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.

February 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, “I wish I hadn’t worn jeans.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C) Have you seen a daddy-daughter dance?

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

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

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

Love is the law, love under will.

War Damn Equality.

Waes thu hael.

Crumblin’ Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that and “Small Town.”

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

Crumblin’ walls, man.

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

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

I mean, I’m no saint, but . . .

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

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

Guess what? It was.

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

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

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

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

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

Hunker down. July 1 is just around the corner.

Waes thu hael!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Basements are fun.

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

Meh.

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

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

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

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

Two nights ago I didn’t sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

This was the best call of the day.

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

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

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

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

Then I breathed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And today. Today has been a relief.

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

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

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

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

That may be why it grants the greatest compensations.

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

Wæs þu hæl!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.