Author Archives: thornthewitch

About thornthewitch

witch, crafter, musician, scholar, cat enthusiast

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.

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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.

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.