Life After Teen Witch: An Introduction

photo-4I’m going to avoid double-posting blog posts for the sake of preventing monotony, but I did want to let everyone know that I just posted my first blog over at Patheos.  Go read it and share it on your assorted social media platforms and I’ll love you even more than I already do:

Go here!

You can also give me a follow over there (and like me on Facebook) so you don’t miss the excitement.  Hooray!

Tarot and Qabalah: What even is that.

e8b04a6b-c151-4305-b411-1843a680b9d3Until only a few years ago, pretty much everything I knew about Qabalah (QKC?ab(b)alah?) came through what I saw Madonna and Britney Spears do in Us Weekly.  I remember watching The Craft in the mid-nineties and seeing Nancy reading a book about Qabalah and thinking, “Why the hell would a witch want to read about that?”  I was both mystified and smug.

It wasn’t until I began seriously studying tarot that I started being able to orient myself.  For those of you who may be just as lost, I’m posting the following, which appeared in the February Tarot Skeptic Newsletter (which you should subscribe to if you enjoy this sort of thing!):

In the simplest terms possible, Qabalah is a Jewish mystical system that describes the creation of the world, our relationship to God, and the means by which we may achieve a kind of union with God.  The Tree of Life—the symbol that we usually see used in reference to Qabalah—is essentially a map of creation.  The word itself means receiving or received and there is an ecstatic element to the tradition (which is at least part of the reason why it’s so hard to understand through simply reading a book or two).  The roots of Qabalah are thousands of years old, but increased interest developed in Middle Ages.

So what about tarot?

Part of the problem with learning Qabalah in the context of tarot is that there are so many myths floating around (my personal favorite being that tarot comes out of Qabalah and was used to preserve Jewish tradition in the face of oppression).  Where to even begin?

First, understand that the connection between tarot and Qabalah was created within a particular timeframe (rather than over the course of a sweeping, expansive history).  Interest in Jewish mystical tradition had been growing since the 12thcentury, but it really wasn’t until the late 19th and early 20th century European occult movements that Qabalah became intimately linked with the tarot, and specifically through the work of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

It was Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) who was largely responsible for the association of tarot with esotericism and especially Qabalah.  Lévi was invested in combining a variety of occult traditions into one coherent system, believing that each conveyed some piece of a universal wisdom.  Later, the magicians of the Golden Dawn would build upon (and at times conflict with) Lévi’s work, building new associations between the tarot trumps and the Hebrew letters.  S.L. MacGregor Mathers (1854-1918) assigned divinatory meanings to the cards according to their locations (also assigned) on the Tree of Life, and a variety of interpretations arose with the further development and spread of Golden Dawn materials.

All of this may have nothing to do with you and your practice of tarot, and that’s perfectly fair.  I see Hermetic Qabalah (because it’s important to distinguish between the modern, esoteric traditions of Western Europe and ancient Jewish tradition) as one more source of information and insight in understanding and interpreting the cards.  And I want as many tools as possible in my tarot arsenal.

For additional reading, it’s worth checking out Robert Wang’s The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy.  I also enjoyed Rachel Pollock’s The Kabbalah Tree: A Journey of Balance & Growth.  Both books are specifically about the Qabalah’s connection to tarot and are among the more accessible books I’ve found.  I’d also recommend the Qabalah audio course available from Tarot School, which was enormously helpful as I began to tackle such a heady subject. (Yeah, it’s expensive, but you don’t have to pay full price.  Sign up for the Tarot Tips newsletter.  Discount codes and sales are regularly announced over the course of the year.)

Sidenote: Confused about spelling?  Because Hebrew doesn’t transliterate precisely into English, multiple spellings of “Qabalah” exist.  A convention has developed in which the choice of spelling reflects context, with “Kabbalah” referring to the original Jewish tradition, “Cabalah” for the various Christian interpretations that exist, and “Qabalah” for those of us coming from a Hermetic background (i.e. us tarot folk).  Obviously, with some variation.

Importing from Blogger and rambling about YouTube.

I just finished importing content from my old Blogger, which, it turns out, is a quick and painless (if somewhat mystifying) process.  Behold!  My feeling from years past!

I’m often told by friends that I need to post more.  I also get a steady stream of comments from YouTube folks asking, “Are you ever going to make more videos?”  The truth is that I rarely feel that I get enough out of things like this to warrant doing it.  I initially joined YouTube because I wanted to interact with some of the people posting videos there, but found that real interaction was minimal (with some notable exceptions).  I wanted to engage in conversation, but most of the people commenting on videos and sending me messages were new folks looking for advice (which is great, but I’m not personally interested in teaching anyone).  I found that there wasn’t a lot of reciprocity.  People only occasionally offered thoughtful, conflicting opinions or engaged me in useful ways.  Overwhelmingly, I’ve found YouTube to be less about community and more about an exchange between teachers (more or less qualified) and faceless, virtual students.  I can hardly stand it when I’ve got a classroom of them staring at me.

Which of course begs the question, “How is a blog any different?”  Well, it’s not.  At least, not that I’ve seen so far.  Actually, I take that back.  There is one key difference that’s immediately apparent to me: Comments are fewer, but generally of much higher quality.  I think because blogs are less visually stimulating and require a lot of quick reading, they have a more narrow appeal.  I don’t say this to be elitist (having spent absurd amounts of time on things like YouTube and Tumblr and Instagram), but I do think text-heavy blogs are less accessible.  It takes more effort (even if it’s just marginal) to process material and then to craft a reply.

Mostly, I just prefer writing to making videos.  The biggest hang-up for me where this is concerned, however, is that I tell myself, “This should be going in your journal.  Why are you making this pubic?  This is narcissism.”  Well, yes, to a degree I suppose it is.  But maybe at the least it gives my friends an additional window into what’s on my mind.  And maybe people find me interesting in the way that I find other people interesting.  I’d much rather read a blog about someone’s day-to-day thoughts and goings on rather than long entries about, “THIS IS WHAT AN ATHAME IS FOR.”  But , again, that’s because I’m not interested in teaching (which is hilarious given both my profession and recent decision regarding Outer Court).

Building Community

I’ve been away doing all manner of things.  The fall was largely about making decisions regarding my academic future (and then changing those decisions come spring), traveling, lecturing, grading (and subsequently being disillusioned by) undergrads, and making new friends and contacts.  I scored a mention from Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt after he saw me present at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting in Chicago.  Morgan and I came and saw and conquered and hung out with Chas Clifton and Chas Clifton’s glorious hat.  Good times were had,IMG_1427 IMG_1428and we even enjoyed the added benefit of visiting with Craft siblings and cousins while there.  We went to some very impressive used book stores and some very underwhelming occult shops.  Books were had in piles and all was once again right with the world.

Now I’m back to class and my T.A. work and my Craft obligations, and still figuring out where to go from here.  What does seem sure is that I’m remaining in North Carolina indefinitely.  Roots are down, like it or no, and thankfully I’ve found a solid circle of friends here.  Ali remains the locus of the open Pagan community here in Charlotte, and I’ll be hanging my own Gardnerian shingle out soon, too, it turns out.  She continues to be the most perfect friend I could possibly have made since stumbling into this town, and I know she’ll be an important resource as I begin to build another kind of community here.

Speaking of my perfect friends, Kim and I are gearing up for festival season (with Ali, too!) and I’m off to New Jersey in a couple of days to visit a new friend acquired through, of all places, Instagram.  He’s probably not an ax murderer.  But just in case, Ali, I need you to get into my house after I’m dead and remove all of the journals and Books of Shadows before my mother arrives.  Get them to Morgan.  Morgan, you and Chad can split up the occult books (I assume Ali will have already raided what she wanted).  Give Holly and Bob my tools.  Give Oliver to Monty.

I’m kidding, of course.  Louie and I will be sussing out witchcraft in New York City and laying around talking about Aleister Crowley over wine and absurd amounts of cheese.  Check Instagram for pictures of the mayhem!

Adopting Charlotte

Over the summer, some close friends and I attended Free Spirit Gathering in Darlington, MD, and sat through a workshop entitled (if memory serves me) “Your Personal Wheel of the Year.”  The premise was simple enough, and it sounded interesting.  I think a lot of people experience difficulty incorporating seasonal festivities and ritual into their already packed schedules, and on top of that I’m constantly listening to Pagans of various stripes bemoan their lack of a connection to nature.  My guess was that this workshop would allow us to discuss and tackle some of those hurdles, especially given that most of the Pagans I know are city dwellers or suburbanites who spend more time negotiating pavement and parking meters rather than forests and fields.  Available books on sabbats often say more about harvesting corn and baking bread than is necessarily very realistic for most of us.  God knows I’m not harvesting grain or milking cows (etcetera), like, probably ever.

Anyway, I found myself somewhat disappointed.  The workshop was fine, it just wasn’t what I’d hoped.  The folks running it were farm dwellers, and while their stories were interesting, they weren’t particularly useful or inspiring for a city witch.  See my not having chickens or grain silos.

This got me thinking about the dichotomy that we’ve created between this thing we call “nature” and the sorts of environments inhabited by people (which are “unnatural” or otherwise separate and inherently less than “nature”).  Nature is a thing that we must “get back to,” or “connect with.”  Nature is something we drive to on weekends and vacations.  Nature is something that Pagans revere on some level, while simultaneously being somehow apart from it on some basic level (we have to “reconnect” or “get back to” it, after all).

I’ve been thinking about all of those times I’ve gone hiking in Virginia and North Carolina, all of those visits to my mountain dwelling friend Morgan, and all of those moments when I’ve fantasized about just running away and living in the woods.  “Nature” certainly has that sort of appeal to me, as I think it does for a lot of Pagans and witches.

But I don’t buy into this kind of dichotomy, and I don’t think it’s particularly useful for most of us anyway.  Running away into the woods is an impossibility for almost all of us, and I would venture to guess that many of those who could would be largely unequipped.  I don’t buy into the idea that cities and townhouses and strip malls and paved streets are something separate from nature.  As human beings, we are as much an embodiment of the natural world (whatever that is) as any other creature.  How can we possibly presume that we operate outside of it?  Especially as Pagans?  Sometimes I find myself even resenting the underlying implication behind statements like, “Pagans need to reconnect to nature,” that those of us who are happy city dwellers (with no real desire to leave our cities) are somehow less effective in either our spiritual practices or our magic.  I think this desire to reconnect has less to do with this artificial, human constructed thing called “nature” and more to do with cultivating a relationship with whatever land on which we happen to dwell.

I’m not from Charlotte, and it’s not a town I would ever have chosen voluntarily.  I’ve spent a lot of time not liking Charlotte.  Moving here was a serious culture shock for me (and often still is), and it’s been a real struggle finding and then working to build a wider Pagan community here.  There’s still a long way to go.  But despite all that, she’s grown on me.  My experience has been that cities have definitive personalities (D.C. sure as hell does), and I’ve had a hard time sussing out Charlotte’s, I think largely because shes growing so fast and is such a weird amalgamation of class and racial tensions.  I think I’m starting to get a better sense of her, though.  As much as I’ve railed against Charlotte this past year, I can finally see the potential.

I know a number of witches who see themselves as stewards of forests, fields, and streams.  I haven’t met many who  have adopted cities in the same way.  I’m increasingly starting to see Charlotte as my city, and this is the sort of “getting back to nature” that I want to cultivate.

Introductions

Hi.  My name is Thorn.

Some of you may know me from my youtube channel, drawingKenaz, and others may have stumbled onto my old Blogger, but I thought an introduction was in order nonetheless.

I’m in the process of establishing an online craft business centered upon both my art and my personal practice of witchcraft, and am very slowly moving away from my (admittedly neglected in recent months) Etsy shop and the hodgepodge of individual commissions and gifts-for-friends and into something more ordered and self-directed.  The fact is that my talents are varied and somewhat unorthodox, and my life has been a consistently messy attempt at fitting into established boxes that are, frankly, unlivable.  I’m good at three things in particular: research, writing, and making stuff.  Stuff encompasses anything from candles to original songs.

What I’m not good at is wearing suits, remembering not to swear in polite company, writing resumes, or jumping through corporate or academic hoops.  I’ve been a lot of things in my life: bank teller, retailer, nude model, professional musician, graduate student, barista, teacher.  Nothing has stuck for more than a few years, and that’s been both good and bad.  What has been unwavering is my Craft practice.  Witchcraft–by which I mean several things, to be explained in later posts–is core to who I am and what I’m doing with my life.  I finally had the thought: “Why not consciously make that the center of my life?”  It already is, after all.  It’s just a question at this point of publicly recognizing that and owning it.

So this is my first step toward something that I hope can be more sustaining, at least emotionally if not financially.  I’ve purchased a domain name and have begun devising plans.  It’s my hope that this site will function as both an outlet for my academic work relating to Pagan Studies (see me present at the AAR annual meeting in Chicago this November) and a means for selling my art and homemade witchery.  Beginning in the next month or so, look for candles, ointments (both of the mundane and magical varieties), decorative items, ritual tools, natural curiosities (from bones to herbs to interesting stones), and original paintings and statuary.  And probably the odd used book or two.  I’ve also considered offering my services as a Tarot reader to the online community in addition to the folks here in my adopted city.

And that seems like quite enough for a first post!  Stay tuned, friends.

C is for creepy men at festivals

In my experience, Neo-Pagans tend to be more open about sex than the general population.  I’ve often repeated the maxim that Wicca is fundamentally about sex and death, and I maintain that with a hefty dose of adamance.  I saw a video recently on YouTube in which someone offered up an interpretation of the Charge that included arguing that “ye shall be naked in your rites” was some sort of metaphor for  being yourself and not trying to hide who you are.  That’s a super sweet interpretation and I’m thrilled that this person was able to derive personal meaning in drawing this conclusion, but that absolutely wasn’t the original intention of the piece (which, by the way, wasn’t written by the Goddess Herself).  Naked means naked.

All this to say, witches and Pagans tend to not mind being naked, talking about and engaging in sex, etc.  We’re not prudes.

That said, being Pagan does not require that one have sex, feel comfortable naked (especially in public),  or want to talk openly about sex, etc.  And yet over and over again I find myself having to deal with other Pagans who assume that, because I’m a Pagan, too, I’m promiscuous or okay with sharing the details of my personal life with strangers (who, just by virtue of being Pagan, are not automatically “family” or even “community”).

I’ll come out and say it: traumatic past experiences have left me with serious man problems.  I’m not inherently trusting, patient, or forgiving where they’re concerned.  I’ve picked fights with guys who’ve catcalled me, I often call men out for harassing women or mistreating their wives and girlfriends, and I can’t tolerate any sort of media that I feel encourages people to become desensitized to violence against women (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*).  Yeah, I realize that women can suck, too.  I’ve heard all of that from the offended men in my life.  I don’t give a shit. That fact is that men have more power in society than women do and are more likely to commit violent crimes against women than vice versa.  Having experienced such violence, I don’t want to hear about how, “Well, men can be victimized, too!”  Go find someone else if you’re looking for sympathy.  

I’m admitting all of this to the interwebs because I think it may be important in order for you to understand that I’m hyper sensitive to sexual harassment.

Leering at a woman while she’s in sacred space, trying to hug her (because Pagans are supposed to hug instead of shake hands, right?) just so you can feel her up, or otherwise making unwelcome advancements repeatedly is unacceptable.  Being Pagan isn’t an excuse to be a creeper.

While at festival, I had a merchant creep up behind me and offer to buy my underwear.  I was’t sure how to feel after giving it some thought, but initially I was disturbed and offended.  Viscerally I was repulsed.  Needless to say, I left and maintained my distance for the rest of the week.  I’ve also had plenty of comments left on videos I’ve made that have been sexual in nature and otherwise off-topic and unwelcome.  When I’ve deleted the comment and said something to the perpetrator, what I usually hear is, “It was meant to be a compliment!”

It’s not a fucking compliment.  It’s harassment.  Knock it the fuck off.  You want to appreciate a woman’s body from a distance and indulge in lusty fantasies on your own, fine.  Go for it.  Hey, I’ve objectified plenty of men in my day.  But bringing it to her attention so explicitly is not necessarily welcome, nor should you assume that it will be.

While we’re on the subject of sex and nudity, I want to say something about clothing optional, family-friendly festivals like Free Spirit Gathering (where I was this past week):

Including children is great.  Encouraging children to be comfortable with nudity (both their own and others’) is great.  But assuming that it’s always safe to do so is not okay.  Yes, it’s a Pagan festival.  The theory is that Pagans are more honest, more open, and more ethical than the population at large.  Sadly, this is not actually the case.  At a festival where anyone with the money can attend and where you’re not always there to monitor your child’s every move, maybe it’s not the greatest idea that you allow your child to run freely, and unclothed, at that.  I want to trust people, I do.  I want to believe that things like rape don’t occur at festivals.  But it does.  I don’t understand why people are so readily willing to risk the safety of their children for the sake of idealism.

I’ll close by saying that there’s nothing wrong with promiscuity (and I’m applying that term to both women and men).  With regard to sex, I think whatever floats your boat (provided you’re not hurting anyone else) is all good.  I just think we sometimes need to be more considerate of others and keep a closer watch on our children.