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.

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8 comments on “Hel and Back

  1. I thought my life was dramatic at times!!! XD I’ve just been going through some of your posts and sheesh! I think it’s worth writing a book – with little side note advice on things you’ve learnt from your experiences.
    ^.^
    Rowan
    x~x

    • The Bad Witch says:

      I’m working on it! Thanks for the encouragement. My life was only wildly dramatic when I had these “Bad Witches” in my life. All of the drama revolves around this one situation. Just a lot of fallout. Things are much more calm now–or, you know, dramatic in a positive and healthy way. But, you’re right, there’s a lot of advice to be derived from those who stepped in poo on the path before us.

  2. I did my descent by taking the Persephone Route: the origin or the word ‘rape’ meant ‘to carry away by force’, so Hades’ taking her into the underworld made it a rape myth. Add in Daddy Zeus’ consent and once again the Greek Gods get incestuous…. but understanding the myth, and being introduced to Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero of a Thousand Faces” and his idea of the cyclical hero’s journey gave me a framework for understanding my life and my reactions to events that I am still exploring 25 years later. The return is filled with what we have to bring back to share with the community, a time of being ‘on the top’ of the Wheel of Fortune for a while to catch our breath before oh, crap, here I go again. PTSD, depression, rape trauma syndrome, all have this cycle, as does every form of learning to some degree or another (I finally figured out). I lived some High Drama myself, for a long while, and much of it was life threatening for a while. And much of that was self harming in ways more or less obvious. But I too have made it to a place of more gentle dramas, and have begun to articulate my journey. Great Post, as always. I learn from you every time I come here, and find more places in my self to explore. Thank you, and Blessed Be

  3. Ehsha Apple says:

    […] page. He lost his teenage daughter a few months back–I mentioned it in passing (footnote 2) over on The Files. His way of coping with the loss has been breathtakingly affirmative. I […]

  4. […] page. He lost his teenage daughter a few months back–I mentioned it in passing (footnote 2) over on The Files. His way of coping with the loss has been breathtakingly affirmative. I […]

  5. […] Go look at Hel and Back if you need to hear it […]

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