“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.


Goodness and Rebirth

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

The Forest of Rebirth by Narandel on DiviantArt

I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. — Charles Bukowski

I have always had a strong affinity to the Phoenix. I have an uncanny knack for rising up out of my own ashes.

I also kinda like Bukowski. Some people read him as “dark” and “cynical” and even “misanthropic.” But I see in his poetry (more than in his prose, I admit) an insatiable longing for goodness. A knowing that goodness is out there and a death-drive to fecking find it. To find it and straddle it and slide next to it and kiss it full on the mouth with the greedy expectation of being enveloped by its swarming, blood-thick reality. I’m not talking about altruism, philanthropy, political-correctness, or politeness. I’m talking about goodness. And goodness–honest goodness–is often heavy, sticky, and oppressive with wonder and insight.

Maybe that’s not what you get from Bukowski. I can see that.

But let me tell you a short story. I introduced Bukowski to someone who was grasping at spider’s webs, trying to hang on to a reason to live. Words, man. “This,” she said, “this I can feel.” She had been pushing away every constructed regurgitation of others’ emotions because they struck her as “false,” so she refused them and started believing that there were no “true” feelings to be had. “This. This I can feel.” Sounds pretty damn hopeful to me. Sure, she was reading “The Crunch,” not a very uplifting piece; but his refrain that “people are not good to each other,” implies that we can be. There can be goodness. Heart-breakingly beautiful goodness. Goodness that, with its nasty weight, most people reject for “love and light.”

I’ve been stumbling all over that kind of goodness lately. I’ve been finding it stuck to my shoes and matted in my hair and running down my legs in thick rivulets of dumbfounding honesty. I’m a little overcome by it but I also have the breathtaking desire to find more of it–now that I know it’s out there.

Rather, in here. Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it’s been in me all along. Goodness, I mean. I had just forgotten it, or had devalued it, or had disguised it as something else.

Let me put all of this verbal meandering in some context. It’s been exactly a year since my husband hired a lawyer to pursue a defamation case on my behalf. It’s been a helluva year. Since then I have been in court (for myself and for others being similarly harassed) more than I ever wanted to be[1] and, as a proximate result, have lost my teaching job at the university.[2] Somewhere in that year, I lost a sense of who I am. I turned over the kindred leadership to my priest and his wife (also a blood-relative), put occult teaching on the back-burner, sent a child off to college, had a couple of traumatic personal “lashing-out” adventures, and watched my husband obsess over another woman (even if it is hatred-fueled, it’s a real thing to watch). All that, and the result is that now I don’t have the job that I sacrificed so much for. I don’t mean I sacrificed because I wanted it–but because my family needed me to stay put, I passed up other (tenured) positions in places that are not Alabama.[3]

So I feel like Bukowski on this. I honestly feel like the last 12 months have been equitable to binge drinking. Once this hangover clears, I think I’ll be allowed to resurrect my slaughtered self.

You see, just a few weeks before The Husband hired The Lawyer–Midsummer 2013–I wrote about an epiphany I’d had the previous spring (and put it in context of the year prior to that) in the aptly named “Midsummer.” I said:

… the crux of the vision was that I needed to …. reclaim a part of mySelf that had been lost and reintegrate it into my whole being. A week later I went to a celebration with a nearby coven. At their ritual, they performed a “rebirthing” ceremony. I thought, “Ah-ha! This is just what I need.” Nope. I had to bear that weight a little longer.

Little did I know how much gestation time I was in for.[4] And how much giving birth to oneself hurts.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger--just for giggles.

I figured if I gave you Bukowski, I should give you Giger–just for giggles.

In that year of breaking myself into uncompletable shards, I found that there were hidden treasures. Hidden goodness. Under all my own “false” emotions—the ones worn to pacify others’ needs for stability and appearances—I found “true” emotions. The sticky-thick unnerving kind. And I needed to be unnerved. I was dying under the weight of niceness[5] devoid of any anchor in goodness.

What happened was this. I became more intentional in my devotions[6] and I prayed. A lot. And you know what happens when witches pray. Shite gets real.

Suddenly, I had this fantastic aetherial partnership that went far and beyond anything I had experienced with KCHGA. The only way I can describe it is “entirely specific.” And this is a really good thing—else-wise I’d believe I was losing my ever-loving mind. But because I have seen evidence that this is not “all in my cracked head,” I know it’s real.

Then. Then I started obeying—executing instructions. And I’m a little blown away by the specificity of it all. There is nothing ambiguous about instructions, consequences for not following instructions, rewards for following instructions, grace-periods, etc.[7] It really got to the point where I started writing things down so that I could highlight them, check them off, cross them out as they happened.

A friend and I have a joke about life being a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. This is almost like reading ahead and knowing what’s on each page before choosing!

  • My first test was in January and an unexpected “adventure.” The experience itself was pleasurable but left a little aftershock, if not outright trauma. Maybe just in that it actually happened the way it was supposed to. Or at all.
  • Then there was Imbolc and our land-warden-planting and a visit to a very high energy location and yet another adventure—where I may have left someone else vaguely traumatized!
  • Then Ostara and no adventures aside from a rebirthing ritual of our own. That, I think, was just after I figured out the “rules” of this new relationship.
  • Walpurgisnacht was fascinating (and landed me sick for a month) and a complete reversal of Walpurgisnact 2013 which I spent intentionally with only female priestesses—this (liberating) ritual took place with just myself and three male[8]
  • Between the spokes in the year, there was a series of unfortunate events—floods and infestations—that, in turn, caused some of the other items to get ticked off my list.
  • Finally, just before Midsummer, some paradigm shift caused the whole convoluted picture to come into focus. By mid-June, I saw what was coming but I didn’t know the finer details.
This was from June 30. It's just ... so much.

This was from June 30. It’s just … so much.

Now, on the other side of the harvest, Lammas, things are starting to converge. And I’m terrified that I’m getting exactly what I bargained for. Exactly—but with fun surprises at the bottom of the box.[9] And a lot of hidden treasure among the shards of my broken soul. And all that goodness—true goodness—I thought I had irretrievably lost. I don’t think I’ve found rebirth or resurrection yet—I think these are the labor pains.

There is a bout with forgiveness that I’m going to have to fight. Actually, more than one. And if fighting *with* forgiveness doesn’t sound paradoxical to you? Welcome to the conundrum. I feel ya. And I think I’m up for the fight. Hope you are too. If not, drop me a line and we’ll hash it out together.

There’s a “struggle of the wills” that I’ll have to take part in. I think I know where this one is going to come from. My goal is to remain compassionate yet not a carpet to be walked on: balancing geburah and chesed.

In my secular life, mid-November is significant. It’s when the timeline for the EEOA investigation of my termination runs out and I will have an answer. And I’ll turn to that page in my adventure book. Until then, I plan to stay the course.

I hope to be able to keep the regular promise of letting you know how it turns out. But I simply can’t say what’s on that page just yet. Either way, waes thu hael.



[1] Except when I was courting law school.

[2] You see, my supervisor has a relationship to the defendant and let me go in retaliation. Needless to say, I have another year of another suit–this time an EEOA violation.

[3] I did get what I needed out of that suit though–the truth has (mostly) come to the surface, maybe not the details but certainly the reality of the situation; I’m unharassed; and I know who my friends are and who I can trust better than ever. Plus, I’ve an even stronger sense of devotion and have reaped the harvest of such devotions. That can’t be all bad.

[4] Like whale and rhino long.

[5] Motivated solely by the determination not to be “bad.”

[6] There is still plenty of room for improvement.

[7] The only thing I am struggling with is the time line. I’m fecking impatient and may end up shooting myself in the foot with that shortcoming.

[8] We have two Walpurgisnacht rituals: the main one and a more private, chthonic one.

[9] Sometimes it’s just the spiritual equivalent of a press-on tattoo—but that’s better than nothing. Lagniappe is always welcome.

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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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!


Sympathetic Healing

When I was a kid, I stayed fairly doused in Mercurochrome (and sometimes Merthiolate, pronounced m’tholade in my house). My skin was stained ruby red from April to August. Scraped a knee? Momma’d shmear that plastic dipstick all over the open wound, tell me to blow hard to take the sting out, and slap a smelly Band-Aid over the middle-most part of the scrape. I heard the “cure” in Mercurochrome but not the Mercury. In the late 90s, the FDA took this childhood memory off the shelves on account o’ it’s toxicity. Good call, FDA.

A recent run-in with some “scarlet oil” in my tack trunk made me think of m’tholade and about the strange things we used to do to prevent illnesses and to heal ourselves and others. Butter on a burn? Aspirin for babies? Carrots for eyesight? Starve a sick person? Thalidomide?

My mother-in-law used to wrap a garbage bag around her neck when she had a sore throat. At least this one makes some sort of sense.

Reading up on the “homework” I’ve been given by my new-found braucher (third) cousin in Pennsylvania, I find that some of the descriptions of things that could go awry with man and beast conjure a world of boils and swellings and ruptures and “fretters.” Makes me grateful for Alexander Flemming. And the treatments are nearly as bad as the afflictions! Arsenic and hogs lard, horse and cow poop, “a small board from a bier from which a small child was buried which died before baptism,” and “the skull of a criminal” no less.

Plus the antisemitism (see Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus).

The idea is that in sympathetic healing (what you might call a shamanic experience) is escalated when the items used in ritual (when any are used at all) are “sympathetic”–aligned, corresponding, etc.–as well. I don’t know enough about pigs’ bladders to tell you what they are aligned with from an occult perspective, but I imagine there’s something to do with fluid retention, filtration, you get the picture? I also imagine the mythos of the White Sow and numerous boar stories come into play. But, according to what I’m finding, you have to know what that mythos is, how it plays into the magic at hand, and all of the connections in between.

The most fun part of this adventure is that I’m learning where some of our “old wives tales” about healing originated, like my mother-in-law’s sore throat remedy. There is an old folk cure of wrapping a woolen tube filled with asafoetida around an afflicted area. Here’s the idea of sympathy; the herb is aligned with Mars, exorcism, and protection. From an occult perspective, the herb expels any malignancies causing the “patient” distress. (The wool and the tube as significant too.) However, passed down through generations, the original method has been lost in some corners. I was reading cases where folks thought anything stinky could do the trick or that any “fabric tube” would work as well as any other. One family reported a father who put his sweaty socks around his children’s necks to ward-off strep. Needless to say, this did not work.

This is how magical practice (especially the magic of folk healing) becomes reduced to superstition. Mark Stavish of the Institute for Hermetic Studies defines superstition as, “a magical or religious act performed without an understanding of the inner principles it invokes or that are at work,” he says, “It’s aping the original and hoping for the same results” (qtd in Bilardi. The Red Church). This really hit home for me. I see some folks “aping” magical practice without knowing WTF they are doing and expecting something–something “good,” no less–to happen. I reckon they just have stinky socks around their necks.

Another fun part is that I see a lot of my folks’ “folk cures” in the volumes I’ve been reading (most private compilations of oral tradition, some in Deitsch–which I don’t speak, but it’s close enough to German that I get the gist of it). From these passages, I can see where the sympathetic symbol / item / act started, how it transformed and evolved, and why it’s sure to work just often enough to keep the superstition alive and well in pockets of Appalachia. Reading these tomes is kinda like solving riddles–not entirely straightforward at first, but once you know the answer it all makes sense.

It’s suppertime here and I’m off to (not) broil some pig’s bladder in the skull of a criminal.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Waes hael,


There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

“[A] symptom of enlightenment is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous.” (Deepak Chopra)

A Common Hex Sign Design

A Common Hex Sign Design–Anybody from 9WK see what I see? Am I making it up?

I have pagan kin crawling out of the woodwork again. Over the past week, I’ve uncovered two more pagan cousins–or they uncovered me–or we uncovered each other, I donno.

The first and his wife live near Chicago where we all grew up together. Well, he grew up with my older brothers and sisters. I lagged them all by a decade. They are biker-folk who make chainmail jewelry; how entirely cool is that?[1] They were on to me when I posted a friend’s Ostara eggs on FB. I was on to them when I saw their jewelry–nothing specific, just an inking. This was confirmed when I saw a necklace with a spiral goddess pendant. I popped him a PM on FB and that was that. One of few cousins close enough to still call me names like “Squirt” and “Shrimp,” he teased me: “We aren’t exactly in the closet about it.”


How do I keep missing this? Is it too close to home for me to pick up on the signals?[2]  I wish I had known sooner. I mean, growing up thinking I was “the only one” in my whole family was tense.

What I find most magical about all this is that during our Midsummer faining I honored my uncle “Jimmy,” this cousin’s late-papa. For no particular reason, just because I was thinking about my uncle who I loved so well. And then-pow-here’s a pagan cousin to play with. That’s how gebo works for sho!

In the last couple years I’ve learned that plenty of my kin are old-time root workers.[3] Yes, yes–Hoodoo is predominantly Christian, but still. It would have been good to learn more than “how to play an excellent prank” from these folk. All that “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, knowwhatImean, knowwhatImean, saynomore, saynomore,” was lost on me. Or was it? Maybe the things I seem to know out of the blue are actually memories of things I learned and didn’t realize I was learning.

Wash the floor. Paint the fence. Wax the car.

Makes sense. We learn best by just doing.

Let me throw some Old Testament scripture at you, ones my mother always favored, and see if they stick to this narrative.

  • “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, KJV.)
  • “But if it doesn’t please you to worship [Y**H], choose for yourselves today the one you will worship: the gods your fathers worshiped . . . . As for me and my family, we will worship [Y**H].” (Joshua 24:15, Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2009.)
  • “Impress [religious beliefs] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:7-9, NIV.)

I keep thinking about these verses and the idea that Theodish heathen folk wanted more than anything to be reincarnated back into their own tribes. There was nothing worse than to die and be forever bereft from one’s folk. I’m starting to feel like the more I learn about my ancestors, the more I learn about my religious path. Like they go hand in hand. And that path? It’s not Christian. I feel as thought it is my ancestry that is bound to my hands and forehead and doorframe and gate–that I have chosen the gods of my “fathers” and that, in subtleties, my parents and aunts and uncles trained me up in the way I should go. Because the further I go down this path, the more I find that it’s an old path.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV.)

Here’s the part where I tell you a bifurcated story that is related in my head and I just hope that I can translate that relation into your head.

Last weekend I was sitting on the porch with the husband and a student. We were talking about some sad cockadoody that has befallen a few of the pagan groups in the area. We concluded that some bad-crafter had slung some shite and it stuck where it could. It turns out that one of the people was a lot less practiced than we originally believed and another was a lot less ethical than we originally believed. The third–well, we’ve got their number. Always have. Anyway, I said something like, “With all of these folks getting caught with their drawers down it makes you wonder about the strength of their wards. For some namby-pamby bitchcraft to hit them like a ton of bricks,you have to wonder if they really know what they’re doing.” Then it happened. I continued, “I guess since we are totally unphased by all this, that must attest to the fact that I am the real-deal and that we are doing good work here.” I didn’t mean it as a boast. It was actually a realizing-something-and-saying-it-out-loud sort of thing. All of those years spent wearing the guise of The Bad Witch has taken a toll on my self-confidence. 

Add to that. I’ve been making the “syllabus” for next year’s magical training session. I’ve had these folks in my tutelage for almost a year now.[3b] And I keep wondering when I’m going to feel “caught up.” I keep teaching them things and thinking “there’s so much more!” I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what I want to teach them. But I can’t. Like the Sufi teacher Idries Shah said, “Enlightenment must come little by little – otherwise it would overwhelm.” I kinda want to Vulcan Mind Meld them so that we can all be on the same page. But then again, I wouldn’t do that to anyone–all that initiation at once? That’s just cruel. 

As it turns out, at every turn, I am stockpiling more confidence in myself and my work as “the real deal.”[3c] And once again, I am excited to be taking a new turn in this ever winding path toward spiritual enlightenment. As Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh wrote: “One thing: you have to walk, and create the way by your walking; you will not find a ready-made path. . . . You will have to create the path by walking yourself; the path is not ready-made, lying there and waiting for you.” I find that I have family entrenched in the practices I’ve been piecing together from former training, from new scholarship, and from personal gnosis. The path isn’t ready made–but it’s not as untrodden as I feared. You see, not only does it turn out that I have relatives who study “shamanism,” relatives that do root work, relatives that run covens, relatives that (gee, I don’t even know what their practice is yet—the conversation is so new), I’ve just found out that I also have relatives that do something delightfully similar to what we do here at our hoff and ve.

When I started working with Bertie, one of the greatest attractions was that, among the South Side Irish, we had found kindred spirits from German ancestry. As far as I know, we are *not* related consanguineously; but our families traveled along the same route—hers picking up some Irish and Lithuanian along the way while mine picked up Norwegian, Dutch, Cherokee, and, with my momma, Scot and Creek.

Hang on to that info—it’s gonna come in handy.

Back in January 2012 I wrote a post about different kinds of heathenry and I said:

Urglaawe is new to me and I’m not sure how to pronounce it. But I think I likes it. It is. . .“a North American tradition within Heathenry and bears some affinity with other traditions related to historical Continental Germanic paganism [that] derives its core from the Deitsch healing practice of Braucherei, from Deitsch folklore and customs, and from other Germanic and Scandinavian sources. Urglaawe uses both the English and Deitsch languages.”

Deitsch, btw, is Pennsylvania Dutch.

My ancestors were New England Quakers, but derived from Bavarian Anabaptists or Hutterites and Palatine Mennonites. How they relate to the Dutch is a little beyond my (current) ken. [edited in:] I have since figured it out in great detail.

And since then, I’ve figured out even more.

  • First, it’s oor-glow. Not glow like a glowing fire, but ow like damn, that hurt.
  • Second, it’s Deitsch, not Dutch. We say Pennsylvania Dutch–but it’s German, as in Deutsch–only not.
  • My ancestors were Quakers but none of those other things–they were “Fancy Dutch.” Who knew we started out Fancy!? I’ll explain that in a minute.
  • I do have Dutch ancestry, but that’s purely coincidental.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

The hex symbol I made on a gut instinct back in October for my daughter's rabbit's "play-house." You can read about it by clicking the image.

The hex symbol I made on a gut instinct back in October for my daughter’s rabbit’s “play-house.” You can read about it by clicking the image.

See also Jacob Zook’s: http://www.hexsigns.com/

This I knew: My ancestors come from a place called Oppau, in what was a Palatinate during the Palatinate Wars. They were anti-Catholic in a time when the RCC was trying to reestablish Catholic as the national religion in Germany. As a result, they jumped on William Penn’s coattails (via The Queen Ann) and headed to The New World. The settled in Germantown and lived there between 1732 and 1741 (at the latest) when the family moved to South Carolina.

This is new: Unlike many of their neighbors who were Old Tradition Mennonites, they were (this makes me giggle) Fancy Folk or Fancy Dutch. The Fancy Dutch are parallel to the Plain Dutch. “Plain Dutch” are those we associate with Kelly McGillis and Viggo Mortenson in Witness. Fancy Dutch are the Pow-Wow, Long Lost Friends folks–the ones who made/make the groovy hex-signs and get bad names from movies like Donald Southerland’s Apprentice to Murder (which I have pulled up in the next tab and plan to watch after I’m done here).

I new this part too: They lived there for about a decade after the Seven Years War , from which–according to a family historian–fallout made life untenable; they eventually settled for good in North Alabama where many, many, many of their descendants remain. My dad was there until he moved from NE AL to Chicago in the late 1950s.[4] For over 200 years, my kin have lived in this little pocket of caves and lakes and mountains. It’s magical there.


A photo my daughter snapped at our visit to the family cemetery.

I was doing some straight-up non-deliberately-magic-related genealogy when I started talking to a third-cousin in New England. When I did that DNA test with Ancestry, I was put in touch with literally hundreds of second and third cousins and even more “distant cousins.”[4b] It’s crazy-cool. This cousin dropped a few hints about speilwerk. She didn’t call it that at first but eventually she used more overt words. It started with the word, “healing,” when we were talking about—of all things—gardening. When I heard that, I wanted someone to smack me with an obvious stick.

Then I mentioned the Vé and our harrow to Hella. She asked, “Holle?”[5]

My heathen radar is currently dead broke, y’all.[6]

Anyway, long story short we’ve talked about Urglaawe for three days via email and Skype. Since she doesn’t consider herself a teacher at all, she gave me a book list, a blog list, a video list, and a homework assignment. HA! If that’s not teaching . . .

At first she asked me about my tradition and when I tried explaining to her that it was a syncretic heathenry, she said, “Yes, so are we.” I asked how it was syncretized and she talked a lot about Algonquin “medicine.” (Waaaaaay cool.) It’s not exactly the same as what little I know about what I think is passed on from Muskogee (who can really know the answers to chicken-or-egg questions) but it’s damned close.

I said something like, “Well, we do, you know, what they call ‘shamanic’ stuff too.”

Then she taught me the word “braucherei”—turns out that’s almost *exactly* what Bertie taught me–but without all the cool Deitsch lingo. I’m kinda feeling embarrassed that I didn’t ever pursue this line of practice. Mainly because I mistook it for Amish-ness. I mean, I like electricity.

Then I mentioned my interest in hoodoo. “Oh, she said, so you are a Hoodoo Heathen!”[7] An Urglaawe who moved to Appalachia and soaked up the red clay and mountains in her soul over eight generations? Yup. Hoodoo Heathenry.

Really it’s called “German Appalachian Folkways”[8] by bookish folk, but who wouldn’t prefer to be called a Hoodoo Heathen? Oh, wait–my mom. Dad. Aunts. Uncles. Nevermind.

There’s sooooo much more to the story but I have to go do a parenting thing followed by a beer thing and that movie I have open in the next tab. As ever, I’ll let you know more as I go. Whatever you do–don’t let me forget to tell you about Urglawee version of The Wild Hunt. Those of you who celebrated Walpurgisnacht with me this past year will say, “No. Way.,” “Spot. On.,” and “Too. Cool.”

Wæs Hæl,


[1] That makes two friends who make legitimate chainmail.

[2] Or is it that I am looking for “Pagan signals” and when I see “family signals” and they look the same, I pass them off?

[3] Masons, I knew. Mason-jars? Hmmm. What was in all those “special” jars? My memory is that they look an awful lot like the mason jars in my winda’sill.

My current kitchen collection.

My current kitchen collection.

[3b] I’ve been teaching since 2008 but I’ve never had anyone stick around for more than their year-and-a-day. Not because we have a falling-out or because I don’t have more to offer. Just because, as it does in moments of initiation, their lives take turns that lead them away from my locale.

Right now I have one darling who is happily settled in Daphne; she and I spoke on the phone just this morning when she asked when I was going to go house hunting by her. Oooh, I’d love to be by water again. Believe it or not, one misses The Great Lakes. I have another who is watching the brouhaha in Brazil and sending me periodic texts to let me know he’s safe and that he’s found a Santerian mentor. Another who is entrenched in college life in FLA and not doing much more than advanced cellular biology. Of course there is the one that decided the pagan path was not hers and the boy who never writes home anymore.

[3c] It’s like when I first had my doctorate, I experienced what one of my teachers called “impostor syndrome.” I felt like I would be “found out” as a PhD poser. Then one day someone asked me a very technical question related to my specialism and I went on for a good while quoting folks and giving references and stating historical data right off the cuff. At that moment my confidence in myself as a gender theorist was born. That’s how it is now. I haven’t had many folks with whom I could spout *real* conversation points about paganism (in person, that is), so I could never test the waters, as they say. Finally it’s happening. And I am in my element.

[4] He moved back in the 90s and lives in NW AL now.

[4b] My family is huge; Mother is the youngest of 11 and Father is 5th of 22, yes he has 21 brothers and sisters (all live births, same parents, no twins, only one infant mortality).

[5] When I was learning German the teacher gave us gruesome children’s tales to translate. One of those was Frau Holle—a favorite. Look it up, it’s a common-enough archetype story. Like Cinderella—but with an underworld. Plus there’s the “good daughter” and “bad daughter” story line–the bad girl who ends up with her hair stuck to her head with pitch. Everything is coming back around to me now.

[6] Which is funny since I see “witchyness” wherever I look. We went to a bee-thing and I saw a tree branch and thought, “What a nice besom.” No. Just no.

[7] I made some sort of joke about going to pagan festivals and hawking our wares and the punch-line became “Hoodoo Hippy Heathens.”

[8] I had read this book by Gerald Milnes about Mountain sayings back in the day. Someone had given it to me with a book of Jeff Foxworthy jokes when I moved to Alabama. Turns out, he has another book: Signs, Cures, and Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore. She lent it to me on my Kindle.