Sticks and Stones

I have a few favorite words; one of them is “tristesse.” Most of my favorites are favorites not because of their definitional meanings but because of their connotation. Tristesse means “sadness.” But it is typically used to refer to the melancholy which attends the end of “involvement”: the end of a sweet love affair, the end of a travel-adventure, the post-climax denouement of a three act play, the feeling one gets upon selling a piece of art or successfully completing a writing project. Closing night of a musical. The day after the prom or a wedding. Selling a house and retiring. When the party ends and the last beloved friend goes home. Tristesse.

Yesterday was a big day around here. All of my favorite kith and kin gathered and made stav. There was wood, there was leather, there were stones and charms, there was wood burning, there was stain made out of coffee beans and dragons blood bark. Yeah, yeah, there were also sacrilegious jokes about “getting wood” for the “volva” workshop. But it’s bound to happen. I know The Ancestors enjoy a bawdy guffaw as much as we do. There was food-and more food!

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Then we learned the most basic of meditative practices in preparation for journeying. We have some members who are old hat at journeying, are on conversational basis with their guides, and can coordinate physical and mental states at will; some that have little to no experience with it at all. So we began with a brief tour of the wells of Yggdrasil. Simple? Well, a necessary first step. This was our “human initiation” phase and Ulfvolk welcomed seven members into the, um, pack. Those of us who have experienced such, shared some stories about our “astral initiations.” I sort of told you about mine a while ago in a post about “Wolf Warrior – The Ulfhethennir.” I can’t wait to hear about the new initiates’ experiences. It’s kinda like waiting for a baby to be born.

Following that (yeah, I know, we had to pack a lot into one night), we had an initiation and elevation ceremony. Three-quarters of OPS “Seekers” were initiated last night and 100% of our Neophytes became Advocates.

And with that, two-weeks of intense “involvement” came to an end and a sweet sense of tristesse set in.

This is not to say that I don’t have anything else to do, but that I have some breathing room, some reflecting room, time to really feel the moment that has just past.

Plus I had an epiphany. I was faced with two choices: push the rest of the book out by March 1 or wait until the next release date in late spring. My typical push-push-push-achieve-achieve-achieve personality took a nap long enough for my rational self to say, “Ten weeks? In exchange for sanity? And maybe a little better writing? We’ll take it.” (Boy-o, “Competitive Me” was piiiiiissed off when she woke up from that nap; but she’s being a lady about it. In exchange, she has negotiated a few episodes of Breaking Bad and new nail polish.)

Today, I am feeling Tristesse. (And eating leftover artichoke dip with my fingers.)

And, like I said: tristesse is one of my favorites.

Waes hael,

Ehsha

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Rounding Out the Year: 2012

I have been a little out of the blogging loop over the past two months, I know. In my last post, I told you about the health issues standing between me and my seemingly-bionic achievements. You should know by now (if you read this old post at TBWF), that I am typically “hyper-competent.” It’s not that I haven’t been able to get anything done, just that blogging took the backseat.

Let this post serve as a way to round out 2012, usher in 2013, and let you know what I’ve been up to–if you’re interested. I hope you are interested.

Thanks to some Yulemas gifting, I received some brand new fermenting equipment and made a fine batch of Cabernet Sauvignon. A second attempt at cat-free mead is next on the docket followed by some really complicated-looking beer. Practical alchemy at it’s finest. I’m designing the labels now and am looking for a name. When I last made beer, a former acquaintance suggested “Bad Witch Brew” but I’m leaning toward something more Heathen, like “Mímisbrew” with a joke about fermentation, head, and herbs–I donno, I have a few months. Of course, I’d be thrilled if you’d pass off some suggestions.

Oh, and I received some groovy drinking horns. One of this will fall under the magical powers of my dremmel soon! Can’t wait to use them in ritual in a few weeks.

I’ve updated my 2013 schedule of workshops and such. I posted it here and on Facebook. In doing so, I made a number of very helpful new contacts across the state. Looks like 2013 is going to be a banner year for Celestial Earth Grove. Visibility has become key to this old sorceress who formerly preferred to play close to her vest. That said, if you haven’t “liked” The Bad Witch Files on Facebook already, go ahead (it’s my old blog–but I’m keeping the FB page)–you’ll stay more informed that way. Also, I appreciate all out-of-state support for Celestial Earth Grove and, of course, Open Path Pagan Seminary. If you are game, go “like” those pages too.

In addition, I’ve gotten some work done on a few web pages. They are just “free” pages and are on the low-end of functionality, but they are fine for getting the word out, having a URL to post on adverts, and having a central locale for information (like this one with all the grove paperwork and school forms). Many of you have already seen the new webpage for the Seiðjallr group, Úlfarnir, that has formed here in East-Central Alabama. If you haven’t, go kick the tires–tell us what you think. It’s short on information at the moment because it’s a start-up; it’ll flesh in with time. Also, if the Pagan seminary page slipped past you, have a look here. We are all full for now, but are accepting applications for the regular term in Fall.

I have some wonderful students right now; they blow me away sometimes. They are real go-getters and self-starters who bring more than is required to the table. It’s a blessing to see a group of folks come together and teach each other. And everyone has a different background–one loves Aztec and Maya traditions, another is an Atheist’s daughter, another used to be LDS and now lurves Alchemy, another is a recovering Catholic and vies for the slot as “teacher’s pet” with all his might, yet another brings me copies of Goetic treatises and asks, “Can I read this?” (in fairness, she was kept “in the dark” by a prior teacher). I can’t tell you about all of them except to say that they are all amazing in their own ways and I adore them all. We have a group elevation coming up at the beginning of February; and I’m thrilled at their progress. (Proud teacher moment.)

One of my brilliant students has (not too subtly) reminded me that I planned to make digital audio pathworking files. I’ll get on that as soon as I can talk for more than five minutes without coughing. I’ll show you how to access those as well. What’s more, I promised you the video of the presentation I did last November. I haven’t forgotten. It looks like I might be doing the workshop again publicly (a little closer to home this time) in May. Let me know what you’d like to see–if I can oblige, I’m on it!

I had a look at my “long term” plan yesterday and I’m surprisingly on task. I’m a little ahead of the game on the Seminary game-plan and a little behind on the brick-and-mortar store/Pagan community center than I’d hoped, but all is moving in the right direction again after last year’s political tomfoolery. There are a few changes that promise to get everything back on track by spring. Everyone whisper a little spell for “removing obstacles” for this little Deep Southern town’s Pagan community, would ya? I know that I know that if you do, all will be well.[1]

The grove is moving along swimmingly, picking up solid new members with each monthly meeting. We have our financial ducks in a row and the leadership is really stepping up to the plate. We stared out small but strong and healthy–that’s the key to longevity, right? Rather out of the blue and unsolicited, a neighborhood merchant contacted me and offered to display our flyers and schedule of events. That was a real morale boost that I’m sure will make a big difference in 2013. This means that a lot of decisions have to be made in the near future. Wish us the best of wisdom?

I received my DNA results back from Ancestry.com. There were no surprises–well, one small surprise: percentages. My DNA is *FAR* more Scandinavian than Central European.[2] I knew about how much Native American to expect, but I really expected that there would be less Northern European DNA and more Central European DNA. Looks like this blue-eyed red-head comes by it honestly. Though my ethics will always be Anglo-Saxon, I’ll stop ignoring Norse-folk-ways as way I have been. I’m much more than half Scandinavian by blood, so I should pay attention to that factoid.

Now I’ve got 3rd and 4th cousins contacting me from all over tarnation. It’s awesome.
Here’s wishing you and yours a prosperous 2013.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.

Wæs þu hæl!

Ehsha


[1]  I know something will hear us.

[2] Actually, one of my female ancestors has been on my mind. Soon, I’ll be able to tell you more about Gretje Jans (not the one mentioned in Scandinavian Immigrants in New York, 1630-1674 by John Oluf Evjen), my seventh-great-grandmother who emigrated to New Amstel, a semi-autonomous Dutch settlement on the Delaware, in 1658.

Who Are You?: Mountains, DNA, Credentials, and Other Odds and Ends

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.[1] 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).[2] 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.[3]
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.

Well, almost.

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!
Ehsha

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

Shiloh

The church was burned in April
and the churchyard conceded to
the graveyard.

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.

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