Fasting and Need

If you’ve been around My Badness for more than a year, you know that I fast in the Autumn.

I started doing it primarily to detox from the stuff I put into my body (some of it mandatory, some of it pure hedonistic self-destruction). But I keep doing it as a reminder–physically, spiritually, and emotionally–of what I really need and what I just think I need.

The next few posts are bound to be my reflections of the discoveries I make along the way.

Last year, I explained that I don’t detox with the turning of the season as most folks do, but wait until 10/1 to begin. It’s closer to Winternights and puts me in the right spiritual/physical/cognitive state to do the magics I incorporate in that ritual. And it’s a bit like Heathen-Lent—how’s that for an oxymoron? I fast and then I feast—with my ancestors. Last year I didn’t have the feast I typically do. Typically, I hold a “Dumb Feast.” Or as my friends like to call it, “Ehsha’s Awkward, Self-Conscious, and Strangely-Lit October Dinner Party.”

Here’s the most recent invitation:

The veil is thin.
This is the time to honor all of those who have come before us:
those who have wisdom beyond our understanding,
those who paved ways for us,
those who gave us our names,
those who taught us who to be,
those who loved us,
those we never knew,
those who touched our lives but, alas, Fate saw fit not to bring into this World.
In this spirit, you are invited to a “Dumb Feast.” We will dine in silence to “hear” and to pay our respects to the ones who have come before us.
The ceremonial meal will be followed by a brief rite to recognize our ancestors, to mourn our losses, and to light the way for all who have gone beyond the veil.
Bring a token to represent a loved one the table, if you wish.
The mourning of beloved pets is absolutely appropriate.
It would also be fitting to represent a family line, a country of origin, a religious tradition, or a family tradition.
The rite will end with the breaking of silence and the life-affirming revelry that marks a true respect for creation.

I held the feast last in October 2010. I’d had a nasty falling-out with my family of origin and that year I was particularly in need of some ancestor time. My very best non-Pagan friends showed up to support me.[1] One who had just lost a baby—having fought tooth-and-nail to conceive (for the eighth time that I know of).[2] She brought the pee-stick for the altar; it was beautiful.

Another friend brought her dog’s collar.
Another brought her late-father’s wallet.
Another brought his war-buddy’s name, written in beautiful calligraphy on a sheet of paper.
I scattered pictures of my relatives across the altar.

I just needed to feel a little familial comfort in the dark of the year. We all healed a little that night.

Not so strangely, the week after, I had a cousin come into town and call me out of the clear blue. As it tends to be in my family, he starts churches: Cowboy Churches, to be exact. It’s a really touching idea and as close to Pagan ethics as I have ever seen Christians come in an organized (well…) “church” environment. That is to say, as close to Christian ethics. I went to see my cousin at the “church”—a farm across town, full of horse-smell and running-free dogs and cats. I sat my ass on a bale of hay and listened to him sing a song I’d last heard my late-uncle Jos (his daddy) sing to my momma. Jos sang it “special” for his just-barely baby sister, while tears welled in her eyes. Oh, The Bad Momma loves, “The Lighthouse.” And she loved Uncle Jos. And buddy, you better believe he loved her back.

I told you about my late-Uncle “Grandpa” and how the smell of pipe tobacco wraps me in his loving arms again. Well, gospel-guitar leans me hard on Uncle Jos’ chest.[3]

Uncle Jos, my Big Bad Brother, Cowboy Cousin (and Cowboy Cousins twin brother), and The Bad Son could all be clones. In some ways, I reckon they are. Looking at Cowboy Cousin all night made me feel like I had a family after all.

So I sat on the hay and listened to Cowboy Cousin sing familiar songs, some of which he wrote with Uncle Jos, some he wrote by himself. One my Auntie wrote as a poem and he set to music.[4] He, his amazing wife, and his four children came to my house afterward for pizza and a much-too-late night of talking and reminiscing. I had the family photos still out from the Dumb Feast and Cowboy and I sat around looking at them and laughing ‘til we gave each other side-stitches. Among my photos, I had a picture of me and his two sisters, one of whom we lost to an aneurism right around the time we lost Uncle Jos. Cowboy’s oldest is the spitting image of her.

See—we don’t really lose anyone after all.

In that picture, I was sitting on a pony—of which I had forgotten the name. “Smokey!” he told me; turns out it was Cowboy’s favorite pony. As talk of horse-love turned to talk about family resemblances, we looked at our mutual grandfather. Cowboy told me, “He was the meanest sonofagun,” emphasis on the—long e; “He looks kinda like Abe Lincoln in this one, don’he?”

He does.

Cowboy and I were born after The Bad Granddad (and I mean bad in every way imaginable) died, so we never really knew him ourselves; but we’d heard tell. T’weren’t none of it admirable. As a matter of fact, Cowboy told me that our oldest auntie, with whom he spent the most time, told him that the Klan showed up on The Bad Granddad’s porch one night to tell him to “simmer down.” When the KKK in The Bamas tells you that you’re out of line? Hoo-dog.

Cowboy and his twin were born just after he died, as a matter of fact. Cowboy and Twin kicked their way out of their momma the day after The Bad Granddad’s funeral.

Uncle Jos’ older brother, the prankster I called Uncle-Grandpa,[5] told Jos: “Holy Hell, Jos. We just put one Mac in the ground and you bring two more into the world.”

I pulled out the “big board” of the genealogy work I was doing; the best parts of the project were only ten-months old back then. We traced our blood-lines with our fingers. Cowboy’d say:

“Yup. I’ve heard stories about this one.”
“Cain’t no one get back before this one.”
“Mother always said I looked just like this one.”
“I have this guy’s mandolin back in the trailer!”

All night we talked about family and it was like I could feel them sitting in the room. I could smell their distinctive smells . . . Ivory soap. I heard guitars.

I wanted my family back that year. When I asked, I didn’t specify which members I wanted. Duh. So, I got what was best for me. Rather than getting the ones I thought I needed—the ones I must have only wanted—I got what I really needed: a healthy helping of ancestral memory.

That night really changed some things for me. I learned that when you honor the ancestors, they pour a bounty on you.

And they smell good too.

I’m not having a Dumb Feast this year—I don’t think, anyway. Sometimes these things happen when they want to happen, you know? This year, I am having a proper Disírblòt. A proper Harrow, a proper Fórn, a proper Need-Fire (for which I may resort to matches). If the mood (moot?) is right, there will be a sound bit of proper Galdrar too.

It’s nice to have Pagani around to toast the ancestors in a more formal sort of way—a way that “looks” Heathen instead of looking “New Age” or just touchy-feely-nice-nice for the cowan-friends. I’m still having the cowan-friends over. Shoot, they have ancestors too. Plus, they are glad to be able to talk and have big fire this time.

You likely picked up from past posts that I had some – how does one say this without being ugly? – How’s “less than supportive relationships” in the Pagan community? (And, as a Heathen who understands Kindred and Frith. . . . merh.) I shied away from being “all out there” since I really didn’t feel safe. I actually tried a time or two to explain, illustrate, and exemplify Ceremonial Magic and siðr, only to be made fun of. Yes. That happened. (And they call me The Bad Witch?) Now that I’ve shucked off those influences (or rather, now that they were, rather forcefully, shucked off of me), I see that an incident I found hurtful at the time, was really something needed.

Since summer, I have been drown in ancestral bliss.

I see my Verðandi becoming what it should be—my Skuld.[6] In the past few days, I have been granted a slew of opportunities to share my “Craft.” I haven’t even honored my kin with this blòt yet and they are opening doors for me to honor them more.

Just what I needed.

B, Q, and 93,


[1] Strangely, the only Pagan friend I had in town at the time did not show. She had her excuses.

[2] She has three amazingly perfect children.

[3] It’s a big family y’all. I’ll run out of breath before I run out of kin to tell you about. Momma is 11 of 11 and Daddy is 5 of 22. TBW is 4 of 4.

[4] Cowboy Cousin has won Inspirational Music Awards and his Cowboy Kiddos have won and been nominated for IMAs for several years running. There is too damn much to this story to get into this time.

[5] Please see my other post for clarification lest you think that there are inappropriately close ties in my family.

[6] Have I mentioned the relationship between my favorite theorist(s), Deleuze & Guattari and Verðandi? Becoming? Put that on the list of things I need to tell you. Short story is: I wrote a paper about Toni Morrison’s Beloved and “Becoming” in 2005 and presented it at a conference. It’s one of the only conference papers I dropped like a hot-potato even though it was very well received. It was at that moment that I realized that I’d never be able to separate my academic work from my religion if I kept writing like that. It is at a more recent moment that I realized I don’t need to separate them anymore.