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.


Originally posted June 21, 2018.

Book Review: The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff

This is pretty much the kind of book I hope Sew Witchy turns out to be.

Ever come across a book where you make satisfied “mmm” noises as you read?  Ever read a book that feels like a conversation between like-minded friends?  How about one that makes you feel a sense of comfort? That’s how I felt when I read The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff.  When I got to the acknowledgements and saw my editor, Elysia Gallo, mentioned I was over the moon.  I immediately sent her an e-mail telling her how much I enjoyed the book and how it was just the sort of book that I wanted to write.

The Witch’s Cauldron is part of The Witch’s Tools Series from Llewellyn, which covers various tools used by witches throughout history, and deals with, as the title suggests, cauldrons.  What immediately resonated with me was Zakroff’s pragmatic approach to the subject.  Early on in the book she writes, “In dangerous times, it was safer to have a commonplace item that could double for a person’s spiritual needs while not outing them to those who might wish to cause them harm.”  This is the magick I’m here for, the mundane made magickal because “special” tools could be used as evidence against the witch.  This isn’t candle color or crystal magick that—while it might have a place in modern magick—didn’t have a place in historical witchcraft.

That pragmatism continues as Zakroff explores non-traditional cauldrons like crock pots, encourages supporting local businesses, and even cautions the reader to be aware of local laws with regard to collecting feathers and animals/animal parts.  That last bit is a particular pet peeve of mine, as so many pagan books will offer up correspondences for feathers, shells, and other fauna with no such caution.  Laws about this are meant to protect animals from harm and ignoring them is not being a good steward of the earth.

What really impressed me, however, was Zakroff’s recognition of non-binary practitioners and her address of cisgendered heteronormativity of the Great Rite.  Having worked with non-binary clients and having a several trans friends, it was gratifying to see witchcraft being addressed in such an inclusive manner.  I’ve been seeing more of this over the last year or so, but only online.  To see the topic come up in a book from a pagan publisher is encouraging.

I will be checking out the other books in the series, with the hope that they are as intelligently and thoughtfully written as The Witch’s Cauldron.

Book Review: Clearing Spaces by Khi Armand

Root work + shamanism = a useful book.

The first time I was aware of how an environment affected me was in 1994-1996. I had moved to Laramie, Wyoming to go to school. The years I was there I felt unsettled, unraveling. I eventually moved away, heading for Chicago (which presented its own environmental issues) and didn’t really connect my unease with the town. Over the next few years, whenever I would travel home to visit, stopping in Laramie to see friends, the general sense of bad energy would hit me. I eventually came to recognize that the town, for whatever reason, just doesn’t jibe with me.

I think that is one of the reasons I related so strongly with Khi Armand’s Clearing Spaces.  It is a book full of advice in recognizing and diagnosing problems in one’s environment.  Armand then offers practical advice on how to address those problems.  He acknowledges, also, that some problems might not be fixed, and that, especially when dealing with genus loci, compromise might be necessary.

What I enjoyed about the book is that Armand discusses ways to treat the environment that don’t involve feng shui.  In fact, he introduces several concepts and practices that I had never heard of before.  For example, he talks about Ho’oponopono, a Hawaiian healing technique of reconciliation.  The idea of coming to terms with your environment, rather than trying to impose your will on it, was particularly interesting to me.

The book is grounded in root work, shamanism and paganism, with an understanding of and reference to the cultures that contributed to those paths or “modalities”. This blend of various paths feels organic rather than forced in his prose.  Armand also uses the term “technology” in references to practices like smudging, feng shui and the like.  It’s a call back to past times when spells and charms were worked as practical matters alongside other, mundane activities.

The greatest benefit I got from the book, however, was the introduction to the term “helping spirits.”  For years I have worked with Turtle, but eschewed the term “spirit animal” so as to not participate in cultural appropriation.  No other terms ever encompassed what Turtle means to me, though.  But when I read “helping spirits” it was like a light clicked on in my head!  It’s not an exaggeration to say that learning this term has helped my relationship to Turtle grow and deepen over the last few months.

Finally, on a completely aesthetic note, this is one of the most attractively laid out books I’ve read in a long time.  Flipping through it felt good.  I spent some of my time reading, just looking over the pages, admiring the design.  That sort of attention to the page space is completely in keeping with the rest of the book.