Tag Archives: paganism

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.

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.

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

IMG_6044

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.

 

Alabama and Reflections on Alex Mar’s Witches of America

alex marI’m in Alabama for Thanksgiving, hanging out with my parents, running, writing, and sleeping more than I usually do. Oliver always makes the drive with me, and it’s funny watching him interact with my mother’s three cats, who are comparatively huge and fancy (long-haired, Persian, flat-faced, totally uncivilized despite whatever she says about them). Oliver stalks around the house looking surly, hissing a lot, and staying close to me. The other cats do little more than watch him attentively, but he hates it. And, naturally, I have to take his side.

Thanksgiving break and then winter break are much-needed, and I appreciate them more now that I’ve finally admitted to just not liking fall. I can catch up on reading (in between grading student papers), do some blogging, and refocus on my own physical well-being (eating regularly, getting a lot of exercise, sleeping). I even set up a target in my parents’ backyard so I can shoot.

I’m finishing up Alex Mar’s Witches in America, which I’d been dying to read since seeing all of the horrendous, scathing, angry reviews floating around the Pagan Internet.  It’s been sitting on my table for weeks, and I finally got to read it yesterday, finishing up this morning.

There’s a lot in here that I recognize. Mar and I have similar educational and economic backgrounds (near as I can tell) and are close in age, so many of her questions and impulses look familiar to me. I understand how she feels when she doesn’t quite connect to the language prevalent amongst the Dianics she visits (it’s not her feminism, not her experience of womanhood). I understand that she feels self-conscious, surrounded by the kind of ecstatic religiosity at a large Pagan gathering, and later amongst the smaller groups she pursues. I understand wanting to suspend disbelief in search of a feeling that everyone else seems to have already achieved, feeling like you’re missing something. I understand the difficulty she has negotiating conversations about socioeconomic class, and the sometimes careless assumptions she makes about the people she’s studying.  And I understand the disappointment of having to go, “Nope. This isn’t what I thought it was or what I hoped it would be.”

So I’m empathetic, even if my experiences were different.

I can’t really comment on her relationships with her individual subjects or what oaths she may or may not have broken. I think it’s worth noting that (as far as I know) the people she describes by name have remained silent on the matter. Only they can say what boundaries were violated, if any. I’m not privy to the promises she made, and I don’t feel like that’s any of my business. I also think that when oathbound material is shared and vows are broken, it’s usually best dealt with by shutting up and not drawing attention, which only serves to let everyone else know the material is really oathbound.

When I first read Tanya Luhrmann’s Persuasions of the Witches’ Craft, I had similar reactions. I found myself thinking, “Jeez, I would never have been comfortable letting a scholar into my circle like this.” But that’s their business. It’s not up to me to tell them what’s secret and what isn’t, because every group is different. If I disagree, they only way I can protect material is to keep my own mouth shut and use their experience as a cautionary tale. As for open rituals, I think having writers present is a risk that everyone takes. These are public, after all. How many church services have I written about myself? How many open rituals? Even when you go through IRB clearance (as I did), individual consent from a large body of attendees is often not required, especially if the event is open to the public (like most Pagan festivals). Whether or not that’s personally ethical varies by individual, and the outsider’s position (whether she’s a scholar, a journalist, or a blogger) is usually different from the insider’s.

Friends and colleagues have commented that they found the work to be dismissive of certain kinds of Paganism (especially eclectic Wicca) and also somewhat body-shaming. I didn’t get that impression, myself. If anything, I thought most of her descriptions were a little cliché (“pendulous” breasts abound). When she avoided eclectic Wiccans, I understood it to be because she was personally on a quest for something organized, lineaged, and appealing to her desire for intimacy. Her avoidance made sense to me, and didn’t strike me as dismissive.

As an ethnographer, I can also empathize with the fact that subjects almost never feel perfectly represented. They often feel you’ve missed the point. They often feel slighted. Usually—for religious groups—this is rooted in the ethnographer never totally giving up her outsider position. The Christians I worked with knew that I couldn’t possibly have gotten them, because if I had, I would have been saved.

At best, I’d say this is an interesting memoir from someone who thirty-something spiritual seekers may recognize. At worst, it’s just kind of rehashed and self-indulgent—pretty standard fare in popular journalism. I think the mistake some people made was assuming that this book was designed to be representative or descriptive, but this is obviously not the case. It’s very clearly a memoir. I can’t imagine how someone could pick this up after reading the dust jacket and opening chapter and think this book would tell them how to be a witch, what Paganism looks like in the United States, or what really goes on in a witch coven. This is one more volume in the growing library of “seeker” memoirs—popular for the last several years—akin to Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple or Lauren Sandler’s Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement. Fascinating for the mildly curious, but clearly not intended to be objectively scholarly.

As usual, I think our reactions say more about us than about the work itself. Maybe she really gets it wrong. Maybe looking in the mirror is uncomfortable for us Pagans. Maybe she broke her oaths. Maybe we’re offended that she didn’t feel what we feel. Maybe we wish she’d worked with different people. Maybe we just wish she’d picked a better title.

I think it’s worth reading, though, and considering the problem for yourself.