Ready? Steady? Go!

Wow. I guess this is the “Farewell” post. It’s a little bit hard letting go. Thanks to everyone who listened to my insanity and helped me feel a little more sane over the past couple years. (Because, “Yes, Virgina, there are bad Witches.”) I hope you hang out to hear Hazey tell her stories too. While she’s a site younger than I am, she has a good head on her shoulders and quite a yarn to spin.

Have a happy and prosperous 2013–pop over to if you haven’t already, you can pick up my travels post-Bad Witchery over there.

I’m sure, as things go , I’ll be back to poke my nose in from time to time. But until then, I have some blogging advice for Hazey, The New Bad; y’all feel free to eavesdrop.

Twelve points for twelve months.

1) There’s no need to tell your story all at once. Folks are happy to listen if you are entertaining; therefore, episodes are better than a movie-length post.

And you’ve got enough to say that you don’t have to be repetitive.

2) Poioumena, parables, metaphors, and fairy-tales are good for telling more of the whole truth than can be put in words. Folks identify with certain stories and know how those stories “feel” so you don’t have to work so hard to put them in your pointy shoes.

3) That said—keep control of your metaphors. Ain’t nothing worse than a metaphor what can’t stay on track. Plenty of “Bad” metaphors out there have run amok of their authors and shown folks that the emperor is truly and completely nekid. Make your logic hang together or folks’ll notice. Our reader is smarter than the average bear (and they know how to make sense of a film’s ending).

4) Metaphors are OK. But don’t lie. Just don’t. It ain’t worth it; the truth is so much more frightening and entertaining anyhow.

5) You aren’t “The Bad.” Remember you are just reporting on “The Bad.” And you have seen that shite as up close and personal as any of Stephen King’s protagonists.

And, as we continue to see–some folks are always gonna think it’s about them. You can’t second guess yourself. If it stings them, must mean they have a guilty conscience–ain’t nothing you can do about that.

6) That said, this is not about revenge; this is about warning others that Pennywise is not actually a clown and that they shouldn’t patronize Leland Gaunt’s little shop of horrors.

7) You are learning loads of new things right now. Information is pouring in and out of you at break-neck speed at this point in your Witchy career. You should share that information and all the great new lessons you are learning—but you should also know when to STFU. When it comes to “secrets,” remember that your audience understands that there are things which cannot be said.

8) Don’t dicker with your numbers. Nobody cares in the end. I pulled up a “Bad” blog not too long ago which purported well over two-thousand “followers.”  The little box came up and asked if I wanted to join 627. Now that’s just embarrassing. We keep our numbers under wraps here for a few reasons: A) The number that pops up here is grossly inaccurate. I’ll explain the logistics of Tumblr, Twitter, FB, etc. later. B) If it hurts someone else’s pride that we have X and they have Y—enough so that they have to make smack-talk about it Online—then we will just remove the info. We ain’t out to rub it in.

Speaking of (A), everything posts to a parallel site on Tumblr. We can discuss Facebook and Twitter and the WP stats function later. It’s not interesting enough to go here.

9) Speaking of “followers,” your audience does not “follow” you—you are not their “leader.” They are your audience, your sounding board, your patient ally, and occasional (when necessary) adversary. Do not presume to make them your subordinates as other bloggers have done. You’ll do better to have 1500 “friends” than 600 “underlings.” (Hell, I’d rather have 600 friends than 1500 underlings.) If no one else ever visits, I’ll be here right by your side, reading, laughing, crying, goading.

10) Speaking of things with which you should not dicker—readers’ comments are sacred. Only SPAM gets deleted. Otherwise, how’s anyone ever gonna trust you?

11) Never blog UI. I believe that’s what the “Save Draft” button was specifically designed for. Trust me. Sometimes you don’t want to publish that shite until you are sober. And rehydrated. And maybe caffeinated—but that’s a whole ‘nother problem.

12) Finally—but most importantly—have fun. This is for blowing off steam, not for generating pressure.

I adore you. I’m already proud of you.

Ready? Steady? Go! (Take this bad broom and fly!)

Sage advice from the original.

Smells Like American Poetry

I’m so ugly, that’s okay
‘Cause so are you.

“Lithium.” Kurt Cobain


The married couple sleep . . .
The sisters sleep . . .
The men sleep . . .
And the mother . . . .

The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps . . . the runaway son
The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he
And the murder’d person, how does he sleep?

The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all

“The Sleepers.” W.W.


I rounded out the semester with Emily Dickinson, a delightful (even if overused) pairing with Whitman. I tried explaining to my students the different ways of critiquing poetry. They were all surprisingly fine with a formalist approach but couldn’t wrangle New Criticism. It’s usually the other way around.

Student: “I think with writers like Poe and Dickinson, it’s just too difficult to separate how they lived from how they wrote.”
Me: “And how they died? Does that influence your reading of Poe or–for next semester–say, Plath?”
Student: [adamantly] “Ho, yes. Especially when they commit suicide.”
Me: “So how do you listen to Nirvana?”
Student: “Well, I don’t really. But, yeah. I hear ‘self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head’ when I hear ‘Lithium.'”
Me: [damned impressed that he referenced “Lithium” instead of “Teen Spirit”] “So, how does that work for someone like me? I mean, I remember Cobain as ‘alive.’ I watched him on MTV. I remember when he died.”

They were all disconcertingly visibly stunned at this revelation. I was not about to tell them that I remembered when John Lennon died. Or (shite) Elvis.

Ah, death. Death and sleep. The two great levelers, Walt would say.

My students were able to manage New Criticism for Bradstreet and Wigglesworth and even Wheatly to some extent; but Dickinson, like Cobain, was more famous for her life (and his death) than they could get past.

Then I thought about Al.

I’m started a new course tonight. I mean–it’s a new set of students, I’ve taught the course before. Just before they finished the course prior, I asked them what they wanted to take on in the next phase. One of the students wanted to know if we could cover more about Thelema; but another “just [has] a bad feeling about Crowley.”

Yea, yea. He was a shitfucker–and I mean that literally–but can we even begin to apply something like New Critical approaches to the study of Thelema? I can if I accept that it was an inspired work, meaning it came from Aiwass and not “just” Al. I have to say “just” since I believe our HGA is also part of our own psyche. If our higher-self elevates our work to greatness (I’m not claiming that Crowley’s oeuvre is “great,” it just a statement for argument’s sake), does our baser-self not degrade our work? Can we approach Thelemic texts and rites without thinking about Crowley’s proclivities? Admittedly, some folks find his lifestyle revolutionary and subversively enthralling. Some, I acknowledge, just find Crowley gross.

How, as a teacher, do I remain objective? I mean, I have fairly strong feelings about the whole affair. And the more I learn, the stronger my feelings become.

It’s why I don’t teach Hemingway.

Papa and The Beast, hmmm.

As ever, I’ll let you know how it goes.

B, Q, and, maybe, 93

Walt Whitman

I teach American Literature so I have had my hand at teaching Walt Whitman for a good decade or more. I took a graduate class called “Whitman and Dickinson” in the late 90s. But, unlike my ongoing affair with Giles Deleuze, it wasn’t the academic jargon and the erudite theory that made me fall for W.W.; it was the gritty repetition of work-a-dayness that I discovered while still a lower-class grub in high school.

Strangely, this had nothing to do with my English Teacher, Mrs. C, one of the best teachers I’ve ever known (and who, along with an eighth grade teacher guy named Miles, may be the reason I became an English teacher myself), who was more for Shakespeare and Madrigals than she was for Howling beatnicks. It’s too bad. I could have used some advice about what happened Under the El[1] before finding out about that particular brand of up-close-and-way-too-personal by myself.[2] However, nothing coarse or profane ever worked its way into Mrs. C’s class. I mean, the randiest thing I remember from that grade is The Mayor of Casterbridge. (Mr. B the year before taught us that there was nothing in poetry except sex and death and childhood memories. Only he said it like it was a bad thing.) It was Miss Louise, my drama teacher and the choral director, who chose the musical Working, the songs of which are all based on Whitman’s poetry, when I was a Sophomore in the mid-Reagan years. It was at the point when I too heard America singing and fell hard for the hairy, horny, horn blower.

The mason, the waitress, the farm worker, the fireman, the factory worker, all had a beautiful place in a poetic flow of a nation’s infrastructure.

And I was not a product of the academy; I was the child of a factory worker and a truck driver, granddaughter to sharecroppers all around.

So, you see, it’s no surprise that despite my deep and abiding love for My Captain, I was never able to convey such adoration to a set of undergraduates who longed less for urban poetry and more for the imminent end of the semester.

After I left high school, I went to work at a factory too. The bend-lift-straighten-flip-turn-dump-bend-lift repetition of my days and nights and overtime-weekends would send me into reveries of singing my body electric as I watched products, from which I was ultimately estranged as Marx called it (little did I know at the time that there was a word for what I was feeling-like-a-cogg-in-the-machinery), roll up the undulating conveyor belt like pink salmon driving to their spawny-death.

Death and sex and childhood memories.

But now, PhD’d, clean and respectable, only occasionally getting tipsy and committing candor that horrifies my peers, I don’t read Whitman for the joy he brought me—I teach him for the core curriculum. You see, I was told not to let my students see that I am “human”—and though I usually chuck that advice where it belongs, every once-in-a-while I think, “They don’t need to know that side of me.” And in this case, it’s true. They don’t need to know what happened to me on Ashland, on Kedvale, on Morgan, in Burbank, in Brighton Park, or at that fancy South Shore penthouse. Aw, hell, nobody needs to know that shite.

So—I suck at teaching Whitman.

Until this year.

This pretty little thing wandered her way into my life and scared the feck out of me. I didn’t see myself if her, if that’s what you are thinking. She just loved Whitman. For his grunge—not in spite of it. We stayed up all night talking through a common-mess we’d both been marinated in, and we might have had a spot too much to drink. The next day, I did not have a clue about what I was going to do in class. I’d make a quick PowerPoint, I guessed, and force-feed Leaves to begrudging, entitled George Strait fans. Then I thought—how would I teach this to Hazey? I imagined a sympathetic audience instead of a hostile one.

I made a Power-Point, yes. But I set it to run a series of 19th century faces and bodies—mostly bodies, some human, some not: white men, white women, poor folk, old folk, slaves on the auction block, prostitutes, pigs in the streets of Manhattan, the Golden Gate and the water below. Then, I did the unthinkable. I didn’t lecture.

I read:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

And then I’d tell a little bit about Whitman’s life—kinda like I was talking about my granddad. How he thought abolitionists were full of shite and hot-stink while he lived in New England but then he moved to NOLA and saw what he saw and knew what he knew. All while these images of bodies flashed behind me. And through urge and urge and urge, I think they heard me. The way I meant for them to hear me. The way W.W. meant for them to hear him. I’m sure of it because one young man, the one who had said horrid things about Bradstreet, sat in the back with his eyes welled-up and the edge of his desk in a white-knuckled grip.

At that moment I thought—this is sort of like magic.

OK—not magic—but teaching magic.

I have taught students from a purely theoretical standpoint where I’ve totally thrown my back into the teaching before—and they got it. They didn’t loooove it, but they got it. When I didn’t throw my back into it, they seemed to love it much more. And Whitman is very Pagan-friendly in his god-imbued-nature-and-humanity-is-cool-especially-when-united-in-its-stinky-and/or-naked-ness anyway. So, next semester when I have a new set of preps in ground classes (well, one brand-new—one I haven’t done in a few semesters) and two brand-spanking new preps Online, I think I’ll take the less aggressive route and let the material do the work for me.

I mention all this because it’s (conveniently) a make-up post for my W week and I am starting a new set of classes this upcoming week and I’m a little twitterpated, as usual. I have a full-to-capacity Seekers class (and running-over—I may have to tell two students that they had to wait for the next session, I hate that feeling!!) and a comfortably full Neophyte class and straggling students at other levels. My concerns run from “Where is everybody going to sit?” to “Will I get back in time from belly-dancing to change before teaching X, Y, or Z?”

Maybe I’ll just flash naked bodies on a screen and call it a day.

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://paganblogproject/).

[1] A line from Howl.

I wrote a poem called “Under the El” in 1990 while organizing and performing in local “Slams”—remember those?—making a prolonged metaphorical connection between the poet and the rapist: “I use my tongue / to invade your space . . . my verse / [fills your mouth] / with the bitterness / and you can’t breathe / gasping / gulping / your chest won’t expand / and yeah . . . you really don’t / want me / to / stop.” I look back at the absolute violence of the entire poem (bits of which I will not publish here) and I wonder how the feck, given the first-hand nature of it all, I got out of the 80s alive.

I also wrote a poem about heroine—called it “screaming Hyacinths”—and proclaimed myself, “a fabulous junkie.” At that point in my life, I felt that “Scraping the bottom / with my mirror and razor / was better than floating in cinder-block / office wall mediocrity.”

[2] I mean, I was with my sister when she was mugged when I was only three-years-old, saw my first DB while in second grade, and was never really a stranger to sexual cruelty—but this shit is different, y’all.

Hel and Back

This one spans three decades and may take a minute. Grab a drink and put your feet up.

It was 1980 and I sat in the church van with Maria Villalobos-Ramirez, Lourdes Bacardo, Anita Rodriguez, and Dolores Ortega. Between the five of us we had gone through all of the butane in Anita’s Clicker portable curling iron, half-a-bottle of Love’s Baby Soft, a tin of grape Lip Lickers, and a full eyeliner pencil and a lighter.

We were headed to camp (yes, think Jesus Camp only less affluent) and we were singing. Songs that started out about roadtrips, “Lonely days turn to lonely nights, you take a trip to the city lights,” “Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends / I found myself further and further from my home,” and “I gotta be cool, relax, get hip, get on my tracks. Take a back seat, hitch-hike. . .,” disintegrated into, “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight,”[1] “I wanna kiss you all over,” “Oi, oi . . . I’m a powerload . . . watch me explode!” That’s about when Brother Preacherman said enough was enough and that we should sing gospel songs instead.

That’s when TBW decided to rebel. I parodied a choir-girl stance and began, “Hey Momma, look at me, I’m on my way to the Promised Land.” Right on cue, the other girls chimed in, “We’re on a highway to Hell!”

Brother Preacherman was too tolerant of my bad behaviors.

We think of going to Hel as a bad thing. We tell the feckheads in our lives to go to Hel. Some of us even provide directions. But as someone who’s been to Hel and back, I can tell you that the ride sucks, but the return has its rewards.

Let me explain.

Part One: I left the comforts of my rather insular covens and headed for The Bamas in 2002. I worked on my doctorate, raised my babies, and kept doing my thang. I tried “coming-out of the broom closet” once or twice—okay, constantly—but very few people understood what I was up to. There was an “English Graduate Organization Prom” that I attended with my new-found grad-school bestie that first year; I had only been around for a few months and I thought it would be good to mingle. I was wearing a headband right on my hairline; a die-hard-fundie (who had made off-color comments about a pentagram shirt I wore to class) asked me, “Do all of you wear those?”

“All who?”

Wicc-ahh, wit-ahh, whatever you call yourself.”

I had been pegged by a Church of Christer—but for a totally banal headband.

I threw a bang-up Samhain party (which I referred to as a “Samhain” party rather than a Halloween party—and was met with “a whaah?”) some weeks after that and all of my Witchy-Chachkas were very visible. Everyone must have thought they were décor.

Another time, a few years later, I sat on my back porch with my immediate supervisor (and friend), her fiancé, The Only Other possible-Pagan (she was ambivalent at the time), and The Bad Husband. I don’t remember what precipitated the event, but I was reading Tarot. My boss wanted to know, “Where’d you learn that?” Just as I was about to tell her everything, the other woman shot me a terrified look that said, “NO! Keep your mouth shut!” To this day, I wonder what she was afraid of?

After that, I wore pentagrams, spiral goddesses, serpents, and medicine bags to work. You name it, I tried signifying with it and no one saw me. (I still have a giant “Witch” sign over my desk—next to a rune glyph, a spiral goddess pendulum, and a little portrait pin of Marie Laveau.)

All of this is just to say that when I decided to make myself known, I had to take my stav in both hands and pound the ground. Hard.

I think I was a little out of line. Much like singing AC/DC in a church van.

Because that action set me on a road to Hel, through the fires, and into relationships with some of the Baddest Witches eveh.

Part Two: The Descent

It was Summer 2007, I had just earned a Fellowship: the department was paying me to finish my dissertation rather than teaching. The above mentioned grad-school bestie was so resentful that I had gotten the award rather than her that she “broke-up” with me. No shit.

The Only Other possible-Pagan took a job in another state and shoved off—and not on good terms.

In late-May, I set the need-fire, I took my stav, and I called for three witches that would teach me what I needed to learn from here on out.

See “The Witch’s Duh.”

I had just met a brand-spanking-new grad-student with the craziest aura I have ever seen. (She is the #2 of my “Trance” post, btw.) Having sent my children to stay with family in Chicago,[2] by July 3, I was three chapter drafts into my dissertation. There was a toga party.

That’s how it began.

After that, there were 12 months of phonecalls with her voice on the other end saying, “Oops, I ended up in bed with the wrong boy again, can you help?” and “I’m drunk and the boy I like is being mean to me, can you help?” Imagining her as salvageable, I always did. But the relationship wasn’t entirely unreciprocal. Having felt like I had bled every ounce of my person for others, I had little to no sense of self left in the cupboard. We joked that she thought she was “all that” and that I didn’t even believe I was “a bag of chips.” But her unbridled vivaciousness would not contend for her BFF (actually, this relationship was the first time I’d heard/applied this term of endearment) to be less than awesome. She said that she loved me and she brought the dead parts of me back to life.

It was February of 2008 when I decided to dust off my grimories and hit the books harder than ever.[3] By April, I was ready for my last elevation with Bertie. I graduated with a PhD in May. Over the summer, The Only Other Pagan came back to town and we made amends. She had wholeheartedly adopted Witchiness—plus she brought a friend back with her.

We were tightthighttight for three months.[4]

Then, in September/October, I got talked into rigging a Dom-Jot table. I take full responsibility for having gone along with it. I lost my mind that fall and nearly lost everything else by New Year.

Part Three: In Hel and Back Out

In January 2009, I had a Naussican spear through my chest (see “It’s a Wonderful Q” for this reference), and found myself standing at the Gates of Hel without a shovel.

I started teaching Witchcraft on a more formal basis; I knew that if I was going to have to climb my way out of Helheim, I was going to need to buckle down. I spent the next ten months mentoring Witchcraft students online and teaching a select few in person. I spent those same ten months deflecting ridiculous fallout from that fight with a Naussican. I started writing a book called The Bad Witch Files—but I never knew how it ended, so it never went very far. It still calls me in bits and spurts.

I continued teaching (secular and religious) and learning and practicing and trying to piece my life back together in some way that looked like life, even if it still smelled of sulfur.

In October 2010, I started blogging here and you can go see the milestones for yourself. I think it was summer 2011 before I realized I was on the road back from Hel. I knew the journey was going to be long. And I knew that if I was ever going to make it all the way out, I was going to need to articulate myself—use my voice.

And—here was the hardest part—then I had to work through forgiving myself.

But, in order to avoid the calm stillness and silence where certainty resides, I kept myself a moving target, often chasing my own tail. Having spun m’self round and round, I have finally come full circle after traveling to Hel and back.

Part Four: The Return

It was back in February 2012 that I finally found the new mentor I had been craving. I had studied and practiced all the Hermetics, Ceremonial Magic, Theurgy, and Goetia I wanted to alone. After ten-fricking years of going it alone, I was ready to be taught, lead, united with others.

I looked to him to teach me all about Teutonic Shamanism. Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to drain him of everything he knew, leaving me back at the drawing board.[5]

Right back where I started.

Fortunately, I did not go to jail, but I did collect $200. And by “collect $200,” I mean “pulled my head out of my arse and found my voice.”

Yawp, bitches. [6]

At the beginning of that shitefeckedup four year trek, I knew I had Heathen ethics, I knew I had High Ceremonial practices, I knew I had a moral compass aligned with Matthew 25:40, I knew I had a Helluva sound occult education behind me, and I knew I had – gifts—we’ll go with “gifts.” But I had never been forced to articulate what I “was.” I always considered myself a Heathen Sorcerer, perhaps because my childhood nickname was, “Y’lil’heathen,” perhaps for more substantial reasons stemming from my appreciation of the Anglo-Saxon ethics I learned as an undergraduate. I laid claim to the title “Sorcerer” in my early 20s, before I was even a mamma.[7] But, while I knew what it meant in my body and in my soul, I was never really sure what that might mean—you know, on paper, with other people looking at it.

Polyphanes wrote a post last week that struck a chord with me. He wrote: “I’m so far over the place, hither and thither, that I break a lot of people’s definitions, preconceptions, and labels. In other words, as befitting my Hermetic nature, I’m a trickster and don’t fit into any one bin, since I’ll just flit right out and into another one. I’d be like a Schrödinger’s Cat of traditions, except with less neurotoxin.” 

I felt a little like an unexplained Copenhagen interpretation too.

I’ve given you the rundown of my Jesuit educational upbringing with Bertie. Though Bertie tried her best to balance Catholic Christianity and Occult-Paganism for me, I held on to some of the vestiges of my Evangelical fears of “evil” and “Hel” for quite a while. I’m not ashamed to admit that. But, today, it seems like a lifetime ago that I was articulating my sense of Evangelical Detox. That’s not to say I discovered it in 2010, but that I had just found the voice to articulate the experience.[8]

Perhaps the most profound experiences are what ended my ongoing tailspin in the last few months. Having gotten back in constant contact with Bertie, I was pressed *from the outside* to journey back to the inside. Having lost Brother Preacherman and Mama Lisa over the summer, I was shocked into appreciating the “call” (or were they saying “caul”?) other folks saw hovering on and about me. Having learned what I’ve learned from Maman Lee a few months back. And having been pressed by The Road Less Traveled to reeeeealy articulate the difference in several traditionssome of which are my own, some of which I didn’t understand nearly as well as I did after being asked to clearly express those distinctions—I found that my voice was there all along. It was a little browbeaten and tired, it had been vilified and colonized—but it was still audible. And it still sounded like me.

Back in December 2011, I think I busted through some hymeneal (hmmm, hymnal?) membrane when I clearly articulated my thoughts about the word “vagina.” It had been—dare I say it—pricking at me for a while. And much like really good sex, once I found the right spot, it was all over.

In February 2012, I picked up the stav I had left idle for too long and started working on Teutonic Shamanism[9]—very close to the pathworking Bertie had taught me in the 90s.[10] It was these pathwork journeys, ironically, that brought me back out of Hel. And how I found my voice.

As for the journey, it’s not at an end. But I’m glad to be trading in these uncomfortable shoes.

So here’s what I’ll tell you in the next few posts:

  • What it means to go to Hel and Back in Teutonic Shamanism
  • Why I’m settling deeper into a new path (or, really, praxis)—that’s not different, just a better amalgamation of what I always was
  • What I’m teaching in Delta, Alabama next month and in Auburn, Alabama in November and December
  • How all of this relates to Wolves and Ulfarnir
  • How you can go to Hel too!

Thanks for sticking it out for this long post.

B, Q, 93,


[1] Which I thought was, “There’s gonna be a party tonight.”

[2] One of whom, at not quite twenty, we lost this week.

[3] Ergo the 2008 in my email address—that was the year I set “stuff” up under the name Ehsha.

[4] This is all a sort of side-story which is more of an irritation than anything real. But it bears mentioning given what I had requested—three witches to teach me. Boy howdy. Witch’s Duh.

[5] This is no disparagement on him. It’s just that everything was the same stuff I had been teaching for years myself—just with different names.

[6] Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. I’m teaching this in a few weeks. Squee.

[7] I remember the conversation with my sister. I didn’t have the language to discuss High Magic versus Low Magic yet, but I knew the connotation of “Sorcerer” versus the connotation of “Witch.” Having always understood Wicca as initiatory, I never laid claim to it as an eclectic idea. I still have a hard time getting my head wrapped around non-initiatory Wicca as “Wicca.”

[8] And it seems kinda trippy to me that I started envisaging an online Pagan Seminary back in September 2008 and started actually working toward it by publishing the results here nearly three years later. Now, here at the end of 2012, it seems the time has come to fully articulate that ambition.

[9] I don’t know how many of you saw the “Wyrd Sister” page before I turned it into the retail page it is now. If you missed it back in January, it aimed at being a page which cataloged my last leg of training in Seiðr. It rapidly got too close to STFU mysteries, so I switched it.

[10] And now I have vajay and stav and pounding jokes running through my head—that’s appropriate.


I am entrenched in a writing project and, thanks to the flu on a few fronts, some make-up work with my students. Strangely, all of these things are focusing on “Magical Timing.” I thought, “Great! The PBP is on the letter T this week and I can write a post for timing and kill three birds with one well aimed stone!’


Seems my “timing” is not as well-tuned as I thought. This week’s post is brought to you by the letter S – not T.

Therefore, I offer a repost and revision of an old post called “Hush, Hush,” one of my very first Files. The subject is Secrecy – a very practical lesson on matter and waves:

Unfortunately, we still live in a place and time where Paganism – or anything outside of the American Christocentric imperative – is not welcome. Primarily, this is because of misunderstanding, but such misunderstanding is often based in jingoistic bias. Of course, we don’t literally burn witches anymore but plenty of people have been burned by the judgment or ridicule of others. So, there is a very “real world” reason for Pagans to maintain in silence and anonymity. This doesn’t mean that I support hypocrisy. I would never recommend that you “pretend” to be something that you are not, but I recommend that you think about all aspects of your secular life before making your spiritual life common knowledge.

Some are fortunate to live in open-minded arenas, some in a less amenable atmosphere. Some have broadminded families, some families will be angry, hurt, upset, even fearful about your decision to study Pagan spiritualties. This isn’t their fault. More than likely, they will base their comments (if you decide to tell them) on their feelings of love for you and their misguided belief that you are “dabbling” in something dark, dangerous, or even demonic.

Aside from avoiding judgment, there are other reasons to maintain silence. Maybe not about being Pagan, but about conducting a Pagan ritual. Many practitioners will tell you that they maintain silence to protect a coven secret or rite. This is all very appropriate and should be respected. But more importantly, I think, there are two reasons to keep silence. Both are very theoretical: one based in psycholinguistics and the other in quantum physics.

One major reason to keep silent involves the nature of magic and of spoken language. For me, to speak is to conjure. Derrida and Lacan knew this. Power resides with those who control language. We can subvert language and we can evolve language, but we only do this because it is language that gives us power. Most popular representations of the magician involves a “magic word”: think of Disney’s many magical characters, the Harry Potter series, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and almost any TV show or movie involving Witchcraft (I particularly remember “Shazam” from the 1970s). Consider Ancient Creation Myths where the universe is spoken into existence: Mesopotamian, MesoAmerican, and Middle Eastern (“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light”). Creation Myths all include a “speaking” into creation.

Another reason to keep silent is to refrain from collapsing the wave. Consciousness moves as light does. It is, therefore, both a particle and a wave; it is also, for that reason, both simultaneously “here” and “not here.” A particle, quite simply, is perceivable matter – something with mass; a wave is a transfer of energy within some substance – i.e. a disturbance in the water or in the air. Light is like quantum matter, constantly vacillating between existing and not existing, literally “popping” in and out of existence. We don’t know where they go. We don’t know from whence they return. Like our consciousness. We know that we enter altered states when in deep sleep; yet we do not know where our consciousness goes or what, if anything, displaces it while it is gone.

This is why spells are told to no one. Sound is wave only.

Everything in existence is nothing more than a wave of information (or possibilities) until we observe it in some way. Until we actually observe the not-yet-a-particle, it’s nothing more than a wave. Until it is observed, the wave is “pure potential” itself, existing in every possibility at the same time. It’s doing everything that is potentially possible – all at once.

Once we observe the wave (speak the secret), it “solidifies” into a material reality.

Much like the collapsed wave, I believe that speaking a thing changes it. I believe that confining the meaning of a Great Mystery to the limits of spoken language can “ruin” a spell. This is like taking “potential everything-ness” and reducing it to an observable/hearable singularity.

This is not to say that language is not used for spell-crafting. But in the instance of casting, language is used in conjunction with the will. This makes the words carry the will rather than the literal meaning of the word. Yes, this is a Mystery. But there seems to be something to the argument that banal or causal conversation without the power of will weakens the power of the spell.

Further, some practitioners believe that speaking a thing makes it so. For this reason, they will never talk of magical affairs without first casting a protective circle. Whenever two or more witches are together and start talking about magic, for fear of “drive by” casting, you are likely to find one who will insist on some witchy prophylaxis. If, as many believe, words are thoughts and thoughts are things, we create every time we speak.

You are encouraged to keep your silence. Protect it. Nurture it. Enshroud it. It is always possible to reveal a thing – it is almost impossible to re-conceal it.

The Articulated Witch

Articulated – Get it?

There is a certain liberty that comes with age. I know that there is a point where, like we did my eldest aunties, that folks will pass off my silliness as doddering foolery.  I can’t wait.

But today I came to realize that even in my early-forties, I have the leisure of ripeness.

I sat with a friend and coworker discussing the “ins” and “outs” of the Pagan-closet as it crossroads with the classroom. She is decidedly in and I am decidedly out. Like I used to, she keeps her pentagram close to the chest, if you’ll excuse the pun, tucking it deep in her shirt. We talked generally about the levels at which we reveal our private lives to our students – she is decidedly private, I am decidedly personal.

She reflected my own sentiments of my past. “I prefer to keep an objective classroom. I don’t like my students to know my politics about anything; I don’t hide from them, but I want them to hear me from a neutral perspective.” I remember thinking that way too. I remember being taught to wear the face of anonymity in the classroom. I remember being observed by a respected superior and being told that I should never let my students see me as a person.

Wait, what?

See, the idea is that if students see teachers as people, they envision our vulnerabilities. I guess that’s scary for some people. But take it from someone with anthropomorphophobia, an automaton is just about the scariest thing ever.[1] I decided a long time ago that that didn’t work for me. I cannot bring myself to represent a caring, nurturing, educationalist in the humanities while protesting my own humanness and still give a flying leap about my kiddos. And guess what? As it turns out, it didn’t work for my students either. I always got great reviews to the tune of: “She’s a hard but fair grader, challenging but super-fun, made me think out-of the box,[2] first English class I ever really enjoyed but I worked my ass off.”[3]

But I let my guard down a little more than half-a-decade ago. I began walking into the classroom and telling kids from the get-go: “I am a Feminist by trade, not just in my philosophy; this is what I do for a living. I am ultra-liberal. My faith is non-Christian.[4] My parents didn’t graduate high-school and I grew up in what you might call ‘the ghetto.’[5] I paid my own way through college. I may become ill from time to time, I will most certainly be in a very bad mood around week eight. I have children not much younger than you. I was born during the Nixon administration[6] and was politically aware by Carter.” In short, I wear me on my sleeve. It turns out that students actually respect that. Like, a lot.

Of course, I still teach them to argue from a neutral perspective, I still teach them about warrants and fallacies and bears, oh my. I teach them that academic writing is about proofs and we cannot prove our faith, therefore faith cannot be used as proof. It’s kinda in the definition of “faith,” ain’t it? The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?[7]

But I did all of this from a “non-Pagan” perspective. I let them in on everything except my religion. Once in a while a sagacious young Witch would come to my office for a conference and say, “Neat runes” or “Love your Spiral Goddess.” Then again, every once in a while I’d have a student tell me that I was a “Real Christian Woman” or that they “could tell [I] love The Lord.” Not that I took those as insults, mind you. Being really Christlike is a feat! It always became obvious (to the more attentive students) by the end of each semester that I was pretty witchy. “Dr. TBW? Are you . . . um Wiccan?”[8]

If you were reading The Files last semester, you know that I decided to live and teach openly as a Witch.[9] It was liberating. I changed the chain on my pentagram to a shorter, more visible length, started alternating it with a Spiral Goddess pendant, wore a raucous charm bracelet made for me by my Bestie – full of cauldrons and pointy hats and crystal balls and various witchy things. I started adding, “I’m Pagan” in place of “My faith is non-Christian.”

Yesterday I learned that one of my honeys, the daughter of a Baptist minister, defended me and my belief system. I had taken my Cultural Diversity class out on the concourse to the “Ask an Atheist” table. We had covered “Religion” just a few weeks ago and it seemed timely. Sadly, the Atheists were poorly informed and my students (now well informed) ate them alive. I was very disappointed. My goal was to have my students have a positive encounter with a diverse perspective, instead they met with a dude who didn’t really know the meaning of Gnosticism and Agnosticism, misquoted the Bible (to a bunch of PKs, no less), and was very misinformed about current sciences. I was truly disappointed.

Until – this gorgeous Christian girl says, “Thanks Dr. Bad Witch. I feel like I can really articulate my faith. I’m surprised that a Witch taught me more about what it means to be a faithful Christian that I ever learned in Sunday School. But then again, no I’m not.” I win.

Apparently, after class was over, some of my students stayed out on the concourse philosophizing with Atheists. All reports are that they were articulate and level-headed (well, mostly). There were a few other Atheists that were a little more erudite and my Southern Baptist Preacher’s Daughter drew herself over to talk with them. They said to her that my questions seemed to come from a Conservative Southern Baptist Lady perspective. She laughed heartily and said something like, “You just hear everything that you disagree with as ‘Conservative Baptist.’ She’s one of the most open-minded and highly-spiritual people you ever missed the chance to talk to. She’d make you a better Atheist if you’d let your defenses down and have a real conversation!” Winning some more.

This isn’t for every teacher. I really don’t even advocate it. My personality is – how have I heard it put? – “big enough”[10] to handle any backlash.

Plus, I have age on my side. When I was in my twenties, I sure couldn’t pull this off. In my thirties, I wasn’t self-possessed enough to bring my own faith into the classroom. Ten years after being distrusted by a fellow grad student for wearing that pentagram t-shirt, I have come a long way baby. Poised, clever, and going entirely gray, no one ever questions me for bringing The Bad Witch out into the open. I don’t worry about job security, I don’t worry about being harassed, I don’t worry about anything from my co-workers or neighbors. Because, today I have the ability to articulate my faith in a way that I didn’t have in 2002. Or 2005. Or even 2008.

I was a Witch back then, yes; that’s not in question. I had been well trained, I knew my subject matter. But I had kept my faith hermited away from prying eyes, only entering into discussion with “the initiated” so I could rely on common knowledge. It’s when I allowed myself to be questioned – when I made myself vulnerable to censure – that I knew that I knew what was right. See, until we are tested by an outsider, we don’t really know if we can enunciate our faith.

It’s like the first time I was asked by someone outside my department, “What’s your dissertation topic?” Everyone in my department had seen the PDFs I printed off, the books delivered by the library courier, the colloquium topics I addressed, so they didn’t really have to ask. When I was asked, all I could stammer out was “Masculinity Studies,” “Cold War Era,” “American Film Industry.” The inquirer added, “But specifically? What’s your thesis?” We are taught to regurgitate a formulaic phrase encapsulating our dissertation, but that’s not really “familiarity with the subject,” now is it?

After I finished that bad-boy, I could tell you about the texts, the history, the interconnectivity of McCarthism and Robert Aldrich’s mid-career films, anything you wanted to know about Enola Gay, and waaay too much about The Merry Pranksters. In my sleep.[11]

That’s how I feel about being The Bad Witch in the classroom. I’ve done my homework, I’ve honed my vocabulary. If I had to walk into a defense with a panel of experts in the field (or, you know, whichever four faculty members get conned into the job), I’d pass with flying colors.

Corny, yes. But I have faith in that.

B, Q, 93


[1] EH-VER!

[2] They actually hate that.

[3] And the inevitable singular belligerent review: “I hate her, she sucks, fire her, burn her.”

[4] I didn’t tell them what yet – wait for it.

[5] That is, unless you’d really seen a ghetto – most of them have not.

[6] This circumvents the “How old is she?” conversation pretty early on, it’s an English class, but some of them can do math.

[7] I usually tell them that I don’t want them to sully their faith by using it as proof. It strikes a chord.

[8] Aghhhhhhh!!!!! “No, dear; but that’s a nearby neighborhood.” *winks at student*

[9] During my first semester as a grad student I wore a pentagram t-shirt to a poetry class on October 31st, about two months into my stint in the Deep South. I got so many slant-eyed looks from a particular classmate, that I decided not to do that again. Fortunately my teacher had the good sense to stick up for me.

[10] I’ve been told that I’m “a lot.” Once I was called “energetic” in a way that didn’t feel complimentary.

[11] Now, not so much. I have to look stuff up. But, hell, I’ve moved on to newer topoi.

The Old Grey Mare, She Ain’t What She Used to Be; Thank Goodness

All this talk about evolution lately and what I’ve been trying to get at is so simple: I’ve changed the “thesis” of this blog a number of times and I’ve finally settled on what I mean to do.

First – this was intended to be a place where I could warn y’all off of some bad experiences. I was experiencing life with some very bad witches and hoped to keep you apprised of the pitfalls.

Second – it tried to be about teaching the practice of Witchcraft.Those shoes didn’t fit – so I branched out to Open Path (which languishes in the months where I have to teach in the classroom).

The reason the fit was so poor is because the shoe was forced on – like Cinderella’s slipper on a substantial -footed step-sister. It’s like this: The Bad Witch *will* teach if it’s called for. And I’m damned good at it. Really effing good. But I’m a researcher at heart. My passion has always been research and writing (not *teaching* research and writing). [1]

You know that saying, “Those who can’t *do*, teach”? (And those who can’t teach, teach Phys Ed.) I call bullshit. That’s an elitist, tenure-based-hierarchical ball of pus that researchers who are not good at teaching like to tell themselves. And each other. And the teachers who hold up the university superstructure that allows them to be researchers.

Teaching is hard. Dang hard. It involves an ability to both do and teach others to do. It’s two skill-sets in one.

Those who can’t teach well, shouldn’t teach at all, in my opinion. Just like those who are not gentle and sympathetic should stay the feck out of medicine and geriatrics. As a teacher, I know lots of teachers. As a parent, I know lots of teachers. Not all teachers are good teachers. Some are just doing it for a paycheck. But some – ah, some – some are fan-flipping-tastic and will change your life. Those are the people who should be teaching.

Wait, I take that back. I am a fan-flipping-tastic teacher who changes students’ lives. But I’m trying to argue that I should not be a teacher.

So – you have to be fan-flipping-tastic and you have to be passionate about teaching and learning.

I used to be both. I’m not anymore. Maybe again someday – just not now.

But that door swings both ways, right? You can’t just be passionate about teaching. You also have to be passionate about learning. But – here’s the rub. In order to be a good teacher, you must also be a good researcher. I mean, you can’t teach what you don’t know – right?


Imagine if The Bad Witch were to teach architecture from her gut? It’d be like Jericho every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30-10:45. I guarantee. The structures might look pretty on the outside – and may even be logically formed on the inside; but I wouldn’t want to be there seeking shelter should a stiff wind blow. No solid foundations would be found.

Or even something more intuitive. Imagine if TBW were to teach something aesthetic like “Art Appreciation.”[2] I mean, I know what I like. I know what makes sense to me artistically. I know how to get students to talk about what evokes what in art – I can pull touchy-feely-BS out of my hat for hours and make it sound like law. But – but- but – if I know nothing about the Dadaist movement or about Minimalism, how in the feck am I supposed to teach students about the truth behind Jackson Pollok or Kazimir Malevich’s “Red Square”? Anyone can tell you if they “like” it – can they tell you they “understand” it? That’s real learning. And I have to understand Marx before I can get to Dada. And before I can teach the Avant-garde I have to understand the “stale tradition” to which it is reacting.

Horribly embarrassing side note:

The first research paper I’d ever given at a conference was superb. To this day (almost 25 years, three kids, and two advanced degrees in literature later), I can go back to it and gather bits of fabulousness. It was about the differences in the bite-marks on the necks of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The title of the paper was, “The Displaced Vagina.” I was a fresh undergraduate and making my way through a Gothic lit course (Dracula, btw, is a Victorian novel – just saying). I had no idea who Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, or even deBouvoir were. After the paper, I got kudos all around. But during the Q&A someone asked me if I was going to include the French feminists in my work. (Horror of horrors,) I answered, “It’s a British novel written in the late 19th-Century; why would I include French authors from the mid-20th-Century?” I didn’t even have the good sense to be embarrassed. 

Today when I think about that exchange, I’m mortified. At the time, I didn’t know Irigaray from a hole in the – wait, bad pun.

But the paper itself, the instinct that caused me to connect the literary dots, the historical background, the biographical background, the textual evidence – it was all magnificent. Graceful. Insightful.

For an undergraduate paper.

However, I was poorly prepared to enter into the realm of conferences with its professional professorate – all of whom seem fairly willing to turn their heads and smile sympathetically when a youngon’ (especially someone else’s youngon’) makes a mess on the hotel conference room carpet. But scholarly conferences also have egotistical PhD candidates, angry permanent adjunct-faculty, and “that dude who always has to try to force you to make your work about his most recent project” – you know him. I was simply not ready to play with the big-dogs. I am now. But I wasn’t then.

(I suppose you could just say, “Well, Imma stay the H-E-double-hockey-sticks away from conferences then.” To which I’d have to say, “Really? And miss out on a learning experience?”)

My point in sharing this painful, awkward, undignified experience is just to say – if you have decided to be a teacher, you have to ask yourself, “Do I only have great instincts which make my thesis interesting at an undergraduate level; am I actually out of my league as a scholar?” It’s a hard question. And when we’ve gotten great kudos from those who didn’t expect eminence from the pen of a freshman, it’s a hard pill to swallow that we might not be “all that.” It’s very hard to admit that we might have to put in a little more shadow-work. It’s even harder to admit that, in order to teach Poe and Dark Romanticism (American Gothic) we might have to learn about things we don’t like learning about – like Transcendentalism (and the Harvard Divinity School which spawned it), blech. Especially when we’ve pulled so much lovely intuitive BS out of our hats in the past and we’ve made it sound like law for so long that even we believe we are erudite.  (I mean, it’s easy to fool a Pagan-metaphorical-freshman into thinking we’re knowledgeable. It takes a Pagan-metaphorical-grad student or a Pagan-metaphorical-PhD to call us on our Pagan-metaphorical-“what about the French-school” shortcomings.)

Today, I’m mortified that this little exchange happened. Sure. Would I ever like to ever in a million years show my ass like that in semi-public? Hells-to-the-no.

But I am also able to look back and say, “Dang, I’ve always been pretty intuitive; indeed this field of study is for me.” That’s a good affirmation.  Also, now? Sheezus, I know so much more than I did in the 80s and 90s. And, and, and I realize that there is so much more to learn. It’s magnificent. Looking back at what a squirrel I was then, knowing where I am now, and looking forward to looking back again in a decade or so – knowing even more? Can’t hate on that. Really can’t.[3]

Thank goodness I had good teachers.

So, yeah. Decent teachers have to be even better researchers.

Again, shite.

Teachers – good teachers – have to do it all. And they have to love doing it. For little or no pay, mind you. And no real cultural cache.[4]

And this goes for Pagan teachers of Pagan subjects too. We don’t get off the hook just because there is no system of accreditation for solitary teachers. Right? Right. We have to be both knowledgeable (about our tradition and about traditions aside from our own) and passionate. We can’t skate by on good looks and silver tongues forever (I’ve known a history professor or two to prove it).

In the end, this is all to say that teachers (good teachers who do their research and remain passionate and able to engage students in scholarly discussion) have my ultimate respect. But I can’t do it anymore. I’m tired. I think I may have been doing it for the wrong reasons. (Being told: “You’re good at this, you should do it full time.” Being told: “We need more teachers like you.” Truth of it is, being “good” at teaching, just like being passionate about teaching, is not enough.)

And, to be honest, I’d love to sit a spell in the classroom and be a student for about a minute-and-a-half.

Thirdly, and finally – this blog has come to be a product of real passion: research and writing about Pagan practices, Pagan ethics, and Pagan hermeneutics (especially those that fall squarely in the crosshairs of Paganism and JudoChristianity).

While there are still some bad experiences with some bad witches, and I will still keep you apprised of the pitfalls, and while there will be plenty of teaching and learning moments along the way, I want to keep solid scholarship as the forefront of my objective.

Hope you’re all still in for the ride.

You may notice a few of my posts migrating over to Open Path from time to time, though I may never get to it. I’ll leave a bread-trail.

And who’s to say that this won’t take a fourth turn? I’m actually thinking about adding a page on “Introspections” for anyone voyeuristic enough to read over my current hermitlike state and the permutations of my shadow-work (those appropriate to publish). Maybe. We’ll call it “The Bad Laundry” or something irreverent.

Sorry if this came across as melancholy. I’m not downhearted, I’m simply shocked at my own relief. Looking back on the Seven of Cups, I had too much on my plate to enjoy.

Less horrible sidenote: My husband recently went to China where, as I understand it, there is a cultural practice that says: “If it’s been offered to you, you are obliged to take it.” He says mealtimes complete with non-stop drinking and smoking were so overly-indulgent that he dreaded them. It’s like that. Too much of a good thing is often just too much.

I’m learning to say no to some of the things I’m offered so that I can concentrate on the things that really get my blood pumping. Like research writing. This time Pagani style! (Wow, there’s a seeming linguistic oxymoron.) I’m paring back. Making choices instead of having choices thrust upon me. I’m stepping back and smelling the flowers – the ones I planted but never got to enjoy. I’m going to have my cheesecake and I’m going to eat it too, goshdarnit.

I have a woodshop full of wood just begging to be carved. I have a sewing-room full of fabric to be sewn into fabulousness – and a commercial

My last oil project (2004); I never really finished.

grade serger in my shopping cart that I might just purchase after all. I even bought new sable brushes and paint. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – oil, not the instant gratification of acrylic. Not this year. This year I’m going to Skype with my brilliantly talented sister (whose work is at, just saying) and go toe-to-toe painting and chicken farming. I’m going to say yes to that plastic index card box full of ideas that I intended to get to “someday.” I’m going to say “no” to the (third) job offer I was given. I’m going to say “no” to the (two) TV projects I was asked to join. Sounds like tons of fun, but I can’t carry a ton right now. (I can make a recommendation for a substitute, right?) I’m going to teach my son to cook jambalaya. And I’m taking my daughter shopping for a prom dress.

But I’m keeping my maid.

Thanks for listening to my prattle. I’ll be more on-task next time. Just needed to vent.

BB & 93,


[1] As a matter of fact, in my secular work, though (due to bureaucratic university nonsense) I would have had to do it in 2013, I have opted to pace myself back to teaching “part time” (a year early) so I can work on all of my non-teaching projects. I’ve never felt such a relief.

[2] Lahws, the reason Mona Lisa Smile is such a good movie about teaching (if nothing else) is because Julia Roberts’ character both loves teaching and is very well informed on her subject. Sure, she asks her students to figure it out on their own, but at least she knows where she’s aiming.

[3] ‘Less’n you’re just lookin’ for somethin’ to hate on.

[4] Don’t get me wrong, some teachers derive a great deal of validation by being king/queen of their classroom realm. And that’s valid.

Evolution, Esoteria, and Extinction

This is gonna be a long one. I thought about splitting this into several posts, but fear that that would lead to several equally long-winded posts. So, just hear me out if you’ve got some time. If not, just skip to the end.

In 2006, while still a grad student, I wrote a paper for a colloquium[1] – and had the nerve to present it to the graduate faculty of my own university. (Take it from The Bad Witch, this is proverbially shitting where one eats.) I had gone to MLA in the months before and heard Michael Berube and Cary Nelson talk about the deteriorating status of contingent labor.[2] My reason for writing this paper was that the work we do in the English Department is poorly understood by the general population.  (I dare say, some of us don’t understand what others in our own department do.)  This poor understanding precedes popular criticism that derides our scholarship as “obtuse” or “meaningless.”  This criticism is often advanced in service of an ideology at odds with the democratic underpinnings of a liberal arts education and usually follows these lines: “English Departments should stick to teaching grammar and punctuation rather than teaching kids to be Marxists, feminists, homosexuals, or worse – grad students.”  Just the year before this colloquium, James Pierson authored The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy which confirmed that the expectation of the English department has become primarily to teach rudimentary writing skills – and business writing at that – the kind of writing that earns income.

Paganism, I know – I’m getting to it, just trust The Bad Witch for a minute.

Those within the Literature track of the English Department believe that they are entitled to relevance as “the keepers of culture.”  They say, “Why of course Literature is relevant!  Students should want to read both The Decameron and Ulysses and everything in between because it will enrich them with character; it will give them a soul.”[3]  Others, like myself, have heard the voices from outside the ivory tower which are caterwauling for us to justify our existence (and public funding).[4] Don’t forget grade inflation conundrum.

I had hoped to have fellow-graduate students in my audience; this paper was written for them as the target audience, after all. I addressed them immediately:

I imagine you have all had this experience.  You tell someone that you are earning a degree in English and . . . they assume a pathetic demeanor and reply, “Oh, then you are planning to teach.”  What’s worse is when they ask about your specialty.  Either you answer something like “Eighteenth Century Poetry” or “Modern Political Drama” OR you answer “Representation Theory,” “Regional American Linguistics,” or (god forbid) “Gender Studies.”  You lose either way, because either you will confirm for them that you are studying what is perceived as The Dead White Guys or you confirm for them that the Department of English is intentionally opaque, obscure, and obsolete.

But, alas, when I saw the program, my paper had been placed on a panel with brilliant but unappreciated “Topics in Rhetoric.” And to my chagrin, there was a concurrent panel with circus clowns and free candy. Guess where the grad students went? I walked into the room where my panel was scheduled and faced the academic firing squad: the surliest portion of the grad faculty.[5] Among these was the Bloom-worshiping, conservative Twentieth-Century American Poetry teacher who told me that I wielded gender theory like a blunt object.[6]

I explained all of the intricacies, but in the end, fewer English majors mean fewer specialist positions – and an increase in faculty stratification.  This stratification (along tenurable and nontenurable lines) creates a lower morale in the department as a whole and increases insularity.  I predicted that it would also “create a job market that will have all of us shaking in our boots for a decade or more.” There was a lot more to the paper, but who cares – this is just the sounding board for my real point. A point about Paganism – I’m getting to it. I promise.

I ended up entirely right and am now surrounded by an anxious and demoralized body of co-workers. Sometimes I hate being right.

The problem, I asserted was that:

So many of us perpetuate what Goeffrey Sirc bemoans as the dulling influence of academic polity, which has led many grad students to (re)produce the sort of prose and responses which correspond to our mentor’s work and therefore buys us kudos at a time when we are vulnerable and in need of affirmation.

So to sum up: grad students perpetuate what tradition (via mentors) deems scholarly. However, the public deems it futile.  Further, because we are misunderstood and disregarded as ineffectual, we no longer draw the undergraduate majors that we used to. Therefore, liberal arts have among the lowest pay in the university, in a culture that equates material compensation with worth.

The question becomes, imho: how do we make English Literature valuable to students who only take World Literatures because they “have to” in order to get their degrees in Science, Engineering, and Business Administration?  I advocated an interdisciplinary approach. Think about Science in the English classroom.  I teach Darwin’s Decent of Man in my World Literature class.  Not because I teach evolution, but because I think Charles Darwin provides a fabulous read and makes a nice connection between Frankenstein and Wordsworth.  Plus, I tend to have a lot of various COSAM students and this is a good bridge text.  All of my students typically love it; though the ones who don’t read continue to think that Darwin claimed man evolved from apes.  Didn’t happen.  One thing Darwin did claim is that those species which evolve adaptations that better suit their surroundings will survive better than those that cannot/do not adapt.  “Survival of the Fittest” does not refer to strength – lion over gazelle (or Science and Math over Liberal Arts) – it refers to appropriateness in adaptation – fins over feet.

True story.  There is a pond and a biologist who studies that pond – actually the fish in that pond.  Some of the fish reproduce asexually – they are haploid clone fish.  Genetically, each offspring is an exact duplicate of its parent.  There are, in that same pond, diploid or polyploid sexually reproducing fish of that same species.  They get one set of alleles from each parent.  This is nature’s preferred method of reproduction – organisms typically receive one set of homologous chromosomes from each parent.  The benefit of cloning is that ALL of the parent’s DNA gets passed on to the next generation and then the next generation and then the next generation – the species remains pure.  The sexual reproducers lose out since only half of their DNA make it to the next generation and less gets passed on to the generation after that – you get the idea.  But. One year a virus invaded the pond.  It was a predator.  The clone fish were able to fight the virus at first, but when the virus mutated and the clone fish stayed the same, the clone fish were eradicated.  The diploid reproducers evolved; they built up a resistance to the virus and they survived.

Such phenomena have many implications in biological sciences and specifically genetics; but what the heck does it have to do with English?  (And what the heck does it have to do with Paganism and Witchcraft?) I’m sure that if you’ve read any of the other Bad Witch Files, you know that I am ever-ready to talk to you in terms of metaphor.

We are like the fish in the pond.  Those of us who integrate new material into our work are more likely to evolve and therefore survive.  Those of us who clone, may not.

I do not advocate the kind of cross-pollination that waters-down the discipline.  Literary Studies remain Literary Studies, Wicca remains Wicca; but I advocate doing it in such a way that involves other disciplines, more like symbiosis. Or microevolution.[7] It’s hard, because it means that as a scholar and a teacher (academics or spirituality), you have to know more than one discipline.  It’s also hard because it involves going out on an evolutionary limb of our own rather than cloning our mentors’ work.[8]  A proposal which is sticky. Some feel that this advocating of hybridism will result in nothing short of bastardization of Studies in English.  But do a quick Google search: any state schools still have a Classics Department?  How many still teach Old English?  Because of its perceived obtuseness, Classics Departments have generally been absorbed into the English Major or cut altogether.  Such topics in English are going the way of the Dodo.  Extinction is the result of a failure to evolve. [9]

Just look at the Catholic Church.

Here’s the real question for those of you scrolling to the end.

What does that mean for Pagan and, more pointedly, Witchcraft traditions? Does that start an argument against traditionalism? Or is Witchcraft, by virtue of being intentionally esoteric,[10] insular, enigmatic and secretive, consequentially immune to outside annihilation?

If I was right – and I maintain that I was/am – when grad students perpetuate canonical tradition at the expense of scholarly innovation (which the broader populace derides), Liberal Arts – already esoteric to some – maintains the misunderstood position as “impractical.” Consequently, the discipline attracts fewer students. The domino effect is that teachers are less valuable and less compensated. This makes a career in teaching liberal arts less attractive which, snowball, snowball, snowball . . . .

But, in many Pagan traditions, we try our damndest to maintain “pure” traditions and to stay in line with ancient practices. This isn’t the first time I’ve asked a question like this, but it’s the first time I’ve asked it outright: Is this even a good idea?

We pretty much agree that wine is OK instead of blood. We concede that (some) sex can be symbolic. We recognize the impracticality of many traditional tools and find that a system of “correspondences” and “substitutions” is the key to magical-proxy.[11] But then we say that other traditions are non-negotiable. Again, like my question about gender, I find myself asking where we draw the line.

Am I comparing apples and oranges here? Polyphanes recent commentary on The Digital Ambler In Terms of Another” makes me ask myself: “Am I trying to discuss a biological impulse in terms of a mathematical algorithm?”[12]

I don’t have an answer.

I’m seriously considering this conundrum.

This one may plague me for a minute.

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.”

[1] “Going Public in The English Department.” In Higher Ed Studies, “Going Public” generally refers to a lifting of the academic veil that shrouds our department in secretive obscurity.  Yes, we are the keepers of culture; yes, we have a responsibility to maintain the integrity of the written arts.  But not at the risk of insularity and exclusion.  Think about it, if we hide culture away in an enigmatic and exclusive circle – sure we succeed in maintaining scholarly integrity but we also fail at affecting the greater society around us – which is in dire need of some high art and cultural awareness.  Yeah? I was The Bad Grad Student too.

[2] Not to be confused with contentious labor.

[3] Yup. Somebody said that to me. I reminded him that my illiterate auntie has (and all of my Mvskogee ancestors who never had much use for written literature had) a bigger soul than he ever would.

[4] As a case in point consider this.  I took part in a Graduate School Research Forum and after one of my comrades in English gave what I considered a well-thought-out talk for an anti-hunger project, one of the judges said something like, “I don’t mean to be a grumpy old man, but what’s the point?  Literature isn’t going to change the world.” Not even within the walls of the academy are we safe from such raw criticism.

[5] The affable portion was in the room with the clowns and candy, obvs.

[6] My response was, “Like a phallus?”

[7] I’ll concede to use this term even though I know that there is no relevant difference between microevolution and macroevolution. Both happen comparably. When biologists use different terms, it’s for descriptive reasons. When creationists use it, it’s for ontological reasons. I’m neither a biologist or a creationist, so I have nothing at stake.

Geological Time Spiral. Want an explanation? Click to link.

[8] And while evolution is typically imagined as a linear progression, in our imagination (supported by geological evidence), evolution can have the ebb and flow of the tides, the orbit of the Wheel of Fortune, the Great and Sacred Spiral.

[9] There is a counterargument to hybridism – but for our purposes here, let me limit myself to the positive results of hybridism.  I’m always dragging a COSAM student around the English Department; they leave saying, “I didn’t know you could do that with English.”  The big payoff is – they go out into the broader university and say things like, “I was talking to this woman from the English Department about co-writing an article about artistic renderings of seed pods in early twentieth-century biology textbooks.”  This is like the movement of gene flow which allows new genes and characteristics to spread from their population of origin – the English Department – throughout the species – or university – as a whole.

[10] When TBW was a kiddo in Chicago, there was a club called Esoterica. I have happy memories associated with this word.

[11] Holy hot-hell, my brain just went into a mode of Structuralist and Deconstructionist Theory from which I will run post-haste.

[12] But – – that’s a whole nother ball of, well, balls to be well-explored over a pint or two. Or six. (Tee, hee, I wrote “sex” and had to revise.)