Another 180-Degree Tarot Deck

Well here’s another tarot offering I didn’t even know I’d missed! Thanks for making me aware of it, valiant readers!

Lo Scarabeo is again the publisher behind this novel deck, the Vice-Versa Tarot. Created by Massimiliano Filadoro and Davide Corsi, this deck was published just last year. Unlike every single tarot deck I have ever seen, there is no back to these Rider Waite Smith-inspired cards. Instead, one side shows a scene similar to the standard Rider Waite Smith image while the reverse shows the opposite direction, a bit like the Tarot of the New Vision.

Having a hard time visualizing? Check out these fronts and backs of the Magician, the Moon, and the Queen of Pentacles:

Aesthetically, I can’t say this deck quite does it for me as I’m not a huge fan of the photo-realistic types. But every image I have seen is undeniably gorgeous, and I cannot get over how cool the “front and back” style is. I’d love to try it for a few experimental readings at least.

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360-degree Tarot

I’ve been reading tarot exclusively with the Robin Wood deck for several years now, so I felt no guilt when in a fit of “life-changing magic of tidying” I thanked all my other decks for their service to me and found them new homes.

I am slightly regretting that decision today, for I have discovered that tarot publisher Lo Scarabeo has recently completed a trio of decks that nicely augment the typical Rider Waite Smith deck. Which I of course owned for 15 years and barely used. *Sigh*.

First came the Tarot of the New Vision in 2003. Designed by Gianluca Cestaro and Pietro Alligo, these cards place you right behind the familiar Rider Waite Smith images so that you can see the back of the figures and everything they can see. As such, it is sometimes described as a “180-degree tarot deck”.

I first saw this deck used in a New Year’s reading to chart out what 2017 would hold. The reader used the standard Rider Waite Smith deck for one row of the layout and the New Vision deck for the second row to provide a “new perspective”. My mind was blown first by using two decks in the same spread, but then by the added interpretations New Vision brought to the mix. I definitely coveted this deck.

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Images from “Tarot of the New Vision”

Unbeknownst to me until today, Lo Scarabeo published another deck, the After Tarot, in 2016. The brain-child of Pietro Alligo, Corrine Kenner, and Giulia F. Massaglia, this deck posits that the Rider Waite Smith images are “posed snapshots”. After Tarot is more like the candid snap of the Rider Waite Smith scene taken a few seconds afterwards. It is really cool, for example, to see the Fool dangling off the cliff we all knew he was going to walk off of.

Well, apparently After Tarot was so popular that Pietro Alligo and Corrine Kenner teamed up again and were joined by Floreana Nativo and Simona Rossi Eon to create Before Tarot. Much like After, Before shows the scene on the Rider Waite Smith card seconds before they assumed their pose. The first deck was published in March of this year, and a full “kit” was released at the start of this month.

Now, I have no idea how I would use either of these decks in a reading, but how cool would they be to augment tarot studies? Someone on a tarot forum has already made a study layout for the magician. I’ve copied it below, and I have to say…it would be awesome to see these for all the cards. I’m half tempted to acquire the decks and do it myself…but what would Marie Kondo say?

Tarot Quartet

My Gardnerian 2nd-Degree Initiation

Last Saturday, I underwent the 2nd-degree initiation rite.

You may be saying to yourself “Hang on a second, Melissa…didn’t you already do this?”

The answer is “sort of.” Since I highly doubt anyone has the energy or inclination to sort through the 782 posts currently up on this site, I offer you a brief recap of my history with British Traditional Wicca to date:

I began studying with a British Traditional coven in Oregon in April 2010. I was told at that time that the group had dual-lineage in both the Long Island line of Gardnerian Wicca and the California Gardnerian tradition. After the coven (and me) moved to Washington, I was initiated at Beltane 2013 and elevated to the second degree at Beltane 2015. I moved “back home again” to Indiana a few weeks later to start a new job and graduate program. Soon thereafter, I began working with a local Gardnerian group who had Whitecroft lineage. I decided I wanted to join this group, so I agreed to start my training over as a first degree.

Prior to my initiation into this coven in November 2015, my former HPS informed me that she had discovered she did not carry legitimate Long Island lineage. She and my former covenmates were subsequently redone through a couple in Portland. I was extended that opportunity as well, but I declined it as I was very happy with my new coven and the Whitecroft praxis I was learning.

So while I had previously undergone a 2nd-degree elevation and believed at the time it was a Gardnerian ritual, it was not. It was, however, a perfectly valid California Gardnerian rite.

I know that some people think of traditional Wicca as a race to get your third degree. Some even think you’re “doing it wrong” if you don’t reach third degree within three cycles of a year and a day. While some covens may practice this way, I think it’s a fair assumption to say that most definitely do not. My personal theory is that the perception continues to exist, at least in America, because the word “degree” here is so frequently linked to academia. In academia, higher degrees are definitely linked to a deepening of knowledge and ability, and there is a very clear timeline set to acquiring these degrees. (In the US it tends to be 4 years for a baccalaureate, 2 for a masters, and 5 for a doctorate, though individual mileage may vary depending upon program and school.) We also foster a culture that tends to look down upon people who take longer to complete a program of study.

But degrees in witchcraft aren’t really like that. In the traditions and lines I have been a part of, the first degree isn’t really an introductory step towards an ultimate goal. Rather, it’s a commitment you make saying you are going to worship the gods in a certain way for the rest of your life. You can stay a first-degree witch for the rest of your life, if you so choose, and can (and likely will) end up being a very advanced practitioner without ever undergoing the second- and third-degree initiations.

If you do undergo these initiations, however, you’re basically promising your community that you will step up and become a leader. You will train or help to train novices and first-degrees. You will preside over rituals. You will facilitate the group dynamics. You will facilitate the group’s communication with and worship of deity. You will help your group make their way through their lives. You will be a sounding board when they need help, and you will start up the celebrations when they succeed. When you take on second and third, you’re not doing it to “graduate” or to be a bigger, badder witch. You’re doing it because you feel called to help your community.

Of course, in order to truly help a community, you have to overcome your own wants and desires and work towards what the community wants and needs. To be an effective leader–in anything, not just Wicca–a person needs to put aside their own ego and work for the greater good. Leaders who don’t? Well, I think we’ve all seen the chaos that has caused in the current American presidency.

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A lovely gift that my HPS made for me for the occasion.

Back in 2014 when I had asked for second in my first coven, I had spent months going back and forth on whether or not I was ready for that step. I am a person with a very healthy ego and a fair bit of common sense. I usually create excellent solutions to whatever problems that develop, and those solutions are usually whatever any group I’ve been part of (Wiccan or not) ends up going with, so I can be quite strident and forceful in advocating for my position. And I can be very prideful in my abilities and decisions. There was a huge part of me back in 2014 that was very scared that I didn’t have it in me to develop softer skills to meet others at their levels. I knew that to be truly effective, I would have to make changes, and I didn’t know if I had what it took to weather those changes.

I eventually underwent some experiences that showed me that I could, and I took that leap and took second-degree…but I was also rather relieved when my new group asked if I would go back to first and re-do all my training. (The idea behind that, for what it is worth, was to help ensure I would be able to pass on the Whitecroft line if and when the time came and not some hybridized version thereof.)

I think part of my relief was that I knew I had “content knowledge” gaps that I was uncomfortable having at the second degree. But I also knew that I wasn’t ready to take a real leadership role in a coven. I probably could have done it fairly successfully in that sort of “fake-it-til-you-make-it” sort of way, but if I hadn’t been able to grow more in the Craft with my current group and grow more as a person thanks to the weird life gifts of my day job, I think I would have been a pretty egotistical leader. And I don’t think that I would have been able to sustain a healthy group dynamic.

I’m now in the start of my fourth year as a high school teacher and third as an adjunct professor. I’ve seen my “coven sister” in my previous coven become an amazing witch and an incredible pillar in the Tacoma pagan community. I’ve also seen some of the first students who entered my current coven’s outer court complete two years of training and become initiates. There has definitely been a tremendous amount of personal growth during this time. When I look back to who I was in 2009 when I first began teaching or to 2015 when I first joined my coven, I almost feel like I’ve become a completely different person. The way I view and practice teaching is entirely different. The way I value my Craft is different. The way I negotiate conflict and facilitate group dynamics is ridiculously different. I definitely “grew up” over these past few years. I act with more tact and grace and humor. I don’t feel like a muddling imposter any more. I know I not only have the content knowledge, but also the compassion, empathy, strength, and resilience needed to be a group leader.

Since the moment I learned about Gardnerian Wicca as a teenager, there’s always been a part of me that wanted to eventually become a second-degree (and eventually third-degree) Gardnerian priestess. I think that there’s always been a part of me that heard the calling to seek the higher degrees, but it’s only been in the more recent years of my life where I’ve been able to learn how to be a person who can rise to that calling.

When I asked for and was granted second with my last coven, I think that ego maybe ran too much of that decision on both sides. I know that I felt an urgency to get on board for second. I knew that my life would not keep me in the Pacific Northwest for much longer, and I think that maybe on some level, I didn’t want to leave five years of practice without having attained a higher degree…sort of like how I didn’t want to leave my doctoral program without at least banking the masters. I think perhaps that played into the decision of my former HPS to elevate me, too. As a teacher, I know I want my students to succeed, and it is so, so hard not to give a bit of extra credit to make a “barely failing” grade a “barely passing” one. It’s probably very hard to put so much time and effort into your coven and students, only to see so many leave or stall out. It’s probably a huge boost to one’s own ego to bring a student up and make them a colleague. In retrospect, I think that these underlying desires fueled most of the decision, though we both passed it off as “I had the knowledge and the ability” and “it would let me start a group if I couldn’t find one to join.”

When I asked for the second initiation with my current coven…I was so, so much more ambivalent. It didn’t matter to me if it was done that week, that year, or five years from now. I actually asked for it to be put off a couple times, largely because I didn’t want our new initiates to feel like their initiation was a requirement for my second or that we had to wait for lots of visitors to hold the rite. I think that maybe I inadvertently gave off the impression that I didn’t care whether it happened or not. I did, for sure. The root of the ambivalence wasn’t in apathy, but because I already felt like a second. I knew I could do the job, I knew I was already doing parts of it. I didn’t need the ritual to “make” me anything…it would more or less just confirm what I already felt to be so.

The first time I underwent a second-degree rite, I felt this incredible struggle during the ritual to break down who I had been in order to make way for a new me. This time, I already was a whole new me. The rite felt much, much more like a joyful affirmation than a harrowing creation, and it was absolutely lovely.

 

Easy Pan di Epi for Lammas

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An ear of wheat in a wheatfield. Probably on the Russian steppes. How romantic.

Lammas is in the middle of the week this year, which means most groups will celebrate it the weekend before or after. I may be a bit late in posting this because I gather many groups celebrated it this past weekend as a joint celebration with the sabbat and this past Friday’s much touted longest lunar eclipse of the century. My coven, however, is celebrating it next weekend, so my baking is happening a bit later. No complaints from me, though! August 1st is back-to-school day for most districts in Indiana, which makes it a rough week for those of us who work in education. Truthfully, I’d be tempted to skip the sabbat altogether if I didn’t have my coven keeping me honest. I know that with all the demands on my time and energy this week, the last thing I would want to be doing was kneading and waiting on bread to rise. But Lammas is “loaf mass”.  Celebrating the grain harvest is a large part of this sabbat’s symbolism, and celebrating it without the smells of warm bread perfuming the house just seems wrong.

Luckily for me, I was an early adopter of the “no knead bread” phenomenon that built up steam (hah!) beginning in 2006 when New York Times food writer Mark Bittman publicized Jim Lahey’s easy recipe. What no-knead baking does is allows you to simply mix all the ingredients together, walk away for several hours, and then shape your dough and bake it. While it technically does take a day or more to make the bread, only about five minutes of it is hands on time. I find it to be easier than a bread machine, actually, and way more versatile.

My favorite no-knead recipes come from Dr. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’s Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book series. Originally published in 2007, they updated their primary book in 2015 with better measuring methods and additional techniques that totally revolutionized my bread making. Today, about 90% of my bread baking is from one of their recipes. (A noted standout in my repertoire is the phenomenal but much fussier Milk Bread from North Carolina’s Kindred restaurant.)

Hertzberg and François’s method basically has you whip up a large batch of dough, then refrigerate it until you need it. Refrigerated, doughs with milk or eggs in them will last 5 days, and doughs without these enrichments will last for 14 days. You can hack off a pound a day and bake it up as you need it if you want. You do need to let the chilled dough rest for bit before you bake it, but I’ve found that the no-knead dough is way easier to handle and shape when chilled, so I think the additional rest is a great trade off. If you don’t think you’ll want to make all that bread, it is easy enough to half or quarter their recipes.

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Several loaves of Pan di Epi. This image comes from Alchemy Bread.

One of the techniques I learned from Hertzberg and François was how to shape bread into a Pan di Epi (or Pain d’Epi if you’re feeling French). These darling baguettes look like large ears of wheat, which I think makes them perfect for Lammas. They’re also wonderfully crunchy, crusty baguettes since they have a lot of surface area per loaf. The technique to shape them is shockingly easy, and definitely beats the pants off of painstakingly shaping your bread into a man shape, only to have it emerge all deformed from the oven in epic, Pinterest-fail ways.

Pan di Epi can be made from any bread dough, though you’ll have more classic results if you use a basic French or Italian bread recipe. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day master recipe will work well, as will their gluten free master recipe, so long as you follow the specialized instructions for gluten free epi. (That gluten free recipe is the absolute best gluten free bread recipe I know of, by the way.) However, I vastly prefer Hertzberg and François’s specialized dough for Pan di Epi, which incorporates bread flour. If you want nice, pointy “grains”, you need the additional protein bread flour gives the dough. That recipe is as follows:

Pan di Epi (Pain d’Epi), or Wheat Stalk Bread
Makes seven 1/2-pound loaves. The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

Ingredient Volume (US) Weight (US) Weight (Metric)
Lukewarm water (100˚F or below) 3 cups 1 pound, 8 ounces 680 grams
Granulated yeast* 1 tablespoon 0.35 ounce 10 grams
Kosher salt* 1 to 1.5 tablespoons 0.6 to 0.9 ounce 17 to 25 grams
Bread flour 6.5 cups 2 pounds, ½ ounce 920 grams
Notes:

Any yeast works well in this recipe: granulated, active dry, instant, quick-rise, or bread machine yeast all deliver excellent results. Fresh cake yeast can be used too, though the yeast volume should be increased by 50%. Recipes were standardized using Red Star brand active dry yeast.

If using yeast packets, 1 yeast packet can be used for every tablespoon called for. Rising time may be slightly slower. (A yeast packet contains 2¼ teaspoons of yeast.)

AB in 5 recipes were tested with Morton brand kosher salt. If using table salt, use 2 teaspoons for every tablespoon of Morton called for. If using Diamond brand kosher salt, add 1 teaspoon for every tablespoon of Morton called for.

Mixing and Storing the Dough:

  1. Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 6-quart bowl or lidded (not airtight food container).  (A round 6-quart Cambro bucket is perfect. You can poke a hole in the lid…but I usually just set my lid slightly ajar.)
  2. Mix in the flour without kneading, using a spoon, large silicone spatula, or a Danish dough whisk.
  3. Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
  4. The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate the container of dough and use over the next 14 days.

Notes: AB in 5 dough recipes frequently rise to about a 6-quart volume, then deflate to about 4 quarts upon refrigeration, as seen below. The Pan di Epi recipe uses bread flour, however, and I’ve never had it rise to these amounts, as the flour seems to have more hold. I would say a 5-quart first rise and 3-quart refrigeration is more my experience.

If you do not want to or cannot mix the dough by hand (it can be a minor workout to incorporate all the flour), a stand mixer can be used. You may wish to then transfer the dough to a larger container to rise.

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Refrigerated dough in the bucket.

Shaping and Baking the Dough:

If you would appreciate a photo tutorial, Hertzberg and François have an excellent “How to form the Pain d’Epi” post on their blog.

  1. If using a baking stone, place it  near the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450˚F for 20-30 minutes, with an empty metal broiler tray on any shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread. The long preheat will ensure the stone is at the correct temperature. If not using a baking stone, a standard preheat will be fine.
  2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1/2-pound (orange-sized) piece. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four side, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go.
  3. Using the letter-fold technique, form a slender baguette. (LETTER FOLD TECHNIQUE: Gently stretch the dough into a 1/2-inch thick oval. Fold in one of the long sides and gently press it into the center, taking care not to compress the dough too much. Bring up the other side to the center and pinch the seam closed. This letter-fold technique puts less dough on the ends–that’s what gives you a nice taper. Stretch very gently into a log, working the dough until you have a thin baguette. Again, try not to compress the air out of the dough. If the dough resists pulling, let it rest for 5-10 minutes to relax the gluten, then continue to stretch. Don’t fight the dough. You can continue to stretch lengthwise during the 20 minute rest until you achieve the desired thin result, about 1 1/2-inches wide.)
  4. If using a baking stone, lay the baguette on a sheet of parchment on the edge of a prepared pizza peel. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes. If not using a baking stone, lay the baguette on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. You can fit 2-3 baguettes per sheet. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Dust the surface of the baguettes with flour (alternately lightly brush them with water and dust with sesame or poppyseed…or whatever else you might like). Using kitchen shears and starting at one end of the loaf, cut into the dough at a very shallow angle, about 20˚. If you cut too vertically, the “wheat grains” won’t be as pointy. Cut with a single snip to within 1/4 inch of the work surface, but be careful not to cut all the way through the baguette, or you’ll have separate rolls.
  6. As you cut, lay each piece over to one, side, alternating sides. Continue to cut in this fashion until you’ve reached the end of the stalk.
  7. If using a baking stone, slide the loaf directly onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 25 minutes or until richly browned and firm. If not using a baking stone, slide the sheet pan onto a centrally located oven rack. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 25 minutes or until richly browned and firm.
  8. Allow to cool on a wire rack before eating.

I’m not Thorn Mooney!

Earlier this month, the incredibly talented Thorn Mooney published her much-anticipated first book, Traditional Wicca: A Seeker’s Guide. And ever since then, I’ve received a couple messages a week that compliment me about *MY* book or ask a question about it or something.

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Thorn’s book head shot and her book cover, used entirely without permission from Llewellyn.

I wish I was Thorn Mooney, but I am not. I think I can see how some people have thought I was. Thorn has a lot of web presence including a fantastic YouTube channel, Instagram, and several different blogs. I suppose it would be easy enough to think that this blog was one of hers. We do have a passing resemblance with the life details we share on our sites. We’re both ladies in our early thirties. We both went to grad school at about the same time (her for religious studies and me for English and American literature) and complained about it fairly frequently. We both underwent teacher training at the same time (and I think both did a second round of graduate school for that, too). We both currently work as public high school English teachers. And we’re both Gardnerian, albeit from different lines. If I read both our blogs, I’d probably make the confusion, too.

But where I struggle hard core to balance my personal life, my professional life, and my coven work and STILL trickle a few posts to this site, Thorn can do all that, lead a coven, write and promote a book, and still be darn prolific online. I wish I could do a tenth of what she can do! While it has been quite flattering to have been confused for her, I have to admit I am not Thorn. I’m sure I’ll review her book when I eventually get around to reading it, but I definitely did not write it. Sorry, Internet!

My Visit to the Buckland Museum

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Admission is $5, and with that comes a tour from one of the museum directors, Steven Intermill or Jillian Slane.

This past June 13–Gerald Gardner’s birthday–I found myself with the opportunity to go to Cleveland, Ohio. And of course I jumped on that, for Cleveland is the current home of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick, and I’ve been trying to find time to see that ever since it opened last year.

As I’ve likely mentioned before, Raymond Buckland is largely credited with introducing Gardnerian witchcraft to the United States. Around 1962, the year he immigrated to America with his family, Buckland became fascinated with witchcraft and began a correspondence with Gerald Gardner, who eventually invited him to come back to Britain and be initiated. Gardner arranged for the initiation to be done by Monique Wilson and her husband Scotty in November 1963, and Gardner was in attendance at the rite. In fact, Buckland snapped what is now a rather famous photo of Monique Wilson and Gardner during that trip. He went back home and initiated his wife, Rosemary, and they eventually went back to Britain for further training under the Wilsons.

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Gerald Gardner standing before his Museum of Witchcraft at the Witches Mill at Castledown, Isle of Man. The image is from a postcard that used to be sold at the museum. Today, the mill tower still stands, and I believe all the buildings have been turned into housing.

I do not know if Buckland visited the Isle of Man during his initiation trip, but I believe his visit with Rosemary to the Wilsons was on the island. Gardner had died by that point and left the museum to the Wilsons, who moved their family to the island to take on and expand the business. Buckland apparently looked around and thought “I could do this.” Shortly thereafter, he started a small witchcraft museum in the basement of his house on Long Island in 1964. By 1966, the collection had grown a bit (and frankly, Rosemary and their sons were probably a bit tired of the stuff and the people…wouldn’t you be?), so Buckland moved his collection to a house on Bay Shore, where it thrived and further expanded. In 1973 following his separation and divorce from Rosemary, Buckland moved the collection to Weirs Beach, New Hampshire and operated the museum in that location until 1978, when he disbanded the museum and put the collection in storage. The items bounced around for some time after that. At one point, Buckland had sold or given the items to be used in a witchcraft museum in New Orleans, but that was a poorly done affair and Buckland eventually got most of the items back. Eventually, the items were entrusted to a coven in Columbus, and in April 2017, they were finally made available to the public at the current Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland.

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The current front window of the museum. I was certainly glad for the painted windows! The more official signage is on the door and isn’t readily visible from the street. Without GPS, I might have missed the place all together!

The current museum is a labor of love and a side hustle for the curators, Steven Intermill and Jillian Slane. As such, the hours it is currently open are fairly limited: Wednesdays from 5-7pm, Fridays from 5-8 pm, and Saturdays from 12-5 pm. If these times do not work for one’s schedule, they also open by appointment. For me, it was a little tricky to be able to arrange a travel schedule to hit one of those times, and I think I would have made an appointment if I was to do it over again. If making an appointment, my advice would be to keep in mind that the curators have lives and day jobs and to contact them a good couple of weeks before you want to see the collection.

My first impression on stepping into the museum was definitely favorable. They’ve got exposed brick walls all over the place, bright pops of color catching your eye, and a definite 1970s vibe going with the music and wall of vintage books that immediately greet you. The museum is just one large room, so the curators have created a little vestibule to block off the collection from unpaid eyes by installing an enormous bookcase and stocking it with used books on witchcraft, paganism, and the occult that they have sourced from their own libraries, various acquaintances, old metaphysical haunts, garage sales, and used book stores. All the books in the vestibule are available for purchase, and there are certainly some gems. I spied an excellent copy of Leo Martello’s Witchcraft: The Old Religion as well as what looked like a first edition of Isaac Bonewits’s Real Magic. There are also several less-thrilling titles in the mix (I’m looking at you, Edain McCoy and your ancient Irish potato goddess), but I’m sure that there’s just about something for every visitor there so long as they take time to peruse the titles. The vestibule also houses other ‘gift shop’ items like various t-shirts, coffee mugs, and pins with the museum logo as well as more metaphysical items like crystals and gemstones, a few ritual tools (I believe by Aimee Temple), and occult posters (Madame Talbot) and artwork. The sale of all of these items helps keep the museum going, and I was pleased by the high quality of the items I saw for sale.

Once you pay the ‘gatekeeper’ your $5, you’re led on a tour of the collection (if you want…you can also self-browse). The collection itself is something that you could spend 15 minutes looking at or two hours, depending on your interests. When I visited it, there were a couple glass cases full of artifacts from Gerald Gardner and Raymond Buckland that I was fascinated by, and another case containing an assortment of athames and ritual cups from various practitioners. I very much underestimated how neat it would be to be near items that Buckland and Gardner and Eleanor Bone and Patrica Crowther had touched. These are people I read about all the time and who I thought had been alive in my imagination, but seeing items they’d made or handled–even if mundanely–hit me with a strange gut punch that made them all much more immediate and real. I remember standing in front of a case staring at a pipe that Gerald Gardner had smoked and thinking, “well, I guess now I get why my grandmother goes nuts over Saints’ relics.” It was an oddly moving and emotional experience.

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The pipe that belonged to Gardner. I have no idea why I found this so fascinating, but I did, and I kept returning to the pipe over and over again. The curators are totally fine with visitors taking photos–just no flash!–and I asked their permission to post pictures I took here, which they had no issue with.

In addition to the aforementioned pipe, the museum also has a wallet Gardner owned (you can see a corner of it in the left of the picture above), a besom of his, and the cross guard and hilt he had cast for magical swords. I was also charmed to see a pair of apothecary bottles that Eleanor Bone had passed on to Buckland, as well as an array of athames and cups from various practitioners including Sybil Leek, Christopher Penczak, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, and various members of the Buckland family. I was also surprised to see a headdress from Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, who was such a wonderful and warm woman. I only met her once, but she was so distinctive I knew that item was hers before I read the placard. I was also struck by Rosemary Buckland’s lunar crown and silver bracelet. She’s a person I would dearly love to know more about. I don’t know if she initially went along with the Craft because of her husband’s interests or because of her own, but she definitely had a major investment in it. I wonder if she completely walked away from the Craft forever following her handing the queenship to Theos and her divorce from Raymond. And I really do wonder about what their sons must have thought about all this. The museum did have an athame attributed to one of Buckland’s sons, and the placard said he was initiated when he was just seven years old! I wonder why they would have done so.

Of course, the museum had several items of Buckland’s himself. I was particularly taken by his athame and wand. The wand looked much more like a traditional magician’s wand than it did any of the crystal-bedecked or Harry Potter-inspired wands that are so popular today, and I was surprised by how short it was. There were also items like crystal balls and scrying mirrors that were once Buckland’s, but I particularly geeked out over a purple ritual robe and pentacle of his that was displayed on a mannequin. I immediately recognized it as Buckland wore it in a few publicity photos, and in person I was struck by how much it looked like the one the character Gahan wore in the initiation scene in Anna Biller’s 2016 film, The Love Witch. Biller certainly did fantastic research when developing her film, and I wonder just how much of Gahan was based on her idea of Buckland.

Buckland and Love Witch

Left: Buckland wearing the robe and pentacle that are currently part of the museum’s collection. Right: The character Gahan wearing a similar robe in the movie “The Love Witch.”

I was also rather charmed by a whole case of various mid-century witch brick-a-brac. There were all sorts of random items in there, including an “emergency athame” keychain and a plastic figure of Lisa Simpson done up as a witch. There was also a fair bit of jewelry in that case, too, including a couple pendants that the original Long Island coven used to wear. It was lovely.

The museum also had several items from Aleister Crowley and his magical orders there, with little placards saying they’d been passed on through Israel Regardie. There’s plenty of material in the Craft that can trace back to Crowley, but I’ve personally never thought of him and witchcraft together. I did share some pictures I took of those items as well as prints of pictures done by Lady Freida Harris who had done the artwork for Crowley’s Thoth tarot with a friend of mine who is a “recovering Thelemite” and he totally geeked out over them and similar items, so there really is something everyone under the occult umbrella could be interested in there.

The real fun of the museum, however, are the curator’s stories about all the pieces and of Buckland himself. I popped in about 45 minutes before the museum was to close, but had so much fun talking with Steven that I think I was there for nearly an hour after it closed! I felt so bad when I realized how late it had gotten, but Steven was very gracious about it. Definitely ask questions about the items when you’re there, for Steven and Jillian know far more information than the little placards can hold, and they can make great connections between the items.

I had a wonderful time at the museum and was only sorry I couldn’t stay longer in Cleveland. I heard that the nearby Christmas Story museum is entertaining (but would have been entirely lost on me as I’ve never seen the film), and the Tremont area in which the museum is located looked like a ton of fun. It’s also apparently a foodie destination in Cleveland, so I guess I missed out on some good eats and good parties. There’s always next time, though!

Book Review: “In Perfect Love” by Taliesin Govannon

I love fiction books about witches. I’ve loved them since I was a fourth grader sneaking a re-read of Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch during math class, and I love them to this day. As a Wiccan, I really treasure the rare witchy books that do a halfway realistic job of depicting my chosen community. So when I heard through the Gardnerian grapevine this week that someone had gone and published a book–not only a book, the start of a whole series–that prominently featured Gardnerian Wicca, I was intrigued. And since I’m on vacation and can actually read a book that I’m not teaching for the first time in months, I decided to drop a whopping $2.99 on Taliesin Govannon’s first novel, In Perfect Love.

In Perfect Love Cover

The first edition cover of “In Perfect Love”.

This book, the first of Govannon’s proposed Five Acres Coven series, picks up from his 2012 film Dark of Moon. While it is obvious that there is a rich back story to some very minor characters in this book, I was not at all lost in reading In Perfect Love, so the novel does stand on its own quite well. This novel focuses primarily on a minor character from Dark of Moon, Mordwyn. She’s a twenty-something first degree Gardnerian at the novel’s opening who has been blowing her coven–the New Forest Coven–away by how quickly she’s progressed through their first degree requirements. She leads a rather bohemian life, renting the basement apartment in a covenmate’s house and teaching Wicca 101 classes a few times a week at the Pagan store where she also works. She’s also very attractive and seems to take great joy in shooting down the advances of imperfect men while she waits for the right person to show up.

When that person does, she’s a woman, and Mordwyn doesn’t recognize at first that she is attracted to Amy (short for Amethyst), a petite and spunky redhead. Thanks to a couple of covenmates, she figures it out fairly quickly and the pair become happily committed within 24 hours and move in together within six weeks. I’m fairly sure they’re engaged within a year. Even the other characters in the book crack jokes about their warp speed U-Hauling.

Mordwyn and Amy have a charming relationship, and Wicca is at its foundation. Mordwyn quickly begins teaching her new girlfriend more and more about the Craft, and Amy eventually asks to join the coven’s outer court. But even though Amy proves herself to be even more studious and gifted than her girlfriend, she hits a snag when it comes to the one thing Gardnerians are famous for: skyclad practice. When sexual trauma is revealed to be at the root of the problem, the coven generously bends the Tradition to help Amy heal from her trauma and eventually become an initiate. Soon thereafter, Mordwyn and Amy join the newly hived Five Acres Coven, headed by the millennial daughter of the New Forest Coven’s leaders and a slightly older male initiate. By the novel’s close, they’ve initiated a fifth member and have another one or two in the outer court. Presumably, the rest of the series will follow this new coven full of witches from the social media generation.

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Witches of Instagram, baby.

I do have to say that I did enjoy the book. In my first read through I wasn’t exactly gripped by the plot or the characters–there’s practically zero conflict and both Mordwyn and Amy are Mary-Sue perfect–but I loved seeing traditional Wicca through fresh eyes and I really enjoyed how Govannon depicted coven dynamics. As he demonstrated, the people in a good, functional coven become a family in all the best ways. The huge strength of the book, I thought, was in its depictions of the relationships between the covenmates. At one point, I even thought that the book was reading a bit like Gerald Gardner’s novel High Magic’s Aid. Like Govannon’s novel, the plot is the least interesting thing about the book, but the depictions of circle craft, magical practice, and the relationships between practitioners are quite captivating and informative.

I was also appreciative of Govannon’s respect for the Gardnerian tradition and his care to not disclose too much of what we do. As an oathbound tradition, we’ve got lots of members that would be worked into a tizzy if they saw rituals that looked like their inner court rituals or language that looks like it could have been lifted from a line’s Book of Shadows. Govannon could not break Gardnerian oath even if he tried, for he is not a Gardnerian and is not bound by that oath. Nevertheless, he did do a great job of respecting its spirit. Any time the New Forest Coven held a initiates-only ritual, for example, the ritual was not depicted. All the rituals described were either personal rituals or outer court rituals, and while they had a traditional flair, they didn’t do anything that couldn’t be found in a decent published book.

I was, however, worried by statements throughout the novel that implied that Gardnerian craft is better than eclectic craft. These start out tame enough. For example, Govannon notes early in the first chapter that Mordwyn’s coven is “not only Wicca, it was Gardnerian, the oldest running modern Wiccan tradition” and that Mordwyn “loved being a part of a Tradition that served as the foundation of her religion”. Moreover, “having access to her line’s Book of Shadows was a huge plus” because it contained all “the collected spells and other writings of all her up-line Priests and Priestesses”. In this moment, Govannon hasn’t said anything that is untrue or even bad…but there is a slight impression left that Mordwyn was drawn to Gardnerian craft because it is more authentic than the alternatives. Not more than a few pages later, that implication becomes explicit with Amy calling her own previous practice “flaky”, saying “I spent every holiday alone with my [solitary Pagan] Mom, doing some cobbled together, improvised ritual. Somehow, sitting in my living room in front of my Mom’s altar eating some cookies and singing some cheesy Pagan chants didn’t exactly bring across […] The power and mystery of the Old Religion”. Elsewhere in the novel, a seeker approaches Mordwyn and Amy saying “it is so exciting to be meeting a couple of actual Gardnerian Witches! I mean, you guys are the real deal, not like the mall-rat Wiccans I meet online!”

I think that every Gardnerian I know would say that Gardnerian Wicca is the best tradition *for them*, not for everyone. It’s just one way of doing things. It does some things really well in ways that I and others personally appreciate, but it also does some things not-so-well. I know that I’ve been getting stronger in some forms of energy work by attending meditation and psychic development classes at the flakiest, fluffy-bunniest New Age emporium in Indianapolis than I have by working with my coven. And I’m finding I’m able to better connect with deity when using techniques I’ve picked up from Feri practitioners than those I’ve learned through Gardnerian teachers. Gardnerian craft is *a good* pathway, not *the best* pathway. And, to be honest, I would be exceptionally skeptical of any Pagan pathway that claimed to be *the best*.

I was also a little perplexed by just how degree and progression-focused the New Forest Coven was depicted as being. All the first degrees are diligently working their way through a long list of reading, tasks, and assignments to be able to get their second degrees, and presumably all the second degrees are doing the same. They keep tabs and comment upon each other’s progress. At one point, the High Priestess even says that “we always assume that people who dedicate eventually want to reach the third degree.” And the importance of progression in this coven leaves them vulnerable to using that desire to manipulate behavior. For example, one third-degree priestess mentions how they need to tell a first-degree priest that helping a covenmate move is a requirement for getting second in order for him to show up. That is all kinds of wrong on so many levels.

There definitely is an appearance that Gardnerian Wicca is all about the hierarchy, and it is true that many people who initiate ultimately do want to become second and third degrees–if only to be able to run a group someday in their later lives. But that’s not a requirement. An initiate can stay a first degree their entire lives, if they want. They are still a Priest or Priestess of the Craft. And I’ve met several firsts that have more talent and understanding than some thirds, so being a third-degree hardly means you’re the biggest, baddest witch in the land. And no matter what, progression is something that the initiate *asks* for, not something they are expected to do in order to be a good witch.

I was also really disturbed by the fact that no one in the book was shown as having any interests beyond Wicca and romantic relationships. Mordwyn, the main character here, literally has nothing in her life outside of these two things. She works in a Pagan shop. She has a tarot-reading side hustle. She met her girlfriend while teaching a Pagan class. She rents her apartment from a covenmate. Quite literally, unless she and Amy are getting it on, we do not see her doing a single thing that isn’t Pagan related. That’s just unhealthy. The reader is told that Amy has a nice job outside of Paganism (though it also endorses a Pagan club and gives everyone in the club all the Sabbats off with pay…oh, fiction), but everything else she does is Pagan related. Out of all the other coven members, the only things we really know about them is that the High Priest is a professor at the local college, some are married or in long-term relationships, others are single, and there are people of just about every sexual persuasion in the group. That’s about it. These people really need lives outside of Wicca. If only for them to have something to do magic for later on in the series.

I have several other issues with the book, particularly with the superficiality of Mordwyn and Amy’s relationship and Govannon’s problematic depictions of the LGBT community (Brigid outs Amy’s mother to Amy and no one calls her on it?! In what queer universe would that happen?), but that’s perhaps going beyond my Gardnerian focus.

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Something traditionally Wiccan to look at because this post is going on longer than I thought it would

Ultimately, the depictions of general British Traditional Witchcraft in this book are pleasantly compelling, even if the nuances around Gardnerian craft can miss the mark a bit. I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the plot or the flat characters in this book all that much, and I certainly found a lot to object to in their depiction, but I’d still probably read the next book in the series whenever it is published. I have a feeling it will get better as Govannon writes more…and if it doesn’t, it’s not like $3 will break the bank.

Here are some basic things that I wish this book had done:

  • Sprung for a copy-editor. There were plenty of small, overlookable typos, but there were also some really confusing errors, like using the wrong character name or the wrong pronoun. (Especially confusing during the coming out scene!) In the last chunk of the novel, Amy’s mother’s name suddenly changed from Dani to Dina, too, which was super jarring. I totally understand that self-published work will have the occasional hiccup, but this edition had way too many.
  • Sprung for a more professional cover. I hate to admit it, but even I judge a book by its cover at times, and this one is strongly reminiscent of the early days of Geocities free websites in its aesthetic. It is vital in self-publishing, particularly when starting a new series, to have attractive cover art. Without a lot of reviews, buyers will make assumptions based on what they see. In fact, many self-published authors usually give the first book away free on Kindle in order to help create a reading audience. Paying for a professional cover designer is an immediate financial loss in that case, but even if a writer doesn’t want to take that hit, there are plenty of free resources like Canva.com that idiot-proof the graphic design process…for free.  I designed this one in all of five minutes, and I can’t design my way out of a paper bag.
  • Been told from Amy’s point of view. I totally get that Mordwyn was the character Govannon created in his 2012 movie and that he wanted to focus on her…but the audience would have had so much more buy in if they were learning about Wicca and this new coven community at the same time the protagonist is. Many successful series have their book 1 told from an “outsider’s” perspective, and it’s usually a fantastic strategy.
  • Not used Gardnerian craft. This pains me, for I *love* fictional books about Wicca and I specifically read this one because it talked about a Gardnerian coven. But not showing what the inner court was doing–while fine in this introductory novel–seems like it would be too difficult to sustain over the long term of the series. I think that if it were to be a stronger book with a stronger future, a fictional British Traditional Witchcraft tradition should have been created. (How cool would it be to have a Valientian Wicca?!)
  • Had actual problems that took more than a few pages to “solve.” There really wasn’t a crisis moment or anything that held the novel together. It could have been a wildly interesting book about a priestess who thought she was straight in a tradition that highly valued gender binary discovering she was actually gay. There is so much room for self reflection and questioning and personal growth there…but it was literally unaddressed. Amy deciding to become a Gardnerian but needing to overcome skyclad issues could have been an awesome book two. There is so much internal struggle just in feeling comfortable in taking off your clothes in front of others, but to also come to terms with childhood sexual assault? These should have been huge story arcs. And frankly would have been an awesome place to show how Wiccan practice is all about getting out of the way of your own ego. But Amy was a model patient in a therapy that all took place during months that were not described and instead we just got super witches making out. Hardly the stuff of compelling literature.