Trance

The tent flaps rustle and the fire in the brazier before you acknowledges the new influx of air. The crowd has gathered outside; all who have traversed the circle have been anointed and are become discerning to the sign.

You hear the loud drumming, music and revelry outside the tent over the soft pulsation of the rhythm being played inside the tent, you stand between the worlds.

You have prepared for ten days. Phases of fasting, meditation, ritual bathing, and profound formulations have brought you deeper and deeper into trance: all for this moment.

You rise, without staggering, you are brought out before the people. At your appearance, they are enthralled by the Vardhlokkur you repeat softly under your breath; you can feel their anticipation reach toward you like a needing hand. You resist their pull and let the music carry your body into the familiar dance.

The gyðia dance around you; each has her own role today. Two guide you to the high seat. The goði hands you your stav. As you find the deepest rhythm, feeling the pulsation in your body and your being, you intensify the chant. The gyðia join in. You feel the last strings of yourself snap and you step silently out of your body, which slumps slightly in its seat. There, past the mist which obscures the worlds, you can see the futures of the men and women before you as clearly as crystal.

You send the word of power to your mouth and your voice cries out over the crowd, like the howl of a keening wolf. Some of those gathered can also see the glimmer of truth which lies beyond the fog, in that other world, where you stand.

The priest, the servant of the people, supplicates himself before you and inquires. Your vision ranges far and near. And you answer him.

You are the Völva of the people.

I have been talking to Bertie a lot lately. She’s been reminding me of the specifics of the ceremonies involved in my training—though I remember the classroom details, the reading, the writing projects, the people, etc. with specific detail, I’m a little fuzzy around the edges of “rituals.” I mean, I remember the structure, I remember the doxologies, I remember the clothes and the instruments; but I don’t have such precise recall of the events themselves—primarily because I spent much of my time in trance.

I go into trance easily.
Cooking Jambalaya.
Cleaning the chicken coop.
Driving.
Writing–typically, I have a sort-of half-in/half-out cognition; I know what needs to be typed but cannot think of the words; as I search my (human) lexicon, I lose touch with the (“other”) thoughts.

But there was this one time.

Once, I started typing and, though I have never considered myself an auto-writer of any sort, I looked up and had two pages of really profound, almost archaic, poetry.

I only mention it because it has started happening pretty regularly again. I had actively suppressed it—which I’ll explain in a minute—but find that circumstances have allowed me to explore this skill in complete safety again.

I showed the two pages of poetry to one person ever. That one and only Pagan I knew in town. A big fan of Sappho, she (at first) thought it was some ancient transcript I had found. That same person is one of two people I allowed to see me in trance (since I moved South, that is). You have to have a profound trust for that shite.[1]

In that same spirit of throwing STFU to the wind, let me tell you a story or two.

One time, I was drinking with some friends on a porch and the house-husband started telling a story about his childhood—I finished it for him with fluid accuracy. Creepy details and all.

It’s not like clairsentience. Thought that happens too. Another time, similar situation, I “saw” a situation between the person to which I was talking and her bestie. Thankfully, that time I caught myself before regaling the crowd with the tale. But when I “trance-out,” I’m gone and someone else is borrowing my vocal cords for the moment. Ain’t much I can do about it.

And no, I’m not schizophrenic Booze is just the Heathen’s entheogen.

Here’s a very important story that helps me understand the last four years of my life with great clarity. Ironically, these are The Bad Witch “Files” I always intended to write but somehow never shared. But I should have–there’s a great lesson in it. But I guess I had to get out the other side of the experience before I could really place a name on it.

Heregoes.

Long story short—I came to town in 02. Met a woman and told her I was a Witch; she freaked out a little but understood exactly what was what. She moved in 07; came back in 08 having fully embraced her own witchyness. Hooray, right? She even brought a disciple with her. In the meantime, I had made fast-friends (that never ends well) with the woman who would eventually become a bane of my life. She claimed witchery too. I should have known by her relationship with her rosary that not all was “right.” But I had known enough syncretic Witches to talk myself into finding it quaint. Besides, I was a little tired of going it alone.

The four of us were supposed to meet on the full-moon between Winternights and Samhain. Two (#3 and #4) bowed out, leaving me and #2 to go it alone. (I really like calling her “#2.”) I was totally fine with #4 not being present; it was #3 that upset me. It was all her idea after all.

During the evening, #2—who I foolishly trusted with far too much over those years—asked me to act as oracle. She didn’t use those words, but I got the idea. She wanted to know what-was-what. So, I did the thing that came so naturally.

A little later, word got back to me that #2 and #3 were exchanging smack-talk and #2 was reporting, “Her eyes rolled back in her head and she started speaking in another language. I swear she called up some demon because there was this thing growling at me from the back of the yard!”

Amatures.[2]

About a year later, after some of the nasty fallout from #2 (tee-hee), Witch #3 came by to do a little “work.” Sitting around the fire, she too asked me to do some what-what. As I started going into trance, she grabbed me and shook me and yelled at me, “Stop that! What are you doing?”

I should have known.[3]

Since then, I kinda-sorta made sure there was always too much going on to allow myself to go into trance. I even avoided sitting in those taller chairs in the bar-areas of restaurants  Silly, I know; but it was too evocative for me. I think there were things I didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to see. Certainly things I knew I didn’t want to do. (Because in trance? Yup. I can do things.) Something about having your magical abilities trounced on and shat upon by women who are supposed to be your fellows makes a girl want to be a hermit. Or hang out with only boys.

So, last spring when I was incited to “Do it all Ehsha style,” I declined. There was a stroke of damned good judgment on my part for once!

Nowadays, I hear tales of how #4 has taken to trancework. *shrug* It’s good work if you can get it.

This is all just to say that having gone through all the crap you’ve been through with me, fine readers,[4] I’m glad to announce that I am finally able to return to my origins. It’s been a crappy set of years, y’all; but it feels like I’m going home.

You have held my cyber-hand and seen me through the roughest of the journey and I am entirely grateful. If it weren’t for you—especially those of you who send me emails and PMs on FB and Skyped with me in the thick of it—I don’t know that I would have had the tenacity to stick it out and do what’s right.

Cyber-community rocks pretty damned hard. Particularly when it leads to flesh-and-blood community, and maybe even a self-proclaimed “fangirl” ❤ t’boot.

And this is also to say that I’m not going to let my praxis be held hostage by a community that “just doesn’t understand” anymore. As a matter of fact, I have picked up where I can only surmise I am intended to be and am embarking on the task of educating my community. My whole community. Anybody game? I’m all up for a roadtrip.

After a profound near-year of rereading everything Bertie ever gave me (and reading the new stuff she’s piled on), I’m back in my own skin.

The journeyer has returned, y’all. A little bruised–maybe from the cosmic stav upside the head–but a lot wiser.

I’ve had my stav out for a few months now and was ashamed at the dust it had accumulated. (The last stav I held was one I had made (carved and everything) for #3 a few Yules back.[5] Likely she’s used it for firewood.) But I’ve moved past the regret and on to the Neetsfoot oil.

Today, my lovely will bask in the sunshine and soak up some much needed oily deliciousness.

Tomorrow, she will be in my hand as I lead a Disírblot/Ælfablot in the back 40.

All Ehsha style.

Dancing. Trancing. Chanting.

Have a loverly weekend!

B, Q, 93

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/).


[1] On purpose—I mean, it has happened on accident a few times when I was physically impaired. Don’t think less of me for losing control and sliding into the aether now and then.

[2] You know the real story, right? I closed my eyes and chanted an ancient galdr. I was neither possessed nor invoking anything aside from the oracle. Both I and my late-neighbor had dogs—though I do have this rather protective “friend.”

[3] I certainly knew when, in a conversation about thoughtforms, she told me, “Yes, [she had] servitors,” and that, “sometimes they don’t even know who they are.” *faceplant*

[4] Of which I see there are currently exponentially more than they were last week—thanks for sharing.

[5] I wasn’t trying to “convert” her (because that’s what she’ll argue), but I was trying to “share” a piece of myself.

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.