December Update

Traditional Wicca2I’ve been pretty quiet on the Internet lately. I haven’t blogged, haven’t posted to Facebook, and have just generally been keeping to myself these days. The Internet is pretty amazing a lot of the time, but I think sometimes we use it as a replacement for actually getting out and doing things. I find that I get online to check something or look something up, and suddenly I get sucked into some rabbit hole and lose whole hours. I needed a break.

I’m up to a lot these days. Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide is up on Amazon, and I just can’t get over it. A friend pointed out just this weekend that I now have an author profile on Llewellyn’s website. It’s incredible to me that I grew up in the Craft (and in general) reading Llewellyn authors, and now I’m one of them. This process has been wild. It’s slow, too. I wrote the bulk of Traditional Wicca almost two years ago, and in between I’ve worked full time and gone back to school. I get so busy with daily life that I actually forget about it sometimes, and then I get an email from my editor asking for me to look at something, and I go through the shock all over again. Holy crap I wrote a book.

Check out what Ray Buckland wrote about my work:

“Thorn writes with obvious sincerity, with feeling, and from experience. Her book covers everything from defining Witchcraft, through the workings of a coven, to actual initiation and beyond. She warns that Wicca is not for everyone and–I am personally delighted to see–includes a chapter on recognizing ‘red flags’ when first contacting others . . . especially those who might claim to be more than they actually are. This book is the quintessential guide for the true, sincere seeker.”―Raymond Buckland, author of Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft

I was literally screaming when I first read this.

The best part is that now that I’ve done it once, I know it’s doable. I’ve got other projects in the works, and writing no longer feels quite as daunting. Currently, my focus is on the young adult novel I’ve always wanted to write. When I was a teenager, I loved Isobel Bird’s series Circle of Three and Cate Tiernan’s Sweep. I still love them. When I’m feeling shitty and need a pick-me-up or just want to feel that inkling of falling in love with witchcraft again, I reread the first books in these series. For a long time, I’ve wanted to take those same tropes and revisit them through my own experiences as a young witch (and can you believe those books are now as old as they are? First published in 2001, some of them you can’t even find in print anymore). The world needs more realistic teen witch stories.

Non-fiction is in the works, too, but I’m getting a kick out of shifting gears these days.

Changes are afoot in my online life more broadly. I’m doing some consolidating. I’m in the process of moving my tarot content to my main website, as well as some of my old Patheos articles. Just for the sake of keeping track of things and not feeling like I’m being spread so thin. I anticipate writing more on all fronts in 2018. I’ll be setting up a mailing list this upcoming year, too, so keep your eyes peeled.

Classroom Witchcraft

IMG_0618It’s the start of a new school year and I’m back in my classroom getting my space ready for students. I’m also bracing myself emotionally. Last year was really, really hard, and I had a rough summer punctuated by some astoundingly alienating professional development seminars that made me seriously question whether I wouldn’t be better off looking for another job. Teachers are just so…extroverted. My coworkers are constantly talking about their “passion for teaching” and putting their “heart and soul” into their work. They spend their paychecks on classroom decorations and school supplies, and every one of them seems perfectly happy to sacrifice evenings and weekends to lesson planning, researching new strategies, and socializing at student events.

I am not that teacher. I’m a good ten years older than most of my coworkers, and I’ve worked other jobs in my life. I care about my students, but I’m not particularly sentimental on the whole. I don’t believe that careers are inherently supposed to have anything to do with callings, and I know that being a classroom teacher isn’t mine anyway (being a priestess is, but that doesn’t come with healthcare). I’m very introverted and guard my personal time fiercely. I don’t use platitudes, play trust games, or abuse exclamation points in my emails.

This makes my job challenging, as you can imagine. I’m good with students, my kids perform well, and I don’t mind the long schedule most of the time. I just feel like I’m constantly being asked to pretend to be someone I’m not.

But this is a new year, and I’ve decided to try to magic my way into not dying on the job. I’m going to woo my way into the skin of someone who Truly Cares, and I’m brainstorming ways to do it. It’s been funny, as I’ve been setting up my room I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Coyote and Fox, two spirits I’ve spent a fair bit of time with in the last two years or so. I’ve been hoarding white paper (a valuable commodity in the school system), making off with unguarded extra supplies, hiding food around my room, snagging copies of keys to rooms I’m not technically supposed to have, and anything else I can think to do to make this year more comfortable. I’m thinking about erecting a discrete shrine to Coyote and Fox in my classroom. (I’m just really into natural history. Yeah.)

There are also old standbys, like spelling the jewelry I wear, incorporating a glamour into my makeup routine (“I give soooo many fucks about today’s meetings. I am burning with passion about thinking maps. I totally understand all the acronyms. I loooove collecting inspiring quotes to hang.”), and placing magical items around the classroom (sigils behind posters sounds awesome). I’m also going to just generally try to be better about self-care (eating like a human being and not a starving coyote, running regularly, not waiting all day to pee, getting a massage so I don’t go legitimately insane because of touch deprivation). I also started a new bullet journal just for teaching. I’ve been bullet journaling for a year, but I’ve staunchly not incorporated my job stuff out of weirdly misplaced spite. I’m going to use teacher washi tape and everything in order to generate enthusiasm. Go me.

What am I missing? Are any of you witches classroom teachers? Send help.

Deck Showcase: Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot

tarot oneI received the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot by Melanie Marquis and Scott Murphy way back in February. I’ve only just now opened them. Why the wait? Partially, it’s because they were a freebee from my publisher, along with a bunch of awesome books (at conferences, it’s often more cost effective for publishing houses to send sample copies home with attendees than it is to ship or fly materials back to some warehouse, hence my pile of booty), so I didn’t have the same kind of investment I normally would if I’d actually used my own money to purchase them. Further, I’m just not usually very impressed by mass published decks. There are absolutely some gems out there, but they tend to look the same to me after a while.

But I started to feel bad about letting this poor deck languish in its packaging and finally opened it tonight. I’m happy to report that I’m genuinely impressed. I hadn’t read any publisher descriptions or reviews at this point, but was struck immediately by the obvious attempt at inclusivity in the artwork. There are people of color on several cards in every suit as well as in the Major Arcana, and effort has also been made to include relationship models beyond the usual heteronormative depictions in the classic Waite-Smith (two men in the Two of Cups, for example). Low and behold, the Modern Spellcaster’s Tarot is billed as “inclusive” and “multicultural.” There have been some really awesome self-published tarot projects in the last couple of years working to represent queer and POC communities (offhand I’m thinking of the Slow Holler Tarot and the Slutist Tarot), and it’s good to see mainstream releases following suit (haha see what I did there), however slowly.

I need to pause for a second and go on about these Knights, though.

tarot fourThe Knights are some of my favorite cards, and I love what’s happening with their mounts. The Knight of Cups—on his bigass fish—is easily the most delightful tarot image I’ve seen all year. These guys are just such…dudes. Take away their horses and give them giant squirrels and suddenly they’re a thousand times more relatable (in my world, oversized forest beasts = relatable).

I do wish the cardstock was thicker. I could see myself actually using this deck to read for myself, but I’m pretty sure a couple of months in heavy rotation would be all that these cards could take. Otherwise, though, this deck is one of those gems I mentioned earlier.

tarot two

tarot three

Things Unfinished

IMG_8536Have you ever signed up for something and then not finished? Or maybe just haven’t been able to work at the rate you’d prefer?

I’m still working through the Correspondence Course through Tarot School. I’m a little over halfway, which feels like a huge accomplishment given how much I’ve done since I first signed up (earned a graduate degree, got a teaching license, got my own classroom, wrote my first book). My teacher, Wald Amberstone, tells me that hardly anyone actually finishes. Plenty of people sign up, but most of those don’t make it beyond the first lesson. I’m guessing that it’s because it’s a lot more work than people expect, and much of that work is tedious. Right away, you learn exercises for contemplating cards at many levels, but then you actually have to write these contemplations out for literally every card in the deck. I enjoy these sorts of tasks, but even I find it to be really challenging. It takes me forever to finish individual lessons, just because of how much writing each entails. I always learn a ton, though, so the work has been well worth it.

Increasingly, my practice of tarot has almost nothing to do with divination. I still think divination can be valuable, but for me it has a very definite time and place, and that only rolls around once in a great while. Further, sometimes I just don’t want to know things. I’d rather suss things out gradually, tracing the strands in my own journaling and discerning patterns. Without that kind of context, drawing cards can feel starkly off the mark. Only later do we go, “Oh, hey, that’s what that card was about.” By then the information is less useful. We just add the experience to our mental bank and hope to be a bit more astute next time.

I also think there’s a danger in becoming overly dependent on things like daily draws. As meditative exercises, yes, absolutely. But I’ve seen a lot of people get so hung up on what they pull each morning that they give up some of their own agency, resigning themselves to “what the cards said” or making far-fetched connections that, while perhaps valid, don’t actually depend on having a daily divination ritual. Sure, the 9 of Swords could be about your laundry, but did you really need a deck of cards for that?

I’ve never left that liminal space where tarot is both sacred (a map of the universe), but also totally mundane and accessible (laundry). I’m sure it’s something I’ll always wrestle with.

My next project is reviving and reformatting the newsletter. I’ve been writing a lot lately (most recently at Patheos) about identity, and I really want to consolidate some of my web presence. I do a lot, and it’s gotten hard to keep up with the various versions of myself. And if you’d like to keep up with me and my assorted adventures, you’ll be able to do so in one place (more or less)!

Meanwhile, I’m doing all of the things that go along with publishing a book, after the manuscript is done. Turns out there’s a lot! The release date for Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide (with Llewellyn) is still almost a year away, but there’s still a ton of work to do. I should see my cover in the next few days, though, and I’ll be sure to share it with you all!

You’re Invited: Pity Party

CakeIt occurred to me in the middle of ritual, hitting me during libations:

I’m angry with the gods.

It’s not reasonable, and I shouldn’t be, and it’s depression and blah blah blah, but I’m pissed.

Fuck. I thought I was just sad again.

Wicca doesn’t really have the same kinds of moral codes and rules that lend themselves to having tons of expectations about the divine. Nobody tells us that if you behave well and toe the line, then you’ll live a good life. There’s no promise that if you make sacrifices and be extra committed, then the gods will bless you especially. Witches are their own agents of change. We can’t even settle on whether or not “worship” is a thing we really do. Most of us talk in terms of “partnership” with the spirits, or “honoring” the gods, or some such. We’re supposed to find magic wherever we are in the world, and cultivate beauty and change, and recognize the divine that’s inherently in us, and all that, and have-you-tried-keeping-a-gratitude-journal lalala…but fuck it. This is all really, really hard right now.

I do worship my gods. I’ve been Doing The Thing. I’ve worked for years, sacrificing a lot of the “normal” stuff that I’ve discovered in my adulthood that I really want and am secretly terrified that now I can never have. Beyond myself and my own practice, I serve.

Maybe the fact that I have expectations of my gods at all makes my religion necessarily shallow. “I am God” isn’t enough to earn my devotion. The Devil makes deals, and that’s what I expect, one way or another. But I’m still disturbed to discover that I have a bride price, and on top of that I feel cheated. When I choose to keep working (because I will, because that’s what I do), can I do so without the self-pity and this disgusting sense of martyrdom?

It’s gross, because I think religious people usually sound naïve and entitled when they talk this way. When people pray a whole lot and their loved one dies of cancer anyway, no one is really surprised. We’re sad for them, but we’re not surprised. We don’t really expect God to intervene. Even when we’re in the throes of something truly horrific, most of us still only hope. Maybe we bargain. We recount all of those past doings that should entitle us to one outcome versus another, retracing where we went wrong. We do everything we can think of that might tip things, even if it’s just because “it couldn’t hurt.”

Feeling angry means I had expectations I didn’t realize I had. I wasn’t just hoping. Here I am, surprised. And that makes me feel stupid.

It’s hard to model devotion in a coven when I feel angry at the gods (and when was the last time I heard another Wiccan talk about that kind of anger?). It’s hard to focus on the good things that happen when depression and anxiety won’t even let me take a full breath or get a full night of sleep.

Part of the reason I started keeping a blog was to humanize the experience of Craft. Most of what comes up in Google or in your Facebook feed is heavily filtered, designed to market things at you, or persuade you that a particular way of living is better than others. But sometimes it’s messy and horrible and you don’t know why you do what you do. Sometimes the gods tell you things you don’t want to hear or, probably a lot more often, they’re just infuriatingly silent. I also wanted to normalize depression, because so many of the conversations that take place in public Pagan spaces get things wrong. You can’t reason your way out of it or focus on the good stuff and trust it’ll go away on its own. It just is, and sometimes it has to be dealt with.

It used to make me irritated in grad school when professors would describe religion as a thing we do to make the world make sense, or to make the human experience easier. It doesn’t make anything easier. I don’t feel like things make sense. Devotion makes shit harder.

I’m okay. All of this is normal. All of it will pass. It just sucks to feel blindsided, and it sucks that I can’t just make answers or even comfort materialize, no matter how many libations I pour.

Little Things

OliverThe school year is finally coming to an end. A few more days with students, a week of exams, then a week of teacher workdays for closeout procedures and grading (some of which I’m taking off for Free Spirit Gathering because priorities).

I’m having to go back to basics. A lot of my writing lately can be boiled down to, “I don’t feel great and don’t really want to do anything because sometimes I’m too tired or too unfocused to think about Craft stuff,” and lately I feel like that’s changing. Finally. Last month I took everything off the altar in my bedroom and put it in a box. If you let things go and then try to come back, it can all start to seem cluttered. Even intimidating. Too heavy to just walk back into. So I cleared everything off–altar cloth and all–and just set a single candle in place. I haven’t made any of those in forever, so all I had was yellow. In Golden Dawn interpretations of tarot, yellow is tied to consciousness and connection with God, so yellow felt appropriate. I’ve been lighting it every night while I’m home. When it burns down, I put in a fresh candle. This ritual has become enormously comforting.

I feel like reading lately, too. The season brought some new releases that I’m actually excited about, and my to-read pile from yesteryear is starting to look appealing again.

The book is back at Llewellyn for a second round of editing. It’s still pretty surreal. I wrote a book. The release date is July 2018…lightyears away. The idea for the cover has already been set, so I’m hoping to have something to show you guys in a month or two.

I’m ready to have a second project. I started writing a piece of fiction for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, and I expect I’ll pick that back up once summer break starts. It felt good to do something completely different. I’ve never written fiction before.

Free Spirit always breathes some life back in. I forget that summer is my season and always makes me feel better. This is the first year I’ll be leading workshops there,too, so, again, something different. Winter Tashlin and I will be leading a discussion on privilege in Pagan communities, and Thista Minai and I will be teaching archery as a devotional practice. I’m excited to have my bow at Free Spirit. I’ll also have my feder, so I can pick fights with Acacia and any other interloping HEMA people. Good times.

Over+out.

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.