What Kind of Witch Snaps a Broomstick?

It’s been only a million years since I last updated.  Life has me so busy!  I knew transitioning to teaching school would be a lot of work, but I was vastly unprepared for the hours I’m putting into this job.  Twelve hour days at the school alone are now a norm, and most of my weekend hours are devoted to grading and planning.  I’m in an exceptionally demanding period of the year right now, both with teaching and with my graduate classes, and I’ve only been getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night since Spring Break let out.  Long story short…if you have kids, let their teachers know you appreciate them.

I don’t anticipate updating much here until the end of May, when things will start to lighten up with work and school.  At the moment, I plan to start plodding through the second Roderick book around then, but I’m still on the fence about that decision.  Frankly, I’d rather put my energies into finessing coven things, and I feel that needs to be a priority now.  There’s also other book things that I’m a bit more interested in at the moment…so I guess we will see what the summer holds when summer rolls around.

broken_broom_by_birvan

Well don’t I feel a fool.

In other news…I did a bone-head thing in circle last night.  I’m battling a cold, which always makes me a foggy delight.  There was a moment in circle where I was cracking a joke, but started to cough.  The cough knocked my balance out a bit, so I took a half-step backward to correct it…and promptly trod on the coven broomstick and snapped it in half!

I felt awful about it, and of course will replace it.  In fact, I just placed the order with Broomcorn Johnny’s in southern Indiana.  My coven leaders are pretty much the most kind and gracious people you’ll ever meet, so I probably could have waited a bit.  However, since “a broom bought in May sweeps the family away” and we’re now in the second half of April…I sure didn’t want to wait too long!

Recalling that bit of superstition made me wonder if there was any lore pertaining to breaking a broomstick.  I searched the Internet from top to bottom, though, and the only thing I found was a snippet from Henry M. Hyatt’s Folklore of Adams County, Illinois saying that “whoever breaks a broom handle will soon break someone’s heart.”  I guess I better tend to my relationships!

I was certainly quite surprised at how much broom lore I found, though.  Perhaps someday soon I’ll study it as a magical tool a bit more and see what else I find.

Updates and Oddments

"Hare and Owl" (2015) by Jackie Morris. A watercolor made for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Presented here because it is wintery and gorgeous.

“Hare and Owl” (2015) by Jackie Morris. A watercolor made for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Presented here because it is winter-y and gorgeous…pretty much what I hope January brings.  December was so unseasonally warm!

What an odd, exhausting few months it has been!  My teaching job continues to be more demanding than I ever thought it would be, and I can feel myself becoming burnt out.  I thought that the winter break would get me some much-needed R&R time, but instead I find myself slogging through paper grading and lesson planning.  It’s been a full-time (and then some!) job, and I don’t even have kids for two weeks.  I’m surviving, and I’m told that next year will be better…but holy mother, May cannot come soon enough.  I need a long stretch of flex time.

Grad school is going well–I’m currently rocking a 4.0 with two semesters under my belt–and so far it has proven to be a manageable work load with teaching.  My classes this next term, however, are going to be more demanding, and one of my professors wants me to write a book with her…so we’ll see how the balance progresses.

Craft wise, it’s a bit of a toss-up.  I am so, so happy with the coven that I was initiated into this past November, and I adore everyone in the community and I am loving the new practices that I’ve been learning.  But my personal practice has definitely slid to nearly non-existent what with the demands of work and school.  I really need to find a way to carve “me time” into my day…and get the energy to do more than lounge on the couch and watch Netflix!  I have a mountain of BOS copying to perform and ponder, meditation and energy work techniques to practice, and a whole slew of other things I’d like to take on.

In the interest of New Year’s Resolutions, then, my resolution will be to develop a better work/school/Craft/life balance.  I definitely do not function well when I do not have a true “weekend” to follow my own needs, so my working solution for now will be to try to accomplish all my school and work tasks during Monday-Friday.  I think it can be done if I work a little smarter.  I suppose we’ll see if I can do it.

[UPDATE: It’s a couple years later and a reader messaged me to ask why I never announced my initiation into the new coven. The short version of this story is that it was a wonderful, personally moving experience and one that I wanted to keep to myself. When I first wrote about my Cal-Gard initiation, I’d only just made the blog publicly accessible and had no audience. Now, I’m a little shocked at the hundreds of reads each post gets, and I get reticent to share things.]

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.

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!

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.

What I Did at Pantheacon 2015; or, The Many Times I Made an Ass out of Myself in front of Jason Mankey

I’m only half-joking about the title of this piece. I was blessed with the dubious gift of being decidedly awkward and stupid anytime Jason was around.

That being said…it’s been almost a month (!) since Pantheacon ended. I made it back home in one piece, waded through the mountain of laundry and housework I’d left behind, dealt with all the Major Grown Up things I’d put on hold over the convention week, struggled through my feelings about the racism debacle that occurred, went to ANOTHER convention in Portland, cried over my credit card statement, and have settled back into my general routine. Finally, I have the time and ability to write up everything I did during the Pantheacon whirlwind.

Coven sister W. and I made it to the Doubletree on Friday afternoon with just enough time to check into the convention (and run into Niki and her family) before the first event I really wanted to attend:  the Patheos Pagan Bloggers’ panel discussion titled “The Good, The Bad, & The Blogging.”  I was one of the first people in the room for that, and got to enjoy a few moment’s rest from the frantic pace of the morning’s drive into the Bay Area and the controlled chaos of the registration process.  During this time, W. called me to let me know she’d arrived to her event, and to confirm we’d meet up at Jason Mankey’s talk in the next time slot, The Horned God 2.0.  This marked the first of many ass-making moments, for W. said something along the lines of “I’m glad we nailed the Horned God” in reference to us solidifying the plans, and I laughed and said “I’m glad we nailed the Horned God…that’s a sentence you don’t hear too often!” and looked up just in time to see Jason whip around and stare at me with astonishment.  Oops.

The blogging talk was lovely as a whole (especially the moderator, Angus McMahan, who was probably the most skilled and genial panel moderator I’ve ever seen…bullwhip and all), but for me, two areas of discussion stood out.  The first was an interrogation on how the blog form works in discourse and how that tendency is countered by people’s reticence to leave a permanent comment.  It seems these days that more talk occurs when a blog also has a Facebook site or something where discussion can occur without being part of the blog’s permanent record.  (I doubt I’ll be creating a Facebook site anytime soon, for what it’s worth.) The most personally illuminating part was hearing all the Patheos bloggers voice their struggles with balancing life, work, and personal practice against blogging.  It was a weird light-bulb moment for me.  For the most part, this site is my spiritual diary.  I don’t write with an agenda or a thesis.  If I have any guiding vision at the moment, it’s to have this site help me remember why I think this religion is so wonderful and so important when I get dementia and lose my mind in my old age.  I know I don’t write as much as I would like here, especially lately, and I beat myself up about it a great deal.  It was very comforting to hear that people who blog better than I do still have that struggle.

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Pretty much all of the pictures from here on out are things that I bought, since pictures are verboten at the convention.  Here you see two of Jason Mankey’s self-published books, which are fabulous.  Seriously, I wish my dissertation was half as thorough as Jason’s Horned God book.

Next I scurried up to the big conference rooms to meet up with W. for Jason’s “Horned God 2.0” talk.  There were some technical difficulties, one of which being that the Gryphons could not figure out how to color balance the projector Jason was using, and the other of which being that Jason’s laptop was dying and no one had a cord.  I almost always have my Macbook Air’s cord in my purse, but I’d removed it that day.  So I ran down to the car and fetched it, but my Air is slightly newer than Jason’s and it didn’t fit.  Oops.

The talk itself was great, of course.  Jason enthusiastically careened through a comprehensive history on Horned God iconography and demonstrated how the Wiccan Horned God is a syncretic figure and what contributed to it.  We went through Cernunnos and Pan and 19th-Century Pan and Margaret Murray at lightning speed.  Well, I say it was lightning speed because of how much material was covered in a short amount of time, but the delivery wasn’t too fast to follow–in fact, it was delightful!  Very amusing, very informative, and you could definitely tell Jason loved what he was talking about.  That might seem like a “duh” thing to say…but I’ve been to my fair share of academic conferences.  Generally the speakers have obsessed on their work and their fears of discussing it for so long, their loathing is palpable.  I’ll happily attend any talk Jason does: all the rigor of academia with none of the acquired hatred.

Afterwards, W. and I lingered very awkwardly to buy Jason’s books pictured above, so that we could make sure to remember what we’d learned, and found out that Jason will be putting out a book on blades and witchcraft through Llewellyn next year.  I hope it will lead to more great books to come, so I made a good-natured joke about him becoming property of Llewellyn.  Oops.  I know that Llewellyn has a bit of a reputation for riding a cash-making author to churning out a book a year on the same-old-same-old, and I think perhaps that’s what Jason thought I meant by that, for he mentioned that Llewellyn is soliciting more rigorous projects.  Oops squared.

W. and I left at that point to go to our own hotel to check in, unpack, and grab dinner, and returned to the Doubletree to attend the Patheos Meet and Greet, as I’d told Niki I would.  When we arrived, we discovered that Jason and his wife Ari were hosting it in their suite (Ari is absolutely amazing, by the way…incredibly fun and gracious, and not afraid to share her “Jason Mankey Presentation Drinking Game”), and had brought a quality bar that would shame most places in craft-liquor-loving Olympia.  And I’d just vowed to cut down my drinking.  (I’d just found out that my youngest brother is now battling a heroin addiction…as is my middle brother.  Clearly addiction is something I have to watch out for, and I really, really, really like me my alcohol.)  While I more than earned my awkward turtle merit badge over the course of the evening, it was an awful lot of fun, and great discussion was had by all.  Except maybe Niki’s baby, who can’t talk but who loves being talked to.

Hey, at least I found my spirit animal this weekend.

Hey, at least I found my spirit animal this weekend.

Saturday morning saw me working out my issues with social knots by tying real knots in Christopher Mabie’s “Magic of Marlinspike”, which I decided to attend on a whim.  It turned out to be one of the more worthwhile workshops I attended all weekend.  Cord magic has always struck me as a bit dull:  something to augment a working rather than being the focus of it.  But Mabie showed us a variety of knots (and made us all tie them!), while telling us what these knots were typically used for, and allowing us to imagine how we could use these knots in our magical practice.  Talk about your overdue lightbulb!  Obviously different knots are going to have a huge impact on what cues your magical mindset.  The “padlock knot”, for instance, would be stellar for work done to hold something at bay (or, conversely, hold something close to yourself).  The experience definitely changed how I view this traditional magic.

Riding high on my DIY horse, I decided to eschew my planned attendance of Tempest & Nathaniel Jonhstone’s “Merging Movement with Ritual” in favor of Carl F. Neal’s “Magick Incense Making 201” where we made a Japanese-style moist incense called nerikoh and were introduced to a delightful incense ingredient, aloeswood.  Once you have a good recipe, there’s not that much to mixing ingredients together, but Neal did a great job of engaging the room and explaining details that many of us hadn’t heard before.  It was so interesting and so successful that I ended up purchasing some of Neal’s incense and one of his books.  I certainly look forward to trying my hand at making incense again–my Roderick trials with it were not exactly successful.  Better yet, the workshop let out early, so I was able to catch the last half of “Merging Movement” after all.  I really have to start dancing in ritual.  It’s a blast!

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The book and incense I got, as well as a couple CD’s from the artist Celia, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Afterwards, I tried to sit through another panel discussion, “Tradition vs. Innovation”, but I didn’t last terribly long.  The discussion wasn’t exactly breaking any interesting ground–it quickly got to the point that both are needed to keep a movement viable–and the woman who was seated in front of me was wearing copious amounts of a noxious perfume, so I scarpered as soon as I could and used the time to chat in the halls and browse the vendor room.

W. and I met up soon thereafter to attend Julia Phillips’ talk on “Wicca in the Southern Hemisphere”, which was delightful from start to finish.  The room was small, and the attendees respectfully quiet, so I recorded the talk on my iPhone.  [That recording is what’s on the Protected post just prior, and it’s up for my coven mates to have access to.  I didn’t ask Julia if I could record, and pretty much everyone in the room was Gardnerian or Alexandrian, and the audience brought up some things that could border on oathbound…so it’s staying password locked.]  I knew the seasons were flip-flopped in the Southern hemisphere, but I had no idea how much of an impact that has on how Wiccan sabbats are conducted.  I also hadn’t taken into consideration things like deosil being clockwise in the north and counterclockwise in the south.  Basically, listening to Julia was like a crash course in considering why we do certain things in Wiccan ritual, and why it is important to adapt to where you are to preserve the intent behind the form.

Ally Valkyrie sells beautiful screen printed goods at Practical Rabbit.

Here you see the wonderful wares of Ally Valkyrie, who sells beautiful screen printed goods like this prayer flag and these patches at Practical Rabbit.  These are going to be the first things I put up in my next home.

Seven o’clock saw me sneaking into San Martin/San Simeon for Athena Wallinder’s “Honorning through Sacred BDSM and Kink Ritual”.  I was possibly more excited for this than for anything else at the convention, thanks to my memories of Kirk Thomas’s “Body Stress Ecstatic Practices” at the 2012 Pantheacon, which was easily the stand out ritual moment for me.  Alas, I showed up to find no ritual.  Rumor was that Ms. Wallinder never even checked into the convention!  What happened in lieu of the ritual was pretty cool, though.  Everyone got together and decided to have a group discussion on the lines between BDSM, ritual, and Pagan practice.  A nice gentleman acted as the discussion facilitator, and he did a decent job for being put on the spot.  It wasn’t a smooth conversation.  A few people were more interested in asking how to get into BDSM than they were on negotiating kink and ritual.  One of the topics that was brought up, though, pertained to traditional Wicca initiations and BDSM.  There’s some stuff that happens in an initiation that looks similar to some BDSM practices, but the one thing between them is that in BDSM, you can give informed consent.  That cannot really happen in an initiation, so how do you make sure everything is okay?  Well, that was something I could speak to, actually, and speak I did.  Eventually we got to a point where we decided that having the initiator prompt a discussion with the initiate to let them know what *won’t* happen, and to check for trust on both parts was a way to help consent occur without a) breaking oath and b) ruining the experience of initiation.

I wrapped up Saturday night by attending “A Different Kind of Seidh” put on by Freja’s Gift Trance Team.  Essentially, three seers from different traditions went into trance, and attendees could come up to them to ask divinatory questions.  I have an opportunity for getting back on my career path that I wanted to ask about…and the amusing seer basically told me “do what’s going to be best for you in the long term, not necessarily what’s best for the short term.”  I really needed to hear that.  If I do this thing, the next three years are going to be long and hard, and I’m basically going to have to re-start my whole life.  But I’ll eventually leave it with another academic degree, three years of experience, a strong professional mentorship, and knowing I’ll have helped an underserved community.  And I’ll be able to go almost anywhere I want to.

Stuff I bought

I’d intended to acquire none of these things…but I am so glad I did!  Left:  Maxine Miller’s cold cast bronze relief of the Green Man.  Right top:  a honeybee necklace and chalcedony earrings from Honey & Ollie Designs.  Right bottom:  a gorgeous hammered silver bangle cuff bracelet from Celtica (david.celtica@gmail.com) on my very pudgy wrist.

I contemplated sleeping in Sunday morning…I was exhausted.  But Diana Paxson was giving a talk on “Preparing for Possession”, and ultimately I decided I needed that more than I needed another two hours of sleep.  I truly need to do more work on Drawing Down, which is essentially possession, and thought that this might help me learn something.  I think I made the right choice.  Paxson’s talk was insightful enough that I ordered her book on the topic through Amazon before she’d even ended.  I can’t wait to start working through it.  Afterwards, I attended Geraldine Beskin’s “The Tarot Tour of London”, which was very sweet.  It might have been the least metaphysical thing I’d attended the whole weekend, but it was nice getting a unique take on the London landmarks.  One idea I took away from the talk was organizing my own Tarot Tour of my hometown.  I think I might give it a try for Olympia: it certainly would be a way to break my habit of only going to the same places over and over again!

After lunch, W. and I met up again to attend Selena Fox’s “Brigid Healing Ritual,” which she does most years.  I’d attended in 2012 and loved it.  I think I might have enjoyed this one more.  These days, I’m thinking more and more critically about how to lead ritual, so I definitely paid more attention to how Selena conducted it this time around.  She really has a wonderful, open style, and it was anything but “The Selena Fox Show.”  She’d invited so many people to take on different parts of it, and we got to experience some truly wonderful ritual craft from each.  My favorite, however, was the musical artist Celia, who was invited to lead a Brigid chant.  I was completely enchanted by how masterfully she led this huge crowd and built up and manipulated the energy just by changing up how she was beating her drum.  It didn’t hurt that she has an amazing voice, either.  I happily snapped up a couple of her CD’s (including the one with the Brigid chant) after the ritual was concluded.  The ritual itself was amazing, and when it was done, I felt a shift.  People got a buzz of healing, and we trickled some back into the earth as well.  It’s certainly not a solution in itself on any of those fronts, but I know that it helped.

I kept up the ritualizing with Ekklesia Antinoou’s “Lupercalia and Parentalia 2015”, mostly because Niki was taking part in it, and I wanted to help support that, but also because I strongly support their role in queer spirituality.  I’m surprisingly connected into gay culture, and I’ve recommended seekers to Ekklesia Antinoou before, and very much wanted to experience what I’d been recommending.  It certainly was interesting.  I could tell that the people in the group loved it with their whole heart, and that’s always a great sign.  (Well, either that or a sign that you’re looking at a cult.)  I was a bit skeptical at first.  There was a complicated pattern for creating sacred space that seemed more formal than I have experienced in a long time, and there was a very long part of the ritual that sent me right back to the Roman Catholic days of my childhood, praying fervently in my pew for Father to cut to the end of the Litany of the Saints.  But one of the things I’d forgotten about litanies is how powerful the recitation of names can be, and eventually I did get over my shell shock and began to understand what was happening.  The ritual wasn’t all dry, either.  There were wonderful, active, joyful parts, too.  I know I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what Ekklesia Antinoou is doing, but I’m glad they’re part of our community and I look forward to learning more.

At seven, I attended a BTW gathering with Julia Phillips and Geraldine Beskin in the CoG/NWC/NROOGD suite, which was lovely, and I got a chance to meet some people I’d only ever heard about in the lineages before.  I wanted to stay to talk with them, but I’d promised a friend I’d attend the Kali Puja at nine, so away I went.

Frankly, I think maybe I was ritualed out, and too body-tired at that point.  My shoulders were killing me, and sitting on the floor in that state was sheer torture.  Getting into ritual mindset was incredibly difficult, and I snapped out of it as soon as people around me started crying.  That’s sort of what I do:  if people are having a emotionally powerful connection around me in ritual, I slid right out of it in order to help them out.  So I was busy comforting sobbing people for the majority of the ritual.  That being said, I would go out of my mind with happiness if Chandra Alexandre ever offered a workshop in how to lead a ritual.  She’s so dramatic and so intuitive.  She was playing the crowd and shaping the energy with her voice just as much as Celia had controlled the crowd with her drum earlier that day.  She’s absolutely amazing.

More stuff I bought

Stone Circle Studio’s necklaces and other wares have become a traditional Pantheacon gift for my coven.  I stocked up on a few favorite items.  Speaking of stocking up, I bought way too many essential oils at The Herb Shop in Grants Pass while S. and I were road tripping down to San Jose.  And, of course, I couldn’t pass up a couple impulse buys:  a jet sphere from Bluestar creations that I’m going to try using for scrying, and an African Blackwood disc from Rare Earth Designs…which are based a half-hour from me in Shelton, WA.

W. and I did not really intend to do much of anything on Monday–we needed to leave by at least 1 pm in order to give us enough time to make it back to Washington in time for me to get to work on Wednesday while accommodating at least one stop in Eugene.  (As it turned out, we made it to Redding too late to safely drive through the mountains, so we stopped there, too, and I made it to work with only minutes to spare.)  But I did make most of Starhawk’s panel discussion, “Working with Diverse Traditions,” which was largely a discussion on cultural appropriation.  I appreciated it because it raised more questions than it answered, and brought more to the table than “cultural appropriation is bad and racist and you shouldn’t even look at something if you weren’t raised in that culture.”

So that’s my Pantheacon 2015!  I’m exhausted just writing about it!

This is How I Spent the Last 3 Months: Refinishing Furniture and Moving!

My new altar arrangement for daily devotions.

My new altar arrangement for daily devotions.

I have been so quiet on this journal for so long, which–of course–means I’m dealing with Big Life Events.  Ever since August, I’ve been taking stock of my living situation and realizing I needed to move.  I wasn’t happy, and uncertainty about some of my housemate’s finances were causing me extreme anxiety and flashbacks to when my dad lost his job and then lost the house.  The other housemates (K. and C.) and I decided we’d go in on an apartment together, so lots of real-estate hunting and budget discussions ensued that eventually culminated on finding a place at the end of September.  We were originally given a move-in date of November 1.  We are all Pagans, so that was like asking Christians to move house on Christmas Day.  That obviously wasn’t going to happen, so we negotiated to November 8.  So largely all of October was spent preparing for Samhain and the move, all on a shoe-string budget.

In retrospect, I’m surprised we kept our stress levels manageable.  My main task for the month was procuring furniture as I had sold all of mine with the exception of a nightstand and an ugly green La-Z-Boy recliner and all K. and C. currently owned was their own bedroom furniture.  But, as my housemates say, I have “mad Craigslist-fu.”  For the common spaces, I found a non-ugly, excellent condition sofa, a nice lift-top coffee table, a large dresser to serve as the TV console, a dining table and 5 chairs, and a kitchen cart.  The previous owners of the cart had cannibalized two of them, so what I bought had one wire top and two wire basket shelves, a push handle, and four casters.  I picked up an additional shelf for it at The Container Store and it now holds my Kitchen Aid mixer, their microwave, and our bulk potatoes and onions perfectly and frees up much-needed counter space in our kitchen.  We split the purchases with K. and C. getting the sofa, dresser, table, and chairs ($205) and me taking care of the coffee table and cart ($184).

I took care of my own bedroom furnishings pretty easily.  I decided to keep the storage shelving I’d bought for V. and her husband’s garage and repurpose it for my bookcase, which meant I had to get shelf liners ($30) so the wires wouldn’t damage the books.  My covenmate W. and her husband gave me a new queen mattress (from their RV; they replaced what the factory had provided), so I found a nearly new Ikea Brusali queen bed for $60 and also found a nearly new Ikea Hemnes 3-drawer dresser for $65.  I’m sure I’ll probably sell these pieces if I suddenly find myself moving across the country; after all, they’re not exactly heirloom quality stuff.  But I am definitely keeping my “splurge” piece:  a vintage secretary desk that I completely refinished with the intention that it would be my desk by day and my altar by night.

The desk/altar in all its glory.  I'm pretty darn proud of it.

The desk/altar in all its glory. I’m pretty darn proud of it.

I paid about $100 for the desk, which was $60 more than I wanted to pay.  However, I scoured all of Craigslist for secretary desks for weeks, and most were going for about $150 and were also really ugly.  I liked the federal lines of this piece, which can be mixed in with contemporary, traditional, or ‘country’ style furnishings with little conflict, and I liked that there wasn’t some massive organizing system in the secretary top.  In fact, it just had a tiny divider that I easily knocked out.  When I went to see it though, I was a little disappointed with the condition it was in.  The drawers would not slide evenly, the whole thing smelled awful–a combination of mildew, cat, and old lady–and the previous owner had spilled something in the top drawer and it looked like a fungus was growing on it.

I was decidedly unamused, but ended up buying the desk at full asking price out of pity for the seller.  She was taking care of her mom’s estate…and her mom had been a hoarder.  It was woefully evident that the woman did not want to be within a hundred miles of the house, just as it was plain that all her mother’s “treasures” were dusty, broken, dated junk that no body would purchase.  I figured the least I could do was give her full asking price for the one thing likely to sell and offer it up as a mitzvah.

Back home, I damn near cried when I finally got to inspect the piece fully.  The “solid wood” piece only had a wood frame and drawer fronts.  The top surface was actually laminate, the sides of the dresser part are thin particle board, and the drawer boxes appeared to be the 1970s equivalent of MDF.  The drawer glides were toast, and one of the drawer handles was missing the pull part, which meant I’d have to replace at least the bottom four pulls.  When I went to remove the knobs from the top drawer, I damaged them and ended up having to replace all four of those, too.  Worse, the “fungus” was not, in fact, fungus, but an eruption of wood from the chipboard of the drawer getting wet.  But I decided to soldier on anyway.

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Top row, left to right:  The before picture with the drawers as even as I could get them; after removing the back cardboard panels and installing new drawer glides; after giving all surfaces a good sanding.  Middle row, left to right:  After painting the whole piece, I started waxing with dark wax; I eventually wiped off most of the dark wax and got a cool aged effect for the finish; I gave up on the white drawer interiors and painted all the inside stuff blue.  Bottom row, left to right:  Unable to find replacement hinges for the desk front, I did my best to clean the rust and crap off the old ones; I painted the hinges black and reinstalled them (with some scratches); done!

First, I did my best to clean up the desk to a) get rid of the smell and b) dislodge the several colonies of spiders that had taken up residence.  This meant removing the backing on both the drawers and the desk area, which wasn’t very hard as it turned out to just be a thick cardboard.  Discarding that helped a lot with the cat smell. Soap and water helped, and I was truly surprised at how abysmally dirty the desk was.  However, I also had to go over the whole piece–every interior and exterior surface–twice with mineral spirits to get things truly de-grimed and de-stinked.  Then I turned my attention to the fungus drawer.  As it turned out, I had to take a razor blade and scrape all the damaged particle board out.  There was a lot of damage, but after lots of scraping rounds, I got to solid particle board.  I used mineral spirits to clean up the gunk, let it and all the drawers dry for several days, then spray painted all the drawer interiors with a white spray paint, which did a great job of sealing up the damaged area.

Next, I turned my attention to the drawer pulls.  At that point, I thought I’d have to trash the whole project as no body sells center mount drawer pulls in the size I needed.  Eventually, however, I found wooden ones at True Value hardware, and I cut them to size.  Installation was a bitch, though.  The replacement guides were taller than the originals, which mean I had to inset them, but right where I needed to screw them in was routed out to hold cardboard dividers.  It took about four hours and lots of help from K. to get the three glides installed, and I’ll be the first to admit it looks sloppier than it should  Retrofitting sucks.

Once I knew I had working drawers, I felt comfortable stripping the original finish so that I could paint it.  I was originally going to stain the piece, but then discovered that the top was laminate and the drawer sides pressboard, so paint it became.  When I took off the knobs, though, I ran into another problem.  The original maker had drilled 1/4-inch holes in the piece, then used special inserts to anchor the hardware to the drawer faces.  Today, the screws for hardware are much smaller in diameter.  If I attached new hardware, they would rattle around, but I couldn’t keep the damaged hardware.  Eventually a brilliant clerk at Home Depot pointed me in the direction of nylon inserts.  I had to make the holes a little bigger, but eventually I got the inserts installed.  I also had to sand the heck out of the drawer faces to remove the impressions of the old hardware.  The other surfaces got a lighter sanding just to give the surface some tooth.

In retrospect, I don’t think I needed to sand the other surfaces.  I ended up using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (ASCP), and it adheres beautifully to anything without sanding.  I chose Primer Red, and was very happy with the color.  The shop clerk showed me a piece she’d done with it and said she’d only used a dark wax to seal it, so I just bought the paint and the dark wax.  That was a mistake.  When using that dark wax, you’re supposed to coat the piece in a clear wax first.  What I got when I finished looked like mahogany, which was pretty but not what I wanted.  Luckily, Miss Mustard Seed’s clear furniture wax removed a lot of the dark wax and left a great finish.

I had decided to paint the back of the drawer fronts in Primer Red, too, but all that handling utterly destroyed the white paint job I’d done on the drawer boxes.  I tried to clean it up with mineral spirits, but that didn’t take me far.  Eventually, I repainted the interiors in ASCP’s Provence blue with a clear wax finish and really loved the funky pop of color.  I even painted the backing for the desk that color, too.

The next major hurdle was the hinges for the desk.  When I had removed the originals, I thought they were unsalvageable.  The screws holding them in were so rusted, I was able to smash one to pieces.  Frankly, I’m amazed I was able to remove the screws intact.  The hinges themselves were rusted, and the areas that weren’t were covered in a thick layer of grease and dust.  It took me half an hour of scrubbing with a toothbrush and dish soap to remove all the grime, and two hours of scrubbing with Brasso to get rid of the rust.  Eventually they cleaned up all right, but they turned out to be brass and still cosmetically damaged.  So I spray painted them with a black Hammerite and re-installed them with black screws.  It was a bitch to get them re-set, though, and I did a couple big scratches in the desk.  At that point, I no longer cared.  Someday I’ll fix it.

At that point, I decided to put a shelf inside the desk part to hold odds and ends, and it looks great.  I also re-installed proper drawer backing on the top and bottom and made sure to cut a hole in the top to be able to run my computer cord through.  In truth, I still have to screw the front of the shelf down, and I suppose I should attend to a big ding in the front sustained when someone knocked something against it when we moved…but honestly?  I’m glad to take a break from this project.  It was way more involved (and expensive! I’m pretty sure I spent more on paint and wax than I did on the desk, and then there was the new hardware, the shelf, the drawer backing…oh man.  I don’t want to total it up.) than I thought it was going to be.

You Just Can’t Beat Olympia Street Art

When it comes to embracing street art, Olympia is of the mind that you go big or go home.  We use it to make political statements.  We use it to commemorate local historical heroes and welcome people to the town.  We use them to celebrate comic book heroes and Star Wars characters.  Don’t even get me started on how many downtown businesses turn their storefronts into murals.  (I swear, just about every word in that sentence could have been hyperlinked to a different mural.)  Most recently graffiti artists have popped up two separate murals along the parking lot wall of our Indian restaurant, Great Cuisine of India, on 4th Avenue.  First came Ganesha:

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Ganesha on the wall of Great Cuisine of India, Olympia, WA, July 2014.

Then, over the course of a few weeks, Kali joined him:

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Kali on the wall of Great Cuisine of India, Olympia, WA, July 2014.

Given how popular it is for businesses here to sport street art on their walls, I assumed the restaurant’s owners had commissioned the pieces, which are amazing.  But no, as Niki Whiting of A Witch’s Ashram discovered, the murals just began appearing not long after they had painted over a long-standing palimpsest of random tags and images.  I guess after Ganesha went up, the creator(s) of Kali saw it as a challenge and popped up their art.  I rather love the call-and-response thing our local street artists have going on here, and I hope they add more members of the Hindu pantheon to the wall–there’s lots of white space left!

Where else in America can you have street artists battling it out to create representations of deity?  Olympia is so cool.

Adieu, Margot Adler

Margot had a smile that could put anyone at ease.

Margot had a smile that could put anyone at ease.

Margot Adler died yesterday.

I feel silly taking her death as personally as I am.  I only met her once, in passing, but she had this personality that was so open, so inquisitive, and so caring…she wasn’t someone you could easily forget.  She had a way of looking at you and, in the moment you were interacting with her, giving you her full attention, like you were the most important person in the universe.

The world needs more Margots.  The Craft needs more Margots.  She will be sorely missed.

EDIT: I rather love this radio interview retrospective of Margot’s life featuring Phyllis Curott and Ronald Hutton.

It’s Been 50 Years Since Gerald Gardner’s Death…

Gerald Gardner's current grave.  Lois Borne had him moved to this location in xxxx.  The descriptive marker was added in 2007.

Gerald Gardner’s current grave. Eleanor Bone had him moved to this location. The descriptive marker was added in 2007.

Today is February 12, 2014. That means that it is exactly 50 years today since Gerald Gardner died aboard The Scottish Prince. He was buried in Tunisia the following day.  Some years later, Eleanor Bone traveled there to visit his grave and subsequently discovered that the cemetery in which he had been interred would shortly be redeveloped into a park.*  Eleanor clearly realized that the loss of Gardner’s resting place would be a great tragedy, so she solicited funds from witches across Britain and had Gardner’s remains moved to their current resting place.  A plaque honoring him as “Author. Archaeologist. Artist.  Father of Modern Wica, Beloved of the Great Goddess” was subsequently added in 2007 by Patricia Crowther and Larry Jones.  I thank them both for their care.

I wonder what Gardner would have thought about the state of modern witchcraft?

I hope he would be delighted.  I know that lots of Gardnerians today seem to look down upon non-initiatory traditions which, frankly, are the majority of contemporary witches currently practicing…but I think Gardner would love it.  And he’d probably be flabbergasted by the Craft’s growth and increasing acceptance by dominant culture.  Since April of 2007, the U.S. Government through the Veteran’s Administration is even permitting pentacles on graves of fallen soldiers and veterans.  Who would have even thought that possible in 1964?  Who could have foreseen Wiccans lecturing high school students?  Who could have thought we’d be able to support a seminary and have an academic discipline dedicated to us?  From the shadows to the mainstream in just over half a century…it is utterly mindboggling.

I think Gardner would delight, too, in the diversity of the Craft and how practitioners are empowered to create their own rituals.  The way I see it, Gardner used his own creativity to pull together practices and liturgy that worked in conjunction with the Craft–who wouldn’t love seeing how that blueprint was continually edited through the years?  Who wouldn’t love to see all the beauty that followed?

Here’s to another 50 years of productive practice, Gerald.  Thanks.

An obituary of sorts that ran in the xxx on xxx

An obituary that ran in the “News of the World” on February 23rd, 1964.

*In the United States, if bodies are found in a place where development needs to happen, the bodies must be respectfully removed and reburied.  In Tunisia, this is apparently not the case.  Grave markers are instead bulldozed and it is uncertain what happens to the remains beneath.  Currently the Jewish cemetery dating from the late 1800s in the center of the city is threatened with a similar fate.  Maybe someday we’ll have to move Gardner back to Britain.