The Ploy of Cooking – A Book Review, Sort Of

When I grow up, I want to be a Mystic.[1]

The Bad Witch like a secret society or two, but my new favorite has become The Mystic Order of East Alabama Fiction Writers. Of course, they aren’t really a secret society, but they are one of the best kept secrets of The South. Last night, I had the great pleasure to see the Mystics in action. And by “action” I mean aprons.

The Mystics are group of women born and raised in Alabama. And you know how I feel, to me it seems that all Southern women have a solid touch of Witchiness about them from the get-go. We are just born that way. When your first breath is humid and heavy with Confederate Jasmine, ain’t nothing you can do about it. After meeting these women, my suspicions have been confirmed. There’s something downright Magical about the Mystics.

According to the introduction of their latest opus, The Ploy of Cooking:

On the first Wednesday of every month, The Mystic Order meets. We enjoy wine with cork, mystically formed foods, and the latest attempts at fiction compositions. Everyone must contribute to the table according to her ability.

The intro goes on to explain that their newest book, a “cookbook,” was the “result of a coup.” The results, in my opinion, are delicious. And I don’t mean the recipes. I mean the concept of the book as a whole. You see, there was a bit of a compromise at the end of The Mystical Rebel Yell – but not the kind of compromise that negotiates away the power of each side, the kind of compromise that takes an unusual combination, puts them together, and makes a new thing that seems to have made the most sense all along: like putting peanut butter inside chocolate.

In the South, we have a very special relationship with food. Even if it’s not always a healthy one. Those of us who spent Southern summers in kitchens full of canning steam know about it better than anyone.[2] And recipe books in The South are really just Spellbooks in disguise. These six authors, Gail, Mary, Marian, Margee, Joanne, and Judith, share their recipes, but in the context of a memoir. The offerings are treats like: “Specter Balls,” “Wicked Cookies,” “Bless It And Move On,” “Mayonnaise: The Downfall of the Southern Woman,” “Jekyll Island Shrimp,” and “Sunday Rituals.” And the pages are bedecked with lovely drawings by Mystic Margee Bright-Ragland.

I went to the book signing and reading to support, like a good Heathen, my dear co-worker and friend, Marian. But, as the universe decrees such things, I ended up getting more blessing than I expected. Along with the sweetest hug from Marian’s son (a former student of mine) and a sampling of the book’s recipes, I got to see a charming and sensible group of Southern women talk about food, family, and life in Alabama, all with an undeniable spark of the divine. Actually, TBW, was moved to downright mistiness as the Mystics read samplings, each from her section of the book. At one point, The Bad Husband leaned in to me and said, “Oh, this is what normal looks like.”

You know how being around bad energy can leave you with a sort-of “hangover”? I had gotten to a place where I just expected that any socializing was going to leave me feeling trashed, so I reverted to hermitdom. However, this morning (after not one, but two social engagements), I feel lighter and cleaner and have a clearer sense of myself then I have in a good half-year. Oh, this is what normal feels like. Quirky and artistic they may be, but as far as energies go, The Mystics are good, clean fun.

This is the part where The Bad Witch pimps her friend’s book. Ready?

Even if you aren’t from the South, you should pick up a copy of The Ploy of Cooking. It’s not a Witchy book, but it is pretty magical. It reminds me a little of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate. Though Esquivel tells a continuing narrative of one family’s experiences, this collection gives the reader an idea of the wide variation found among Southern families – as well as the commonalities. It’s far better than any attempts I’ve seen at mixing tales of everyday Southern life, the special Spirituality of the South, and anecdotally contextualized recipes. (And if you like this sort of thing in a Celtic Reconstructionist framework, have a look at Ozark Pagan Mamma.) The honesty with which these authors approach their craft is breathtaking. Not only in the narratives but in the gumption to present a recipe for Kool-aid and to give specific instructions for “Candy in a Bowl, Properly Served.” Now that’s keeping it real.

I adore my friend Marian. I am so glad that knowing special people like her have brought me to special experiences like this book – and seeing The Mystics in aprons.

Blessings, Quarks, and 93,

The Bad Witch

You can find the Mystic Order on Facebook:

See also Be the Flame, the Mystics’ 2011 collection.

[1] Since 2008 this phrase makes me sing The Pussycat Doll’s song. “Be careful what you wish for ‘coz you just might get it.” Then I watched the video this morning and imagined the Mystics dancing on a scaffold. It was all kinds o’ wrong.

[2] Yea, yea. I spent the school-year in the land of Teamsters and Deep-Dish, but in the summer, I was in Muscle Shoals.

Clean Up, Aisle Three . . .

It’s been a stormy day here in The Bad Witch’s town and I’m a little late at getting to my post. It seems that whenever it storms, it storms. Know what I mean?

Now, I know I don’t tell you the details of my work like some bloggers do.[1] Some of y’all post photos of your altars and your tools and some of you give scripts for your rituals and some of you report your supplications verbatim. I love you for it. But it just never occurs to me to talk about the specifics of my practice (though I have). Theory, sure. I’ll go on and on all day about what I do and don’t venerate in The Star Ruby and how I tackle “O, Phalle!” (And why I feel the need to rewrite everything I was taught after 2002.) But it doesn’t occur to me to be really detailed. Until today that is.

Let me step back for a minute and give you a few background notes that you’ll need to follow this story through.

Most of my referrals are Christian women – Southern Baptist Convention to be exact. Some are Catholic, but not enough to speak of.[2] I’m always amused that women who were raised to believe that Pentecostal “speaking-in-tongues” lay somewhere between mass-hypnosis and demonic possession are the first to call on an Occultist when thing get out of their Preacherman’s reach. But, Lawd! Don’t tell nobody!

My discretion, my banal appearance, and my knowledge of Scripture (and ways of showing that Jesus approves of “what we do here today”) make me very popular among the polyester peplum crowd.

Oh, and my effectiveness. That too.

Most of those who call me want me to help out with things for which they are simply unwilling to pay a psychologist or a lawyer. So, I advise them and give them whatever placebo they think they need – and ultimately leave them with the business card of a local psychologist or a lawyer. No charge.

But every once in a while there’s something real that needs handling.

This was the case with a woman I helped with a “house issue” a few years back. (It’s The South; we don’t say “haunting” or “spiritual disturbance” or “demonic” anything – it’s a “house issue.”) Back then, she just had a “bad feeling about the place.” It is a huge old farmhouse in a little-bitty town the next county over. It had been her rents-in-law’s place, they had given it to their son, he had married her – we’ll call her Estelle, and she and her husband had lived there for thirty years until he died – a few months before “the issue” began.

She’d had her minister come out and “bless” the house a little after the funeral. Not only did things not improve, they deteriorated. She reported an increasing sense of dread, particularly in certain areas of the house, things would inexplicably break – not always precipitated by a fall, her children and grandchildren reported disembodied voices and vague apparitions: typical stuff. Estelle’s granddaughter is a local (very young, insanely successful) businesswoman with whom I have a friendly working relationship. One day while conducting business, she pointed at my pendant, “Do you do things for other people?”[3]

That’s how that happened.

This morning, Estelle’s daughter, we’ll call her Sally, phoned me and asked me to “help out” as she believed she may have been (in a whispered undertone) “cursed.” After a lengthy conversation I surmised the following. Sally knows this woman – um, Veronica – who, Sally feels, has some sort of “black magic” power over her. I tried all of the standard, “Are you giving Veronica power over you,” examination only to discover that this was indeed, a real deal. I won’t spin too much energy on telling what’s the specific what –as I don’t want to feed it. But I feel like I can offhandedly tell you this much: Sally has always been a bit competitive with Veronica; they went to high school together, they fought over boys together, eventually they fought over husbands, etc. Veronica always seemed to end up on top and it seemed, to Sally, that it was always at Sally’s expense. Sally has taken to calling Veronica “The Evil Bitch” as a proper noun in everyday conversation. Obvs there’s more to it – but that’ll do for now, no? Now, Sally believes that a series of very unlikely events have been directly caused by The Evil Bitch. After a series of discoveries I found that, “Yes, The Evil Bitch is doing these things,” and, “No, Veronica is not doing these things.” Everything pointed to Veronica being fairly detached from and disinterested in Sally and, well, to be honest, utterly benign. The Evil Bitch on the other hand was – well – an evil bitch. I scratched my head for a minute.

If you have been through this kind of thing before, I beg you – don’t tease me that it took me a minute to figure out WTF was happening. I’m not new at handling my own, um, “demons,” but, despite having left a stack of doctor and lawyer’s business cards about town, I haven’t handled more than a half-dozen real issues for other folks (aside from family – they count as my own demons[4]). Most of these have been fairly run-of-the mill.

When it occurred to me, it occurred to me hard.

Sally has put so much energy into developing the The Evil Bitch character – in frighteningly intentional ways – that she created a fecking thoughtform – not just a larva or gooey astral pest – one strong enough to actually do things. It wears Veronica’s face because that’s how Sally created it. It looks – for all intents and purposes – that Veronica is doing the damage because Sally created The Evil Bitch to pass for Veronica. It soothes Sally’s psyche to believe that Veronica is “out to get her” and it creates a much needed villain for Sally and her catty girlfriends. (Not unlike Batman, hmmm.) But, having poured that much energy into an energy being, giving it a name, giving it a purpose, no shit – giving it instructions. (I kid you not; sometimes I just want to shake people.) And, of course, because Sally is not a trained Magician who knows better, the damned thing has no death date or means of constraint. Fun, huh? I can dismantle the thing – getting Sally to let go will be the hardest part – but it won’t be cool. And I’ll still need to leave her with a card for the local psychiatrist.

Here’s my parting thoughts on this. I know that there are people tossing energy around all the time; I know that, often, this causes manifestations. I know that “normal” folks “work magic” all the time. None of that is a surprise to me, nor should it be to you.

I am called to mind of a conversation – what? Three years ago? – I had with someone who purported to be a hard-core Magical practitioner. In the context of a profound conversation, I asked about his/her thoughts on egregores, servitors, and elementals. S/he said that s/he “observed the elementals” and that s/he had “many servitors” and that “some of them don’t even know [that they are his/her servitors].” More head scratching.[5]

I only tell you this because I use this instance to remind myself that not everyone is on the same page when it comes to genuine Magical practice. But, like I also said – everyday-folks toss energy into the aether and get appropriate manifestations. But does that mean that they are “doing Magic”?

I’m not saying that they aren’t – this is a sincere question. Is what Sally did “Magic”? Sure, it’s akin to what Magicians do on purpose; does the fact that she did it unknowingly and ill-advisedly make it “not Magic”? Is it about “intent” again?

If so, then is what the aforementioned Self-proclaimed Magical Practitioner (SMP) does really “Magic”? Or is it “Just the way the universe works”? S/he has intent – just not knowhow. Does the fact that s/he doesn’t understand the theory behind it – or even have the language to discuss it competently – make it “not Magic”?

We Magicians like to be imperious[6] and it pisses some of us off just a little when those we perceive to be our intellectual inferiors “stumble onto” our playingfield. And we might even like to say, “Sure, it’s magic; but Sally had to call a real exorcist to sniff out and take care of The Evil Bitch.” Or, “Sure, it’s Magic; but SMP would be laughed out of any conversation with self-respecting Magicians and prolly wouldn’t be able to control his/her thoughtforms once created.”

But, then again . . .


Whatcha think?

Blessings, Quarks, 93,

The Bad Witch


[1] I figure that just because I don’t tell you about what I cook every night doesn’t mean that you assume my family starves, or because I don’t tell you about social life you think I’m a hermit or a pariah, or because I don’t tell you about my BMs you assume I have a toxic colon, or because I don’t tell you about my sex life you think I’m celibate (or a prude). I figure y’all have enough sense to know my life is bigger than this page – and I appreciate that about you. Likewise, I figure that just because I don’t tell you the specifics of my training and practice schedule doesn’t mean you should assume I don’t have one. I am a Witch after all.

[2] Anyway, Southern Catholicism is more like Northern Baptistery than it is like anything in my experience with The Roman Catholic Church.

[3] I always feel like I look a little like the late Zelda Rubinstein when I first talk to someone. I can’t shake the feeling that I am 4’3” and my hair won’t stay tied up.

[4] Remind me to tell you about my Momma’s china cabinet and my (adult) nephew’s garbage can monster. *Hand on head.*

[5] Servitors, just for the record, are not human beings that one manipulates into doing our bidding without their consent. Those are called “victims.”

[6] Admit it.