Secrecy

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!’

Grumble.

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.

Q&A With TRLT: Part 3, Sorcery

The Road Less Traveled gave me quite a compliment in recognizing the efforts I make to be evenhanded about my opinions. I am not God, not even a Bad God, therefore I can only speak to my human beliefs and my personal preferences. I’ve learned that, unfortunately, there are those who do not respect the convictions of others – surprisingly, even among Pagans. And I do make a real effort. Perhaps it is my legal background but I learned early on that it’s better to think things through before committing them to writing. If something is worth saying, it’s worth saying well, no?

Thanks for the very real kudos.

Let me begin by saying that not all folks who consider themselves Witches adhere to ritual structures as found in Wicca – or any structures at all. As I pointed out in “Part I,” not all Witches are Wiccans. And as I pointed out in “Wannabethans,” there are plenty of Witches who unknowingly use Wiccan practices. However, there are plenty of Witches who fly by the seat of their broomsticks. No circle, no quarters, no nothin’. They are still Witches. Further, there are some Witches who do not “practice Magic” at all. They consider themselves spiritualists, philosophers, herbalists, healers, and folks who observe the cycles of the earth. Sometimes these people are sensitives, mystics, and prophets – but that’s not a “requirement.”

Like I said in my reply to your second set of questions:

My view [of nonWiccan Witches] is that there are potentially as many ways of practicing as there are practitioners. . . . I actually kinda hate it that the only amalgamated definition we have for non-Wiccan Witchcraft is a definition based in what it is not: non-Wiccan. From a Lacanian perspective, this is disempowering – “lack.” If you have another term, I’d love to hear it! I’d be a big fan of coming up with a new, holistic, empowering term. Sadly, Traditional Witchcraft and British Witchcraft connote Gardnerian Wicca.

So, given all that, I would say seiðr is not a European folk magic in that it is a sort of sorcery. . . .

But what is the difference between Sorcery and Witchcraft, you ask? So much that there is an ongoing discussion that ranges from A to Z and back again. There are volumes of books, article, and blogs dedicated to the subject(s). So, I know you will understand that I am just hitting the high-points here. The nuances are so varied that I can’t possibly include them all in one post, but will make some attempt to point them out in later posts if there’s an interest. Deal?

Before I throw my hat in the ring, here are a few outside sources for you. I wouldn’t want you to just take my word for it!

  • I disagree with about half of this WitchVox article – the connotations of half of it at least – but feel it’s worth looking at anyway.
  • Then there’s this forum repost of Silver Ravenwolf’s perception of High/Low Magic.
  • In this thread, SingingBear argues that, “The real names should be Ceremonial and Earth Magic not High and Low Magic.” I think that’s a better delineation; it avoids the misunderstanding that there is a value judgment involved. But, like I mentioned earlier – I don’t remember where, Sorcerers can be, admittedly, imperious. I tend to like that about us.
  • This post addresses the possible confusion between “Low Magic” and “Dark Magic” or “Black Magic,” a subject I may end up covering in a post sooner rather than later.

To me it seems to be a bit like this:

I’ll repeat some of what I said in “High Magic Versus Low Magic, What’s the Difference?” (Bear in mind that “High” and “Low” are not value judgments. You might say it has a little to do with “astrological” and “terrestrial,” respectively.) Low Magic is a pretty broad set of practices and philosophies which do not require specific ceremony and ritual. Low Magic does not require intensive study or understanding of ancient traditions. Low magic is what you might call “every day magic.” It’s “practical magic.” You do this kind of magic to practical, terrestrial ends. Low Magic frequently requires nothing more than the individual’s will and maybe a handful of materials. More importantly, Low Magic typically seeks to create “spells” that offer tangible/terrestrial/material benefit to the personal/earthly self. This includes protection spells, money drawing spells, spells to encourage good luck, and love spells. This is where Witchcraft typically corresponds.

High Magic, on the other hand, includes a set of very exacting practices which require specific tools, including  – often exotic – ingredients and astrological timing; language use, not always English – hell, not always terrestrial languages; and even “real estate.” Consider the requirements of the Abramelin Operation – no kidding Crowley bought a house in, no shite, Loch Ness, Scotland.[1] High Magic is far more formal and utterly saturated with ancient and esoteric traditions: the Hermetic Arts, Alchemy, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, and Angelic Evocation.[2] These require a great deal of ritual and ceremony. Often, operations take a very long time: days, months, up to a year, and longer. John Dee, adviser to Queen Elizabeth – and the original 007, and his sidekick, Edward Kelley took many years to complete the “Angelic Reception” of what is now referred to as Enochian. If you don’t know about these characters and are interested in Sorcery, I advise you start here. Though Dee’s is one of the most complex systems, it is worth the time and effort spent in studying his process.

Quite possibly the greatest difference is purpose. The goal of High Magic in the Western tradition is to have knowledge and communication with the Magician/Sorcerer’s personal agathodemon or Holy Guardian Angel (HGA), the embodiment of one’s truest divine nature. High Magic also differentiates itself from Low Magic in that High Magic is generally has a more intangible goal. It is geared toward nothing more than self-enrichment and enlightenment. “Being closer to ‘God’.” It is intended to have the goal of communication with “higher” entities (Divinities, Spirits, Angels, etc.) in order to bring one’s self into accord with Divine Will.[3] But, of course, it’s even more complicated than that – I assure you.

Further, Sorcery or High Magic is not a religion. It is a set off praxes and can (like Hoodoo, I suppose) be practiced alongside a religion. There are Judeo-Christian Sorceries, Islamic Sorceries, Chinese Traditional Religious Sorceries, etc. It is from these arts that concepts such as casting a circle, invoking deities, and evoking spirits is adopted liberally by “New Age” practice.

This leads me back around to another aspect of Low Magic. Low Magic, aside from “Craft-Work,” also encompasses the highly ritualized communication with “lower” entities. Yes, I am talking about demons. But I am not talking about worshiping demons, I am talking about wrangling them into a cooperative state and putting them to work. Look up the legend of King Solomon. (Here’s one source.)

I don’t want to get into Goetia or demonic evocation too much in this post since I could go on for pages and pages. But, in a nutshell, my idea of a demon is a “disorganized” entity – not necessarily evil but certainly capable of deception and unwarranted destruction that could, to a human perception, be interpreted as evil. For those of you who have no experience with demonic evocation, the best metaphor I can use is this: imagine a demon as a feral three year old on a party-party-sugar high. Left to its own devices, it will be destructive and loud and bothersome. Calm it down and give it something constructive to do and you’ll have better luck. Further, for those of you who still have Christian remnants of “demons” hiding under your metaphorical beds, imagine this: If we believe in an omnipresent deity, and I do, then there is nowhere where God is not. So, guess what? If there is a hell, however you define it, God is there too. If we believe in an omnipotent deity, and I do, then there is nothing beyond God’s use. If there are demons, however you define them, they can be put to divine use.

Yes, it’s more complicated than that.

Because I would be remiss in this discussion if I were not to include a word or two from Lon Milo DuQuette, here is a page from Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2010. 10-11)[4]:

So what is the source of this power? For me, it seems that some of the power comes from the intercessory “spirit” or “entity,” some from the Sorcerer, some from the ritual itself. But given that all of those parties derive power from “The Almighty Creator,” that’s from where all of the power ultimately comes. But, alas, I am not divine and can only relay my perception. I believe in an all-God because that’s how I’ve experienced my life and how I’ve learned to articulate those experiences. I can imagine that there are others with entirely different perceptions and ways of formulating those perceptions.

Finally, you asked if, as Maman Lee stated would happen to a hoodoo, can power be divinely revoked from a Sorcerer or Magician?

I’m going with, “Yes.”

For three reasons.

If I believe that God is all-powerful, and I do, then it stands to reckon that God has the authority to revoke any and all talents given to a human.

Also, there are ways of granting a Magus or Witch precisely what s/he asks for but doing it in such a way that it utterly destroys his/her life. Whereas the “Witch’s Duh” is a shortfall in the spellwork itself, I believe that there are other kinds of divine retribution. Be careful what you want – it might want you back, sort of thing. Getting what we want instead of getting what’s “good” for us is often the best cosmic punishment.

Further, if the architect of the ritual believes that s/he has trespassed, s/he will place her/himself in a psychological state where no Magic is possible. i.e. We can “psych ourselves out.” In this case, I still see it as God revoking power from the practitioner. In my opinion, this is a case where The Creator has “built in” a default auto-destruct mechanism. This idea deserves a post of its own. Someday.

There is so much more to it all. I can’t hope to cover everything there is to cover in this meager blog, but I hope that I have pointed you in a direction to pursue your own truth.

Well, that was a fun foray into comparative practices!

Blessings, Quarks, and 93,

The Bad Witch


[1] He also bought an “Abbey” in Sicily – from which Benito Mussolini’s government eventually chucked him in 1923. I mean when Mussolini kicks you out of Sicily, you’re not doing a low-prep “spell” for personal gain.

[2] This is just to speak to Western systems. There are Middle Eastern (aside from Jewish) and Far Eastern systems of which I know very, very little.

[3] Yes, of course, there are secondary and tertiary benefits to this aspiration.

[4] I used to set my clock by DuQuette. I don’t anymore. But this section – this I still like.

Q&A With The Road Less Traveled: Part I

This one is for The Road Less Traveled who posed some questions after my “Interview With Maman Lee.” I’m going to have to break this down a bit since no one really wants to read an article length blog post! Plus, I rekon having this in my scholarly voice instead of the Badness you’ve all grown to know and love, will make the ride a little different road.

Let me take a minute up front to thank you for the intricately detailed and elegant set of questions you’ve posed for me. I have been modestly berating myself for working more on “fun” projects then getting to the framework of my research (I have over 27,000 words of the “innards” but none of the (sometimes tedious to develop) super-structure. Thanks to your prod in the right direction, I have churned out these posts and about 30 more pages of a much-needed exoskeleton, thereby freeing me up to dedicate the weekend to research. Being encouraged by this headway has renewed my attentiveness to the project. So, thanks.

Bear in mind that I am not Haitian, nor am I descended from Haitians; I am not a Voodooist (initiated or otherwise). I make no claims to proficiency, expertise, or secret knowledge. But I will do my best to make a response based in logic and research. Also bear in mind that in our fields there are varying opinions, to say the least. The only reason I venture to address these topics is because I was asked to, not because I feel a need to create some sort of standardization among those opinions. What follows is simply my scholarly “take” on the questions at hand.

For instance, some folks lump Witchcraft and Wicca together and have good reasons for doing so. Ethan Doyle White, for one, argues that because of “common use,” we should not differentiate between initiates of Traditional Wicca and eclectic practitioners who refer to their practices as “Wiccan” (“The Meaning of “Wicca”: A Study in Etymology, History and Pagan Politics”. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 12 (2): Feb. 2011, 185–207). I happen to disagree. This does not diminish White’s claims or his argument. It simply means that, as a scholar, I can accept his argument as valuable while still holding to my own rationale.

Like my daddy says, “Just ‘cuz them beans give me gas don’t mean no one should eat’em.”

OK, maybe it’s not just like that but still.

This segues well into the first set of questions.

The first half of the first question TRLT asks is:

What exactly is the main difference between European Witchcraft, sorcery, and Hoodoo? Aren’t they all different forms of magic? Is there difference simply the way people who practice these different systems do things?

This is laden with many questions so let me parse them out as best I can. (I’ll address the second half of that question and questions 2-3 as we go along this week. Maybe even ending on a PBP post – what is it this week? Still R?)

As for the difference between European Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Hoodoo, there is a basic difference in cultural development. First, I must address the multifold differences in European Witchcraft alone. Not only are there differences in folk-ways across the continent, there is a distinct difference between folk magics and Wiccan-based crafts. European Witchcraft is not a homogenous model. In itself, the multifaceted set of traditions contains a number of divergent cultures. Both Norway and Italy are in Europe, yet the Vǫlur’s practice of seiðr, in the form or galdr and other shamanic practices is very different from the folk magics of, say, Sardinia. Further, today’s vala and gyda will have very different practices (based on access, technology, laws, and cultural necessity) than their ancient ancestors. What’s more, practices in Italy itself can vary greatly from the mainland to the islands.

As for the variances of traditions based on Wicca, consider Stregheria (Italy). While I have not studied Grimassi’s tradition[1] (1970s) in detail, I know that it is founded on Gardnarian paradigms. Though  Leo Martello was the first recognized author to claim an Italian “family tradition” of Witchcraft (Witchcraft: The Old Religion. 1970), Grimassi popularized the “Aradian Tradition,” inspired by English author, Charles Leland’s,  Aradia, Gospel of the Witches (1899), a literary translation of Italian folklore combined with Leland’s characteristic narrative style. Here, Leland blends Roman mythoi with Middle-Eastern apologues to create a foundation for Mediterranean system – which was then adopted as a Celtic underpinning.

Likewise Buckland’s reimagination of Pictish Craft.[2] Because we have little or nothing left of the insulated Pictish people, subjects of cultural absorption and genocide and without an extensive written culture, we have no way of authenticating the recovery of their craft. However, I am of the mind that there is no historical evidence to believe that PectiWita and Gardnerian Wicca (considering the relentless Roman invasions and ensuing cultural changes) would have anything in common at all.

The opinion one has about “European Witchcraft,” it seems to me, hinges upon one’s opinion of Gardnerian British Traditional Witchcraft and the ensuing conglomeration of neo-Pagan Reconstruction movements. Those who agree that Gardnerian Wicca, and those that emulated it, are derived from uninterrupted (or even authentically recovered) customs, methods, and mythologies reaching back to antiquity will be of a mind that is very different from the opinion of those who believe that Gardner borrowed  heavily from Crowley and The Golden Dawn to recreate a manufactured tradition (perhaps driven by his desire to have extramarital sex). Of course, I don’t want to represent a falsehood here – there are opinions in between.[3]

Like mine.

I’ve mentioned a few in these posts: (“It Must Be. . .Wikipedia,” “ Dead Horses . . .,” and “Wannabethans” – likely others as well).

And then again, there is a sizable difference between Wicca as an initiatory system and Wicca as an eclectic set of practices. Initiatory Wicca, limited to a select number of vetted lineages, is not even the same as Wicca which does not have its foundation in one of these lines. Also see here.

It’s a lot like apostolic succession for the Papacy.

Of course, we should recognize solitaries and eclectics who choose to refer to their practice as “Wiccan” as legitimate. Some do not. It’s a matter of personal politics. The Bad Witch doesn’t have a dog in that fight.

Of course, there’s the possibility that there is a tradition surviving in Europe that has nothing to do with mainstream “Traditional Witchcraft.” If they exist aside from Teutonic Shamanism, I don’t know anything about them and cannot give you any information.

Being The Bad Gydia, I can tell you that the rituals of seiðr have little or nothing in common with Wicca when it comes to ritual. What is common among them is repetition (of musical chanting of a sort and drumming) to achieve the states of altered consciousness wherein Magic is performed. Other than that, most of the things practiced in contemporary Heathenism are derived from Wicca in effort to be “friendly,” not because they are authentic to Germanic practices.

My opinions regarding these concessions is beside the point.

So to answer whether the “difference [is] simply [in] the way people who practice these different systems do things,” I would say, “yes” and “no.”

The way things are done is certainly different; but nothing I would call simple. The way things are done speaks not just to a practical difference, but to a difference in philosophy.

For instance, in Wicca (and Western European Sorcery) the wand and the athame are decidedly phallic. In many Western Esoteric traditions, the phallus is venerated as the source of creative power.[4] The “wand-carrier” or völva is, by definition, a woman. As a matter of fact, it was expressly forbidden for Norsemen to “assume” female magical powers. This is not to say that they could not practice magic at all, which eventually became the case after the influx of Christianity (it’s very complicated), but that men were forbidden to perform magic. For this reason, I have to believe that the “imagination” of the “source of power for their workings” is different.

In my panentheistic belief system, all power comes from “God” or “The Almighty” or “The Creator” or whatever one calls the supreme and eternal animating force of the cosmos. The issue remains that, even if we all believe this tenet, we may all define this divine presence differently. Exactly where the source of power is derived is above my pay grade.

Alas, I am only qualified to speak to my own belief.

There’s so much more to come.

B, Q, 93 for now – TBW


[1] Grimassi, Raven. The Book of the Holy Strega (1981) and Italian Witchcraft: The Old Religion of Southern Europe, previously titled Ways of the Strega (1994). Consider also Stregheria.com – “The Home of Authentic Italian Witchcraft.”

[2] Buckland, Raymond. Scottish Witchcraft: The History & Magick of the Picts. Llewellyn Worldwide, 1991.

[3] If you are interested in more information, you might look at this one that argues that all of Gardner’s credentials are fabricated. Or this one that offers around 80 (I quit counting) other articles that criticize Wicca, Gardner, and Wiccan Witches – accompanied by  the claim that too many Wiccan initiates censor any and all criticism of their movement. And then there’s this guy (who, I openly admit, I did not watch yet but plan to) who has a four part YouTube criticism of Wicca. While most of the reviewers use unnecessarily crude language, I do not suggest we throw the baby out with the bathwater.

[4] It happens to be one of my main projects to use Norse traditions to recover a system of female power not based in phallic influence (or the “lack” thereof).

Kitchen Witching

Maybe reposting for the Pagan Blog Project is cheating. But right now, of all the things I has on my mind, ain’t none of ’em start with K.

Back in November, I was asked (in this post): “What exactly is a kitchen witch?”

After I made my answer, I got a funny reply from a “disgruntled reader.” Rather than reposting both posts in toto, I’ll just summarize.

In the original answer, TBW said (emphasis added):

A kitchen witch is a practitioner that works in practical ways around the house.

There’s no “high ceremony” or formalized “ritual” involved – except those beautifully discreet rituals hidden deep within the nature of cooking and cleaning itself. Imagine the “zone” you go into while doing laundry, the hum of the dryer, the repetitive folding. Think of that as meditation (and a perfect time for casting). There is magic in domestic work. Why do you think the Witch’s favorite item is a broom?

Knives are athames. As are slotted spoons. Dutch ovens are cauldrons. Aprons are vestments. And there’s always wine.

Nice enough, no?

Well, not if you’re scrapping for a fight.

If you are, you might take some of that as an insult.

I mean, you’d have to be scrapping and you’d have to dig real deep – and you’d have to read into the statement things that were not said.

But hey, some folks live for the drama of that shite.

My answer on the following day ran like this (and many of you looooved it – don’t think I got so many “Amens” aside from my commentary on Z. Budapest):

My question becomes, “Who the [feck] is ignorant enough to think that domesticity is menial? Or that to call something ‘domestic’ is derisive?” Domestic work, while completely undervalued by the mainstream culture of our capitalist patriarchy, is where magic is found, boys and girls.

HOME is where babies are made, suckled, and raised; HOME is where values are formed, reformed, and reformed again; HOME is where olfactory memories are slap-you-upside-the-head-in-the-middle-of-a-Monday rooted; HOME is where intimacy reigns supreme; Home is where love is (almost always) guaranteed; HOME is where we are safe (typically); HOME is where music lives its whole life on a porch swing (even slap in the middle of Chicago’s ghetto); and HOME is where we all want to go even when we don’t even feel like moving. (And now, I miss my Mommy.)

Ask any Kitchen Witch worth her salt, any Hedgewitch, Green Witch, Midwife, Hearthwitch or Cottage Witch with any understanding of her craft at all and she will tell you, “Hell yeah, Witchcraft is domestic,” or should I say good or effective and honest Witchcraft is domestic (unlike that other shite that puts on airs), “because home is [fecking] everything!”

Only someone with an ego based in acquiring acceptance from said capitalistic patriarchy would demean what women do by calling my comment an insult. To that, I say, “[Feck] that noise.” If your Magick ain’t from a soul that grew up in a home instead of a “house”, no wonder nothing seems to work for you. And no wonder you think I’m the bad Witch.

I have to have some coffee and go to work now, but when I get home, I’ll try to sit a spell and tell you what’s really on my mind.

B, Q, 93,

TBW

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.)

What is Paganism?

Merry Meet!

Okay, so you have this page in front of you.

This can mean one of two things: either you are interested in Paganism and are looking for a little guidance or someone you know (and likely love) is interested in Paganism and you are looking for a little guidance. It can also mean that you are interested in slamming Paganism or “proving” that Paganism is “Satanic.” If you are one of the former, you are in luck! If you are the latter, you might want to click elsewhere since The Bad Witch will go a long way from satiating your appetite.

If you are a parent and your child has announced that s/he feels led to a Pagan path, take a deep breath. The panic induced pseudo-coronary arrest will pass. Before you start jumping the gun, searching The Yellow Pages for an exorcist, calling Christine O’Donnell for advice, or sneaking holy water into your child’s bath, relax and read on. If you give me just a few minutes, I think The Bad Witch can make you feel better.

First, let me introduce myself. I am The Bad Witch. I call myself this (unabashedly in third person) not because I am “bad” or “evil” (whatever those terms mean to you), but because I am not afraid to talk about both sides of the coin. There are plenty of Pagans, lovingly referred to as “Fluffy Bunnies” who only want to talk about “light” and “white” and “good” (please read the Wikipedia entry for “Fluffybunnies”; it will make your heart happy). I don’t live in that world. In my neighborhood, there are harmful things. Lucky for you, I have stumbled into a lot of them and can tell you which pitfalls to avoid – that is, if you want me to. There are also a lot of “Playgans” who use “religion” and “ritual” as an excuse to imbibe in chemicals, in sexual extravagance, and adherent social behaviors. And, of course, there are plenty of “HollyWiccans” out there who believe that Charmed is real witchcraft, that The Craft is the religious equivalent to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, and that Harry Potter is the Second Coming. I’m not them and I will call them out. Sometimes loudly. In doing so, in my own community, I have earned the nomenclature: “Bad Witch.” I wear it proudly.

Fortunately, this demographic does not make up the whole – or even the majority – of Pagans. (They just tend to be the most visible.)

So what is a Pagan?

In simplest terms Paganism is a set of, typically polytheistic, religions characterized by a connection to and a reverence for nature. (For a breakdown of some “traditions,” have a look at About.com and Llewellyn Worldwide’s article on Chaos Magic.)

The most common forms of Modern Paganism or Neopaganism, as practiced in the West, are, for the most part, descended from Celtic origins. But this paints a broad stroke. There are plenty of Pagan traditions that do not fall in line with Celtic traditions. There are Norse traditions, Egyptian traditions, and Gnostic and Esoteric Mystery traditions, to name a few. And each of those have varying permutations and individual belief systems which stem in all directions. Paganism is as much a personal spiritual path as Islam or Christianity. To try to boil all Pagans in one cauldron is very like the Lutheran calling the Methodist “Protestant.” (There’s my little Reformation joke for you.) There are even plenty of people who consider themselves Pagan and yet do not follow a given tradition. Many Pagans don’t even belong to a group of fellow Pagans (i.e., coven, church, congregation, etc.).

Let me be very clear about one thing: all Wiccans are Witches but not all Witches are Wiccan. Wicca is not another name for Witchcraft. Wicca is specific religious path. It is a mix of various practices, recently put together by Gerald Gardner. The Bad Witch respects Wicca but does not practice Wicca.

Just like all Baptists are Christian but not all Christians are Baptists. Take this example to the Southern variety of the Baptist convention – not all Baptists are Southern Baptists. There are those who practice Witchcraft but do not ascribe to or identify themselves with Wicca (like yours truly).

Further, not all Witches are Pagan and not all Pagans are Witches. Likewise not all Witches are occultists, and not all occultists are Witches. As a matter of fact, many occultists are also Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Because occult studies focus on “supernatural influences, agencies, or phenomena,” the occult is not contradictory to monotheism and Christianity. After all, The Holy Spirit, angelic influences, and even demonic influences (think exorcism) are part and parcel of many monotheistic religions.

Pagans, as a general rule, revere Nature. Pagans typically live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature, the seasons, life and death. Because of this, ecological sustainability and anti-cruelty movements tend to be supported vehemently by Pagans. For this reason, many Pagans are vegetarians and Vegans, though there is no “religious” prohibition against eating animal products. As a matter of fact, many pagan practices include hunting as part of their ritual practices.

Pagans tend to see the divine as indwelling in all parts of life: in every tree, plant, animal and object. Pagans imagine the divine immanence of every man and woman. Much like Abrahamic religions, these deities are within us as well as without us; however, unlike Abrahamic deities, Pagan deities are us. And many of us recognize the divine immanence of the dark side of life as much as in the light.

Unlike patriarchal religions, the divine tends to be female as well as male (therefore there is a Goddess as well as a God). The Goddess represents all that is female and the God represents all that is male. But because nature is seen as female the Goddess has a wider meaning. The Gods of the major world religions are imagined as above and apart from nature (supernatural) whereas Pagan deities are natural and stand in for various aspects of nature or human nature.

But it’s not that simple. There is usually also a Supreme Creator, which closely equates to the God of the patriarchal religions. The God and Goddess are existent as divided from and yet one with the Great Spirit, the Supreme Creator, or “Akasa.” There are sub-groups of named Gods and Goddesses called Pantheons. If you can conceptualize the Christian trinity, you can approximate the relationship between Creator, The Pantheon, and humans.

Some Pagans believe in angels and demons and believe that these entities can be summoned, communicated with, and asked for assistance in the terrestrial realm. However, Pagans have no concept of sin or Satan as he is defined in Christianity. Lucifer too.

This means that Pagans have a different conceptualization of demons. For the most part, demons are “lower” beings or “elemental” beings while angels are “higher” beings or “ethereal” beings. Here, higher and lower are not a value judgment but rather a “geography.” Demons have more to do with physical while angels have more to do with spiritual realms. The West has a tradition of valuing the mental and spiritual over the physical, thus the disapprobation of demons. With no sin and no Satan, there is no fiery hell to worry about either. Pagans have their own (rather strict at times) values, ethics, and belief in a system of universal retribution (think “karma”). As a matter of fact, the one almost universally accepted “rule” in Witchcraft is “Harm None.”

Pagans typically have a very strong moral compass. Simply because there is not a “Bible” does not mean that we do not have sacred texts – we have plenty. Simply because we do not have ten commandments, does not mean we don’t have rules. Think about it – all of the Judeo-Christian social commandments (the second five) would be unnecessary if we just followed the one rule: Harm None.

Which brings me to the afterlife (should I rephrase that?). Christianity imagines life and the world as linear i.e. having a beginning (creation) and an end (day of judgment). The Pagan view is predominantly circular – the endless cycle of the seasons, of death and rebirth. Each Pagan has his/her own view of creation ranging from hyper-scientific to utterly mystical to a blend of both. For instance, The Bad Witch sees science as the most mystical of all arts and identifies The Great God most easily when exploring arithmetic and physics – ooooooh, quantum theory is theology for me.

There tend to be far fewer hang-ups in Paganism as well. Pagan children tend not to suffer from homophobia, racism, jingoism, or xenophobia than their mainstream peers. My fifteen-year-old son likes to point out that “When you are part of the persecuted group, it makes you pretty accepting of others.” Pagan families tend to be passivist. But Pagans also serve in the military and own weapons (some of us reluctantly); some Pagans even hunt (many tribal Pagans see hunting as a large part of their identity).

Sex and nakedness are not usually the taboo subjects that they can be in the major religions. After all they are merely part of nature. Some Pagans worship “skyclad” (nude) but many do not. I do not. Typically skyclad ceremony are reserved for Wiccan high ritual when altered states of consciousness are achieved (via chant, drumming, dancing). Many Wiccans believe that clothing interferes with the biorhythms that are necessary for heightened consciousness. Therefore, no one is “looking” at anyone else’s nakedness. If anyone were to attend a skyclad rite in order to peek-a-boo, they’d find a Catch 22. The point of nudity is to achieve altered states; in an altered state, boobies don’t exist.

But don’t take this as a catchall. There are some traditions, like Voodoo, that prohibit nudity in ritual.

Generally, children do not get involved in rituals until at least 16 years old. The Bad Witch insists on the “age of majority.” In my state, this is 19. However, often, the children of Pagan families join in festivals such as dancing round the Maypole at Beltane (Bel-tah-nah) or round the bonfire on Lammas (Lah-mahs) – also called Lughnasadh (Loog-nah-sah), on Samhain (Sow-han), or on Imbolc (Im-bolk).

Pagan children are often very aware of the differences their families have from the surrounding culture. Many Pagans encourage their children to “keep a low profile” because the discrimination against Pagans remains palatable in theU.S.(and The Bad Witch lives in The Deep South to boot). The anti-Pagan sentiment in most American towns can be painful to adults, let alone growing young people. And it’s pretty ridiculous to ask a pre-teenager to defend things like making a corn dolly or lighting candles to Bridget. Most Pagan children still get Santa and they tend to understand the Jesus thing. But, they are likely familiar with the fact that the Christmas tree (Yule tree) is really a Pagan thing. Easter is a lot more Pagan than Christians tend to understand. On Samhain, Pagan children understand the reason all the other children are dressed in costumes, lighting Jack-o-Lanterns, and collecting “treats” from their community.

Finally, and this is a point of semantic contention, Pagans usually believe that there are varying levels of abilities. Some are more intuitive, some are more intellectual. Many witches believe that there are some hereditary elements to these propensities, just like everything else. If your father was a great musician, you will likely have more musical ability than any other Joe on the street. Whether this is genetic or based on upbringing and childhood surroundings, it doesn’t matter. Witches sometimes identify themselves as “born,” “generational,” or “taught.”

This may be why you (or your child/spouse/friend) feels a certain pull toward Paganism. While for many of you this attraction to Paganism reflects a rejection of dominant religious dogma and its accompanying fetters, some of you feel a true “calling” to this path. Who knows, it could be ancestral.

As ever, if you have any other questions, feel free to contact me at abadwitch@yahoo.com. I’ll do my best to provide some guidance.

Blessed be!

Much of this is The Bad Witch’s opinion and personal experience with folks in and out of the Craft. Take it or leave it.

Further reading (first set of listings are for information – later set is stuff The Bad Witch just loves):

http://www.amazon.com/Teen-Witch-Wicca-New-Generation/dp/1567187250

http://www.amazon.com/Spiral-Dance-Rebirth-Religion-Anniversary/dp/0062516329/ref=pd_sim_b_23

http://www.amazon.com/Ride-Silver-Broomstick-Generation-Witchcraft/dp/087542791X/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

http://www.amazon.com/Wicca-Solitary-Practitioner-Authors-Shadows/dp/0875421180/ref=pd_sim_b_6

http://www.amazon.com/Witchdom-True-Edred-Thorsson/dp/1885972121/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_1_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Grimoire-Modern-Cunning-Folk-Witchcraft/dp/0984330216/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_4_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Wyrdworking-Saxon-Sorcerer-Alaric-Albertsson/dp/0738721336/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_10_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Way-Wyrd-Brian-Bates/dp/1401905013/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_14_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Witches-Bible-Complete-Handbook/dp/0919345921/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_15_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Lyblac-Anglo-Saxon-Witchcraft-Wulfeage/dp/1861632878/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_17_rlrssi0

For further growth:

http://www.amazon.com/Initiation-into-Hermetics-Franz-Bardon/dp/1885928068/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_23_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Liber-Null-Psychonaut-Introduction-Chaos/dp/0877286396/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_26_rlrssi0

http://www.amazon.com/Energy-Work-Healing-Spiritual-Development/dp/1571745408/ref=cm_syf_dtl_pl_29_rlrssi0