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.

F is for Frith and Faining

I tried for five days to write a post about (F is for) Frustration. I called that one all right. I had intended to talk about the I Ching and hexagrams 29 and 39 with Changing Lines. It was to be graceful, it was to be blithe, it was to be erudite. It was not to be.[1] Maybe later? Now, I sit at my PC pissed that didn’t get to my PBP post before the weekend ended.[2] But here goes. If trying to write about frustration lead to frustration, perhaps writing about Frith and Faining will bring something better.

Not quite two whole moons ago, I held a Plow Faining[3] (aka Blessing of the Plow or Charming of the Plow) with the new but growing local Pagan community committed to sincere ritual and the spiritual advancement it brings.

It’s odd being a Heathen among other Pagans. But, somehow, I always thought it was just me. I mean, I had been formally trained in an initiatory mystery school. I was certainly a Witch. I had studied (really studied) and practiced sorcery and magick for years. And I  learned to embrace Heathenry (and spent years studying Old English language and Anglo Saxon culture[4]) alongside some very cool details concerning my father’s family heritage. So, I have been picking away at Heathenry (and Ásatrú, I guess–but more precisely, Germanic sorcery) for a good while. But solitary Heathenry doesn’t exactly work, now does it? I wanted, more than any other motivation, to simply incorporate the ethics of Heathenry and the communal goals of frith and cynn (peace and kinship) into my public faith.

In our Plow Faining, I did what I could to make everything seem familiar to the predominantly Wicca-centric group (even as uninitiated solitaries – the tradition is the tradition) but found myself squirrelling around the Elhaz-stodhur for fear of being misconstrued as overweening. (The Bad Witch is a little gun-shy from having been called some pretty horrible things in my last community: with “powermonger” among them. (This was in reference to the time the TBW was asked to “cast a circle in your tradition,” doing the familiar LBRP, I called on archangels for protection. Ooooh, scarey.)  And, so, obvs, I avoided the beot altogether.[5]) In my opinion, I flubbed the whole thing.[6]

I was asked by a Druidic friend later, “Do you think being a Godhi would have made a difference? In Wicca, the Lady seems to take center stage; in our trads, like Ceremonial Magic, being a boy helps.”

Do what now?

I argued that, historically, working seiðr was “women’s work” and that (after the monks got their hands on the Eddas and the Sagas) magical working was interpreted as effeminizing for a Post-Christo Heathen man. But then again, the sun, Sunna, was imagined as maternal in Norse tradition (as opposed to the moon in many Witchcraft traditions). I replied in my particular idiom: “It’s an entirely different kind of flying, altogether.”[7] I admit that Druidry is uncharted territory for me, so I cannot speak to his interpretation of gender imbalance there. But I do know that in the original *culture* as evidenced by non-written cultural artifacts and as evidenced by ancient linguistics (if not the translated post-Christian literature), women were highly revered as völu (plural of völva) and spækona. The wand was not a phallic symbol, but a woman’s instrument to manipulate energy – an aetheric rheostat. Our post-Christian understanding of what men and women were and weren’t allowed to do has been tainted by translation and the inevitable mutation of Romanized cultures. Duh.

I don’t think I flubbed the blót because I am a woman – that’s redonkulous up one end and down t’other. I think my feeling of having flubbed came from my impulse to “assimilate” Heathenry into a “common tongue.” To meet it half-way. It was neither this – nor that.

Then, this weekend. Ahhhh.

Let me back up a minute; on Ostara, I’d taken part in our community’s first private ritual together – followed by the eatings and the drinkings and the laughings and the funtimes. It was all “hooray” and “do it again!”

Then, this past weekend there were the public rituals from various covens – Druidic, Heathen, Eclectic, and so on. (It’s amazing to finally find oneself part of a broader whole. Yes, we have our small group. But it is fantastically healthy to have contact with, to learn from, to venerate deity with, and to combine energies with the broader Pagan Community here in the Deep South. Avoiding that insular sense of inbredness that I talked about in “Evolution” is particularly important in the stereotypical blinkeredness of Alabama, no?) Oh, and the workshops. One on magical timing (during which I got to watch the joyful interaction of three adorable students as they waxed on about their “homework” and “group projects” – it did my soul good), one on wheel-of-the-year correspondences (during which I got to see the “lights go on” for The Bad Husband – it did my soul good), one on politics and Paganism, and others on and on.[8] And the beginnings of sun and windburn from having my whiteness outdoors all day. Plus there were cookies.

As I sat in the circle discussing basic magical timing: moon phases, days of the week, planetary hours, and tidal flows, I heard the Moot

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Dir. Adam McCay. Perf. Will Ferrell. DreamWorks. 2004. Film.

horn. Like being called from one realm to another, I left the circle of intellectual discussion to wend my way to the harrow, the horn, and the hammer. The ritual was a simple Thunor Faining: with its “Thunor weoh!” and its “Hail Thunor,” and its “Thanks to you, oh, Mighty Hammer, Protector of the World!” and it’s inevitable “Drink up!” and “Wassail!” Simple as it was, it spoke to me. Truly and deeply. I was at home with brethren (and sistren?) and had a deep filial understanding of what we were sharing – as if my DNA remembered something.

Think on’t: I have been solitary for over a decade (after a decade of dedicated communal work) and I have studies Heathenism for about twice that long. Yet, this was – ironically – my first Heathen community experience. Well, you know, aside from belonging to a family with tight-knit loyalties of kinship and our own rituals of . . . hey, I’m starting to remember our last family reunion; it was rather like a sumbel – but with loads of food but no (yeah, right) booze.[9]

Thrilled to see real Pagan groups doing real work in the Deep South, I have been on such an extended high that I may have offered to hold yet another ritual in my space.[10]

Pretty sure it will be Heathen.

And not half-way.

Gimme the day to grade some stuff and I’ll get back to you.


[1] In between then and now there were “family adventures” involving four leaks (a toilet, two refrigerators, and the ever-evolving outdoor irrigation system) ; a child who decided to paint her bedroom all by her grown-up self; a sick Lhasa Apso; an episode involving a tent, cupcakes, and smores; twenty topsy-turveys; and chickens.

[2] Last night I’d had two days of vitamin D and fresh air and had added a big glass of wine and the best-dang supper to my belly. My house was clean, my yard was – um – in progress, my lips were chapped, and I’d had a bath. I . . . just . . . fell . . .asleeeeeeeeeee

[3] Or a sort-of Plow Faining – a Plow Faining is similar in intent to any tradition’s land rites: bless the land, thank the gods and spirits of the land, give a gift and begin the cycle of gebo, that sort of thing.

[4] Studying turned to teaching and teaching turned to more earnest researching and researching always leads to The Dark Side.

[5] I was also called “oathbreaker” (when TBW refused to make an oath to a *human being* seeking a blood sacrifice – my blood, BTW). Still not sure how an unmade oath can be broken, but OK. Oathbreaking was punishable by death in Anglo Saxon culture, this was not a charge the ancestors would have bandied about lightly just to hurt someone’s feelings or damage their reputation. And “liar” (when I perpetuated a perception of events that did not support the collective-ego of the group). I’m thinking, that is not a place to find frith and cynn, now is it? Better to skip town, so to speak.

[6] However, everyone in attendance seemed to like it OK.

[7] Ted Striker (Airplane. Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker. Perfs. Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen. 1980. Paramount Pictures. Film.)

[8] At the end of the day we lamented, “We forgot to take pictures!” Ah, well – it happened all the same.

[9] Oooh, I feel another post coming on.

[10] I have also offered to (or been pressed to, I’m not sure how it happened) host a bunch of poets from Arkansas so’s I can show ‘em how hospitality’s really done.