If Everything Changes, What Good is Tradition?

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My friend and initiate, Corvus, is in the process of starting a coven, and the other night we got to chatting about what it will mean for her to go forward, both as part of a community and as an autonomous high priestess. What if she does something that pisses off her upline? What if she gets out into the community and decides she doesn’t fit in? What if she has genuine encounters with the gods that take her in directions beyond where she went with me? What if she goes on to initiate someone who everyone else hates, and then no one else wants to hang out and circle anymore? WHAT IF SHE RUINS EVERYTHING.

Clearly, a lot of this is anxiety-driven and not based in our actual relationship. The whole reason she was elevated and given the support to go off and start her own group is because we knew she’d be great at it and would be a credit to the tradition.

A lot of this, no doubt, sounds totally ridiculous to some of you who are not involved in traditional covens, with their lineages and their hierarchies and all that hoo-ha. Maybe this is exactly why you’re not involved. It’s a tricky thing, having to negotiate belonging in a lineaged tradition. It can feel like you’re being watched all the time, and like you’ve always got to answer for your choices. Every one of us has heard horror stories about what happens to people who cause too much offense, stray too far from what’s accepted, or don’t build the connections necessary to ensure that you and yours are recognized at the community table.

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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.

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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When Communities Break

I’m watching various dramas unfold in my Pagan life right now, mostly having to do with community: A popular YouTuber converted (remember when that happened to a popular writer a few years ago?). Two Pagan Pride events in my state imploded. My conversations with peers are increasingly turning to “this new aesthetic, social-media-witchcraft that’s so popular right now.” Some of us are feeling a little threatened by the latest trends (when are we not?).

Fundamentally, this is all about change being scary.

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An Ode to My Mindless Job, or I’m Glad I’m Not a Professional Witch

bullet journal spreadThere’s this thing I do that I’m trying to get a handle on. It’s like it’s some inherent part of my personality that I just can’t shake, and it gets me in trouble: I take the things I’m passionate about and I turn them into work.

There’s this maxim that’s been floating around forever that if turn your passion into your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. Near as I can tell, this person (who, according to the Internet, was either Confucius or Marc Anthony, so what does that tell you) probably had someone else’s income and health insurance to supplement those passions. Good for them.

There are lots of people in Pagan and witch communities working to turn their traditions and magical skills into sources of income. Instagram is full of “Boss Witches,” and half of my YouTube friends ask for support on Patreon. I myself have a book about to drop, and am plotting out several others. I’ve sold candles and zines and all manner of other things over the years. We build tarot websites and open up witchy Etsy stores and leverage our social media followings into patrons rather than friends. Many of us can barely try out new recipes for oils and incenses without thinking, almost involuntarily, “Hey, I could sell this.”

On the one hand, it’s kind of awesome that there’s a market for these kinds of things. It means many people don’t have to work jobs they hate, at least in part. Witches have always worked for a price, and I’m no naysayer in that regard. There are many witches and Pagans out there who I’m very happy to throw my own money at because their work is amazeballs.

But there’s a thing I personally can’t seem to get around: when something becomes my job, it starts to drain me. I stop enjoying the thing, and it stops feeling like passion.

I don’t necessarily mean “job” as in “thing I do for income,” either. I mean “job” as in task, obligation, duty, or work.

Those of you—myself included—who are involved in any kind of planner community, even casually, should immediately think of the people who turn every mundane, automatic thing into a bullet journal checklist, just because it feels so good to check the box that says we finished something. Drinking water and recording the weather becomes a job. What started out as a fun, creative hobby that has the side-effect of making us more focused now makes us feel shitty when we can’t decorate an elaborate weekly spread that includes fancy Japanese animal tabs marking every stupid thing we watched on Netflix or every type of booze we drank that week. Where once we were happy, now we feel confined. Obligated.

I can barely read fiction because it feels unproductive. And when I do, I have to productify it by keeping track of HOW MANY BOOKS I CAN READ IN ONE YEAR or some such. It works for a while, but I find that the joy eventually drains out.

I’ve watched as this has happened to my witchcraft, my practice of tarot, my writing, my art, my practice of HEMA, and even my relationships (I’M GOING TO CALL ONE PERSON EVERY DAY TO SAY HELLO SO I CAN BE A BETTER FRIEND). I fall in love with a thing, I throw myself into it, I turn it into an obligation, and then I stop giving a shit because WORK.

It’s no good.

In the simplest terms, I’m not great at living from moment to moment. Everything I do I treat like a step within a larger project, and it sucks out the joy. It’s true that discipline is valuable, and it’s true that the disciplined usually reap the rewards. If you want to be a well-known professional writer, you need to write on a schedule, practice, produce, and make sacrifices where the rest of your time is concerned. If you want to look like a swimsuit model, you need to strictly track your diet and workout vigorously. There are no cheat days.

The difference between mediocrity and greatness is sacrifice, one of my music professors used to say.

She was right, but here’s the rub: those aren’t the only two options. It’s okay to choose something in the middle.

I’m going to try doing what feels good for a while, and not forcing myself into a set schedule on things that I love, just because some part of me thinks that I need a task list in order to be good at anything. As a high priestess, circle with my coven became a drag when I turned it into a chore and started neglecting other parts of my Craft life. Writing became a drag when I instituted unmanageable daily word counts. Fencing became a drag when I let the outcome of tournaments define the value of the thing itself. And my bullet journal is for fun, not for punishing myself when I ignore it for days on end.

It’s cool to make money writing and doing witch stuff, but when I have to, I eventually stop loving what I’m doing. On those days, I’m grateful for my meaningless paycheck-driven job that I can leave at the door every day. It turns out, at least for me, it’s not always a good thing to turn our passions into our jobs. Especially when we’re already not great at finding that balance between work and not-work.

Sorry, Marc Anthony.

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.