A Witch on Stolen Land

Driving through Wyoming last week drove home how much I had missed the land I grew up in.  At a rest stop I collected sprigs of sagebrush.  The familiar scent of Russian olive trees hung heavy in the air.  The wind sung to me through the aspens.  I left Wyoming twenty-two years ago and it was calling me home.

My longing is tempered by years of learning about social justice topics; especially colonialism and this country’s horrifying treatment of indigenous people.  The knowledge that I live on stolen land colors my dreams of the future.

As we drove, Charlotte pointed out places to build a castle.  “That’s part of the Wind River Reservation,” I told her.  “I don’t think the Shoshone or Arapaho would appreciate us building there.”  The entire trip back I was aware of all the reservations we drove through, all the casinos we passed, all the roads and creeks and passes we crossed that had “Indian” in their names.  I come from a place that has herded various tribes onto parcels of land and monetized their very identities.

If I am allowed to move back to Wyoming, how do I, as a witch, practice without adding to the harm already done.  The question is especially tricky as I have no cultural heritage of my own to fall back on.  My sister did the Ancestry.com test a year ago.  Genetically, we’re a mix of Irish, Western European and British.  That knowledge doesn’t give me any real answers, though. In the same way that I don’t feel part of football culture just because I am American, I don’t feel any more connected to those cultures just because of my DNA.

So where does that leave me?  I can make sure that I don’t appropriate any Native American spiritual practices, something I strive to do anyway.  But I don’t know if that is enough.  Do no harm doesn’t delineate levels of injury.  I feel a responsibility to go beyond, to do more than just the bare minimum.

I’m not quite sure what that will involve, or how it will look.  As I figure it out, I’ll write about it here.

Dealing with the Change: A Witch Ladder

Life, being life, has kept me dancing, jumping, skipping, crawling and occasionally crying the last few months. There is the house situation which may or may not be resolved in the next few months. There is the custody battle that has sprung up like a stop animation monster from the house situation. There is the book, which has a new title and release date (which I’ll write about later). There is an upcoming move several states away that is also a result of the house situation. There is C2E2 coming up in a couple of weeks. And there are the daily ups and downs of depression, anxiety, parenting my children, being with my husband, writing, sewing, remembering to eat, responding to the demands of two cats who have come to be much loved members of our family.

It’s been busy, you all.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found my daily practices becoming more necessary and more relevant to me. Lighting a candle to call on Hestia, or sitting at the family altar for a few minutes just to breath have provide signposts along the way. Part of this can be explained by my work on the book. I have been going through edits and working on projects for pictures. This last week I’ve been putting together a box of projects to send to my publisher for the cover photo shoot. Working this much on the theory and practice of magic and paganism is bound to reinforce a more mindful practice.

Today’s job was to put together a witch ladder to go into the photo shoot box. I had in mind what I was going to make: a ladder in shades of green and silver and gold, something rich with ornate ribbons and sparkling buttons to hold wealth and prosperity magic. After all, this would possible go on the cover of my first book, so I want to put as much energy as I can into ensuring its success.

I went through the workshop, pilfering bins of all the odds and ends that I’ve squirreled away over the years. All the bits of ribbon and lace, all the buttons that have never been put to use in a vest or skirt. I dug out beads and charms that have lain, undisturbed, like a fairy tale princess waiting to be awakened to their destiny. I piled them up on the sewing table, after I had shoved everything else out of the way to make space. I pulled out a piece of fabric twine and thread and needle and got to work.

I had several false starts. Ben kept interrupting for snacks and drinks and to make him a bandolier for his NERF darts. Every time I had to stop and start again I found my original intentions scattered and had to pull them together. And every time that happened the renewed intention was changed slightly. I clipped out black and white edge lace that I had used on a set of corsets, isolating the designs. I found a set of silver butterfly charms I had picked up on clearance, or perhaps from a thrift shop who knows how long ago. Felt charms–a heart and a skull–I had created almost a decade before ended up pinned to the twine. By the time I added the silver heart-shaped button at the bottom, I knew that what I was creating had nothing to do with prosperity.

I was praying for the strength to come out of the near catastrophic events I’m going through. I prayed for change, for transformation, for finding a life after the end to this latest chapter of my life. I was making that prayer real in ribbon and buttons, thread and lace. By the time I had tied the last bits of embroidery thread in red, white and black, I felt a profound sense of release.

This witch ladder will go into the photo shoot box, and I hope that it makes it onto the cover. I have plenty of magical and practical energy already going into helping the success of this book. What I need now is to give a bit of effort to keeping upright and moving forward while things around me are torn down. That way, when the destruction ends, I will be able to pick up the pieces and create a new life.

Attempting Murder

It’s All In My Head

I am done with my Jerk Brain.  For forty years I allowed it to sit in my mind, eating away at my self-esteem, mental health and happiness.  This past April, I turned forty-one and decided that I didn’t want to play host to that parasite any longer.  It’s a decision borne of annoyance and desperation, but also of weariness.  The idea that I’ll be eighty-years-old and still dealing with a voice that tells me I am fat and ugly and stupid and a waste of space is exhausting.

Evicting Jerk Brain isn’t the goal.  I’ve tried in years past to mitigate the harm it has done.  I’ve turned down the volume on its voice.  I’ve redirected its energies.  I’ve engaged in endless efforts to soften its vitriol.  All of these measures have been taken under a belief that Jerk Brain serves a purpose.  For as long as it has been with me I have treated it as my very own Jiminy Cricket—albeit an insect whose guidance owes more to a school of unwarranted cruelty rather than kind correction.

None of my previous attempts have mitigated Jerk Brain’s nastiness for long.  Always, it would convince me that ignoring all the harsh criticism was proof that I was a bad person.  Jerk Brain, it would insist, is just trying to help me become a better person and here I am, being an ungrateful, petulant child in the face of that help.  And I would capitulate, allowing a voice that most assuredly wants me to die have room again in my life.

Breaking that cycle of abuse has to start with the acceptance of one solid fact: Jerk Brain does not have my best interests at heart.  It’s an easy enough realization, harder still to embrace and use as a platform for change.  I am required to reject outright any of Jerk Brain’s comments.  More than that: I have to murder the fucker.

So I set out to come up with a plan for killing off my most intimate enemy.  I need more than self-help psychology and affirmations.  I was going to call in some spiritual help in ending the putrescent Clarence once and for all.  It was time to take my relationship with Hekate to another level.

Hexing My Jerk Brain

I’ve been working with Hekate for about a year now.  I wanted to move beyond my pagan relation to the world and into practicing witchcraft.  My practice and study have been focused on my sewing, and the book I am writing about sewing and magick.  I’ve consecrated my sewing machines, imbued my pins and needles with magical intent, and wove ritual into items I’ve made.  Beyond that, and the regular smudging of my home, I haven’t cast spells.  And yet, here I was, drawing up a plan to cover a year of regular hexing my Jerk Brain, as well as spells to build up myself, to become the person I wanted to be.

It is an ambitious undertaking for someone with little experience under her (imaginary) belt.  But that is my Jerk Brain, talking, and I’m not interested in listening.  I am a woman desperate to free her life of a poisonous toad.  What else do desperate women do, if not acts that look impossible from the outside?

Hexing is a touchy subject in pagan circles.  More than one person has brought up the “rule of three” when I started outlining my plan.  Honestly that rule has never figured into my belief.  It’s a concept that doesn’t make sense to me and I’ve never seen it in action in my life or worldview.  I’ve found that my feelings on magick, hexing and its usefulness  are in line with Seo Helrune’s in their blog post “A Witch That Cannot Hex Cannot Heal” (parts 1 and 2).  I won’t expand here what has been so eloquently put there.  Click on the links if you want to read more.  Even if I abided by the rule, if ever there was an entity that deserved hexing, it would be Jerk Brain.  It is a matter of magickal self-defense at this point.

After some research and meditation I wrote out the plan, titled “A Year and a Day” (because “How to Kill a Jerk Brain in About Thirteen Months” seemed a little wordy).  For the next year I will perform a hex on my Jerk Brain at the dark of the moon.  On the full moon there will be a more constructive ritual/spell because I need to focus on building up as well.

I cast my first hex last night.  It was a rather low-key affair.  I don’t call the quarters or invoke lords or ladies.  I don’t speak in rhyme, or out loud, even.  As an introvert pagan my spellwork happens primarily in my mind.  The focus of the spell was identifying Jerk Brain as my enemy, aided by a drawing of a blocky, snarling monster surrounded by swirls of black.  This image was burned with rue (for exorcism), flower of the hour (to heighten the speed of the spell) and a dried snapdragon husk (for its resemblance to a skull and thus the death of Jerk Brain).

The only altar image present was the Death card from my Herbal Tarot deck to amplify the change I am attempting.  Later I might add a Hekate image, to reinforce her presence.  The altar is a family affair, constantly shifting with items added or removed by any member of the household, not to mention the occasional visit by the cats who find it a perfect place to perch while looking out the window.  Because of this, I can’t really have an elaborate set up.

The whole ritual took an hour, from the start of assembling the herbs for the incense, to the end when I snuffed out the candles, made some tea and headed to bed.  This will be key to maintaining the spellwork over so many months. Anything that requires hours of preparation or participation won’t work with my schedule.

I have twelve more months to build on what I started last night.  I go into this knowing that what I have set out to do will take time.  Jerk Brain won’t be gotten rid of overnight.  It will reanimate and lurch back into my mind to harry me once again.  That’s the reason for the year long ritual.  With each month I will build on the spell, increasing its potency and deadliness.  Every time I say “You are not welcome here” and burn Jerk Brain’s image it will be easier to tell it to fuck off between spells.  Every time I call on Hekate to help me overcome my sadistic inquisitor, I will feel stronger.

Therapy is useful.  Medication helps immensely.  And where those two fall short, I have witchcraft in my arsenal.

 

 

 

The Sense of Loss in Paganism

I have about a dozen or so back issues of Sage Woman in my library, bought mostly in 1999-2002. I spent a good few hours the other week going through each issue trying to find a quote I half remembered, but I didn’t have any luck.

The quote, as I remember it, was from a Native American woman, asking a group of white women why they tried to learn and emulate Native spirituality. Why didn’t the women look to their own heritages for magic and ritual? It’s a quote that has stuck with me for years, coming at a time when I hadn’t yet heard the term “cultural appropriation” but I had a vague sense of it. Having been raised in Wyoming, with no sense of where my family was from, I didn’t have a personal answer to that question.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for a book I’m writing, and in my reading I came across this quote that expanded on my thoughts and feelings on the above.

I feel a sense of loss over this distance between American witches and their European heritage because even if a person studies and learns about these things, the culture was not “lived”.  What is attractive about the Craft is that the expression comes from the experiences and feelings of the practitioner.  For example, it is fine to learn Celtic (all knowledge is a delight), but there is a difference between learning Celtic and growing up Celtic in Wales. — Ann Moura, Green Witchcraft

I feel that sense of loss sometimes.  Even if I researched my ancestry, I would still feel removed from it.  I identify as American, a national identity that is still primarily “Christian-esque” with a heritage that has little in the way of pagan faith.  And those few groups that have nurtured a pagan faith, or developed one over the years, are not groups I could be part of without feeling like an interloper looking to appropriate something that does’t belong to me.

And if I feel this way, I am sure there are others who do as well.  Wicca certainly fills the gap between European heritages and those American pagans who have only the most tenuous claim to them.  But Wicca isn’t without it’s own problems with “borrowing” from other belief systems without due credit.  (As an example, look at candle magic, which was largely developed in the hoodoo and rootwork traditions.)

I don’t know where that leaves me.  I want to practice a faith that isn’t rooted in appropriation, that isn’t taking the bones of Christianity and dressing it in a magical flesh.  And that becomes part of the research as I work on this book.  For, if nothing else, all knowledge is a delight, and if all I get out of these next couple of months of research is new information, I will be content with that.