Vouchsafing

“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.

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Goodness and Rebirth

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. — Charles Bukowski

I have always had a strong affinity to the Phoenix. I have an uncanny knack for rising up out of my own ashes.

I also kinda like Bukowski. Some people read him as “dark” and “cynical” and even “misanthropic.” But I see in his poetry (more than in his prose, I admit) an insatiable longing for goodness. A knowing that goodness is out there and a death-drive to fecking find it. To find it and straddle it and slide next to it and kiss it full on the mouth with the greedy expectation of being enveloped by its swarming, blood-thick reality. I’m not talking about altruism, philanthropy, political-correctness, or politeness. I’m talking about goodness. And goodness–honest goodness–is often heavy, sticky, and oppressive with wonder and insight.

Maybe that’s not what you get from Bukowski. I can see that.

But let me tell you a short story. I introduced Bukowski to someone who was grasping at spider’s webs, trying to hang on to a reason to live. Words, man. “This,” she said, “this I can feel.” She had been pushing away every constructed regurgitation of others’ emotions because they struck her as “false,” so she refused them and started believing that there were no “true” feelings to be had. “This. This I can feel.” Sounds pretty damn hopeful to me. Sure, she was reading “The Crunch,” not a very uplifting piece; but his refrain that “people are not good to each other,” implies that we can be. There can be goodness. Heart-breakingly beautiful goodness. Goodness that, with its nasty weight, most people reject for “love and light.”

I’ve been stumbling all over that kind of goodness lately. I’ve been finding it stuck to my shoes and matted in my hair and running down my legs in thick rivulets of dumbfounding honesty. I’m a little overcome by it but I also have the breathtaking desire to find more of it–now that I know it’s out there.

Rather, in here. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it’s been in me all along. Goodness, I mean. I had just forgotten it, or had devalued it, or had disguised it as something else.

Let me put all of this verbal meandering in some context. It’s been exactly a year since my husband hired a lawyer to pursue a defamation case on my behalf. It’s been a helluva year. Since then I have been in court (for myself and for others being similarly harassed) more than I ever wanted to be[1] and, as a proximate result, have lost my teaching job at the university.[2] Somewhere in that year, I lost a sense of who I am. I turned over the kindred leadership to my priest and his wife (also a blood-relative), put occult teaching on the back-burner, sent a child off to college, had a couple of traumatic personal “lashing-out” adventures, and watched my husband obsess over another woman (even if it is hatred-fueled, it’s a real thing to watch). All that, and the result is that now I don’t have the job that I sacrificed so much for. I don’t mean I sacrificed because I wanted it–but because my family needed me to stay put, I passed up other (tenured) positions in places that are not Alabama.[3]

So I feel like Bukowski on this. I honestly feel like the last 12 months have been equitable to binge drinking. Once this hangover clears, I think I’ll be allowed to resurrect my slaughtered self.

You see, just a few weeks before The Husband hired The Lawyer–Midsummer 2013–I wrote about an epiphany I’d had the previous spring (and put it in context of the year prior to that) in the aptly named “Midsummer.” I said:

… the crux of the vision was that I needed to …. reclaim a part of mySelf that had been lost and reintegrate it into my whole being. A week later I went to a celebration with a nearby coven. At their ritual, they performed a “rebirthing” ceremony. I thought, “Ah-ha! This is just what I need.” Nope. I had to bear that weight a little longer.

Little did I know how much gestation time I was in for.[4] And how much giving birth to oneself hurts.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger--just for giggles.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger–just for giggles.

In that year of breaking myself into uncompletable shards, I found that there were hidden treasures. Hidden goodness. Under all my own “false” emotions—the ones worn to pacify others’ needs for stability and appearances—I found “true” emotions. The sticky-thick unnerving kind. And I needed to be unnerved. I was dying under the weight of niceness[5] devoid of any anchor in goodness.

What happened was this. I became more intentional in my devotions[6] and I prayed. A lot. And you know what happens when witches pray. Shite gets real.

Suddenly, I had this fantastic aetherial partnership that went far and beyond anything I had experienced with KCHGA. The only way I can describe it is “entirely specific.” And this is a really good thing—else-wise I’d believe I was losing my ever-loving mind. But because I have seen evidence that this is not “all in my cracked head,” I know it’s real.

Then. Then I started obeying—executing instructions. And I’m a little blown away by the specificity of it all. There is nothing ambiguous about instructions, consequences for not following instructions, rewards for following instructions, grace-periods, etc.[7] It really got to the point where I started writing things down so that I could highlight them, check them off, cross them out as they happened.

A friend and I have a joke about life being a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. This is almost like reading ahead and knowing what’s on each page before choosing!

  • My first test was in January and an unexpected “adventure.” The experience itself was pleasurable but left a little aftershock, if not outright trauma. Maybe just in that it actually happened the way it was supposed to. Or at all.
  • Then there was Imbolc and our land-warden-planting and a visit to a very high energy location and yet another adventure—where I may have left someone else vaguely traumatized!
  • Then Ostara and no adventures aside from a rebirthing ritual of our own. That, I think, was just after I figured out the “rules” of this new relationship.
  • Walpurgisnacht was fascinating (and landed me sick for a month) and a complete reversal of Walpurgisnact 2013 which I spent intentionally with only female priestesses—this (liberating) ritual took place with just myself and three male[8]
  • Between the spokes in the year, there was a series of unfortunate events—floods and infestations—that, in turn, caused some of the other items to get ticked off my list.
  • Finally, just before Midsummer, some paradigm shift caused the whole convoluted picture to come into focus. By mid-June, I saw what was coming but I didn’t know the finer details.
This was from June 30. It's just ... so much.

This was from June 30. It’s just … so much.

Now, on the other side of the harvest, Lammas, things are starting to converge. And I’m terrified that I’m getting exactly what I bargained for. Exactly—but with fun surprises at the bottom of the box.[9] And a lot of hidden treasure among the shards of my broken soul. And all that goodness—true goodness—I thought I had irretrievably lost. I don’t think I’ve found rebirth or resurrection yet—I think these are the labor pains.

There is a bout with forgiveness that I’m going to have to fight. Actually, more than one. And if fighting *with* forgiveness doesn’t sound paradoxical to you? Welcome to the conundrum. I feel ya. And I think I’m up for the fight. Hope you are too. If not, drop me a line and we’ll hash it out together.

There’s a “struggle of the wills” that I’ll have to take part in. I think I know where this one is going to come from. My goal is to remain compassionate yet not a carpet to be walked on: balancing geburah and chesed.

In my secular life, mid-November is significant. It’s when the timeline for the EEOA investigation of my termination runs out and I will have an answer. And I’ll turn to that page in my adventure book. Until then, I plan to stay the course.

I hope to be able to keep the regular promise of letting you know how it turns out. But I simply can’t say what’s on that page just yet. Either way, waes thu hael.

~E

 

[1] Except when I was courting law school.

[2] You see, my supervisor has a relationship to the defendant and let me go in retaliation. Needless to say, I have another year of another suit–this time an EEOA violation.

[3] I did get what I needed out of that suit though–the truth has (mostly) come to the surface, maybe not the details but certainly the reality of the situation; I’m unharassed; and I know who my friends are and who I can trust better than ever. Plus, I’ve an even stronger sense of devotion and have reaped the harvest of such devotions. That can’t be all bad.

[4] Like whale and rhino long.

[5] Motivated solely by the determination not to be “bad.”

[6] There is still plenty of room for improvement.

[7] The only thing I am struggling with is the time line. I’m fecking impatient and may end up shooting myself in the foot with that shortcoming.

[8] We have two Walpurgisnacht rituals: the main one and a more private, chthonic one.

[9] Sometimes it’s just the spiritual equivalent of a press-on tattoo—but that’s better than nothing. Lagniappe is always welcome.

Sweetness

This week has been entirely cool. On Saturday, we installed our bees on the Ve.

Four of us (and our children) began this journey last summer when we first looked into beekeeping in our different counties. A whole group of us had been interested in beekeeping for a good while; so we attended a summer symposium. Four of us stuck it out when, in February, we started learning in earnest. After a winter of learning—and learning that there really are very few prohibitions[1] against beekeeping—we bit the commitment bullet, built our hives, and installed our bees.

Lemme tell ya, it was not as frightening as I expected.

And it brings me to the sweetest magical allegory in town.

I am allergic to everything on this beautiful planet (aside from poison ivy, go figure) and was terrified of what the “bee installation day” experience might bring. Yet, I donned my nerdy protective suit (full-body prophylaxis), walked into the fray where bees were flying by the tens of thousands,[2] and was totally fine. Seriously, I wasn’t even nervous. Not even a little.[3]

It’s like working with magic. Real magic. Not that conk somebody on the head because you lost control of your emotions sort of trifle that so many of us can do—but don’t if we’ve learned better. I’m talking about—whatever your tradition’s analog may be[4]–I’m talking about conjuration and all that jazz.

Let me run this metaphor out.

  • Calm bees stay calm until someone sounds the “alarm.” Then they all switch on a pheromone that makes the whole colony lose their shit. If a human sounds the alarm, well.

o   Even benevolent spirits (entities, daemons, thoughtforms, etc.) can get—um, spooked—we’ll go with “spooked,” if the conjurer gets all bent out of shape and switches on the magical alarm pheromone. And you bet your arse, somebody’s getting stung.

  • The best thing to do is use lots of protection when you are first learning to handle bees. As you get more proficient, as you learn the signals of the bees, you can work with or without gloves, with or without a veil, or with just a smoker. I’ve seen it done. I don’t think I’ll ever get there (my aversion to anaphylaxis and all)—but that doesn’t mean no one does it.

o   Likewise with conjuration. Holy heck, that can sting like the Dickens and lay you out if you aren’t properly protected. Right? Sometimes you need a metaphorical beesuit. But, once you know what’s what—and as long as you don’t have reason to suspect a rogue bee[5]—you might eventually be able to get away with working with fewer accoutrements. Just, you know, make sure you have a well-lit metaphorical smoker.

  • Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. Some folks are just skeered. Of everything. Dogs, chickens, snakes, spiders, witches, bees. Fear comes from an uncontrolled mind, from anxieties arising out of attachment in the form of anger and hatred. Human fears develop in a direct corollary to our feeling of being threatened. According to Buddhist[6] thought, fears result from our ignorance of Self, the origin of delusions, and thus the root of our fears. If you don’t have a sense of self-presence—knowing exactly who you are (not a delusion of Self) and what you are (actually, not delusionally) capable of—you have no business messing with bees.
Fried Green Tomatoes, "Bee Charmer"

Fried Green Tomatoes, “Bee Charmer”

o   Same goes for magic. If you are a frightened, victimhood-oriented individual you should steer clear of actual magic. If you don’t “Know Thyself,” you won’t be very effectual in the first place; but you shouldn’t go messing around in atmospheres where you have no business. If you are delusional about yourself and your abilities? Let’s just say I’m not going in after you if you decide to jam your hand all down in a metaphorical honey super on a cloudy day like you’re Idgie Threadgoode or something. I’ll call the metaphorical equivalent to 911, but the rest is on you. Literally.

Some people think that if they’ve seen it in a movie it must be real–and that it must apply to them. Mmm’hokay.

  • That leads me to my last point. There are “stock” bees and wild bees. The bees I have are Italian, like most beekeeper bees in the US. They were bred by a specialist who knows how to breed queens that produce calm and unruffled[7] colonies. Like all breeding programs, this is a precise science to which all I can say is, “I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.” Some bees were bred for different things—serenity not being one of them. Or, you know, being lower on the list. This is just to say that even if you know *your* bees, you don’t want to make the same assumptions about another colony or—lords no—wild bees. The rules go out the window in the wild.

o   Not all of the “stuff” one can encounter out in the Aether is of metaphorically “known parentage.” A magician, sorcerer, whatever-you-call-yourself, can be very familiar with and work with great ease with one set of energies. But out of that element? All bets are off. Should you encounter something “wild”? The worst thing you can do is make assumptions about its imperatives and jurisdictions. Some shite will laugh in your face. And then peal it off and eat it just for kicks.

You might not, but I buy it.

It might seem like too much risk for such little payout. After all, the honey doesn’t extrude and jar itself. But bees are a necessary part (a dwindling part) of a functioning eco-system. I started keeping bees because it was the right thing to do. Now I’m discovering that there are rewards to be had well before the honey flows.[8] Likewise with magic. I started doing it for personal development, ego reduction, and self-awareness. Sure, I hoped there’d be plenty of alchemical honey on the other end of the project, but it wasn’t my primary motivation. It was just the right thing to do. And just like with my old “friends,” I’m finding that with my new little friends, there are rewards to be had before I’ve even seen my first comb.

Think about it. The necessity to calm the feck down each and every time, the necessity to have faith in one’s protective measures, the necessity to know—really know—the limits of one’s abilities (and to push them just a little more each time), and the necessity to remember to keep the smoker lit at all times.

There are explicit rewards to finding oneself in the presence of bees.

Wæs þu hæl!

 

[1] I mean, we have limited finances and a slew of animals and pregnant ladies and children and allergies. Honey may be bad for babies but bees are only dangerous if one is allergic. And one would be allergic, pregnant or not. So, there was really no reason not to go for it.

[2] Earlier in the day, my estimate is that there were 1.5 million bees. Assuming that each packaged colony had around 10,000 bees and there were about 150 orders. That’s without the neighborhood bees who came to see all the hullabaloo.

[3] The story was different when I opened the hive wearing only protective gloves the next day. That was a test in bravery. A test I passed with flying colors.

[4] Yes, I believe that various paths have various names and they are all valid—though not the same.

[5] Hive minds don’t really produce many rogues as long as your population is healthy and bred from calm queens. We don’t have the threat of “Africanized” bees in my neck of the woods.

[6] Thanks to one of my Cultural Diversity students who phrased this so eloquently during his presentation in our non-Abrahamic religions unit.

[7] They are also hygienic, varyingly disease resistant, and relatively high-producers.

[8] Not to mention the hope of propolis!

Every Human Effort

I was having a conversation with a student about how I don’t really “do magic” as often as I used to. And that got me t’ruminating.

I was thinking, “Well, I don’t actually need to ‘do magic’ as often as I used to, because lately life just seems to iron everything out if I am patient.” Not always the way I expect that it will, but I really love the universe’s  ability to provide while employing the element of surprise.

Irony is often my favorite outcome.

But in the past few months, I have started to miss “doing magic.” Just the pure drama of outcomes. Then I remember the power of “pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result” and I shush. No need to start tossing all that energy around just out of boredom or impatience. Tends to water things down. And enough water can put out even the most vigorous blaze.

I don’t mean the “drive-by” kind of uncontrolled tossing all the papers out of somebody’s hands in the midst of an emotional snit-fit. I still do that from time to time, though far less frequently than I did in my youth–I try to keep a reign on it since that is simply *not cool* and it really diminishes the power behind actual magic.

I’ve always been of the (fairly traditional) mind that one does not simply “cast” for results unless one has exhausted every human effort to attain the thing in question. I have pissed off more than one client who came to me looking for a magical-quick-fix when I gave them the mandatory “to-do list” that accompanies my willing assistance. It might not fall under the category “unthewful,” but to me, it seems downright rude and fairly presumptuous to ask the universe to provide a thing through magical means if one is not willing to do some basic (and often, not-so-basic) tasks and lay out some human energy to attain the same ends.

I honestly get a kick out of those who say I must have no magical power because I have to resort to mundane work in order to make things happen. (Yup, it’s been said.) Thing is, I have grown to see “mundane” acts as potentially magical. You see, when I was younger, I observed each turn of the moon on my own and celebrated the turning of the wheel. There was a lot of ebb and flow in my first two-decades of serious occult investigation. (This is, aside from the first 17 years in a highly spiritual life–having been introduced to profound spirituality in early childhood.) When I hit my mid-30s, I also hit a stride of daily devotions and constant magical practice. Not so much “spell-casting,” but Ceremonial Magic. Around-about 2007 I began in earnest to make real magical practice and spiritual devotions a regular part of my everyday life; it took about nine-months to sink in, but it finally did. And now it just feels like breathing. Air: in and out. Ond, exchanging energy, letting it flow, building maegen. As natural and as simple (only not simple at all) as blowing out a candle-flame.

Thus, after five or six years of such constancy, I do not separate what I do in the garden, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom from what I do in the temple, in the hof, or at the harrow. My life has become my altar. Every act has become part of The Great Work. To me, nothing is supernatural–as they say, “Magic is just stuff science hasn’t made boring yet.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in divinity. I just see The Divine and nature as symbiotic manifestations of the same. I only “work” or “cast” or “conjure” when I’ve exhausted every human effort–and I’m pretty inventive when it comes to exhaustion.

And I find that I don’t have to resort to pull-out-all-the-stops spell-casting anymore. Roads open (and close) as easily with well-timed phone calls and properly filed paperwork. Like a good helping of earth tossed on a campfire. The last year or so has only left me with the need to employ “crafted” spellwork for others–those under crossed conditions, those who need a response from an unforthcoming employer, those that need special protections, those that need, you know, stuff. I didn’t realize it while I was doing the early work, but now I understand that it is for these folks that I built up sacral gefrain (if I may coin a phrase to mean god-gefrain used for the benefit of those under one’s sacral leadership), so that I can work on behalf of those that need me–who need the benefits that derive from the years of work I have already done.

So, I retract my statement that “I don’t really ‘do magic’ as often as I used to” and assert that I (try to) do magic with my every act: those that employ public policy, those that employ technology, those that employ the legal system, those that employ established systems of commerce, etc. To those who would claim that “she must have no magical power because she has to resort to mundane work in order to make things happen,” I ask, “How small is your imagination?”

Waes hael!

 

Ergi and Trans* Identity: “The Sacred Third”

She had me at, “I’ve started my own church.”

As if it isn’t enough that she oozes charisma or that she has the wittiest comebacks for every comment, we share an affinity for Jane Austin and Gender Studies.[1] Though I did my stint with the 18th Century and walked away, thanking David Garrick for all he taught me, she is sticking it out (and doing it rather fantastically).

Over the past few months, I have had the great privilege of getting to know some of the most inspiring young men and women in my community, members of Spectrum, The Auburn University Gay-Straight Alliance. Among them is Miss Darcy Corbitt, who consented to allow me to talk about her in this forum—a brave thing in and of itself!  Darcy has been honored recently by The Women’s Studies Program at Auburn and Equality Alabama for her activism for trans* rights; she is passionate, she is articulate, and, above all, she is right: “These are issues that are not highlighted and not talked about enough.” You can—no, should—watch her Stephen Light Youth Activist Award acceptance speech (also available at the bottom of this page); right around 4:05, I see the lioness I have come to admire emerge. She means every word.

At the end of her speech, Darcy challenges us all: “You’ve heard what I have to say. Now what are you going to do about it?”

Here’s my answer.

Aside from talking about the cisfemale-only ritual brouhaha at PantheaCon a couple years back, I haven’t talked about discrimination as much as I should. And I haven’t been as pointed about gender as I likely should be. Sure, I skirt around it. Like in “Redneckognizing a Difference,” I mentioned, “Of the theological differences between Wicca (and Wicca-based eclectic practices) and Heathenry is the polarity between genders which affects our sexual ethics.” But I never brought it home, did I?

I always like to quote Malaclypse the Younger in situations like this, “I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.” Go see Beyond the Wand for the full scoop on this meme.

In “The Difference: Part 2,” I did it again. When I had a moment to wade into a discussion on discrimination, I kept it a little more focused on what is turning out to be this year’s big PantheaCon topic: what has come to be called “Wiccanate Privilege.”[2] Even in “The Difference: Part 3 (Leadership and Gender)” I kept my topic focused on sacral leadership. I should be talking about equality, no? I mean, I graze the tip of the Spivak-pronoun and I often mention ergi in a footnote here or a side comment there; but I never grabbed the, um, bull—we’ll go with bull—by the proverbial horns.[3] In all of the local criticism I’ve gotten about my belief system and practices, I shied away from talking about my own fecking belief system and practices. Did I actually let someone silence me? Well, thanks to Darcy The Brave, I think I have my voice back.

Heregoes.

If you are Pagan, you likely know about Heathens. If you are Heathen, you might know about the Northern European practice of magic, seiðr. If you practice seiðr, you have prolly heard of “ergi”—the negative characterization of men (actually, non ciswomen) who practice seiðr.

This is not only a problem for men, it is a problem for women; it’s a problem for intersexed individuals; it is a problem for trans* individuals. Basically, it’s a problem for everyone. You see, anytime we characterize non-binary gender (or sexuality, for that matter) as “other,” as non-normal, as problematic, we not only shortchange individuals with non-binary identities, we curtail the possibilities for all identities. It makes sense to remember that Laguz, fluidity, represents endless possibilities.

There is a lot of contentious commentary out there that claims men who practice this sort of magic are (negatively) effeminate or unmanly (called ergi or argr—both intended as insults). However, this is only so in interpretations of the post-Christian telling of the Sagas and Eddas.[4] In my way of thinking, the concept of ergi as a negative attribute has been over-emphasized and overplayed by patriarchal post-Cartesian contemporary recon traditions. After all, gender is a culturally constructed principle which is as individual as personality, no? Further, while it is true that the majority of those who practice seiðr in the Sagas are female, it is not true than no men ever practiced seiðr.

I mean, Odin much?

You see, ergi and agar, are not as cut-and-dried “insults” as contemporary translators would have them. Firstly, ergi is often translated as “unmanly” or “effeminate.” Some translators go a step further and indicate “homosexual,” which, as we all know, is not the same as unmanly or effeminate.[5] Some scholars, like Jenny Blain and Jenny Jochens, indicate that “acting like a woman” may have more to do with shape shifting than human sexuality. Blain also suggests that seiðr may have been considered an effeminate activity given the passivity and repetition involved in channeling energies: being a ‘vessel’ (Blain. Nine Worlds of Seid-Magic: Ecstasy and Neo-shamanism in North European Paganism. Routledge. London and New York: 2001. Jochens. Women in Old Norse Society. New York. Cornell University Press: 1998). What’s more interesting, it seems that sexually assertive women were seen as sexually active instead of passive and were, therefore, also referred to as ergi. It could be then, as Katie Gerrard points out, “that ergi is both ‘a woman acting as a man’ and ‘a man acting as a woman’” (Seidr: The Gate is Open. Avalonia Press. London: 2001).

Secondly, as Jochen discusses, the terms sordit and sordinn refer to acts of penetration and of being penetrated (respectively). Should taboos against ergi or argr represent issues of homosexuality, then sordit and sordinn seem to be more suitable terms, don’t they? However, these are not the terms used to discuss men who practice So—that can’t be right.

Finally, in Scotland, the term argi is used to refer to someone who ‘holds back violence,’ which can mean something altogether different:

If we look at instances of seidr where it is used to trick opponents into coming out into the open, or to appear to someone while they are sleeping (and therefore in a more vulnerable situation) then we can indeed wonder whether the term ergi was used simply because seidr . . . [equates to] ‘holding back violence.’(Seidr: The Gate is Open).

There is too much written by Raven Kaldera (a FTM spirit-worker and author) to start quoting him and his tribe-members at length. Instead I will just direct you to the “Gender and Sexuality” page of Northern Tradition Shamanism.  Especially “Being Ergi,” by Lydia Helasdottir, “The Tale of a Transsexual Norse Pagan Spirit-Worker,” by Linda D., “On Being A Twenty-first Century Argr Man,” by Jálkr, and “Secret Selves,” by Dagian Russell, which gives me, as a cisgendered spirit-worker, a good idea of how similar our experiences are—rather than how different. He says, “I was born ‘female’ (a point with which my body argues) in meat-space, but when confronted with an aroused astral form during a lesson I quickly learned that I was not entirely female.” We all confront a version of our Self in journeys that doesn’t match our physical manifestation—“meat-space” indeed. Why should gender be an exception?

Simply? It shouldn’t. It isn’t.

While the specifics of Kaldera’s practice and those of our kindred are different on several counts, our steadfast insistence on every human’s inherent value and sacredness is the same. We articulate this valuation to each other and in our value system that states:

. . . we see no reason whatsoever to advocate sexual union for the purposes of  procreation alone. As a matter of fact, we inclusively honor those who do not, for whatever reason, procreate. We honor each person’s sexuality as the Creator made them and believe that as far as consenting adults are concerned, “all love is creative love.” . . . For this reason, we endorse consenting and respectful monogamies, polyamories, asexualities, and celibacies of all kinds. (www.disrtroth.org)

As if sacred sex needed our endorsement, I know. Statements of faith in a Judeo-Christocentric culture, meh.

I am also touched by Kaldera’s introduction to “A Letter to Transgendered Spirit-Workers”; he says:

First, before I speak to you of what needs to be said, my sisters and brothers and sister-brothers and brother-sisters, please understand that I am one of you. I am no outsider. I was born female and male in one, I have lived as both, I look male now (clothed, at any rate) but I am and have always been the sacred third inside, no matter what my body was doing at the time.

As for me? When Facebook rolled out its 58 gender options,[6] I chose “gender-nonconforming.”[7] But in Kaldera’s sense, I am a total outsider. I am a mostly-but-not-exclusively-heterosexual, moderately[8]-gender-role-subversive, philosophically-polyamorous/polyfidelitous, feminine cisfemale. Yup. I’m pretty much culturally privileged, only transgressing upon hegemonic values with what my culture would call “an open mind.”[9] From this position I began wondering, “Well, how do *I* take up Darcy’s charge: ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Just as I was winding myself up about what I could do without much of a platform, without much political visibility, “How do I? What do I?” my son and his friend walked in the door. This is how I greeted him:

Me:      How do you feel about cis-privilege?
Son:     Um? It exists.
Me:      Does cis-guilt exist?
Son:     I guess … if someone is aware enough to realize it’s a thing.
Me:      But what does it do?
Son:     It’s as useless as any guilt by any privileged group. Just like the marginalized, the privileged group didn’t choose their state of being.
Friend: It doesn’t do anything but make you feel better for not doing anything.
Me:      Bingo. So, what is the responsibility of cis-gendered people?
Son:    To raise awareness and work toward equality among all human beings. [He grabbed a cookie off the counter and shoveled in his mouth.] Workers of the world unite!

And then I realized. I’m a mom. I have the greatest platform there is.

I am also a Kindred leader, that’s kinda a thing. Especially in a kindred where, as it was pointed out to me today,[10] we have all sorts of couples and singles and groupings—we’ll go with groupings. I guess I never realized that simply providing a safe space to express one’s spirituality while inhabiting an often uncooperative meat-suit was a big deal. I didn’t do it to be political, I did it because it was needed and it was the right thing to do.

I teach Cultural Diversity where I introduce Anne Fausto-Sterling and Judith Halberstam[11] to 18 year olds and am faculty advisor for the GSA. I didn’t seek these things out, they kinda came to me.

I guess I felt like I should be seeking out the right thing to do and then doing it.

And then there’s this. A little blog with about 1750 readers.

Writing about issues of gender within a religious community is one thing. Writing about gender identities within a minority tradition in an already marginalized religious community? Egads, there is no excuse for any of us to ever cause or allow any Heathen of any identity to ever feel ostracized or disempowered. Feck that.

I still feel like I could/should do more.

Until I figure it out, I look to you, my community, to tell me what you need. I’ve spoken with a few of you privately about gender identity and I hope I’ve done right by you in the past. Either way, I want to do better.

And if you don’t need me? I urge those of you who are in a position to be heard to make it a point to make our brothers and sisters visible and I pass Darcy’s challenge on to you.

“You’ve heard what I have to say. What are you going to do about it?”

Wæs þu hæl!


[1] It’s been so long (eek, 1998) that I can’t remember the specifics, but one of my Master’s thesis was on “indoor gender” and “outdoor gender” in Persuasion.

[2] Read this. It’s longish but full of all of the points I should have been making all along.

[3] I know, I also keep promising to broach the subject of polyamory.

[4] If you don’t know the argument, here’s what Diana Paxson has to say about it in her article, “Sex, Status, Seidh.” And here’s a *much* more inclusive article, “Ergi: The Way of the Third,” from Raven Kaldera.

[5] And we also know that “homosexual” is a late-twentieth-century Western constructed designator, not exactly something we would find in Medieval Scandinavia.

[6] An event which generated much conversation between me and The Older Two. Youngest is far too cool to Facebook with family.

[7] It reminded me of a t-shirt I had in grad school that said “Gender Disobedient.” (Which, in turn, reminded me of the t-shirts we made as undergrads, “Gender is a Spectrum, Not a Dichotomy.”)

[8] But not on purpose, just because I’m doing what makes sense to me.

[9] When they are being polite about it.

[10] While I was trying to figure out what I could doooo. Doh.

[11] When I was a fresh PhD candidate, I kept a copy of Female Masculinity on my desk. Oldest was fascinated.

PBP Week 30-31: O—Ordeals

I keep wanting to write a post about ordeal work in the heathen community (I tried a little herebut I keep finding that I don’t have anything to say.

That’s not true—I have lots to say. But I would never presume to interject myself or my views into the relationships of others and their gods. No matter how little those relationships resemble my experiences and ongoing relationships with gods who identify by the same names.

And I find that’s exactly what happens when heathens start talking about ordeal work: everyone wants to tell someone else that they are doing it wrong.

Instead, I thought I’d share some lovely art and odd images.[1]

swiped from yuleshamanism.com

“Odin Hanging on the World-Tree” from Franz Stassen, Illustrations for Die Edda (1920), found at germanicmythology.com/

 

Totally cool engraving of a god in a tree

Image from BME.com

The “thirsting dance” of the Plains people. nativesofcanada.tripod.com/

Vision quest of The Mandan people of North Dakota. freewebs.com/mandans/

The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan–caption intact. esask.uregina.ca

 

Michael Harkins “Computer Shaman” NYU–I don’t think the image is original, but the content on the page is pretty interesting if you want a basic textbook overview. http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/nature/harkins.htm

 

In the end, each of us has to tread the path laid before our own feet, no?

Waes thu hael,

E

 

 

pbp4

This post is part of a year-long project, The Pagan Blog Project, “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing your spiritual and magickal path. . . . Each week there is a specific prompt for you to work with in writing your post, a prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet . . . .” (http://paganblogproject/)


[1] I wanted to show some bodmod, but that got gruesome.

Niþing and Holmgang

I seem to be back to writing daily blog posts. It’s because I’ve been carrying all this around in my head all summer and finally have a chance to spit it out. Plus, I’m going through a thing: an ongoing domestic thing that has me living in my head. So I’m writing. A lot.

This past weekend, some of the kindred went to a beekeeping extravaganza together, followed by lunch and conversation. We mostly joked around but we did touch on something that I want to treat seriously for half-a-minute: beot, scop, skald, oathmaking/breaking, nīþing, and holmgang.

“Nidstang – A powerful curse: In the days when the runic knowledge was still alive, there was the curse Nidstang be extremely strong against the enemy. A rod that was about three feet high and was equipped with a horse’s skull, was erected against the sky direction in which the enemy was located. On the bar nasty insults and curses were inscribed in runic script and consecrated with blood ” (Translated from http://www.neuseddin.eu/nidstang.html).

The conversation started when we made some comments about last year’s sumbl and the break-out-beot in which we engaged. One kindred member admitted, “I haven’t been as fastidious at language-study as I said I would be.”

To this I teased, “Then we will have to nith you!”

In his defense, another said, “Don’t be too harsh. I was supposed to lose 30 pounds!”

The truth of the matter is that the point of beot in our tribe’s culture is to pronounce our goals so that we can support each other. Obviously, we haven’t goaded each other enough toward these goals. That’s a tough one for me to admit.[1] My uppermost desire for our kindred is for us to act in unison to hold each other to higher standards and then to lift each other up so that we can attain those standards. But that’s beside the point. Where was I?

A brief word-horde?

A beot is a vow, by way of the obsolete word behight.

Scop (like skald) is the verb for poetry-making and story-telling as well as the noun for the poetry and stories themself.[2] Scop became scoff and skald became scold.

That brings me to nīþ: in various forms meaning envy, malice, and villainy. According to Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: “a villain, one who commits a vile action.” Contemporary use translates to “a coward, a villain; a person who breaks the law or a code of honour; an outlaw.”

A nīþstang is, therefore, a tool used for nīþing. More about that later.

And then to holmgang or “trial by combat.”

Historically nīþ (also nīð—both pronounced “nith”) was a social stigma indicating a severe loss of honor—enough so to denote the reputation of a villain. A nīþing or nīþgæst (denoting the “spirit” of the person) is perpetually considered lower (as in “’neath”—beneath) than those around him. Nīþings were ritualistically “scolded.” The folk would shout derogatory terms in an attempt to break any spell concealed thereby forcing the true nature of the nīþ to reveal itself. I reckon our ancestors saw the best in people and assumed that there had to be some overarching something that cause their kindred to act like arsehats. Their first line of fire was to try to remove the hex and free their kin. If that didn’t work, the nīþ was ostracized and, in extreme circumstances, exiled from the community.

The number of Rick Perry memes out there is astounding. The number of Rick Perry memes that include the word “vagina” is equally astounding. Go on, GoogleImage it, I’ll wait.

Aside from vocal scolding, folks could use deprecatory visual portrayals. Think of this as the same as our contemporary memes. We show our disapproval for social pariahs (or at least those we find to be scoundrels) by circulating disparaging images on social media.

The prominent image used to indicate the person being nīþed is a nīþstang or nīþing pole, a pole with a carved head upon which a horse’s head was impaled. Ew.

Curses.

They can get real gross, real fast.

In the case of a nīþstang, a the curse itself could be inscribed on the pole.[3]

Now, say for instance one is publicly nīþed and feels that said nīþing is unfair. In such a case, the nīþ may call for holmgang. A holmgang, trial by combat, could be fought to settle the dispute over honor, property, debts, or even vengeance.[4] Holmgang were originally a fight to the death but they eventually became ritualistic.  

It’s rather like a heathen Thunderdome—two enter, one leave.[5]

It seems to me that we should be able to take the premise of a holmgang challenge and apply it to today’s needs for conflict resolution.[6] I kinda love what Lucius Svartwulf Helsen had to say about the matter.  “People are more polite when there is a greater risk to being impolite. Back in the days of the holmgang, if you were rude to someone, you could literally find yourself putting your life on the line, and losing it.” No kidding. There are folks out there who act like arsehats—literally vilifying others with no cause. If there were to be a real penalty for effing around with other people’s reputation (something a more hard-core than a libel or slander suit), I think folks might hold their tongues (and keyboards) a little.

Then again, maybe not.

Assholes will be assholes after all.

But alas—and this is an important point. Though there was a trial by ordeal—a pretty horrible process, even for someone who sort-of-condones “The Ordeal” (depending on how it’s defined)—trials by combat were know only Germanic and Nordic peoples but they were not known to Anglo-Saxons (and Romans and several Middle-Eastern cultures).[7] Because we try to live by an Anglo-Saxon ethic, this makes holmgang, um, moot.

So what am I to do with this concept? It seems to have such promise, but I guess a fight to the death is too medieval at that. Better to just rely on the courts.

Nīþing is something we actually do in American culture—even if it doesn’t have the highly ceremonial component it once had. I think I’ll spend a little more time contemplating this over the weekend. I know that there are some groups that actively engage in formal nīþing; I’ll look at that in detail later and I’ll be sure to share.

For now, I wish you all a happy commemoration-of-writing-a-document-with-intentions-of-expelling-tyrannical-forces day. I’m celebrating one of my own.
Explode safely!
Wæs Þu hæl,
~E


[1] Tis true. I am *not* the world’s best disciplinarian. On account o’ I’m the *only* disciplinarian in the house and I do get sick of playing bad cop. I was really good at disciplining children, but now that I have a household of adults? I’d really rather not. 14-19 years of setting the lines and making everyone tow them? Feck that noise. I’m done. Someone else’s turn.

[2] Somehow, I think there is a connection between beot and brag but I certainly know that Bragi, husband to Idunna of the apples, is the name of the god of poetry.

[3] Read this for more information about nithing and magic.

[4] Of course the rules changed from time to time and town to town, but here are the rules (according to the 13th century Hednalagen):

  • The holmgang takes place where three roads meet.
  • If you are the person who did the insulting (and was then challenged to prove your claim) and you don’t show up for the holmgang, the person you offended is considered right. As a result, you are no longer allowed to vote or swear oaths. In short, if you are indisposed to defend your claim, you have no honor.
  • If you are the offended party and you do not turn up for the holmgang, it is concluded that the niþing was correct. In this case, you, the nīþ, could be called “outlaw” and perhaps exiled.
  • You can let someone serve as your proxy.
  • If both parties show up and the insulted party loses, this means the insult will be considered true.
  • If the insulting person loses, it is deemed that the insults were false and then the insulter is considered the worst-of-the-worst.
  • Stepping out of borders and running away means cowardice.

[5] The first rule of holmgang is “Don’t talk about holmgang.”

[6] As much as I’d love to see this happen with hand-to-hand combat, I don’t think that’s legal—even under Free Exercise. But what are we to do? Backgammon?

[7] Palgrave, Francis. The Rise and Progress of the English Commonwealth: Anglo-Saxon Period. John Murray, London: 1832. xviii.