Community: With Footnotes and Hyperlinks Galore

When I wrote about the Chicken Blood, it was a bit of a cop-out for the “B” entry for my participation in Rowen Pendragon’s yearlong Pagan Blog Project. It’s funny, now I have one too many C words rattling around my brain and I find myself blogging, coffee beside me, on a Monday morning. [1]

C is for Community

This morning, I am basking in the relative afterglow of a community meeting gone well.

Over the weekend, a new community-group met up on campus. I had planned to host the gathering in my backyard, where another community member and I put in a couple of days’ worth of yard clearing.[2] But, when we make plans the gods stand by with their stopwatches, tittering at our activity, ribbing each other, saying, “Wait, wait, give it just one more second . . . .”

And then the weather snapped. It was going to be colder than a witch’s youknowwhat and no bonfire in Alabama can keep Southerners warm once the wind starts-a-whipping like it did. It’s almost like some external force said, “Not gonna happen.” But, as I am chaaaahrmed in these circumstances, I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and secured us a (nearly) perfect spot on campus. (I am the faculty sponsor for the Pagan student group. Since a sizable contingent of our group is made up of students, I was allowed to co-sponsor the meeting on campus. And I got the space on less than 48 hours’ notice. Take that, misfortune.[3])  I mean, the spot itself was great – the access to it? Not so much. But, here’s my point, as a community, we all pulled together and got it together.

We lugged crockpots full of potluck magnificence, djembes, doumbeks, guitars, you name it, up (and subsequently, back down) and into our space which was set – no fire allowed indoors – with the most, um, inventive altar-space we could pitch in and provide. I’ve been at many a start-up event for many an upstart group, religious and otherwise. This was, quite possibly, the best first meeting I’ve ever attended. Congratulations us!

This community effort is very important to me and I’m glad to see it thriving from the get-go.[4] Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not in the community-building business for exaltation of any sort.[5] As a matter of fact, I don’t take credit for buildinganything. I just answered a few emails and the divine did the rest. She’s like that.

Thank you Golden Dawn blog for this fabulous picture.

One small reason I’m so glad to see the group thrive is that, young as it is, someone (from the outside) has already tried to vilify the movement.[6] What can I say? The proof will be in the pudding.[7] The thing about community groups is that there will occasionally be cliques and factions; usually this is healthy – sometimes it is a disaster. As long as those work together, the whole can be healthy. Once they start backbiting, something’s gotta give. Communities are about togetherness – not division and rivalry.

Another larger reason I’m so glad to see this group thrive is that I’m tired of going it alone and I know that I know that I know there have to be others just like me – out there – trudging along – wishing to heck that there was someone to lean on and learn from. If I need this, they need it too.

I’ve lived in my little town for almost – not quite – ten years now. I met the only other Witch I would know for most of that time during a long-ass stint in grad school. At the time we met, she had forsaken the Craft altogether; the fact that I was active and practicing scared the shit out of her. So, beginning in 2002, after seventeen years of practicing, I was a solitary for the first time in my life.

I know – usually it’s the other way around – folks become Pagan, study alone, then find a group. I was never really anything but Pagan. By the time I could make my own real religious choices, it was the mid-1980s.[8] By the late 80s, I had fallen in with a mentor from an established Teutonic tradition. I went right from her philosophical arms into the arms of the most visceral Irish coven on the South Side of Chicago.

Fortunately, in the early days, before college and mentors, I was aligned with a like-minded, similarly endowed girlfriend who studied alongside me. In the days before the internet, we read (*gasp*) books. Every book we could get our hands on. This doesn’t mean we bought the books! We would save our pittances to pitch in and buy one good book at a time.  The books themselves were communal.

Now this also doesn’t mean that we didn’t have intuitive understanding or inherited knowledge.  It just means that we liked to dig around in musty old occult book shops, smelling and touching and feeling and rolling in the energy of the hidden community around us. It was the only place we had to talk to others like us. These stores were where we went to learn about the Craft, to learn about the traditions of others, to learn about the uses of herbs, to learn about the lore of groups older than ourselves (which didn’t take much back then, we were baay-beees), to learn about ethics and responsibilities.  We did this, rather than entrenching ourselves in our own concocted dogmas and stagnating in our intellect. Being a Witch doesn’t mean I have to be illiterate. (Druidry is, after all, one of the most intellectual paths – Pagan or otherwise.) While we cut our magical teeth in bookstores, we weren’t chewing on the books; we were chewing on the community that the bookstore provided.

So, when I moved here – almost ten years ago – I was bereft of my community. Fortunately I had email to sustain me through the transition. In those not-quite-ten-years I collected a few other books and the internet boomed with sacred libraries and internet exchange forums.[9] Sadly, all of my tangible books had to come from Amazon and there was no sense of interconnectivity, no musty library smell, no “Here, try this oil,” no “Bladderwort is good for that irritation,” no “For you? That beryl-stone is only a dollar,” no “Come sit with me, I have something to share with you . . . ,” no “How’s about a cup of tea?” [10]

I hope to one day see a shop like those of my youth here in town. The Bad Husband and I have been making plans for such a space. Not for monetary profit, mind you. As a matter of fact, the reason we have The Wyrd Sister is to support the ground store – to provide a space for spiritual community building without having to concern ourselves with profit. I’m not deluded, I know that occult stores, especially occult stores in the Deep South, are not going to turn shiny pennies. That’s not my goal. (If I wanted to be wealthy, I would have stayed a stock-broker and retired in my 30s, before the 2010 bust.) My goal is to provide – not to be provided for. I long to have that musty bookstore community of my teen-years back. I hope to have quiet rooms where folks can read books, even if they can’t afford to buy them. I hope to have information openly exchanged without having a set creed enforced on anyone or having one tradition favored over all others (coz you know how I feel about that).

My momma always taught me not to complain about not having something that I wasn’t willing to make for myself. So, thanks for the forum, Witchvox, Facebook, and Twitter. And thanks for the emails, David, Anne, Mickey, and Lucidian. We’re like a snowball now!

Ooooooh, I feel a scene from High School Musical coming on.

[1] But this is how I like it. The Bad Hubby is back from China, having brought back the coolest rocks from one of the coolest places on the planet, a bottle of ¥1575 rice wine (that’s 250 bucks), a custom red silk Cheongsam, my first strand of grown-up pearls (we’ve been dead-broke most of our lives), gifities for the kiddos – including all the chopsticks Eldest can handle. All of the ani-mules have been fed and the children are off to learn. From books. (Son just registered for next year’s classes and took all AP and IB courses. All. Eldest tried that once. Once. This is going to be unfun for TBW.)

[2] Something I’ve never had a friend offer to do before – OK, offer, but never actually follow through – so thank you, thank you from the bottom of my Bad Witch heart.

[3] M’daddy always says, “Well, I guess it weren’t meant to be.” Here, I reckon he’d just say, “Well.”

[4] And, excitingly enough, Facebook tells me that a second community group has cropped up alongside ours! It seems all the waters needed was a little stirring. I’m so thrilled to see that like-attracts-like, even in The Deep South. Best of luck to those of you attracted to that group. I hope you thrive as well.

[5] Anyone who’s ever been a spearhead or an organizer can tell you that this is not a position for the celebrity-minded attention-whore. As far as I’m concerned, leadership is the profoundest form of servitude.

[6] Most people *get it* that The Bad Witch is an ironic misnomer.

[7] I invited her to join us. Told her she always had a place with us. But her goal is to slander me (and if you know where I stand on debauchery, that’s entertainment). Let it be. In the end, she may have already driven a person away – one who openly acknowledged needing a community effort. The irony is, she tried hurting me. I’m not hurt by this – he is. It so sad. May’s well drown kittens.

[8] Spirituality’s one thing. Religion is another.

[9] It’s not all bad. In that decade, I discovered John Dee and learned more about Thelema. And I rediscovered some of the more occulty shtuffs I was raised on. The kind of thing I prefer in the first place: especially Golden Dawn Rituals, Hermetics, and Solomonic Theurgy.

[10] All I had was one ex-Witch-come-reformed-Witch who cast me as The Bad Witch. And I made do. But I’m so glad that The Mother saw fit to shuffle me along to better pastures.