Author Archives: thornthewitch

About thornthewitch

witch, crafter, musician, scholar, cat enthusiast

Things That Are Things

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What even was my New Years goal? Something about songwriting, right?

I’m usually pretty good about this sort of thing, but winter has revolved entirely around getting my manuscript in on time (YASSSSSS). Nothing I played sounded good to me, and I felt guilty every time I sat down with a guitar. Oh yeah, and I broke my thumb while sparring with my sword instructor (“Well, you should have parried better.” Yes. I should have.). And developed tendonitis. I briefly considered just shooting a video of me whacking a cup on a table and sing-screaming my feelings at the Internet, but I don’t actually hate any of you.

I don’t actually feel bad about failing at my 2017 music project. Besides, there’s still time. If I end the year with ten songs instead of twelve, it’ll still be ten more than I’ve written in, like, five years. I’m still winning.

Finishing a life-consuming project is disorienting, but I’m feeling really good lately. I’m finishing out my first quarter as a full-time teacher, and I haven’t developed an alcohol dependency or been found crying in the staff bathroom. Win! My kids are actually really awesome. Buttheads sometimes, sure, but who wasn’t at seventeen? This school environment is so different from the one I was raised in. When there’s trouble, it’s usually the system to blame. Not the kids. Once they realize that you’re actually on their side, I find that most students will go along with your plans and do their work.

Meanwhile, swording continues to be awesome. Our first tournament was the tits. Even my sister came to see me and meet my friends, which meant a lot because we don’t see much of each other. My brother got a hold of the videos that she took of me sparring and he’s been circulating them on Facebook. He came to see me in my Taekwondo classes a few times when I was in my early twenties, and he said my fighting style hasn’t changed at all.

“Dude says ‘fight’ and you just start walking toward the other guy like you don’t give a shit he’s got twenty pounds on you and might murder you. You wouldn’t be my sister if you weren’t trying to assault someone.”

This was weirdly validating. Also a reminder that I need to spend more time with my siblings, who get me way more than I usually give them credit for.

I also sucked quite a bit less than I’ve ever sucked before. In cutting, I may not have sucked at all. I was pretty fucking pleased with myself.

Now that I’m in waiting-mode where the book is concerned, I’ve started on another project. I haven’t written fiction since middle school, and I’ve really wanted to give it a grown-up whirl. I’m afraid I don’t read enough fiction to actually produce anything good, but it’s been really fun so far. I haven’t outlined shit. I’m not planning a gotdamned thing—just following impulses. I’m not really sure it’s possible for me to make up characters from scratch. Everyone is modeled after someone I know, and I’m basically writing myself. Or myself as I’ve seen myself. Or something. With better dialogue (and Ali has a better car). In any case, it’s really fun.

Guys. What if I wrote young adult novels? Maybe this is a thing.

In other news, I’m plotting workshops for Free Spirit Gathering. I’ll be co-teaching with Winter Tashlin and Thista Minai, who are both amazeballs. Winter and I will be leading a discussion about Paganism and privilege, and Thista and I will be teaching archery as a devotional practice. I’m really excited to have my bow at FSG. You should come shoot with me!

Over + out.

January

img_2905A couple of weeks ago I posted this video, in which I talked a little about the New Year and setting intentions (which sounds so much more authentic and spiritual than saying “resolutions,” am I right?).  My original list of goals included things like, “Write a proposal for a second book,” and “Actually write four blogs a month.”

But let’s be real.  I don’t actually need any ritual prompting to write books, because my anxiety keeps me on track pretty well throughout the year.  And it’s this anxiety about other projects that keeps me from doing as much blogging as I’d like.  Plus maybe I don’t actually want to write more.  This is sort of working for me right now, especially as I settle into my new adulting routine (I’m salaried for the first time in my life and spent yesterday morning downtown being fingerprinted, filling out tax forms, and peeing in a cup for a guy named Sunny).

Two years ago, in an effort to piece together the tattered shreds of my self-esteem after graduate school (etc.), I resolved to wear adorable (read: slutty) matching underwear every day.  I asked for gift cards to lingerie stores for Yule and Christmas, went to Victoria Secret for the first time (where a very enthusiastic, startlingly blonde woman named Donna came at me with a pink tape measure), and spent that year mostly feeling like a boss.  It was one of my better ideas.  So mission accomplished.  This year, I wanted to do something similar.  Something more fun than serious.  Something that wasn’t about being better at something I already work to be better at.

Once upon a time I used to be a musician.  Like, seriously.  It feels a little like a hallucination now, but I actually went to music school and studied jazz.  I played in rock bands, recorded, played with a jazz combo, and meticulously documented multiple hours of daily practice in journals that I can barely understand anymore.  I was never brilliant–prodigy-level music people are genuinely terrifying up close and I still sing through my nose and can’t improvise my way out of a paper bag–but I was dedicated.  I only cared about playing music.

I stopped playing with any level of seriousness about six years ago, for mostly cliche reasons that I won’t repeat here.

It’s weird thinking about something that used to be so important to me.  Now I don’t really feel anything one way or another.

So anyway.  This year, I want to see if I can still play.  Nothing overly serious.  I want to ease into it.  I’m committing to writing a new song every month, and learning a new cover.  As incentive (few things are better motivators than shame, I’ve found), I’m requiring myself to post both to the Internet.

So, behold, Internet.  I give you the January original:

I’m still deciding on the month’s cover.

Sucking at Fencing, Sucking in General

15355773_1797489653858417_308325602769976054_nSo I finally responded to a post in the Esfinges Facebook group, which is an online space for female HEMA people. A young woman wrote in describing her own post-practice frustrations and asked for input on how to deal with, basically, feeling like you suck too hard to be handling a sword.

I fancy myself something of an expert at sucking (see tales from my days as a 7th grade soccer star here), so I finally felt like I could contribute something useful to the group:

I think it’s important to understand that failure is, in and of itself, an experience that demands the cultivation of grace and compassion. It’s relatively easy to be enthusiastic and kind and supportive of others (and ourselves) when we’re winning, or when we know we’re good at something. People are less adept at handling struggle and frustration. I’ve met people at tournaments who seemed awesome…until they lost. Then it would be like hanging out with another person. Those types of folks are usually not worth building relationships with, and I find they don’t have a lot of longevity in their respective fields.

Learning to deal with frustration is part of become adept at something. I’ll second the suggestion to journal. I’d also challenge you to do more things that force you to deal with those feelings. Failing means we’re trying, and pushing beyond what we know we’re already good at. In my own practice, I work to remind myself of where I’ve succeeded. And also of where I’ve failed even harder than what I’m experiencing in the moment. I say things like, “Okay, I sucked today. But you know what? I was here and I did it, and things are better than they were last year. And I’m certainly better for having tried than if I’d just stayed home.”

Do that, and in time, I really do believe that success follows. It’s just that we don’t talk much about all of the failure that mastery requires.

Having finished exuding the wisdom that can only result from decades spent failing, loudly and in public (and being, as far as I can tell, a good decade older than many of the more vocal group members), I was suddenly struck by something. Something that’s been nagging at me since I started competing in fencing tournaments that I haven’t been able to pinpoint until now:

HEMA people don’t seem to collectively know how to lose.

It’s like there’s a stigma against trying something and sucking at it. And maybe it’s in my head, but I feel like I’m running into it extra hard with the women I’m meeting.

I get excited to see other women at tournaments and I bop on over and introduce myself, and I frequently get something like, “Oh I’m not competing today! I’m just not ready yet!” Or, “I’m still a beginner—I’m just here to watch!” More than once I’ve had other women tell me I’m brave for competing, like I’ve just signed up to donate a lobe of liver or something. I also hear a lot of, “Oh, I’m not a good fencer, you should really talk to someone else!”

We learn this kind of self-deprecating speech over the course of our lives. I learned to say things like this before getting on stage and playing guitar (girls don’t play rock music any more than they handle weapons, as far as the world seems to be concerned). I catch myself saying shit like this about fencing, too. So I get it. Jesus, I get it.

But fundamentally what’s happened is these women haven’t given themselves permission to fight. Some of them might get online later and find an excuse. We do a lot of complaining about larger opponents, poorly-fitting protective gear (because no one in Poland has ever seen a naked woman, as far as I can tell), instructors who can’t empathize they way we wish they could (though I’m lucky to have one who works at this), and similar. And those are real issues, certainly. Yeah, shit can be a lot harder as a girl. I 110% agree.  And that’s a battle that we need to be fighting.

But I’m also okay with losing. And I think that’s a big part of the underlying issue, in the art as a whole. Losing is hard, and it’s a lot easier to just not try.  It’s much easier to drink and be angry and complain on the Internet about how unfair things are.  It’s much easier to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t be expected to do things.

Quitting is easy.  Never trying to begin with is even easier.

I’m okay with walking into a ring, understanding that I could be slaughtered. I might make particular choices about who I spar just for the sake of preventing unnecessary injury, but I’m not going to “wait until I’m better” the way I feel like I’m being told to. I know that I might never feel ready. And I spent enough time wrangling with depression to know that I can’t always trust my own perception of myself or my abilities. I have to do things despite how I feel.

It’s not just us ladies, of course.

At one point, I heard someone in my own fencing circle rumbling about the need for a “fight team” of elite students, so that we could make a better impression as a school. Students should earn the right to compete in outside tournaments.

Come on.

Like if one of us displays weakness, the wolves will close in.

Let’s be real: If people had to wait to compete until they felt like they were assured victory, most of us would never leave our homes. It’s this line of thinking that says you shouldn’t try anything unless you know you’ll already be good at it. That might fly in a Mountain Dew commercial, but real life isn’t like that. In fact, I think that kind of attitude is cowardly. Shit, if I waited until I thought I was ready for things, I’d still be hiding in my bedroom, living with my parents, maybe even married to someone I hate. I definitely wouldn’t have gone to grad school. I wouldn’t have nabbed that book deal. I wouldn’t have ever published anything. I wouldn’t have ever gotten on stage to perform. I wouldn’t have the friends I do now. I sure as fuck would never have become a priestess running a coven.

Maybe some of this is pressure to be acknowledged as a “real” sport. Maybe it’s a nerd thing. Half of us have spent our lives playing D&D and being bullied for wanting to go the Renaissance faire instead of trying out for football. It feels good to be validated somewhere, finally.

I don’t know. But I think when I get frustrated by peoples’ bad attitudes at tournaments, this is part of what’s behind it. I don’t recall running into these things when I was doing Taekwondo, though maybe it’s because I just wasn’t paying attention (there were also plenty more women, so I think we’d collectively hammered some things out already and weren’t dealing with the same level of frustration).

So I’ll say it again: Part of being good at something is being good at failing. Winning is actually a lot less impressive, in my mind. Someone has to win, after all. But good losers are too few and far between.

I’ve dealt with too much bullshit in my life to be overly worried about whether or not strangers at a tournament think I should be there or not. I care what my instructor thinks, I care about my own safety (well…), and I care about whether or not I’m coming out better at the other end of things. But I’m really over the deprecating talk of being “worthy” of handling a sword.  I’m going to do the thing regardless of whether or not anyone thinks I’m worthy.  Because I like trying.

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I’m Writing a Fucking Book and Drinking Lots of Coffee

group-shotYesterday was my last day of student teaching, and I’m sitting at a Starbucks drinking liquefied sugar and gleefully clacking away on my laptop for the first time in months. God I missed this. Working really gets in the way of working you know?

I actually feel like blogging.

Good thing, too, because I’m writing a fucking book.

No, seriously. For real this time. The Llewellyn contract is signed, the deadline is set, and pretty soon I’ll have to provide a headshot that doesn’t make me look like I escaped from the woods and got lost at Sephora on my way to a spinster schoolteacher convention.

I got tired of whining about how I don’t know what books to recommend to seekers of traditional Wicca and decided to write my own. This is the kind of project that gets me really excited but comes with a certain level of dread, too. I’m purporting to represent a movement here, and, as a relatively conservative Gardnerian priestess (and a young one, at that) I’m clearly not the most representative voice in the world. To remedy this, I’m trying to include perspectives, anecdotes, and advice from others, in other traditions (as well as my own, of course). I’m working down my list of badass trad Wiccans to contact and beg for input, and I can only hope to be as inclusive as possible. I know I can’t write something perfect, but I at least want to write something that another coven leader in a different tradition can feel comfortable handing to an inquisitive seeker and going, “Here, this is pretty close to what we do and has some things in it that could help you.”

I’m not policing the term “traditional” either. I’m discussing it in terms of the role of initiation, lineage, hierarchy, and the coven, but I’m not out to tell people who is and isn’t legit. Ya’ll can figure that out on your own. So if you’ve got a story to share (I’m especially looking for people to represent some of the less-discussed BTW groups here in the States), please drop me a line. I don’t have the final say about what gets included (and there’s no money in it), but I’ll take all the help I can get to make this thing representative and solid. Seekers, that goes for you, too. Drop me a line. Some of you will hear from me personally at some point, asking for input. I’m envisioning inserts scattered throughout the text body, with advice, anecdotes, and other tidbits from people who aren’t me.

In other writing news, I’m working on another project that I hope will end up being a column for Witches&Pagans Magazine. I’m co-writing with one of the buttheads over at Gardnerians, so I know good things will result one way or another. I’ve been reading Witches&Pagans (back when it was NewWitch) since issues 1 (actually—fun Thorn factoid—I have a letter to the editor in an early issue in which I make myself look like an adolescent jackass), so I’m majorly pumped that they’re even considering my writing.

The great irony is that all of this writing about witchcraft leaves much less time to actually practice witchcraft. Foxfire has been extraordinarily patient with me, and for that I’m grateful. Winter months are just kind of a mess, anyway. Family events, holidays, traveling, work, and weather get in the way of the day-to-day business of coven things, especially when you’re in different towns. It takes an enormous amount of effort from everyone to be in the same space at the same time (both physically and emotionally). The upside is that we all seem to be busy with personal Craft stuff, and everyone seems to be growing despite my neglect.

My social time is limited, but most of it belongs to my HEMA club. I didn’t realize how much I missed belonging to a martial arts school. Taekwondo was this huge thing in my life back in college, and it was devastating to close that door, after moving away, realizing my instructors were assholes, and subsequently being disillusioned by the entire tradition. That was a really rough time in my life, and it tarnished a lot of the things that were really great about the art itself. I told myself I’d never be a part of a system like that again. Money-grubbing “masters” and a bullshit belt ranking system and raging misogyny from ninja dudebros (as well as other women) at every fucking turn. I’m still proud of what I accomplished in Taekwondo, but I’m no longer sorry I quit.

My sword club fills this deep-seated emotional need that I sort of forgot I had. Or was pretending I didn’t have. Or something. It’s a lot bigger than fencing.

And on that note, more coffee.

Hello September

wilIt’s been a rough morning. By now, most of you probably know that Charlotte was in the news this morning. Driving to work, the streets were littered with broken glass and other trash. Cop cars and news vans were still perched at intersections. The kids are rattled—scared and angry. This isn’t some distant horror; it’s my neighborhood. Our kids are involved. Our schools are involved. Schools are where these things coalesce, after all. And kids are so much more aware than anyone gives them credit for.

It’s going to be a tough week.

Other things are okay. It’s been easy to keep myself busy. I work full time, and have class in the evening.

I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to longsword these past couple of months. At Free Spirit, something sort of popped in my brain. After some significant conversations and a heavy ritual experience, I made an oath to Freyja—that wasn’t related to HEMA—and I think this has just been the natural consequence. I don’t know why I was surprised. Aside from just generally improving my fencing, I’m also building a really spectacular set of new relationships. I mean, I’ve known these guys for almost a year, but now we’re actually friends. It’s been really valuable to step outside of my usual social spaces (which are Pagan spaces) and work on other parts of my life. “You live in witchcraft,” my working partner tells me. And he’s right. It becomes invisible after a while, because it’s just my life. I don’t notice it until I step outside and explore something different.

It helps me to keep things in perspective, and it creates more interesting opportunities to push my thinking.

So my fencing friends and I are about to start a Dungeons & Dragon campaign, with our instructor acting as DM (naturally). It’s been fun setting aside my blogging and book writing and lesson planning and athletic training to take pleasure in fantasy. Earlier, I’d been flirting with the prospect of writing fiction (I rarely even read fiction), and this is feeding that impulse. I’m flexing a different part of my brain. And, of course, there’s the added fun of painting new character minis. I always forget how much I enjoy that, going through bursts every year or two. It’s been a great way to get to know my new friends, too.  There are lots of things I could say about the awesomeness of D&D, but another time.

Foxfire is still kicking ass and taking names. We initiated one of our outer court people last weekend, which was a really moving experience for everyone. I haven’t posted to Patheos all month, and I’m sitting on all of these half-formed pieces that I just haven’t been ready to finish. One of them is about the significance of the initiation experience—something Jason Mankey and other Patheos bloggers touched on recently—and its function in traditional Wicca. Always a controversial topic, I realize. It’s hard to appreciate the kind of ritual we do if you haven’t lived through something similar yourself, so I understand why people think it’s all about inclusion and exclusion. Obviously, exclusion is a thing that happens (and obviously people can be assholes about it), but that’s not central to what’s going on. I’m not just doing this to draw lines in the sand and make people feel bad. If that’s all I wanted, I could just be a jerk on the Internet. Staging a meaningful initiation is way harder than that. The experience that we created was facilitated carefully over time, for one specific person, focused on plugging her into something bigger than herself. You can’t replicate that just by having the text I used on paper. It really doesn’t matter whether or not anyone thinks “it’s all on the Internet anyway” or whatever.  That’s like saying you can read the transcript of a graduation speech and have the experience of making it through high school. You can’t replicate initiation by reading a book.   You don’t “evolve” past that kind of experience because you want to be inclusive. I can respect the choices that other people make in their own traditions and their own individual practices, but it blows my mind that people write off what I do as obsolete or purely about elitism. Do you need to go through a group initiation experience to be a witch? Of course not. But this is how we do it, and we do it that way for internal reasons. Not because it has any bearing on how or why other people practice their own kinds of Craft.

I’m rambling at you now, just tired.

I’m off to a sword event this weekend, with two more this season. I’ve also got the Army Ten Miler coming up in a few weeks, with two half Marathons to follow in November and December. This has turned out to be the year of distance running. Maybe I’ll shoot for a full Marathon in the next year or two. We’ll see.

Off the Rails

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In the spirit of random dumping, here’s a picture of Oliver with a bow.

One of my first degrees, Lore, tells me that I should just take Oathbound completely off the rails sometime, just for the hell of it.  “Just post grocery lists.  Or rant about a bad date.  Or make up some kind of witch trend and see how many people you can get on board,” and she laughed sort of maniacally.  She’s got a taste for the weird, and she loves it when people get strange just because.

Blogging has come to be its own genre, with its own formulas, and it gets a little confining sometimes.  I love it, really (and I’m not going to fuck with Oathbound, although I can hear Jason Mankey — hi Jason! You’re awesome! — saying, “But you CAN write about other things!”), but I think Lore has a point about blowing off some writing steam.  I need to work up to doing it on such a large platform, though.  I know my Patheos friends would welcome other kinds of material, but there’s definitely a particular voice and a particular style that dominates.  I think I’ll just have to sort of mentally work up to putting the off-the-cuff stuff there.

Honestly, when I get home from work, I just don’t really have the energy for much.

I work at an impoverished urban school with a student body that’s more than 95% African-American and Hispanic.  Our kids are several years behind in terms of performance, and it’s my job to teach them to read at grade level.  This task, by the way, is literally impossible given the total lack of support from our district and the State as a whole.  Without educational resources, parental support, or even a safe place to do their homework (many of our children are homeless or live in volatile foster situations), it just isn’t going to happen.  A lot of kids are migratory.  Many don’t speak any English.  We do our best and try to at least be a source of positivity for these kids, but the situation is dire any way you look at it.  And the educational gap is getting bigger every year.  Our children are also routinely involved in neighborhood violence.  Police are everywhere all the time.  The school-to-prison pipeline is a real thing for these kids, and it’s a daily heartbreak.  And that’s without even getting to the absurdity that is teacher education, pay, and retention.  It’s amazing to me that more people–people with children, especially–aren’t angry about public education.  It’s like no one cares.  Or they only care insofar as they don’t actually have to do any work to change anything.

So I don’t really care about Pagan drama when I get home from work.  It’s just not relevant to, dare I say, “real life” most of the time.  It’s a Maslow’s Hierarchy thing.  I like to engage with categories within Paganism, authenticity, history.  It’s intellectually stimulating and personally challenging.  I love the conversations we have, and the opportunities to learn.  But if I’m going to get angry about something at the end of the day, it’s never going to be over who’s a real witch, or whether or not someone’s god is being defamed on the Internet, or what Christians think about Satan.  It’s never going to be over whether or not Pagans can be atheists, or what the gods are really like.

Interesting, sure, sometimes.  But other things are more pressing.  And I’m tired.

I’m also a little voyeuristic.  I want to hear about what people’s personal lives are like.  One of the things I loved about Livejournal a hundred years ago was watching total strangers (with common interests) freak out about the same stuff I was freaking out about, other places in the world.  Dating, family drama, having kids, problems at school or work, wanting to try something cool they read about in their newest witchcraft book, being nervous because they were going to a new community for a ritual, pissed off ranting about people I’ll never meet, lamenting that no one understands.  It was gold.  It made everyone — no matter their religion, their subculture, their kink, their trauma, their whatever — look totally human.  Learning from each other happened naturally, and everyone seemed to feel less alone.

I have narratives in my head about some of the other Patheos bloggers I’ve never met in real life (actually, all of the bloggers I follow, on whatever platform), especially the ones who barely write about their personal lives.  It’s like fanfic.  Our blogs make us look so polished and together most of the time.  I like to imagine what the freakouts might look like.  My freakouts and fuckups have been pretty spectacular in the past.  All of those blogs about finding a good coven, building community, and whatever have all come from real life experiences.  Most have been super messy.  Maybe someday when I’m drunk I’ll write more about that.

Right now I have to finish this moronic assignment for my teaching program.  Then I have to go to the grocery store because I’m out of basically everything except for cat food, which helps no one but Oliver.

I also need salt, tuna, granola bars and snacks to take to work, some sort of fruit so I don’t get scurvy, and maybe something to eat for dinner that doesn’t involve pouring milk over a bowl of cereal.  Which I’m also out of.

 

Alabama and Reflections on Alex Mar’s Witches of America

alex marI’m in Alabama for Thanksgiving, hanging out with my parents, running, writing, and sleeping more than I usually do. Oliver always makes the drive with me, and it’s funny watching him interact with my mother’s three cats, who are comparatively huge and fancy (long-haired, Persian, flat-faced, totally uncivilized despite whatever she says about them). Oliver stalks around the house looking surly, hissing a lot, and staying close to me. The other cats do little more than watch him attentively, but he hates it. And, naturally, I have to take his side.

Thanksgiving break and then winter break are much-needed, and I appreciate them more now that I’ve finally admitted to just not liking fall. I can catch up on reading (in between grading student papers), do some blogging, and refocus on my own physical well-being (eating regularly, getting a lot of exercise, sleeping). I even set up a target in my parents’ backyard so I can shoot.

I’m finishing up Alex Mar’s Witches in America, which I’d been dying to read since seeing all of the horrendous, scathing, angry reviews floating around the Pagan Internet.  It’s been sitting on my table for weeks, and I finally got to read it yesterday, finishing up this morning.

There’s a lot in here that I recognize. Mar and I have similar educational and economic backgrounds (near as I can tell) and are close in age, so many of her questions and impulses look familiar to me. I understand how she feels when she doesn’t quite connect to the language prevalent amongst the Dianics she visits (it’s not her feminism, not her experience of womanhood). I understand that she feels self-conscious, surrounded by the kind of ecstatic religiosity at a large Pagan gathering, and later amongst the smaller groups she pursues. I understand wanting to suspend disbelief in search of a feeling that everyone else seems to have already achieved, feeling like you’re missing something. I understand the difficulty she has negotiating conversations about socioeconomic class, and the sometimes careless assumptions she makes about the people she’s studying.  And I understand the disappointment of having to go, “Nope. This isn’t what I thought it was or what I hoped it would be.”

So I’m empathetic, even if my experiences were different.

I can’t really comment on her relationships with her individual subjects or what oaths she may or may not have broken. I think it’s worth noting that (as far as I know) the people she describes by name have remained silent on the matter. Only they can say what boundaries were violated, if any. I’m not privy to the promises she made, and I don’t feel like that’s any of my business. I also think that when oathbound material is shared and vows are broken, it’s usually best dealt with by shutting up and not drawing attention, which only serves to let everyone else know the material is really oathbound.

When I first read Tanya Luhrmann’s Persuasions of the Witches’ Craft, I had similar reactions. I found myself thinking, “Jeez, I would never have been comfortable letting a scholar into my circle like this.” But that’s their business. It’s not up to me to tell them what’s secret and what isn’t, because every group is different. If I disagree, they only way I can protect material is to keep my own mouth shut and use their experience as a cautionary tale. As for open rituals, I think having writers present is a risk that everyone takes. These are public, after all. How many church services have I written about myself? How many open rituals? Even when you go through IRB clearance (as I did), individual consent from a large body of attendees is often not required, especially if the event is open to the public (like most Pagan festivals). Whether or not that’s personally ethical varies by individual, and the outsider’s position (whether she’s a scholar, a journalist, or a blogger) is usually different from the insider’s.

Friends and colleagues have commented that they found the work to be dismissive of certain kinds of Paganism (especially eclectic Wicca) and also somewhat body-shaming. I didn’t get that impression, myself. If anything, I thought most of her descriptions were a little cliché (“pendulous” breasts abound). When she avoided eclectic Wiccans, I understood it to be because she was personally on a quest for something organized, lineaged, and appealing to her desire for intimacy. Her avoidance made sense to me, and didn’t strike me as dismissive.

As an ethnographer, I can also empathize with the fact that subjects almost never feel perfectly represented. They often feel you’ve missed the point. They often feel slighted. Usually—for religious groups—this is rooted in the ethnographer never totally giving up her outsider position. The Christians I worked with knew that I couldn’t possibly have gotten them, because if I had, I would have been saved.

At best, I’d say this is an interesting memoir from someone who thirty-something spiritual seekers may recognize. At worst, it’s just kind of rehashed and self-indulgent—pretty standard fare in popular journalism. I think the mistake some people made was assuming that this book was designed to be representative or descriptive, but this is obviously not the case. It’s very clearly a memoir. I can’t imagine how someone could pick this up after reading the dust jacket and opening chapter and think this book would tell them how to be a witch, what Paganism looks like in the United States, or what really goes on in a witch coven. This is one more volume in the growing library of “seeker” memoirs—popular for the last several years—akin to Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple or Lauren Sandler’s Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement. Fascinating for the mildly curious, but clearly not intended to be objectively scholarly.

As usual, I think our reactions say more about us than about the work itself. Maybe she really gets it wrong. Maybe looking in the mirror is uncomfortable for us Pagans. Maybe she broke her oaths. Maybe we’re offended that she didn’t feel what we feel. Maybe we wish she’d worked with different people. Maybe we just wish she’d picked a better title.

I think it’s worth reading, though, and considering the problem for yourself.