Hunter Gatherer: A Mabon Reflection (aka: I’m Getting Too Old For This)

Ehsha Apple (A. Farmer):

I’m rounding out a tome on ritual and have taken to searching my old blogs for words of wisdom. Oh, so much has changed since this Mabon post, but with Midsummer (Litha) just around the wheel, I thought I’d reshare it with you.

Originally posted on The Bad Witch Files:

Autumn is upon us. I can feel it in the air, the season is changing. The songs of the birds have changed, the bugly activity in the yard has a different hum about it. The crops are in their final throes, ripening more quickly than I can gather them. Daily, something new has taken on a different hue. The deep green lushness of two weeks ago has mellowed into softer shades of chartreuse and yellow; soon there will be orange and red. The air is lighter and moves more readily. Everything is a little more insistent: change.

Change insists itself in the Autumn because without it, we would be overrun. (See “The Bad Witch at the Watering Hole”.) We need a little of the death of winter to make way for the birth of spring. Makes sense in my head.

My body feels it differently. This insistence often feels like a push toward death…

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Toxicodendron Radicans (Poison Ivy) and Magic

Ehsha Apple (A. Farmer):

It was just after writing this post that I realized the plant I had been pulling during the opening story in question was poison ivy herself. With my bare hands. When I didn’t flame up, I also realized I was one of the very few who are not affected by her. Nonetheless, I remain diligent and respectful. Just because she’s spared me in the past doesn’t mean I’ve earned a lifelong pass–right?!

Originally posted on Witchcraft From Scratch:

As I write this blog, I notice that it winds around like a vine, wrapping itself around whatever it grabs hold of, climbing into crevices where I couldn’t have foreseen it would grow. There should be a joke about irritation here—but I’ll leave it to you to make.

The Wild Hunt by Peter Nicholai Arbo

As we were clearing land for the kindred hof and ve, my husband got into some poison ivy[1] and spent a week learning about cortisol while he was in Scandinavia. As we piled wood for the fire, we had to check to make sure we weren’t sending toxins airborne. Plus, a thing about poison ivy is that the toxin is carried in a non-water-soluble oil, so if you try washing the affected area with water, you will just spread the irritant further.

What’s this got to do with magic?” you ask?

Nothing…

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Another DIY Thing

Breast cancer is nothing to sniff at.

My sister has recovered from two bouts with cancer: breast and skin. My aunts have as well. Well, some of them. I have had a benign tumor removed and that’s skeery enough for me.

I have always known that there was a link between antiperspirant and cancer–particularly breast cancer. (I know, I know, the medical jury is “out” on the exact science–as they tend to be.) But, I never stopped using mass-produced products. I used “all-natural” and aluminum-free products, but never liked them so went back to the chunks of white antiperspirant: “cancer sticks”–maybe.

I stopped using shampoo and conditioner on a regular basis around 2008 and stopped all-together since I stopped hanging around with horses. A few years back, I started making my own soap and face cleanser, toner, moisturizer, etc. Why in the world was I still using store-bought antiperspirant.

Oh–wait–yeah. Deodorant and antiperspirant are not the same thing.

But still.

Here’s some TMI for this DIY post. When I get sweaty and then encounter strangers, they tell me I smell good. No kidding. Folks stop me to ask me why I “smell so good.” I’d like to say that it’s because I have a good diet and that I use (almost) all-natural body-products.

But it happened back when I was younger and not as careful about what I put in and on my bod. I’d leave dance-practice and get actively “sniffed” on the bus. I’d go to work and–after a few hours of moving around under hot lights–have coworkers ask me, “What are you wearing?”

And I guess I smell different to different people. Some folks say I smell like tree bark, some say grass, some say incense, some say other earthy things. You’d think I’d smell like whatever magical concoction I was working on most recently–but nope. No one ever tells me I smell like Abramelin or mugwort. I’d love to tell folks that “I just smell like a witch,” but that would be misleading.

One of my son’s theater friends insists, “pine needles.”

My younger daughter says “bug spray.”

I can only conclude it is a pH thing.

Anyway. I was at this local writer’s shindig and started talking to a grad student about no-poo-shampoo and witch-hazel toner and olive oil soap and honey+egg conditioner. She told me her basic recipe for DIY deodorant. I knew it was a thing but had never talked to anyone I trusted about the results.

Given the dance my genes do with breast cancer, I committed to trying it.

After a week of resisting the urge to Google/Pinterest/WikiHow a zillion recipes, thereby confusing myself into an unworkable tizzy, I decided to research body stank. I knew it was about moisture and warm spots and bacteria, so there were no real surprises.

Then I moved to asking, “What makes DIY deodorant fail?” The top three complaints were:

  • Itchy or drying
  • Reddening or irritating
  • Low melting point
  • Crumbly
  • Less sweat but still stinky

So I put my brain to work and  started looking at the contents of my cabinets.
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Basically, I was told to mix coconut oil and baking soda. That was the start.

  • To combat the itchy dryness, I added raw shea butter and vitamin E oil.
  • To address the irritation, I cut back the baking soda and added arrowroot and bentonite (facial clay) for absorption.
  • I figured the bentonite would also help with the low melting point–especially here in the Bamas.
  • And I added beeswax to help it hold together without crumbling or melting.
  • I added pharmaceutical grade tea tree oil as an antiseptic.
  • Here’s where I think I got brilliant: stank. Stinky pits are caused from bacteria growing, right? What’s the best way to naturally combat nasty bacteria? Yup, I cracked open a probiotic capsule and tossed it in the mix.
  • I also added a couple of essential oils that I thought might compliment my already naturally woodsy aroma. I won’t add lemon grass next time. On account o’ it’s just–well–it’s–I don’t like it.
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The melted ingredients. I put them in a mason jar in a pot on the stove. less cleanup, I figure.

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The powered ingredients. Less clay next time, I think.

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Baby-poop green. At least it’s just armpits. This is before it cools and hardens, btw.

I’m not going to put the measurements here because I’m still working it out. As ever, I’ll let you know when I get there. My first batch was a little softer than I’d like and–well–it’s an ugly green from the clay. Personally, I like the feeling of tea tree oil–but I want to make a new batch and be more sparing with that ingredient for those who are less amenable to the sensation.

I didn’t have an empty deodorant container, so first I poured the melted goo into a silicone cupcake tray thinking I’d make deodorant cakes, but they melted at body temperature and made my hands ooie. So I remelted those and poured it into paper “dixie” cups and figure I can peal away the paper as I need to.

My hubby wants a batch. And that’s a big deal. He usually waits until I get everything “almost just right” before becoming a guinea pig. And a few friends have asked for some. I’m excited.

So–you give it a whirl. Especially those of you already in the practice of making yummy skin things (ehem, Amy — here’s a shameless plug for my friend’s shop: plantcraftbyamy.com). Let me know what proportions work in what climate. Let me know if you come up with better ingredients or combinations.

And, as ever, I’ll let you know.

Waes thu hael and sweet smelling.

Crumblin’ Down

I wrote this back in February, but so much of it still applies that I just edited it up a bit. Back then I was still in the decision phase, now I am in the “action” phase.

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Phew. I don’t know about you but the last time Mercury was in Retrograde (whether you buy into it or not), it kicked my ever-lovein’ arse.

I love this little advice bit on how to keep from get “retrograded.”

After thinking about it for a minute, I’m putting off a necessary action until after the retrograde goes straight. I was going to move forward–and then I remembered.

This decision is one where waiting has been a little nerve-wracking and has felt counter-intuitive. The decision itself wheedled at me and built to a head for about a year. After I made the decision, it’s just been a matter  of  timing. Every time I’ve waited? I’ve been, um, rewarded–we’ll go with “rewarded.” So I’m  going to wait a bit to take action on that decision. I mean, given the number of communication snafus I’ve seen around me during Merc’s Retro–even if it’s not a reliable explanation, I figure it’s better to wait than to tempt wyrd by jumping the gun.

Seriously, the last Retrograde was strange. Sure, a number of communication breakdowns is par for the course in any busy life, but the kinds of things I saw over a two months period would turn your hair white–and I think I have a few more grays to cover as a result of the funtimes known as Late Winter 2014.

Not only that, but my nicely compartmentalized life–work over here, kindred over here, family like so, personal relationships like this, and sacral life and devotions go like that–imploded.

Every boundary I thought I needed in order to keep my psyche functioning at normal capacity disintegrated. I had people form my business-life visit me in the workplace, I had workplace collide with kindred, I’ve always had kindred in the family and family in the–well, you get the picture. There was definitely peanut butter in my chocolate and chocolate in my peanut butter. It was enough to have a girl singing Mellencamp.

Well, that and “Small Town.”

Only, I can’t “breathe here in this here small town” without exhaling on someone tangled up in something.

Crumblin’ walls, man.

As Mercury Retrograde approaches again, I’ve decided to learn from my experience about crumblin’ walls earlier this year–perhaps I have reached a place where I can no longer segregate my life from my life. Nothing “bad” happened from them tumbling walls, but I was left feeling a little nekid.

It’s a good thing I learned long ago not to do things in one part of my life that would embarrass me in another part of my life.

I mean, I’m no saint, but . . .

I’ve known people who have to scurry about day and night just to keep the left hand from finding out what the right hand has been up to. People who can’t leave certain friends and acquaintances in the same room alone for too long, lest some fabricated barrier be rent in twain. Yup, Being forthright and wearing my life on my sleeve is a little boring, but at least I don’t have any lies to keep track of. Those who have to keep their walls up are usually trying to
manipulate people by triangulating them with or isolating them from others.triangulation

My walls aren’t those kinds of walls. My walls are like the differences between “Mom-life” and “Work-life” like I mentioned briefly in my post about Ostara. I think everyone has these. And I could see that mine were all about to disintegrate. All I could do was have faith that this would be a good thing.

Guess what? It was.

Know how we say that the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. have to keep a legal “wall” between intelligence and law enforcement–but at the same time, we wish they could share information more openly? (We’ve gotten better at the balance in the last decade, I think.)

It’s like that–my metaphorical CIA metaphorically ran into my metaphorical NSA while my metaphorical FBI was in the metaphorical room and they all got to talking. Now I have  solid, um, “intelligence” that I wouldn’t have had if those walls hadn’t come down.

Now, the domino effect assures that some other peoples’ walls are coming down along with mine. They might not be so comfortable with the exposure they are about to get. But it can’t be helped. Once they get going, tumblin’ walls gonna tumble.

That’s why it’s best to live with good gefrain–never do anything in one part of your life that you wouldn’t want shared in another part of your life. Walls are not reality and they have a tendency to come crumblin’ down.

It’s like the old saying about wearing clean underpants just in case you are in an accident.

Hunker down. July 1 is just around the corner.

Waes thu hael!

Of Mice and Meh: A Heathen’s Reversal of Fortune

It’s been a weird month or so. And a really fecking hard week.

Of course, as you know, I lost my teaching position at the university. My take on it is that this was done in retaliation for my having reported a coworker (who was thus terminated by higher-up in the food chain) for religious-based harassment. This has meant more lawyers. And other banal yet demoralizing experiences.

We’ve had an odd mouse thing in the chicken coop and in the house—and ew. Every day the mouse adventures get weirder and weirder.[1] The end result is that we removed the drop-ceiling in our basement so the vermin have no way to run from room to room.

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We had two rooms flood from different sources (thus the contents of those rooms are all precariously arranged in inappropriate places).

 

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Basements are fun.

imageAnd I have a child experiencing a crisis which has caused our medical bills to explode. Also—it’s made me have to cancel all of my summer plans so that I can supervise her care. Her safety is well worth it—trust me, this is a no brainer.

Meh.

Don’t think I haven’t already considered how this fits into the Wyrd I have weaved, how my Luck is functioning in relation to my god-gefrain, and how my faith is being tested. I have thought it out. I think it out every dang day these days.

The truth is that I’ve been entirely at my wits end. In the end, I had no choice but to, if I my paraphrase, “Let go and let my gods.”

It was a moment of, “Now, I don’t mean to get up in your face, but I kinda ran out of steam a while back. I’ve been going on pure inertia here. I might could use a push or some sort of gravity-related assistance.”

My gods like locomotive metaphors. Well, any metaphors really—as long as they hold together.

Two nights ago I didn’t sleep.

I stayed up until midnight-thirty washing dishes and whatnot and was awoken at 3:30 in such a way that left me unable to go back to sleep. As a result, I overslept a bit this morning. If you consider waking up at 7:30 instead of 6:15 sleeping in, I “slept in.” One hour makes a huge difference in morning chores, however. And the domino effect of that hour was amazing.

Before I get going—I have to remind you about the floods and preemptively answer: “No. I can’t use an irrigation timer. I have a really nice one—but cannot use it this year. I. Just. No.”

Let me start from the beginning. Normally, I stumble outside at 6:20 or so—in my PJs, set the sprinkler going on the part of the garden that gets the earliest sun (before said sun hits past the shadows of the high pines), then head back in for coffee and cat/dog feeding. This is followed by changing the irrigation system to the back yard where I do my chicken and bee rounds before heading in for a second cup of coffee and presentable clothes. It’s usually 8:30 or 9:00 when everything has been watered, everyone has been fed (including the humans), and I’m ready to hit my office where I work out various publication issues, toodle on The Faces Book, answer emails, read the day’s whatnots, etc. That is—if it’s an office day. Sometimes it’s an “appointments” day or an “errands” day or a “clean the refrigerators” (yes, plural) day. You know—you have an abode—it takes some doing to keep a joint hopping. And this joint is damned big and aging and it takes a lot of doing to keep it on its feet, let alone hopping.

But today, I slept in. A reversal of (fortune) sleep patterns.

I staggered out of my room around 7:45 and looked at the sun shining brightly on the first half of the garden and said, “Feck it. I have to water by hand anyway, I’m making coffee first.” The cats were pleased at this situation because it meant that they got food first. Caffeinated, I decided that I needed “real” clothes before watering the garden.

This was the best call of the day.

I got the water going at about 8:30, watering just the soil so the leaves of the plants wouldn’t burn in the Southern sun. I didn’t quite make it to the second third of the garden before my First Neighbor came by walking her dog. She’s a preacher’s wife who homeschools—we don’t have a lot in common but I really adore her conversation. She’s level-headed and as thoughtful as she can be. (I also just learned that her oldest son, a National Guardsman, is now in Afghanistan; so let’s remember them when we light our candles this week. Will you do that with me?) We don’t talk much since she does her thing and I do mine and—apparently—they intersect geographically about an hour and a half apart.

While in conversation with First Neighbor, Second Neighbor drove past while taking her son to Summer Sport Activity. On her way back, she parked and came up my walk where I had moved on to cleaning paintbrushes (let’s just say that earlier this week there were canvases, there was paint, there were teenagers, all this resulted in art-therapy and turpentine).

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Second Neighbor is an old friend. Her daughter and my youngest were besties once upon a time—she and I are/were coworkers. (I never know how to phrase this—I mean, I still have a summer gig. I kinda still have the job. Kinda.) We had a lot to catch up on since we hadn’t talked more than just in passing at work or at our kids’ school events for a few months.
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I gave her the house tour called: “This Leak is Why There Are 312 Books in My Foyer; This Leak is Why All of the Guest Bedding is in My Office; and This is Our Solution to the Great Mouse Invasion of 2014 (and Why I Had to Clean Mouse Brains Out of My Keyboard).” This was accompanied by the “Chicken, Huckleberry, and Bee Tour”—which is, by nature, much more fun. We got to spend a solid hour catching up.

Just as she left, I returned a day-old call from An Important Support System. That conversation was—I—just—wow. If you’ve ever had one of those experiences where you thought no one on earth could understand the full implications of your situation and then you talk to someone—someone TOTALLY SANE—who not only understands your issue from A-Z and all the letters in between, but also makes the most apropos jokes and then offers to get your back, then you know exactly what happened to me sitting on my wee (cluttered) porch this morning.

Then I breathed.

For the first time in about five weeks. I didn’t even have to ask and help was already on its way.
imageAs I was exhaling, my Charming Lady Neighbor came by with egg cartons and a bouquet of fresh lavender tied with the sweetest pink bow I’ve ever seen. (The effect it had on my psyche rivaled the unexpected and humongous bouquet of oregano my dear girlfriends brought me from their bourgeoning garden this past weekend.) She didn’t even want eggs. She still had a few from the dozen I gave her on Friday; Charming Little Lady Neighbor had collected the cartons from her other Charming Lady Friends and brought them to me.

I literally give away about $20-$30 worth of eggs a month,[2] I barter with the rest. Hardly anyone remembers to return the cartons.[3] This one was a big deal to me.

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I guess this post is my way of saying thanks to my gods in an openly visible sort of way—I think I just got my push, my reversal of fortune.

And that’s how I see it all relating to the Wyrd I have weaved and how my Luck ifunctions in relation to my gefrain. Yes, my faith is being tested. And I am letting go.

After all, I already have a potential teaching job in the Fall that will allow me to teach Pagans about Pagan things.

I’ve also already been offered a really great opportunity that I would never be able to accept if I was working full time. As ever, I’ll let you know how that goes.

I have a kick-arse garden this year, so ain’t nobody gonna starve.

Because of the mice and the flooding, I already have a new floor (and a new window is on the way). And I have been forced to purge a storage room that just never would have happened. It just wouldn’t have. And I really wanted to use that room for living space—now I can.

The Kid is doing fine. The doctors are good and we are optimistic. And Second Friend? That visit may prove to rekindle our daughters’ friendship, which is always nice.

The Kid has lots of friends, but this experience is helping her weed out the supportive ones from the toxic ones. A skill I didn’t learn until I was an adult. As a matter of fact, I had to stop proofreading this post twice. Once to play a card game with The Kid and Her Friends[4]; once to drive The Kid and Other Friend to a temporarily—but necessarily—relinquished activity. It’s good to be getting back to normal.

I still don’t know where I’m going to get the money for theatre camp—a favorite and highly therapeutic activity that I simply cannot make her forego[5]. But, it will happen. *Somehow.* I’m just gonna let it go. And breathe.

And today. Today has been a relief.

I’ve had the chance to see some neighbors that I’ve missed by being outside only in the early-morning.

And I find that I have some quality pro bono legal assistance. All I need is a couple more weeks and I’ll have the filing fee, and away we’ll go.[6]

My life is nowhere near serene at the moment. Everyday finds a new reversal of fortune. But if you, like me, have run out of steam—and then run out of inertia—know that help is generally right there. All I had to do was “let go and let the gods.” Maybe you could try it too?

And, hell—letting go is one of the hardest things to do.

That may be why it grants the greatest compensations.

I wish you well and hope you weather whatever storm you are currently negotiating. And if you are having smooth sailing? I hope you continue to find your Luck.

Wæs þu hæl!

 

[1] I know that there is a problem with killing mice. We tried more humane removal. But you have to understand, this is a dangerous infestation that has caused respiratory illnesses and has become downright gross. The mice have got to go. We are down to “bearable” but--do you know how many fertility charms have backfired over here!?

[2] Don’t get on me about this. There are a few families in my neck of the woods that have fallen on hard times. The measly $2 I charge for a dozen eggs means less to me than knowing the little ones have food on their tables at breakfast.

[3] It seems that every once in a while I get a carton windfall. If you have ever been one of my polystyrene benefactors, know that this is always a big deal to me.

[4] I’m always weirded out when The Teens want to play with The Mom.

[5] Especially since Theater Lady is moving and this is her last year in our town.

[6] It’s too bad we couldn’t have reached a more civil-like arrangement when I tried. Now everything will be public record—and the ugly has exploded. Though I’m clearly in the legal (ethical, spiritual) right, this adventure won’t be fun for anyone, so keep me in your thoughts on this count too.

Meh. The gods work things out the way they will have it, not the way we will have it.

And Now For Something Completely Different

This post is complicated and difficult to write. So, I’m going to keep it short and sweet. I may be able to open up and share more later, but right now my emotions are too raw. As this story unfolds, I hope to be able to tell you all the ins and outs of what happened here. It’s a TV miniseries if anything ever was.

If you know anything about me, you know that I am a college American Lit teacher. Well, I was.

After this summer, I will be moving on to another career. I can’t tell you all the details just yet, but this summer will be my last semester in the secular classroom.

This is not good news, but it’s not all bad news either. You see, blessings come in the oddest packaging. My husband and community have thrown their backs into helping me achieve a long time dream that has been thwarted for far too long. You might look back to The Road Not Taken and see what happened to me a few years back.

You see, a few years back we decided to open a witchy shop in town and someone took the Witch Hunt approach to stopping me. Something quite similar has happened yet again.

I find myself with the option of feeling victimized or of taking the opportunity to make myself victorious. I have chosen the latter.

Today, I know that I’m back on the right road having learned a whole lot about myself and the world around me. After all, I believe in my community. I believe in Pagan support. I believe in my gods. And I believe in justice. Don’t you?

Here’s the plan. My husband and I hope to take The Wyrd Sister, our Online artisan shop, and add to it a CosPlay shop. Our goal is to run some local Conferences. The ultimate goal is to have a lucrative mainstream business so that we can continue the ministry we do here in town without having to place an undue financial burden on any one sector. I have always loved CosPlay and I love the folks who do CosPlay in this town, especially the students. I love sewing costumes and I love building mechanisms for costumes. Oh! and the Ren Faires and The Society for Creative Anachronism stuff and the LARPing. I am going to be in nerd-nirvana.

So don’t worry about me. Support me, but don’t worry about me. I have talented lawyers (yes, lawyers), an awesome husband, a really groovy kindred, cool kids, and good gefrain with my gods. So I’m not worried—you shouldn’t be either.

Here’s the thing–without a paycheck and with several hefty household repairs that need to take priority (and all those lawyer bills), I need a little help. Not much, just a little. And every little bit helps. Even if it’s nominal, knowing that y’all give a damn helps a ton. Please lend your support by visiting my Fundrazr page and making a small (or, you know, large) donation. You can also:

  • Post a link to our campaign on your Facebook wall and TALK IT UP
  • Share our Facebook page
  • Mention this fundraiser to friends in person
  • Mention or post a link to this fundraiser on other social media
  • Write a blog post about this campaign
  • Buy something from The Wyrd Sister (I will be unable to do custom work this summer, sorry)
  • Spread the word that a new cosplay conference and shop is coming to Auburn, AL

While I’m on the subject of crowdfunding, let me add that I have been part of three crowdfunding campaigns and have looked at a lot of crowdfunding platforms. I don’t know about you, but I really like what the folks at Fundrazr do.

And while I’m plugging–let me make mention of a summer course being offered by Cherry Hill Seminary. My colleague, Holli Emore is offering a course, “Beyond Bake Sales to Real Fundraising.” The course description is:

Pagans in today’s society are hard at work building the resources that will make their traditions sustainable for years to come, and that takes funding. Beyond Bake Sales to Real Fundraising is designed to open up a topic that is mysterious and frightening to many, and for others, fulfilling or even fun. All fundraising comes back to some basic concepts about relationships. Learn to understand one of the greatest taboos in western society and in so doing lose your fear of fundraising. Students will have the opportunity to design and get feedback on their own project. The instructor has many years of experience as a nonprofit consultant and former CFRE (Certified Fund Raising Executive).

Get excited with me!? This is a very tangible opportunity for us to watch our gods take the reigns of a situation and guide it to their inevitable use.

Waes thu hael!

Liminal Space and Time, Ritual Structure: Part 1

I’ve had so much going on in my life over the past few weeks that I may end up doing a massive brain dump on you WordPressers just to get it all sorted out for myself.

I thought I was going to post the things I wrote about making incense with my students or the thing I wrote about homophily in Pagan study or the thing about avoiding defamation on the InterWebs[1] or how proud I am to have three brand-spanking-new ordained priests in our tribe—three who put a full year of training and hands-on apprenticeship into their ordination rather than just writing a check and buying it.

But instead there’s this, a bit that came from my work on ministerial preparation and ritual structure. Maybe I’ll get to those other half-written posts in a day or so; but just now, I feel like I do when I have a massive research project going on and still have to function as a domestician, academic, witch, teacher, parent, woman, etc. You know, like everything in life relates to the subject at hand.

Here’s my life in a nutshell.

My eldest just got a TAship and a promotion in her research gig and a job and a dog and an apartment. She is a grown-ass woman and is doing her thing—and her thing is amazing. This is bittersweet.

My son has just completed back-to-back-to-back theatre productions; he’s been getting larger and larger rolls as his voice settles into a richly resonate baritone. He is a tremendously talented singer, dancer, musician and he has a large and wonderfully diverse (and absolutely loyal) friend-base. I love these kids. Some of them are seniors but most, like my boy, are juniors and have just one more year of high school remaining. A last year before they move on.

My baby has been volunteering at the hospital. Every Monday she spends her time in scrubs taking care of convalescing patients. And she’s hit that bumpy patch at fifteen that makes the entire world seem adversarial.

Aside from family things, I’ve had some animal things. Our little Lhasa Apso foundling is aging and that’s a thing in and of itself. Also, one of my leghorn chicks became overly attached to me, refused to keep her tiny butt in the brooder, and met the Catahoula and Springer Spaniel before I had a chance to teach them, “These are not mice. Do not bring them to me.” And I’ve had a favorite hen fall ill with what seems to be egg yolk peritonitis. She’s doing much better and is back out with her sisters today, and everything seems right as rain.

Speaking of rain.

The storms that pummeled the South this week left us unscathed—but only by the skins of our teeth. The spot where my daughter had intended to move was ripped to shreds, all the areas around everyone we care about were likewise clobbered. The important word is *around.* None of the clobberings hit home. How blessed are we?

And with all that, I’ve been thinking a lot about liminal spaces. Liminal in both a physical sense and a transcendental sense. The liminal spaces between childhood and adulthood, between high school and college, between adoration and animosity, between banal and magical, between beginning and being, between health and infirmity, and the ultimate limen between life and death.

It was mostly my little black Araucana hen that got me to thinking about limens.

More precisely, it was the threshold of the indoor chicken quarantine that started it all. She had been in isolation while ill and as she began to improve, I opened the door to her cage and invited her to walk around the house.[2] The hen perched herself on the bar separating “inside” the coop from “outside” the coop and looked at the outside. Just looked. On her first few attempts to leave the coop, with great ceremony ,she opted to go backward and into the confines of the dog-crate-come-chicken-coop but eventually let me pick her up and settle her on the floor just an inch away from where she couldn’t bring herself to pass.

The Latin word, limen, literally means “a threshold.” Think of a doorway—a space that is neither “in” nor “out.” Those physical limens are commonplace enough—but what of metaphysical limens?

In our tradition, we have a unique ritual called “The Limen of Creation,” which, like the casting of a circle—or more so like the performance of the LBRP, draws upon the liminal recess between “ritual” space and “mundane” space. It’s not just a way of demarking the physical space of the enclosure of a ritual space, though. Liminality has a magical quality all its own.

Transformation happens in liminal spaces. Even mundane experiences like long, intimate conversations take on a trance-like quality where time can be “lost” and when the participants “emerge” at the end of an hours-long-conversation, as if from a trance. Liminality produces a condition which allows a space for magic in ritual. By its nature, there is a quality of obscurity, ambiguity, distortion, or disorientation that transpires during ritual; this is when participants are in transition—perhaps during an initiation or rite of passage, where they are becoming initiated but are not yet initiates. It is well recognized—even in mundane psychological theories—that, by its nature, processes of either integration or individuation take place within a liminal space.This is why so many of our magical traditions require that initiates cross a “threshold” and face a “challenge.”

Anyone who has seriously considered[3] ritual structure realizes that there are two attributes to a proper rite—especially an initiation rite.[4] Firstly, there has to be a structure to the ritual. Even if the rite is unscripted, it should still follow a meaningful sequence of events; and if more than initiator and initiate are involved, everyone involved should know what to do when and how—even if they don’t fully understand why just yet.

There should be no room for someone else coming in and seizing control of the rite. Seriously, I’ve seen this happen—someone decided to “lead” a rite but was so ineffectual in the construction of ritual that, on a number of occasions, more seasoned outsiders swooped in and took command of the ritual. Nature abhors a vacuum. If there is no center, the circle will shift until it finds one.

Related to that is the second attribute to a proper rite; they require one person to serve as a mediating agent to lead participants (especially an initiate) into, though, and safely out of the liminal space of ritual purpose or initiation. I’ll make a second post on this last part and the threat of mimetic leadership to a community in crisis. It’s too convoluted for one post.

Another element of liminality is “equivalence.” Because liminal moments intentionally interrupt —or even terminate —our typical sense of stability, liminal periods allow the possibility for (even long-standing) hierarchies to be reversed. This reminds me of all the research I did on Rabelais and the phenomenon of Carnivalesque order.[5] During a transition—a liminal stage—customary differences (with the example of Carnival, think social class) collapse into equivalence. This is not necessarily a lack of structure—like the way the uninitiated imagine chaos—but the hyper-structure of fundamental human unity.

In liminal spaces one can see the fluidity and malleability of institutions that are generally perceived as fixed. That’s where the magic happens.

Imagine the changing of the guards or a formal changing of command. There is a (brief) moment where one commander is relieved, yet the “new” commander has not yet taken authority. In that brief moment, no one is in charge and everyone is suspended in equivalent unity.

Sounds great, right? However, it is for this reason that liminality can cause feelings of uncertainty, or even anxiety, based on the dissolution of order, and even intense anxiety. This is why such liminal periods are necessarily brief. Liminality is unsustainable and, by necessity, must resolve. Such states of intensity are too unstable to persist for very long periods. Well, mostly. Sometimes intensely unstable cultures designed around a state of liminality will be forced to develop their own internal structure to support the unstable exterior.

So, as a shorthand for the lesson I’m preparing for ordinates, here’s how liminality functions as part of an initiation.

First there is separation, followed by the liminal phase, and ending in reincorporation of the transformed individual.

Because initiation is about death and rebirth, the separation phase involves the images of actual death—usually a metaphor[6] but sometimes only a metaphor or image of the threat of death. Think about Hyram Abiff in the masonic tradition. There might also be a traversing of the underworld—descent and re-emergence. Think about Innana and Dumuzi, even Orpheus and Eurydice (this last one also includes the common approbation about “not looking back”). This “death” allows for the elimination of assumptions and “old ways of thinking” or “being.”

This death is followed by a liminal phase. This phase is necessarily destructive—in that destruction is necessary for regeneration. That is why it is so important to have a leader that knows WTF is going on at all times. And not just in terms of knowing the “script” of the rite—but really understanding the ins-and-outs of the ritual structure so that if a step is missed, the leader can get folks back on track safely. Seriously, it could be detrimental to the psyche of those in transition—especially initiates—if, during this phase of considerable change, the reins were dropped and stability abandoned in favor of emotionality or sensory fulfillment. Don’t misunderstand—emotion and uninhibitedness are fantastic parts of ritual, just so long as someone is steering the energy rather than burning down the house. Consider that the liminal portion of the rite entails an actual traversing of a threshold. We do not want the blind leading the blind through this tenuous moment. We certainly don’t want a ritual principal who will lead us to the ends of the earth and then let us jump off a cliff (or worse, give us a shove).

Finally, there is the phase of ritual which reincorporates the participants (especially initiates) which now have a “post-magical-act” transformed way of thinking or being or even a new identity.

Because of the vulnerability of participants who have just undergone a period of intense sensitivity, liminal periods can permit the emergence of charismatic pretenders that assume leadership positions without the real know-how to safely traverse liminality. For this reason, such impostors tend to perpetuate liminality because they simply cannot find their way to the other side and yet do not want to relinquish control and allow a natural resolution of order.

As my exam—another liminal space where the semester is over, yet not over—is done and it’s time to go plan for tonight’s Walpurgisnacht–a terrifically liminal time–ritual, this is where I end for today and will pick up tomorrow, a discussion of mimetic leadership and the role of the trickster in periods of communal liminality.

Til then, waes hael and enjoy your Walpurgisnacht, Beltane, or Moifescht!

A roof in the Harz Mountains--Walpurgisnacht Blessings!

A roof in the Harz Mountains–Walpurgisnacht Blessings!

Works Consulted:

Liminal Landscapes: Travel, Experience and Spaces In-between. Ed: Andrews, Hazel and Les Roberts. Routledge, New York: 2012. Print.

Marc Labelle. Liminality and Emerging Adulthood. MA Thesis. University of Alberta, 2006. Web.

Thomassen, Bjørn. Anthropology, Multiple Modernities and the Axial Age Debate. Anthropological Theory 10.4 (2008): 321-342. Web.

Thomassen, Bjørn. “The Uses and Meanings of Liminality.International Political Anthropology 2.1(2009): 5-27. Web.

 

[1] Until then, I highly recommend you have a looksee at this.

[2] Chicken diapers are hilarious.

chicken diapers

[3] I don’t mean “read a book” or “looked Online” or “copied someone else’s.”

[4] Of course, otherworldly or “shamanic” initiations follow a different structure. I’m talking about humans initiating humans.

[5] Yes. I will footnote myself:

Farmer, Angela. “Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Aqua Teen Hungerforce as Rabelaisian Carnival.” Studies in American Humor 3.17 (2008): 49-68. Print.

(But also Web)

[6] But like I said, shamanic initiations are a whole ‘nother ball of wax.