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.

B is for Black Work

The Bad Witch has been very naughty indeed. I have placed my chickens before my . . . well, second B posting. Not paying close enough attention to the gameplan of the Pagan Pages Blog Project, I posted my C blog before my second B blog. I amend that here.

I have caught my tail this week. 

Ever see a dog (or a cat) just before it starts to chase its own tail? You know how this will end – if it ever does – and you want to say, “Dog, go after something a little more useful. That there is just y’own tail, son.”

I know this phenomenon well. I have a Catahoula – a hound among a pack of herders – she has a tail like an alligator. She can *take* *you* *out* with that tail. Entirely on accident. (Schutzhund trained, she can take you out anyway, but that’s another blog for another day.) Most of the broken dishes in my house have met with that tail. Little will wear her out like getting going on a good tail chase.[1]

Laying in the sun on a lovely afternoon, she will thwack herself good and hard with that booger and swear up a storm til she gets it. Then, once she has her own ass in her mouth, she usually looks at me – tickled and slapping my knee at her silliness (it’s funny to see a killer acting a fool, ain’t it?) – drops her tail, sits down, and – as much as a dog can blush – she blushes: “Oh, Lord. I’ve done gone and chased my tail again, y’all.”[2]

Now I suppose it’s that bitch’s turn to laugh at me.

You see, I had been basking in the sun, minding my own business, when out of the blue, I spotted something twitching. I tried leaving it alone. I truly did. I left it alone for two whole days but it kept on’a twitching. Right there in my peripheral vision. Then I thwacked myself with that booger good and hard. Just as I was revving up to chase, everybody told me, “Now, Bad Witch, that there is just y’own tail; leave it be and do something useful.” But no, I had to make sure for myself.

You know how it is. You’ve done it too.

I even did a little divination to find out if it was, in fact, my own tail. Yup.

Just imagine the amusement of onlookers, tickled and slapping their knees at my silliness (it’s funny to see a killer acting a fool, after all). Imagine: The Bad Bitch chasing her tail, stopping to consult the I Ching: “Stagnation,”[3] and proceeding to chase her tail some more.[4]

But, today, the chase ended. I finally caught hold of it. Bit down good and hard on my own tail. And guess what, ladies and gentlemen? It’s the same ol’ass it’s always been.  Now that I’m standing here with a mouthful of my own, very familiar, tail-fur, I’m slap-amazed with myself for having spent a whole week of precious time and energy chasing after what I knew full-well was m’own damned tail.

Why, oh why, oh help me Jesus, would The Bad Witch chase her own rear-end like that?

  • Because I was bored? Hell no, I have a full and busy life.
  • Because I mistook it for something else? Aw, baby, I knew what it was all along.
  • Because when I thwapped myself, it hurt? Not even a little.
  • Because I wanted to see if it was still attached? Because I wanted to see if it still hurt when I bit down good’n hard? Hmm, mayhaps.

Now, I don’t know if that last guess is true. It feels like it’s getting on to something – but I don’t like to think of myself as that dumb or that self-destructive. I guess it’s time to start digging around in the yard to find out where the bones are buried (forgive my mixed metaphor; though about a dog, I realize this one doesn’t follow the grand narrative). It’s time for The Bad Witch to get back to some kind of Black Work.

But you have to hear me right. Black Work is not Bad Work.

In Alchemical terms, The Black Work, or Nigredo, is the stage at which the prima materia begins its transformation.[5] This is where decomposition takes place. It may seem counterintuitive to want to “decompose” the self, but it’s a step that is necessary in order to purify the self. Decomposition is the process of breaking a conglomerate material into its constituent parts. Here, the unnecessary or downright harmful “impurities” can be cast off.

Imagine a lump of unrefined ore. Before it can become a useful tool, the impurities must be burned away. We often call this catharsis a crucible experience. Or, at least I do.

In Jungian terms, the “shadow aspect” is that part of the unconscious mind where our repressed failures, lingering childhood fears, character deficiencies, knee-jerk sensitivities, and involuntary drives wallow like swine in corn husks and the rotty-old-psychic-tomatoes-that-get-crushed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden-bucket-and-raked-out-into-the-slop. These parts of ourselves lurk in doorways waiting to trip us up like clumsy Catahoulas with anaconda-like tails. I have heard the process of examining the shadow-self called “work of the soul/shadow,” “The Shadow Process,” and “shadow work.”[6] (This last term keeps coming up in unrelated conversations, so I thought I should perk up and pay attention.)

So, as initiates, we always begin with The Black Work. We must. There is no point in trying to fashion a sword out of raw ore, now is there?  Some folks try. I wish then good luck with that.

Occasionally, like this week when I wonder why I’ve spent s’damned much time chasing my tail, I find myself retuning to do a little soul-searching. This doesn’t mean I didn’t get it right the first time. It doesn’t mean that I have a faulty soul. It just means I still have parts of my tail (tale?) to investigate. You see, the Black Work isn’t the last step in purgation.[7] We must always strive to burn away unnecessary shit that seeps out from deep in our nucleotides. Like titanium, we have to go through multiple phases of purification before becoming our final product, no?

Whenever there are bad Witches in the community, others come to the conclusion that some Black Work needs to be done on that bad Witch’s part. But whenever I see someone else whose painful distortions and repressed fears are thwacking them across the thighs like a sinewy Catahoula tail, I think, “Hmmmm, me too?”[8] After all, I’m no less human than the next Witch.

P.S. Imma dig up an old email I sent to a friend a few years ago outlining a good method for “Soul Mirroring.” I’ll clean it up and post it to Open Path.

P.P.S. I apologized to one of the onlookers who had to watch me chase my tail this week. He lovingly reminded me: “The sun doesn’t get mad at the clouds that block its view of the Earth, after all.  It has other things to care about and shine on.” ❤

I’m sorry for showing my ass – and then biting it. I’m gonna get myself together, darlin’, and rejoin the human race 😉

I guess we all shine on . . .

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://onewitchsway.com/pbp2012/).


[1] I am lying. None of my dogs chase their tails. Raccoons and squirrels, yes. Their tails, no. I needed a metaphor. Forgive a Bad Witch? Tail-chasing is believed to be a sign of neurosis in dogs. I may be neurotic, but my dogs are just fine.

[2] A rescue from Katrina, my Catahoula has a thick swamper accent.

[3] Hexagram 12: “Stagnation” or “Selfish Persons.” It reads, “Stagnation is brought about by inferior persons. There exists no advantage – even to persons of exceptional character and virtue.” (Trans. R. L. Wing. Doubleday, New York: 1982).

[4] The I Ching is a snotty little oracle, isn’t it? Unlike the Tarot where if you don’t like the answer, you will get a variant that tries to coax you into compliance, the I Ching just tells you to, “Wax’a floor,” or “Paint fence.”

[5] Forgive me for oversimplifying. Those of you who are into Alchemy, you don’t need me to reiterate the finer points; those of you not into alchemy, these finer points would be extraneous to my thesis. If this post piques your interest, study on, my friend.

[6] In Part 2, Step 1, 1 & 2 of Initiation Into Hermetics: ”Introspection or Self-Knowledge,” Franz Bardon “Without self-knowledge there will be no real [magical] development on a higher level” (35). I give you this source as a model to follow if you do not have a decent mentor to guide you. This secular one doesn’t suck either: http://integrallife.com/awaken/shadow/practice-3-2-1-shadow-process

[7] There’s the White and the Yellow(s) and, some agree, the Green(s).

[8] Oh, but don’t get me wrong. That I eventually land on introspection doesn’t mean I didn’t start out wagging my finger like the rest of them.