Yoiking and Zauberstab

First off, Merry Christmas to any of you who are celebrating it this week. I hope your Yule was as groovy as mine was. While I could not celebrate with my broader kindred (for (positive) reasons that require a separate post), I did have a great birthday party (thanks to The Husband) jam-packed with Absinthe, dirty lyrics by Prince played over the world’s coolest amplifier, and a couple-dozen folks that have a very special place in my heart.

I also went to a lovely Christmas party where the host thought enough to “mazal tov” and “drink hail” to his non-Christian guests: this led to “It’s kinda cold for dancing nekid—especially in an elevated chair,” jokes.

I’ve wanted to write about yoiking for some time but waited for the Y post in the Pagan Blog Project to do it. Then, of course, I missed it. I also wanted to talk about this groovy term “Zauberstab traegerin” so I saved that and missed it as well. Here’s my attempt to make up my shortcoming. This post isn’t really much of an argument; it’s just informative.

I recently had a birthday. My daughter knew that I had wanted to read Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy for some time but never got around to it. I wouldn’t let anyone watch the movies until I did. For this reason, among others, she bought me The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on audiodisk.[1] It’s a very political story with a murder mystery and family intrigue. I only mention this because Larson is fairly critical of Swedish politics, especially economic policy and racism. Racism in Sweden you ask? Yes, Larsson constructs a character that exposes the the neo-Nazi roots of the Sweden Democrats party. (Look here for more info on “The Dark Side of Sweden.”) Larsson’s character, Richard Vanger, has a particular penchant for eugenics and genocide—particularly of the Sami (also Sámi or Saami), the indigenous people of Arctic Europe.

Because my own Heathen roots are of an Anglo-Saxon and Dutch flavor, somewhat different from the Nordic and Scandinavian variety, I never really encountered discussion of the Sami until this year.

While talking with a Scandinavian peer (she too calls herself Völva in her own—very different—tradition) about vocalizations and the American yawp, she mentioned a practice of yoiking (or joiking). I knew what this was, sort of, but thought it was closer to yodeling than it actually is.

According to the University of Texas Music Department, the yoik is:

A form of song which utilizes a scale and vocalizations which are unfamiliar to virtually everyone in the Western (American and European) world, the history of the yoik is representative of all the encroachment and abuse that the Sami people have suffered at the hands of outsiders.

Here’s a this.

And here’s a this.

And this looks so entirely familiar, even though I know it’s not.

Bob Tarte explains (“You Must Be Joiking.” The Beat Magazine: 22, 4. 2003. Web.):

Joiking originated in the chanted vision songs of Sámi shamans perhaps predating the Sámi migration into northern Scandinavia from the southeast 2,000 years ago. . . .[T]his improvised style of singing . . . is less about actual words than melody and vocal textures . . . . A person could joik about a hunt, a frozen stream or the birth of a baby. But what makes these fluid songs with no fixed rules unique is that they aren’t considered to be about a subject. The joik, and by extension the joiker, are said to actually become the subject. . . . And you don’t have to believe in spirits or channeling to experience the rush [of joiking]. Call [it] the summoning of the unconscious or a wordless connection with the deepest archetype of song itself, and its surge is equally impressive.

I hate to compare distant and distinct cultures to one another for fear of colonizing, but I can’t help see the similarities between the Sami yoik and Native American vocalizations.[2] (While it is not my intention to make this my argument, in these moments of similarity, I have to wonder if those theories about Solutrean migration to The New World are accurate at all.) Both are intended to induce a “shamanic” trance, are used to call animals and spirits, and to shapeshift—what Tarte means by “become the subject.”[3]

I had asked the peer in question about the relationship between the Sami and her Norwegian ancestors and didn’t receive a suitable answer for my tastes. We are still hammering it out. It had become my impression, after being pointed to a woman named Yngona Desmond (make up your own mind about this one), that the Sami and other northern European cultures were unrelated. Desmond, who claims to be “Vinland’s Volva, an honorary title of respect and recognition, gifted . . . by Sámi Noaide,”[4] is a “Heathen leader” in Georgia who regularly leads a boar hunt.[5] It seems like yoiking and seiðr—especially in the form of galdr—are connected; I just want to be very careful about lumping cultural practices together based on geography.

(a.k.a. Dancing nekid in an elevated chair.)

Like I said, I don’t have a point to make here. I just felt like saying, “Hmm, would you look a’that?”

Likewise, I want to point you to a term: Zauberstab traegerin, German for “wand bearer.” But a Zauberstab is not just any kind of stick, stylus, or rod. It translates as “wand” but connotes specifically as “magic wand.”

I love that about Deutsche. I’ve told you about how I feel about words like Schadenfreude. The German language can cram a whole concept into one word.

(I also think of words like Zigeunerleben (“Gypsy life”), which makes me wonder how much racism is intended by—or even accidental to—the song by Robert Schumann (which I remember from high school chorus). The song is a romanticized[6] depiction of “wandering gypsies, so wild, so free of care, with eyes flashing brightly, with dark flowing hair” and “raven-haired maiden[s]” who “dance . . . [while] bright as a torch, burns her passionate glance.” And now that I know what I know about Sweden and the Sami, I’m starting to wonder even more about Germany and the Romany. I mean, I know that “gypsies” were rounded up in the 40s, so why do we sing this song seemingly about a racial fetish in high school? That’s totally beside the point—but it makes me think: Why am I back on the subject of Nazis?)

I’m not sure where I stumbled upon the term Zauberstab traegerin—it’s one of those moments that I wish I’d taken better notes. I mean Zauberstab is easy enough to find all over Harry Potter cites in German, but I know I found “Zauberstab traegerin” as a complete term. In terms of Völvastav, Völvakona, and Stavkona (“the wand carrying magic woman”) this is a significant term that I am now beginning to think I may have dreamed.

Happy holidays.

~E


[1] Why they didn’t keep the original title, Män Som Hatar Kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women) is not beyond me, but it’s a better epithet for the novel than a nod at one of Salander’s many tattoos.

[3] If you have caught on to my Deleuzian proclivities, you have to know that I love that he used the term “become.”

[4] I was subsequently pointed to this quote on a New Age Fraud discussion thread by someone who was very concerned about the new preponderance of “fake tribes” here in the Southeast of the United States. I had no idea that this was such a common problem. Seems it is. It also seems that it’s one  New Age Fraud takes seriously enough to investigate and subdue. I’ve been asked a lot of questions over the past month and have had to educate myself right-quick on accounto’ I had no idea this was a widespread thing for fakers to do. Though I don’t really approve of the hate-filled rhetoric, I found this page (also handed off to me by the “concerned” person/people) very helpful in understanding what’s legit in a “tribe” and what’s not. It made me think twice about Desmond and others.

[5] I don’t know anything other than what I can deduce from the questions I was asked about Desmond, what I read briefly on the discussion thread in the footnote #3, and what little I read on her blog. I was (coincidentally?) just lent a copy of Völuspa: Seiðr as Wyrd Consciousness (cross-country), but haven’t read it yet. As ever, I’ll let you know.

[6] Here I mean “fanciful”—not to be confused with “Romanticism” which is specific to a literary movement.

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Wendigos and White Walkers

 He had learned about the Windigo at his father’s knee. It was a large creature, as tall as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth. Its breath was a strange hiss, its footprints full of blood, and it ate any man, woman or child who ventured into its territory. And those were the lucky ones. Sometimes, the Windigo chose to possess a person instead, and then the luckless individual became a Windigo himself, hunting down those he had once loved and feasting upon their flesh. (Schlosser, S.E. “Windigo: A Northwest Territories Ghost Story [of the] Ojibwa First Nation.”)

Female Wendigo by Crystal Wolf Studios at DeviantArt

Wendigos (also spelled Windigo and Weendigo) are North American folkloric creatures who eat—and sometimes possess—human flesh. Not entirely unrelated to vampires, these creatures are considered “un-dead”—but unlike vampires, they consume the whole enchilada, not just the sauce, and they tend to leave a trail of body parts in the carnage-path behind them. The flesh-eater, the ghoul, is not uncommon in mythology; consider the Germanic Draugr, the Japanese Oni, and the Filipino Aswang and Busaw (a creature that looks human on the surface and even acts human in that it farms both small animals and root crops; however, its sustenance of choice is human flesh, the remains of which are usually scattered across its land). And then there’s George R. R. Martin’s White Walkers (*shivers*), the bane of the north in the A Song of Ice and Fire saga and HBO’s Game of Thrones.[1]

Yup. Winter is coming.

What isn’t folkloric about this creature is the idea of “Wendigo Psychosis.” Often, in an area of deprivation, folks will glut themselves on non-food or low nutrient items to give themselves the sensation of a “full-belly.” This “full-belly” sensation only satisfies the psyche so long—eventually, the body’s very real need for genuine sustenance will cause people to seek beneficial foodstuffs wherever they can find it. Wendigo Psychosis defines what happens when a tribe, experiencing dearth (and subsequently deprived of genuine nourishment) resort to cannibalistic behaviors and believe themselves to have become (or to have become possessed by) Wendigo.

Physicians consider this a culture-bound disorder (or syndrome): a culture-specific illness resulting in an amalgamation of psychiatric and somatic symptoms, familiar only within a particular community.

While researching culture-bound syndromes (CBS), I came across “rootworking” as a CBS. This got me t’thinking. Given that we, as a Witchcraft culture, tend to have some sort of conviction—on some level—that “Witchcraft works.” Do we believe that CBSs could be true? I mean, I sleep with my fan on every night and have never believed that it could kill me (Korean Fan Death), I’ve certainly never experienced Dhat Syndrome (go ahead, Google it; I’ll wait), and I’m not sure how I feel about Navajo Ghost Sickness.

“Aswang” by Richard Pustanio, 2010

Ghost Sickness is said to occur when the afflicted has contact with the dead or dying. Symptoms include wanness or fatigue, loss of appetite, shortness of breath or feeling suffocated, recurring nightmares or even night terrors, anxiety, paranoia, delusions, and a pervasive feeling of dread. It is believed that this sickness is caused by having offended the dead or having evoked the ire of a witch. According to Wikipedia, [2] “The sufferer may be mildly obsessed with death or a deceased person whom they believe to be the source of their affliction. Physical symptoms can include weakness and fatigue, diminished appetite, or other digestion problems.”

I donno. If there are real physical effects, just because your doctor can’t measure the cause, does it become not real? I know that somaticisims will kill non-fiction folk as easily as they will a Henry James character or Madame de Tourvel. [3] But then my mind goes back to “rootwork.” This works, in theory, even if the subject doesn’t know they’ve been goophered. So, how can it be psychosomatic?

If I can buy rootwork, by extension must I buy Ghost Sickness? Or Wendigo Psychosis? Hmmmm. And can I buy Korean Fan Death and Dhat Syndrome? No. And I don’t have sperm—so the latter is irrelevant. That’s where culture comes in, i’n’t it? I can imagine pretty much any Western CBS as being possible because I’m a Westerner.

So figure this with me—if a culture imagines certain attacks (or protections) to originate from malevolent (or benevolent) boogadies—and if we believe in the creation of thoughtforms and egregores—then those boogadies become real, right? I mean, it’s the culture’s fault for having poured all of that energy into having made the boogadie in the first place, but it’s there and being perpetuated just the same. If every time I get a toothache or a flat tire I scream, “The boogadie is out to get me!” or if every time I get a great parking space or find a twenty in my jeans I holla, “Hell, yeah to the boogadie!” then the boogadie can become all-powerful in time.

Christ.

No, I’m not swearing, I’m using that as an example.

But, do we have to belong to the culture that made the boogadie in order to experience the boogadie?

I’m not sure how the logic hangs together, but if you’ll help me out, I think there’s something here. I was watching a week-old episode of Grimm. (I had stopped watching the show in the first season and then an former friend—ironically named comparably to one of the characters in the episode I’m going to discuss) suggested I watch it again—so I did, now I feel committed even though I don’t really like the show.[4] I’m dumb that way.) The premise of Grimm, for those non-watchers is that there is this guy, Nick, who can see monsters: Wessen. Wessen are like the Busaw, who walk around looking like humans but when the light hits just right or they “lose control,” their real faces show. In the last season he revealed this ability to his partner, Hank—Nick and Hank are cops, not lovers, btw. This episode was called, “To Protect and Serve Man,” much like that old Twilight Zone episode, and was about a man Hank had arrested and was now facing capital punishment.

(Spoiler alert—but the show’s pretty predictable, so . . .)

At the time of his arrest, Craig Faron told Hank that there were two creatures trying to eat him and that he killed one of them in self-defense. Of course, Hank didn’t believe this; Faron was convicted of murder and sentenced to Death Row. Hank, now—years later—cognizant of the existence of Wessen (even though he can’t see them onna counta he’s not a Grimm), realizes that maybe—just maybe—Craig Faron was wrongfully convicted and that it was up to him to find the truth. In solid TV style, we get some dramatic irony when we see that while the truthful-accuser sits in prison, the real culprit, the dead Wendigo’s brother, is still killing. What’s even better is when Craig’s sister tells Hank, “Everyone told him that he was crazy so he started believing that he was.” And his psychiatrist says, “Ironic that everyone says [Craig Faron] is the monster.”

The Hexenbeast from the Pilot episode. Turns out her mother was Nan Flanders.

Know how that is? Yea, me too.

Hank visits the cell-block, full of a variety of Wessen, to interview Craig; this time with Nick and his powers of Wessen-perception at his side. Craig says, “[If I hadn’t killed him,] I would have been his next dinner guest.” Realizing that they were dealing with a Wedigo, Nick advises Hank that wounding a Wendigo only makes it more ferocious. The more you defend yourself against a Wendigo, the deeper it wants to sink its fangs. Particularly if you get in a good defensive wound or two. We see this when Hank tried to apprehend the Wendigo; as he shows his true self, his gnarled and twisted dead-face, he bellows: “Faron is the monster!” The real boogadie, while revealing his true nature, still blames his self-preserving prey, because he believes that no one else can see what he really is. But the Wendigo doesn’t know that there is a Grimm in his midst.

I realized the conundrum(s) of this episode: Craig and Hank weren’t Grimm, yet that never stopped the Wendigo from cooking man-toes in his double-boiler. You don’t always have to know that there’s a monster in the community for it to eat you alive. You don’t have to believe in boogadies for them to getcha.

Also, the Wendigo forgot to hide his face as he pointed the finger at Craig Faron. Like the Algonquin Warrior who could recognize and kill the Wendigo, Nick Burkhart has his own kind of special medicine: he’s a Grimm (not unlike Buffy Summers). Here’s the catch—up until now (if you overlook the Halloween episode: “La Llorona”) Nick’s Wessen are of a cultural type: Germanic. Blutbaden, Bauerschwein, Fuchsbau, Dämonfeuer, Hexenbiest, Eisbiber, Hundjäger, you get the idea. So does this mean that his “medicine” is able to cross cultural boundaries? If this is so, than do CBS do the same thing?

Yea, yea. It’s TV. I know—but it’s a thought.

B, Q, 93!

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] I want to be Arya Stark when I grow up. Bitch gave a man his own name! Ballsy and brilliant.

[2] I know, ew. But I was in a hurry.

[3] Choderlos de Laclos. Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

[4] It took a season too long—but I’ve finally put down the Supernatural.

Hel and Back

This one spans three decades and may take a minute. Grab a drink and put your feet up.

It was 1980 and I sat in the church van with Maria Villalobos-Ramirez, Lourdes Bacardo, Anita Rodriguez, and Dolores Ortega. Between the five of us we had gone through all of the butane in Anita’s Clicker portable curling iron, half-a-bottle of Love’s Baby Soft, a tin of grape Lip Lickers, and a full eyeliner pencil and a lighter.

We were headed to camp (yes, think Jesus Camp only less affluent) and we were singing. Songs that started out about roadtrips, “Lonely days turn to lonely nights, you take a trip to the city lights,” “Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends / I found myself further and further from my home,” and “I gotta be cool, relax, get hip, get on my tracks. Take a back seat, hitch-hike. . .,” disintegrated into, “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight,”[1] “I wanna kiss you all over,” “Oi, oi . . . I’m a powerload . . . watch me explode!” That’s about when Brother Preacherman said enough was enough and that we should sing gospel songs instead.

That’s when TBW decided to rebel. I parodied a choir-girl stance and began, “Hey Momma, look at me, I’m on my way to the Promised Land.” Right on cue, the other girls chimed in, “We’re on a highway to Hell!”

Brother Preacherman was too tolerant of my bad behaviors.

We think of going to Hel as a bad thing. We tell the feckheads in our lives to go to Hel. Some of us even provide directions. But as someone who’s been to Hel and back, I can tell you that the ride sucks, but the return has its rewards.

Let me explain.

Part One: I left the comforts of my rather insular covens and headed for The Bamas in 2002. I worked on my doctorate, raised my babies, and kept doing my thang. I tried “coming-out of the broom closet” once or twice—okay, constantly—but very few people understood what I was up to. There was an “English Graduate Organization Prom” that I attended with my new-found grad-school bestie that first year; I had only been around for a few months and I thought it would be good to mingle. I was wearing a headband right on my hairline; a die-hard-fundie (who had made off-color comments about a pentagram shirt I wore to class) asked me, “Do all of you wear those?”

“All who?”

Wicc-ahh, wit-ahh, whatever you call yourself.”

I had been pegged by a Church of Christer—but for a totally banal headband.

I threw a bang-up Samhain party (which I referred to as a “Samhain” party rather than a Halloween party—and was met with “a whaah?”) some weeks after that and all of my Witchy-Chachkas were very visible. Everyone must have thought they were décor.

Another time, a few years later, I sat on my back porch with my immediate supervisor (and friend), her fiancé, The Only Other possible-Pagan (she was ambivalent at the time), and The Bad Husband. I don’t remember what precipitated the event, but I was reading Tarot. My boss wanted to know, “Where’d you learn that?” Just as I was about to tell her everything, the other woman shot me a terrified look that said, “NO! Keep your mouth shut!” To this day, I wonder what she was afraid of?

After that, I wore pentagrams, spiral goddesses, serpents, and medicine bags to work. You name it, I tried signifying with it and no one saw me. (I still have a giant “Witch” sign over my desk—next to a rune glyph, a spiral goddess pendulum, and a little portrait pin of Marie Laveau.)

All of this is just to say that when I decided to make myself known, I had to take my stav in both hands and pound the ground. Hard.

I think I was a little out of line. Much like singing AC/DC in a church van.

Because that action set me on a road to Hel, through the fires, and into relationships with some of the Baddest Witches eveh.

Part Two: The Descent

It was Summer 2007, I had just earned a Fellowship: the department was paying me to finish my dissertation rather than teaching. The above mentioned grad-school bestie was so resentful that I had gotten the award rather than her that she “broke-up” with me. No shit.

The Only Other possible-Pagan took a job in another state and shoved off—and not on good terms.

In late-May, I set the need-fire, I took my stav, and I called for three witches that would teach me what I needed to learn from here on out.

See “The Witch’s Duh.”

I had just met a brand-spanking-new grad-student with the craziest aura I have ever seen. (She is the #2 of my “Trance” post, btw.) Having sent my children to stay with family in Chicago,[2] by July 3, I was three chapter drafts into my dissertation. There was a toga party.

That’s how it began.

After that, there were 12 months of phonecalls with her voice on the other end saying, “Oops, I ended up in bed with the wrong boy again, can you help?” and “I’m drunk and the boy I like is being mean to me, can you help?” Imagining her as salvageable, I always did. But the relationship wasn’t entirely unreciprocal. Having felt like I had bled every ounce of my person for others, I had little to no sense of self left in the cupboard. We joked that she thought she was “all that” and that I didn’t even believe I was “a bag of chips.” But her unbridled vivaciousness would not contend for her BFF (actually, this relationship was the first time I’d heard/applied this term of endearment) to be less than awesome. She said that she loved me and she brought the dead parts of me back to life.

It was February of 2008 when I decided to dust off my grimories and hit the books harder than ever.[3] By April, I was ready for my last elevation with Bertie. I graduated with a PhD in May. Over the summer, The Only Other Pagan came back to town and we made amends. She had wholeheartedly adopted Witchiness—plus she brought a friend back with her.

We were tightthighttight for three months.[4]

Then, in September/October, I got talked into rigging a Dom-Jot table. I take full responsibility for having gone along with it. I lost my mind that fall and nearly lost everything else by New Year.

Part Three: In Hel and Back Out

In January 2009, I had a Naussican spear through my chest (see “It’s a Wonderful Q” for this reference), and found myself standing at the Gates of Hel without a shovel.

I started teaching Witchcraft on a more formal basis; I knew that if I was going to have to climb my way out of Helheim, I was going to need to buckle down. I spent the next ten months mentoring Witchcraft students online and teaching a select few in person. I spent those same ten months deflecting ridiculous fallout from that fight with a Naussican. I started writing a book called The Bad Witch Files—but I never knew how it ended, so it never went very far. It still calls me in bits and spurts.

I continued teaching (secular and religious) and learning and practicing and trying to piece my life back together in some way that looked like life, even if it still smelled of sulfur.

In October 2010, I started blogging here and you can go see the milestones for yourself. I think it was summer 2011 before I realized I was on the road back from Hel. I knew the journey was going to be long. And I knew that if I was ever going to make it all the way out, I was going to need to articulate myself—use my voice.

And—here was the hardest part—then I had to work through forgiving myself.

But, in order to avoid the calm stillness and silence where certainty resides, I kept myself a moving target, often chasing my own tail. Having spun m’self round and round, I have finally come full circle after traveling to Hel and back.

Part Four: The Return

It was back in February 2012 that I finally found the new mentor I had been craving. I had studied and practiced all the Hermetics, Ceremonial Magic, Theurgy, and Goetia I wanted to alone. After ten-fricking years of going it alone, I was ready to be taught, lead, united with others.

I looked to him to teach me all about Teutonic Shamanism. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to drain him of everything he knew, leaving me back at the drawing board.[5]

Right back where I started.

Fortunately, I did not go to jail, but I did collect $200. And by “collect $200,” I mean “pulled my head out of my arse and found my voice.”

Yawp, bitches. [6]

At the beginning of that shitefeckedup four year trek, I knew I had Heathen ethics, I knew I had High Ceremonial practices, I knew I had a moral compass aligned with Matthew 25:40, I knew I had a Helluva sound occult education behind me, and I knew I had – gifts—we’ll go with “gifts.” But I had never been forced to articulate what I “was.” I always considered myself a Heathen Sorcerer, perhaps because my childhood nickname was, “Y’lil’heathen,” perhaps for more substantial reasons stemming from my appreciation of the Anglo-Saxon ethics I learned as an undergraduate. I laid claim to the title “Sorcerer” in my early 20s, before I was even a mamma.[7] But, while I knew what it meant in my body and in my soul, I was never really sure what that might mean—you know, on paper, with other people looking at it.

Polyphanes wrote a post last week that struck a chord with me. He wrote: “I’m so far over the place, hither and thither, that I break a lot of people’s definitions, preconceptions, and labels. In other words, as befitting my Hermetic nature, I’m a trickster and don’t fit into any one bin, since I’ll just flit right out and into another one. I’d be like a Schrödinger’s Cat of traditions, except with less neurotoxin.” 

I felt a little like an unexplained Copenhagen interpretation too.

I’ve given you the rundown of my Jesuit educational upbringing with Bertie. Though Bertie tried her best to balance Catholic Christianity and Occult-Paganism for me, I held on to some of the vestiges of my Evangelical fears of “evil” and “Hel” for quite a while. I’m not ashamed to admit that. But, today, it seems like a lifetime ago that I was articulating my sense of Evangelical Detox. That’s not to say I discovered it in 2010, but that I had just found the voice to articulate the experience.[8]

Perhaps the most profound experiences are what ended my ongoing tailspin in the last few months. Having gotten back in constant contact with Bertie, I was pressed *from the outside* to journey back to the inside. Having lost Brother Preacherman and Mama Lisa over the summer, I was shocked into appreciating the “call” (or were they saying “caul”?) other folks saw hovering on and about me. Having learned what I’ve learned from Maman Lee a few months back. And having been pressed by The Road Less Traveled to reeeeealy articulate the difference in several traditionssome of which are my own, some of which I didn’t understand nearly as well as I did after being asked to clearly express those distinctions—I found that my voice was there all along. It was a little browbeaten and tired, it had been vilified and colonized—but it was still audible. And it still sounded like me.

Back in December 2011, I think I busted through some hymeneal (hmmm, hymnal?) membrane when I clearly articulated my thoughts about the word “vagina.” It had been—dare I say it—pricking at me for a while. And much like really good sex, once I found the right spot, it was all over.

In February 2012, I picked up the stav I had left idle for too long and started working on Teutonic Shamanism[9]—very close to the pathworking Bertie had taught me in the 90s.[10] It was these pathwork journeys, ironically, that brought me back out of Hel. And how I found my voice.

As for the journey, it’s not at an end. But I’m glad to be trading in these uncomfortable shoes.

So here’s what I’ll tell you in the next few posts:

  • What it means to go to Hel and Back in Teutonic Shamanism
  • Why I’m settling deeper into a new path (or, really, praxis)—that’s not different, just a better amalgamation of what I always was
  • What I’m teaching in Delta, Alabama next month and in Auburn, Alabama in November and December
  • How all of this relates to Wolves and Ulfarnir
  • How you can go to Hel too!

Thanks for sticking it out for this long post.

B, Q, 93,

TBW


[1] Which I thought was, “There’s gonna be a party tonight.”

[2] One of whom, at not quite twenty, we lost this week.

[3] Ergo the 2008 in my email address—that was the year I set “stuff” up under the name Ehsha.

[4] This is all a sort of side-story which is more of an irritation than anything real. But it bears mentioning given what I had requested—three witches to teach me. Boy howdy. Witch’s Duh.

[5] This is no disparagement on him. It’s just that everything was the same stuff I had been teaching for years myself—just with different names.

[6] Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. I’m teaching this in a few weeks. Squee.

[7] I remember the conversation with my sister. I didn’t have the language to discuss High Magic versus Low Magic yet, but I knew the connotation of “Sorcerer” versus the connotation of “Witch.” Having always understood Wicca as initiatory, I never laid claim to it as an eclectic idea. I still have a hard time getting my head wrapped around non-initiatory Wicca as “Wicca.”

[8] And it seems kinda trippy to me that I started envisaging an online Pagan Seminary back in September 2008 and started actually working toward it by publishing the results here nearly three years later. Now, here at the end of 2012, it seems the time has come to fully articulate that ambition.

[9] I don’t know how many of you saw the “Wyrd Sister” page before I turned it into the retail page it is now. If you missed it back in January, it aimed at being a page which cataloged my last leg of training in Seiðr. It rapidly got too close to STFU mysteries, so I switched it.

[10] And now I have vajay and stav and pounding jokes running through my head—that’s appropriate.

Q&A Part II – Voodoo and Hoodoo

To pick up where I left off with The Road Less Traveled’s set of intricate questions, I will actually end up mirroring the methodology of the post which I submitted yesterday. I love writing about this kind of stuff and my noodle is brimming with commentary about the more intellectual aspects of Paganism, so this is all perfectly timed. Plus, taking many pages of commentary and boiling them down to three or so pages forces me to concentrate on the real crux of the issue. I just hope y’all enjoy eavesdropping on my answers to TRLT as much as I enjoy composing them. I think I’ve exhausted the portion that asks, “What is the main difference between” Witchcraft(s). Here I will look at the variation among Voodoo(s) so that I can also address Hoodoo later in this post. Sorcery will have to wait.

Just as across Europe there are sets of non-homogenous “versions” of Witchcraft, some falling under neoPagan Gardnerian paradigms, some not, there are many, many ATR-based[1] (African Traditional Religions) religions. Voodoo itself, like Witchcraft, is not a uniform system. In several countries Voodoo is practiced with varying traditions, purposes, and structures.

Bear in mind that my information regarding Voodoo and all other ATR-based religions is derived from a scholarly perspective only; I am an outsider of these traditions.

We are most familiar with Haitian Voodoo,[2] which is likely the most visible of the Voodoo traditions. Since the decline of Duvalierism, Voodoo has been instituted as a national religion with official status. This makes a big difference when you compare it to South American Voodoo. (Yes, I mean South American Voodoo – not Santeria. I’ll get to Santeria in a minute.) Consider the freedoms granted in a religion that is sanctioned by the government versus one that must operate in clandestine modes. In Venezuela, for instance, the accepted religion is Catholicism, however, folks practice Voodoo as a regular course. We are familiar with the syncretic correspondences made between Catholic saints and Voodoo loa (and Santarian orisha) and understand that this arose out of the need to veil the practices from the eyes of officials. In Venezuela, as I understand it, Voodoo practices are not outlawed, yet citizens “identify” themselves as Catholic. So it seems to me that Voodoo could be envisioned as either a systematic religion in toto (as in Haiti) or a limited practice with a syncretic relationship to Catholicism (as in Venezuela, Cuba, and other locales). Both must be, in my opinion, deemed valid; however we should be cautious to identify what we mean when we refer to “Voodoo” since there is such variance across cultures.

I know you didn’t ask this part, but I’d like to offer the information since I have it on hand. There are many other ATR-based religions that are alive and well in the 20th Century. Across the Caribbean and into South America, there are as many variations that stem back to African religions as there are Witchcraft traditions (as there are Christian denominations, for that matter). Just to name a few, consider Umbanda of Brazil, Candomble of Uruguay, and Cuban Santeria.

At this point, I’d like to jump ahead to one of your latter questions that I will answer in full later. You asked if a non-black could practice Voodoo. Based on what I’ve just said, the answer *must* be “yes.” Of course, one cannot be a Haitian Voodooist (or Voodooisant) unless one is, in fact, Haitian. (I’ll discuss New Orleans Haitian Voodoo soon.) The connection between the people of Haiti, its historical politics, its government and local officials, and its religion is strong.[3] Nonetheless, given the variety of Voodoo sects, we have to acknowledge that not all of their adherents are the same race.

Hoodoo, the way I have come to understand it, is not a religion per se. As a matter of fact, most hoodoos are Christian and regularly incorporate Biblical passages into Workings. Rather, hoodoo is a set of practices based on folk magics from many cultures. These cultures include: multiple ATRs, multiple Southeastern NATP (Native American Tribal Practices) – especially Cherokee –and (believe it or not) white European traditions like those brought over with the Pennsylvania Dutch hex-meisters, Scots-Irish herbalists and midwives, and Germanic occult practices. If you want more information, I recommend Hoodoo in Theory and Practice: An Introduction to African-American Rootwork by Catherine Yronwode,[4] the most recognized author in American Hoodoo. Part of her work explains:

Hoodoo consists of a large body of African folkloric practices and beliefs with a considerable admixture of American Indian botanical knowledge and European folklore. Although most of its adherents are black, contrary to popular opinion, it has always been practiced by both whites and blacks in America. (“Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork: Definition of Terms”)

This makes sense the more I learn. For instance, The Bad Witch loves etymology. The origin of a word can tell you everything you need to know about a concept; or it can point you away from long-held misunderstandings about a concept. The etymology of hoodoo surprised me. Of course, hoodoo can be used as a verb, a noun referring to the practice, a noun referring to the practitioner, or an adjective. But while most dictionaries link hoodoo to voodoo, I found that the word hoodoo enters the American language in 1875, just before conjure comes to be used as a synonym for hoodoo in 1889.[5] So a connection between hoodoo and voodoo doesn’t make any sense, and is likely why the connection is disregarded by linguistic researchers. For example, Daniel Cassidy, author of How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (CounterPunch Books and AK Press. July 2007), hoodoo is actually connected more clearly to the Gaelic, Uath Dubh, which is pronounced hoo doo.[6] So, it sounds to me that hoodoo is intended for anyone at all – but seems to have originated in Appalachia.[7] Hoodoo is also directly connected with and alternately referred to as “conjuration.” To conjure is both to summon and to influence. In the form of influencing, this is nothing more than basic Witchcraft. In the form of summoning, this is a little more like Sorcery. In my next post, I’ll talk about the difference between Goetia and Theurgy. This will, I hope, flesh in issues of Hoodoo conjure.

Also, as I understand it, hoodoo is non-hierarchical and non-initiatory. Whereas Haitian Voodoo adheres to a strict code of initiation, “couche,” and formal training (again, see Filan for the politics of the situation), hoodoo does not. This is likely where Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo comes in. NOLA Voodoo is formally initiatory and prospective hoguns and mambos are expected to go to Haiti or Africa for initiation. I met one man in NOLA who claimed to be an authentically initiated Voodoo hogun; he was white. So it seems that whites can, in fact be Haitian initiated Voodooists. But, I have also heard that there are scammers in NOLA who claim to be trained or initiated in Africa, but are not. And I have heard that there are scammers in Africa who charge exorbitant amounts to conduct initiations for Americans, initiations that are not officially recognized by native practitioners. The lineage of white Voodoo “leaders” is often suspect – whether this suspicion is founded or not.

Most of the scholarship I look at argues that because Voodoo was a way for African-Americans to have a measure of influence over whites, they would have never conferred legitimate power on someone without any African lineage. But, this contradicts what I know: Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman is Jewish/Ukrainian, right? And only three (?) of the Mambos on the Haunted New Orleans “top ten” list (however valid that is) are black.

I am, admittedly befuddled on this subject. And we can’t really take anecdotal evidence here, considering the possibility of scams, now can we? Can anyone offer clarification?

To address your question of the origins of power, my understanding is that hoodoo attributes magical acts to personal power and to the natural properties of herbs, roots, minerals, etc.[8] As for a pantheon? Because hoodoos tend to be Christian and not Pagan, I would imagine that Jehovah is a viable supreme God; but because hoodoo is not a religion, but a practice, it seems to me that you should be able to Work within any religion that did not contradict hoodoo. There is also at least one commonly recognized African deity; known as Legba (aka Nbumba, Nzila, Ellegua, and Eshu), he is the “dark man” one can meet at the crossroads. As the keeper of the gate between life and death, a trickster, he seems to be more like the Pagan Devil than Biblical Satan. Where hoodoo connects the idea of “sin” and “evil” is beyond me at the moment. I do get the impression that death and hell are not nearly as terrifying as they are in many other Christian systems. And it also seems to me that it is not necessary to be a Christian to practice hoodoo.

The same goes for sorcery – which I’ll address tomorrow!

Thanks for hanging in there!

TBW


[1] And when I say “ATR-based,” it is with the realization that “Voudon” is historically (whether accurately or not, I haven’t checked the sources) to Nigeria and Dahomey. Yorùbá comes from, well, Yoruba. Both of these are the more recognized stem-religions from which most ATR-based traditions, like Palo, Congo, and Bantu, branch.

[2] And if you are not, there are two films I recommend: The Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, based on Maya Deren’s work between 1947 and 1954 – so long as you promise to take it in a historical context – and Buying the Spirit, by Journeyman Pictures (2003).

[3] If you are interested in this topic, I *highly* recommend The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan (Destiny Books, 2006).

[4] I have been instructed to read it in its entirety by Maman Lee. It’s truly fascinating. Yronwode explains the admixtures of of not only ATR, NATP, and European occult practices as mentioned above, but she also discusses Middle-Eastern (Kabbalist and Judeo-Christian) and Eastern (Hindu and Taoist/Buddhist) influences on Hoodoo. Some really cool and well-documented stuff.

[5] Oxford English Dictionary. “Hoodoo,” n and adj , 1; “Conjure,” n, 3.

[6] Uath Dubh means:

Dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing. Uath, (pron. voo) n., a form or shape; a spectre or phantom; dread, terror, hate. . . . Dubh, (pron. doo), adj., dark; black; malevolent, evil; wicked; angry, sinister; gloomy, melancholy; strange, unknown. (O’Donaill, Niall and Patrick Stephen Dinneen. Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla/Irish-English Dictionary. de Bhaldraithe, Tomás. English-Irish Dictionary. Dwelly, Edward. Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated [Scottish] Gaelic- English Dictionary)

[7] By the way, there is a newfound interest in a thing referred to as “Granny Magic.” I was very keen on the concept, but the more I read the more I think it is misrepresented. Maybe I’ll tackle that later. Maybe in answer to the new question you posed!

[8] This doesn’t contradict my earlier statement that I believe power comes from the Creator. In panetheistic views, the Creator is always already immanent in all of Creation. So, cool.

Quaaltagh

(Pronounced kwol-tag)

Q posts are hard, no?

Here’s part of the story I haven’t told y’all yet, but it’s all well documented and everyone from my Chicagoan neck-of-the-woods has heard this one a million times. It’s a groovy story which I often have to constrain myself to keep from romanticizing.

My mentor, Bertie, was left a great boon. Well, more of a mixed blessing. A few weeks before her mentor, Frieda, passed over, Frieda gave Bertie directions to pick up a box she had left for her at a local monastery. This is the part that “gets me.” I start imagining secret passages a la Agnes of God, Gothic Romance sliding panels and mysterious codes woven into tapestries in a way that crosses Dan Brown’s imagination with The Name of the Rose mystique. Needless to say, the box was an old heavy wooden file cabinet locked in a clearly marked storage room in the monastery’s canticle. But! The box contained a trove of delights. It contained Frieda’s journals from the years she had spent on The Isle of Mann as well as the journals of three associates, two copies of a (handwritten) unfinished manuscript of our tradition, an audio recording of her introduction to the manuscript, and assorted notes, correspondences, and papers. This was five years before I left Chicago and Bertie. I was able to peruse many of the journals and documents and helped Bertie categorize some of the contents; it was an overwhelming task – especially during the first years of mourning. Bertie has, since I moved South, published some of the material over several books.

One part I remember very clearly was a custom involving a quaaltagh. Lest I send you Googling my Q, quaaltagh is the Manx word for the first person you meet when you leave your home. I don’t know much about Manx traditions and haven’t had my hands on Frieda’s papers since before my youngest was born, so I can’t tell you more than this. I do know that in several Wstern European traditions it’s fairly typical to pay attention to both the first person you meet outside your home on the first day of the year and the first person who crosses you path outside your home on the first day of the year.

But Bertie used to tell us all sorts of beliefs concerning each day’s quaaltagh. Many of these were omens or to be used as divination symbols would. (Note to self: write a post telling Amy about what happened with the eggs.) Bertie mixed much of what Frieda taught her with the stuff she learned while doing mission work during the end-days of Duvalierism. So, to be honest, I can’t say where much of her quaaltagh lore came from.

In Western traditions, I know that a quaaltagh is called a “first foot” a “blue bird” or a “lucky bird” depending on whether the person is coming in or if it is a person you have met while out. (I wonder if this is where “early bird” specials come from.) Either way, the connotations are pretty much the same. The quintessence of the superstition is that you want the person to be a quixotic, strapping, young, tall, dark, and handsome man. No gingers need apply. And women are right out. I’ve heard folks tell tales of quidditative grannies standing on the front porch on New Year’s Day with a shotgun to prevent a quadragenarian quean from crossing the threshold first.

But those are pretty typical traditions. My darling Bertie used to tell us a few more specific things about meeting up with folks. Those dressed in all black meant one thing, folks who speak to us first meant another, folks with a limp were one sign, and folks wearing hats were another. If you first met a child you were to offer something, if you first crossed paths with a grown neighbor, you were to quote a particular phrase.

Animals were a whole ‘nother story.

Anyone else have such queer customs?

B, an abundance of Q, and 93,

TBW

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).

Wannabeathans

I’ve been mulling around the idea of “reclaiming seiðr” and trying to think about some ways to broach the subject that I don’t see a lot of Heathens doing “Magic(k)” anymore. And, in trying to write a post about reclaiming seiðr, I ended up with a different can of worms.

I apologize a post ahead of time if there are pockets of practitioners across the country who engage in galstar (galsterei). Please feel free to bring yourselves to my attention; I’ve been looking for you.

In my neck-of-the-woods, we have little more than moothorn-heralds who blót for the sake of mead consumption, neo-nazis, and “wannabeathens.”

It pisses me off.

And this is where the can of pissed-off worms opened up.

Wannabeathen is how I think of Witches/Heathens (not just Ásatrúar) who want to claim a non-Wiccan practice and yet temper all of their practices with the commodified tenets of Wicca. It’s rude and judgmental of me, I know. I admit this. But when The Bad Witch is pissed off, I tend not to care if I offend those whose rationale I find unambiguously offensive.

If you are a Heathen (or Native or Voodooisant or Solomonic), bother to find out what Heathen (Native, Voodoo, Magickal) practices and values are. Don’t be oblivious and think that you can just “substitute” Wicca for Heathenism (Nativisms, Voodoo, Sorcery).

If you are Wiccan, practicing Wiccan practices and valuing Wiccan values, call yourself Wiccan, for pete’s sake. There’s no problem with those who choose that path. Owning it is certainly more respectable than hiding behind Heathenry (Native Practice, Voodoo, Sorcery) while deriding and yet perpetuating neo-Trads like Wicca.[1]

It’s the deriding that gets me. Don’t say, “I can’t stand that Wicca-shite,” and then pull out your triple goddess circlet and cast a circle using an athame.

The problem is – hang on, I’m having a hard time putting this into words. The problems are multiple and complex. (Let me put on my lawyer-hat for a minute.)

  • I consider the designation “Wicca” to refer to the stuff that stems from Gardner.
  • Wicca is lovely. [2]
  • However, most folks don’t have a clue about Gardnerian/Alexandrian/Whateverian Wicca but pick and choose an “eclectic” path. This too is totally lovely. Find your god where your god is. All paths lead to the divine. Eventually.

My problem is with those who want to say that they are not Wiccan, yet still manage to co-opt all of their practices from Wicca. I know too many “witches” who purport to be practicing “ancient ways” or “ways of the elders” and yet look up their rituals and correspondences in Bucklands’ or Cunninghams’.[3] Or, eek, non-reviewed online sources. To me, this smacks of ignorance. It says to me, “I don’t want to be called Wiccan and therefore will call myself *this.*” And yet the *this* they end up practicing is a mangled sort of watered-down Wicca.

Why not just go through proper training?  (Whether with a coven or in solitary.) Wicca is a fine tradition, why evade it? If it’s your thing, embrace it. If it’s not your thing, quit co-opting it, deriding it, and calling it something else. Condemnant quod non intellegunt, no?

Why not just train and do right?

Oh, wait, now I remember: Discipline. Ego. Entitlement. Competition. Title-whoring.

As I see it, the reason many people (and I don’t mean this to apply to my readership, I mean some in my local circle with whom I’ve had many a sit-down) resist being called Wiccan is that they resent the system of elevations and designations. Many times, they resent the system because they don’t want to go through (or don’t know how to begin) the arduous series of initiations and formalized training involved with formal-traditions.

Lots of Witches would prefer to simply *start out* as High Priestess, without going through the training. (I laugh at them. This too is rude and judgmental. Nonetheless, “Bahahahaha.”)

Again with the lawyer hat:

I’m not valuing formal-traditions over informal ones. I’m just saying – if you have an instinctive practice (this would, by definition, *not* be a tradition), quit annexing Wicca. I write about Wicca colonizing the rest of Witchcraft, but the door swings both ways. Those who don’t know where else to go for their information on . . . say . . . celebrating the Summer Solstice in a Diné or Tsalagi tradition, end up turning to neo-Celtic and Wiccan “Litha” rituals.

And this is totally fine – as long as you own it.

Again, I’m not saying that a Homa or Osage cannot practice Wicca. Neither am I saying that White Bread from Illinois cannot practice the ways of the elders. (Hot damn, I’m defensive today.) I’m just saying – call it what it is. Own it!

I’ve a house to clean and another to go look at (I may be buying the farm sooner rather than later – both literally and figuratively). I’ll come back to my diatribe on wannabeathans soon. I’ll bet you can’t wait.

Til then, be true to yourself.

B, Q, 93,

TBW


[1] Go ahead, argue that Heathenism is a neo-Trad. Ásatrú, sure. In my book, Ásatrú and Odinism are about as neo as Gardner, if not more. I’m talking about esoteric Heathenry as is found in texts from pockets of The Black Forest where the tribes executed the bishops and cardinals who tried to clear their groves. Anyone notice The Black Forest is still standing? Just saying. Sure, it’s littered with cathedrals too. But “Indians” were taught to “Pray” and yet were able to maintain their spirituality. And if you want to argue that actual handed-down-Native-American practices is neo, – let’s fight.

[2] Though I was trained in it from the ages of nineteen to twenty-eight (through six of seven elevations), I am not (now) Wiccan. Having spent the last few months going over my initiation “folders” (Giant-ass binders that weigh a freaking ton and have many of my notes written in pink glitter-gel pen. Wow.) I find that I am being slapped silly with the things I had forgotten in the trauma that was “moving to Alabama” and being totally solitary for ten years.

[3] Perfectly fine resources – for Wiccans.