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.

Q&A With TRLT: Part 3, Sorcery

The Road Less Traveled gave me quite a compliment in recognizing the efforts I make to be evenhanded about my opinions. I am not God, not even a Bad God, therefore I can only speak to my human beliefs and my personal preferences. I’ve learned that, unfortunately, there are those who do not respect the convictions of others – surprisingly, even among Pagans. And I do make a real effort. Perhaps it is my legal background but I learned early on that it’s better to think things through before committing them to writing. If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying well, no?

Thanks for the very real kudos.

Let me begin by saying that not all folks who consider themselves Witches adhere to ritual structures as found in Wicca – or any structures at all. As I pointed out in “Part I,” not all Witches are Wiccans. And as I pointed out in “Wannabethans,” there are plenty of Witches who unknowingly use Wiccan practices. However, there are plenty of Witches who fly by the seat of their broomsticks. No circle, no quarters, no nothin’. They are still Witches. Further, there are some Witches who do not “practice Magic” at all. They consider themselves spiritualists, philosophers, herbalists, healers, and folks who observe the cycles of the earth. Sometimes these people are sensitives, mystics, and prophets – but that’s not a “requirement.”

Like I said in my reply to your second set of questions:

My view [of nonWiccan Witches] is that there are potentially as many ways of practicing as there are practitioners. . . . I actually kinda hate it that the only amalgamated definition we have for non-Wiccan Witchcraft is a definition based in what it is not: non-Wiccan. From a Lacanian perspective, this is disempowering – “lack.” If you have another term, I’d love to hear it! I’d be a big fan of coming up with a new, holistic, empowering term. Sadly, Traditional Witchcraft and British Witchcraft connote Gardnerian Wicca.

So, given all that, I would say seiðr is not a European folk magic in that it is a sort of sorcery. . . .

But what is the difference between Sorcery and Witchcraft, you ask? So much that there is an ongoing discussion that ranges from A to Z and back again. There are volumes of books, article, and blogs dedicated to the subject(s). So, I know you will understand that I am just hitting the high-points here. The nuances are so varied that I can’t possibly include them all in one post, but will make some attempt to point them out in later posts if there’s an interest. Deal?

Before I throw my hat in the ring, here are a few outside sources for you. I wouldn’t want you to just take my word for it!

  • I disagree with about half of this WitchVox article – the connotations of half of it at least – but feel it’s worth looking at anyway.
  • Then there’s this forum repost of Silver Ravenwolf’s perception of High/Low Magic.
  • In this thread, SingingBear argues that, “The real names should be Ceremonial and Earth Magic not High and Low Magic.” I think that’s a better delineation; it avoids the misunderstanding that there is a value judgment involved. But, like I mentioned earlier – I don’t remember where, Sorcerers can be, admittedly, imperious. I tend to like that about us.
  • This post addresses the possible confusion between “Low Magic” and “Dark Magic” or “Black Magic,” a subject I may end up covering in a post sooner rather than later.

To me it seems to be a bit like this:

I’ll repeat some of what I said in “High Magic Versus Low Magic, What’s the Difference?” (Bear in mind that “High” and “Low” are not value judgments. You might say it has a little to do with “astrological” and “terrestrial,” respectively.) Low Magic is a pretty broad set of practices and philosophies which do not require specific ceremony and ritual. Low Magic does not require intensive study or understanding of ancient traditions. Low magic is what you might call “every day magic.” It’s “practical magic.” You do this kind of magic to practical, terrestrial ends. Low Magic frequently requires nothing more than the individual’s will and maybe a handful of materials. More importantly, Low Magic typically seeks to create “spells” that offer tangible/terrestrial/material benefit to the personal/earthly self. This includes protection spells, money drawing spells, spells to encourage good luck, and love spells. This is where Witchcraft typically corresponds.

High Magic, on the other hand, includes a set of very exacting practices which require specific tools, including  – often exotic – ingredients and astrological timing; language use, not always English – hell, not always terrestrial languages; and even “real estate.” Consider the requirements of the Abramelin Operation – no kidding Crowley bought a house in, no shite, Loch Ness, Scotland.[1] High Magic is far more formal and utterly saturated with ancient and esoteric traditions: the Hermetic Arts, Alchemy, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, and Angelic Evocation.[2] These require a great deal of ritual and ceremony. Often, operations take a very long time: days, months, up to a year, and longer. John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth – and the original 007, and his sidekick, Edward Kelley took many years to complete the “Angelic Reception” of what is now referred to as Enochian. If you don’t know about these characters and are interested in Sorcery, I advise you start here. Though Dee’s is one of the most complex systems, it is worth the time and effort spent in studying his process.

Quite possibly the greatest difference is purpose. The goal of High Magic in the Western tradition is to have knowledge and communication with the Magician/Sorcerer’s personal agathodemon or Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), the embodiment of one’s truest divine nature. High Magic also differentiates itself from Low Magic in that High Magic is generally has a more intangible goal. It is geared toward nothing more than self-enrichment and enlightenment. “Being closer to ‘God’.” It is intended to have the goal of communication with “higher” entities (Divinities, Spirits, Angels, etc.) in order to bring one’s self into accord with Divine Will.[3] But, of course, it’s even more complicated than that – I assure you.

Further, Sorcery or High Magic is not a religion. It is a set off praxes and can (like Hoodoo, I suppose) be practiced alongside a religion. There are Judeo-Christian Sorceries, Islamic Sorceries, Chinese Traditional Religious Sorceries, etc. It is from these arts that concepts such as casting a circle, invoking deities, and evoking spirits is adopted liberally by “New Age” practice.

This leads me back around to another aspect of Low Magic. Low Magic, aside from “Craft-Work,” also encompasses the highly ritualized communication with “lower” entities. Yes, I am talking about demons. But I am not talking about worshiping demons, I am talking about wrangling them into a cooperative state and putting them to work. Look up the legend of King Solomon. (Here’s one source.)

I don’t want to get into Goetia or demonic evocation too much in this post since I could go on for pages and pages. But, in a nutshell, my idea of a demon is a “disorganized” entity – not necessarily evil but certainly capable of deception and unwarranted destruction that could, to a human perception, be interpreted as evil. For those of you who have no experience with demonic evocation, the best metaphor I can use is this: imagine a demon as a feral three year old on a party-party-sugar high. Left to its own devices, it will be destructive and loud and bothersome. Calm it down and give it something constructive to do and you’ll have better luck. Further, for those of you who still have Christian remnants of “demons” hiding under your metaphorical beds, imagine this: If we believe in an omnipresent deity, and I do, then there is nowhere where God is not. So, guess what? If there is a hell, however you define it, God is there too. If we believe in an omnipotent deity, and I do, then there is nothing beyond God’s use. If there are demons, however you define them, they can be put to divine use.

Yes, it’s more complicated than that.

Because I would be remiss in this discussion if I were not to include a word or two from Lon Milo DuQuette, here is a page from Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. 10-11)[4]:

So what is the source of this power? For me, it seems that some of the power comes from the intercessory “spirit” or “entity,” some from the Sorcerer, some from the ritual itself. But given that all of those parties derive power from “The Almighty Creator,” that’s from where all of the power ultimately comes. But, alas, I am not divine and can only relay my perception. I believe in an all-God because that’s how I’ve experienced my life and how I’ve learned to articulate those experiences. I can imagine that there are others with entirely different perceptions and ways of formulating those perceptions.

Finally, you asked if, as Maman Lee stated would happen to a hoodoo, can power be divinely revoked from a Sorcerer or Magician?

I’m going with, “Yes.”

For three reasons.

If I believe that God is all-powerful, and I do, then it stands to reckon that God has the authority to revoke any and all talents given to a human.

Also, there are ways of granting a Magus or Witch precisely what s/he asks for but doing it in such a way that it utterly destroys his/her life. Whereas the “Witch’s Duh” is a shortfall in the spellwork itself, I believe that there are other kinds of divine retribution. Be careful what you want – it might want you back, sort of thing. Getting what we want instead of getting what’s “good” for us is often the best cosmic punishment.

Further, if the architect of the ritual believes that s/he has trespassed, s/he will place her/himself in a psychological state where no Magic is possible. i.e. We can “psych ourselves out.” In this case, I still see it as God revoking power from the practitioner. In my opinion, this is a case where The Creator has “built in” a default auto-destruct mechanism. This idea deserves a post of its own. Someday.

There is so much more to it all. I can’t hope to cover everything there is to cover in this meager blog, but I hope that I have pointed you in a direction to pursue your own truth.

Well, that was a fun foray into comparative practices!

Blessings, Quarks, and 93,

The Bad Witch


[1] He also bought an “Abbey” in Sicily – from which Benito Mussolini’s government eventually chucked him in 1923. I mean when Mussolini kicks you out of Sicily, you’re not doing a low-prep “spell” for personal gain.

[2] This is just to speak to Western systems. There are Middle Eastern (aside from Jewish) and Far Eastern systems of which I know very, very little.

[3] Yes, of course, there are secondary and tertiary benefits to this aspiration.

[4] I used to set my clock by DuQuette. I don’t anymore. But this section – this I still like.