Saints Preserve Us

When I first started writing this blog I considered telling you everything about my training in The Craft right off the bat, both formal and informal, both solitary and traditional.

And then it occurred to me. No one wants to hear the arduous details about the harrowing initiation I endured at the tutelage of a former nun.Mother Catherine McAuley

No one wants to know the ins and outs of my freaky-ass adolescence as a clairvoyant child of an abusive alcoholic and a Ladies Axillary member of a Pentecostal church.

No one wants to know about how I ran the streets of The South-Side of Chicago with Satan’s Disciples.[1]

Or do you?

No one ever asked – until a few weeks ago. Now I’m thinking . . .

Every sentence here is a story. I’m trying to pack it in as tightly as I can. We’ll parse it all out in time; we have plenty of time.

Bear in mind that my twenties are a bit of a muddle for me. I look back at those years as an array of birthing and nursing and being “artistic” and reading things I understood but didn’t understand. I was always astounding my professors with my astuteness. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I said. I can recall saying horrifying things about Christopher Marlowe because I truly misunderstood – a lot – but everyone thought I was being brilliant and droll. I was just, perhaps, a savant of some sort.

So when I tell you about my training, I’m not shitting you. I really missed a step somewhere along the way. It really has taken me this long to figure out that I should ask some questions. Of myself. Of my former mentor.

In short, here’s The Bad Witch in a nutshell.

Family – I’m the youngest of four by ten years. My mother was a factory worker and my father was a Teamster dock worker. Both spent childhood as North Alabama sharecroppers in the tail-end of the Great Depression. They moved North during the 50s and met at a factory where they both worked.[2]

I had no grandparents to speak of. My maternal grandparents passed in the years just before my birth. Grandmother was Creek. Grandfather was Scot (from Argyle) but was adopted into a Cherokee family at the tail-end of the nineteenth-century. My paternal grandparents had moved to California. I knew nothing about them until a few years ago. Now, I know a lot. And that, my dearies, is another book altogether.

Sex – Every boy I dated for more than a month or so, aside from the one strong enough to marry me, became a preacher or went into the military. It scars a girl.

Parenthood (‘cause that just naturally follows from “sex”) – I had my first baby at twenty-four while I was an undergraduate. Some days I brought her to class with me and she slept in her stroller while my Shakespeare professor lectured. Today, her favorite text is Romeo and Juliet. I had my second at twenty-five, the year I started grad school. And I had my last at twenty-eight, the year I started my teaching career. I love my children dearly. They are hilarious. Oldest got “courtin’” letters from Stanford and Georgetown this week. Someone hold me.

Education – I was sent to Catholic School (on a grant) but attended a Church of God. Practically lived there. I was an underachiever in high school. Typically bored to hell and a little distracted by the chaos which was my home-life coupled with the ability to see, hear, and know too damn much about what was going on in people’s heads, I coasted.

After my ACT and SAT scores came back 27 and 2100ish, my counselor called me into her office to ask to which colleges I had applied and for which scholarships I had submitted. She might as well have been speaking Tagalog to me.[3] The first lesbian to openly have a crush on me loved me only for my ACT score. She cooed and doted on me and bragged about my scores like they made me ultra-desirable. I didn’t “get it.” These numbers meant nothing to me. The girl, on the other hand. . .

I took a year off between high school and college, muddled around at a junior college and then moved on to a Jesuit liberal arts university. In order to pay for it all, I did some really horrible soul-snuffing things, not the least of which was being a stockbroker.[4] I earned a BA in English, a Certificate in Religious Studies, and an MA in English before the Clinton-administration ended. Then, with three small children in tow, I packed off for Alabama and earned a PhD in English.

Craft Training – I always knew I was sensitive, I just didn’t know the words for it. Momma called it “Indian Ways.” But as often as I was reminded that I had my daddy’s blue eyes and red hair, I knew that wasn’t completely it. Even as a preschooler, I read everything I could about Witches and mythology, but I never cared for Fairies. Preacher always said he saw the spirit all around me. Maybe he did.

At fifteen, I decided that I wanted to study the occult. Hard-core.[5] At seventeen, I found a friend with whom I shared many beliefs and a studious approach to spirituality. To this day she is my best friend and soul-mate. We “worked” together at developing our psychic abilities.[6] We shared discoveries and philosophies and discoveries about philosophies and philosophized about our discoveries. We were Witches to the bone and we knew it.

There’s this story about a Halloween party in the late-80s – and a boy whose pick up line was, “Are you two Pagan?” Then there was goat cheese – and something about a toll booth worker?

After high-school, my bestie went off to college and I met a former Sister of Mercy who took me under her wing. She saw that I was looking for something outside of Christianity upon which I could hang my pointy hat. Ironically, my first real Craft teacher was a former nun. In the classroom, we studied Kabbalah, Christian Gnosticism, NeoPlatonism, and Humanisms. Outside the classroom, she brought me into a group of women, girls really, and taught me Witchcraft from a highly intellectual perspective. Disguised as a “Women’s Studies Group,” we held high ritual in the carillon of the school. The acoustics were phenomenal. I was always elected to sing. Sadly, I can’t remember the songs. (9/22/12 edit: Of course we were doing galdr.)

We were also required to do ministry service. I “ministered” at Misericordia (where I developed a fierce tenderness for children born with profound disabilities – and have a hard time “forgiving” those who discard their “imperfect” children), in the dementia ward of a “convalescent” home (where I developed some shockingly specific tactile memories), and with the Department of Children and Family Services (where I rocked newborns as they went through the throes of withdrawl). These things I remember. In detail.

We used the grove dedicated to Mary as our regular meeting place.[7] When the university received a grant to build a newer, bigger chapel, some of us were put on the student representative board to help design the interior. If you can only imagine. Here, we had “degree ascensions.” I had already ascended from Novice to First Degree when the building went up. The paint was still wet on the walls when I ascended from First Degree to Second Degree. I ascended to Third Degree (in a Five Degrees System)–if only I had stuck around just a wee longer. But I graduated and thought I needed to move on.[8]  To this day I can’t answer the question: “What tradition?” Because until very recently, I was vowed to keep my mouth shut. Except to say, “Does it really matter?”

When I graduated, she gave me a pendant. Someone saw me wearing it and asked a very pointed question about its signification. My first impulse was, “No, it’s not.”

My memories are like that of another lifetime.

I mean, we studied Gardner and Sanders and let me find my decade-old notes. But we also studied The Torah and the Tosefta.

My second teacher also came from The Catholic Church. Her children and my children went to parochial school together and she sniffed me out immediately. Far from a former nun, the training I received at this woman’s hands was far more physical than intellectual. It was an adult return to the early work I had done with my high-school partner. It was with her that I came into myself as a sexual being and as a leader – these are not unrelated.

My first-mentor always wanted me to take on a roll of leadership, but I always shrank. Everyone else claimed to see something in me that I didn’t yet see in myself. With my second-mentor, I learned to use my body to channel all of the things I imagined with my mind. I became a whole person. And at that, in my twenties, I finally blossomed. I started leading other women to their own truths and realized what others had seen all along. I am powerful.

We didn’t have formal degrees but the other women in our group, five to fifteen years my senior, called (only) me and my mentor “Lady.” So, whatever that means.

The night before I left for Alabama, they held a bonfire farewell for me. It’s as close as I’d ever come to a full-on, shake-the-universe-until-change-is-inevitable kind of fire. I was changed that night.

But I was the Phoenix who burns brightest at her own immolation. I had a shell to go back into.

After moving to Alabama, I immersed myself in secular study again. Doctoral work and parenting are both demanding. I did them both at once. For the first time, I was a solitary, and I turned back to books. I never stopped practicing, but there was a lul. I was consumed by my career and by my family. My marriage was on a cul-du-sac of divorce. (Fortunately, we fumbled through.) But as a Witch, I was alone and I was in the broom closet. I had stopped communicating with my first mentor, then my high-school partner and then, in turn, my second mentor. There was one incident with a Witch in all of my years of classwork. I’ll tell that story in full as we go along. But for five years, I was in a prolonged Dark Night of the Soul. I think I must have had a period of “forgetting.” Because I feel like I literally forgot everything I was taught.

Then, after my doctoral work was complete: Shazaam.

Something about earning a degree made me remember.

Everything.

That’s where my real story begins.

And now The Bad Witch has a long overdue phonecall to make.


[1] Too white to be in the gang, too white not to be, like 26th Street itself, I was always on the boarder of Hell Zone. I lived in Bridgeport, on 33rd and Morgan, technically Latin King’s territory. Momma, in her misguided attempt to save my soul brought me to church three-to-five times a week. This is where I met, and dated, gangbangers who threw pitchforks with their right and left hands and tagged everything that didn’t move. We were in the age just before the routine killings began. Then, Poppa, in his misguided attempt to save his own ass, and to be a little closer to his honey-pot, moved the whole family to 79th and Cicero. ‘Cause that was “safer.” Lord, the things parents do.

[2] I met my husband at a factory where we both worked. Our first date was on our parents’ wedding anniversaries. Yes, both of our parents were married on the very same day. This is how my life always lines up. It makes me question my sanity.

[3] When I told my parents that I wanted to go to law school, my dad said, “Yup, I think you’d make a great court recorder.”

[4] I was a Registered Representative, had Insurance and Real Estate Licensing in three states by the time I was old enough to drink.

[5] I think I had run across Victor Frankenstein’s interest in Agrippa and wanted to find out what Shelley was on about. So I did.

[6] Little did we know we were “reinventing” Bardon’s Initiation. It just seemed to make sense. When I found Bardon a couple of years later, I was like, “Well, damn.”

[7] Because I always imagined Mary in blue as the representation of Sacred Motherhood, even in my childhood Catholic-school days, this didn’t even seem vaguely subversive to me. Now I think, “We did what?!”

[8] Silly me, I saw all degrees as educational degrees. That’s not to say Witchcraft degrees are not about education, don’t misunderstand me. I, quite wrongly, thought these were school sanctioned degrees – sort of. I mean, I knew they weren’t but on some level, I was confused. The Bad Witch has always been brilliant but terribly naive.

[9] Seems to me, at this moment, we were studying something akin to Alexandrian Wicca – but only sort of; but my mentor was always very clear that, “This is not Wicca.” I’m starting to think my ideas about neoPaganism are rooted in her tutelage. And now I have to go track her down and ask, “WTF?”

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7 comments on “Saints Preserve Us

  1. kaye berry says:

    more………………………………

    • Hi. Kaye! Just sent you a mssg.
      OK. When I last went to Chicago, I had my first Reiki attunement. Went to Atlanta for my another. Going back home for Christmas and will try to work with the master for another. Turns out I’ve been doing it without naming it for years. I’m really good with horses. Their energy flows differently, but the concept is the same.
      Update – –
      Called mentor #1. We are having tea.
      Mentor #2 has gone a little left. We will not be having tea.
      Bestie from HS? God, I hope we are having wine. Or martinis. Or confetti. Or all of the above. (Is An Senachi too far?)

  2. […] fairly well enumerated the items I said I would. I told you about Abraham and Isaac, Oedipus, my pre-Bad Witch years, The Wyrd Sister, and I guess that only leaves telling you about how I intend to spend my Winter […]

  3. […] my own real religious choices, it was the mid-1980s.[8] By the late 80s, I had fallen in with a mentor from an established Scot-Celtic tradition. I went right from her philosophical arms into the arms […]

  4. […] Then I got all Wicaish in college. […]

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  6. […] given you the rundown of my Jesuit educational upbringing with Bertie. Though Bertie tried her best to balance Catholic […]

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