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

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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.

My Gardnerian 2nd-Degree Elevation

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Gifts from the coven members at my elevation.  My HP and elevator, Y., gave me the Celtic knotwork tree pendant.  As he said, I am about to go into a profession where it is not prudent to walk around wearing a pentacle, and this provides a great alternative.  I like to think it helps keep me grounded.  My HPS, Z., gave me the candle–locally made in Seattle–to provide light on my way.  Coven brother X., who took 2nd himself Samhain 2014, gifted me a lovely black tourmaline for protection.

Just before our Beltane ritual on May 3rd, my HP and HPS elevated me to the second degree, with coven brother X in attendance.  So. Insanely. Much. has happened since that day, I sometimes think that the elevation ritual was just a dream.  But it happened, and it was just as lovely as my initiation.

Obviously, the specifics of the ritual are oathbound, but my emotions are not.  My mindspace at the outset of the ritual was probably closest to “Oh my gods, I really hope I’m doing this right” and I was trying to be super serious so as to pick up on the cues I was supposed to follow.  But at the same time, I was so ridiculously happy, I was struggling to not be flippant.  It was such a weird mental position–I’ve never experienced anything like that before.  As the ritual went on, gravity eventually set in and I found myself in another struggle–the struggle to really let go who I had been to make way for a new me.  I don’t let go easy, and this part was so hard.  At one point, I literally felt like I was suffocating in an oven and very nearly begged to be let out of the circle.  In fact, it almost snapped me out of ritual mode–I was certain the room was too warm and I was about to have heatstroke.  To be honest, the room was a little warm, what with it being tiny and there being lots of candles and four bodies heating it up…but it was no furnace!  That extreme heat and pressure was all from another place.  Maybe my mind, maybe magic, but definitely not reality.

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Coven sister W. is a first, and was therefore not a part of the whole elevating ritual, but she later gifted me with this lovely cactus wood staff.  I absolutely love it!

My coven leaders asked me to pay attention and note any changes in myself in the weeks following the elevation, but I find it hard to determine just what changed through the elevation, what changed through life, and what changed through both.  In the two weeks after the ritual, though, when all was relatively calm, I noticed that I had much greater certainty in “knowing.”

A good example of this happened the day after the ritual.  I drove back to Tacoma early in the morning and stopped off at my favorite coffee place, Valhalla roasters, to acquire much-needed caffeination for me, Y., and X., as they were staying with our HPS who doesn’t drink coffee.  As I went to put the tray on the passenger side floor of my car, I suddenly knew that it was going to spill.  So I secured the lids onto the cups and the cups into the tray and held onto it as I proceeded onto my HPS’s house.  I was also driving much more carefully than I otherwise would have to help prevent a spill…but a drunk homeless man stepped out in front of my car and I had to slam on the brakes.  Forty-eight ounces of Valkyrie French Press ended up all over my car, just as I had known it would.  After the adrenaline wore off and I’d mopped up the mess and acquired new coffee, I realized that if I hadn’t been driving that carefully, I would have slammed into that man for sure.

These odd moments of “knowing” aren’t always connected into huge events either, I’ve noticed.  A few days after the elevation, I was on my way to work and very uncharacteristically decided to stop at Dutch Brothers and get an Irish cream coffee.  Over the past year, I can count the times I’ve grabbed coffee before work on one hand, so this was a freakish little whim.  Even odder, as I was ordering I just decided to order a second–a white chocolate mocha–deciding that my co-worker Shannon needed a mid-morning treat.  I’d never bought anyone at work a coffee before.  After all, everyone is very picky about their coffee, and I’m always broke.  But I just “knew” the moment I ordered it that it was needed.  And, sure enough, as I handed the drink to Shannon she cried, “How did you know?!”  Apparently she’d dropped her perfume bottle into the coffee she’d got for herself that morning and was going nuts without the usual caffeine.  Even weirder?  I had no idea what Shannon actually liked in her coffee…but she told me her standing Dutch Bros. order was the white chocolate mocha.

Now, I’m no psychic, and I would be the first to chalk these things up to coincidence.  And maybe they are.  But I have been so certain of things these past few weeks.  I knew when I flew out to Indiana for job interviews that I would have an offer at the end of that trip. (I did, but I turned it down.  Even though I fretted about that decision, I also knew that I would get “the dream offer” if I was patient.)  I knew when I saw the apartment I was going to get and how awful it was that I would find a better place–and I did that very night!  In fact, when the owner of the place I’m in now sent me pictures of her living room, I was shocked to see couches exactly like what flew into my mind when I had thought of “a better place.”  I’ve known at every job interview I’ve been on since whether or not they would extend me an offer.  That knowledge has definitely helped me stay patient and wait for a position with the best “fit.”

This weird certainty has definitely not been how my mind has typically worked–I fret over minutiae like I’m getting paid to do it, and I’m always drafting Plans B through Q in case Plan A is a bust.  The certainty has definitely made life easier in the face of all the changes, and I am thankful for that.

The year I almost missed the Solstice

I may need reminding why I thought setting off on these life changes was a good idea.  I’ve now hit the halfway mark of this summer intensive program, and last week I only got between 1-3 hours of sleep a night between Sunday and Thursday, and just 10 hours for the entire five day period.  I made up for it by sleeping 14 hours Friday night and 12 hours Saturday night…and utterly forgetting everything else save work.

I may have missed the Solstice sunrise, and I don’t have it in me to perform ritual today…but tonight, I am going to sit on the porch, drink some wine, and watch the gloaming deepen into night.

Happy solstice, everyone.

The Blade Collection Expands Yet Again

Nearly my entire collection of magical knives through the years.

Nearly my entire collection of magical blades through the years.  My very first athame was one like this.  I never cared for it, barely used it in ritual, and I’m pretty sure it ended up in the box of stuff I gave Natalie to donate to Pagan Pride Day raffles when I moved from Indiana to Oregon.

At this point, I’m starting to feel like I acquire ritual tools the way some women acquire shoes, and this is something I have mixed emotions about.  The 2005 me was very adamant that a witch should hold off on acquiring a tool until he or she found the right tool, and then they should hang onto it for life.  The 2015 me still feels that way, but seems to be crying out “bring on the stuff!” in a horrendous case of hypocrisy.  Since I began journaling here (almost 7 years ago!), I went from eschewing the use of blades to using a modified butter knife as an athame.  Then I acquired Candle once I realized the energy wasn’t quite jiving and that I should treat myself to a “grown up blade”.  I was so pleased with Candle, I acquired a boline, Crooked, soon thereafter from the same smith.  Of course, using a curved knife makes most things short of cutting plants rather difficult, so I bought a paring knife with a light handle, Olive, to use as my white-handled knife.  And now, I’ve cycled through to another set.

I began looking to replace my athame, Candle, because it is not a traditional blade and I am starting to investigate inter-coven work, and there are plenty of Gardnerians who strongly hold that athame’s should be sharp, ferrous, double-edged, black-hilted daggers with magical sigils carved into the handle.  My dull, copper, single-edged Candle hardly meets that mark, though it does have a lovely black handle.  Interestingly, the adherence to these standards seem fairly new to the community.  There’s evidence that, at least in 1970s America, making your blade by hand was far more important than the materials the blade was made from, and a fair number of witches ran around with athames they’d made by cutting craft-store copper sheeting into blade shape.  Going back further, there’s evidence that witches who worked with Gardner used single-edged blades for their athames (though there’s less evidence they used those blades while they worked with Gardner).  One thing that has been consistent, though, is that there is a strong preference for sharp blades in the community.

When I began pondering inter-coven work, I thought long and hard about what to do about my athame.  I considered sharpening Candle for the sake of community appeasement, but ultimately I love Candle just the way it is and couldn’t bring myself to do it.  With far more sadness than I would have thought myself capable of, I decided to get another knife and make it my primary athame.  I rationalized this decision by telling myself this wasn’t close redundancy.  After all, you can’t use a ferrous blade to work with the fey and nature spirits (though a wand does just as well), and I would be able to use Candle at public gatherings where I wouldn’t be able to use a sharp knife.  So I went shopping.

My new white handled knife and athame.

My new athame and white-handled knife.  I’m toying with the idea of naming them Chakra and Scion, largely because the patterning on the athame blade looks like it has chakra centers and the white knife feels like a “chip of the old block” when I see the two together.

I tried contacting local bladesmiths and pagan smiths, but I wasn’t able to make anything work.  Many of the smiths I knew were scaling down their operations and not taking custom work, and much of their stock was a bit too embellished for my tastes.  Others had a wait list that numbered in years to order completion.  Consequently, I found myself researching out new sources.  During an Etsy binge, I happened across Poshland Knives, which also operates their own site.  They are a dealer based out of London, but with prices like theirs, I knew they were having the blades made in Pakistan (which was confirmed when I received a custom knife).  I wasn’t overly thrilled with the prospect of going global for my blades, and knife-heads commonly put down the quality that comes out of Pakistan, but I sincerely doubted I would actually put my athame to any stress tests, so I decided to take the risk and ordered one of their stock blades.  When it arrived, I quite fell in love with it.  The rosewood handle is a little lighter than pictured above–the first picture is more true to life.  A knife aficionado friend of mind pointed out the blade has a slight lean to it, but even he said the quality far surpassed what he was anticipating.  After working with the new athame in circle, I decided I wanted to work with Poshland again to create a complementary white-handled knife.

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My white-handled knife…and its evil twin.

This customization experience is really what endeared me to Poshland, because they very much messed up my order and were very kind about correcting it.  The gentleman who runs it, Uzzy, is not a native English speaker, and he read my customization request very literally.  I had requested only one deviation from their standard BC 61-40 knife, and that was to replace their colored bone handle with white bone or horn.  Uzzy did not realize that an adjective can modify all nouns that follow it, so I received a horn handled knife, bull horn to be precise, and bull horn is naturally black. Once the misunderstanding was cleared up, Uzzy graciously offered me a discount on a new knife and I sold the mistake to my knife aficionado friend.  Truthfully, I rather like the black knife more.  As you can see, its handle is slightly thinner, which makes it easier for me to grip and use.  It is also significantly lighter and actually balances, and I’m partial to its damascene patterning.  If only it were white!  I should not complain; the knife I ended up with is still a very pretty knife, and it gets the job done quite admirably.  The 4.5 inch blade is long enough and wide enough to tackle larger jobs, but small enough to carve candles without a problem.  And I very much appreciate how my white-handled knife and my athame look like they belong together without being exactly matched.

If you happen to be in the market for magical blades, you could do worse than Poshland.  They do good work at incredibly reasonable prices for the quality, and customization is easy provided you are very careful in your descriptions!  It’s also surprisingly inexpensive:  customization on my white handled knife was only £10 (about $15) more than the price of the standard knife.  They will also do completely custom blades, though pricing would definitely be commensurate.

An Amazing Commercial May Wine

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The photo of the woodruff and strawberries (infusing water, not wine…try it, it’s great!) is from Gardenista.  The photo of the Latah Creek Maywine is from Amazon.

May wine has come up a time or two throughout the years.  It’s a traditional German drink around the start of May when the first strawberries are ripening and woodruff blossoms, and witches have incorporated it into Beltane festivities.  It is incredibly easy to make: just chop up a few strawberries and throw them and a few sprigs of fresh woodruff into some sweet white wine.  You don’t have to infuse it for very long–an hour or so will be fine, especially in regards to the woodruff, which is surprisingly potent–and you’re left with a wonderful spring drink tasting of vanilla, sweetgrass, muscat, and berry.

It is very easy to make up, but some wineries do make their own May wine blends, and the best one I have ever tried is that from the Pacific Northwest’s Latah Creek Wine Cellars.  They’re a 30-year-old company based out of Spokane Valley, Washington.  They’re innovators in slow-cold fermentation wines, and their Maywine is spot-freaking-on.  Most commercial may wines taste like someone stirred Smuckers strawberry jam into a sweet box white, but Latah Creek’s is smooth and balanced.  It may be a tad sweeter than when made fresh, but the strawberry is a light touch behind the woodruff and white wine, just as it should be.

The wine is made from 100% Chenin Blanc grapes grown in the Columbia Valley and blended with dried woodruff and natural strawberry concentrate.  The winery says that their 2015 vintage is their best ever, which is saying something as Wine Press Northwest Magazine rated their 2010 as outstanding, noting:

This traditional German-style wine has a significant following around Spokane, Wash., thanks to Mike Conway. The long-time Washington winemaker takes Chenin Blanc then adds woodruff and strawberry concentrate to create a fun drink that pairs marvelously with holiday fare and curries. Its nose brings hints of sweet strawberry jam, apricot, banana, honey, patchouli and honey. Flavors include strawberry, raspberry, lemon chiffon, pineapple, and clover. Granted, there’s considerable sugar (6%), yet its acid profile is reminiscent of an orange milkshake and enough to create balance.

Latah Creek products are available in stores throughout Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and a full store listing for any vintage can be found through the winery’s website.  Bottles can also be ordered through the website or through Amazon.  Prices average around $10 per bottle, plus shipping.