I had a great time this past weekend in Delta, Alabama on the lovely Cheaha mountain–a foothill of Appalachia–with some fabulous Alabama Pagans from the Freedom of Religion Group Grove (A Church of the Spiral Tree Grove). After having so many bad experiences with bad Pagans full of bad information here in the Deep South, it was good to be surrounded by real love and real knowledge. It was such a relief to be around folks who knew the difference between shite and Shinola. The gathering on the mountain provided a lee against the recent harsh winds for my spirit.
One of the most profound experiences was when a group of folks recognized me all at once. We were only acquainted via Facebook and WordPress and town gossip; at some point I referred to myself as the “Völvakona formerly known as The Bad Witch” which was met with choruses of : “Oh, that’s you?!” and then mutters of, “Oh, OK. I see how it is. I get it now.” For once, I was not called on to defend myself. I know who I am and what I stand for, it was nice to be around people who didn’t try pigeon-holing me in order to hide their own malefactions. I was able to just breathe in and breathe out and be myself. My actions spoke for themselves; my knowledge, my presence, and my spirit spoke for itself. As it should be.
Like I always tell my magical students: “Let success be your proof.”
Taking a break between workshops.
Speaking of which–one of my newest students came along with me and expressed a similar sentiment; she’d had more fun and learned much more at this event than in previous events. I was so pleased to have been a part of the event itself–but I was even more gratified to be able to show a new protégé that there are good and loving Pagans out there, a prospect that she had recently started to doubt in a soul-numbing sort of way. Though I didn’t know it until we were half-way to our destination, the girl was born and raised on Mount Cheaha–learned to drive on its perilous brinks. Talk about a homecoming!
The coordinator, a dear friend of mine (with the kindest, most genuine woman for a wife–ugh, like Bannock for a heart hungry for sincerity), invited me to give a presentation about all things Völvakona. I had never given a workshop of this sort publicly and was a bit of a wreck; but everyone was so open and accepting that all went smoothly. I’ll post the video of the presentation a little later this week or next, depending on how all else goes. Because right now, “all else” is getting kinda high.
Which brings me to the next topic. On the 31st, we gathered at the Hof and Harrow to honor our ancestors. It was a lovely ritual. I had needed to give an impromptu “emergency magic lesson” beforehand, so the energy was already whirling when we began. I asked one of my intermediate students if she wanted to journey to Hel for us and she conceded, so I guided her on the path-working to great result. This student has a natural knack for oracular work, so she’s been easy to guide. But on this night, something particularly amazing happened as she sat in the seat, wrapped in a cloak, giving voice to our familial dead. It was wonderful. The next day she commented on how “focused” everything was. It’s incredibly gratifying to experience results on my own–the gratification is compounded seven-fold when I see my students experiencing such precise results.
One message that was given to me, in my (paternal) Granny Bewa’s deep Appalachian accent (our oracle is from California, btw) and precisely in her idiomatic turn-of-phrase: “Getcher stilts on, chile. It’s gone’get deep.” I knew she was right at the time–I’m glad I listened. Now that I see just how right she was–I’m thankful to our oracle for bringing the message. I’ve needed those stilts this past week. If I didn’t have them, I’d be wading waist-high in, well, not Shinola. As it stands, I’m fairly well above the fray. Thank you, Granny-Ma’me.
Another message from that night was a prophesy of “woe” unto anyone who desecrated the ancestors. It was pretty chilling. And bad-ass. And explicit. And, “Hell, yeah.” Especially given that our oracle had no way of knowing that this had happened–I mean, I just learned it a few nights before:
It seems that I dropped my family crest pin in a real bad witch’s yard. It seems there was a bit of hocus-pocus aimed at taking my very life. Witch-killing indeed. But here’s the thing: one does not evoke another’s ancestral clan and then make an attempt at “magically slaying” the very one who honors those ancestors. ‘Coz, duh. Not only do I know my ancestors names, they know mine.
Besides, ever piss off a Scotsman? Ever piss off an entire clan?
I mean, we fought against The Bruce and won.
Fun note? The legend is that The Bruce was grabbed by my clansman and only survived because he ripped off his cloak–the brooch from which is in a clan museum It gets better–to hide and recover from battle, The Bruce hid in a cave in Rathlin. Caves. Yummy.
Another fun note? Buidah no bas, my clan’s motto, means “victory or death.” When choosing “tea-and-cake” or “death,” I choose “victory,” thanks all the same. Like I keep saying: the proof of anyone’s abilities is in the results. And just look–through a very unlikely set of events, that brooch ended up back in *my* hands (where it will be restored this weekend) before I even realized it was missing.
Another fun note? The family “animal” is a raven–hello again psychopomps.
Speaking of ancestors–which I seem to do all the time these days–I received my DNA test-kit today. I know what it will show, but it’s still fun to see “who I am” on paper.
Which leads me to my next conversation: credentials. Having proof of one’s identity on paper doesn’t make them any more or less who they are, but–as a culture–we sure do appreciate third-party references and attestations of authority. I mean, anyone can come to town calling themselves High Priestess after having watched an Andrew Flemming film. I read someone recently argue that asking to see credentials is somehow corrodes one’s soul. I don’t see it. When I apply for a job, I send a whole dossier of stuff to prove that I have a legitimate Ph.D. from an accredited university, that I have legitimate scholarly publications, that I have legitimate teaching experience, and that I have an expertise in the field to which I am applying. Hell, when I get pulled over, I don’t tell the police officer that I’m offended by his request to see my driver’s licence. Can you imagine? “Don’t rust me, man!”
I’m still protective of a few identities.
This past weekend, I cleaned out my temple. I found all sorts of stuff I didn’t know I had. I found my Reiki certificates, photos from my elevations, a letter of commendation from my old mentor, a dragony-elemental talisman I made when I was just a wee-lass, a decade-long overdue library book, and my diplomas and awards. The academic degrees (except my Ph.D.) are all nicely framed, but the other papers were in their original envelopes and sleeves. I went out yesterday and bought frames for those too.
Image: The certificate attending an academic award (that came with a nice stipend!), one of my two ordination certificates, my undergraduate certificate in Pastoral Ministries from 1998–the same year I earned my MA, and my graduation “honor” cord.
Having (or not having) the red and black honor cord doesn’t create the fact that I graduated (double major: English and Philosophy) summa cum laude while having and raising babies, but it does represent a third-party recognition of my accomplishment. I had a Fellowship in the Fantastical Land of Teaching and Learning Excellence–the man who ran the program would say, “I like being reviewed. It gives me an opportunity to show off my excellence.” He was a bit Six Sigma about the whole thing, but he was right. Credential review is only a threat if you don’t have a solid foundation. If your cred is impeccable, you have nothing to hide.
Likewise with my magical training. That I am able to verify–with documentation and photographic evidence and records kept somewhere in Chicago–that I underwent intense training and that I was a top-notch student of the magical arts doesn’t create my knowledge and ability; it simply shows that there is an authoritative body that recognizes me and my work. It certainly doesn’t oxidize my spirit. That’s ridiculous. I guess I’d feel defensive about providing “proof” that didn’t exist.
Let me take this conversation back to Delta for a minute–another way to show credentials is a public display. Sure, you get opened up to criticism, but if you can’t advocate for what you are saying in the face of someone else’s opinion, then you have no business in the field. Go back–learn–get your foundation under you–then come back and do your thang, whatever it is. Like I said, this was the first time I was discussing Volvakona publicly, I was opening myself up to a landslide of terrors. But, I knew what I was doing. I have 25 years of experience (not in Volvakona, but in seership, Magic, and occult craft) from which to draw. My cred was, in this case, located directly in the impeccability of my word. A very Heathen value, don’t you think? All the proof of a pudding is in the eating, as they say.
Likewise with my ancestry–and I’ll be glad to post my DNA report when it comes back–I’m thrilled to know where I come from. I know that not very many folks can name beyond their great-grands. I can name most of mine back to the Mayflower and Medieval Europe (those that came from elsewhere–ironically, the hardest lines to trace are the indigenous ones). I’m happy to be able to point you to websites about my ancestors, glad to know that I’m directly descended from Hans and Rachel–a German man and his (would-be) wife who guided him and his party through the North Carolina nation where they stayed and migrated and intermarried as the tribe moved south to Marshall County, AL. I’m glad to be able to tell you stories about Ruben who hid his wife in the mountains of Cobbs Mill during the removal. The family history books say, He is, “buried near a tree stump on his own land.” I mean, damn–you can’t get much better than that.
A GGrandfather who bought slaves in order to set them free.
A GGrandfather who fought and died on the first day of The Battle of Shiloh–smack-dab in the hornet’s nest. No wonder I broke down sobbing when I visited there as a kid.
A Scottish GGrandmother who was said to be the finest ale-wife “with the finest ale-wand” in Argyleshire.
I love being descended from the completely “Google-able” likes of Elizabeth Soule, who was not only the daughter of Mayflower Compacteer, George Soule, but who was also arrested in 1662 for–get this–fornication; the best part of this story is that five years later, Elizabeth was in court again for the same “crime.” (Apparently this time she was sentenced to a whuppin’.) I also love that I am descended from Wikipedia-worthy folks like Lady Alicia Beconsawe and Sir John Lisle, both executed for crimes against the crown–the closest my kin get to royalty.
It seems that my 18th GGrandfather was Piers DeGaveston (1284 – 1312). Go on, look him up; I’ll wait.
And not all of my family stories are the nice kind of colorful; I have a GGrandfather who ran a professional lynch-mob. But, alas, he’s mine. I have another who was a known town-drunk. He’s mine too. Most of them were just poor-folk trying to get by and weren’t especially colorful at all. Every last one of these is mine. We have to be realistic about our families. That’s part of doing them honor.
And it’s the only way to perceive our oorlog correctly. If we try swishing around in the well and disguising our Wyrd or claiming a false Verða, we can bet on a pretty shitty Skulle. I’m just saying. It’s always best to “Know thyself;” and, while I usually think Polonius is full of hot air, “To thine own self be true.” If this means showing your mountains, your DNA, your credentials, your other odds and ends–do it proudly, so long as you do it honestly.
Wæs þu hail!
 Lovingly called “The Kill Room” by those who Dexterize me. I don’t mind. I live by Harry’s Law: only when they’re guilty.
 This weekend I was retelling a funny conversation I’d had with my mom when I was a teenager:
Me: “I want to change my name to M** because that’s your name.”
Momma: “Well then, why not use my mother’s maiden name.”
Me: “Or her mother’s”
Momma: “Don’t be silly. They didn’t have last names.”
Indeed, before the removal and enforced censuses, no one needed last names.
 I wrote this when I was 13; I found it when I cleaned out an old box of papers in my temple. It’s not good. I must have been reading Robert Lowell that week.
The church was burned in April
and the churchyard conceded to
One hundred thirty-one years later,
standing at a map,
I could hear the river canyon’s endless echo:
cannons placed in a row
to destroy the hornet’s nest.
The mounds of blood red earth sink
and swell and roll–a sacrilegious squirrel
taps a nut on the headstone
of Illinois Lieutenant #976.
“No metal detectors allowed.”
In the little theater at the end of the tour,
there is a movie that portrays
the boys that killed the boys
that are buried in a heap along the
tour route, in case you didn’t know
about that weekend in Shiloh.
Most monumented war –
deep in the South, where are the marble
tombs for your genteel soldiers? Are
these boys less men? Show me, where is
their relief? The sun was too hot for
a Christian burial so they lay where they died–together.