fierceness and bloody tongue, is a loving, tender mother to those who honor her. Nimuë, the youthful, child-like goddess, is unpredictable and feral!

Tonight I’ll leave out some oats and water for the Land spirits. On Saturday, I plan to prepare for the ritual with a cleansing bath and kala (cleaning off of outside and inside) and meditating on my words, my art, my weapons (which are often my words), my home and my healing. How can I be both the agent of these things and the recipient of them? How can I hone my skills for myself and my work, and for the better of others too?

The bright fire of summer and the external energy that engenders is far off – many months away. The fire is kindled in the middle of winter, to offer us inspiration and to prepare us for what is to come. Nothing but hard work lies ahead. May Brid or Nimuë or whom ever you look to, light our way!

For more information, may I recommend Alexei Kondratiev’s excellent book The Apple Branch and Traci’s post over on Patheos, (Traci is living in Ireland and knows far more about this stuff than I do!). Check back on A Sense of Place tomorrow for my post, which also continues with the Imbolc theme!