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.

So This Happened …

Just wanted to share.

image

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.

image

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.

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.

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.

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!

 

Oschdre, Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara?

I’ve written three posts that sit languishing in my drafts box. But this one? Ah, it’s time sensitive!

First off, Happy Autumn to those of you on the flip-side of the wheel! I’m told winter is coming. Happy Spring to those of you on this side of the globe. I hope it sticks.

At the last Pagan Pride Day one of the participants made a comment about how everything in Norse Paganism is hard to pronounce. “Even the word Norse,” he joked, pronouncing it Norsey. For the rest of the day he joked about all the Heathens and “that Norsey group.” It was so endearing, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that we are Germanic Heathens.

Besides it gets too complicated to talk about a pan-Germanic Heathenry at a primarily social event.

So, it didn’t bother me at all that he called us Norsey all day. It was all in fun and we talked it over at length during Imbolc.

It was then that someone who shoulda known better said something vaguely snarky about the vacillation of our lexicon and pantheon. It was the kind of comment that revealed the precise level of theological inexperience of the speaker.

So, as an exercise for a future lesson for my students (and as part of a discussion for this weekend’s celebration where we expect a number of first-time-visitors), I’m working out some definitions here. Definitions that I always take for granted that “everybody knows”—and, in truth, they don’t.[1]

Fortunately, I have students who keep me in check, make me back up, explain myself, recontextualize, and then proceed without losing the focus of our lesson. I like it. It makes me think more deeply about stuff I’ve assumed as predetermined “givens.”

Also, I like when they challenge me on a “given” and I turn out to be wrong because of my decades-long assumptions, I get a little tickled. OK. First I get ticked, then I end up tickled, because I realize A) I’m better for the knowledge, B) my student is well rounded enough to ask such an in-depth question, and C) my student is comfortable enough with me[2] to challenge me rather than just blindly following my lead.

images

Here’s the question, from a would-be student, that started this ball rolling: “How is Oschdre the same as Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara [depending on your geography] and is She, then, the same as Eos and Aurora?”

Well, no; she’s not.

And yet, yes; she is.

This is the part where I have to back up.

No language, culture, or religion is isolated unto itself. Those traditions which claim to be or even strive to be “purist” do so in the face of thousands of years of contact, influence, and exchange—before, during, and after The Migration Period. Most cultures, and certainly not those of Europe and Asia, are not hermetically-sealed against outside influences. Moreover, cultures evolve in their own practices—in addition to outside influences, as a reaction to outside influences, as a resistance to outside influences.

Therefore whether we are talking about Scandinavian, Nordic, Teutonic, Germanic (including Celto-Germanic, Deitsche, and Anglo-Saxon) Heathenry, we are talking about peoples who affected each other during migrations that predate the Viking Era. The Jutes and Gauls and Goths were trading shite and raiding shite and sacking Rome (and getting sacked in turn) long before Ragnar went west.

Don’t let me confuse you here. We are not of the mind that “older” is “better” (whatever that means)—just that ancient interactions matter. We honor the New World (ehem, Christianized) practices of Hoodoo (Uath Dubh) and Bracherei (Powwow) as much as our ancient Old World influences.

This is the part where I have to explain myself.

There’s a difference between “eclecticism” and “syncretism.” And there’s a difference between heterogeneous “eclecticism” and a motley jumble—what I’ve heard derisively referred to as “smorgasbord tradition” and “cafeteria religion.” Some people find value in mix-and-match traditions; and I say, “Have at it!” Personally, I’m too attached to rationale. I like to have a little purpose behind my actions—purpose aside from, “Well, I like it; it feels right.”

Don’t let me confuse you here. We set great store by personal gnosis and individual patrons—but we temper both concepts with sound evidence rather than just “feeling our way” through our rituals and devotions.

Also, don’t let me confuse you on this point. Simply because we honor a Heathen pantheon does not mean non-Germanic figures won’t grab us by the ear and insist we “come along” from time to time. And we know better than to ignore them just because they aren’t “our flavor.” But that is a personal devotional issue, not necessarily one upon which we would center a sege (blót) for the entire group.

There’s also a small linguistic difference between “syncretic” and “syncretistic.”[3] Again, I’ve heard these used in a neutral as well as in a pejorative sense. I use them as neutral-to-positive demarcations.

Syncretistic (from syncretism) used to mean “to combine, as two parties against a third” especially, “in the manner of the Cretans.” But now it simply means “reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices.”[4]

Syncretic means “aiming at a union or reconciliation of diverse beliefs, practices, or systems” as it is “characterized by the fusion of concepts or sensations” (my emphasis).

Once you have all of that under your hat, you can see that neither syncretic nor syncretistic traditions are “smorgasbord traditions.” Nor are they exactly “mixed traditions.”[5]

(Traditional) Wicca itself has a syncretistic origin. It didn’t develop in a vacuum and has bits of various Pagan sources from across the whole Western world; from 19th Century literature and folklore; and from Western occultism/ceremonial magic, which is very Judeo-Christian in itself.

ostara

This is the part where I have to recontextualize.

So—back to our theological question at hand. “How is Oschdre [Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara depending on your geography] and is She, then, the same as Eos and Aurora?”

Well, no; she’s not.

And yet, yes; she is.

From a SYNCRETIC practitioner’s perspective, all of the goddesses representing light and vertive life are the same; the Goddess Ostara is the Goddess Eos is the Goddess Aurora. In this theology, the Gods become a fusion.[6]

Now, there is a supplementary divergence here too. Some folks see this “fusion” as a sort of archetype rather than discrete entities. Not all, just some.

From a SYNCRETISTIC practitioner’s perspective, the deities are all separate. They may have interrelating functions or characters that make them highly cooperative at certain points; but they remain individuals.[7]

Likewise, I think it’s fair to say that while Braucherei and Seiðr are both “shamanistic” practices, and that we study and engage in them both; Braucherei is *clearly* not Seiðr and Seiðr is *clearly* not Braucherei. Rootwork is not the same as witchcraft. I could go on forever.[8]

This is the part where I have to proceed, hopefully without having lost too much focus.

I’m more comfortable saying that Oschdre is the same as Austrō, Ēostre, or Ostara than I am saying she is the same as Eos or Aurora. Though she shares the element of vertive life-bringer with Demeter, she is not Demeter. However, I think Oschdre and Ēostre are only subtly different based on geography and the relationships she has with folks in different locales.

Let’s see if I can metaphor.

I am known as Angela, Ange, Angie, Ehsha, Dr. Farmer, Mrs. Farmer (not right by a long-shot but folks still call me that), Mom, and Mommy. I am each of these but I function differently for each name I am called. When my daughter calls me Mommy, I know to hide my wallet. When a (secular) student calls me Angela, I don’t respond. When someone other than my parents, cousins, or siblings call me Angie, I snarl. As Dr. Farmer I can pull strings that Mrs. Farmer (grrr) cannot. Angela is far more influential than Angie. And Ange? If you know me well enough for me to be comfortable with you calling me that? You don’t need me to tell you where my powers begin and end. (And if you call me that against my will? Just see.)

My point is to say, it’s important to know what your relationship to the God/dess is and refer to Him/Her appropriately.

As syncretists, we see Oschdre as a “White Lady”—or one who straddles the liminal space between “here” and “there.” Though she shares that roll with Berchta (Perchta, Perht, Berta[9]) and Holle (Holda, Hel, Hella, Huldra), she is not them.

One day I will parse out trinitarian God/desses like The Mór-ríoghain. Not today.

So how are we to celebrate?

As today is the equinox, we will do/have done a few things. But the term Oschdre (or Ostara) is a plural word—meaning the celebration was held over multiple days. Typically our Kindred likes to celebrate before the change of the season rather than when the energy is waning. This celebration is different. We can start today and conclude on Saturday—exactly what we are doing[10]–and we won’t miss any of the energy.

We don’t *only* venerate Ostara by the way; we have honors for Freyr (Frey), Thunor (Donner, Thor), Sif (Siwwa), and Idunn (Idunna) as well.

Plus eggs.
And fertility games.
And a seed share.
And other nice surprises.

Enjoy your spring!

Wæs þu hæl!

Ostara Eggs by Oshuna on deviantart


[1] I mean, it’s fair. I’ve been studying theology since before some of my students were alive. It’s second-nature to me and alien to them.

[2] And my student knows my ego won’t implode.

[4] All my definitions are from the OED Online. Lemme know if you want a real citation.

[5] This is what I call—non-derisively—PB&J traditions; taking two unrelated traditions and making a new (delicious) one. Correllian Nativists would fit this bill. I guess if someone were Yoruba-Kemetic, that would be too. Or Hellenic-Druid. Lords this could get fun.

[6] I’ll be honest. This is the way I was *taught* to imagine the divine: “All the Gods are one God.” But my experience with the divine has taught me that I should no longer refer to myself as syncretic but as syncretist.

[7] My son came in the room and I asked him, “Son, do you think Artemis and Diana are the same . . .”

Before I could even get out the end of the question, he said emphatically, “No,” and just kept going.

[8] That reminds me—I just taught the difference between theurgy and thamaturgy. I should do that here too.

[9] Some attest her to also being Freke. But because this name is more closely connected to Frigg and Berchta is the wife of Woden (*not* the same as Odin, I have it on good authority)—that just doesn’t work.

I don’t believe Frigg/a and Freyja are the same either.

[10] Some of us are even lucky enough to get to sneak off to Earth Fest for an hour or three.