Pray for Roseburg. Pray for the Pagans.

There are no words.

There are no words.

On October 1st as I left my classroom around 9 pm, I swiped through my phone’s apps to get a quick Facebook update in before my commute home.  My entire newsfeed was plastered with conflicting news stories about the Umpqua Community College shooting.

My blood ran cold and my legs went out from under me.  I sat there in the deserted hall of my school trying desperately to get the most updated, the most correct information while simultaneously trying to make contact with the faculty members I knew there.  Roseburg is the next large town south of Eugene, and a nice handful of my grad school friends work there either full time or adjunct–including one very favorite former housemate.  I was a wreck.

My people, as it turns out, are all physically fine.  Psychically…that’s a whole other story.  I don’t know how their healing will even begin.  I had a tiny taste this summer of what they’ve experienced, and it still affects me.

On my very first day of student teaching, I thought for a brief, brief moment that there was a shooter in my school.  I had looked up from helping a student and caught sight of the door.  There was a strange man there, and he was pointing a gun into my room.  My first thought was “protect the kids.”  I flew to put myself between them and the shooter.

It was the janitor.  Our air conditioner had gone out and he was using an infrared gun to take temperature readings of the classrooms without disturbing anyone.  I figured it out in seconds and continued teaching.  My kids never noticed, never knew how terrified I had been.  As soon as my time with them was over, I ran to the nearest restroom and was sick.  It’s now been months since that happened, and I jump a little when I see someone unexpected peering into my classroom.  I startle wildly when I hear a loud noise in the hallway.  The bile rises in my throat as I remember that simultaneous rush of pure terror and tiger-like protection.

Pray for Roseburg.  If my seconds of nothing affected me so, their road to healing will be a long and arduous one.

And pray for the Pagans, too.  We lost one of our own in the shooting.  As the Wild Hunt has reported, victim Kim Saltmarsh Dietz was one of us.  My HPS in Washington knew her.  They met at a shamanism class.  We’ve lost a wonderful soul there.

And we might have gained a black mark in return.  The media–to their credit–have not been focusing overmuch on the shooter.  But those stories that do show him as an “involuntary virgin”–a lonely, deeply pathetic young man.  Several cite an online dating profile he had made that lists “the left hand path” and “magick and the occult” as interests, and that he desired a partner who was “Pagan, Wiccan, Not Religious, but Spiritual.”

Already stories abound that the shooter was targeting Christians.  This has the potential to escalate.  Pray for the Pagans.  And educate yourself.  Calm and logic are the best defense against “war on Christianity” rhetoric.

The 18th Annual Indianapolis Pagan Pride Day

Yesterday, I took a few hours to attend the Indianapolis Pagan Pride Day, an event which I love dearly.  My very first time meeting other pagans was at something like the 4th or 5th Indy PPD, and I have loved seeing the event grow and change and become a major community staple.

These days, Indy PPD feels more to me like a vendor fest than an easy place to meet other pagans and experience other practices.  Unfortunately,  the schedule of rituals and workshops isn’t readily posted anywhere (not even online!) and the organizers of those events have a tendency to cancel last minute anyway.  Still, there’s usually a great event or two.  This year, my most powerful ritual experience was one crafted by Novices of the Old Ways.

The sign above Novices of the Old Ways' information booth.

The sign above Novices of the Old Ways’ information booth.

Novices of the Old Ways (NOW) is a group based out of New York City with chapters in various regions across America.  They describe themselves as a progressive Witchcraft community, which they further define as being based on a philosophy of using whatever methods necessary to better serve the immediate and broader communities rather than being based on a formal tradition.  They do, however, promote connection with Deity on a personal level as being of vital importance.  There is, naturally, a great deal of eclecticism in their practice, but they stress the importance of being thoughtful and selective in their choices, and they adapt praxis to the specific purposes of a ritual.

And man, did they ever create a great public ritual.  There are so many things that can go wrong in creating a ritual for many people.  It has to be simple so that many people can perform it and find meaning in it, but it also has to have strong visuals, ‘audience’ participation, and be fun to boot.  NOW pulled it off seamlessly.

The larger-than-life papier-mâché Gaia NOW created for the ritual. I was beyond impressed.

The larger-than-life papier-mâché Gaia NOW created for the ritual. I was beyond impressed.

The ritual began with NOW members carrying a papier-mâché sculpture they had created of Gaia into the ritual space while singing an adaptation of Reclaiming’s Harvest chant:  “Our hands will work for peace and justice.  Our hands will work to heal the Land.  Gather ’round the Pride Day Circle.  Let us vow to heal the Land.”  Gaia was veiled during this procession, and garnered herself quite a bit of attention.  People were ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the spectacle, and quite a crowd amassed to draw near and take in the detail.  I, for one, was utterly charmed by the breaching whales and penguins and erupting volcanoes on her legs, and the dinosaur fossil tucked by her left hand.

When the crowd settled, the ritual leader, Tamrha Richardson, sensibly had us practice the chants we would be using and explained the outline of the ritual.  Essentially, she said that the earth, our mother, is hurting.  We pollute her and have become inured to that pollution.  This ritual would be a sacred marriage in which we would create a vow to Gaia to improve an aspect of our ecological footprint.

Some of the detail work on the back of the sculpture.

Some of the detail work on the back of the sculpture.

From my perspective, NOW accomplished that beautifully.  They had a member with Native heritage offer tobacco to the quarters while we sung Spiral Rhythm’s “Hey Yeh”, which I felt honored the First People and the unique spirit of America without co-opting Native culture.  We followed a simple Wiccan inspired circle casting, with a grounding and centering that used strong, simple visuals on the chakras and elegantly centered the energy medium upon voice.  We invited the quarter elementals to each space, adapting the elementals to quarters that made sense for our geographic location.  People at a quarter simply chanted the name of their quarter in unison-ish, and I was deeply moved to hear and feel the energy waving around the circle, building, ebbing, and building again even stronger.  We called in Deity, with all participants encouraged to call the deities they worked with best (as Gaia is such a massive concept), and hearing and feeling all the different archetypes join the circle was so strangely moving.  A pregnant woman, for example, called upon Isis, and I felt Her enter with such a strong, protective maternal energy, it brought tears to my eyes.

The core of the ritual saw three pairs of officiants conducting a sort of token Great Rite wherein participants would come up, take a wand one of the officiants held, put it into a cup of wine offered by another officiant, and state their vow to Gaia as they directed energy into the wine.  After this, the wand officiant tied a garland of green, white, and red yarn around the participant’s wrist to serve as the outward symbol of this marriage vow we had just made to Gaia.  As different participants were moved to come forward to make their vow, the whole group sang Spiral Rhythm’s “I Summon Her”.  Then, finally, to celebrate our marriage, the whole group danced a spiral dance, then dismissed the Gods and quarters.

My own wee Gaia and our handfasting cord.

My own wee Gaia and our handfasting cord.

Beautiful.  Simple.  Powerful.  NOW’s Gaia handfasting was definitely a textbook example of a public ritual done right.  I watched so many people walk away visibly moved by what they had done, and a large group of people clustered around the ritual leader and talked for a good half hour or so after the ritual concluded.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Prayerful Poetry

I take back every bad thing I ever thought of my high school teachers.  Since joining their ranks, I have been working harder than I ever have before, and I have never been so far behind.  These days, I’m waking up before 5 am, in to work before 7 am, begin teaching duties at 8, end teaching duties at 5:30 pm, finally get back home sometime around 9 pm after either working or attending graduate classes and collapse into bed around 10 pm.  Weekends?  I’ve forgotten what those are.

Funny, Lady Violet and I ask the same question but for entirely different reasons.

Funny, Lady Violet and I ask the same question but for entirely different reasons.

Spiritually, I’m floundering.  All my carefully crafted routines to help me worship and grow have fallen by the wayside in this relentless schedule.  When I was busy before, my fail safe was to pray and channel as I was cooking–to give thanks to the life that was giving me life and feel it as a connection to the Gods.  But lately? I don’t think I’ve so much as fried an egg since July and have consumed more fast food in the past five months than I have in the past five years.  And frankly, it is hard to muster a spiritual moment over a McDonald’s sausage McMuffin.

But last week as I was driving home after my Thursday seminar, I happened to be listening to NPR and caught a few minutes of The Writer’s Almanac and Garrison Keillor’s blood-pressure dropping baritone.  As he began reading a poem, I pulled my car off to the side of Michigan Avenue and let the words slowly fill my mind and heart.

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

As the poem closed, I scrambled for my phone to take note on the author and title so I could look it up when I arrived back home, and I laughed out loud when Keillor announced it was “School Prayer” by Diane Ackerman.  I do not know what Ackerman meant with her wry title, but her poem was a necessary balm to this Pagan teacher’s weary soul…and I’ve taken to reading it every night before I sleep.

And Now We Start All Over Again

I know that I just announced my elevation to second degree all of four posts ago, and that I’ve only been a second for five months now, but with all the big life changes that come with starting a new career and moving 2300 miles away comes another one magically.

In a couple of months, I’m going back to first degree.

Opportunities for Growth Abound!

Opportunities for Growth Abound!

Obviously, one does not simply wake up one day and say “you know, I don’t think that elevation really took…I’m going to pretend that never happened and say that I’m still a first.”  And that is certainly not what I am doing here.  Instead, I’m jumping lines (or perhaps traditions, depending on one’s view of the California line).

See, when I realized that moving to Indiana was a sure thing, I worried about how that would impact my growth in Wicca.  I didn’t jump into this new career lightly; I knew it would involve incredibly long hours consume most of my ‘free’ time.  I also knew that even if I lucked into some incredible flight prices, I would not be able to fly back to Washington frequently enough to continue with my coven.  I discussed the matter over with my HP and HPS, and we developed a few options.  One was that I use my new elevation to start a daughter coven in Indianapolis with my HP flying in for important events until I “raised up” a local gentleman to priest.  Another was to travel to Washington a couple times a year for week-long intensive trainings.  And of course, there was attempting to join an existing local group.

Long story short, I knew I wouldn’t have time or energy to put into starting a daughter coven while also learning to teach more effectively.  (Truth be told, I’m struggling just to find time to pray.)  Long intensives were out as I desperately need to invest more in my familial relationships and my school breaks are going to be almost exclusively claimed by them.  That, of course, left joining a local group.  Luckily for me, I found a great forming coven run by people I adore and with students who feel like siblings.  There was just one minor catch.  While this new group is Gardnerian, they are from different lines than what I am.  To be adopted into their line, I would return to first degree and then work my way up through their teachings.

My new teachers have checked in with me several times to make sure my ego can handle this.  And it definitely can.  After all, I’ve only been a second for a few months and really have no true “second” experience teaching or even really leading a circle.  In a lot of respects, I don’t feel like a second, and I don’t really have the ego that would go with it.  I also think I have a few gaps in my first-degree training, and–having given this group’s teaching materials a look through–I think that the opportunity to go through first again will fill those and make me a much better witch and priestess.  Over all, I’m really excited about going through a new training process and think it a terrific opportunity.

And, as I alluded to earlier, my mindset going into this new group has served me well.  This week I received some sad news from the high priestess of my Washington coven.  Ever since I met her, she has maintained that she was Gardnerian with dual-lineage in Long Island and California.  However, as an outcome of conversations held at the Portland Gather last month, she learned that the adoption of her California teachers into the Long Island line does not carry over to herself.  As she and the High Priest she trained were my initiators and elevators, this means that the only lineage I can legitimately claim at this time is California line.

Because the majority of the Gardnerian community (at least in America) holds that the California line is not a legitimate Gardnerian line, this also means that until my own adoption/initiation into this new group is finalized, I cannot in good conscience claim to be Gardnerian.  The fix?  To completely re-do my training with another line…which, as you know, is exactly what was in the works already.  So I suppose that all these huge life changes this year have been fated after all.

I’m really looking forward to working more with my new teaching grove and especially to meeting with even more new family members later this year.  I think there will be lots of positive aspects to all this change.

Does Paganism need a Roderick round 2?

I learned something rather intriguing today:  Llewellyn is publishing a follow up to Timothy Roderick’s book Wicca: A Year and A Day this October.  Unsurprisingly, it will be titled Wicca:  Another Year and A Day.

Coming soon to a Barnes and Noble near you, October 8, 2015.

Coming soon to a Barnes and Noble near you, October 8, 2015.

For all the times I’ve given Roderick a hard time on this site, I have tremendous respect for him.  The first book was very thoughtful, and it pushed me to be a better witch.  It also taught me some incredibly needed lessons about failure, adaptation, and perseverance.  I mourned completing the project, and I rather wished that there was a similar book out there I could work my way through–at the very least, a project like Roderick’s makes for great journaling exercises.  But even though I have a favorable outlook for the first Year and A Day, I wonder if there is a call for Another.

For years, I’ve enjoyed the flurry of Google activity I see surrounding this book around December and January, and I love seeing the creations of new YouTube channels and blogs of people who are excited to tackle their Year and a Day.  But by March, there’s hardly any that continue updating.  And once abandoned, they largely stay abandoned.  And so, Roderick’s first book has developed an ambivalent reputation in the Pagan community.  Some are skeptical, some are respectful, and almost all know someone who has given it an attempt at one point in time or another.  Few know any who complete it.  And so it has become this weird little fetish of failure.  Thorn Mooney even called it her “Book of Quitting” recently.  If so few can finish, is it tempting fate to issue a whole second round of futility?

A side-by-side with the original...because why not?.

A side-by-side with the first, because why not?.

And yet, perhaps it does have a place.  New people discover Wicca every day, and we’re experiencing an interesting reactionary moment against the broadscale eclecticism of the 1990s and early 2000s.  Many seekers actively desire a traditional practice.  But it is hard to find a coven to work with, let alone a good coven.  Seekers need to find a group that is 1. within their acceptable travel range, 2. open to taking new students, 3. comprised of people you can respect and be familial with, and 4. led by people who have an active interest in teaching and the ability to facilitate cohesion in a group of disparate mindsets.  Leading a coven is not dissimilar to wrangling kittens, and not everyone who wants to lead a group is capable leading a group.  But they give it a try anyway, and dysfunction and dismay go on to rule the day.  A nearby healthy training coven is a tall order for most, even today.  While no book can replace working with a coven, Roderick’s books do a great job of getting across the language and techniques of traditional Wicca.  With diligent study, a seeker will be well on the path to initiation with the first book.  I am excited to see what the second will do.

When the book comes out, I will probably check it out.  And maybe I’ll work through it as I did the first.  I certainly know it won’t hurt and will, in fact, probably help.  We’ll see how the wind blows in October.

It’s official: I’m in Indianapolis to stay

Oh the powers of photography.  Indy does not look near this good most of the time.

Oh the powers of photography. Indy does not look near this good most of the time.

Well, I’ve passed the initial intensive training and signed the employment contracts.  It’s official, folks.  I’m a proud Hoosier once again.

For a long while now, I’ve been trying to decide how best to follow my dream of becoming a high school teacher without incurring a bundle of student debt.  My working plan had been to save money from my income working as a corporate trainer and take education classes from a local college in the Tacoma area.   Unfortunately, after a year of training, it became patently obvious that this was an unrealistic goal.  It’s a really long story, the saga of working for this company, and no one is really all that interested in that woe.  Let’s just say there were three factors–company mismanagement, the elimination of agent metrics that my bonuses were structured on, and a promised significant raise that never occurred–that made what should have been a comfortable position into a survival position.  I was barely making rent and food money.  Saving for more grad school? Fuhgeddaboudit.

This is how I feel about a certain company that will not be named.

This is exactly how I feel about a certain company that will not be named.

When I realized I would need to make a ton more money to afford a traditional MAT program, I started looking into alternative licensing routes.  Now, there are a ton of ways to become licensed to teach, and practically every state has their own system.  It’s dizzying, all the different avenues to teaching there are.  What I eventually chose to do was to apply to a national social justice program that directs potential teachers into under-served urban school systems.  In February, I got word that I’d been accepted into the program and that they were sending me to Indianapolis.  In the middle of May, just after Beltane and my elevation, I moved from Washington to Indiana.

Now, if I’d been applying to these programs in December and got accepted in February and moved in May, why haven’t I said anything here until July?  Well, the program does not guarantee that a school will hire you, and I did not want to say anything about why I was moving back east in case I failed out of the program or failed to secure a teaching position.  The stats on these social justice programs aren’t exactly all that rosy.  In my own co-hort, only about 60% of the teaching fellows passed the training intensive, and there are still people who passed that are looking for employment.

Thank the gods!  This is going to be me in a few weeks.

Thank the gods! This is going to be me in a few weeks.

I was really lucky.  I ended up passing with a comfortable margin (as if there was doubt!), and I was offered six different teaching positions!  In programs like this, new teachers are strongly pushed to accept the first offer they get; after all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  I annoyed the program managers by waiting to accept anything until I heard back from my favorite school–which had an interview and vetting process that took nearly three weeks.  I am proud to say they extended me an offer, and I will function as a college adjunct professor and teach freshman/sophomore literature and composition classes to high school juniors and seniors.  Even better?  This school has an incredibly strong district-wide culture based on small class sizes and strict behavioral codes.  Content plus culture = one happy Melissa.

It’s the best of all worlds.  Honestly, it’s my dream job.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to go through all these life changes–this program, this job, heck–even my new apartment–it’s all like what I envisioned when I set out the prosperity spell this past Yule.  The spell has not run its course, but I am right on track with the Midsummer checkpoints and look forward to turning the spell through October.

The hours are going to be incredibly long, and I don’t know what this will mean for my social life.  (Oh, who am I kidding?  I’m going to die an old maid surrounded by 14 cats.)  I don’t really know what this is going to mean for my witchery either, but I am being proactive and have a plan in place so that I can become an even better witch.

Yay me!

My Gift to Myself Upon Taking Second


Just taking a picture of the ring seemed boring, so I had fun playing with texture, light, and shadow.  I really like the way this photo turned out!  And on my silly iPhone camera, too!

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently underwent the second-degree elevation, a process that has been underway since I initially asked for elevation in September 2014.  A couple weeks after I asked, coven sister W. and I were shopping in Tacoma, and I came across the ring pictured above.  I decided that I would take the ring home when the elevation was scheduled, to remind me of some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

This weird little piece of bronze dates from about the Fourth Century, C.E. and is engraved on its bezel with an encircled, five-pointed star, surrounded by twenty-eight dots.  Each shank is decorated with two joined six-pointed stars (made like an X with a line down the middle).  It was dug out of the ground in Norway, and is most likely Roman in origin.  That may seem a bit odd, but Rome did have had a military presence in Norway pertaining to their iron deposits in from about 45 to 450 C.E.  The dates are based upon the remains of Romans–invariably soldiers–uncovered in the south and southeast of the country.  This type of ring is very similar to those worn by soldiers in this age, no matter where they were stationed, and the five-pointed star was one of the many designs found on these rings.  Funnily enough, it does not appear that anyone has speculated upon what significance the five-pointed star might have had to these soldiers.  I do know that some soldier’s rings marked certain campaigns, or the legion the soldier belonged to.  Others were meant to thwart the Evil Eye.  I’m sure others were purely decorative.

Whatever this ring meant to the man who wore it 1700 years ago, the symbols themselves have obvious meaning to me.  I chose to acquire the ring, though, as a lesson in longevity.  The choices we make in life have long-lasting impacts.  They set other things into motion that have their own impacts, too.  At second, the decisions I make within Witchcraft have a greater impact, not only to myself, but to others.  Second is a license to teach, and what I choose to teach to others will ripple across the waters of time.  So I suppose that this ring is a reminder to me to act wisely and to act well.  If I do, then maybe the legacy I leave behind will be recognizable 1700 years from now.