Creativity, Competition, and Community

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One of my thesis advisors in graduate school told me, as I was working up my proposal and trying to figure out exactly what I was going to focus on, that building a new argument is a lot harder than tearing down someone else’s. In other words, don’t use this opportunity to only dismantle something. Say something new.

That struck me hard and has stuck with me into other parts of my life. I’ve been thinking about this early life lesson a lot as the New Year puts down roots.

Creating something—whether it is a book, a new coven, a tarot business, a blog, a painting, a ritual, a song—is an act of sharing one’s self. It’s challenging, and it requires a lot of energy. It’s also a sure way to draw criticism from others, even if that criticism is your own negative self-talk. After every open ritual that you worked so hard on, there is always someone who will whisper, “Well, I think you should’ve done it this way.” Every book gets negative reviews, and some of them will be unfair. If you run a coven or circle, someone in your community will eventually say something negative about it. You might even find yourself the subject of a rumor or two (often at the hands of people you’ve never even shared intimate space with, and maybe never even met at all). People in the audience will talk over you as you play your music, waiting for the next act. Your art won’t sell as fast as you want it to, or even at all. You will at times feel awash in a sea of competition as you set up your business, and you will worry that maybe you just aren’t good enough to be here. Your YouTube video or blog will eventually get thumbs down and nasty personal comments (it wouldn’t be the Internet otherwise).

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Saying Hello to a New Year

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Hi, Patheos readers! I’m not actually new here, but a lot has changed since I first came aboard back in 2015. I have a tradition that when I start a new journal or book of shadows, I always write an introduction, both to future readers (however imaginary they may be) and to my future self (who has a knack for forgetting details as time passes). Who am I? What am I doing writing? Where am I in my magical practice? What do I hold dear in the moment? It’s a great way to both measure progress and keep my personal struggles and triumphs in perspective. Here, it’s also a good way to let new readers get a glimpse into what they’re in for, and remind longtime readers how much ground we’ve covered over the years.

So hi! My name is Thorn Mooney. I know it sounds like a Harry Potter name, but Mooney is actually a pretty common surname in the American Midwest, from whence half of my family hails. The other half is from the pretty-deep South: Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I’m an Army brat, so I grew up in a few different places (mostly in DC and surrounding suburbs). Now, North Carolina is home, and I think of myself as a Southerner. I like it here, for all its problems. It’s a lot more religiously diverse than people give it credit for, and it’s a great place to be a witch.

The Nature of the Gods

My personal theological position has moved as my Craft has grown and changed, and I find that it loops around. For a long time, I identified as a hard polytheist. More recent experiences make me less sure. But ultimately, I appreciate the paradox that presents itself in so many magical traditions: one can hold multiple positions without being in a perpetual state of internal conflict. Here, I think out loud about the nature of the divine, how we experience the gods individually (and collectively), and why so many of our questions won’t ever get satisfactory answers.

Moving, Materialism, and Finding My Feet Again

58480548420__DCFD3CB4-E232-4B1E-ABF9-EFE9718B1AF7Moving teaches you a lot about yourself.

I don’t know if this is real, or what sort of metric you could even scientifically apply here, but I’ve read several times that in terms of stress moving is on par with a death in the family. I suppose that depends on who’s dead and on how far you’re going. In any case, it’s fucking stressful.

I’m feeling very unmoored, for many reasons.

Seeing all of your stuff boxed up and laying in piles really makes you consider how much it’s possible to acquire being stationary so long. I’m not even talking about the books, because, sure they’re heavy, but they’re at least relatively uniform and easy to explain. The giant pile of old program flyers from Pagan festivals collected in the last twenty years? That’s trickier. Magical tokens gifted from friends over the years, spells remnants, magicked objects that felt very necessary five years ago but aren’t so much now, and an ungodly amount of snake shed collected from outdoors and my own pet corn snake…that’s a lot harder to justify keeping. I have floppy disks containing old book of shadows information, and no way to access their content. What do I do with such things? Not only moving, but downsizing, means that some of it simply has to be let go. Along with furniture and dishes and art and hobby supplies and things that fall into more normal categories.

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Working with Personal Cycles

I’ve learned that, like the Wheel of the Year itself, my life moves in cycles. I can remember being a Blue Star Dedicant years and years ago and realizing—courtesy of my very astute teacher who told me I needed to keep track of these things, which sounds obvious now but totally was not at the time—that my interests, moods, relationship with my body, and connection to the gods all ebbed and flowed according to the seasons. I am the happiest and most ambitious over the summer. In August, I have to be mindful of depression, which will set in as school starts. Halloween is fun, but I tend to be sick or injured this time of year. December is a good time to talk to the gods and feel them most strongly in my life. Imbolc always has be gunning to start some new spiritual project that’s usually a little beyond my scope at the time. I spend too much money in May, because all of my Taurus is hanging out and I feel good about the coming time off. And so on.

Years of doing this, and I finally have a reasonably good sense of myself. I used to try to fight it, but I find that it’s easier to just flow and be patient with myself. Work isn’t going away, and neither is depression, tax season, or final exam schedules, so better to just do what I can to prepare and move through these things as gracefully as possible.

My coven has a cycle to it to: times when it’s easier to meet often, times when people need extra support, and times when I feel like the worst high priestess in the world because I have to relinquish much of the coven’s functional work to others for the sake of my mental health. It’s not a problem, but in the past it’s been very frustrating. When you don’t recognize patterns and respond accordingly, it can feel like everything is just happening to you beyond control.

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Conversion and Trauma

I turned in my first short story to my writing workshop last week. I’m new to fiction, and I had a blast writing thirteen pages (haha) about a Wiccan shopkeeper who’s lost his belief in magic.

Mostly, I wrote it to amuse myself and my friends. I knew going in that the biggest challenge would be writing a story that felt authentic without excluding my non-witch audience. How to work in community jokes and contemplations on stuff that really matters to my personal experience while not alienating a roomful of people (one of whom is responsible for my grade) who might have zero experience with any kind of Pagan anything?

The feedback was surprisingly useful, and I was pleased that they seemed to think I’d pulled off something worthwhile (or, at least, not just produced a steaming pile of garbage). As a room, however, one snag sat at the center of the critique:

“I need to know this narrator’s religious background,” said my professor.

I should add, here, that the rules of our workshop prevent the author from speaking. We’re required to listen, take notes, and be thoughtful. I was not permitted to engage and instead practiced my (still bad) poker face.

“A loss of faith narrative could be interesting, but it matters where he’s coming from. Was he raised as a witch? And, if not, what trauma led to his conversion?”

Whoa. Trauma?

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