Instant Sumbul’s Gonna Get You

It’s the second anniversary of The Bad Witch Files.

Originally, I thought I’d write up a “retrospective” to reinforce the journey I’ve made from the Witch I was two years ago: undermined, deceived, and betrayed by the only Pagan “community” I thought I’d find in The Bamas. Two years later, having dug my heart-roots deep, my branches are starting to expand their canopy again. Rather than looking back, let’s look forward. Shall we?

Last night we had our Winternights craft circle and Disírblòt/Ælfablòt. (See my list of events (a new page to your right) for more details.)

A year ago, if someone had told me I’d have a horde of happy Heathens covered in glitter in my livingroom, I’d have called bullshit. Two years ago, I’d have shanked them for blasphemy.

But, alas. This year, I had wall-to-wall Wyrdness. Tissue-paper, feathers, ribbons, beads, and—yes—glitter.

Let me make something very, very clear. I am a talent at sewing on all levels with a particular penchant for costuming.[1] I can decorate the shit out of a house and garden (and chickencoop). I can paint, I can knit, I can solder, I can calligraphy, and I can make any piece of wood my absolute bitch.

Do not hand The Bad Witch glue sticks and glitter.

This. I cannot do.

And yet.

When one of my students, a beloved grove member, suggested a craft circle, I smiled and said, “Hokay?”[2] Then, piled high with the faces I adore more than air, I managed to make a go of it.

Then we retired to the beautiful harrow The Bad Husband arranged and had a bit of a blòt. “All Ehsha Style.” And while we had our, um, moments—we’ll go with “moments”—it was right out—here’s the word—“sanctified.” The harrow was hallowed and that’s the end of that.

Plus, when you get in your skin and learn to do what comes naturally, you learn a thing or three. Here is what The Bad Witch learned from “craft” night:

Mulled wine is oh-so-fantastically-suitable if the cat ruins the mead.
Often, the only things standing between some folks and vegetarianism are salami and bacon.
The Bad Husband never learned to braid. Who knew?
If it’s red and sticky, you should prolly put it in your mouth.
Bloody handprints don’t grow on trees.
I always forget the incense.
October ain’t no thang to mosquitos in Alabama.
If the need-fire won’t catch, use a spare ritual script as kindling.
While waiting for the need-fire to catch, Sumbul!

Included in this blòt was a spontaneous Sumbul and beot. The Sumbul reflects the strength of one of the most Heathen ethical traditions: Kindred. Again, I want to clarify that Kindred doesn’t rely on consanguinity, but on loyalty and affinity. A Sumbul is where kin sit in hall and take turns with the drinking vessel. (“No, no. That horn ain’t fit to drink from yet. Get a glass.”) The vessel serves as a bit of a “talking stick” in other cultures. In Sumbul, one can skald—tell a story—and one can beot. A beot is a ritualized boast. Not the braggadocio of conceit or egoism; a beot is a promise within the community—a sacred oath.[3] It’s not just a promise to the community, mind you. It is also a promise from the community.

For example: The Bad Husband’s beot was to improve his language skills in German to a fluid (not fluent) conversational level by the next solstice. So, not only has he promised to improve our community by adding to his communication skills (and therefore work-related skills—which in turn benefits his reputation in the broader world—this is good for our community which believes that individual health brings health to the whole). Success in this endeavor will increase his reputation in our community. Failure? Um, that’s different. But the flipside of the beot is that the community is also bound to encourage TBH to improve his German. They are to prod him and make reminders of his beot. They are oathbound to not stand in his way or make any hindrances or obstacles for him. When possible, they are to assist him. It’s all about community support.[4] In turn, TBH promised to help other members achieve their goals. Sumbul and beot is a way to let your community know what’s important to you, gain their support, and become accountable to something outside of yourself.

Our oaths got bigger as the cup passed ‘round: “Oh, I get it. The more we drink, the bigger our beot become?” What started with promises to finish this or that household project by spring ended with more serious oaths to learn languages and complete Shamanic and Hermetic training (four separate beot—each trying to one-up the other in a friendly-sort of way). But beot aren’t just promises to do things. A beot can be about something already done. Sumbul is a place to get the recognition that we deserve without the guilt manufactured by our Puritanical background. Others boasted of things like twenty years of military service (whoo-rah), a shiny new bar exam passing, a place on the dean’s list, a successfully (newly) integrated family of eight, and many other lovely things.

Today, we all have a better gauge of where each other stand and we have a clearer idea of how we can help one another. How Heathen is that?

Here are TBW’s beot. I tell you this here as a bit of cyber-Sumbul. You are my extended community and I want to include you in my support network. After all, you pushed me through two years—I’m pretty sure I can count on you to push me some more.

(And as a cyber-Sumbul, if you are someone who reads my blog just to look for ways to hinder my progress, stop reading now. When you listen to one’s sacred beot, you become enmeshed in supporting it.)

Click “more” if’n you’re willing to throw down on The Bad Witch if she get’s lazy.

Continue reading

Q&A Part II – Voodoo and Hoodoo

To pick up where I left off with The Road Less Traveled’s set of intricate questions, I will actually end up mirroring the methodology of the post which I submitted yesterday. I love writing about this kind of stuff and my noodle is brimming with commentary about the more intellectual aspects of Paganism, so this is all perfectly timed. Plus, taking many pages of commentary and boiling them down to three or so pages forces me to concentrate on the real crux of the issue. I just hope y’all enjoy eavesdropping on my answers to TRLT as much as I enjoy composing them. I think I’ve exhausted the portion that asks, “What is the main difference between” Witchcraft(s). Here I will look at the variation among Voodoo(s) so that I can also address Hoodoo later in this post. Sorcery will have to wait.

Just as across Europe there are sets of non-homogenous “versions” of Witchcraft, some falling under neoPagan Gardnerian paradigms, some not, there are many, many ATR-based[1] (African Traditional Religions) religions. Voodoo itself, like Witchcraft, is not a uniform system. In several countries Voodoo is practiced with varying traditions, purposes, and structures.

Bear in mind that my information regarding Voodoo and all other ATR-based religions is derived from a scholarly perspective only; I am an outsider of these traditions.

We are most familiar with Haitian Voodoo,[2] which is likely the most visible of the Voodoo traditions. Since the decline of Duvalierism, Voodoo has been instituted as a national religion with official status. This makes a big difference when you compare it to South American Voodoo. (Yes, I mean South American Voodoo – not Santeria. I’ll get to Santeria in a minute.) Consider the freedoms granted in a religion that is sanctioned by the government versus one that must operate in clandestine modes. In Venezuela, for instance, the accepted religion is Catholicism, however, folks practice Voodoo as a regular course. We are familiar with the syncretic correspondences made between Catholic saints and Voodoo loa (and Santarian orisha) and understand that this arose out of the need to veil the practices from the eyes of officials. In Venezuela, as I understand it, Voodoo practices are not outlawed, yet citizens “identify” themselves as Catholic. So it seems to me that Voodoo could be envisioned as either a systematic religion in toto (as in Haiti) or a limited practice with a syncretic relationship to Catholicism (as in Venezuela, Cuba, and other locales). Both must be, in my opinion, deemed valid; however we should be cautious to identify what we mean when we refer to “Voodoo” since there is such variance across cultures.

I know you didn’t ask this part, but I’d like to offer the information since I have it on hand. There are many other ATR-based religions that are alive and well in the 20th Century. Across the Caribbean and into South America, there are as many variations that stem back to African religions as there are Witchcraft traditions (as there are Christian denominations, for that matter). Just to name a few, consider Umbanda of Brazil, Candomble of Uruguay, and Cuban Santeria.

At this point, I’d like to jump ahead to one of your latter questions that I will answer in full later. You asked if a non-black could practice Voodoo. Based on what I’ve just said, the answer *must* be “yes.” Of course, one cannot be a Haitian Voodooist (or Voodooisant) unless one is, in fact, Haitian. (I’ll discuss New Orleans Haitian Voodoo soon.) The connection between the people of Haiti, its historical politics, its government and local officials, and its religion is strong.[3] Nonetheless, given the variety of Voodoo sects, we have to acknowledge that not all of their adherents are the same race.

Hoodoo, the way I have come to understand it, is not a religion per se. As a matter of fact, most hoodoos are Christian and regularly incorporate Biblical passages into Workings. Rather, hoodoo is a set of practices based on folk magics from many cultures. These cultures include: multiple ATRs, multiple Southeastern NATP (Native American Tribal Practices) – especially Cherokee –and (believe it or not) white European traditions like those brought over with the Pennsylvania Dutch hexmeisters, Scots-Irish herbalists and midwives, and Germanic occult practices. If you want more information, I recommend Hoodoo in Theory and Practice: An Introduction to African-American Rootwork by Catherine Yronwode,[4] the most recognized author in American Hoodoo. Part of her work explains:

Hoodoo consists of a large body of African folkloric practices and beliefs with a considerable admixture of American Indian botanical knowledge and European folklore. Although most of its adherents are black, contrary to popular opinion, it has always been practiced by both whites and blacks in America. (“Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork: Definition of Terms”)

This makes sense the more I learn. For instance, The Bad Witch loves etymology. The origin of a word can tell you everything you need to know about a concept; or it can point you away from long-held misunderstandings about a concept. The etymology of hoodoo surprised me. Of course, hoodoo can be used as a verb, a noun referring to the practice, a noun referring to the practitioner, or an adjective. But while most dictionaries link hoodoo to voodoo, I found that the word hoodoo enters the American language in 1875, just before conjure comes to be used as a synonym for hoodoo in 1889.[5] So a connection between hoodoo and voodoo doesn’t make any sense, and is likely why the connection is disregarded by linguistic researchers. For example, Daniel Cassidy, author of How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (CounterPunch Books and AK Press. July 2007), hoodoo is actually connected more clearly to the Gaelic, Uath Dubh, which is pronounced hoo doo.[6] So, it sounds to me that hoodoo is intended for anyone at all – but seems to have originated in Appalachia.[7] Hoodoo is also directly connected with and alternately referred to as “conjuration.” To conjure is both to summon and to influence. In the form of influencing, this is nothing more than basic Witchcraft. In the form of summoning, this is a little more like Sorcery. In my next post, I’ll talk about the difference between Goetia and Theurgy. This will, I hope, flesh in issues of Hoodoo conjure.

Also, as I understand it, hoodoo is non-hierarchical and non-initiatory. Whereas Haitian Voodoo adheres to a strict code of initiation, “couche,” and formal training (again, see Filan for the politics of the situation), hoodoo does not. This is likely where Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo comes in. NOLA Voodoo is formally initiatory and prospective hoguns and mambos are expected to go to Haiti or Africa for initiation. I met one man in NOLA who claimed to be an authentically initiated Voodoo hogun; he was white. So it seems that whites can, in fact be Haitian initiated Voodooists. But, I have also heard that there are scammers in NOLA who claim to be trained or initiated in Africa, but are not. And I have heard that there are scammers in Africa who charge exorbitant amounts to conduct initiations for Americans, initiations that are not officially recognized by native practitioners. The lineage of white Voodoo “leaders” is often suspect – whether this suspicion is founded or not.

Most of the scholarship I look at argues that because Voodoo was a way for African-Americans to have a measure of influence over whites, they would have never conferred legitimate power on someone without any African lineage. But, this contradicts what I know: Mambo Sallie Ann Glassman is Jewish/Ukrainian, right? And only three (?) of the Mambos on the Haunted New Orleans “top ten” list (however valid that is) are black.

I am, admittedly befuddled on this subject. And we can’t really take anecdotal evidence here, considering the possibility of scams, now can we? Can anyone offer clarification?

To address your question of the origins of power, my understanding is that hoodoo attributes magical acts to personal power and to the natural properties of herbs, roots, minerals, etc.[8] As for a pantheon? Because hoodoos tend to be Christian and not Pagan, I would imagine that Jehovah is a viable supreme God; but because hoodoo is not a religion, but a practice, it seems to me that you should be able to Work within any religion that did not contradict hoodoo. There is also at least one commonly recognized African deity; known as Legba (aka Nbumba, Nzila, Ellegua, and Eshu), he is the “dark man” one can meet at the crossroads. As the keeper of the gate between life and death, a trickster, he seems to be more like the Pagan Devil than Biblical Satan. Where hoodoo connects the idea of “sin” and “evil” is beyond me at the moment. I do get the impression that death and hell are not nearly as terrifying as they are in many other Christian systems. And it also seems to me that it is not necessary to be a Christian to practice hoodoo.

The same goes for sorcery – which I’ll address tomorrow!

Thanks for hanging in there!

TBW


[1] And when I say “ATR-based,” it is with the realization that “Voudon” is historically (whether accurately or not, I haven’t checked the sources) to Nigeria and Dahomey. Yorùbá comes from, well, Yoruba. Both of these are the more recognized stem-religions from which most ATR-based traditions, like Palo, Congo, and Bantu, branch.

[2] And if you are not, there are two films I recommend: The Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, based on Maya Deren’s work between 1947 and 1954 – so long as you promise to take it in a historical context – and Buying the Spirit, by Journeyman Pictures (2003).

[3] If you are interested in this topic, I *highly* recommend The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa by Kenaz Filan (Destiny Books, 2006).

[4] I have been instructed to read it in its entirety by Maman Lee. It’s truly fascinating. Yronwode explains the admixtures of of not only ATR, NATP, and European occult practices as mentioned above, but she also discusses Middle-Eastern (Kabbalist and Judeo-Christian) and Eastern (Hindu and Taoist/Buddhist) influences on Hoodoo. Some really cool and well-documented stuff.

[5] Oxford English Dictionary. “Hoodoo,” n and adj , 1; “Conjure,” n, 3.

[6] Uath Dubh means:

Dark specter, evil phantom, a malevolent thing; horror, dread; a dark, spiky, evil-looking thing. Uath, (pron. voo) n., a form or shape; a spectre or phantom; dread, terror, hate. . . . Dubh, (pron. doo), adj., dark; black; malevolent, evil; wicked; angry, sinister; gloomy, melancholy; strange, unknown. (O’Donaill, Niall and Patrick Stephen Dinneen. Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla/Irish-English Dictionary. de Bhaldraithe, Tomás. English-Irish Dictionary. Dwelly, Edward. Faclair Gàidhlig gu Beurla le Dealbhan/The Illustrated [Scottish] Gaelic- English Dictionary)

[7] By the way, there is a newfound interest in a thing referred to as “Granny Magic.” I was very keen on the concept, but the more I read the more I think it is misrepresented. Maybe I’ll tackle that later. Maybe in answer to the new question you posed!

[8] This doesn’t contradict my earlier statement that I believe power comes from the Creator. In panetheistic views, the Creator is always already immanent in all of Creation. So, cool.

Initiation

This week’s I post for the Pagan Blog Project is a little late. Mostly because The Bad Witch Crafts were sold like hotcakes at a local art and craft fair.[1] But I’m late partly because I can’t bring myself to publish the post I originally wrote on “Innocence.” [2]

Let me tell you, being The Bad Witch isn’t easy. And if you think the Witch Hunts are over, all you have to do is look to your nearest Pagan community and *voila* – there is inevitably someone there just itching for someone to burn. The Bad Husband keeps reminding me that “The Truth Will Out – it’s a natural law.” So, rather than dragging testimony into the blogosphere, I’m going to put it off (at least until next Friday’s final *I* post) and hope that nature takes it inevitable course.

So, instead, I is for initiation. You cool with that?

With the number of solitaries out there, this is a sticky subject.[3] Keep in mind from the getgo that I am not bashing solitaries, I fully believe that solitary work has its place, hell – I worked alone for a full decade and still don’t work within a “group” in the traditional sense. So I hear ya –I know; it’s hard to find a mentor. I lucked out. Twice a mentor was brought to me. Those who are less fortunate, know that I have your back too. I think that working as a solitary is very hard – it’s tough to be diligent when you don’t know what the expectations are; it’s hard to find “good” information without experienced discernment; learning by trial and error seems to be “initiation” enough.

Various traditions have various initiations. Duh. But many Wiccan initiations seem to be very similar and, in my experience, many Ceremonial Magic initiations seem kinda-sorta the same. But there is this other thing that I’ve seen happening over the past three or four years – and it’s really, really different: initiation without trial.

See, I told you I was going to forgo talking about Witch Trials, but I’m talking about a different kind of trial here. Not an ordeal by water or fire to determine guilt or innocence, but a trial to determine readiness. A trial of discernment. In my experience, those traditions worth their merit do not simply usher a Seeker into the temple where s/he is blessed by the High Priestess and given a place among the acolytes. But then again, my experience here is pretty limited (har-har).

Most initiations are about proving strength of mind and willingness to submit to authority while sublimating ego which illustrates readiness to learn and to become a different kind of person.  After all, that’s what magic is all about. We strive to make ourselves better. Those who go into magical arts in order to gain material or to manipulate others or (gods forbid) harm and control other people, places, or things, are barking up the wrong tree.

I was listening to a Poke Runyon’s Hermetic Hour concerning “Evil” Black Magic the other day. He argues that anything that tries to manipulate another (like a love spell) is Evil Magic. I argue that the magic itself is not “Evil” – it can’t be – I see it that it’s the practitioner (not, in my opinion, a “magician”) that has evil.  Notice I didn’t say “is” evil. Real magicians (Ceremonial, Witchcraft, whatever) realize that we are the microcosm; in changing ourselves we change everything.  The only thing of which we are in control is, then, everything. But only is we strive to change ourselves. Without initiation, too many come into “The Craft” without an understanding that there must be a reformation of Self.[4]

In the end, maybe this is why I want a new mentor so badly. Maybe it’s not the mentoring, maybe it’s the initiation. Sitting on my laurels for a decade (well, not really sitting), maybe I want to be tested again. Maybe I want to have my own moment of discernment.

Now that’s a Witch trial I’d like to see.

B, Q, 93!

TBW


[1] Where, unsunscreened, TBW proved that Witches still burn.

[2] You know what The Innocence Project is, right? Folks are convicted without proper evidence, do some hard-ass time for a crime they didn’t commit, and then someone comes along and checks the actual facts and – lo and behold – the person is exonerated. You’ve heard of it, I’m sure. Typically, the problem is “Bad Testimony” or lack of DNA testing. Here, I’m not talking about doing 20-Life without parole in *The* Innocence Project, but I am talking about being falsely accused without proper evidence and attempting to initiate *An* Innocence Project.

[3] My opinion might ruffle a few feathers (but it may get an equal response of “Amen” and “Preach”). But I ask you to remember that it is just *my* opinion.

[4] I know that there is an argument about ego. Crowley-esque traditions say that we must overcome our ego. Others say that it is only through ego that work can be done. I think it’s somewhere in between. We need to rearrange the space and shape our ego takes and form it into a malleable character. This is the only way that we can become a useable vessel for creation.

 

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project is “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/)