B is for Black Work

The Bad Witch has been very naughty indeed. I have placed my chickens before my . . . well, second B posting. Not paying close enough attention to the gameplan of the Pagan Pages Blog Project, I posted my C blog before my second B blog. I amend that here.

I have caught my tail this week. 

Ever see a dog (or a cat) just before it starts to chase its own tail? You know how this will end – if it ever does – and you want to say, “Dog, go after something a little more useful. That there is just y’own tail, son.”

I know this phenomenon well. I have a Catahoula – a hound among a pack of herders – she has a tail like an alligator. She can *take* *you* *out* with that tail. Entirely on accident. (Schutzhund trained, she can take you out anyway, but that’s another blog for another day.) Most of the broken dishes in my house have met with that tail. Little will wear her out like getting going on a good tail chase.[1]

Laying in the sun on a lovely afternoon, she will thwack herself good and hard with that booger and swear up a storm til she gets it. Then, once she has her own ass in her mouth, she usually looks at me – tickled and slapping my knee at her silliness (it’s funny to see a killer acting a fool, ain’t it?) – drops her tail, sits down, and – as much as a dog can blush – she blushes: “Oh, Lord. I’ve done gone and chased my tail again, y’all.”[2]

Now I suppose it’s that bitch’s turn to laugh at me.

You see, I had been basking in the sun, minding my own business, when out of the blue, I spotted something twitching. I tried leaving it alone. I truly did. I left it alone for two whole days but it kept on’a twitching. Right there in my peripheral vision. Then I thwacked myself with that booger good and hard. Just as I was revving up to chase, everybody told me, “Now, Bad Witch, that there is just y’own tail; leave it be and do something useful.” But no, I had to make sure for myself.

You know how it is. You’ve done it too.

I even did a little divination to find out if it was, in fact, my own tail. Yup.

Just imagine the amusement of onlookers, tickled and slapping their knees at my silliness (it’s funny to see a killer acting a fool, after all). Imagine: The Bad Bitch chasing her tail, stopping to consult the I Ching: “Stagnation,”[3] and proceeding to chase her tail some more.[4]

But, today, the chase ended. I finally caught hold of it. Bit down good and hard on my own tail. And guess what, ladies and gentlemen? It’s the same ol’ass it’s always been.  Now that I’m standing here with a mouthful of my own, very familiar, tail-fur, I’m slap-amazed with myself for having spent a whole week of precious time and energy chasing after what I knew full-well was m’own damned tail.

Why, oh why, oh help me Jesus, would The Bad Witch chase her own rear-end like that?

  • Because I was bored? Hell no, I have a full and busy life.
  • Because I mistook it for something else? Aw, baby, I knew what it was all along.
  • Because when I thwapped myself, it hurt? Not even a little.
  • Because I wanted to see if it was still attached? Because I wanted to see if it still hurt when I bit down good’n hard? Hmm, mayhaps.

Now, I don’t know if that last guess is true. It feels like it’s getting on to something – but I don’t like to think of myself as that dumb or that self-destructive. I guess it’s time to start digging around in the yard to find out where the bones are buried (forgive my mixed metaphor; though about a dog, I realize this one doesn’t follow the grand narrative). It’s time for The Bad Witch to get back to some kind of Black Work.

But you have to hear me right. Black Work is not Bad Work.

In Alchemical terms, The Black Work, or Nigredo, is the stage at which the prima materia begins its transformation.[5] This is where decomposition takes place. It may seem counterintuitive to want to “decompose” the self, but it’s a step that is necessary in order to purify the self. Decomposition is the process of breaking a conglomerate material into its constituent parts. Here, the unnecessary or downright harmful “impurities” can be cast off.

Imagine a lump of unrefined ore. Before it can become a useful tool, the impurities must be burned away. We often call this catharsis a crucible experience. Or, at least I do.

In Jungian terms, the “shadow aspect” is that part of the unconscious mind where our repressed failures, lingering childhood fears, character deficiencies, knee-jerk sensitivities, and involuntary drives wallow like swine in corn husks and the rotty-old-psychic-tomatoes-that-get-crushed-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden-bucket-and-raked-out-into-the-slop. These parts of ourselves lurk in doorways waiting to trip us up like clumsy Catahoulas with anaconda-like tails. I have heard the process of examining the shadow-self called “work of the soul/shadow,” “The Shadow Process,” and “shadow work.”[6] (This last term keeps coming up in unrelated conversations, so I thought I should perk up and pay attention.)

So, as initiates, we always begin with The Black Work. We must. There is no point in trying to fashion a sword out of raw ore, now is there?  Some folks try. I wish then good luck with that.

Occasionally, like this week when I wonder why I’ve spent s’damned much time chasing my tail, I find myself retuning to do a little soul-searching. This doesn’t mean I didn’t get it right the first time. It doesn’t mean that I have a faulty soul. It just means I still have parts of my tail (tale?) to investigate. You see, the Black Work isn’t the last step in purgation.[7] We must always strive to burn away unnecessary shit that seeps out from deep in our nucleotides. Like titanium, we have to go through multiple phases of purification before becoming our final product, no?

Whenever there are bad Witches in the community, others come to the conclusion that some Black Work needs to be done on that bad Witch’s part. But whenever I see someone else whose painful distortions and repressed fears are thwacking them across the thighs like a sinewy Catahoula tail, I think, “Hmmmm, me too?”[8] After all, I’m no less human than the next Witch.

P.S. Imma dig up an old email I sent to a friend a few years ago outlining a good method for “Soul Mirroring.” I’ll clean it up and post it to Open Path.

P.P.S. I apologized to one of the onlookers who had to watch me chase my tail this week. He lovingly reminded me: “The sun doesn’t get mad at the clouds that block its view of the Earth, after all.  It has other things to care about and shine on.” ❤

I’m sorry for showing my ass – and then biting it. I’m gonna get myself together, darlin’, and rejoin the human race 😉

I guess we all shine on . . .

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] I am lying. None of my dogs chase their tails. Raccoons and squirrels, yes. Their tails, no. I needed a metaphor. Forgive a Bad Witch? Tail-chasing is believed to be a sign of neurosis in dogs. I may be neurotic, but my dogs are just fine.

[2] A rescue from Katrina, my Catahoula has a thick swamper accent.

[3] Hexagram 12: “Stagnation” or “Selfish Persons.” It reads, “Stagnation is brought about by inferior persons. There exists no advantage – even to persons of exceptional character and virtue.” (Trans. R. L. Wing. Doubleday, New York: 1982).

[4] The I Ching is a snotty little oracle, isn’t it? Unlike the Tarot where if you don’t like the answer, you will get a variant that tries to coax you into compliance, the I Ching just tells you to, “Wax’a floor,” or “Paint fence.”

[5] Forgive me for oversimplifying. Those of you who are into Alchemy, you don’t need me to reiterate the finer points; those of you not into alchemy, these finer points would be extraneous to my thesis. If this post piques your interest, study on, my friend.

[6] In Part 2, Step 1, 1 & 2 of Initiation Into Hermetics: ”Introspection or Self-Knowledge,” Franz Bardon “Without self-knowledge there will be no real [magical] development on a higher level” (35). I give you this source as a model to follow if you do not have a decent mentor to guide you. This secular one doesn’t suck either: http://integrallife.com/awaken/shadow/practice-3-2-1-shadow-process

[7] There’s the White and the Yellow(s) and, some agree, the Green(s).

[8] Oh, but don’t get me wrong. That I eventually land on introspection doesn’t mean I didn’t start out wagging my finger like the rest of them.