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,
and
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,

TBW


[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.

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.

Genealogy

If you haven’t heard, the 1940 US Census has been released to the public. This has me climbing my family tree again. Not because I don’t know my roots prior to 1940 (heck, my folks are on the ’40 Census), just because I like to see it in writing. Handwritten. Like a grimore of American heredity.

There are a lot of witches out there who place a lot of store in “heredity.” I’m not sure where I fall here. Some people believe that being part of a genetic line makes them predisposed to certain abilities: “Witches are born, not made.”[1] Some seem to believe that having learned a “craft” from an elder is what constitutes heredity.

Usually, when we think of hereditary witchcraft, we think of non-Wiccan traditionalists. I know I do. But, as a bit of a disclaimer for the rest of what I’m about to say, we have to think – Wicca has been around long enough for the first of Gardner’s supporters to have grand-children and great-grand-children.[2] But what of the smallest minority of us who can trace our lineage back to the early-middle-ages and have our roots in undeniably Pagan lands?

As for The Bad Witch, I can boast of direct (documented) evidence that my ancestors from the (eventual Palatinate) in Bavaria remained outside the papal struggle for religious power during the 100 Years War (i.e. my kin were Alps-y-Krampus-y- Bercht-y non-Christians and, therefore, persecuted). After the Lutheran Reformation, they became a sort of political proto-Quaker among the Rhineland Mennonites; eventually they fled to the safety of Jamesian England and were shipped off to Maryland. After a generation, they settled in Alabama among the Cherokee Nation by the early 18thC. This is all documented. The suggestion (that has no documentation but has a strong probability) is that we stretch back to Bavaria at the time of the Merovingian rule. But this is based solely on the correlation of place names and family names.[3]

I can also boast of Native ancestry on my mother’s side. I have traced her father (a biological Scotsman) back to Argyll just after the War of Independence – no small task with that potato blight which caused most Scot and Irish families to lose track of their heritage.

But I have a few loose ends. Of eight great-grandparents, I have five nailed down and all of those go back to a relatively un-Romanized locales.[4] The other three can’t get out of Alabama. Know the feeling?

But does that make me Pecti since I know I have relatives from pre-Roman Scotland? Does that make me Nativist since I know I have relatives whose roots are all over the Southeast of the US? Does that make me hereditary Dagu or Odinist? Or – what? A Dutch Elegaster? Nope. I am none of those things.

Because, guess what? I was born on the Southside of Chicago during the Nixon administration.

I am fortunate to have been taught some folk “ways” that have been in my family as long as we’ve needed them. I do have a great collection of “recipes” from generations of elder-women. I also have the great mythologies handed to me by the male members of my family – as well as a strong tie to the Freemasons. Most importantly, I have a sense of cosmology that stretches beyond the simplistic Christian dogma I would have been handed if my mother hadn’t been so sagacious about the paradox inherent in the multiplicity of a unified God. So is that what makes me a hereditary Witch?

What I learned about Witchcraft, I learned from a woman who is not my genetic relative, yet we are kin. Bertie and I share a bond that transcends DNA. I know this is true of all teachers and mentors of all religious studies – Pagans don’t have a corner on it. Bertie is from a hereditary tradition. She learned what she knew from her mother who learned it from her mother.[5] She taught me mostly about ethics and sacred laws, histories and mythologies. What I learned about Magic, I learned from a woman who was not my genetic relative, yet we are kin. Siobhan leaned from her mother who learned from her mother. She taught me how to draw power out of a flame and how to use water alone to heal a wound, how to purposefully dance in a way that could make things change[6], how to put the laws Bertie taught me into practical use. She taught me how to reign in all of the energy that swooped and leapt around me so that I would not continue to be an embodied tornado of dynamism. So is that what makes me a hereditary Witch?

Being a sensitive and having prophetic inclinations is, I think, genetic. I think anyone can learn to use them – as I think we all have these abilities to some degree. But like musical ability, I think “magical” inclinations and sensitivities are genetic. But they don’t make us “Witches.” Do they? (If so, my momma’d be very upset to hear it.)

This all leads me back to the grimore of America: 1940.

Not long ago, I was expressing my frustration at the inability of Teutonic, Near Eastern, Far Eastern, and Native North and South American Shamanic traditions; (staunchly-patriarchal) Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman magical systems; British and Northern European Reconstructions of ancient religions and folk-ways; and African-diasporic ritual to meet the needs of a (mostly-white) American Witch. I was told, “So, make your own tradition.” I thought she was joking. We had, after all, made a jab or two at those we knew who took the title “eclectic” as a license to create slap-dash “traditions” with little at stake aside from aesthetics and egoism. But then she clarified: “Not for ego, but to fill the gap.” I brushed it off as something someone like me doesn’t “do.”[7]

Then I started taking Runic meditation lessons from this dude. We’ll call him Bellow Sage (it’s close enough to his magical name). I’ve not really met him in person (unless Skype counts) but I’ve known of him for a while.[8] Online friends are very useful when one lives in a small town in the Deep South. Amen? The lessons themselves are super groovy and I’ve gotten a lot out of them so far. But the real benefit has been his pancultural expertise. I started seeing all of the parallels that I knew were between systems but never paid much attention to. Now I am starting to think, “Hmm. We really don’t have a uniquely American system, do we?” Is that because America isn’t “good” enough to spawn her own version of Witchcraft. Hell no.[9]

Those of us with hereditary “gifts” and those of us with hereditary lineages and those of us with both – what tradition do we lean to? Sure, we pick and choose from “I lean toward Celtic traditions but am more Nativist,” and “I’m heavily influenced by Germanic-Celt traditions but prefer the structure of High Magic,” or “I’m a sorcerer, but without a penis, I feel a little left out sometimes.” (See my post on the Vesica.) But is that just mixing and matching in the separates section in lieu of investing in a good suit that really fits from head to toe? I’m not saying this is not OK. As a matter of fact, you can see that I have applauded eclectic practice in the past.

But I, personally, long for more.

And Momma always said, “If you don’t like my casserole, cook one yourself.”

“Arright, Momma. Lemme get my recipe books.” Le’see what I’ve inherited after all.

B, Q, 93 – TBW


[1] A sentiment my deBeauvoirian heart can’t wholly embrace.

[2] Pointedly on the non-Wiccan side of the argument, I often feel defensive when I say my piece about Gardner. Given the prolific Wiccan-majority, I often feel like I’m a near-Socialist in Alabama . . . wait, I am a near-Socialist in Alabama.

[3] And some other guy made a connection between my documented 13thC relative and Charlemagne. He was working forward from Charlemagne while I was working backward from my dad – whose parents are Appalachian kin, so this applies to two out of four great-grandparents. I haven’t verified it yet. But hell, everybody white was somehow related to Charlemagne, right? My bet is that everybody else died in the plague.

[4] A few folks I can’t get beyond the twentieth-century. One of these, as I reckon it, family lore has incorrectly called the mother the wife. I’m chasing that one down this week. It helps that the 1940 Census has just been made public. I spent about an hour this morning looking at 46 pages of handwritten Census reports from Sheffield. Knowing these names – there was magic in it.

[5] How Bertie ended up in a convent is another post for another day.

[6] “Purposefully” being key; I had been doing it accidentally all my life.

[7] I toyed with the idea once when working alongside a dear and trusted friend. The articulation of this goal has since been derided and belittled and the intention has been perverted in open forum. Needless to say, TBW is now a little gun-shy.

[8] You can follow my progress with him at The Wyrd Sister if you are so inclined. Yes, yes. Another blog. I was going to make it a page here, but – thing is, I don’t think TBW’s readership wants in on the personal-growth-Black-Work-mumbo-jumbo. If you do, you are welcome to it – if you are not, I won’t force it on you. My bartender and my hairdresser are tipped well.

[9] TBW is teaching Early American Lit. The focus will be on non-Christian traditions in the US. Hell, we’ve got that whole Salem thing going for us.

Kith and Kin

I just have to get this out of my system.

Trying to work my way through a (by now, late) *D* post for the Pagan Blog Project, I keep thinking I should share this one thing.

If you look back at my Open Letter post, you’ll know that “somewitch got mad at me” back in the day and “yelled into the darkness” that all sorts of hellishness befall me.  Following that, I got all sorts of unexpected and much needed blessings.

I can only assume something similar is happening again. Only now, I don’t need anything – but I’m getting divine Tiffany’s boxes all the same.

The mailman brought me an unexpected, unsought, unforseen check for 2x my mortgage payment (nearly 8% of my annual income). It came from a refund resulting from a random audit of on an eight-year-old legal transaction. Talk about audits-ending-in-legal-action gone right!

While I’m not in need of cosmetic procedures, TBW has no problem with a solid facial now and then. While taking the Eldest to a dermatologist appointment (for a benign issues, no worries folks), I was randomly selected by the aesthetistician for a free full-on spa-day complete with sandblasting, spackle, and reinflating the tires.[1]

Those are nice presents, but the best gifts I’ve gotten in the past two weeks have been blood. Hooo, boys and girls, The Bad Witch’s sister called her out of the blue – literally on a Tuesday – just to say, “I love you, baby sister.” Tell ya what – you can have everything else as long as I can keep that. Then she offered to bring me chickens and art.[2] We are a strange brood.

I also found – or rather was found by – a cousin on a local Pagans page on Facebook. She and I were *tight* as teenagers. I’m overjoyed to be back in regular contact with her, of course. But I’m even more overjoyed that this contact has revealed that I have a set of openly Pagan family members. Like the denouement of a Keanu Reeves film, one wild and seemingly impossible revelation after another, lead me to a week of: “Waaaaaaiiiiiit a minute . . . do you mean to tell me . . . ?”

  • The giant cauldron in Auntie Milly’s yard is *not* for soup?
  • Auntie Mame makes multi-county famous healing potions? And her daughter, and granddaughter have the family book of what??
  • Those weren’t “just any masons” at Uncle Coop’s funeral?
  • All the stuff I teased about Momma calling gran’s “Indian Ways” are no joke to the rest of my kin?[3] My mom is actually the odd-man-out? (Wrap your head around that for a minute. Then help me get my head wrapped around it. I thought I was the black sheep. I’ve been Jacob’s Spotted Sheep all along![4])
  • Yes, it kinda does explain why there was no infant mortality during The Great Depression and in Lower Appalachia in our rather sizable family.

Hot damn. The Bad Witch comes by it honest. Of the whole big family, less-than a third of the families are actually non-Pagan. And aside from Momma, those are preachers (even the women). My mind is blown in the best possible way.

I may need to get on my dad’s family’s Facebook page more often.[5] Who knows what I’ll learn.

This is all to say, if you’ve been cast as a bad witch and a bad witch starts casting at you? Chin up. Energy is energy. If you surround yourself with goodness, the bad shit can’t land on you. Especially not if you swift that energy into your realm of goodness. (Now where did I put that spell-post?). Like the end of Sleeping Beauty (Disney, 1959) where the fairies turn rocks into bubbles, arrows into flowers, and boiling oil into a rainbow. If it starts raining, it will be like a Skittles commercial. The Bad Witch says open wide!


[1] The gods sure do know how to make a Bad Witch feel like Miss Pagan Homecoming Queen. So – to whomever cast that energy out there for me, thanks!

[2] Fertilized eggs from the coolest bred chickens I’ve ever seen, an incubator, and paintings – painted by The Bad Sister to be sold at a local Pagan art fair. “Anything I can do to help you out.”

[3] “Youse Guys” is *not* something I picked up from living in Chicago for 30 years? The Gaga is not idiosyncratic to just my family? “Sav” is short for “savage” not “salve”? Likewise it’s “savy” not “savvy.” Yup. I’m an Apple.

[4] In Genesis, Jacob takes the spotted apportionment of Laben’s flock as Rachel’s dowry. Some folks say Jacob was being magnanimous to Laben. I say Jacob was a smart son’a’bitch. Spotty sheep are heartier than white ones. Let Laben have his vanity. Jacob needed robust sheep.

It’s always good to know the whole Bible story when we reference them. It’s also good to know the context of a tale. Just knowing who’s whose son is one thing and something we can look up on Wikipedia (which is always right, I know) – knowing what that son is notorious for having done (and his later relationship to slavery) is quite another thing. It usually requires having read a few, um, books.

Funny – Auntie Lot (no kidding) called me Little Benjamin –while Momma called me Little Heathen.

[5] Yea, his family is a big deal. Yea, we were among the first to settle the colonies. Yea, we have a well-documented history with the Cherokee nation. Yea, we have a FB page with hundreds of family members all posting stuff like, “This is my grandma’s picture; she’s 80 with hardly any wrinkles. Who out there looks like us?” and “I’m looking for descendants of Uncle Aster to get together for his 100th birthday.” It’s good to know one’s real-real roots.