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.

 

Life Update: Patheos, Fall Plans, and Rambling

IMG_6524I miss you, thornthewitch.com.   How have you been? I promised myself that I would keep updating, even once I began writing for Patheos, and I’m afraid I’m failing you.

Writing for Patheos is awesome. It’s a blast having a bigger readership and getting to interact with more people, from different paths and practices. I genuinely love disagreement, being challenged, and forced to reconsider my perspectives, and Patheos has provided that, absolutely. At Free Spirit Gathering, points from my article about hugging and consent were raised, and I was approached by several attendees, thanking me for representing their interests. This was the first year that no one forcibly grabbed me (and I’m not talking polite hugs). Even Corvus made it through without any unwanted touching, which was truly astounding, and I felt largely responsible. It was more gratifying than I can say, feeling like the things I write can actually have some impact.

The biggest downside is that I really can’t swear as much (which is really challenging for me) and I feel like each post has to have some kind of moral. Sometimes I just like to ramble. That’s where you come in, thornthewitch.com.

There’s been a lot going on, and this fall promises to be the most hectic I’ve ever had.

I’m working at the elementary school, teaching a class at the university, going to school part-time, and traveling. At the end of August, I’m off to East Coast Thing (Wait, what? A Wiccan at an Asatru event? REASONS.). In October, I’ll be attending my first Gardnerian gather, which was unplanned, but I’m super excited about it. The following weekend, I’m officiating a wedding (which will require its own preparation during earlier months). In November, I’m presenting a paper at the AAR annual meeting, which is always exciting and nerve-wracking. There’s always the potential for shame (although my good humor usually protects me), but I try to think of it as a learning experience, an opportunity for conversation, and a chance to spend some time with people that I look up to. Meanwhile, there’s my tarot course, tarot reading and study generally, writing for assorted platforms, and running both an inner court and an outer court. I’ll also be trying to save money for PantheaCon, which I’m determined to attend this year (and will be searching for a room and/or roommate, so let me know if you’ll be there).

I’m not complaining, though. I’m happiest when I’m really busy, even when it’s exhausting. It’s good for my mental health. I’m much more pleasant to be around when I feel like I’m fulfilling a purpose and accomplishing something. That American Protestant work ethic is fucking ingrained, and I’m okay with it.

I’ve made a couple of YouTube videos this week, too. One on feeling like I’m living a double life (sort of a video companion to my most recent Patheos post) and another on starting a coven.

So all kinds of excitement! Stay tuned.

Blogging at Patheos!

photo-4In just about a week I’ll be writing on Oathbound: Witchcraft and Magic from the Gut, my brand new blog over at Patheos. I’m super excited, because I’ll be sharing space with established authors whom I’ve followed for a long time (Jason Mankey, Lupa, Aidan Kelly, Peg Aloi, and Lilith Dorsey, among others).  So hooray!  It’s a big deal for me because I’ll have the opportunity to write for a larger audience and get more critical feedback on both my writing and my general line of thinking. It’ll also give me an excuse to finally attend Pantheacon, which I’m mad stoked about.

I’ll be writing about a lot of the same topics: traditional Wicca and witchcraft, Paganism in the academic world, generally humorous stories about being Pagan in the wild, and tales from my own work operating a coven and trying not ruin the tradition with which I’ve been entrusted.

The new blog is still under construction, but look for a link in about a week. I’ll continue to post at Thorn the Witch, but it’ll take some time to figure out exactly what the divide is going to look like. I expect that things may get a bit more personal and swear-y over here (because saying fuck a lot and trying to revive the word “cowan” isn’t going to go over well on Patheos, probably), but hopefully not less frequent.

In the meantime, please check out and like my brand new Facebook page! You’d be doing me a big favor (and tricking Patheos Pagan into thinking I’m really popular and cutting edge so no one regrets letting me do this).

(And isn’t my blog banner badass?  It was made by Lore over at Ecstatick Magick, who is a fucking wizard.)

The stigma of mental illness in Pagan and metaphysical communities

I don’t usually double-post my YouTube videos to my blog, but I thought this one may be valuable to the people who keep googling wicca and depression and ending up here.  Clearly, there aren’t enough people talking about this sort of thing.  I see the subject of mental illness and the notion of the “proper person” rear up periodically online, usually clouded by a lot of fear, misunderstanding, and judgment from people who don’t really know much about it.

The reality is that bazillions of people live with depression, described personality disorders, PTSD, anxiety, and all kinds of mental health concerns.  For most of us, you’d never know it.  In fact, often the only difference between us and a lot of “normal” people is that we’ve acknowledged our problems and are seeking treatment.  It both saddens and angers me to hear about covens actively excluding people who are in psychotherapy, who take anti-depressants, or who have particular diagnoses, under the blanket assumption that everyone who struggles with mental health is unfit for coven work or somehow otherwise not a fully-functioning human being.  It’s one thing for a coven leader to be unprepared to deal with the problems of a particular individual (I’m not trying to downplay the severity of certain conditions or suggest that everyone should get a free pass), but quite another to assume that everyone in therapy or on an SSRI isn’t “stable” or “healthy” enough for Craft.

In the above video, I talk a little bit about my own treatment history, the stigma attached to mental illness in Wicca/Pagan/metaphysical communities, and touch on the relationship between mental illness and magic.

Obligatory New Year’s Post

Oh god it’s 2015 and I could swear 1995 happened ten years ago. Jesus.

As a perpetual student and academic, my new year really begins in the fall when classes start. January has always struck me as a dark, in-between place of sadness where nothing good ever happens (but thank god the champagne is on sale). As a Wiccan, I’ve always thought of the new year as beginning at the Feast of Torches (that’s Imbolc or Candlemas to others), and that’s really when I start to feel more like myself. I know for others, Halloween is the “Witches’ New Year,” but for us it’s really just the end of the old, marking the beginning of a liminal period characterized by darkness and cold. January is just when the fireworks happen, as far as I’m concerned.

Nonetheless, I thought it would be worthwhile to lay out some goals for myself in 2015. I’ve found over the years that I’m way more likely to actually do things if I write them down and then tell everyone I know about my intentions. Then I’m socially obligated.

Leaving off the boring, mundane stuff about running and finding a job that doesn’t shame my parents, most of my goals are tarot and Craft-related.

For those of you who weren’t aware, I’ve taken my tarot reading beyond the party and festival circuit and am now offering readings throughout the year. I’ve got a gig at a local shop (Laughingbrook Spellcrafting & Ancestral Arts in Huntersville, NC) and now provide readings through my Etsy shop, Widdershins. Along with my own website just for tarot things, 2015 also marks the release of my monthly newsletter, The Tarot Skeptic (first issue out tomorrow). All of this has been a great way to foster my own studies in tarot, provide a service that is actually useful and enjoyable, and meet a bunch of new people doing something similar.

The biggest news is probably my recent decision to complete the book proposal I shelved after graduate school. I’ve already put a lot of work into this, but the malaise that set in after graduation caused me to shun any kind of even vaguely academic writing, and this project is a heavy one. It’s something of a crossover, designed to appeal both to other Pagans and to those simply interested in Pagan communities. To my knowledge, there’s no comparable work on the market and early drafts of my proposal received enough publication interest that I think it’s worth pursuing. I feel like it’s time to actually start writing something substantial, because there’s just no way around it: it’s going to be a butt load of work no matter when I do it. May as well do it now. And if I tell you people I’m writing a book and the proposal is going to be done by the end of the year, then I will actually do it. Please feel free to harass me about it.

Foxfire is growing and changing, now operating with an inner court and outer court. It’s exciting and enormously nerve-wracking, but I’m grateful that we’re healthy and happily functioning, which is more than most covens can say in their first two years. It’s thrilling to see a growing Gardnerian presence in North Carolina.

I guess that’s all.

Here. Enjoy a YouTube video on the word “Neo-Wicca” for those who didn’t catch it earlier.

A Video and Musings on Seeking

(And can we please appreciate the thumbnail for this video.  I love it when it’s this awkward.)

Back in my Teen Witch days I longed for a coven with the sort of desperate urgency that can only be generated by out-of-control hormones and the bewildering lack of self-awareness characteristic of overly-privileged suburban white kids. I needed people to understand me. To appreciate my latent talents. To spur me on in what I just knew in my soul was my fated path. My bones fucking vibrated with destiny. I was coming home. Wicca was who-I-was-oh-Goddess.

I was fucking determined, I tell you what. I combed the Internet (the second the Internet was a thing I could comb), posted ads on every witchcraft website that would let me, stalked the regulars at the local New Age store, and snuck off to open rituals with unwitting teenaged friends (“Hey I thought you said this was a book club.”) who had cars and less attentive parents. Before I got to college, I e-mailed every person within a fifty-mile radius who had a listing on Witchvox. Once I arrived, I tried to start a Pagan student group. Later on, I transferred schools and was able to join an already established club. I went to drum circles, open rituals, psychic fairs, and New Age book clubs, scanning for people who might have something in common with me.   I would talk to anyone who stood still long enough, and I spent more time with ill-suited people than I should have.

When I was finally old enough (well, and even before then), I sent seeker letters to every coven I could find in the state that even sort of looked like it might be functional (even a “Norse Wicca” group, I’m telling you because I feel like we’ve know each other long enough). I tried to sound mature and collected, but that feeling of desperation never really went away, even when I was smugly assuring people that “being solitary is just as good if not better.” When I finally did find my first coven, I stayed longer than I should have because I’d already worked so hard to get there. They weren’t quite right-—not traditional enough, not stable enough, not healthy enough—-but it had already taken me so long to just find them. What if that’s the closest I could ever get?

In retrospect, I can see that a lot of what I was looking for was validation. In searching for “real” Wicca I made a lot of unfair compromises, met a lot of astonishingly broken people, and became more disillusioned by Paganism, Wicca, witchcraft, and everything in between than I can meaningfully convey.

But I also found myself.  Haha, psych. No, what I found was that it pays to have standards. Because some groups and some people are just better and healthier and more effective than others.

There’s a lot to be said for the experience of seeking. Man, it can blow pretty hard, but it does make you more capable of recognizing worthwhile teachers, leaders, and groups. It also makes you more humble, slower to anger, and more patient with other seekers. Not to mention you acquire more mundane skills like recognizing good reading material from bad, asking worthwhile questions of the right people, and dealing with the constant barrage of naysayers (be they Christians or realer-than-thou witches).

I eventually found exactly what I’d been looking for (minus that scene in The Craft where butterflies pour out of the sky in happy acknowledgment from the gods). It’s easy to overlook, but there are stable, grounded people who identify as Pagan, too. Some versions of Wicca make more objective sense than others, leading to more useful places and more meaningful experiences. Some witches are more effective than others (and some are not witches at all, when it comes right down to it). Some people make productive contributions to your life and others should be avoided entirely. Sometimes it pays to wait it out instead of jumping into whatever comes along.

The sorts of judgments you make as far as identifying these things is totally up to you and your own agendas and experiences. I’m grateful for many of the opportunities I’ve had as a seeker—-I feel like they’ve made me a better coven leader, if for no other reason than I know what not to do—-but I also wish I’d had more patience. I’m a step or two closer to disillusionment than I would like, even though I can see now that there’s more good in Pagan communities than bad. I can also be cynical when meeting new people, figuring that I can quickly stereotype them and file them away without consequence (categories include “secretly misogynistic male witch chasing ass,” “self-hating New Ager trying to justify poor life choices,” and “know-it-all twenty-something guru who thinks tumblr reblogs constitute authority”).

The bad comes with the good.

But I think teenaged Thorn would have been pleased in the end.