A Midsummer Ritual and (lack of) Experience

On June 18th I went to my very first group ritual to celebrate the turning of the year. I have been, and continue to be, a very solitary practitioner; there isn’t a group I ‘belong to’ or worship with, on the basis that Kemetic orthodoxy isn’t for me and there is a lack of any sort of Shinto practice in America outside of the west coast. (One of these days I’ll get to you, Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. One of these days.) So suffice to say that anything approaching a physical ‘community’ was very new to me.

I’ve been around the online community, though, especially on Tumblr. So it’s not a surprise I’ve learned a lot about what is and is not good practice with regards to deities, and it’s left me with a sour feeling in my stomach to the type of folk who call on deities as aspects in a ritual to use those aspects without prior working or communication, as well as taking an aspect of a closed tradition to use in a ritual that is not in the style of said tradition.

So, when I learned that this midsummer ritual was going to be dedicated to the Lwa and Orisha, I kind of had an automatic feeling of stepping somewhere I didn’t belong. I’d never worked with the Lwa and never planned to, and I felt like I was intruding in territory that wasn’t mine to intrude into.

The leader of the group I was going to had been educated in Wicca, and that made me nervous as well. (Side note: It really didn’t help when I saw a copy of Silver Ravenwolf’s Teen Witch on the table as an auction item.) But despite my bad feelings, I went anyway, and hoped for the best.

I’ll say it wasn’t a disaster. When I was in the ritual, along with about 20 others, I didn’t get a bad or sour feeling in my stomach. The problem was, I didn’t get much of any feeling in my stomach at all. For almost the entire ritual, one portion excluded, the most I felt was a dull sensation of invitation, followed by mostly nothing. I felt Papa Legba’s presence, but none of the other deities we had invited.

That isn’t to say I didn’t appreciate the ritual. I think, no matter what you’re doing, if you’re doing it in a ritual context like that there’s bound to be something otherworldly about. And I did feel that; a feeling of being ‘in between worlds’ was explicitly a part of the ritual script, and to say I felt nothing of a group of magical people gathered together to focus on one thing would be giving the group too little credit.

And despite my nervousness about calling on the Lwa and Orisha, it was made apparent that the ritual leader did have experience in communication with these deities and had a personal relationship with them. So, whether or not it was just my own hesitancy and newness to group ritual that made me experience far less than I wanted to, or that was just how this particular ritual went, or whether I was just having an ‘off day’, I don’t know. I genuinely liked the energy the group had, I genuinely liked the leader of the group and how she did things even though I wasn’t totally familiar with them, and I met some good people that night to boot, and because of that, I’m not giving up on this group. I think it was a good experience for me to finally get out of my lonely little broom closet for a night.

 

Advertisements

A Witch Reviews: Good Witch

Hello all, and welcome to a non-Sunday surprise special post. Sometimes I’m struck by how little the media makes of us who practice witchcraft, or how much they attribute to us; alternatively, I might be impressed. This is not one of those times.

I recently watched a Netflix series called Good Witch tout of curiosity; it was produced by Whizbang Films in association with ITC studios and Hallmark. From what I understand, it was preceded by a series of made-for-TV-movies by the same name, starring the same actress, Catherine Bell, which, full disclaimer: I haven’t watched.

The series focuses on Bell’s character, Cassie Nightingale, who is a newly-widowed woman with a teenage daughter named Bailee, and lives in ‘Grey House’ with her daughter and father-in-law in a town called Middleton. She also runs a shop named ‘Bell, Book, and Candle’. New neighbors in the form of James Denton’s character Sam Radford, a new doctor, and his son Nick played by Rhys Matthew Bond. The skeptical doctor is initially at odds with Cassie, who is an herbalist and seems to have helped many people in town with her teas and medicines. However, he finds himself a little off balance as things seem to happen around Cassie; she opens stuck doors with a touch, seems to know things before they happen, and plays at nudging destiny on its course.

I appreciate that herbalism gets more than its due in this series, but it isn’t preachy or anti-pharma (though decidedly anti-caffeine). It’s implied that Cassie urges people who come to her for help to seek medical treatment, which is responsible. In a non-witchy way, I appreciate the characters and the drama, sometimes (It gets a bit…weird when we’re having heart-felt moments in the first episode with characters I haven’t seen before). Nick’s struggle with his divorced parents and finding a place for himself in Middleton when he came from New York was engaging. I also really enjoyed Abigail, played by Sarah Power, who often helped things along by ‘stirring the pot’. Cassie’s shop, Bell Book and Candle, is probably a place I would go to to find myself something witchy, were I to live in a town that didn’t already have a metaphysical shop. Maybe Cassie has actual books on witchcraft she keeps in the back. Who knows.

The thing that bothered me about this series the whole way through, though, is that Cassie could easily be read as an exceptionally lucky herbalist with powers of premonition. I’m not of the opinion that just having clairvoyance makes you a witch. After all, I lived for years experiencing dreams of the future and never called myself one. No one ever outright states that she’s a witch, or actually magical, or anything. I kept thinking there was going to be a scene in which Cassie was revealed to be practicing magic, or hell, even reading tarot or something, but it never comes. I enjoyed the series for what it was, but I can’t help but be a little bit disappointed, because I was expecting something more. Not that there’s a shortage of acceptably witchy media out there, but it would have been nice to have a very down-to-Earth witch with a passion for plant magic and doing the simple act of helping people. I felt like that might demystify some of us non-fictional witches, and open up perceptions of what witchcraft can be.

 

 

Some Words

Oddly enough, my original topic for this Sunday was going to be about how we should use our skill as magical people and our communities as pagans (although the two are not mutually inclusive) to lift up the oppressed, and to guard against any kind of anti-minority sentiment in our respective communities.

I am trans. I know what that means. In the wake of the tragedy of the Pulse shooting, it is made even clearer.

Our religious beliefs should never become a shield to hide behind and to justify harmful opinions; I saw this behavior so much in my youth and even now in my Christian parents. It’s part of why I left Christianity. A very large part. And, at least most of the time, the broad umbrella of ‘pagan’ communities is better about this. But that doesn’t mean bigotry doesn’t exist; it doesn’t mean that we can’t be racist or homophobic or transphobic in our communities, or allow people with these views to lead them. We can, we have.

And for people that are generally so welcoming, we need to see this behavior as what it is: harmful to minorities looking to explore their spirituality. People who may need what you can offer, but who are driven away by less-than-accepting group leaders and insiders.

We need to call these people out on their shit.

When you see this kind of behavior in your own community, let people know it isn’t acceptable or welcome. We have seen today that being homophobic isn’t just an ‘opinion’; it disregards and disrespects and dehumanizes real people who may look to your group for spiritual guidance. And, most importantly, I’m speaking to the pagans and witches who aren’t LGBTQ, who are white or otherwise privileged. We often cannot, or are too afraid to say something, or we just aren’t there. You, as someone with more institutional power, need to listen to us, and let other people know bigotry and hate won’t be tolerated.

I also make a strong case for those of us who practice magic: protect us, in whatever way you know how. Witchcraft is the tool of the oppressed, so in our time of need, use it to help. We too often overlook these things as not something that our magic can help. That it’s too ‘big’. But nothing is too big for magic.

Remember, my fellow LGBTQ family: They cannot kill our love. They cannot kill our truth.

By my own Power

I haven’t done any real magic in such a long time.

The last spell I did was enchanting a necklace to bring me luck; it, thus far, seems to not be working out. It was also my first enchanted piece of jewelry. Developing skills takes time, and that’s fine. That’s not why I’m writing this.

Last week, I felt my soul stir again, as it hasn’t in such a long time. I felt something, and I knew that this? This was the time that I had been waiting for, finally able to feel my gods again, finally able to feel my own power again.

I do my best work in energy–I have a knack for manipulating my own, and perhaps other energies should I branch out. In fact, my most effective method of magic, down and dirty sigil-making and charging, produces the most drastic results.

I have a problem, though. I love ceremonial magic.

Or at least magic where there’s a ceremony. And despite my great results with sigils and energy work, my ceremonial magic skills remain…lackluster. Granted, I don’t get a lot of practice; I can’t, living under my parents’ roof where the only time I can perform any type of ceremonial stuff is at night, and very quietly. So I use what I think will be my best chance at achieving results: I ask the gods for assistance.

Those results are still lackluster, despite the occasional or temporary success. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be doing this kind of magic? Or maybe, I thought, maybe it was the way I was going about it. And then I had a thought that really made me afraid: what if I challenged myself to a ritual spell without once calling on the gods for help?

I’ve been having trouble with money lately, so that was a fairly easy choice. I’d been itching to use my catnip. (I even dressed a candle and covered it in herbs for the first time. Neat!) I had a yellow candle, which could stand in for gold. And I would be relatively undisturbed for several hours on Saturday. And as I was walking the dog, a thought wouldn’t leave my head: May my own words and my own power sway the wind of fate to my favor. It didn’t rhyme, but the idea of the Wind of Fate resonated with me the whole walk.

And so I did it how I usually do it: With precious little planning, using the words that came out of my mouth without rehearsal, and feeling the energy work through me to that yellow candle covered in oil and catnip. Once I was sure the smoke from the incense and ash leaf was gone, I felt…good. In touch with my own power, finally, again. I watched the candle burn down and now I think I can get used to this again.

#ThisIsWhyWeNeedPolytheism

(Contributing to a hashtag made by Thracian Exodus.)

In so many ways, I am so new to this.

And I don’t think anyone is going to be expecting much out of me with only…what, four years of the Kemetic faith and witching under my belt? Especially considering that, for the last year and a half, I’ve had an intense fallow time that has left me feeling disconnected from the gods and most disturbingly my own energy. And I don’t expect much of myself either, realistically. I may be eager to learn, but I know my limits as someone still dependent on their family who doesn’t know and won’t understand and will at worst be downright hostile. Right now, I have to take very small, quiet steps. It’s frustrating as all hell. Not to mention my monotheist baggage, which has been a major part in the fallow time I’ve experienced.

But even then, I feel so much more free than I did in the baptist church, and here’s why:

I don’t begrudge people for their monotheistic faith, but as time goes on, I realize why I felt so depressed and spiritually dead. It wasn’t a path meant for me, as an adult. The flavor of religion I experienced relied on a fear of hell to bring in folk and keep them there for life, and even if the Abrahamic God gave us free will, we were punished for using it in a way other than what that god wanted from us. That’s not a mature way of looking at things. It’s not spiritually nourishing. A massive god free of faults is one I can by definition not experience something with, because I cannot relate.

I chose this path because I was called to it. Called by Anpu, welcomed by Wepwawet and Heru and Khnum and Set. All beings I could turn to to worship, to speak with, to assert my own boundaries, and in some ways receive a love that rivaled that of a massive and distant god. Anpu called me his child and I believed it. More than that, I was no longer bound by monotheistic thought wherein I had to believe my religion was the ‘correct’ one. Polytheism was a continuation of an existing trend of self-growth and enlightenment, for me. It helped me reach a new step of tolerance and empathy for other people, despite not always sharing their experiences. And it’s made me a better and happier person, and for that, I am forever grateful to my gods.

Fallow for a Season

This blog has been dead for a while, not because I haven’t wanted to update it, but because I had nothing to update it with.

Lately as I lay awake at night in bed as I tend to do, I keep thinking about what I would like to do. What kinds of worship I can give to my deities, what kind of spirit work I can work towards, the ways I can use my natural spiritual talents and really do something. But in the end, I’m still laying in bed, and all I can do is muster hope that one day, I’ll be able to.

The massive fallow time that has consumed my life for the past year–or even more, if we’re being honest with ourselves–boils down to three factors.

One: Time. It’s not an excuse, and I know that. I continually get pulled into schoolwork because I am so desperate to succeed in college that it overshadows every other aspect of my life, even socializing. Even if I don’t do schoolwork, I think about the schoolwork that needs to get done, and I can’t get myself in the right mindspace to do it–or so I tell myself. Even then, at the end of the day, my energy is sapped, and I put it off until tomorrow.

Two: Shame. I no longer live with a roommate who might raise an eyebrow at the occasional prayer towards the sun or a muttered devotion to Anpu, but even so, I’m terrified to wear that badge on my sleeve, even in private. I live in a restrictive dorm so all the things I usually do, candles, incense and the like, is totally prohibited. If I wanted to commune with the spirits that allegedly live on campus, as I’m sure there are many, how would I be able to present myself in a space where anyone can happen upon me at anytime?

And even when I’m not here, when I’m at home everything has to be hidden, done by night. How do I reach out into my local community to learn how to do the things I want to do while I still have to hold onto a facsimile of Christianity for my own livelihood?

Beyond that, even: why do I feel embarrassment around the practices that I love, and that make my life better?

Three: Isolation.

I’m certainly not the only pagan I know but I’m the only Kemetic I know, and cloistered here in my little dorm room it feels an awful lot like I’m surrounded by unfamiliar territory. Online, I don’t do much interacting with anyone because I no longer have the taste for drama or fights. More frequently I’m finding my thirst for a real-life group of peers that I can see and worship with or at least discuss the ins and outs of witchcraft with is ever-growing, and I can’t find that here. I don’t even know where to start looking.

I want to learn. I want to be more than self-taught. My frustration only gets stronger as this barren time keeps building.

 

A Practice in Inevitability

This December was the one-year anniversary of my conversion to Paganism. I had gotten my first tarot deck on Halloween and was trying to bill it as a spooky thing to do for Halloween, but god knows I wanted one more than anything. That December, I finally gave in to an impulse I had been feeling for years: getting into Shinto. I had wanted to for a while, but when you’ve been raised as a southern Baptist all your life changing religions tends to be a thing that try not to consider. Now that I look back, I can see how my initial interest in Shinto planted the seeds for my eventual practice in it years down the road. Kemeticism came only a little while later, as I tried to get in contact with Anpu, whom I had loved for a long time from a purely mythological perspective. But my new-found freedom to explore other religions allowed me to approach him as a real, living deity.

And while all this was going on, my parents were (probably) none the wiser.

Or at least they were for the first 6 or 7 months. After my altars became more and more conspicuous (and I didn’t have the heart to put them away, as well as getting the feeling that I really really shouldn’t) they began to suspect something was up. I don’t know if I was a good enough liar to pull off the explanations I had, but that was all I had. I couldn’t tell them, I couldn’t be open with them. I was 18 years old but I was (and still am) dependent upon them. And they threatened me with an exorcism if they found out I was doing witchcraft. Which I was. And that scared me.

But when I move out, when I get a place of my own, I’m going to have shrines and an altar and they’re going to be in plain sight. And if my parents ever think to come and visit their child?

What am I going to tell them?

I refuse to put away my religious expression when it’s my own property, but I know that it will hurt them. And they will worry themselves sick over the fate of my immortal soul. So, is it an inevitability? How do I prepare to deliver news that will most definitely shock and disgust my own parents?

It’s one year later and I’m not keeping this secret as well as I thought I could. How do you take it upon yourself to prepare to break your parents’ hearts?

On Fear

I have a lot of fears.

I fear the dead, the passage of time, unfamiliar people and places, stress. I have chronic anxiety, after all, so this is to be expected. But I also have nagging fears in my religious practice as well: I fear the unknown and the unprovable. Let me elaborate.

My practice is fairly ordinary. I do light work with spirits, but nothing major outside astral work or god invocation. And in recent days my work has been almost non-existent; I’ve been caught up in the day-to-day goings-on of the world around me, and more than that, I feel as though I don’t have any purpose in what I’m doing, spiritually–or at least what I have been doing. The light spirit work, I feel, was just an introduction to what I need to do.

But I don’t know how to take that next step, and I’m afraid. And that, in turn, has reflected on the quality and quantity of my devotional and spirit work.

I am afraid to jump into the deep end, mostly because I know, in there, I will not be looked at as merely a quirky new-ager by most people’s standards. I fear for, firstly, my own sanity, and secondly, how it will effect the way I interact with people as a whole. If I’ve learned anything at all from the pagans and polytheists that I look up to, it’s that religious practice, when you really get on your hands and knees and put some elbow grease into it, is not easy or something to be blown off. It’s life-changing. 

Now, back to the ‘provable’ part: what I’ve done so far isn’t provable by any stretch of the imagination except by circumstantial evidence, but going deeper into spiritual work will have more of an effect on me and it also won’t be provable. And when I don’t have solid proof for a thing that I have experienced, witnessed by another person, then I start to seriously doubt my sanity. It’s a nasty habit and I need to get rid of it, I know, but it’s there all the same, and I am afraid to doubt my sanity over and over because of my religious practice.

In the end, I suppose I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Advice?

In Memorium?

Let me level with you for a minute: I’m sure you’re all perfectly aware of this, since you are most likely a frequenter of this blog. But I just thought a reminder was in order: Polytheism is still there.

Apparently the North Georgia’s Skeptic Society thought it wasn’t, because they created one of the more offensive things I’ve seen in a while, and not for the reasons you might think. They created a ‘god graveyard’ in which they had 200 ‘tombstones’ to gods that have been relegated to myths or forgotten about, according to them. 

Image

At first glance, I saw Anpu in there somewhere, which was the first thing that pissed me off. Anpu is not dead by any stretch of the imagination (though He is lord over that domain, that certainly doesn’t make Him dead) and to see the disrespect of not only one of my gods there but also disrespect to my religion and my status as a practitioner, you can see how I would be angry.

But, this is a college skeptic society. As much as I hate to admit it, there are a lot of asshole atheists out there, and I’m not surprised that a group of them did something like this. But then I saw some comments that indicated it wasn’t just the ancient gods that would easily be mistaken for ‘dead’ if someone didn’t know about revivalist movements: there were the Iwa and the Kami and the Hindu deities as well, and those religions are not only not dead, they’re thriving, and they never lost their worship in the first place. Even cursory research would show one this.

So not only are they disrespecting my religion, but as an offense much worse they are reducing the religions of PoC who are still alive and quite thriving. They are disrespecting whole cultures. And such a thing is, by far, one of the more dickish things I’ve seen atheists pull.

If only to add insult to injury, Hank Green stated on his tumblr that if he had the money, he would make a ‘permanent’ thing here. I intensely admire the Green brothers, despite their trip-ups in the past. I expected much better from someone as knowledgeable as Hank.

Anyway, rant over. One more thing…

Dua Netjer! Praise the forgotten gods and the gods not so forgotten after all!

Magical Theory: The Divide

Whilst I was browsing tumblr’s witchcraft tag one fine, procrastination-filled evening, I came across a post that made me immediately face palm. Not that the poster’s intentions were bad, and I was judging on assumptions here, but it got me thinking about what magic can do and what it can’t do, and, more specifically, how it can do what it can. The post in question wanted to know how to enchant a regular phone to be a godphone. My immediate thought was that they wanted to get text messages from the gods or something, which, to be fair, might not have been what they meant; but nevertheless.

When I think about what I want a spell to do, I have an arbitrary division of reality. On one side are things like phones, chairs, temperature, things that are scientifically quantifiable. On the other are thoughts, feelings, perceptions, spirits, and other things of that sort: basically, things that are not quantifiable and therefore not something that exists in the same way that, say, a chair does. 

When you want to effect the quantifiable universe, there are certain things that you simply cannot do. You can’t make sparks come out of your wand at will, or move a drawer with your mind, or make a book hover in the air with the utterance of a simple ‘leviosa’. These things defy the laws of physics (kind of). Trying to make these things happen with magic is about as effective as doing it with science. ie, impossible. Not that you can’t effect the physical world. Things like weather spells, attraction (of things, not of people), etc. are all very possible and in some cases somewhat simple with magic. It’s just that the outcome is not directly forced into being via magic. 

If you wanted it to rain, and did a rain spell, an unexpected wind may push a front through your living area and thus, rain. The spell worked, but it wasn’t by a miracle, it was thanks to a long string of coincidences. That’s generally how magic effecting the physical world works: many coincidences that lead to the desired outcome.

Enchanting a phone to get calls from Thor is impossible, at least on a physical level. No matter how powerful the ingredients or energy you have, it just isn’t going to happen. Period. Mostly because you’re trying to enchant a physical object to do something physical and spiritual at the same time. (Now, if you enchanted the phone to give you feelings about the messages your god had for you, that would be well within the realm of possibility.)

You can enchant objects to effect the metaphysical side of things, sure. In fact that’s what a hell of a lot of spells already do. (poppets, anyone? Although those work on a whole other level.)

Effecting metaphysical things is easy, simply because it relies so heavily on perception and human consciousness, something that science itself hasn’t really figured out yet. When you’re thinking of spells, make sure to ask yourself if they’re reasonably within the realm of physical possibility.

(This wasn’t very organized, so I apologize. I just wanted to give my thoughts on this and put them into words.)