Becoming

It’s almost Yule time once again. While I love Yule, this time of year is rough for many reasons and this year seems to be more depressing than most. I’ll also be turning 30 in less than two weeks and life has certainly not gone the way I expected it to the last few years.

Yule magic, Christmas magic, Hanukkah magic, Hogmanay magic, Nickanan magic, Jul magic, Saturnalia magic, or whatever you want to call it, this time of year has the power to bring people together and to allow us to acknowledge the possibility of magic in ways that usually we easily ignore or forget to believe in. Everything is possible this time of year. We ask for magic constantly and expect miracles to happen. This is the time of year that even the most prosaic can secretly believe.

This is the time of year that I love to turn to an old childhood favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit. I give this book to all my friends having children, because if you have read The Velveteen Rabbit and have loved it as a child, you are already prepared a little bit more for the world .

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There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.

Like all of us, the Velveteen Rabbit starts out perfect, shiny and new, ready to be loved and to enjoy the life he is given. But soon, he is forgotten and becomes depressed and disillusioned. The Velveteen rabbit has to go through a painful transformation before he can truly become a part of the world around him. He has to suffer pain and sorrow before he can become real.

The Skin Horse, an old nursery toy, gives him advice, as all, old wise elders do. The Skin Horse has been worn down by the life he was given, but he is more powerful because of it. The horse is representative of sovereignty over yourself and having control of the world around you, and the Skin Horse is no different. He has mastered himself and is willing to share that knowledge with the Velveteen Rabbit.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

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There are a lot of people who don’t understand, who forget, who allow hatred and fear blind them to everything else. We are all constantly worn down and broken. It is those of us who can flex and bend and accept that make it through. Becoming real is hard. It hurts. But once it happens, like an initiation, it can’t be taken away from you.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

As a witch, I see one of the things I am actively doing is seeking that realness. I look for the magic around me and work to make it happen. I don’t ignore the process, I assist it. It might be painful, but it is necessary. It is not an easy path, but it is a path that leads to truth and light and even more importantly love. Love truly is the greatest power in the world and while it might seem old and cliched, the power of love can do things nothing else can. I wonder, if we loved more, what would the world around us be?

I’m not a White Lighter. I believe in the power and the need for the dark, for death, for all those things the end and close cycles. I believe in balance and the need for pain and struggle. I embrace the shadows, because they give us insight that we can’t find in the light. But this time of year is the one time of year that I actively seek that light, because I know that the darkness is about to give way to new things.

These past two years have worn away at me. I have become shabby, just like that old rabbit. But I still have love and in the end, that is more important than anything else that has happened. It is also my best defiance to all of those that have enjoyed my pain and sorrow, who have denied aid or rational thought and who have actively worked to harm me and mine without greater understanding.

I still have love. I still have happiness. The dark has not swallowed me yet. I stand here despite all of it.

I will accept the sacrifices and the suffering, because in the end I can take it in ways that most others cannot. And from it, something better will come.

I may have gotten older, shabbier and lost much of the light I started out with, but that darkness that has creeped in is what allows the light to shine even brighter.

You may laugh at me and tell me that its just a children’s book and ask what truth there can possibly be in a story about a stuffed rabbit that becomes real through the power of love?

But if I have learned nothing else as a witch, it is that those old stories have truths and wisdoms and teachings about power that nothing else can provide. We learn magic from these stories and begin to understand how to hope. I love that this is a fairly new story, but that it captures the heart of all the old ones.

Neil Gaiman wrote: “A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams and a world in which there is hope.”

My family may have become some of those monsters, but The Velveteen Rabbit reminds me that everything has a reason and that this too shall pass. Even the monster plays a role and helps transform the hero into something better. I can accept being cast in the role of the monster, because I know where it will bring me. And in the end, the Goddess is always waiting to carry me elsewhere.

I may not be real yet, but someday I will be.

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If you have not read The Velveteen Rabbit, you can find it here for free.

When I wrote this, this morning, I didn’t realize that it had published today in 1922. Happy Birthday to The Velveteen Rabbit!

New Seekers – Where Do I Start?

Recently I’ve received a lot of emails from people seeking advice on how to get started in Paganism. They have no idea what questions to ask, or what to tell me so that I might best advise them on what groups to seek out or what resources they should start with.

One of the ethics of Paganism is taking responsibility for yourself. It’s one of the things that makes us very different than Abrahamic religions. As a seeker, you are expected to do a bit of research into what it is you’re seeking. As a Priestess giving advice based on my years of being around the Pagan community, and practicing both eclectic Paganism and traditional Wicca, it’s difficult for me to advise someone unless they give me a few clues about what they are looking for.

If you’re a new seeker to the Pagan path and you want to reach out to someone for help, here are some things you should ask yourself before making contact:

Are you a spiritual Pagan? Or a magical Pagan? Or both?

What gods and goddesses do you worship? Are you interested in a particular culture of Paganism? This will quickly narrow down who you approach about Paganism.

What is the difference between “Wiccan” and “Pagan.” What other Pagan paths are there out there?

Do you understand what initiations is? Do you want to take a traditional initiation? Why or why not? If you don’t know what initiation is, this is something you should research.

Do you want formal training? How involved do you wish to be with  a group coven? Do you want to become a priest or priestess of the Craft, or simply attend rituals and events to seek the company of other Pagans?

Do some basic research. Its not hard, and while I don’t recommend the internet for serious study, there are plenty of resources out there that give you a basic overview of the modern Craft community in whatever area you are living. Here is my blog on information and resources for new Pagans.

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Once you have thought about these things, here is the type of email you could send to someone:

Dear SO and SO,

I came across your contact on [insert website or contact here.]

I am interested in such and such path and I think you could help answer some of my questions.

[List questions here. Some examples are ]-

What do I need to get started?

Are there any groups that you recommend?

I might be interested in joining your group? How can I do that? Do you have a formal intake process, pr are you a casual group?

Do you accept students? What does training with your group entail?

What books do you recommend?

Are there other groups in the area that might help me? Or suit my particular needs?

Thank you, sincerely,

New Seeker

And remember, whoever you email is under no obligation to respond, so if they do, remember to say thank you! They may or may not be able to help you, but make sure you let them know that you appreciate the fact that they took the time to give you any answer or advice. I see an important aspect of my Priestesshood as being someone that can give you the information to get you to the right Pagan path. I never mind if a stranger approaches me for that sort of advise, but I’m always really bothered when I don’t even get a quick “hey, thanks for the info!” Common courtesy never hurts anybody. “Please” and “Thank You” really are magical words.

Krewe of Muses 2015

It is that time of year once again and Mardi Gras is literally right around the corner. I actually managed to drag myself out to the Muses parade last night.

Muses has always been my favorite parade. I think it embodies the best parts of local Mardi Gras and while more and more tourists are coming to it, it’s still largely a local crowd. A lot of kids, a lot of great costumes and the Krewe of Muses always does a lot of great things for their community. And they always have the best throws.

My camera and I had a fight throughout the night. It has been awhile since I’ve done any photography, but I got a few good ones that I thought I would share. While I did not get a shoe this year, I was not disappointed by the parade.

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This lady had a truly impressive sign and was ready before the parade started rolling.

The beginning...

The beginning…

The Shriners always lead it off.

The Shriners always lead it off.

This year, the NOLA roller derby girls were the first line of the parade after the Shriners. The Big Easy Rollergirls were a lot of fun!

4 5 6 7 8The beautiful lit up butterflies came next and the official Muses front float.

9 10Next came the Muses Head Shoe and the Honorary Muse of the year. This year it was Sue Zemanick, the executive chef at local Gautreau’s.

This shoe is always very cool.

This shoe is always very cool.

The floats were great this year, though that certainly wasn’t a surprise. The Bathing Muses always start them off and the amazing (and my absolute favorite float ever) the Sirens always finishes them off. This year the riders were as sassy and excited to be out as ever!

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The Bathing Muses

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This was one of my favorite shots of the night. She is holding two shoes, one of which was made to look like the infamous Leg Lamp from The Christmas Story!

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The Shoe! People go nuts over these! Each shoe is handmade and each rider only has a few of them to give out. Outside of the Zulu coconut throw, these are probably the most prized throws of local Mardi Gras.

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Big Throw! This rider was hanging off the side of the float to catch the attention of a friend in the crowd.

13 14 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 24 25 27 28 29 30 32 35 36 41 42 50 51 The Sirens float is my favorite.  54 55Here is an article about the float with some more pictures. One of my favorite descriptions of New Orleans is from this article:

“The city of New Orleans is a very, very seductive place,” said Gisleson over the racket of power saws and spray-paint compressors. “It’s a place where the humidity almost has a personality, where letters open themselves and candles melt without being lit. We wanted to take that whole idea of seduction that is inherent in the Sirens (mythological creatures who lured sailors to their doom) and set it in our hometown.”

This float has over 200 lbs of glitter incorporated into it and it always comes at the end of the parade. When Muses was forming, they originally considered calling themselves Sirens instead. In mythology though, the Muses defeated the Sirens in a singing contest, so the all female krewe decided to go with Muses. To honor the Sirens though, they put them at the end of the parade, right in front of the fire trucks that always bring up the end of a parade and that blare their sirens loudly.

The Circus Arts kids were out and I caught this guy balancing his unicycle on his chin. They are always a fun edition to the parade.

26The Rolling Elvi were out. This is a fun subkrewe that allows everyone to go full out with Elvis! Clockwork Elvis, a popular local band that mashes Elvis and Clockwork Orange, performed with them.

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Throughout the rest of the parade were a lot of crazy fabulous people…

The Noisician Coalition is always a fun jumble of noise and costumes.

The Noisician Coalition is always a fun jumble of noise and costumes.

The Bearded Oysters are always amongst my favorites as well. Katrina Brees started this subkrewe and also created the amazing bikes below. Katrina created the I Heart Louisiana group, which works hard to get krewes to throw environmentally friendly throws.

39 40 43 44This guy was playing with a local band that floated past…

45I always enjoy seeing the Laissez Boys too…

46The NOLA Organ Grinders

47And Bate Bunda too!

48 49 52 53While the ending of the parade was bittersweet for me this year, it is definitely one you should get to and check out. Muses is a great time and just keeps getting better and better as the years go by.

*All photos copyright by Lauren DeVoe. Please do not use without permission!

Belief, American Gods and Me

Neil Gaiman starts out his novel American Gods with a “Caveat, and Warning for Travelers” which ends with: “Furthermore, it goes without saying that all the people, living, dead and otherwise, in this story are fictional or used in a fictional context.Only the Gods are real”.

When you read his introduction for the tenth anniversary edition, he talks about how he had just moved to America and wanted to write a novel that captured all the parts of America that he found fascinating, most of which are never seen on film. He traveled while he was writing the novel and explored the back roads and the places he thought his main character Shadow would go.

He follows his “Caveat” with an epigraph:

One question that has always intrigued me is what happens to demonic beings when immigrants move from their homelands. Irish-Americans remember the fairies, Norwegian-Americans the nisser, Greek-Americans the vrykolakas, but only in relation to events remembered in the Old Country. When once I asked why such demons are not seen in America, my informants giggled confusedly and said “They’re scared to pass the ocean, it’s too far,” pointing out that Christ and the apostles never came to America.

-Richard Dorson, “A Theory for American Folklore,”
American Folklore and the Historian
(University of Chicago Press, 1971)

Whenever we open ritual in my tradition, we start by welcoming “the spirits of this land,” even though I don’t know these spirits and I will be calling on the Gods and element that I work with, its always important to acknowledge the fact that I am doing ritual in a place where I don’t necessarily belong. It would be rude of me as a priestess to forget that the religion I practice does not belong to this particular place. My Gods are mostly British and Celtic, they certainly did not originate in the swamps of southern Louisiana and one always has to assume that they may not interact with the spirits here very well. After all, my Gods don’t belong here. American Gods touches on the very heart of this topic. I’ve always founds American Gods to be more than an exploration of America. Gaiman pulls apart religion and the idea of belief and places it in a modern context that I think we rarely get the pleasure of seeing put down in words. American Gods is not an easy read, just as America is not always an easy place to understand, but it’s a novel where I find something new and wonderful every time I pick it up.

In the last year, I’ve had to examine my own thoughts and ideas about belief in a very different way than ever before. As my community failed me entirely in the midst of one of the most horrendous personal situations you can imagine, I’ve had to really examine both my practice and place in the Craft.

I have been very grateful to find that through everything I’ve been confronted with and continue to be confronted with, my belief has remained one of the few strong pillars of my life. My community, my tradition, my friends, my acquaintances may have failed me, but the Gods never left me.

Whenever someone new approaches me about Wicca and the tradition I practice, I break down the practice and the training process, explain what we do and that the point of functioning within a tradition is all about teaching. I often get asked “but yeah, what are you actually doing in ritual?”. It’s at this point that I tell them that perhaps like or unlike many other traditions or practices, the main role of my ritual is worship. I worship deity while in Circle. I may do magic, I may create spells, but at the end of the day, ritual for me is about worship. When I train students, it is to train them as priests and priestesses who are in service to the Gods. I always tell them that I can teach them everything except belief. If you don’t believe in the Gods then there is nothing I can do to help you learn that and we are not the place for you.

You either believe or you don’t.

Belief is a tricky thing. Recently, a friend of mine who has been exploring Wicca, was confronted by her father about her exploration of Wicca and the insanity of believing in anything Wicca teaches. He used a blog I wrote about the service of invocation to browbeat her about how horrible religion is and how he assumed that drugs were involved. (It’s sort of hysterically funny, whatever else might be said about my household, we are a sober household. We may be monsters, but we’ll eat you while daintily sipping iced tea).

From the outside, invocation might look pretty outlandish. I could also sit here and draw parallels to the practices in many other religions that are similar to invocation or I could talk about it as a rational exploration of a deep meditative state that allows you to examine your innermost subconscious. But at the end of the day, for me, I believe that when I invoke Goddess, she is the one speaking through me.

Religion can be a terrible thing. So can belief. I left a religion that I felt was abusive and controlling. I get where my friend’s father was coming from and why he is worried. As Pagans, most of us who are out have probably had to confront family members about our belief at one point or another. My own father used to ask me about who would I be calling on when I was in the metaphorical foxhole. Jesus or my Gods? Believing that my belief couldn’t possibly hold up in a horrible situation. I can quite honestly say at this point that my faith did not fail me and as I’ve found myself in this metaphorical foxhole this year, my Gods have stayed with me throughout.

I think one of the important parts of my service to the gods as a Wiccan Priestess who is “out of the broom closet” is the ability to talk openly about being Wiccan. I am not some learned Elder who knows a lot, but I do think that being able to speak openly about Paganism is an important service to the Craft. If I can vocalize an issue as a student walking this path that someone else can’t openly ask about, then I think I have helped. I have the ability to speak and I think that therefore it is my duty to do so. I can question, discuss, and examine this somewhat crazy seeming practice that I am a part of. I am not afraid that my family will find out, they already know. My coworkers are aware that I’m a witch. My neighbors have seen me walking about in my robe and have probably heard the chanting coming from our temple room. In this, I think part of my service is to speak.

In the past I have always had something to say. Whether you agree with me or not may be another matter entirely. This past year, I have lost the words. Someone very dear to me has been held up as an example of everything horrible and wrong in the Pagan community, and I have been called a monster for knowing the actual situation and continuing to believe in him.

So, in order to try to get back into writing about the things I find important, I am going to start rereading American Gods and picking apart all the things that stand out to me throughout. I am not going to say that I will do so many chapters a month or set a schedule, I am just going to write about it as it pleases me and hope that it helps me to get going again. Life does have an unfortunate habit of continuing, even when we wish it wouldn’t, and after a certain point, there is only so much you can do. The beautiful thing about a blog is that no one other than the writer ever actually has to read it. And besides, as much as many may want it, I am not done yet.

“Hey,” said Shadow. “Huginn or Muninn, or whoever you are.”
The bird turned, head tipped, suspiciously, on one side, and it stared at him with bright eyes.
“Say ‘Nevermore,'” said Shadow.
“Fuck you,” said the raven.”
~ Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Photo taken by me while visiting the Painted Desert. Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Photo taken by me while visiting the Painted Desert. Copyright Lauren DeVoe

Katy Perry’s Imbolc Half Time Show

A friend of mine commented, “Jeez get a temple guys, you all just worshipped Ishtar. Congrats!”

I personally thought that it was delightfully appropriate for Imbolc…

While I don’t usually get into sports events and largely ignore these things, Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show was pretty spectacular and definitely brought back light and warmth to a rather chilly world.

I don’t usually love Imbolc that way that some of my closest people do, but this year it seemed like an appropriate sabbat to celebrate. And Katy Perry’s powerful, yet whimsical show, was a delightful part of my Imbolc weekend. Enjoy!

May the cold, bleak winter be behind us and a new, happier, warmer world await. Blessed Imbolc!

An Unplanned Visit to the Underworld

Yule seems to have become a time for caves in my family. This year we stopped at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky on our way to my family’s house for the holidays. In a 7 mile radius, there are 400 miles of a intense multi-layer cave system, which has been occupied for over 4000 years. Ancient peoples sheltered there twelve miles inside the caves (imagine exploring those caves without electricity to help guide you!). Mammoth cave is also one of the oldest continued attractions in America, with a varied history that is fascinating in and of itself. It’s a pretty amazing experience and I thought you might enjoy some of the pictures I took. I definitely recommend stopping and enjoying Mammoth Cave. There are tons of trails to hike and unlike Carlsbad, Mammoth has bats all year round! Yay Bats!

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The Historic Entrance to Mammoth Cave

 

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And who knew! But apparently you can also fine the River Styx there! I guess it makes sense, but I certainly didn’t expect to run into the Styx in Kentucky!

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I just can’t seem to help wandering off into the Underworld…

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IMG_0350The River Styx’s exit from the cave system…IMG_0351The River Styx empties out into the Green River.

IMG_0359All along the river, White River Birches grow…

IMG_0356The Kentucky hills and forests are always beautiful.

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IMG_0332And I found a troll home!

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Of course, maybe I was the only one home…

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