Time Travel

I teach H.G. Wells sometimes.[1] It strikes me now that when Wells’ time machine is visually reproduced, it almost always has a spinning apparatus. Most of the images, like the one shown here, have some (primordial, Jungian, spiritus mundi) approximation of a drop spindle. The disk at the back spins and the traveler negotiates time.

I’ve been digging out my old lessons and my old implements for about a year now. I’m never not astounded that, “I still have that!” It’s been a bit like time travel.[2] Even as I actively look through my boxed up youth, things are passively finding me. My son brought me an end-blown flute from who-knows-where in my basement and asked me, “How do you get this thing to make sound?” I’d had that thing since I was in seventh-grade. Where had it been? When he put it in my hand, I was transported.

Today I found a drop spindle. Rather, a charm of a drop spindle that was given to me as a reminder of  Wyrd.[3]

Lemme show you.

This picture shows a drop spindle with wool already spun on the shaft and some roving unspun. The past is the pre-spun wool. It’s already been spun. Your ancestral past is the yarn deep, deep underneath.[4] When you come into a family, you inherit what has been spun.[5]

There has to be a “getting the shaft” joke here somewhere.

The present is what is currently being made (not well illustrated here since it’s kinda something you have to see in motion.) And the future is that near-nebulous mass that has yet to take form. The future is not predestined.

In my argument about Oedipus as a Heathen-drama, I explain:

Fate is a predestined fortune. . . . there is a set order to the cosmos and that order cannot be altered. Karma is the give-and-take between actions and consequences over a series of lifetimes. Wyrd is between. . . .Wyrd agrees that there is a set order, but that, as individuals, our interaction with that order is what determines our lot. But there’s the extra added bonus of ruin. At some point, you may make a choice that absolutely ‘seals your fate.’ No backsies. No re-do. No exit strategy. No plan B. Sometimes we can screw the cosmic pooch, and end up ‘doomed.’. . . [W]e may formulate our Wyrd. . . [b]ut, Wyrd is sticky. If a bullet’s got your name on it, you’re fucked. . . .

Let me put it this way, the most popular metaphors for Wyrd involve spinning and weaving. If you have any experience with thread, sewing, weaving, crocheting or any of those handicrafts, you know that if you have weak thread or if you have balding fabric, your final project will eventually tear, no matter what. At that point, it’s ‘doomed.’ But if you could go back to the place in time when the thread was being turned out or when the fabric was being woven and make a different decision, one that prevented the weakness in the thread, one that prevented the baldness, the ‘fate’ of the project will be different. (Bear in mind that in this metaphor, you are the shit who made the thread and fabric.)

But, today I am meditating on what it means to “go back” and undo your pre-spun Wyrd. Is that kind of “time travel” possible? Let’s see.

At the base of Yggdrasil is Urðarbrunnr, or Urð: The Well of Wyrd. This well is tended by  the Norns, Urð, Verðandi and Skuld.  It’s easy to think of them as “past, present, future,” but that tends to make the future seem set. This is not the case. Skuld corresponds more to the English would “Should” as in “what should be,” not “what will be-no-matter-what.” There is a sense of “due” to the word as well. As in “that which must be paid.”

Really, a better translation is “what has been,” “what is becoming,” “that which, in all likelihood, unless someone screws said cosmic pooch, and unless someone has inherited a sick ørlǫg, should happen.

Ah, ørlǫg.

If you thought Wyrd was a hard concept to get your “I’m used to thinking in terms of Karma” brain wrapped around, it’s about to get weirder.

Close your eyes and imagine The World Tree. Oh, not a Heathen? Here’s a picture.

Imagine water falling from Yggdrasil; some of it will fall into the Well of Wyrd but only a small portion of it.[6] So, most of what happens doesn’t matter too much; only some things fall into Urð. Once those occurrences fall into the well, they go to the bottom and settle; this is ørlǫg. These layers of phenomenon form the foundation of the Well of Wyrd: our fate. As ørlög builds up, it changes the way the water is likely to fall, like Dr. Malcolm’s explanation of chaos theory in Jurassic Park.[7] As the foundation of Urð changes, some outcomes become more probable than other outcomes. Given enough ørlög, some outcomes become inevitable. (See “Screwing the Cosmic Pooch” above.) Keep in mind that ørlög is neither positive nor negative. You can accumulate “helpful” ørlög as well as “detrimental” ørlög.

For the most part, Heathens embrace personal responsibility. You’ll never hear The Bad Witch say, “X is bad for me because my mother . . .” or “It’s my father’s fault that I . . . .” Don’t get me wrong, I understand the ørlög my parents laid at the bottom of the well. I don’t idealize my parents. But even when my ways part with my parents’ ways, I still honor them. In uncovering my ancestry, I have some, um, primordial ooze, to be sure. But they and their ørlög are urð, what has passed. I am verðandi, that which is becoming; and need to be concerned with skuld, what should be. I need to spin my own Wyrd instead of constantly examining my predecessors’ (on account o’, I have children who will inherit my Wyrd spindle and my ørlög). More on that in a minute.

But, then again, sometimes a good deal of “inherited” ørlög lays at the bottom of Urð. And, barring profound acts of heroism that few of us even face the opportunity to enact, ain’t nothin’ in the world you can do about it. The extent to which you control your Wyrd has to do with the profundity of ørlög you (and your ancestral family) have accumulated. And you cannot travel back in time to undo your ancestral ørlög.

Or can you?

The time when we should examine our predecessors’ urð is when we find ourselves perpetuating detrimental behaviors. At these moments, we should just breathe for a moment, recognize that we are in verðandi, that moment which is becoming, and begin to unwind our ørlög. While there isn’t much we can do about what’s wound on the spindle seven-layers deep, we can revisit the recent past and straighten out the Wyrd we’ve wound in our own lifetime.

As long as we are living and breathing, there’s always a chance to straighten it out.

But even when our ancestral ørlög is knotty seven-layers deep, we don’t chuck the spindle and invent a new one. We don’t take someone else’s thread and start winding it onto our skein. And we sure as hell don’t ignore it and keep spinning over it. The most important thing we can do is find the kinks in the thread (triggers that “make” me do X like The Bad Daddy or Y like the Bad Momma). Find the kinks in your thread and carry on conscientiously.

Maybe we can’t time travel to change our familial past, but we can, knowing where the kinks are, make better decisions about our “now.”

Don’t confuse this with the happy-joyness of all those shite self-help-through-positive-thinking-power-of-now bull-spittle philosophies out there today. (Oooh my badness, do I have a thing or two to say about this Rhonda Byrne/Eckhart Tolle crapola. But first I must read Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Don’t wanna say something you can read elsewhere.) You can’t smile ancestral ørlög away—it takes work.

Blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes a little blogging.

With frith,

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/). [8]


[1] Aside from Morris Jessup, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of talk about “real” time travel in the twentieth-century. But there was this video that circulated on the websternet about a year ago of Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 silent film, The Circus, where a woman presumably walks past the camera talking into “a cell phone.” This was used to “prove” that there is a truth behind time travel—and that Hollywood soundstages had very lax security in the late-20s. I’m sure you’ve seen it. If not, go Google it—I’ll wait.

[2] I found a binder with my notorious gel-pen notes in the margins and was suddenly twenty-two again. I could smell the dank stone of the carillon which blotted out the pollution of Chicago’s South Side. Ah, but I had all of my sense about me rather than being the credulous child I was at twenty-two. (Don’t we all say, “Ugh, I wouldn’t be twenty-two again to save my life!” All while we wish that we had our youth restored. Twain was right, you know. Youth *is* wasted on the young.)

[3] This past spring I started making simple ritual garb for the would-be store, Roots, fit The Wyrd Sister. As a nod to my Heathen roots, I called the line, “The Wyrd Spindle,” on accout o’ the drop spindle has always been a metaphor for Wyrd.

[4] I was profoundly touched by the comments some of you left on my Roots post. Some of you shared stories in personal messages and emails. Our roots, like the great Yggdrassil itself, reach into the primordial ooze. I really want to talk to you about some things I’ve been putting together while meditating on Ginnungagap, but that’ll have to wait as it is a huge side-track.

[5] For an Anglo-Saxon Heathen back-in-the-day, to be (re)born outside of your (former life’s) tribe, to be (re)born as a stranger (to the family of your former life), was a fate worse than anything. One does not willingly trade in one’s kindred.

[6] This is part of why the Norns laugh at large egos. If you believe that everything relates to you—if you believe all of the water falls into your well—then you are a fool. Plus, think of how monumentally screwed you would be.

[7] Chaos isn’t chaos unless you are too close, folks. Step back one or two paces; chaos is hypersymmetry.

[8] Holy guacamole, y’all; can you believe we are nigh 10 months (40 posts!) into the Pagan Blog Project? I’ve met many of you through Rowen’s project and have read some fabulous posts by writers I may never have run across otherwise. I’m proud to have been part of this from the beginning. So proud in fact that I can’t wait until next week to announce to you all that I am hosting a blog project of my own for 2013. Let’s keep this between you and me for now–don’t tell the other 1200 readers, OK?

Roots: or Why I Don’t Hate September This Year

It’s about to be The Bad Witch Files’ second birthday. I was looking back on my ramblings and realized that a whole September has gone by without the typical weirdness. Seems that thing I was hanging on to for four years has found itself unnecessary and gone on to bother some other soul. In less cryptic terms: it seems I have forgiven myself for some imagined wrong that I simply could not shake. I, for one, am better off than I was four years ago.

Nevertheless, in looking back at where I’ve been, I realize that I have a steadfast grasp on where I am. Looking to the past and embracing one’s roots is liberating, validating, and empowering. I highly recommend it. You know how when you are a baby-Pagan, you do those “Shadow-work” exercises where you trace out your personality traits and reactive tendencies in an effort to balance yourself? (And then forget to re-do as a grown up-Pagan?) I’ve been working on an anniversary idea for this blog that ended up looking a little like Shadow-Tracking and thought I’d share where I am now.

Firmly embracing my roots: my past, my path, and my sense of self.

It was 2009, about ten months after I finished my doctorate, when I started blogging. It was a blog of fiction and poetry. I didn’t really mean to do anything with it; it was a tool to keep me accountable for writing progress and keep the post-dissertation lag from setting in. However, because I never wanted to share it with anybody, there was no one to be accountable to. (Every day I am grateful to you who read and comment for keeping me honest.) I’m weird about sharing personal factoids. There are some things I’ve never told my closest of friends—or even my family, there are loads of things I never shared with my Alabama Pagan friends, there are even a few things I’m only now telling my husband of twenty-one years (another anniversary next month). It is only by degrees that I reveal myself to you, dear reader.

This is likely because I found that all of the people closest to me had a version of me in their mind—and when I told them things, *real* things, that didn’t jive with the Me of their desires, they got all cranky. So, I avoided this by letting them have the Imaginary Me that they made up in their heads and I kept the Real Me to m’self. That did not make for good poetry.

But what it was good for was that I started writing in private again—long disconnected ranted ramblings—like a day-long freewriting session. In this, I began uncovering things about myself that were worth digging out, but that were not “convenient” to do in life. Black Work for the poet in me, if you will.

Over the past two years, I have found that I have been able to post my Magical ramblings much more freely—and quickly. Perhaps because I am far more sure of myself in this arena of life. Comfortable. Confident. Oddly, more comfortable with 1200 near-strangers than with my closest of Pagan “friends.” I have a solid handle on who and what I am. But I am loathe to share it with just anyone. Once, after the incident which I posted in “Frith and Faining,” someone (local) told me to do the next ritual balls-to-the-wall “all Ehsha-style.”

Ahhhhhh. . . no.

The state required in galdr necessitates, um, assistance. Trustworthy assistance. Verrrrrrry trustworthy and properly trained assistance. But just because I don’t share these things with all of you doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that I don’t know them or that I have a wavering faith. Mysteries. Secrets. STFU.

As a matter of fact, rereading every post reinforced for me how beautifully compatible Heathenry and Ceremonial Magic are in the völva: Heathen Magicians/Sorcerers.[1] (I was always all about High Magic; I never laid claim to Ásatrú, Odinism, Wotonism, etc.) The most fun part of writing The Bad Witch Files has been recovering the methods of seið and galdr so that I don’t have to use the masculinized Golden Dawn and Thelemic models which I studied when I got to the Bamas and found m’self all alone: the only “out” Witch to be found in the university setting at that time. Bertie has been helping me make corrections, but as she always tells me, “You already know these things; it’s a matter of realizing that you know them.”

I think the first time I realized how attuned I was to the seið of the völva was in 2009 when I first started tracking down my ancestral ties in earnest. I was so enthralled by what I discovered that I began writing a piece of historical pseudo-fiction about my ancestors. I was telling the story of a Scandinavian ancestor whose name I had to hunt down and translate (and ask for more help in translating). This is what I found:

“Elsebeth [family name omitted], 15 years old, mother of a 1 year old girl. Sister Juta, born 1414, lives with her. Mother Eydis, born 1397; Grandmother Eir, born 1383; her mother, Ketilridr, born 1367.”

It was a time of war between Pagans and Crusaders. This portion of Europe was in a constant state of coup and counter-coup. This is what I wrote[2] (it’s a rough draft, y’all—I never did revise):

The invaders had been known to break the maidenhead of virgins as they stalked through towns pillaging and burning, but Eir would protect her sisters, Unna and Nanna, twins born ten years ago that day. Eir grabbed a wet stone from the ground and began, frantically, to carve into the earth of her family garden. She heaved her breath in and out as she carved an eight-spoked wheel with three lines on each strut ….  She was openly weeping with terror when Eir raised herself high on the wall at the edges of her father’s estate and chanted, “Ek fyrbý, ek fyrirbanna, manna glaum mani. Minn eiga varði! Minn eiga varði! Minn eiga varði!” Over and again, she repeated the chant, hardly knowing what the words meant, until her eyes threw themselves back into her head and she swooned. She meant to keep her sisters’ virtue barred from the invaders.

This is all to say that until I went back and looked, I wasn’t sure this was something I had actually written—and so long ago. There are memories, and then there are Memories, no?

So utterly fascinated by this newfound information about Ketilridr (pronounced kettle rider, ha!) and her progeny and the insight it inspired, I wanted to find out more about my roots. So I set out to hunt down all my ancestors—I wanted to know names, places, stories. I have found some very colorful characters—and some very unsavory ones too. Nevertheless, I embrace them all. I embrace all of my roots.

I’ve discovered over the past three years that genealogy is a tedious task. One must check all clues and make sure that the information works in both directions. If X’s documentation show that Y is his mother, than Y’s documentations must also list X as a son. Likewise, Mr. Y must have documented links to X. In many of my cases, I found that there was documentation showing illegitimacy, but documentation nonetheless. My ancestors didn’t seem to have the same hangups about paternity as the people I accidentally introduced my kids to via Maury Povich yesterday.[3] I am amazed at how much documentation I can find for my paternal European ancestors—predominantly from Scandinavia, The Netherlands and Belgium, and Bavaria (though there is one very healthy strand of English with one strand of Irish). The Bad Husband has a hard time getting information prior to his Irish-English grand-parents. For much of my family, the trail ends with immigration papers during the Early Colonial Period—but not all. Some go all the way back to the 15th Century.

I have been grateful to have the opportunity to teach Early American Literature to have an excuse to wallow in my ancestry and religio-political history. I don’t have to agree with the concepts of Providence and Election to appreciate my forebearers’ Puritan religion. I find myself more aligned with the tolerance and justice-seeking of my Quaker ancestors, but I still value the profound introspection inherent in a Puritan paradigm.

Of course there are lines I cannot track down or cannot verify. Typically because these end at the BIA with the politics of Jackson’s Removal policies, or in a family museum fire—for pretty much the same reasons.

My ancestral roots run deep in America. As old as America, and even older still. And I embrace them all. My magical roots run just as deep. Not only through my multiple Native blood-lines: my stomping Creek and singing Cherokee blood-lines,[4] but also through my Scot-Irish-Appalachian[5] Hoodoo blood-lines, my Penn Dutch “Hexe” and “Pow-Wow” blood-lines: I come by Heathenry honestly.

But—my scholarship? I inherited that legacy from the Jesuits–and Bertie’s open mind and vast experiences with religions from all over The States, Northern Europe, and Haiti. I embrace this heritage as well. And I also learned to be able to distinguish my scholarship about religion from my own religion. I’m here with my Freshman right now; tomorrow they begin giving presentations on everything from Baha’i Faith to Santeria. My goal is never to convert them to something else but to help them have the tools to articulate the faith they have.

I have studied Wicca, sure; but the more I learn about it, the more I learn, “I’m not that.” Same goes for Voodoo. Simply because one studies a subject does not make them otherwise aligned with that subject. I study Judith Butler—does this require me to be a lesbian? Hell, I read Ayn Rand back in the Reagan days just so I could prove to myself that I wasn’t a soulless plutocrat. Often we better identify what we are by rejecting what we are not. It’s a basic Structuralist concept. Having answered all of the questions posed by The Road Less Traveled, I learned m’self a bunch. And I reinforced my own dedication to Heathenry and CM. I was glad for the opportunity to articulate what I am and what I am not. Where my roots are.

Strangely, my ability to immediately, intuitively, and unambiguously access Spirit? I might just owe that birthright to The Church of God (and DNA, I suppose) where I was taught to recognize true spiritual manifestation—and I was, by contrast, taught to recognize faker-faker-belly-achers and liars-liars-pants-on-fire too. I probably would have always been sensitive, but I don’t know that I would have had the peace about it that I do if it weren’t for the things I learned in church. So, yeah. I’ll hang on to my Christian roots, thanks. And simply because I refer to (typically Jewish, BTW) scripture does not make me a Christian. And if I were? I’d be the best-damned, most well-read, closest to Christ, Christian I could be. I find the life of Christ (either the concept or the historical figure, you pick) fascinating. I’m actually rereading The Gospel of Thomas right now and can’t wait to blog about it. I embrace my roots.

Fall is the season for ancestors in Heathenry. Winternights, coming up in about two weeks, is the beginning of the season to blòt our kin. Maybe having found my way to my roots so firmly is what has released me from the pangs of September that I used to feel.

And to that I say, “Amen.”

TBW

 

[1] I hate the linguistically marked Sorcer“ess.”

[2] My fiction tends to have three things in common: Witchcraft, Three Sisters, and Rape—or, as in this case, averted rape.

[3] I had been watching a movie, walked away to “fix something,” the kids came home, the movie stopped waiting for me and turned the TV to the cable input—ta-da! “Mom! Are you watching this?

[4] Who also used Ceremonial Magic with very particular forms and strict wording and pronunciation, BTW. High Magic is not just for Western Europeans. To explain, idi:gawe:sdi, that is “to say one” is an element of Cherokee High Magic used to “coerce the spirits”—we’d call this conjuration. These are vocalized with strict wording and form because words have an inherent power. Thanks to Jay Laughlin; it pays to know religion scholars.

[5] Don’t get me going on the term “Granny Magic,” I’ll shank a bitch.