“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.


Toxicodendron Radicans (Poison Ivy) and Magic

It was just after writing this post that I realized the plant I had been pulling during the opening story in question was poison ivy herself. With my bare hands. When I didn’t flame up, I also realized I was one of the very few who are not affected by her. Nonetheless, I remain diligent and respectful. Just because she’s spared me in the past doesn’t mean I’ve earned a lifelong pass–right?!

Witchcraft From Scratch

As I write this blog, I notice that it winds around like a vine, wrapping itself around whatever it grabs hold of, climbing into crevices where I couldn’t have foreseen it would grow. There should be a joke about irritation here—but I’ll leave it to you to make.

The Wild Hunt by Peter Nicholai Arbo

As we were clearing land for the kindred hof and ve, my husband got into some poison ivy[1] and spent a week learning about cortisol while he was in Scandinavia. As we piled wood for the fire, we had to check to make sure we weren’t sending toxins airborne. Plus, a thing about poison ivy is that the toxin is carried in a non-water-soluble oil, so if you try washing the affected area with water, you will just spread the irritant further.

What’s this got to do with magic?” you ask?


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Liminal Space and Time, Ritual Structure: Part 1

I’ve had so much going on in my life over the past few weeks that I may end up doing a massive brain dump on you WordPressers just to get it all sorted out for myself.

I thought I was going to post the things I wrote about making incense with my students or the thing I wrote about homophily in Pagan study or the thing about avoiding defamation on the InterWebs[1] or how proud I am to have three brand-spanking-new ordained priests in our tribe—three who put a full year of training and hands-on apprenticeship into their ordination rather than just writing a check and buying it.

But instead there’s this, a bit that came from my work on ministerial preparation and ritual structure. Maybe I’ll get to those other half-written posts in a day or so; but just now, I feel like I do when I have a massive research project going on and still have to function as a domestician, academic, witch, teacher, parent, woman, etc. You know, like everything in life relates to the subject at hand.

Here’s my life in a nutshell.

My eldest just got a TAship and a promotion in her research gig and a job and a dog and an apartment. She is a grown-ass woman and is doing her thing—and her thing is amazing. This is bittersweet.

My son has just completed back-to-back-to-back theatre productions; he’s been getting larger and larger rolls as his voice settles into a richly resonate baritone. He is a tremendously talented singer, dancer, musician and he has a large and wonderfully diverse (and absolutely loyal) friend-base. I love these kids. Some of them are seniors but most, like my boy, are juniors and have just one more year of high school remaining. A last year before they move on.

My baby has been volunteering at the hospital. Every Monday she spends her time in scrubs taking care of convalescing patients. And she’s hit that bumpy patch at fifteen that makes the entire world seem adversarial.

Aside from family things, I’ve had some animal things. Our little Lhasa Apso foundling is aging and that’s a thing in and of itself. Also, one of my leghorn chicks became overly attached to me, refused to keep her tiny butt in the brooder, and met the Catahoula and Springer Spaniel before I had a chance to teach them, “These are not mice. Do not bring them to me.” And I’ve had a favorite hen fall ill with what seems to be egg yolk peritonitis. She’s doing much better and is back out with her sisters today, and everything seems right as rain.

Speaking of rain.

The storms that pummeled the South this week left us unscathed—but only by the skins of our teeth. The spot where my daughter had intended to move was ripped to shreds, all the areas around everyone we care about were likewise clobbered. The important word is *around.* None of the clobberings hit home. How blessed are we?

And with all that, I’ve been thinking a lot about liminal spaces. Liminal in both a physical sense and a transcendental sense. The liminal spaces between childhood and adulthood, between high school and college, between adoration and animosity, between banal and magical, between beginning and being, between health and infirmity, and the ultimate limen between life and death.

It was mostly my little black Araucana hen that got me to thinking about limens.

More precisely, it was the threshold of the indoor chicken quarantine that started it all. She had been in isolation while ill and as she began to improve, I opened the door to her cage and invited her to walk around the house.[2] The hen perched herself on the bar separating “inside” the coop from “outside” the coop and looked at the outside. Just looked. On her first few attempts to leave the coop, with great ceremony ,she opted to go backward and into the confines of the dog-crate-come-chicken-coop but eventually let me pick her up and settle her on the floor just an inch away from where she couldn’t bring herself to pass.

The Latin word, limen, literally means “a threshold.” Think of a doorway—a space that is neither “in” nor “out.” Those physical limens are commonplace enough—but what of metaphysical limens?

In our tradition, we have a unique ritual called “The Limen of Creation,” which, like the casting of a circle—or more so like the performance of the LBRP, draws upon the liminal recess between “ritual” space and “mundane” space. It’s not just a way of demarking the physical space of the enclosure of a ritual space, though. Liminality has a magical quality all its own.

Transformation happens in liminal spaces. Even mundane experiences like long, intimate conversations take on a trance-like quality where time can be “lost” and when the participants “emerge” at the end of an hours-long-conversation, as if from a trance. Liminality produces a condition which allows a space for magic in ritual. By its nature, there is a quality of obscurity, ambiguity, distortion, or disorientation that transpires during ritual; this is when participants are in transition—perhaps during an initiation or rite of passage, where they are becoming initiated but are not yet initiates. It is well recognized—even in mundane psychological theories—that, by its nature, processes of either integration or individuation take place within a liminal space.This is why so many of our magical traditions require that initiates cross a “threshold” and face a “challenge.”

Anyone who has seriously considered[3] ritual structure realizes that there are two attributes to a proper rite—especially an initiation rite.[4] Firstly, there has to be a structure to the ritual. Even if the rite is unscripted, it should still follow a meaningful sequence of events; and if more than initiator and initiate are involved, everyone involved should know what to do when and how—even if they don’t fully understand why just yet.

There should be no room for someone else coming in and seizing control of the rite. Seriously, I’ve seen this happen—someone decided to “lead” a rite but was so ineffectual in the construction of ritual that, on a number of occasions, more seasoned outsiders swooped in and took command of the ritual. Nature abhors a vacuum. If there is no center, the circle will shift until it finds one.

Related to that is the second attribute to a proper rite; they require one person to serve as a mediating agent to lead participants (especially an initiate) into, though, and safely out of the liminal space of ritual purpose or initiation. I’ll make a second post on this last part and the threat of mimetic leadership to a community in crisis. It’s too convoluted for one post.

Another element of liminality is “equivalence.” Because liminal moments intentionally interrupt —or even terminate —our typical sense of stability, liminal periods allow the possibility for (even long-standing) hierarchies to be reversed. This reminds me of all the research I did on Rabelais and the phenomenon of Carnivalesque order.[5] During a transition—a liminal stage—customary differences (with the example of Carnival, think social class) collapse into equivalence. This is not necessarily a lack of structure—like the way the uninitiated imagine chaos—but the hyper-structure of fundamental human unity.

In liminal spaces one can see the fluidity and malleability of institutions that are generally perceived as fixed. That’s where the magic happens.

Imagine the changing of the guards or a formal changing of command. There is a (brief) moment where one commander is relieved, yet the “new” commander has not yet taken authority. In that brief moment, no one is in charge and everyone is suspended in equivalent unity.

Sounds great, right? However, it is for this reason that liminality can cause feelings of uncertainty, or even anxiety, based on the dissolution of order, and even intense anxiety. This is why such liminal periods are necessarily brief. Liminality is unsustainable and, by necessity, must resolve. Such states of intensity are too unstable to persist for very long periods. Well, mostly. Sometimes intensely unstable cultures designed around a state of liminality will be forced to develop their own internal structure to support the unstable exterior.

So, as a shorthand for the lesson I’m preparing for ordinates, here’s how liminality functions as part of an initiation.

First there is separation, followed by the liminal phase, and ending in reincorporation of the transformed individual.

Because initiation is about death and rebirth, the separation phase involves the images of actual death—usually a metaphor[6] but sometimes only a metaphor or image of the threat of death. Think about Hyram Abiff in the masonic tradition. There might also be a traversing of the underworld—descent and re-emergence. Think about Innana and Dumuzi, even Orpheus and Eurydice (this last one also includes the common approbation about “not looking back”). This “death” allows for the elimination of assumptions and “old ways of thinking” or “being.”

This death is followed by a liminal phase. This phase is necessarily destructive—in that destruction is necessary for regeneration. That is why it is so important to have a leader that knows WTF is going on at all times. And not just in terms of knowing the “script” of the rite—but really understanding the ins-and-outs of the ritual structure so that if a step is missed, the leader can get folks back on track safely. Seriously, it could be detrimental to the psyche of those in transition—especially initiates—if, during this phase of considerable change, the reins were dropped and stability abandoned in favor of emotionality or sensory fulfillment. Don’t misunderstand—emotion and uninhibitedness are fantastic parts of ritual, just so long as someone is steering the energy rather than burning down the house. Consider that the liminal portion of the rite entails an actual traversing of a threshold. We do not want the blind leading the blind through this tenuous moment. We certainly don’t want a ritual principal who will lead us to the ends of the earth and then let us jump off a cliff (or worse, give us a shove).

Finally, there is the phase of ritual which reincorporates the participants (especially initiates) which now have a “post-magical-act” transformed way of thinking or being or even a new identity.

Because of the vulnerability of participants who have just undergone a period of intense sensitivity, liminal periods can permit the emergence of charismatic pretenders that assume leadership positions without the real know-how to safely traverse liminality. For this reason, such impostors tend to perpetuate liminality because they simply cannot find their way to the other side and yet do not want to relinquish control and allow a natural resolution of order.

As my exam—another liminal space where the semester is over, yet not over—is done and it’s time to go plan for tonight’s Walpurgisnacht–a terrifically liminal time–ritual, this is where I end for today and will pick up tomorrow, a discussion of mimetic leadership and the role of the trickster in periods of communal liminality.

Til then, waes hael and enjoy your Walpurgisnacht, Beltane, or Moifescht!

A roof in the Harz Mountains--Walpurgisnacht Blessings!

A roof in the Harz Mountains–Walpurgisnacht Blessings!

Works Consulted:

Liminal Landscapes: Travel, Experience and Spaces In-between. Ed: Andrews, Hazel and Les Roberts. Routledge, New York: 2012. Print.

Marc Labelle. Liminality and Emerging Adulthood. MA Thesis. University of Alberta, 2006. Web.

Thomassen, Bjørn. Anthropology, Multiple Modernities and the Axial Age Debate. Anthropological Theory 10.4 (2008): 321-342. Web.

Thomassen, Bjørn. “The Uses and Meanings of Liminality.International Political Anthropology 2.1(2009): 5-27. Web.


[1] Until then, I highly recommend you have a looksee at this.

[2] Chicken diapers are hilarious.

chicken diapers

[3] I don’t mean “read a book” or “looked Online” or “copied someone else’s.”

[4] Of course, otherworldly or “shamanic” initiations follow a different structure. I’m talking about humans initiating humans.

[5] Yes. I will footnote myself:

Farmer, Angela. “Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Aqua Teen Hungerforce as Rabelaisian Carnival.” Studies in American Humor 3.17 (2008): 49-68. Print.

(But also Web)

[6] But like I said, shamanic initiations are a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

Sizing Down a Witch

I’ve mentioned a few times that the last five years have been a real emotional-roller-coaster. But I haven’t spent much time talking about the spiritual rest of it. It’s been a hard road getting back in balance—mentally, spiritually, magically, physically. But I’m almost there. Almost.

It has taken seeing a couple of dear friends go through their own traumas to recognize more precisely what happened (is still happening) to me.

Women don’t usually talk about the toll trauma has on our bodies as much as we should —especially where sex is concerned. We body-shame ourselves, of course, but (by-and-large) we haven’t been taught to see the effects of emotional trauma on our bodies.

As Witches, we don’t really talk about what happens to our bodies in moments of Initiation.

Initiation, REAL Initiation, Capital “I” Initiation, can feck with a body as much as a spirit.

When I was a new PhD student, mired in scholastic work—pushing 15 years-worth of spiritual and magical work to the corners of my mind, another female student said something about my weight. Never mind what that weight was, I wore a size 4 that hung from me like draperies. She scoffed and said that she wished she were thin. I said, “I lose a lot of weight when I’m stressed. I’m constantly stressed these days.”

Rather than commiserating with me about the rigors of graduate school, she retorted that she gained weight when she was stressed, “like a normal woman.”

Need I mention that we were both in the same Feminist Theory class?

When I graduated, stress abated, that 4 fit me a little better, and BAM! I walked myself straight into a shitstorm, nearly shaved my head bald, and made a right-arse outta m’self. It was during that time that I was recovering a sense of who I was as a Witch. Or trying to. It’s just now occurring to me that I should have paid more attention to the lessons I had learned about Initiation.

When we seek Initiation, whether on our own or with a group—dun’t matter, we HAVE to go through an Ordeal. Some choose their Ordeal, some let the Ordeal choose them by default. In these times, I see a lot of student-Witches say things like, “Why is all this happening to me?” The answer is: Well, you chose a path to the Divine—the Divine is going to test you and will either find you worthy—or, you know, not. I’ve also seen plenty of seasoned Witches try to take on a new level of Initiation unprepared and fall flat on their pointy-hats. I’ve further seen years of fall-out from some of those same people who think they can just press through without addressing their Ordeal as part of Divine Initiation.

I’m not judging. Hell, I’ve done it.

That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

I sought Initiation, was handed an Ordeal, and rather than just letting myself hang, I kicked and wrestled myself into a sorry state.

This took a physical toll as well as a spiritual and emotional one. Not to mention the magic. Ick.

I was looking back at some old photos from Christmas a few years back, and boy-o, I was huge. I had gone from that tee-tiny 4 to a full-to-brimming 14 in less than four years. Because of said shitstorm, I had issues of loss, fear, and guilt and I needed to do some hard-core self-forgiving. I realized that I was torturing myself as penance but I couldn’t make it stop. I was working on my spiritual and magical Self, but had all but murdered my physical Self. Seriously—health issues abounded. And the magic? Again, I say, ick.

I held on to the image of myself as “Bad,” let others call me “Bad,” hid behind the façade of “Badness” as a shield.

Then—magically?—I stepped out into the sun, dumped the old imago,[1] and immediately dumped two sizes.[2] And the magic got a little better.

Finally, after years of mental stuntedness, it occurred to me to embrace the Ordeal and achieve the Initiation so long in the making. Just letting it hang.

It didn’t go so well at first.

It took seeing a girlfriend go through a very similar shitstorm—eerily similar. Guess what? Her body is doing the samedamned thing mine did. I reckon she’s got some self-forgiveness issues to live through and I sympathize with her with every gram of my soul. I ache for her. But I can’t go through her Ordeal for her.[3] She and I talk frequently and in (what would have previously been alarming) detail about this trauma and body and sex thing. In talking to her about what she calls Grace and I call exculpation—we have a different moral philosophy here[4]—I am finding my own way out of the mire. I hate that she had to go through it, but I’m glad the Divine threw me a rope with which to pull myself out. Ironically, this same rope is the one I am using to, um, hang myself good and proper. No kicking and wrestling this time.

deviantart by ‘sceithailm’

It was three weeks ago that, while DEEP in meditative devotion, I was given pretty specific instructions about how I was to react to an upcoming situation. It was so far-fetched that I thought it was more a dream then an adumbration. But—skuse my French—feck me if it didn’t come to pass exactly as I saw it (not exactly as I understood it, lawd no). And only one week later.

I would never have reacted the way I did if I hadn’t been forewarned. Egads, no. But I was. And I did. And the last two weeks have been all about a special kind of liberation. Liberation from the guilt and fear and loss of a five-year-shitstorm.

Hell, it even smells better around here.

Here’s part of the outcome—only part because I see this as only the beginning of a beautiful denouement (you know, the part of a story where all those loose-ends get tied up?)—I’m bouncing around in single-digit sizes again (partly because I stopped eating grain of all kinds back in August) and I have little to no sense of shame or regret. Not because I have no sense of morality, of course. But because I see the world through the eyes of The Hanged Man: the paradoxical nature of control through capitulation, victory by surrender.

I had a conversation with someone yesterday. I think he was trying to get a rise out of me. I reflected on the conversation and realized that in the past I would have demurred or even fibbed just to make him feel better. In retrospect, I realize that I have dispensed with guilt and shame about a lot of things through straightforward (sometimes brutal) honesty. I keep thinking of scenarios where I would have “covered” or “sidestepped” a few years ago. Today I cannot think of one thing about which I would lie. Know why? I have aligned my actions with my morality and my morality with my True Self.

It’s freaky.

Not my culture’s expectations, not my family’s worldview, not some dogmatic set of prohibitions and admonitions.

Even did a little magic on Saturday that had full and intended effect on—what?!—Sunday. True story.

I have a final task to undertake—it too has been a long time coming and is all wrapped up in the ebb and flow of the shitstorm in question. I no longer feel “Bad” about it. Where I once felt regret, lamenting at the necessity of it all, I now feel emboldened and really, really ready for it to just be over.

Cheer me on as I run this final gauntlet?

Or, you know, get outta my way coz I’m coming anyway.

And it seems I’ve got my mojo back.

And my name is Angela, BTW.

Waes thu hael.

[1] Not only does this mean “image” but imago is also the last stage in metamorphosis: the imaginal stage. While not really related, it reminds me of The Lacanian Imaginary—where the ego is developed by a phantasmal “fragmented body.”

Bugs and psychoanalysts, man.

[2] Not that that was healthy either. I didn’t do it on purpose, it just kinda happened.

[3] She’s a progressive Catholic. Her God took on the Ordeal for His people when He hung on a tree. Mine insists I do it myself. It’s kinda empowering. Terrifying, but empowering. It took me a minute to get that.

[4] She needs her God’s forgiveness; mine says, “S’ok kid—your über controlling culture says that was ‘Bad,’ I’m a’right with you. Now if you can get right with you and we’ll be cool.”

Isn’t That Already Over?

This happens to me at Eastertime too.

CC_1969-Halloween-Store-Displays-5I get momentarily confused when our kindred has held their major festival for one of the major holidays and then I enter a retail center or grocery store and find it crammed with analogous secular celebratory goods. For just a second, I always think, “Isn’t that already over?”

I reckon I get so saturated with preparations for our celebration and ritual that I forget that the rest of the nation still lives by a Christian calendar. As I wrote for [a newsletter that I cannot recall at the moment], there are some differences between neoPagan and Heathen calendars: “Harvestfest, Winternights. . . is celebrated on the days surrounding the last day of summer and the first days of winter. According to . . . the Gudbrandsdal runic calendar, this falls on the 13th of October. However, today, given the pervasiveness of other traditions, Winternights is regularly celebrated on October 31st in America.”

Last weekend may have been a main feast day, but we totally dressed in costume. Hazey revived my Wonder Woman suit from 2002, a significant year for me (i.e. I moved to Alabama). Kiddo, you are merciless!

Kiddo, you are merciless!

This difference works well to our benefit. When many in our community adopt the 31st as their celebration date while we celebrate earlier in the month, there are fewer scheduling conflicts.

Personally, this means I get to both throw a great celebration *and* attend some bang-up Halloween parties. Win / win! (On account of I lurve a great Halloween party and kinda don’t see the point of a boring one.) And while last weekend may have been a main feast day for us, we totally dressed in costume.

Hazey even revived my Wonder Woman suit from 2002, a significant year for me (i.e. I moved to Alabama). I saw it as a bit of an homage–then again, she might have just worn it because WW is a bitchin’ costume.

I dressed as Astarte–the stone frieze version. As the night wore on, as often happens with complicated costumes, the stone wings and “chicken feet” became too much and I chucked them. This left me looking strangely naked (and cold). Some of the kin joked that I was dressed as being “skyclad.”

The Hubby embraced a recent compliment and dressed as an old-school gangster. Tommygun and everything!

It wasn’t just a party, though. We had a great ritual to honor our ancestors–the real reason for the season, as they say; we burned our land guardian, lest he be inhabited by a baneful spirit after his essence has flown-off with the Valkyrie on the Wild Hunt, and we safely disposed of the year’s ritual detritus–I’ll give you a post about the ritual itself later; and we initiated three promising newstudents–an auspicious beginning to the “New Year,” wouldn’t you agree?

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All that–and there’s more yet to be had! I am still roasting pumpkin seeds from my carvings and looking forward to a weekend partying pretty solidly for four straight days with various segments of my extended Pagan community.

I hope you are all blessed and safe and secure as you celebrate whatever lies in your path: be it Samhain, Halloween, Winternights, Allelieweziel, Dia de los Muertos, or Old Year’s Night.

Waes thu hael,


PBP Week 30-31: O—Ordeals

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

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

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

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

swiped from yuleshamanism.com

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


Totally cool engraving of a god in a tree

Image from BME.com

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

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

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


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


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

Waes thu hael,





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

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

PBP Week 28-29: N—Names: Magical and Mundane

I spent the last six weeks behind. Now, I’m just plain ahead. But this was one that needed to be written anyway, so I’m going to forge forward.


According to my desktop countdown-timer (yes, I am *that* type A) I have 11 days to prepare for a workshop on magical names. You see, a member of the kindred asked that we do this project and I was happy to comply at the time. But the closer the day gets, the more I wonder–what business have I got teaching someone else how to form their magical name?[1] I’ve tried guiding my students to aspiration names and only two of seven have worked it out–and one of those had her name when she showed up. Ehsha is, as you likely know, my craft-name[2] and it was fairly thrust on me; it’s not something I worked on or thought about too much. See my post “A is for Apple” for the whole scoop.

I’m not going to give the technical points of the workshop here, but I will say that I have five plans of attack from which folks can chose to experiment. We will truly workshop.

Allow me a minor aside? Lately I have gotten questions about my teaching methods: pointed questions, asking my students for more information than is appropriate for them to dispense. As I say so often in this online, public forum—my approach is a resoundingly magical “STFU.”[3] So when I don’t provide all of the ins-and-outs of what I teach, there’s a reason. I do not dole out information to the uninitiated. Now, talking about magical names is pretty basic and one doesn’t need access to the deeper Mysteries for that. But I just thought I’d mention it. On account o’it’s sooooo odd to be asked really conspicuous questions. It’s a good thing I have taught my students to answer without answering.

For now, let me just have a little conversation about names of power.

Egyptian Pantheon

Historically, divine names of power, the secret names of deities, were taught only to “masters of the art.” These masters were taught not only the vibrational vocalized name, but the art of wielding that name, the art of evoking and invoking the power attached to that name. Such power was released by the vibrating sound of a secret magical name. We know that vibrational sound is integral to creation; words and names are sound, sound is vibration, vibration is—in turn—wave. Measuring a wave will collapse it—I don’t know why, man; I didn’t do it. It just is. Therefore, speaking a name or word of power outside of the appropriate context can sap the power out of the name—and that’s the best case scenario; the worst case scenario is that the speaker could potentially release energies that s/he cannot wield.

For instance, Crowley’s “favorite,” the Headless Rite—assuming one is referring to the Mathers translation of Lemegeton—contains a number of “barbarous names” from Ancient Egypt, Greek Gnosticism, and Chariot mysticism (aka Merkabah Qabalah).[4] (If you want the older version, look at the Stele of Jeu. For a few good chuckles about Headless/Bornless, see this old post and don’t skip the comments. And if it’s your sort of thing, see this post about the difference between Headless and Stele of Jeu and this one and this one about the 49 Calls–they aren’t particularly “better” than anything out there, just personal, recent, and on my read-list.) I do not recommend that my students perform anything that they do not understand and I do not recommend that they pronounce anything with which they are not familiar. I find it really odd that some folks start right-out trying to brandish popular rites (like Headless) because they are broadly published and available. What they don’t “get” is that available and accessible are not the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I do not disallow the rite, it’s just that my students get a thorough understanding of it all before I encourage them to start calling forth the Barbarous Names of Evocation. This has a lot to do with the changes made in the names over several translations. This in consideration of the Chaldæan Oracle  which charges: “Change not the Barbarous Names of Evocation, for these are names in every language which are given by God, which have in the Sacred Rites a power ineffable” (Verse 155). A lot of new magicians try the evocation and feel unsuccessful and I can’t help wonder if it isn’t just because they haven’t accessed the true meaning of all those sounds they are vibrating.[5]

And vibrating in terrestrial languages that one doesn’t understand? It’s not like speaking-in-tongues. At all.

But that’s far more than I would discuss in an “open” workshop—meaning there will be plenty of non-initiates in attendance. I might mention it, but that’s like opening Pandora’s panty drawer.

I was really only planning to talk a little about the vibrational qualities of names. I will likely talk more about names as identifiers. Then we’ll get to the real workshop business of workshopping. A magical name is more than just a pseudonym, nickname, or alias that we use to protect our mundane identities. On the most basic level, like Baker, Smith, Taylor, Farmer, Archer, etc., we can be known by the magical work we do. On a higher level, a magical name can be used to shift consciousness.

It can even be a statement of our understandings or aspirations—these names are called “mottos” or “aspiration names”—which we use to remind ourselves of our beliefs, remind ourselves of our better qualities or to build on those qualities. For instance, William Butler Yeats, one of my own favorites,[6] took the magical-motto-name Daemon est Deus Inversus[7] when he entered into the Golden Dawn. These names don’t have to stay the same—as you attain one goal (as marked by attaining a new level of initiation in most cases), you may set a new one and, thereby, adopt a new name to reflect that goal. I ditched “The Bad Witch”—a sort of hypocoristic—and embraced “Ehsha” only. Of course there are “Craft Names” (I was taught to refer to these as eke-names) that don’t reflect a motto so much as serve as a symbol of devotion or, like “Stormborn,” to tell a little about oneself.[8]

Yes, there is a Name Root.

This is likely where I’ll focus.

Of course with the caveat that some of our names might only be shared particular people—or no one at all. Also, it’s totally fine if you don’t want a magical name at all or if you want to use your given name as your magical name.

After the workshop, I was thinking about a little something. If, like we said, sound is vibration, why not take advantage of all that vibratory power and create a range of wavelengths by creating a ritual in which the whole tribe intoned their magical vibrations (names) as a bonding experience. Because our particular focus, this would be a great thing to work in conjunction with an oracular rite. I have seven students who are a level away from completing what most of you would refer to as a first degree (around here it’s different). Wouldn’t that be a lovely element to add to an elevation ritual?

As I work it out, as ever, I’ll let you know.

Wæs þu hæl!


Addendum: My FB friend pointed out some of the difficulties he has had with name development. Of course, no everyone is “handed” a name in clear and unobscure tones by the divine–thus the rationale for having a local workshop.

There are some things that defy language; I talk about this a lot, so I won’t launch into a Derridian tirade just now.

Sometimes we have an “idea” of what our magical name is supposed to be but there is not a word for it in our language–or any terrestrial language. This is the case for my “secret name.” I recognize it when I am called from the aether, but I don’t know a word for it. I mean, I understand the concept it signifies, but the “word”? Um, no.

It’s best to just approximate rather than stressing over something as human as language. We have shortcomings; the divine can handle all that falls through the cracks.

Addendum, Part 2: Per Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge’s comment below, I see another hole in my post. Thanks BSSS! Names definitely *should* change as they indicate who and what we are–and we should always be in a state of becoming, not in a stagnant or bull-headed state. I love nothing so much as seeing folks “rebrand” themselves to embrace the new things they have learned and the um, education–we’ll go with “education”–given them by the universe. As for me? I’ve had my share of names from childhood names (which I won’t share as these are family things), to Lámh Mór-ríoghain in my 20s (dark, I know) to Ehsha Apple and The Bad Witch in my 30s (a little tongue in cheek) and the 50 shades of witchy in between. Having put a little dent in my 40s, I think it’s time to reflect my “new growth” with a new name–or at least a new motto. But like so many of you, I’m strugglin’.

[1] The issue is that for about a year now, I’ve been toying with the idea of taking an aspiration name. But I still can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up.

[2] My mundane name is Angela–not that there’s nothing to live up to there, eh?

[3] And every once in a while a smattering of y’n00b followed by a healthy helping of kthx.

My teenagers don’t let me use Tumblr.

[4] Originally, this was used for exorcism, but the Mathers form is typically used to attain Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Either way, it should be preceded by a solid LBRP.

[5] I’m not judging those who do the evocation and don’t get the expected results as “unversed.” I’m just saying it’s one possibility.

[6] Speaking of names, my first Online profile name was YeatsFreak.

[7] Something like “a demon is a god reflected” or “inverted.” Have a look at Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine Vol. I, Part XI: “The Mystery of the Seven Thunders.” 

[8] Some of the more famous of these are Alex Sanders, Verbius; Jenine Trayer, Silver RavenWolf ; Miriam Simos, Starhawk.

pbp4This post is part of a year-long project, The Pagan Blog Project, “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing your spiritual and magickal path. . . . Each week there is a specific prompt for you to work with in writing your post, a prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet . . . .” (http://paganblogproject/)