The Salem Witches Course at CHS

For those of you who have always wanted to take a class with Yours Truly, here’s your chance. I’m teaching a class which aims at differentiating the facts from the fictions of The Salem Witch Trials at Cherry Hill Seminary this summer.

Click here for course description and registration.

Class Meetings are Online for four weeks beginning the week of July 27.



“Love all, trust a few …” (W.S. All’s Well that Ends Well. 1.1.61.)

Article Photo for SAFE

While I realize that most Pagans in America practice in solitary, there are still a good number of folks that practice in groups: covens, kindred, tribes, groves, councils, etc. When we do this, we make ourselves vulnerable in a lot of ways. For this reason, many groups employ a policy of “vouchsafing.” (I’ll likely address the etymology of it at The Big Bad Words Blog.) This means that someone within the group meets newcomers to assure everyone’s welfare.[1] It helps everyone within the group feel comfortable with the newcomer and it guarantees that the newcomer is familiar with at least one person at the gathering—likely an unfamiliar experience.

This is on my mind because the last few weeks have included several opportunities to vouchsafe new attendees, an energy-packed ritual and gathering—which is our primary motivation for vouchsafing, and a notable increase in “Catfishing”—that which we vouchsafe to prevent.[2]

Firstly, the “Catfishing.” It’s odd how, periodically, we get upsurges of requests from clearly fabricated Facebook profiles. They tend to be brand-spankin’-new profiles with an obviously fictitious name, a photo that reeks of being stolen from some teenager’s Instagram attention-mongering or deviantArt mythical creature over-identification, no friends, no photos, and no other activities. Given the history we’ve experienced with cyber-stalkers and harassment, we are guarded. I like to think that these are truly well-meaning folks who are trying to establish a Pagan profile for networking; but I realize that at least a fraction of these are just silliness. They arrive daily for about two weeks and then cease for a few months, rinse, repeat. No harm is done, I just find it curious how they come in waves.

It was during one of these waves that we received a request to join us physically for Imbolc. It was the next week before we could meet someone who turned out to be what seems to be an absolutely perfect match for our group: academic and looking for solidly founded theology and practice, compassionate, and properly nerdy. It was the best case scenario.

safeThere have been situations where we have met with people requesting invitations to our events and have had to decline. A few times we have invited people and had to discontinue future invitations based on their behavior. Some people are simply unthewful (unethical), frithless (unfriendly), or simply unwilling to contribute to the group welfare in a meaningful way. But mostly, it is those people who act in such a way that makes the existing membership “creeped-out” that causes us to cease invitations. When we gather for “family dinner,” we let our hair down, let our defenses down, and hold nothing back from each other. When we do ritual-work together, we get ourselves into a spiritually vulnerable state; there’s no room for “the willies.” Not to mention nosey-bodies and lookie-loos. That’s never good.

seidrFor example, let me tell you about Imbolc in very general terms (to protect anonymity and all). We had three new attendees, two “significant-other” guests, and a non-member-repeat-attendee (that is to say he’s not new but he’s not a formal member—we call these “Friends of The Tribe”), as well as most of our regular members. The three new attendees as well as the significant others were vouchsafed by existing members of the tribe. We took responsibility for their guidance through protocols and ritual. But, the night took several weird turns. Almost right at the onset, we were called upon to do an emergency protection rite for one of our members. Watching a horde of Heathens hammer and hallow away in unison can be skeery to an outsider under any circumstances—when you add the fact that we are a seið-working group? If we had not vouchsafed these individuals and prepared them for what was happening, we could have done some psycho-spiritual damage to them on accident.

Add to that, our resident oracle did her thing and—of course—focused in on a newcomer. (Who had just been completely “opened up” by one of our Reiki Masters—all things work together even if we don’t know we are doing them, no?) Not on purpose, of course—we don’t get to pick and choose what messages come through, right? It was intense, far more intense and specific than usual. A bit of an initiation, you might say. Two other newcomers, a couple, sat in on the drum circle and had the opportunity to feel the energy we raise. Had they not known what they were getting into, this could have been, um, awkward. And, there is, yet another reason to make sure there is a contained and secure environment—you never know when a novice is going to tap into the ambient energy and spontaneously exhibit latent witchy abilities. I won’t go into that part of the evening except to say, I’m still finding glass.

I often felt apprehensive that we might be encouraging insularity or exclusivity with our policy of vouchsafing. But this recent experience has proven to me that all of the reasons for which we put the policy in place are valid.

And I’ve learned a subsidiary lesson. There is a limit to unknown variables that can be prudently merged into an existing spiritual-ecosystem before it becomes destabilized.[3] So—that means that not being able to vouchsafe the “absolutely perfect match for our group” until after Imbolc turned out to be the best case scenario—again.

As ever, I’ll let you know how Ostara goes.spindle2


[1] In our kindred bylaws, we state that, “If a potential attendee has never celebrated with us before, we insist on meeting with him/her in person before including him/her in a ritual event. If that isn’t feasible he/she will need to be vouchsafed (referred by a third party, someone known by the Kindred) before we will extend an invitation to attend a ritual event…. However, once a guest is welcomed they should be offered food and drink as well as all the comforts typically afforded a visitor.”

[2] Our Facebook page even has an Anti-“Catfishing” policy—here are the basics:

“Given the number of fabricated profiles that appear on social media and given the vulnerability we face on Pagan-related Facebook groups …. in order to keep a peaceful and nurturing atmosphere, free of unnecessary spectacle, we must vouchsafe those who would like to be part of our Facebook presence…. Anyone asking to be added … on Facebook must be a ‘known-person.’ This is to say that we must verify that there is an actual person of good intent behind the profile with which they request membership. While everyone is welcome in our kindred group, anyone who has an unknown or anonymous profile will need to be vouchsafed (referred by a known third party).”

[3] My estimate is somewhere around 10% of the total attendance. No kidding.

February 9, 2015

It’s been a big week in The Deep South—and it’s only Wednesday.

Monday, Alabama became the 37th state in the U.S. to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It hasn’t been without conundrum, as you might imagine. At the last minute, Chief Justice Roy Moore (infamous for his 2001 Ten Commandments controversy), who was removed from office in 2003 (for defying Federal mandate in said controversy) but reelected in 2012 (way to go, Alabamians), issued a memorandum to our 67 probate judges saying that they were not obliged to follow the Federal order. Most of them didn’t. Some of them did (about 25).

Roy Moore's "memo." Click to read the full article about Lee County.

Roy Moore’s “memo.” Click to read the full article about Lee County.

My county probate judge, Bill English of Lee County, was one of the majority who did not comply with the Federal order. On Sunday night he said that he’d observe “the law of the land” as he was sworn to do. Monday morning, he changed his tune. This left couples in my county empty-handed when they went to the courthouse for marriage licenses. All but one.

I showed up on the courthouse steps around 8:30 AM prepared to marry all applicants at no cost. I did this because I had read reports that there were many, many officiants refusing to officiate over same-sex weddings and that probate offices had suspended courthouse marriages for all couples. That made me ashamed for them. So, I pressed my clerical clothes (but I wore jeans and cowboy boots because I thought I’d need to be comfortable for a long haul on a cold and rainy day), printed off a simple secular ceremony, made a binder with a sign that let folks know I’d perform weddings for free. (I was even prepared to marry heterosexual couples if they had the audacity to ask.) After all, same-sex couples have had enough obstacles, I didn’t want them to face any more than they had to. Two of my kindred priests (one ordained with our kindred, a second ordained through another avenue but in the process of becoming ordained with us) went with me. My son brought his guitar and my daughter brought a camera. We were prepared to give these couples what “traditional” couples take for granted: a wedding. I wasn’t preparing to make some grand political statement. I wasn’t preparing to be interviewed by a slew of reporters before the day’s end. I wasn’t preparing for anything other than lending a hand.

It was cold and raining. We were feeling rough, y'all. Click to read the article by the Auburn Plainsman.

It was cold and raining. We were feeling rough, y’all. Click to read the article by the Auburn Plainsman.

By 9:00, we were disappointed to learn that our judge was defying Federal mandate; however, we remained hopeful that he’d come around by day’s end. He did not. But something wonderful happened. Using our mobile devices and social media, we learned that the nearest county complying with the law was fifty-miles away. Two grooms, Justin and Shawn, decided to go to Montgomery County for their license. But they wanted to be married “at home.” So, five hours later, they drove back to Lee County courthouse where they found me, a handful of relentless supporters, and a pack of reporters waiting for them. And then they got married. At home. Right in front of the courthouse that refused to recognize their equal rights to marriage.

In the intervening five hours, reporters from every local news outlet camped out with us—the equal rights to marriage crowd. There was only one vocal detractor all day (from a megachurch locals refer to as “Fort God”). He came early, preached a little, and left. For the most part (aside from the obligatory disgruntled federal employee), everyone was either neutral or lovely. The Sherriff’s Office sent extra protection—which we didn’t need—and she was, looking like a khaki-clad Laura Croft, a wonderful addition to our small crowd. Most of the folks arriving at the courthouse for regular Monday business didn’t even realize what was happening before their eyes. Those who did extended gracious comments and support. It made me wonder who the heck these people voted for. More importantly, who they would vote for in the next election.

In the early-afternoon, I had the great and historic honor to marry the first same-sex couple in Lee County, Alabama. And, let me tell you, they were adorable. And crazy about each other.

The day was full of waiting and anticipation, but when the moment came—ahhh!

1978717_10102747384052201_5075152812003103420_nIt didn’t occur to me that I was involved in a moment that would make history. It didn’t occur to me that this act was political. It didn’t occur to me that the news coverage would be so vast. All I thought was, “Finally! After six-and-a-half-years, this couple can be legally married.”

And, “I wish I hadn’t worn jeans.”

I’m not being disingenuously humble. I’m pointing out how little political thought went into my decisions Sunday and Monday. I was frank with reporters about my rationale for being there, about my religion, about everything. It was only afterward that I realized that some of these “franknesses” were, perhaps, poor choices! For instance, I caught wind that a local radio station was talking about the events and drawing attention to my “pagan-ness.” I didn’t hear it, so cannot comment further. But most of the local news outlets discussed the fact that I am a Pagan minister, used my full name, gave my home town, listed my kindred’s name, etc.


No, no. This wasn’t intimidating at all.

Side note: I’ve just learned from a dear out-of-state friend that the national news (yes, national news—in blue jeans yet) has not given so many of my personal details or details about the couple. Thank goodness.

But this gave me pause. Why is it even worth pointing out that I am a Pagan minister? Is the point to discredit the veracity of the ceremony? Is it a way to make both polytheism and homosexuality part of some “fringe” group dynamic? Is it to assure Christians across Alabama that one of their own did not betray them by doing God’s work in a constitutionally assured c’mon-y’all-we’re-supposed-to-love-one-another-and-lift-each-other-up sort of way? Is it just another sound bite? I let you know as it plays out.

Here are a few thoughts that I’m still mulling over in the wake of far too much attention paid to me for what I considered nothing more than “showing up” and “doing right.”

I’ve had scads of people reach out to me to thank me as members of the LGBT community and as members of the human race. I’ve had loads of “congratulations.” This one puzzles me. I didn’t do anything for which I should be lauded. I can accept gratitude for “sticking up for” a marginalized community, but I didn’t achieve anything. Congratulations belong to the lovely grooms. The attention is just not sitting easy on me is all. I’m being as gracious as I can be, but I still feel bewildered by “congratulations.” And as far as “sticking up for” anyone, I didn’t think of it that way. I was just doing what I do. Ministering.

Last night, I got a call from a 2002 Freshman who saw me on the news in Denver, Colorado. He said that I helped turn him into “a useful member of society.” I guess I’m facing the tremendous responsibility that comes with all that. It makes one examine the minutia of one’s actions in a paranoid sort of way. What if one of the little decisions I make is the wrong one? Monday, I said something like, “I’m largely a huge fuck-up. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I didn’t do anything but be there.” Fortunately, the news didn’t use that as their sound bite.

Maybe I’m coming to terms with the fact that “being there” is all that really matters in the first place.

I’m seeing lots of Online comments about officiants on lists of folks willing to perform same-sex marriages. Yet, I was the only one in front of my county courthouse Monday. Maybe that’s why I feel so strangely about “congratulations.” Dude, I just showed up. Yesterday (day 2), a friend of mine, a Priestess in Birmingham, was the only officiant at the courthouse in a county that IS issuing licenses. The only one. She showed-the-feck-up. And she was worn out and could have used a hand. No one else showed up. My point is—it’s about showing up, putting your cowboy-boot-wearin’ feet where your mouth is.

The beautiful Lilith Presson doing the right thing. Click to read the article.

The beautiful Lilith Presson showing up and doing right in Jefferson County. Click to read the article.

This brings me back to the issue of being a pagan officiant. It seems Pagan ministers are a majority of those willing to perform services. Does that make us, ironically, more like Christ—in that we (generally) imagine all humans as having intrinsic value and equal rights—than some Christians? Just to be totally clear–I said “some.” There are always magnificent exceptions like (Baptist) Rev. Ellin Jimmerson of Huntsville. Amen.

Then there’s this idiocy. Yesterday, Chief Moore said that same sex marriage would lead to plural marriage and parental-incest. He wasn’t talking about cousins, y’all. He said fathers and daughters and mothers and sons.

A) That’s as senseless a slippery slope as the one about bestiality. One my Freshman English class could identify a mile away.

B) Would legalized plural marriage be that bad? I mean, it is closer to the Biblical model than enforced monogamy.

C) Have you seen a daddy-daughter dance?

That’s about as close to a wedding as anything else I’ve ever seen. White dresses, pledges about sexual conduct, exchanging of rings. Tell me I’m wrong. But first, have a look at last June’s Jezebel article, “Creepy Yet Gorgeous Portraits of Purity-Pledging Daughters and Dads.” 

This little bit of local attention has spun my head and I need a few days for self-examination. Hopefully, in those few days the justices of Alabama will do some self-examination as well and join the rest of us on the side of The Constitution. When they do—or when the Federal courts do it for them—I’ll have my feet where my mouth is. I’ll be showing up. I’ll also be in something other than blue jeans.

Congratulations to all the newlyweds. Thank you to everyone who showed up.

Love is the law, love under will.

War Damn Equality.

Waes thu hael.

So This Happened …

Just wanted to share.


Proof copies from the publisher just arrived. These are for my kindred to preview before open distribution. I’m a little tickled. OK–a lot tickled. I feel like I’m posting pictures of my newborn.


Also, my magical students now have legit study guides and workbooks. (This is the first of 3-4 sets, btw.) Doesn’t take the place of actual teaching and mentoring, but it sure helps with continuity of tradition as my older students step forward and start teaching.

The ritual book is on its way to finished too. I’m finally ticking off some goals.

Deep Winter

We magical folk always tell each other, “Be careful what you wish for.” The kicker is that what we want sometimes turns around and wants us in return. And then—it gets us.

Let’s just say I’ve been got.

I’ve always wanted to write a memoir about some of the particularly nasty experiences I have been in and borne witness to as a witch, surrounded by witches. My justification for never finishing the thing was that I didn’t know the ending. Good writing knows where it’s going. Even if the writer doesn’t know at first, the story itself leaves a trail of breadcrumbs along the way; a good writer can find that trail and follow it home. The breadcrumbs have finally settled and I can begin to digest the trail—but I’m not sure I really even want to follow it back home. Because, ew. Maybe in my old age.

Yes, I realize that birds are a problem in my metaphor.

Around about this time last year, I left off drafting a memoir and started writing A Year With The Dísr, a ritual book of sorts crafted especially for my kindred. I thought, “Well, the seasons are cyclical. I don’t need to know the end.” What I didn’t know was that I was going to have to live the cycle in order to truly write from a place of deliberateness. I drafted that one and it rang as hollow—a set of rote formulae for seasonal rituals like every other rote formula for seasonal ritual. I wanted a stronger sense of gnosis to guide me in uncovering the Mysteries of creation, death, and rebirth.

Be careful what you want; it might just want you in return.

So, about 117 pages in, I put it aside. And not exactly by choice—it seemed something wanted me enough to pull my by the ear and teach me a cosmic lesson.

Two years ago, we changed the name of our kindred and changed the emphasis of our attentions. Immediately after that, we started seeing purposeful growth. But Midsummer of 2013 saw a boom in attendance and participation—a heyday, if you will. As summer turned to autumn, we saw hardship and loss (strikingly manifest at our Lammas celebration)—and we faced it as a family. That Yule, in good Heathen fashion, we did what we had to do and culled out the resources that were most draining and fed that which would bring us most strength. (I’m not talking about people necessarily, rather activities and goals.) We held a celebration the following January and solidified our commitment to each other. Oimelc/Imbolc followed and spring saw an uphill battle—especially for a few of our members. By Midsummer we were, again, firm in frith and expansively joyful. However, as the season waned to Lammas, so did so much else. This time, I had to face much of it without my kindred—not because they abandoned me, mind you; but because two really wicked incidents derailed our Mabon and Yule celebrations, leaving only a Winternights celebration in between.

Around October, things took a turn for some of us. Winter was deep, lemme tell ya. But I kept saying to everyone, maybe in hopes that it was true for me too, that the fire was returning with the spring. The land would renew with the sun. Day would dawn.

This was a genuine test of Faith—capitol F, Faith. If I really believed that as the seasons turned, our lives followed suit, I had to believe that in the crocus there is Hope—capitol H, Hope. Headed for another Oimelc/Imbolc, I can already feel the stirrings of profound optimism.

Don’t get me wrong, on paper it looks like life is shite right now. I’m still seeing clients but basically out of work—my beloved vocation as teacher unfairly torn from me and with that, a large part of my identity. Some dear friends are facing total devastation and, as is my calling, I find myself a rock in a tumultuous sea—this is rewarding but simultaneously draining. You know this, I’m sure. At 15, 18, and 20, my kids are facing their own challenges, but we are facing them together and head-on. One of the blessings of Deep Winter has been that my husband and I are clinging to each other in a way that the previous 25 years only dreamed of. Communication and trust are at an all-time high and anxiety and hostility at an all-time low. Spring brings with it the promise of a full partnership: familial, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Winter was rough but it doesn’t depart without some beautiful recompenses.

Another of those reassurances is the return of my kin. With that comes the return of my inspiration to write, to finish projects left-off in despair. There is renewed inspiration to strengthen old community relationships and build new ones—while steadfastly avoiding toxicity. Inspiration—even leaders need a muse, and I have rediscovered mine in my kin. For a minute, I wasn’t sure we would even reconvene at Oimelc, but I am looking forward to the respite that comes in the arms of people who love me dearly—even when I feck it all up. “Even if the bread isn’t fully baked.”

And, of course, even par-baked bread can leave a crumb-trail to follow home.

Now that I’ve experienced two full years that rise and fall with the seasons, I feel that my wish has been granted. I have seen the death and rebirth of creativity, security, affection, and all those other things that make the world go ‘round in a directly personal way that has edified me. I can apply this cosmic education to the project at hand in a way that makes it more than rote formulae.

And, having taken a few hour hiatus in the composition of this post to talk to a magical student, I have a plan for the next round of perfectly timed priesthood preparation.

Though Deep Winter held its hidden blessings, I’ll be happy to see the fire of spring return. And though it was a rough row to hoe, I’m blessed to have gotten what I wanted.

Brace yourself. Spring is coming.

Dark Night of the Soul 2.0

I did that thing where I exposed my heart and then ended up surprised to see it thoroughly trampled. Silly me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not maudlin or melodramatically, romantically distraught. My heart’s just broken. It hurts and it’s exhausting.

And I’m not a kid. I’ve had plenty of heartbreak. Ain’t none of it ever measured up to this.

You see–over my six-month hiatus, I had a bit of a life-changing adventure. The beginning of the year saw me defeated by a number of things in my personal life and left me questioning all those things which I imagined as “essential” to my identity.

  • A good mother
  • A strong leader
  • An ethical person
  • A spiritual person
  • An effective teacher

Things happened with my kids, my job, my marriage, my tribe, my family of origin, my physical household–all of which left me ready to fling up my hands. Not bad things (mostly–one was pretty damned bad), just irksome thing that didn’t win out on the side of benefit when considering cost. Then Midsummer rolled around and I had something to hang on to. Something easy that was all benefit. Something sparked in me and I had the tenacity to move through the rest of the year. Something saved my effing life–and I didn’t even realize it needed saving. If you read my post from August, you know I had taken a turn for the outright hopeful.

I felt as if everything was divinely ordained. That, for whatever reason, the divine was placing me in a particular position to do something good. Or at least meaningful. Even if only on the personal level. And I needed something good and meaningful on the personal level–so this was a real boon for my ailing spirit. I really listened to spiritual guidance and chose my steps with great care and deliberation. They weren’t all easy, trust me. This road was paved with shards of glass. But it seemed an absolutely worthwhile road–and I was alive. 

Yeah. Well. All things end. This one just ended abruptly and in a way that leaves me asking why the gods put me in such a position in the first place.

I’m pretty sure I misstepped and had the cosmic rug pulled out from under me because I was “disobedient.” We don’t really think in terms of “sin” and “damnation” but there is a sense of “obedient” and “punitive.” Plus, the one sort-of (it’s too complicated and personal to write about) triggered the other. It’s hard not to see a connection instead of a mere corollary.

Nearly Winter Solstice and the decline comes with the seasons. Ah, I love a good pathetic fallacy.

When I saw the end approaching, I have to admit, it was damned hard not to whip up the witchyness. It has taken a good deal of willpower to keep myself from tossing magic on top of desire and the fear of loss. There’s a part of me that knew from experience that all I had to do was *that one thing* and I could turn the tide for myself. But, there’s the other part of me that knew from experience that the unintended consequences, “Monkey Paw Style,” of magical intervention can be devastating.

Yesterday was my birthday and in 36 hours I managed to accumulate more loss than in the past year combined. Today I’m struggling against anguish that crushes in waves, leaving me gasping for air as I get pulled under again.

The thing about mourning is that it comes and goes. I know this. Eventually it comes less often and stays gone longer. But when too many losses happen at once, the mourning tends to get confused. The feelings of loss for one thing (that might have been manageable on its own) gets conflated with and compounded by other losses.

Some might say I’m embarking on The Dark Night of the Soul, after which I will find peace and enlightenment. Part 220px-JohnCrossof me says, “I hope so.” The rest of me says, “Bah.” I never much bought into Eckhart Tolle anyhow.

But considering this term, “dark night of the soul,” goes back to–at least–Saint John of the Cross, I can consider it in Tolle’s terms without too much chagrin.

It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life…an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. … Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything.  Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level.  The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies.  Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning – and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It’s a great way to approach the holiday season–I promise that’s irony.

Rather than flinging my pain outward with magic or banal actions that potentially cause more damage, I’m spending some quality time in my head with some awesome poets.

I think Kahlil Gibran captured the experience of The Dark Night of the Soul best in his poem, “Defeat,” from The Madman:


I’ve not come to terms yet with the final line–do I really want to be dangerous? Part of me cringes, the other part says, “Hell yeah.” Someone recently said to me that there was no one more dangerous than the person with nothing left to loose. I argued that a witch with nothing left to lose was more dangerous than anything.

I suppose the trick is to hang on to at least one last shred of something that’s worth losing. It’s a risky business: caring. It’s a sight riskier to stop caring, throw caution to the wind, and cast blindly into the aether for a balm or compensation for loss. Better to just vomit and move on. It’s working for me today.

If you’re in a dark spot, hang on. Morning comes. And I’ll be on the other side of night looking for you.


And because it’s therapeutic, I’ll be writing about “regret” and “remorse” over the weekend using T.V. Tropes and Idioms at The Big Bad Words Blog.

Big Bad Words

The Bad Witch uses Bad Words.



Seems logical. If you want to see some of my bad words, go look here.

 It’s secular and has almost nothing to do with what you read here, but it’s my word-doctor-voice.