Hel and Back

This one spans three decades and may take a minute. Grab a drink and put your feet up.

It was 1980 and I sat in the church van with Maria Villalobos-Ramirez, Lourdes Bacardo, Anita Rodriguez, and Dolores Ortega. Between the five of us we had gone through all of the butane in Anita’s Clicker portable curling iron, half-a-bottle of Love’s Baby Soft, a tin of grape Lip Lickers, and a full eyeliner pencil and a lighter.

We were headed to camp (yes, think Jesus Camp only less affluent) and we were singing. Songs that started out about roadtrips, “Lonely days turn to lonely nights, you take a trip to the city lights,” “Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends / I found myself further and further from my home,” and “I gotta be cool, relax, get hip, get on my tracks. Take a back seat, hitch-hike. . .,” disintegrated into, “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight,”[1] “I wanna kiss you all over,” “Oi, oi . . . I’m a powerload . . . watch me explode!” That’s about when Brother Preacherman said enough was enough and that we should sing gospel songs instead.

That’s when TBW decided to rebel. I parodied a choir-girl stance and began, “Hey Momma, look at me, I’m on my way to the Promised Land.” Right on cue, the other girls chimed in, “We’re on a highway to Hell!”

Brother Preacherman was too tolerant of my bad behaviors.

We think of going to Hel as a bad thing. We tell the feckheads in our lives to go to Hel. Some of us even provide directions. But as someone who’s been to Hel and back, I can tell you that the ride sucks, but the return has its rewards.

Let me explain.

Part One: I left the comforts of my rather insular covens and headed for The Bamas in 2002. I worked on my doctorate, raised my babies, and kept doing my thang. I tried “coming-out of the broom closet” once or twice—okay, constantly—but very few people understood what I was up to. There was an “English Graduate Organization Prom” that I attended with my new-found grad-school bestie that first year; I had only been around for a few months and I thought it would be good to mingle. I was wearing a headband right on my hairline; a die-hard-fundie (who had made off-color comments about a pentagram shirt I wore to class) asked me, “Do all of you wear those?”

“All who?”

Wicc-ahh, wit-ahh, whatever you call yourself.”

I had been pegged by a Church of Christer—but for a totally banal headband.

I threw a bang-up Samhain party (which I referred to as a “Samhain” party rather than a Halloween party—and was met with “a whaah?”) some weeks after that and all of my Witchy-Chachkas were very visible. Everyone must have thought they were décor.

Another time, a few years later, I sat on my back porch with my immediate supervisor (and friend), her fiancé, The Only Other possible-Pagan (she was ambivalent at the time), and The Bad Husband. I don’t remember what precipitated the event, but I was reading Tarot. My boss wanted to know, “Where’d you learn that?” Just as I was about to tell her everything, the other woman shot me a terrified look that said, “NO! Keep your mouth shut!” To this day, I wonder what she was afraid of?

After that, I wore pentagrams, spiral goddesses, serpents, and medicine bags to work. You name it, I tried signifying with it and no one saw me. (I still have a giant “Witch” sign over my desk—next to a rune glyph, a spiral goddess pendulum, and a little portrait pin of Marie Laveau.)

All of this is just to say that when I decided to make myself known, I had to take my stav in both hands and pound the ground. Hard.

I think I was a little out of line. Much like singing AC/DC in a church van.

Because that action set me on a road to Hel, through the fires, and into relationships with some of the Baddest Witches eveh.

Part Two: The Descent

It was Summer 2007, I had just earned a Fellowship: the department was paying me to finish my dissertation rather than teaching. The above mentioned grad-school bestie was so resentful that I had gotten the award rather than her that she “broke-up” with me. No shit.

The Only Other possible-Pagan took a job in another state and shoved off—and not on good terms.

In late-May, I set the need-fire, I took my stav, and I called for three witches that would teach me what I needed to learn from here on out.

See “The Witch’s Duh.”

I had just met a brand-spanking-new grad-student with the craziest aura I have ever seen. (She is the #2 of my “Trance” post, btw.) Having sent my children to stay with family in Chicago,[2] by July 3, I was three chapter drafts into my dissertation. There was a toga party.

That’s how it began.

After that, there were 12 months of phonecalls with her voice on the other end saying, “Oops, I ended up in bed with the wrong boy again, can you help?” and “I’m drunk and the boy I like is being mean to me, can you help?” Imagining her as salvageable, I always did. But the relationship wasn’t entirely unreciprocal. Having felt like I had bled every ounce of my person for others, I had little to no sense of self left in the cupboard. We joked that she thought she was “all that” and that I didn’t even believe I was “a bag of chips.” But her unbridled vivaciousness would not contend for her BFF (actually, this relationship was the first time I’d heard/applied this term of endearment) to be less than awesome. She said that she loved me and she brought the dead parts of me back to life.

It was February of 2008 when I decided to dust off my grimories and hit the books harder than ever.[3] By April, I was ready for my last elevation with Bertie. I graduated with a PhD in May. Over the summer, The Only Other Pagan came back to town and we made amends. She had wholeheartedly adopted Witchiness—plus she brought a friend back with her.

We were tightthighttight for three months.[4]

Then, in September/October, I got talked into rigging a Dom-Jot table. I take full responsibility for having gone along with it. I lost my mind that fall and nearly lost everything else by New Year.

Part Three: In Hel and Back Out

In January 2009, I had a Naussican spear through my chest (see “It’s a Wonderful Q” for this reference), and found myself standing at the Gates of Hel without a shovel.

I started teaching Witchcraft on a more formal basis; I knew that if I was going to have to climb my way out of Helheim, I was going to need to buckle down. I spent the next ten months mentoring Witchcraft students online and teaching a select few in person. I spent those same ten months deflecting ridiculous fallout from that fight with a Naussican. I started writing a book called The Bad Witch Files—but I never knew how it ended, so it never went very far. It still calls me in bits and spurts.

I continued teaching (secular and religious) and learning and practicing and trying to piece my life back together in some way that looked like life, even if it still smelled of sulfur.

In October 2010, I started blogging here and you can go see the milestones for yourself. I think it was summer 2011 before I realized I was on the road back from Hel. I knew the journey was going to be long. And I knew that if I was ever going to make it all the way out, I was going to need to articulate myself—use my voice.

And—here was the hardest part—then I had to work through forgiving myself.

But, in order to avoid the calm stillness and silence where certainty resides, I kept myself a moving target, often chasing my own tail. Having spun m’self round and round, I have finally come full circle after traveling to Hel and back.

Part Four: The Return

It was back in February 2012 that I finally found the new mentor I had been craving. I had studied and practiced all the Hermetics, Ceremonial Magic, Theurgy, and Goetia I wanted to alone. After ten-fricking years of going it alone, I was ready to be taught, lead, united with others.

I looked to him to teach me all about Teutonic Shamanism. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to drain him of everything he knew, leaving me back at the drawing board.[5]

Right back where I started.

Fortunately, I did not go to jail, but I did collect $200. And by “collect $200,” I mean “pulled my head out of my arse and found my voice.”

Yawp, bitches. [6]

At the beginning of that shitefeckedup four year trek, I knew I had Heathen ethics, I knew I had High Ceremonial practices, I knew I had a moral compass aligned with Matthew 25:40, I knew I had a Helluva sound occult education behind me, and I knew I had – gifts—we’ll go with “gifts.” But I had never been forced to articulate what I “was.” I always considered myself a Heathen Sorcerer, perhaps because my childhood nickname was, “Y’lil’heathen,” perhaps for more substantial reasons stemming from my appreciation of the Anglo-Saxon ethics I learned as an undergraduate. I laid claim to the title “Sorcerer” in my early 20s, before I was even a mamma.[7] But, while I knew what it meant in my body and in my soul, I was never really sure what that might mean—you know, on paper, with other people looking at it.

Polyphanes wrote a post last week that struck a chord with me. He wrote: “I’m so far over the place, hither and thither, that I break a lot of people’s definitions, preconceptions, and labels. In other words, as befitting my Hermetic nature, I’m a trickster and don’t fit into any one bin, since I’ll just flit right out and into another one. I’d be like a Schrödinger’s Cat of traditions, except with less neurotoxin.” 

I felt a little like an unexplained Copenhagen interpretation too.

I’ve given you the rundown of my Jesuit educational upbringing with Bertie. Though Bertie tried her best to balance Catholic Christianity and Occult-Paganism for me, I held on to some of the vestiges of my Evangelical fears of “evil” and “Hel” for quite a while. I’m not ashamed to admit that. But, today, it seems like a lifetime ago that I was articulating my sense of Evangelical Detox. That’s not to say I discovered it in 2010, but that I had just found the voice to articulate the experience.[8]

Perhaps the most profound experiences are what ended my ongoing tailspin in the last few months. Having gotten back in constant contact with Bertie, I was pressed *from the outside* to journey back to the inside. Having lost Brother Preacherman and Mama Lisa over the summer, I was shocked into appreciating the “call” (or were they saying “caul”?) other folks saw hovering on and about me. Having learned what I’ve learned from Maman Lee a few months back. And having been pressed by The Road Less Traveled to reeeeealy articulate the difference in several traditionssome of which are my own, some of which I didn’t understand nearly as well as I did after being asked to clearly express those distinctions—I found that my voice was there all along. It was a little browbeaten and tired, it had been vilified and colonized—but it was still audible. And it still sounded like me.

Back in December 2011, I think I busted through some hymeneal (hmmm, hymnal?) membrane when I clearly articulated my thoughts about the word “vagina.” It had been—dare I say it—pricking at me for a while. And much like really good sex, once I found the right spot, it was all over.

In February 2012, I picked up the stav I had left idle for too long and started working on Teutonic Shamanism[9]—very close to the pathworking Bertie had taught me in the 90s.[10] It was these pathwork journeys, ironically, that brought me back out of Hel. And how I found my voice.

As for the journey, it’s not at an end. But I’m glad to be trading in these uncomfortable shoes.

So here’s what I’ll tell you in the next few posts:

  • What it means to go to Hel and Back in Teutonic Shamanism
  • Why I’m settling deeper into a new path (or, really, praxis)—that’s not different, just a better amalgamation of what I always was
  • What I’m teaching in Delta, Alabama next month and in Auburn, Alabama in November and December
  • How all of this relates to Wolves and Ulfarnir
  • How you can go to Hel too!

Thanks for sticking it out for this long post.

B, Q, 93,

TBW


[1] Which I thought was, “There’s gonna be a party tonight.”

[2] One of whom, at not quite twenty, we lost this week.

[3] Ergo the 2008 in my email address—that was the year I set “stuff” up under the name Ehsha.

[4] This is all a sort of side-story which is more of an irritation than anything real. But it bears mentioning given what I had requested—three witches to teach me. Boy howdy. Witch’s Duh.

[5] This is no disparagement on him. It’s just that everything was the same stuff I had been teaching for years myself—just with different names.

[6] Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. I’m teaching this in a few weeks. Squee.

[7] I remember the conversation with my sister. I didn’t have the language to discuss High Magic versus Low Magic yet, but I knew the connotation of “Sorcerer” versus the connotation of “Witch.” Having always understood Wicca as initiatory, I never laid claim to it as an eclectic idea. I still have a hard time getting my head wrapped around non-initiatory Wicca as “Wicca.”

[8] And it seems kinda trippy to me that I started envisaging an online Pagan Seminary back in September 2008 and started actually working toward it by publishing the results here nearly three years later. Now, here at the end of 2012, it seems the time has come to fully articulate that ambition.

[9] I don’t know how many of you saw the “Wyrd Sister” page before I turned it into the retail page it is now. If you missed it back in January, it aimed at being a page which cataloged my last leg of training in Seiðr. It rapidly got too close to STFU mysteries, so I switched it.

[10] And now I have vajay and stav and pounding jokes running through my head—that’s appropriate.

Bonus Round

Back when I was talking about Mercury going direct, I mentioned that if “between July 14th and . . . August 8th . . . you ‘react[ed]’ to something you should have ‘reflected upon” and now you seem to have screwed yourself into a sitchyation without a decent exit plan, “there’s always the Blue Moon (conjuncted with Neptune = water) at the end of the month to try your hand at amending the situation.” I suggested that this was particularly good for “those bells that can’t be unrung, stones that can’t be unthrown, words that can’t be taken back, and acts that can’t be – um – unacted.

To elaborate on what I said in “The Gale,” the intersection of Confrontation and Forgiveness is a two way traffic exchange – a cross roads if you will. Four way stop sign. Yield. Right of way and all. (I don’t know what I’m saying, now I’m just rambling and hoping this means something to one of y’all.)

Well, that’s coming up on Friday, isn’t it? Just around 8 AM, to be precise. In a Mercurial hour (in my neck of the woods). Flow tide (to high) indicating change.

If timing is crucial to your Work, then take a look at all the water/emotion and communication.

  • Full Moon
  • In Neptune
  • At Flow Tide
  • At Mercury Hour
  • If only it were a Wednesday. . . And while Libra is “air,” we still have the concept of the scales of balance and justice.

If you aren’t too busy at 8AM Friday, maybe it’s your bonus round good for a do-over, an apology, a little backsies.

For me?

I keep thinking about forgiveness and how, like recovering from addictions, it’s a daily commitment. I have this one person (not) in my life who ripped my heart to shreds, stomped all over it, tore my family life to bits, threatened everything I had ever worked for, forced me to make choices rivaled only by Zofia Zawistowski’s (not exaggerating), and set me on a road to four years of unnecessary penance. I was actually expected to be happy when this twisted relationship married into my family (they announced the engagement on my birthday, btw). When I wasn’t, I was ousted.

By my sister. The one who practically raised me. And then, in turn, I took care of her children. Who then took care of my children. Who now cannot speak to two beloved cousins, an aunt and uncle, and second-cousins their own age.

I wasn’t invited to the wedding, by the way. As a matter of fact, the bride told the groom that if I showed my face, she wouldn’t go through with it. “It’s her or me.”

I met with my “niece,” my former-best-friend (and magical partner of sorts). A Sagittarian who, despite her constant mantra, “I apologize!” couldn’t make a sincere apology if her life depended on it. I met with her in the weeks after the wedding and told her, “I know you didn’t ask me to, but I forgive you for everything you did to me and my family.” I couldn’t carry that hurt around anymore. So I laid it all down, sword and shield. Laid it down at her feet and left it for her to deal with. Walked away.

DownDown. Both of em downDown by the riverside. Sword and shield. Don’t study war no more. Lay all that mess down. Sword and shield. (Morrison, Toni. Beloved. 120.)

I thought that was going to be that. But – I have to decide every galling day not to pick it up again. I see it: my sword and my shield just laying there getting rusty. I want to pick them up. I want to pick them up and slay things. I want to wage war on every birthday, every Mother’s Day, every Christmas, every time I hear Night Ranger, every time I run across a photo of my nephew as a baby or my sister and me at my graduation, every time my mother calls and we have to avoid the subject, every time I drive near their neighborhood. But I don’t. I resist. With every fiber of my being.

Anyone who thinks forgiveness is “passive” has never really forgiven. Maybe never been forgiven. Because knowing, as I do, what a daily struggle it is to forgive – to actively forgive – I think that if anyone were to forgive me a transgression that big, I would realize what a gift I had been given.

Now, before you go beatifying me Saint Bad Witch, A) I’m not dead yet B) I haven’t been able to replicate that feat. There’s this other, not unconnectedthing. We’ll go with “thing.” I vacillate between A) being full of rage and hate and anger and hurt and B) not giving a rat’s arse.

This is not forgiveness. This *is* passive. This is, perhaps, avoidance.

Like I told Aubs earlier today, the most crucial step in forgiveness (according to Bertie) is in “confrontation.” It requires articulation. In my case, I have no desire to confront or articulate or spin any amount of energy on that – issue. We’ll go with “issue.” (See, I’n such a state of avoidance I can’t articulate – even when I try.)

So, is this where Bert says to elicit divine intervention? When confrontation and articulation are unattainable? And I don’t mean intervention to sic the gods on the other – I mean to intervene and cause a situation where articulation is possible.

I always assumed she meant unattainable because the guy is dead or the woman carries a Glock. But maybe an argument could be made for asking the divine to give us a hand when we just can’t get ourselves arsed-up enough to articulate, to confront, to forgive.

But that means working on myself. Right? Asking the divine to change me so that I am prepared to and capable of confrontation and articulation and, therefore, forgiveness. Alas, as the great prophet Michael Joseph Jackson taught us, “If you wanna make the world a betteh place, take a look atcha self and then make that – change.” And then we are back to my regla número uno: Change your insides in order to manifest exterior change. Above, below, microcosm, macrocosm, blah, blah blah. It’s easier said then done when you’ve got a groovy sword and shield that could make some serious external modifications. And right fast too.

No worries, readers. I have no desire to use the sword. The shield, I’ll hang on to if it’s all the same. And if it comes to blows I can be like Tyrion Lannister in the Vale. (For those not Ice and Fire geeks, he kills an attacker with a shield.)

For Friday, I believe my bonus round will be to work on tenacity. On accout’o’ I’m getting worn around the edges with this forgiveness crap.

Last week I felt sincere Schadenfreude when I heard that she had suffered a series of losses. This is not my usual character. I felt a wave of relief when I realized that I didn’t have to see her name (with my family name attached to it) on a door-plaque every time the elevators opened one floor too soon. (Yes, we worked together too.) I hoped against hope that something would happen that would cause someone to get peeved enough, see my weaponry laying at her feet, and skewer her with my discarded sword.

Indeed, I am losing the grip I once had on this forgiveness thing.

Maybe I’ll even find what Dr. King called, “radical forgiveness” (Strength to Love). Bearing in mind that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing, maybe I can locate the strength to lay down that other sword and shield too. (Instincts screaming, “Noooo! Keep the shield, keep the shield!”) But then again, maybe I’m going in the wrong direction. Maybe when working on forgiveness I best start with the man in the mirror.

Peace y’all.

TBW

It’s a Wonderful Q

This is the story about what brought The Bad Witch permanently out of the broom closet. Mostly.

OK – it’s sort of about Star Trek and George Bailey. But it’s mostly about a wonderful life-lesson.

TBW was a huge geek in the 80s and 90s. Aw, who am I kidding? I still am. I gleefully take my kids to Anime Weekend each September and teach Death Note in World Lit; I can name all of the Doctors in order and even have plans for a Tadis-based present for my son’s 16th birthday (don’t tell); I prefer the original Tron and can tell you precisely why; I have the autographs of Patrick Stewart, Johnathan Frakes, and Bret Spiner,[1] I have lines I regularly quote from ST:NG,[2] I made really awwwweeeesome Star Fleet costumes complete with digitized, ping-sounding comcorder pins for myself and The Bad Hubby one Halloween,[3] and The Bad Husband and I would record The Next Generation on a DVD player and watch it together in my parents’ living room; and I saw Return of the Jedi (in its original showing, I’m that old), Willow, and Labyrinth at the theatre. If that’s not enough, the bed on which I lost my virginity at barely-16 was parallel to a wall that still donned decade-old Star Wars wallpaper.

So when everyone else came up with brilliant ideas for a Q post for The Pagan Blog Project, I couldn’t stop thinking of John deLancie. He is a deity, after all.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q is a childish and narcissistic “godlike” character who starts off as an overbearing asshole who derides humanity for all of its flaws. As the series progressed, Q and the “Q Continuum” to which he belonged, became more and more enamored with humans and their unique, um, humanness.

In the episode, “Tapestry,” Captain Picard dies as an indirect result of a brash decision made in his youth. The Q Continuum, a conglomeration of omnipotent beings, opts to show Jean-Luc what his life would be like if he had not helped his sore-loser comrade rig a Dom-Jot table as a Starfleet ensign. (Not a Trekkie? Just go with it.) In a storyline reminiscent of It’s A Wonderful Life,[4] Jean-Luc realizes that his all-out ballsiness is both what caused him to need a heart-replacement at a young age and what caused him to become Captain of the Starfleet Flagship, Enterprise.

Hee-haw! Captain Jen-Luc Picard, the richest captain in Starfleet!

Very recently I had a Q moment of my own. I’m not saying that an asshole deity showed up to illustrate to me that the genuinely happy and profoundly blessed person I am today was the direct result of a brash decision made in my, um, youth – we’ll go with “youth,” but . . . an asshole deity showed up to illustrate to me that the genuinely happy and profoundly blessed person I am today was the direct result of a brash decision made four years ago.

I won’t get into the details – mostly because they are horrifying – but in 2008 I just earned my PhD, was married to a man I loved, had three wonderful children, and hated my life. I had been in the Pagan-broom-closet for six years and had spent so much time discussing Foucauldian PowerKnowledge, Performativity, Deleuzian schizoanalysis, and WTF any of that had to do with The Manchurian Candidate, Alfred Hitchcock, Dr. Strangelove, and Ken Keasey, that I forgot damn-near everything Bertie ever taught me about – well, anything.

But in the fall of 2008, I got reckless and let myself get proverbially impaled by a Naussicaan spear. When I found myself dead-before-my-time and staring-down an preposterous deity – The Q? Really? – I began regretting rigging that Dom-Jot table to protect my two impetuous and dishonorable friends. Or, if you prefer, having taken over the ol’Building and Loan in Bedford Falls.

But, in the end, like Picard and Bailey, the asshole-Q-deity showed me what life would have been like if I hadn’t taken that one seeming misstep. Sure, I might have a properly functioning heart capable of withstanding the energy blast of a Lenarian rebel attack (Go-oooo with it!) but I sure wouldn’t have Zuzu’s petals.[5]

You see, it was the whack-a-doo-ness that followed in the 18 months after that Naussicaan attack that I dug my heals in deep into Ceremonial Magic, academic publishing, and blogging at TBWFiles. It was in the 12 months after that in which I had to force myself to find any sort of will at all, let alone True Will. Then I chased my tail for a bit. But now, I think I am ready to laugh at the tip of that blade protruding from my wicked sternum.

Thanks Q. You are a fecking arsehole. What would I do without you?

Hug and kisses,

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.com).


[1] From the 1992 Chicago Theatre presentation of Every Good Boy Deserves Favor to which The Bad Husband took me on our first anniversary.

[2] “Human. Play Dom-jot?” said in a Naussicaan accent. “Tapestry.” Season 6, Episode 15.

“There are four lights!” said in a British accent. “Chain of Command.” Season 6, Episode 10 & 11.

“I am superior, sir, in many ways, but I would gladly give it up to be human,” said in an android accent. “Encounter at Farpoint.” Season 1, Episode 1.)

[3] And we won a contest, as usual.

[4] The Bad Hubby’s Favorite all time movie. I, myself, love Jimmy Stewart but hate-hate-hate-hate the simpering George Bailey with a passion. The Bad Therapist and I are working on it.

[5] The year I left Chicago, my mentor published a full-length book on spirituality and self-forgiveness. She had been working on it in my last year with her. I never bothered to read it.

Forgiveness and Fish: The Bad Witch in the Belly

The weather was fine. They . .  .
. . . .
halved his green hair.
They blew out his loves, his interests. ‘Underneath,’
(they called in iron voices) ‘understand,
is nothing. So there.’
. . . .
The weather fleured.
. . . .
They sandpapered his plumpest hope. (So capsize.)
They took away his crotch.
John Berryman, Dream Song 8

 

Deprived of his enemy, shrugged to a standstill
horrible Henry, foaming. . . .
. . . his girl comes, say,
conned in to test
if he’s still human, see,
therefore she get on the Sheriff’s mike & howl
‘Come down, come down’.
Therefore he un-budge, furious. He’d flee
but only Heaven hangs over him foul.
. . . .
. . . . Fancy the brain from hell
held out so long. Let go.
John Berryman, Dream Song 9

Most of us started out Judeo-Christian, I’m sure, so I won’t rehash the story. Too much.

And excuse me, my Jewish readers, if I get my Christocentrism all over it. Plz? I don’t mean to, but my-little-Church-of-God-(tounges-no-snakes)-raised-self can’t help it sometimes.

‘Round about the 7th-8th C BCE, there was this Israeli guy. He was pretty much a passivist – his name means “dove” after all, not exactly a fierce carnivore. Dove bar Amittai, to be exact. I like it that he was a Dove Bar. He got asked – well, told – to do this thing: “Preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” He had to tell a group of hoodlums that they had forty-days to get their shite together or else. It was a prophesy pertaining to a specific date – like “Beware the Ides of March.” (The 24th of April is 40 days out. ‘S all I’m saying.)

He didn’t wanna go and he didn’t wanna warn the riff or the raff. So he didn’t. Guess what happened?

Feck.

Feck and seaweed. Feck, seaweed, and a fecking gourd. Feck, seaweed, a fecking gourd, and the fecking worm that fecking smote it.

And wind.[1]

And a night of gambling that ended up with the passivist-Dove-bar-dude in the water. Sans lifejacket.[2]

I have always felt a very real sympathy for Jonah.

A little over a month ago,[3] I said to a friend:

I’m like fricking Jonah here. I didn’t *want* to go to Nineveh. These are not *my* people! I have a summer home in Tarshish with a really nice view of the sea and a maid named Frieda (don’t ask me how she got there – exchange student, maybe). I’d rather be there. . . . But y’see, one time there was this fish . . . . And because of that, I pretty much do what I’m told.

At first, I heeded the call. But last week, I wen to metaphorical Joppa, hired a metaphorical trowler, and headed for metaphorical Tarshish. Hot damn, if it didn’t metaphorically storm. Knowing how this was going to end, I jumped ship m’self. (The others on my boat didn’t know the storm was about me; to protect them, I jumped.)

When The Bad Witch had to teach Ancient World Lit against her will last year, she learned a great deal about a great deal. Knowing all the feral, primordial deliciousness that helps us trace our humanity is, well, humanizing.[4] One of the things I learned in greater depth than I had previously learned in a passive viewing of Star Wars (followed by a passive reading of The Power of Myth[5]), is the universality of the hero’s journey [6] which has three distinct phases: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return. The story of Jonah is such a fabulous one because it is written as a most elegant narrative, encompassing all of the attributes of the hero’s journey. Jonah is called, rejects the call, experiences supernatural intervention, crosses the first threshold (no holds barred), and ends up as the prototypical belly of the prototypical whale.

Now, I’m no hero. Beeelieeeve me. I often feel more like John Berryman’s tired and bumbling old Henry who feels that “Life, friends, is boring” on account of “Underneath/ . . . understand, /is nothing. So there.” [7] Henry jumps ship often too. But the story of Jonah is so universal that it can apply to regular old schmucks [8] like me and Henry too.

So here I am. Overboard. Waiting for a great fish to swallow me whole. And that’s not what’s happening. I’m in the wrong part of the story. I *thought* I was headed for the belly, but it turns out, I’ve already done that. I’ve done my days of reflection in the whale. I’ve traversed the initiatory “Road of Trials” – passed some tests, failed some tests. Happen to have recently had “The Meeting with the Goddess,” a not altogether easy funtime. (See my post on C Cups.)

I don’t tend to be on friendly terms with either the Greek or the Roman pantheons. I mean, as the planets go, I call Mercury “Mercury” and Jupiter “Jupiter.” But, for the most part, I’ve got a friend in The Mórrígan. So imagine my surprise when Hestia (in her irritated grandmother guise) grabbed me by the ear, pulled me behind the woodshed, and told me to cut my own switch. And she told me it was her, “So there’s no confusion.” Might as well have been wearing a t-shirt with “My Name Is . . .” emblazoned across it.

But this meet-n-greet need not be with an actual outside-force goddess, It is the hieros gamos or Hierogamy, sacred marriage. Aside from its typical ritualistic meaning, the sacred marriage is also the union of internal opposites or self-unification. Becoming a whole person is a pretty damned big deal. Especially when one has been pigeonholed as “bad” for so long.

To take this post back into the realm of my Jonah metaphor, it’s like this. I jumped overboard when the storm came. I did this because I was used to being chucked off the port-side bow every time the winds got a little brisk. (See Abraham and Isaac.) I thought I’d save everyone the trouble. Once I got in the water and started looking around for sharks, I looked up at the boat deck only to find the rest of the crew tossing me life preservers and begging me to get back in the boat. And I’m thinking, “WTF story is this?”

I’m coming to realize that it’s the right story, just the wrong chapter.

Ever read a section of a book over and over again? And because you weren’t paying attention to the text you’re like, “Wait – wha?” And then you go to read it again, only to get distracted again and on and on? I think I’ve finally paid attention to the narrative at hand – and now I can stop reading the same chapter over and over! Phew.

I think I may be in the chapter where I have made it to or past the Temptation. If so, that was too easy.

I’ve recently had easy gratification placed in my path. But I don’t want a shiny ring that makes me invisible; I don’t want to turn stones into bread; I don’t want quick and dirty revenge; I don’t want flying horses – although that would be cool; I don’t want a quick-fix-cure-all-panacea. Quite honestly, I thought this part of the story would be more momentous. But my choices were akin to “Rule the World (and you have to drown some kittens every day for the rest of your life thereby losing your soul – read the fine print)” or “Wait This One Out.”[9] The decision making process was a non-starter really. And I really wish I could go back and play that scene again.

Coz guess what?

If life is like a Joseph Campbell metaphor, the next phase is “Atonement with the Father.” Sounds nice, right? A weekend of down-home affection from mon pere,[10] maybe some chicken coop building lessons, breakfast of biscuits and gravy at Jacks, a ride on the golf-cart across the field (Papa doesn’t traverse so well a pied), a drive down to the lake, and ice cream. I have kids too old to bribe with ice cream; and still, my daddy buys me ice cream from the Frosty Inn every time I visit.

But oh, no. In the Hero’s Journey, there is no ice cream. The “father” to whom one “atones” is the “terrifying dark lord of ultimate power,” not “daddy.”

This is the part where the hero dies.

Feck.

Where’s a great fish when you need one?[11]

Ah, but if I can just press through, I get to have the apotheosis: a period of respite and convalescence (which implies that I need to convalesce after the Atonement, feck) in the bower of the Elvin kings, a party hosted by Ewoks, and a weekend of peace and fulfillment before getting up and doing it again.[12] It’s the universal pattern, right? While I’m not a hero by any stretch of the imagination, I do see that archetypal patterns work in even the most mundane of lives.

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that where the Haftarah comes in? Christians like to talk about the Prodigal Son as the story of waywardness and reconciliation. But before that kid, there was Jonah. And Jonah is not the admirable character of Sunday School, is he? He’s the outcast of outcasts. He’s the scapegoat of scapegoats. He is chockablock with sins: he denies God, he has Shadenfreude over Nineveh’s impending destruction; and he does not particularly care if the boat goes down, except for the fact that he’s on it. But this story is one of return and forgiveness. It’s the point of “atonement” that I was talking about above. Yeah, Nineveh was a hellhole – but they were forgiven and spared. Yeah, Jonah was a DB – but he was spared and forgiven.

So, back to The Bad Witch. Having been in the belly, having realized what’s what, I will not sit on the hill and laugh myself silly as Nineveh crumbles into the sea. (Though it was my original plan, I admit, and is still very enticing.) I don’t know what I’ll do – but I won’t do that. And I’m not exactly clear about who will atone for what and to whom.

I’m suddenly feeling very shortsighted and it’s only an afterthought that I should ask a higher power. Bad Witch, indeed.

Don Henley – “The Heart of the Matter”

In the end, I think it’s about . . . forgiveness.

If you keep carrying that anger, it’ll eat you up inside:

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] Feck the wind.

[2] Now, The Bad Witch likes prepared fish as much as the next girl, but com’on!

[3] My Yahoo account tells me it was Feb 8.

[4] For this reason, I have chosen to teach American Lit before the Civil War next year. Actually had to beg a little. Am Lit 2 would have been so much easier. But who likes easy?

[5] Joseph Campbell. Doubleday, 1988. Duh.

[6] Here’s the website I give my students: http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/smc/journey/ref/summary.html

[7] Best poet eveh. Berryman’s 77 Dream Songs was the subject of TBW’s master’s thesis. I argued that Henry was a slew of Biblical characters. Now, removed from the Jesuits, I see that he was everyhero. And simultaneously everyantihero. Oh, Henry. (Yes, Bones?)

[8] Why is it that all preeminent pejoratives (dork, prick, dick, weenie, tool, ding a ling, etc.) all mean the same thing?

[9] Tea and Cake or Death? http://youtu.be/BNjcuZ-LiSY

[10] Something which I find myself craving these days. TBW loves her daddy. He’s a hard nut, but I think I have him cracked. I may be the only one who gets to see his soft middle. Likely ‘cause I’m just like him.

[11] The denouement of the trilogy is, of course the attainment of the ultimate boon, the refusal of return, the magic flight, the rescue from without, the return crossing of the threshold, the mastery of two worlds and the freedom to live.

[12] Like that damned Pink Floyd song, “Run rabbit run / dig that hole in the sun / when at last your work is done / don’t sit down it’s time to dig another one.”